Saturday, November 08, 2003

No 12.

Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter when the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?

Song: Goodbye Blue Sky
Album: The Wall

The phrase 'brave new world' is a well-known one these days, usually signifying some form of marvellous technological innovation that will make the world a better place. At the same time, it usually carries a darker overtone, that this fabled innovation will actually do far more harm than good. Hence the running for shelter part of this lyric.

The phrase originates from the Aldous Huxley book, Brave New World, set in a supposedly utopian future. People are bred in laboratories and are biologically engineered to fit into their prescribed position in society. There are seven 'castes' of differing abilities ranging from the Alpha-Plus intellectual elite at the top to the Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons at the bottom, bred purely for menial labour.

I'm not going to go into full book review mode, here but I do recommend that you read it if you haven't already. It's an excellent book, written (as so many of the classics from the first half of the last century) as a social commentary but with a very good story to carry the message.

One of the reasons it resonates so well now is because of the promise (for that you may want to read threat - it depends how you see it, I suppose) of genetic engineering. Huxley wrote the book in 1932, twenty-three years before Crick and Watson discovered DNA. He could have had no idea then of the mechanism behind his biological engineering but now, seventy years later we know it only too well. How long will it be before scientists are able to change the genetic make-up of babies so they grow up to be stronger, taller, more beautiful, longer-living, more intelligent? 10 years? 20?

I suspect it will be earlier than most of us would like. And when that day comes will we be responsible enough not to be so taken with the promise of this brave new world that we disregard the potential dangers involved? I hope so, I really do.

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