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Brave New World Revisited (P.S.)

Brave New World Revisited - Aldous Huxley Last review of the year!I admit I expected this to be fiction... a story picking up where Brave New World left off. Shows you how much I know. Actually, this is a series of essays, in which Huxley explains why he wrote some of the things he wrote in BNW. In that sense, the book reads like an interview on one of those shows like Charlie Rose or Inside the Actor's Studio. It's a little bit self-indulgent on Huxley's part, but it's also captivating. This new volume was written in 1958 - twenty-seven years after Brave New World was penned, and Huxley makes some interesting comments on ways that the world has grown to look more like the world of the OneState.Naturally, Hitler and Stalin are mentioned; both dictators employed propaganda techniques described in BNW. Those comparisons were more or less expected. What I found much more absorbing was Huxley's detailed catalogue of all the new pharmaceuticals developed between 1932 and 1958, which in various ways suggest an effort (conscious or not) on the part of pharmaceutical companies to come up with a drug exactly like "Soma". The most interesting part of this book, in fact, is Huxley's refining of how he thinks a dictatorship would medicate its population. It's a little more sophisticated than what he described in Brave New World. Essentially, Huxley makes a case for tranquilizing (or hallucinogenizing) the population during peace, and amphetiminizing it during war.From the standpoint of 1958, it looked like Huxley's prophecy had been fulfilled... a proliferation of prescription tranquilizers was on the market (as the Rolling Stones sang in 1965: "Mother's Little Helper"), and the country was in a decades-long Cold War, but no hot war. From the standpoint of 2012, things are a little muddier. The number of psychotropic meds available is stunning, and many have a tranquilizing effect, but many of the SSRI meds have a simultaneously uplifting effect. Incidentally, it's also difficult to know whether most citizens would say we're in a state of war or not, given George Bush's advice to go shopping and forget about our foreign military adventures. The world has become very complex.No matter; this book is not really about Huxley saying "Aha! Prophecy fulfilled!" or not. It's about why he wrote what he wrote, and pretty much why he still in 1958 contends he would have written the same thing. This gets to answering questions I posed in my own review of Brave New World, namely: Did Huxley pen BNW to warn the population of creeping totalitarianism, or to rub our noses in it? With this second book, the answer is straightforwardly clear: to warn us. For as much as our society's creep towards the Brave New World is engineered (by people he calls the "Power Elite"), Huxley very articulately denounces it. However he also attributes the march to tyrrany partly to unengineered circumstances, such as the world's increasing population, the scarcity of various strategic resources, the advance of technology, the advent of social sciences, and the unintended consequences of a free market economy. I won't say I agree with every last point, but getting inside of his head for a few hours made for good reading, and further enhanced my appreciation for Brave New World.Most depressing of all, Huxley identifies in our own society a love for gullability and suggestability, which are so easily seized on by those who would control us. Too often, we prize group cohesion over truth; easily-told lies over difficult-to-explain truths, if the latter seem to promote some good; and unthinking slogans which rouse the spirit -so long as the cause is worthy. To illustrate his point, he tells the sad story of the Institute for Propaganga Analysis (IPA). The institute was founded in 1937 in New England, by philanthropist Edward Filene (of "Filene's" department store fame), who was rightly distressed at seeing how effectively Hitler's propaganda was swaying opinions in Europe. The intention of the IPA was to strip the fallacies from Hitler's message, and expose his manipulative trickeries for what they were. At first, the Institute was lauded and supported, but soon the State Department realized they wanted to rouse Americans to war with many of the same techniques. Moreover, certain members of organized religion felt the work of the IAP undermined the spirit and teachings of their various churches. Educators started to voice concern that propaganda analysis would make students too cynical and unruly. Military leaders feared too much critical thinking would make troops unleadable. In short- too many elements within our own "free society" identify with the impulse to control through manipulation- and more importantly, are willing to sacrifice nuanced, critical thinking in exchange for managability of the public to their causes. The IPA was closed six years after it was founded, and its true history is one of the most troublesome anecdotes I've ever heard from a functioning democracy. At the end of this book, the editors saw fit to include a letter written by Aldous Huxley to George Orwell in 1949, after Huxley first read 1984. In my mind, at least, this is a great moment in literary history: a personal communication between the authors of the two great dystopian novels of the twentieth century. Huxley applauds 1984 for its literary merits, and agrees the mechanisms of oppression described therein certainly exist. Huxley sees 1984-style tyrrany as a possiblility, but disagrees with Orwell that it would be a static endpoint in history.He argues that in 1984, political stability is achieved at too high a price (e.g. maintaining a large secret police apparatus to oversee the entire population) which would not be sustainable long-term. The Brave New World is a much more efficient tyrrany; by training a public to love their subservience, the oligarchs of the OneState did not require nearly as large a police force. Where 1984 may be a necessary intermediate for would-be oligarchs, Huxley believes Brave New World better approximates the Power Elite's ultimate model society.Amazing.I'll leave you with a nice passage from page 120:That so many of the well fed young 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 too surprising. "Free as a bird", we say, and envy the winged creatures for their power of unrestricted movement in all the 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.