More Huxley Snippits

I mentioned in a previous post in which I quoted at length from Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited, that he was very concerned about the loss of human freedom in a world increasingly crowded and tending toward what he calls “dictatorship.” I want to continue to quote from his book because what he has to say is so relevant today and has the ring of truth. Speaking of truth, he thinks the ability to distinguish between what is true and what is false are essential elements in a good education. Imagine!

“An education for freedom (and for the love and intelligence which are at once the conditions and the results of freedom) must be among other things an education in the proper use of language.. . . .Suffice it to say that all the intellectual materials for a sound education in the proper use of language — education on every level from kindergarten to graduate school — are now available. Such an education in the art of distinguishing between the proper and the improper use of symbols could be inaugurated immediately. Indeed it might have been inaugurated at any time during the last thirty or forty years. And yet children are nowhere taught in any systematic way, to distinguish true from false, or meaningful from meaningless, statements. Why is this so? Because their elders even in the democratic countries do not want them to be given this sort of education.”

Indeed, their parents want them to learn a trade, to be able to earn money right after graduation — which is important, to be sure, but not of first importance. Given that the distinguishing mark of the human species is the use of symbols, it is of first importance, as Huxley suggests, that our children learn to use their minds, to learn how language functions and to see how easily facts can be manipulated in order to persuade the unwary. Huxley, as I have mentioned before, understood the nature of freedom and the ease with which it can be taken away from us — without our knowing it has been lost. As he says in this regard:

“It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not to be free — to be under no physical restraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel, and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel, and act. There will never be such a thing as a writ of habeas mentum; for no sheriff or jailer can bring an illegally imprisoned mind into court, and no person whose mind has been made captive by the methods outlined above [in his discussion of propaganda] would be in a position to complain of his captivity. The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him the walls of his prison are invisible and he believes himself to be free.” [Italics added]

The result, of course, is a society like that in Huxley’s novel, a society of captives who think they are free: denizens of an ant hill, as Dostoevsky put it.  When I asked my classes to read Huxley’s novels most had no idea what he was talking about: his world was so unlike theirs. Or so they thought.

“That so many of the well-fed television watchers in the world’s most powerful democracy should be so completely indifferent to the idea of self-government, so blankly uninterested in freedom of thought and the right to dissent, is distressing but not surprising. ‘Free as a bird,’ we say, and envy the winged creatures for their power of unfettered movement in all three dimensions. But, alas, we forget the dodo. Any bird that has learned how to grub up a good living without being compelled to use its wings will soon renounce the privilege of flight and remain forever grounded. Something analogous is true of human beings. If the bread is supplied regularly and copiously three times a day, many of them will be perfectly content to live by bread alone. ‘In the end,’ says the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s parable, ‘in the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, ‘make us your slaves, but feed us.'”

One wonders if the plethora of entertainment that surrounds us and diverts our attention from important matters could possibly be part of an attempt to dull our minds, weaken our critical faculties. Is that far-fetched? In any event, apropos of Huxley’s last comment, the interesting, albeit disturbing, question is what will happen to these Dodos when there isn’t enough bread? They will then be forced to think in order to survive, but almost certainly, as things now stand, they will be unable to do so.

It Must Be True

The headline reads “Secret Government Weather Machine…” and the story goes on to report that weather anomalies connected with global warming are caused by the “government.” Further, there are those who believe that we will all be asked to pay an “energy tax” of $2,500.00 on top of our normal taxes to help offset the effects of this machine. The money will be deposited in the World Bank. In other words, the “government” is causing global warming so it can collect some more money and grow rich. This is positively funny — or it would be if people didn’t actually believe it! And there are people who believe this. In fact, they not only believe it, they are spreading the word. A bus driver in Kalispell, Montana was overheard relaying this nonsense to two elderly folks who had the audacity to express concern over the melting glaciers in the National Park!

Let’s get real, shall we?? There are several problems with this story that bother me as a philosopher with a sense of humor. To begin with, it is borderline crazy. It is not clear what the pictures taken from outer space as shown on the internet reveal, if anything. Given the level of technical expertise these days it is quite possible that the images that accompany the story (on a very strange web site called “Polyton Civilization Site) are manufactured in-house — someone’s house. Or they are photo-shopped! They really don’t show much of anything except a white ring in the sky above Australia.

But we need to beware the budding paranoia here: who, exactly, is “the government”? I begin to suspect that the word has multiple meanings for people and stands, generally, for “the enemy.” I engaged in an exchange of comments with an anonymous person on the internet recently about the lack of adequate salaries for teachers and the correspondent (who never gave his or her name) kept insisting that the “government” was in control of the education system because “they” wanted people they could control. This is absurd on its face, because no government that I know of is closely tied in with any educational policy I am familiar with. The policies that are set in each state differ and they are determined by agencies that are, in many cases, elected by the voters in those states — not appointed or under the thumb of any state government I am familiar with.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not writing to defend Boards of Education. I think they are a big part of the problem with education in this country. But it’s not because “the government” wants to control our kids and turn them into robots — though they may, in fact!  It’s because these people are too far from what is going on in the classroom to know what needs to be done. I am a big fan of local autonomy and if I were Commissar of Culture I would eliminate all Boards of Education and all outside agencies and turn the running of the local schools over to parents, local School Boards, and teachers. I would reduce the number of administrators by 75% in a New York minute. That would save a bundle, and I would transfer their salaries to the teachers who do the real work.

But back to the crazies who think the “government” has created global warming for its own profit. Does this really deserve comment? Certainly not, except that people believe it is true because they read it on the Internet. Again, if I were Commissar of Culture, I would order everyone to disbelieve everything they read on the Internet — except my blogs, of course — and those of a couple of carefully chosen friends (like newsofthetimes and musingofanoldfart and a couple of others that are downright funny).

Sorry, folks, you’ve heard this before, but it all comes back to education. The fact that people believe what they read without the basic critical skills required to separate nonsense from plausible truth simply shows that they have not learned anything important in school. In a word, we are back to the fact that this nation spends the major portion of its tax money not on weather machines, but on weapons of war when real needs — such as education — go begging.