Who Will Be Brave in Huxley’s New World?


by Cynthia Chung, Strategic Culture:

No wonder that the Tavistock Institute and the CIA became involved in looking at the effects of LSD and how to influence and control the mind.

 “ ‘Science?’….’Yes,’ Mustapha Mond was saying, ‘that’s another item in the cost of stability. It isn’t only art that’s incompatible with happiness; it’s also science. Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled…I’m interested in truth, I like science. But truth’s a menace, science is a public danger. As dangerous as it’s been beneficent. It has given us the stablest equilibrium in history…But we can’t allow science to undo its own good work. That’s why we so carefully limit the scope of its researchers…We don’t allow it to deal with any but the most immediate problems of the moment. All other enquiries are most sedulously discouraged…Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness…[but] People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were the sovereign goods. Right up to the time of the Nine Years’ War. That made them change their tune all right. What’s the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled – after the Nine Years’ War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s been very good for happiness. One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for. You’re paying for it, Mr. Watson – paying because you happen to be too much interested in beauty. I was too much interested in truth; I paid too.’ “

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

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Where does one start in discussing the famed fiction novel of Huxley? Although most agree that there is a definite brilliance to the piece, most are also confused as to what was Huxley’s intention in writing the extremely influential dystopic vision. Was it meant to be taken as an exhortation? An inevitable prophecy? Or rather…was it meant as an Open Conspiracy?

What do I mean by an Open Conspiracy?

If we are going to talk about such things our story starts with H.G. Wells, whom Aldous acknowledged he was most certainly influenced by, particularly by Wells’ novels “A Modern Utopia,” “The Sleeper Awakes,” and “Men Like Gods,” when writing his “Brave New World.”

Although Aldous is quoted as referring to Wells as a “horrid, vulgar little man,” (Wells was indeed not a very likeable individual) it was not for reasons one might first assume. Aldous did share a Wellsian perspective in that society should be organised based on a caste system. Perhaps this was one of the reasons Aldous was so fascinated with learning about India’s Hindu religious beliefs and practices, which had coexisted for centuries with a deeply ingrained caste system to which India is still struggling to remove itself from to this day. This is not to say that one caused the other, or that Hinduism has not offered a plethora of great works and insights, but that it had become corrupted and thoroughly intertwined with upholding India’s caste system at some point one cannot deny; that it was used to justify a system of hierarchy from slave to the god-like state of a Brahmin and that British imperialists had always been greatly fascinated by this form of social organization one cannot deny.

Aldous was always interested in the subject of religion, but more so for its uses in behaviourism and mental conditioning achieved through such techniques as entering states of trance where an individual’s suggestibility could be manipulated. Hypnopædia was not just some quirky sci-fi concoction. It is also why Aldous was so interested in the work of Dr. William Sargant, whom Aldous repeatedly refers to in his writings and lectures and who was involved with the Tavistock Institute and MKUltra. More on this in Part two.

These spiritual/religious studies are what shaped the core thesis of Aldous’ book “Doors of Perception” which is considered the instruction manual for what started the counterculture movement. The title is influenced by the poet William Blake who wrote in 1790 in his book “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,”:

if the doors of perception were cleansed then everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern

Another major influence for “Doors of Perception” was again H.G. Wells, from his book “The Door in the Wall,” which examines the contrast between aesthetics and science and the difficulty in choosing between them. The protagonist Lionel Wallace is unable to bridge the gap between his imagination and his rational, scientific side which leads to his death.

Aldous writes in his “Doors of Perception,”:

That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely…Art and religion, carnivals and saturnalia [ancient Roman pagan festival], dancing and listening to oratory – all these have served, in H.G. Wells’s phrase, as Doors in the Wall…Under a more realistic, a less exclusively verbal system of education than ours, every Angel (in Blake’s sense of that word) would be permitted as a sabbatical treat, would be urged and even, if necessary, compelled to take an occasional trip through some chemical Door in the Wall into the world of transcendental experience. If it terrified him, it would be unfortunate but probably salutary. If it brought him a brief but timeless illumination, so much the better. In either case the Angel might lose a little of the confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning and the consciousness of having read all the books…But the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out…

Aldous was always chasing the perfect drug that would be minimal in its physically destructive effects but would allow an individual to tap into an almost consumer state of a religious/spiritual out-of-body experience, a transcendence that promised a connection with the Infinite, inner peace and enlightenment.

Enlightenment and inner peace in a pill, ready for whenever one needed a short holiday from the “illusion” of reality.

The name Soma, which Aldous used to name his fantasy ideal drug in “Brave New World,” was based off a plant whose juices were used to create the spiritual drink which was described in both the ancient religious practices of the Vedic tradition and Zoroastrianism, which called the plant and spiritual drink by the same name, Soma. Today, it is a mystery as to what plant they were referring to in these texts. Huxley no doubt chased after this dragon the entire latter half of his life, and indeed, psilocybin mushrooms are theorised as one of the potential candidates for what could have been named Soma centuries ago.

It is perhaps here that people are the most confused about the character of Huxley. After all, he was obviously walking the walk so to speak, thus didn’t he truly believe that psychedelics were the path to freedom through enlightenment?

Well, the argument has been made that Huxley’s approach to LSD [and other psychedelics] was essentially oligarchic, that it was to be regarded as a dangerous substance to be sampled only by such fine and visionary minds as his own. That is, those who had the mental strength, the mental stamina to reach enlightenment; those who were too weak to sustain such mental rigours would become the very opposite, and risked falling into the dark pit of complete madness, although this in of itself was perceived by many to be a form of clairvoyance. After all, what is it to be mad in a world that is sickeningly and inhumanely “normal”? This is most certainly how Ken Kesey thought when writing his “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” that madness itself was a form of liberation from the shackles of capitalist societal constraints.

Perhaps madness was the goal, it was after all, much more attainable that the promised enlightenment…

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