Lessons From Huxley’s ‘Island’

Andy McErlean
6 min readOct 24, 2016

“Attention,” the myna bird calls in a monotonous chant. Like parrots, the birds mimic human speech. Their colorful feathers embody the beauty of Pala–the island in which Huxley’s book is named after. Cerulean sky floats above emerald sprawls of canopy. Exotic snakes lazily droop atop the heads of Buddha statues. Vivid, electric flowers dot themselves at every junction. The Palanese are like the skies, the snakes and the flowers. Their engulfing world view sits above the honest reality below. Every aspect of its existence they examine, study and input dexterously as a people. Like all humans, they are capable of inducing pain. They could be violent, but instead, choose to be docile in their actions. Each of them is a petal on happy little flowers glowing brilliantly in the sun.

Sadly, Pala exists only in fiction. Its lessons, however, don’t have to.

There are elements in Island that resonate in 2016 and make one contemplate this reality in comparison to its own. To its modernized neighbors, Pala seems undeveloped and backwards. It doesn’t have massive industry, a sophisticated army, advanced technology or rabid materialism that consumes the surrounding environment. Yet, as the main character Will Farnaby finds out, the people are incredibly happy. They aren’t just sustained individually, but as one society. They don’t need two tv sets, a new car or country club membership to satiate their needs. The island is a shining example of socioecological cohesion. Across the water, Rendang-Lobo acts as the prototypical modernized state. It brims with the poor, the rich and the relentless pursuit of “progress”. At its helm is a war mongering colonel infatuated with capitalist ideals and exploitation. When Farnaby visits, he sees the same strife and disparity he knew from his home in England. Rendang-Lobo heroes the economy at the expense of its people.

As I read Island, I thought about my home in Austin, Texas. We too have the super rich and super poor. I see both every day–Teslas and begging trays, high rise apartments and underpass bedrooms. Zooming out, America is like Rendang-Lobo. Its constant militarism with its proxy wars only further to separate nations through imaginary lines. It reaps the land for its worth only to replace it with concrete temples devoted to the worship of capitalism and gain. Its election drives deeper a wedge through a disjointed populous. Corporate bankers responsible for the ’08 recession receive bonuses while families receive nothing to help them recover what they’ve lost. These parallels persist again and again and emulate what the Palanese culture lives so hard reject.


Pala’s success begins with the consensus to live purposefully. Together, they decided on prioritizing humanity over the value gain and progress. The upheld balance of population and resources ensures homeostasis on the island. This sentiment of collective reason and maintenance is incredibly foreign to us. We simply assimilate into an assumed system that’s functioned and always will function because that’s the way we believe it has always been. There is no discipline in the way we carry out life, nor is there objective observation of where it’s headed. What if we paused and enacted a new system and adhered to it like an ardent gym routine? I’m not speaking in regards to a red or blue House, or a new set of laws, but an entirely different way of living. What if we were like Pala and seek balance between population and environment, promote open family units, have a collective economy and not spend our revenues on weapons, but on education and healthcare? Pala may not have nuclear weapons, space probes or the latest Mercedes, but what it lacks in material it makes up for in the intrinsic.

Relationships & Youth

Pala’s citizens each take responsibility on themselves to uphold their way of life. There is no passive existence that the billions on this planet unconsciously execute. Each person is proud of his way of life and the happiness that it brings him. Enough so, that influences from the outside world are unappealing and superfluous. Even in their courtships and relationships do the Palanese trump the West. Their relationships are not bound by gods or governments, but the people actually in them. If a relationship mires into unhappiness, both parties have support from their community to separate. There is no grueling divorce or drama. Animosity and malice towards former (or current) lovers doesn’t exist because time isn’t spent harboring it. This inevitably affects children. Each child is raised by multiple families. She receives dozens of more varied insights because she is not locked into a singular ownership of one parental unit. She is not forced to church on Sundays or to be the best basketball player her mother can vicariously live through. She is not the product and property of two people, but rather an average of many. Think of those helicopter parents you know who swat down any input not previously ok’d by their rigid morals. Their offspring become slighted and angry against their mothers and fathers and often experience tense relations and social incongruency. That is not even comprehended in Pala. The root of their society is raised so well that its branches produce fruit for it to grow again. The nurturing of youth is enriched with the instruction of self awareness and mindfulness. There are no mass shooters, no psychopaths or delinquents because the children are given respect and the tools necessary to understand emotions better. As children, we learn the polished story of American History, maths we never use and how to give each other brain trauma with helmets. There were never classes on how to navigate through fear, love or anger. Everything was centered around how to be injected into a system for the sole purpose of perpetuating it.


Lastly, all Palanese citizens undergo a rites of passage journey. As adolescents, they embark on a trialing climb of Pala’s highest mountain. Assisted by elders, they help each other summit, then ensure a safe descent. Once they’re accounted for and congratulated, they gather in a temple to undergo one last experience. Here, under the supervision of a guide, they intake “Moksha medicine”–psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. Respectfully, responsibly and compassionately, they consume their last lesson. They emerge with an empathy and passion of loving fiercely. A greater understanding blooms as the voices of ego wither. Contrary to Pala, we demonize psychedelics. Our educations tell us they are scary substances that will drive us crazy and are for low-life citizens. However, until one undergoes his or her own experience, the naïveté will persist. In parallel with the sentiment of living purposefully, one can undergo a psychedelic experience with purpose. It is when it is done shallow and devoid of meaning that it can be scary. However, what’s infinitely scarier is living a life that’s vapid and meritless.

Understanding Huxley’s Point

Island is rich with insightful lessons on how we can live better as individuals and as cities, states and countries. It shows us we don’t have to keep doing what we’re doing. It would take time, but we could turn this titanic thing around. Huxley wonderfully presents an honest critique of modern society in 1962. Yet, the words still are resoundingly relevant today. In another great book, Ishmael, author Daniel Quinn equates our society to an early flying machine being flown off a cliff to prove its efficacy. However, no matter how much we flap its wings or spin its turbines, it falls. Closer and closer, it nears the bottom. Looking downward, we can see failed flying machines. In heaps of torn canvas and splintered wood, they rest. Rome, The Mongolian Empire, Nazi Germany–all these other attempts lay in rubble below. Our machine is made of the same plans and material, yet we think it will be the one to fly. We carelessly barrel towards the ground below with a smug smile and Big Gulp. However, there’s oneway to ensure lift: change.



Andy McErlean

Slingin’ pixels outta Austin, Texas. Product Designer @ Praxent. Playing music in Pala. BJJ practitioner. Say hi: mcerlean.design.