By Cynthia Chung
“ ‘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
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…
As William Sargant noted in his book “Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing” J.F.C. Hecker was studying the dancing mania phenomenon that occurred during the Black Death, which was a social phenomenon that arose in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. It involved groups of people who would begin to dance erratically during the Plague, sometimes thousands at a time until they would fall from exhaustion or from injuries. It was thought to have arisen in Aachen, Germany in 1374 and quickly spread throughout Europe with one of the last observations of it occurring in 1518 in Alsace, France.
Hecker observed in his research on the dancing mania that heightened suggestibility had the capability to cause a person to “embrace with equal force, reason and folly, good and evil, diminish the praise of virtue as well as the criminality of vice.”
Such a state of mind was likened to the first efforts of the infant mind, Sargant writes “this instinct of imitation when it exists in its highest degree, is also united a loss of all power over the will, which occurs as soon as the impression on the senses has become firmly established, producing a condition like that of small animals when they are fascinated by the look of a serpent.”
I wonder if Sargant imagined himself the serpent…
It is 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. And perhaps it is no coincidence that Aldous Huxley was in close correspondence with William Sargant to which Sargant even refers to Aldous’ “insights” multiple times in his book “Battle for the Mind.”
Aldous is also quoted in a lecture he delivered to the Tavistock Group, California Medical School in 1961:
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”
Aldous goes on to state a year later in a lecture titled “The Ultimate Revolution” at UC Berkeley Language Center 1962:
“Today we are faced, I think, with the approach of what may be called the ultimate revolution, the final revolution, where man can act directly on the mind-body of his fellows…we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably will always exist to get people to love their servitude. This is the, it seems to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions shall we say, and this is a problem which has interested me many years and about which I wrote thirty years ago, a fable, Brave New World, which is an account of society making use of all the devices available and some of the devices which I imagined to be possible making use of them in order to, first of all, to standardize the population, to iron out inconvenient human differences, to create, to say, mass produced models of human beings arranged in some sort of scientific caste system.”
Yes, yes we get it. This is all to be taken as “warnings” to the public, a terrible necessity that will come about if over-population is not addressed (as he makes clear in his Brave New World Revisited). With over-population comes over-organization which in turn leads to the scientific advances in technology which we are told by Aldous can only lead to totalitarianism. Thus, population growth and advances in the sciences are the greatest threat to humankind. Wait, that sounds oddly very much like the reasonings of Mustapha Mond, have we come around full circle, what exactly does Aldous agree and disagree with here? Are we to have a scientific dictatorship in order to avoid a totalitarian system in the form of a scientific dictatorship?
In H.G. Wells’ “Open Conspiracy: Blueprints for a World Revolution,” he describes his vision for a Modern Religion:
‘…if religion is to develop unifying and directive power in the present confusion of human affairs it must adapt itself to this forward-looking, individuality-analyzing turn of mind; it must divest itself of its sacred histories…The desire for service, for subordination, for permanent effect, for an escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life, is the undying element in every religious system.
The time has come to strip religion right down to that [service and subordination is all Wells wants to keep of the old relic of religion]…The explanation of why things are is an unnecessary effort…The essential fact…is the desire for religion and not how it came about…The first sentence in the modern creed must be, not “I believe,” but “I give myself.”’
Hmmm, is this the same Revolution as Aldous is speaking about? After all, there is a lot of similarity between H.G. Wells’ description of his “Modern Religion” and what Aldous is preaching in his “Doors of Perception,” to which Wells is undoubtedly a large influence. The desire to escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life, that the explanation for why one does something is not important, only to be motivated by the desire for release, for a complete catharsis that only the fervour of a “religious,” a “spiritual” experience can bring about.
It is the desire for, not the care for why. To believe is not even acceptable, because to believe pertains to thought, it is merely a matter of surrender, that you give yourself. It is not to act with reason but to be possessed by its very opposite; to be in a state of existence where there are no words, and thus there are no thoughts, just direct sensory feeling.
The ultimate achievement is to completely surrender oneself to the external world, perhaps to a dictatorship without tears…
The reader should be aware that Wells wrote a book titled “The New World Order” in 1940, and is the first that I am aware of to pioneer this now-infamous term. The reader should also be aware that Julian Huxley (Aldous Huxley’s brother) was a co-author of “The Science of Life,” a part of Wells’ trilogy “The Outline of History” (1919), “The Science of Life” (1929), and “The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind” (1932) to which Wells made no qualms should be regarded as the new Bible. Julian was also a prominent member of the British Eugenics Society, serving as its Vice-President from 1937-1944 and its President from 1959-1962. Interesting life choices from the authors of the “new Bible.”
In addition, Aldous’ grandfather Thomas Huxley (“Charles Darwin’s bulldog”) was the biology teacher of H.G. Wells and was one of the largest influences in Wells’ life, promoting the works of Charles Darwin and Thomas Malthus, for more on this refer to my paper. Although Thomas Huxley lived before the time of the “science” of Eugenics, he was a stout Malthusian and thus one can rather safely say would have been a eugenicist if offered the chance.
Thus, we should regard Aldous’ mention of the stylish ‘Malthusian belt’ in his “Brave New World,” under a more somber light perhaps…
And now we are ready to walk through the doors of perception on Aldous himself, the true Huxley behind the projected illusion. We may not find Infinity at the end of this excursion, but we will most certainly be better equipped to tell the difference between Huxley’s self and non-self, between what is real and what is false.
[This is Part 1 to a three-part series, Part 2 and Part 3 will cover the War on Science, the Battle for your Mind and Aldous Huxley as a pioneer for the counter-culture movement and its implications.]