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Enforced Contraception is Not a Good Thing

Yesterday, I found myself in attendance at the tail end of a workshop on scenario planning. And a gentleman was presenting a two-by-two, with the x-axis being about degrees of community, and the y access about degrees of innovation. And the upper right quadrant, with high innovation and deep community, was labelled “Brave New World.”

Brave New World is a dystopic novel by Aldous Huxley, and not really something you want to set out as a goal, or a marker of a desirable future.

One of the worst offenders of the Glorious use of “Brave New World” is, not surprisingly, Wired. A list of google results on “brave new world” constrained to reveals a number of misuses (Brave New World of Web Services, Brave New World of Myst). Though, not surprisingly, considering the schizophrenia that is Wired’s editorial vision, there are a number of appropriate phrases (“brave new world of government intrusion”).

Anyway, I’m calling this out because the misuse of Brave New World has always been a personal bugbear. It’s a brilliant phrase, when used appropriately (i.e., IRONICALLY). It loses its heart when simply slapped on as a label for “forward thinking.”

  1. Hi Peter,
    Did Huxley coin the phrase? or perhaps it was in colloquial use before he applied his own meaning to it? I ask because I’ve only heard the term referred to in a positive light.

  2. The phrase originates in Shakespeare’s _The Tempest_.
    On that page there’s good commentary on the increasingly ironic use of the phrase in Huxley’s novel. And, considering the novel’s end, and its title, there’s little doubt that Huxley meant it ironically.

    The question becomes, “Was “brave new world” a common phrase before 1932 (when the novel was published)?” I have no evidence one way or another, but I doubt.

    Another question is, “In the common stating of the phrase “brave new world,” are people referring to Huxley or Shakespeare?” Considering the success of Huxley’s novel, that it’s commonplace reading in schools, and that it’s part of a very prevalent genre of dystopic sci-fi, I find the idea that people are getting the phrase from Shakespeare to be ludicrous. Clearly, Huxley popularized the phrase, and, clearly, intended it to be used ironically.

    Maybe it’s an even GREATER irony that people use it un-ironically. I don’t know.

  3. I was a part of the team that created the 2×2 Peter mentioned. We didn’t talk about it in the presentation Peter saw, but we did discuss the “Brave New World” scenario and generally dystopic.

    You’re welcome to see the charts from our presentation. Especially, note the alternate label for the Brave New World scenario (“Irrational Exuberance”), in this picture.

    Also, keep in mind that this entire scenario planning exercise was done in a little over an hour. 😉

  4. Oops, that should read:

    …but we did discuss the “Brave New World” scenario as generally dystopic.

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