In 2015 I posted some snippets from a book by Aldous Huxley which seem to me to be more pertinent than ever — especially since there are so many in this country, in particular, who seem to prefer a dictator to what is left of our democratic system. I repost here.
I have referred a number of times to Huxley’s 1931 “fable” Brave New World which predicted the future with astonishing accuracy. It is still, in my mind, one of the most remarkable works ever written: prescient if not great literature. And it sold many copies. But few have read the sequel, Brave New World Revisited, that Huxley wrote in 1958 in which he admitted that he was even less optimistic than he had been when he wrote his classic fable. The newer work is not a novel, but a series of essays about the topics he touched on in his novel and which still bothered him twenty-seven years later. He starts off with the major problem as he saw it then, overpopulation, about which he has this to say:
” On the first Christmas Day the population on the planet was about two hundred and fifty million — less than half the population of modern China. Sixteen centuries later, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, human numbers had climbed to a little more than five hundred million. By the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence world population had passed the seven hundred million mark. In 1931, when I was writing Brave New World, it stood at just under two billion. Today, only twenty-seven years later, there are two billion eight hundred million of us.”
As I write this in 2015 the population on earth numbers 7.3 billion. In a word it has more than doubled since 1958. It boggles the mind. As Huxley goes on to say,
“Unsolved, the problem will render insoluble all other problems. Worse still it will create conditions in which individual freedom and the social decencies of the democratic way of life will become impossible, almost unthinkable. . . .There are many roads to The Brave New World; but perhaps the straightest and broadest of them is the road we are traveling today, the road that leads through gigantic numbers and accelerating increases [in the human population].”
It’s bad enough we refuse to deal with the issue of climate change, but it is tragic that we even refuse to discuss the problem of overpopulation, which is, in my view, the problem at the root of all others. However, this is only one issue Huxley dealt with in this book. As anyone knows who read Brave New World, Huxley was very concerned about the loss of individual freedom in a society that absorbs the individual in an increasingly crowded world that is headed inevitably toward an all-poowerful central government. In that world a few will be forced by circumstances to take complete control of the reins of government while the rest spend their time seeking pleasures. As he noted in this regard:
“Only the most vigilant can maintain their liberties and only those who are consistently and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures. A society most of whose members spend a great part of their time, not on the spot, not here and now and in the calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those who manipulate and control it.”
None knew better than Huxley how insidious are the factors that control the minds of those otherwise preoccupied with trivia such as social media and games. He understood better than most that true freedom is not a function of how many loaves of bread there are in the grocery store, but in the knowledge which loaf is best for one’s health. He knew how important education is to the maintenance of human freedom and the democracy that is trending, even in 1958, toward dictatorship — not a dictatorship held together by violence, but a dictatorship held together by subtle psychological manipulation. The kinds of manipulation that gets us to buy things we don’t need.
He understood how good salesmanship, whether one is selling soap or a political candidate, is simply another word for propaganda and he understood how clever propaganda works on the human mind and how easy it is for demagogues to capture the untrained minds of apathetic people.
“The demagogic propagandist must be consistently dogmatic. All his statements are made without qualification. There are no grays in his picture of the world; everything is either diabolically black or celestially white. In Hitler’s words, the propagandist should adopt ‘a systematically one-sided attitude toward every problem that has to be dealt with.’ He must never admit that he might be wrong or that people of different opinions might be even partially right. Opponents should not be argued with; they should be attacked, shouted down . . ..'”
Sound familiar? Huxley examines the workings of propaganda in great detail over two chapters in his book. He thinks we should have learned from Germany’s example; but, of course, we did not. Propaganda still works and it works well, whether the product is toothpaste or presidents.
