Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Brave New World and What Makes for a Meaningful Life

Hot Topics is an English class I teach in an interdisciplinary manner. The hot topic of the fall semester is medical ethics and how we as American and global citizens should define humanness. 

One of the books we read is Huxley's Brave New World. After students completed a reading journal on Brave New World, which you can access here -- Brave New World reading journal -- we had class discussions about the science fiction novel.

Then I asked students to consider what was most meaningful in life to them, and since Frisch, where I teach, is a modern Orthodox school, we considered what is meaningful to an Orthodox Jew by looking at Rabbi Michael Broyde's Letter to a Friend on Modern Orthodoxy. The letter can be found here: Rabbi Michael Broyde: Letter on Modern Orthodoxy. Download the letter if you cannot see it clearly. 

I wanted to share an outline a student completed that I thought was a particularly fine response to the question of what makes life meaningful.

English 12A
Mrs. Wiener
                                            True Meaning of Life


Paragraph I:  I believe the true meaning of life is free will, change, and emotion. Without them in my life, I would not be able to function properly as a modern orthodox Jew.
1.      Free will: Free will is meaningful because it gives us the ability to be individuals by making decisions on our own, and allowing us to live our life without being told how and what to do.
2.      Change: Change is meaningful because it allows individuals and society to improve. Without the ability to change then the new developments in science and technology today would not exist.
    Technology: Smart phones, email, Bluetooth, and Internet
      Science: New kind of medicine, and different research programs were developed in order to find cures and treatments to illnesses that were never cured or treated properly.
3.      Emotion: Emotion gives us the ability to connect with others, find enjoyment in something.

Paragraph II: After reading Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, I realized how empty the humans’ lives were without free will, change, and emotion. 
·        Free will: The humans didn’t have the ability to choose the social class they were put into and what jobs they would have in the future. . The D.H.C decided which humans would be Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons.  Each social class was designed to function in specific environments. The D.H.C predestined and conditioned each. (Example: heat conditioning, page 16-17, and hating books, flowers, and loud noises, pages20-22).
·        Change: The humans didn’t have the ability to change because they were predestined and conditioned. Therefore, their society remained the same; the people were unable to change social classes, very similar to communism.
·        Emotion:  The humans were forced to take soma in order to get rid of any emotions they had. They weren’t allowed to love one another and to prevent humans from falling in love, the D.H.C. used feelies to show them that a true relationship is based on meaningless sex and there is no place for love in it.

Paragraph III:
According to Rabbi Broyde’s article Introduction to Modern-Orthodoxy, a modern Orthodox Jew must be able to balance religion and the secular world by being involved in society as well as being committed to God. As a Jew, I have free will, which allows me to change as Jew and a person in the secular world and feel a connection to my homeland, Israel. With free will, I am able to take in important and significant things from the secular world that are consistent with the Torah and apply them into my Jewish life. We are obligated by the Torah to be financially independent. In order to earn a living, we must study secular studies and incorporate them into our Torah lifestyle and eventually use these accomplishments to get closer to God.  Society is changing by accepting new ideas and promoting these changes as normal. As a Jew, I must decide whether or not these new changes in society can coexist with my religious views. If I decide to accept these changes in society and apply them to my life I must make sure these changes do not violate Torah law. In order to be a modern Orthodox Jew, one must feel connected to Israel and be a religious Zionist. We should be involved in activities supporting Israel. We should be writing letters to congressmen to support Israel in all that it does to defend itself. We should be supporting charities in Israel and rallying for Israel and defend it against the media by revealing the truth.  

Conclusion: Without free will, the ability to change, and emotion, our lives are empty, and we cannot function properly as individuals and as a society. Free will, change, and emotion allow us to achieve great things in life.  If we lived our lives without them, we would be living our lives as robots.

For the letter mentioned in the outline, from Rabbi Michael Broyde about Modern Orthdoxy, follow the link (download the document to read it more clearly):

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