Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Aldous Huxley Reaction

            Aldous Huxley was a man of great insight. His studies into human nature, society, and the threats of government control create a foreboding vision of a possible future. Huxley’s novel Brave New World allows readers to be transported into the unsettling future which he had hypothesized. With the publication of Brave New World Revisited, Huxley was able to break down the society he had created, compare it with modern society, and explain the rationality behind his fears, warnings, and predictions. To absorb each and every page of Huxley’s writings as truth would warrant a very disturbed reaction. However, there are reasonable objections which may be made to Huxley’s postulations, primarily with reasons he himself espouses in Chapter XI of Brave New World Revisited.
            The eleventh chapter of Huxley’s non-fiction work deals with “Education for Freedom”. Huxley believes, among other paths, that avoidance to his dangerous future can be accomplished through education. Recognition of declining social conditions, knowledge of rational and irrational propaganda, and a guarded mind against government can help ensure liberty. “If this kind of tyranny is to be avoided,” states Huxley, “we must begin without delay to educate ourselves and our children for freedom and self-government”. This is a statement which bears much truth in any circumstance, as knowledge is key when facing an enemy.
            Huxley sees education in several specific subjects as key. He believes “an education first of all in facts and in values” is of the utmost importance, as such would aid in combatting appeals to passion and lies spread for a dictator’s gain. However, “an education in the proper uses of language” is of equal importance, as it allows individuals to recognize meaning and symbols, tools which can be skewed by dictators and propagandists to further a cause. Yet Huxley raises attention to the threat of undistinguished truth and falsity, and meaning and meaningless. Or rather, he raises attention to the lack of attempts to dispose of this threat.
            Through using the example of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (founded in 1937 and closed in 1941) Huxley makes a very poignant point about society. The Institute sought to analyze non-rational propaganda, yet was unfortunately juxtaposed with the Second World War As such, propaganda fast became critical in Nazi Germany, but in the Allied home fronts as well. Beyond the mental war effort, numerous groups, including military officers, clergymen, and businesses found issues with the Institute as disrupting and undermining their status quo. Society, even before the war, was centered, at least partially, on “the acceptance, without too many embarrassing questions, of the propaganda put forth by those in authority and the propaganda hallowed by the local traditions.” Huxley thus determines that a “happy mean” must be found for society to function while also enabling avoidance of mind-manipulation.
            The individual may draw many conclusions from Huxley’s statements in this chapter. I found it helped to validate my own thoughts which had sat ruminating within me throughout the readings of his works. The concept of a societal mean seemed to always come nagging back to me. Sure, I could get swept up in the Huxley’s terrible predictions. But I found that, for all his predictions, society still sits relatively close to where it was in his time. Dictators and totalitarian regimes may rise, but they can just as easily fall. Advertisements may run constantly which employ non-rational propaganda, but the general populace is knowledgeable enough to recognize them for what they are. Science could be working day and night to establish a system for domination of the individual, but the science I know is one with a general goal of well-being and understanding, technology a neutral tool.
            I suppose the main issue I have with many of Huxley’s arguments is the lack of a human element, and an oversight of history’s cyclical patterns. Now, I do not deem Huxley’s studies untruthful. His population estimates were fairly exact, and his analysis of threats posed by resources and society’s organization carry weight. But a totalitarian dictatorship, a world power of vast control, seems to be as likely as a meteor impact. Now, the latter is a not impossible event. Thus, I am recognizing the potential rise of a dictatorship. However, conditions which would give rise to such a power, and the circumstances necessary to carry the power in existence, can be frail when including the human element.
            “Every individual is biologically unique and unlike all other individuals.” Huxley makes this statement towards the beginning of the chapter. In the section, he is discussing how unfortunate and disappointing are the attempts made to reduce human difference and independence. I see, however, something much more. Later, Huxley writes that “In real life, life as it is lived from day to day, the individual can never be explained away.” Well written, Huxley. Indeed, the individual, I believe, can never be explained away. To generalize society as a fairly uniform body of culture, education, and values is to strip from it its great complexity. Individuals are the most dangerous threat to totalitarian regimes, and I refuse to accept the argument of something like the “Bokanovsky Process”. Nazi Germany and Hitler’s Reich committed grand atrocities, it is true, but they were not without their dissenters, rebels, and heroes. The individual is a constant of human existence. “Thus, if Bismarck and Lenin had died in infancy,” Huxley begins a paragraph, “our world would be very different from what, thanks in part to Bismarck and Lenin, it now is”. The individual possesses great potential to bring about change in their own society. In addition, an important reminder is that technology is useless without a wielder, and while dictators may try to use technologies to their full potential, there may always be the one hesitant bureaucrat who experiences a conflict of duty.
            All of the above writing may or may not be a complete mess of editorial reaction. The subjects described and explored by Huxley are of a very conflicting and deep nature. To compose a more focused and organized essay would require more time, more research, and more inner-thought. Yet, I believe my main points have been made clear, whether or not I myself fully believe what I have written. Of all things, however, I am at least certain in one regard: acceptance of a dark fate is a danger that cannot be afforded. Allowing ourselves to fully believe in the coming of a totalitarian dictatorship encourages passiveness. Any possible preventive measures are neglected, and hope is extinguished, when the postulations of people like Huxley are taken as near-prophecy. Still, it is through men and women like Huxley that a serious reality-check is provided, and we may, as a society, recognize potential threats and hazards in our progress.

1 comment:

  1. A very thoughtful post, and you address the main point of Huxley's that is perhaps closest to my heart: the notion that education has potential and power to counteract the "dark forces" Huxley feared.

    I think it's very insightful that you realize the importance of his idea of the social mean, and make the point that we are NOT living in a BNW, "But I found that, for all his predictions, society still sits relatively close to where it was in his time." I agree with you there, but without going too far to the extreme/obvious place that Huxley-reading seems to take people, I don't know that the idea of a happy medium will always work. Huxley's ideas are based not only on the technology of his own time but also the nature of the people who were his contemporaries. But I would posit that the technological advances were are seeing in recent years will likely change the nature of people on a fundamental level. Your generation are digital natives, but you will be cave people with clubs compared to those who are being born today. Their nearly cyber-punk relationship with tech is going to alter the way their minds work. What I think (fear) is that these generations, and the ones that follow, will be far less like wolves, and much more like termites in a basic, fundamental way. Or maybe it will all shake out..only time will tell!