Empty Days

Wednesday, July 14, 2004



Brave New World.

Finished the book, already. A fast read, especially since I kept skipping some of the less coherent bits (poor Mr.Savage made to read Shakespeare among primitive Indians - what a cruel turn of fate). The ideas on the whole make sense and I am sure this is why Huxley struck such a hit with this book, but his essays are likely somewhat better than his fiction. Likewise I basically thought that the film 1984 was actually better than the book (talking Orwell here) - it took all the relevant ideas and put them out much more forcefully and succintly. But thanks to Orwell for the ideas anyhow.

Huxley, being a man of his time, is obsessed with the concept of the totalitarian state. Just like Orwell was - and so many others of that era. Communism and fascism were fresh and vibrantly violent phenomena back then. Basically the whole of the West trembled at such a prospect applied to the whole planet. Orwell was practically convinced that this is what it will be like everywhere (meaning: in England), sooner rather than later. The extreme application of socialism and all that.

Meantime, capitalist democracy successfully took over and now fascism is a well-forgotten "bad dream" and communism is rapidly mutating back to capitalist democracy pretty much everywhere (North Korea and Cuba are hanging by a thread of an older generation - same for China). The result of which is that the democratic west is rapidly getting over its head. Most people here sincerely believe that there is no such thing as democratic propaganda, that we live in a world where propaganda pretty much does not exist and is not needed - since everybody is already profoundly convinced that there can be no better thing than "free market and democracy". Is this true? Haha.

That's where Huxley's idea of the "tyranny of happiness" comes in under a new form. It turns out that we don't need a handful of enlightened cynical elites to social-engineer a great mass of slaves. That's not how it happens. Our elites are even dumber than the masses (look at the hi-tech community, heh) All we need is the "tyranny of a majority" - and we've got it already: everyone agrees that "democracy and freedom" is good, "racism" is bad, being rich is better than being poor etc etc. With that we need a majority ideology of a certain idea of happiness perpetuated of its own, without any special coercion - and we've got that as well (if you think there is too much "violence" in Hollywood films, think again). We've got the tyranny of happiness - it is naturally delivered by a philosophy of low-level materialism or "scientism", cushioned in all sorts of grand humanistic ideals, like "opportunity for all", "water for all", "safe sex for all", "equality for all", "health care for all" and I don't know what else "for all".

Ongoing social problems resulting from a good chunk of individuals either unable or unwilling to participate in the dominant ideology (which is: unable to get a good job, start buying up all that shit out there, roll along in milk and butter, and shut the fuck up) plus other private disasters of life like malady, death, and crimes of passion - all this does not speak against the way this world is developping. All these are simply exceptions that confirm the rule: not enough happiness, it must be spread to each and all, etc. Unabomber was labelled "crazy" for speaking out too violently against the state of affairs - he killed people! To which he replied in his Manifesto that, for instance, huge chemical factories kill far more people through pollution, not to mention too many cars spoiling air in big cities - but of course they don't mail bombs and they're "part of the system" which is like saying "they're forces of nature" these days.

In other words, while administrative totalitarian regimes may seem like a thoroughly labelled and thus highly avoidable evil, the prospect of a Brave New World remains alive and well - after all its greatest inhumanity is containted in its all too human perspective: nothing seems to exist beyond human society and human happiness. Nothing beyond human civilization. Shakespeare is not the antithesis here - but a muddling precursor.

Huxley's book is imbued with humanism. His talk of God is notoriously unconvincing, which is natural given that in his world-view God is simply one of the tenets of a "free individual" - and nothing else. An attribute and a tribute to human freedom - deus in the pocket, so to speak. Just like it was for Shakespeare in any case. Curiously enough, while the whole project of humanism has been the liberation of man from the fear of God, then from fear on Nature, now the whole project seems reduced to the liberation of man from the fear of Society. What's next? Theoretically, that should be liberation of man from himself - either through merging of man and machine, or through something else. But we've got outselves so deep into that bottle that I hardly see any other development.

Anyway - it was an interesting read.





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