by Michael Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg:
When people talk of the freedom of writing, speaking or thinking I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists; but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after you and I shall write and speak no more.
– John Adams letter to Thomas Jefferson, July 15, 1817
Brave New World Revisited is one of the few books I’ve read in my life that I continue to think about on a regular basis. In terms of understanding where humanity stands at present and what we need to do to get out of the mess we’ve created, it’s one of the more important pieces of non-fiction you can find.
I recently felt the need to reread the book for some unknown reason, and I’m glad I did. The choices we make as a species about how we reorganize human affairs in the decades to come will determine the future of human freedom on this planet. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited offers an abundance of wisdom for us to consider as we move forward.
Huxley was deeply concerned with the importance of individual human freedom and the forces relentlessly trying to stifle it. Here’s a brief description of how Huxley viewed our species:
In the course of evolution nature has gone to endless trouble to see that every individual is unlike every other individual. We reproduce our kind by bringing the father’s genes into contact with the mother’s. These hereditary factors may be combined in an almost infinite number of ways. Physically and mentally, each one of us is unique. Any culture which, in the interests of efficiency or in the name of some political or religious dogma, seeks to standardize the human individual, commits an outrage against man’s biological nature…
Biologically speaking, man is a moderately gregarious, not a completely social animal — a creature more like a wolf, let us say, or an elephant, than like a bee or an ant. In their original form human societies bore no resemblance to the hive or the ant heap; they were merely packs. Civilization is, among other things, the process by which primitive packs are transformed into an analogue, crude and mechanical, of the social insects’ organic communities. At the present time the pressures of over-population and technological change are accelerating this process. The termitary has come to seem a realizable and even, in some eyes, a desirable ideal. Needless to say, the ideal will never in fact be realized. A great gulf separates the social insect from the not too gregarious, big-brained mammal; and even though the mammal should do his best to imitate the insect, the gulf would remain. However hard they try, men cannot create a social organism, they can only create an organization. In the process of trying to create an organism they will merely create a totalitarian despotism.
It’s that very last line which is key, and forms the basis of most of Huxley’s most dystopian concerns. If you agree with his assessment (as I do), that human beings are “moderately gregarious” at a species level, and biologically unique at the individual level, any ethical conclusion about how human civilizations should be structured must promote and protect the value of human freedom at its core.
While this may be obvious to many of you, Huxley accurately warns readers of the nontrivial numbers of dedicated ideologues and authoritarian types who disagree and actively work to turn the human being into a mere cog in a large machine of their particular fantasy. The best terms to describe such types and their worldview are: collectivists and collectivism. These sorts insist that the rights of the individual are subservient to the whole, with the whole typically being some artificial construct that happens to be most opportunistic or appealing at any given moment. Collectivism can emerge on the right or the left of the political spectrum — it knows no political party. The key calling card of the collectivist is that he or she wishes to force individuals into a structure of conformity that fits their particular worldview.
As Mr. William Whyte has shown in his remarkable book, The Organization Man, a new Social Ethic is replacing our traditional ethical system — the system in which the individual is primary. The key words in this Social Ethic are “adjustment,” “adaptation,” “socially orientated behavior,” “belongingness,” “acquisition of social skills,” “team work,” “group living,” “group loyalty,” “group dynamics,” “group thinking,” “group creativity.” Its basic assumption is that the social whole has greater worth and significance than its individual parts, that inborn biological differences should be sacrificed to cultural uniformity, that the rights of the collectivity take precedence over what the eighteenth century called the Rights of Man…This ideal man is the man who displays “dynamic conformity” (delicious phrase!) and an intense loyalty to the group, an unflagging desire to subordinate himself, to belong. And the ideal man must have an ideal wife, highly gregarious, infinitely adaptable and not merely resigned to the fact that her husband’s first loyalty is to the Corporation, but actively loyal on her own account.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t view ourselves as interconnected consciousness on a planetary level — I think we should. The key is this must emerge from an individual understanding of consciousness and not some topdown mandate from some collectivist control-freak dictator enforced via violence and coercion.