“Democratic institutions can be made to work only if all concerned do their best to impart knowledge and to encourage rationality. But today, in the world’s most powerful democracy, the politicians and their propagandists prefer to make nonsense of democratic procedures by appealing almost exclusively to the ignorance and irrationality of the electors.. . .[Their techniques will include] scientific selection of appeals and planned repetition . . . Radio [and TV] spot announcements and ads will repeat phrases with a planned intensity. Billboards will push slogans of proven effectiveness. . . . Candidates need, in addition, rich voices and good diction, to be able to look sincerely at the TV camera.”
Huxley seemed to have sensed exactly where we were headed in the 50s. Today we seem to have arrived where he pointed to back then, though there are a great many people who would deny it. In the end, he has the final word:
“By means of ever more effective methods of mind-manipulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms — elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts, and all the rest — will remain. The underlying substance will be a new kind of totalitarianism. All the traditional names, all the hallowed slogans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days. Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial. Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.”
How true, Hugh. This is the state the world has come to and sadly, most people don’t see it, or live in some kind of fantasy that it will miraculously change somehow.
I do think folks prefer to just continue to pursue pleasure while they walk down the path of least resistance. Heaven forbid that we inconvenience ourselves in the least!
Hugh, your update serves as an reminder of what we need to plan for and against happening. We must be diligent on our news sources and hold our leaders accountable. We cannot and must not accept blatant lies from our so-called leaders, whether it is a US president, British prime minister or some other elected officials. And, we must condemn their toadies when they explain away their lies and transgressions.
As for Huxley, his predictions on population growth and the Malthusian process to control population (named for Thomas Malthus) are profound. The global water crisis gets so little coverage, but Cape Town, South Africa almost ran out of water and is not out of the woods, eg. We are seeing population growth already creating havoc in micro areas. Too many people using too few resources. Keith
Hugh, while it is not nearly as scholarly as “Brave New World,” the concept in the movie “Logan’s Run,” is worth noting. People are not allowed to live beyond age 30.
Yet, what may be as troubling as “Brave New World,” is the advancement of AI which will replace an accelerating number of jobs. I heard on NPR just this morning that at a CEO conference, when asked how many CEOs are considering AI in their clerical staff and ALL 70 CEOs present raised their hand. Keith
I don’t know what AI is, but I can imagine. But with more free time people will have more time to play with their electronic toys and keep farther and farther apart!
Hugh, sorry for the acronym. AI is Artificial Intelligence. Keith
Hugh, I am watching a more sobering futuristic movie right now, “Soylent Green.” As I watch, I am reminded of two other movies, “Interstellar,” how we lose the ability to grow crops and “Bladerunner” about androids longing to be human. We must be mindful of what our leaders do and the things they fail to address. Keith
Your best one yet, Hugh. I proceed on the assumption that all, bar none, ads are lies and I swim in a sea of lies, which makes the system I live in nothing but a gigantic lie. Take the ad at the end of this blog post by “Ageless Beauty.” Nothing more than snake oil salesmanship – an outright lie that’s been running for hundreds of years. Nothing has ever, or will ever, do what this ad claims, and we all know this. Trump’s claim to make America great again, a chimera. America was never “great” whatever speed button you push on the blender, not even before the Whiteous Christian invaders came. You could never become a leader or even a political rep of any sort if you didn’t learn to smooth out and stretch your own brand of lies. When people tell each other to vote, they’re repeating lies: voting changes nothing and Huxley explains it brilliantly, and quote: ” Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial. Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.” (So he forgot lobbyists!)
Huxley gets the credit here, not me.
I read “Brave New World” in my first year of college, but had no idea at that time just how prophetic the book truly was. I haven’t read Huxley’s “Brave New World Revisited”, but after reading this post, I certainly plan to! So much of what he says rings alarm bells and raises red flags today. Sigh. The question is whether people will wake up in time. My guess is not, for as you say, they are more content in their own little not-so-brave worlds, surrounded by geegaws and gadgets to make their lives more convenient … to actually take a stand, to work to change the status quo, takes them outside their comfort zone.
Most people will have to be shocked awake, I fear.