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The Esoteric Significance of “Brave New World”

For whatever reason, the two dystopian novels always chosen out to be compared and contrasted with one another are George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It is true that they project fairly dissimilar visions onto the future (for them) of human civilization. Orwell’s take was one of a Western Plutocratic Fascism and an Eastern Communism joining political forces behind the scenes in order to produce an indefinite Cold War scenario, all the better for both sides to maintain iron-fisted social, cultural, and economic control over their populations. As Orwell himself puts it, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” Orwell’s is a future of tight social control and inhumane oppression upon what it means to be a thinking, feeling being.

Orwell’s dystopia has one major factor in common with Huxley’s: the suppression of rational thought and promotion of irrational emotionalism is used as the means of undercutting any possibility of escape or revolution. In Orwell, the overriding emotional factor is, of course, terror. In Huxley’s, it is quite different: it is pleasure.

In point of fact, neither one has come to pass in full, but both have come upon us in different ways. Whether or not it is entirely intentional, it is quite clear that we are being manipulated by our fear-responses. This seems to be the basis, however, only of foreign policy and international economic policy. Within countries, at least in the West, Huxley appears to have largely won the day. Again intentionally or not, people largely keep themselves in place by way of unquestioned consumption, unconscious absorption of endless streams of advertising, and psychological infantilization in the guise of “self-actualization” and by way of “self-esteem”. (An important documentary on this topic by Adam Curtis of the BBC may be found, for free, here. If you cannot download from this link for any reason, just do a search for “Century of the Self” by Adam Curtis.) In point of fact, though, and as strange as it may now sound, this particular post is not a political one.

As I have stated before, my approach to political question is essential moral rather than political in the usual sense. As such, I have no interest at all in merely dissecting various political ideas and then arguing over my own preferred version of them. I would rather discuss Huxley’s ideas within their own context: the Perennial Philosophy. Huxley was himself of a Perennialist persuasion; he even wrote a book about it, and a very good book at that.

You see hints all the time in Brave New World (BNW) that Huxley was not just lamenting the decay of liberalism (though he was indeed so lamenting); he was simultaneously lamenting the loss of Traditional values. Let’s be clear: Huxley’s values, though Traditional, were not at all narrow. No, the Perennial Philosophy permits of no bigotry, certainly no sexism nor racism. Homophobia is a dangerous byproduct of “family values” tribalism which passes under the name of “tradition”, but really has no place in Tradition. Where any of the Revelations mention it, it is generally for a very specific purpose that they do so, one which unfortunately has become obscured by time and the unfortunate human tendency to utilitarianism. I do not know what Huxley’s personal feelings were on homosexuality, but given his own friendships and acquaintances in life I would very much doubt if he took other than a neutral, disinterested view of the topic. But that is, really, neither here nor there; it is merely an important aside to make, given the present day’s social climate.

Huxley laments, in BNW, the loss of Christianity. This he does not because of the prejudices of exoteric Christian theology, but because of Christianity’s perennial sense of morality (karma-yoga), its salvific sacramentalism, and its rich and inspiring hagiography. What Huxley misses from Christianity in his dystopian vision is not “churchianity” but rather the living, operative core of the religion, the very fact that it, like all of the revelations, has something to it which hasdescended to us that we might become liberated from the shallow, the fragile, the meaningless. BNW illustrates this in narrative fashion by pointing to a sort of sacramental parody practiced by the citizens of the “one-world” society in the book.

The Twelve Apostles are replaced by the twelve participants around the table during the pseudo-religious service known as the Solidarity Service. Christ is Himself replaced by Henry Ford, whose prominence is assured as the one who perfected the concept of the factory assembly line and, thus, of efficiency over humanity; it is also dryly remarked that in his inscrutability, “Our Ford” referred to himself as “Freud” when discussing matters of psychology. (Again, see the documentary linked above.) All of the crosses of the world have had their heads cut off to make them capital Ts, after the Ford Model T. The hymns to God Almighty, the pre-existent Reality, are revamped into songs invoking the mere “Greater Being/Social Friend”, an egregore of the society itself rather than anything higher or deeper than itself. The Holy Sacrament is nothing but a narcotic/hallucinogenic/aphrodisiac drug cocktail called (in another nod to Traditional religion) soma after the Hindu mythology’s equivalent of manna or ambrosia. The whole affair is wrapped up with, well, an affair called “Orgy-Porgy” in which the twelve participants, alternating male and female, give in to mere lust and conduct a soporific orgy around the periphery of the circular chamber. Even this last detail is symbolic; given his knowledge of the esoteric dimension of the world’s religions, Huxley was fully aware that the Altar of the Divine Mass, no matter where it is actually situated in the church building, represents the Center where, if the metaphor will be permitted, Heaven and earth conjoin and Heaven makes Herself manifest in a way that permits of participation by unregenerate human individuals. Orgy-Porgy, on the other hand, takes as its position the periphery of the “worship” space, representing a moving-outward from Essence to form rather than the other way round.

It is often said that Huxley spent much of his intellectual life trying to reconcile “passion” with “rationality”; this seems to me to be a rather shallow interpretation of Huxley’s actual aims. Brave New World, along with many of Huxley’s other fictional works, certainly presents passionate feeling as a counterpoint to a stifling sort of rationalism. Those qualifications, however, count. It was not rational thought itself to which Huxley made himself an enemy; how could he have? No, it was the mechanizing rationalism of the modern movements he saw around him which troubled him, and whose fruits we are now eating today in blissful ignorance of the diseased tree from which they have fallen. Just as Aldous predicted. (And, now, another documentary from Adam Curtis: All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace.)

As all of the Revelations attest, passion-as-such is not necessarily a good thing. More often than not, it is intensely destructive and tends to act as one of the primary imprisoning forces in our lives. After all, when we are passionate about something, we are unduly attached to it and will tend to go to absurd lengths to obtain our ends, or at least make certain that nobody else will be able to get it away from us. In the face of oppression, however—especially the sort of oppression which dissipates even healthy emotion—it may well be passion which allows us our first real contact with something other than the controls put in place to maintainstatus quo. Emotion is a lot like plumbing for a shower; if the pipes are kept too wide, we will likely not even get a trickle, as gravity will not permit the water to rise beyond a certain base level. If, however, the pipes are made more and more narrow, capillary action draws the water up the pipe by way of its own surface tension and, fwoosh!, you get a nice, hot shower with plenty of water pressure. Likewise with emotions; if the channels for their expression are wide, the emotions remain shallow and soft, while if the channels are tight, the emotions will naturally tend to burst forth by the power of their own tension. If we are permitted to determine our own emotional channels and our own mental focus (the tightness of the pipes), we might be able to use the resulting force to burst out of our selfish prisons. In order to ensure liberation, rather than reincarceration in a higher security prison, this process requires intense discipline; hence the difficulty of authentic Yoga, Tantra, Alchemy, theurgy, contemplative prayer, and other forms ofsadhana. Still, if passion is not permitted at the outset, any and all of these methods are immediately closed off from all but the born contemplative, a rare enough breed in any case. So the tension, here, is not between rational thought and emotion, but rather between the misapplication of rational thought over against a deeper mental discipline which uses the passions as its fuel without being overwhelmed by them.

Huxley’s Brave New World still seems somewhat far off to many people. To those with eyes to see, however, we are living in the thick of it, albeit in a modified form. Rarely is a prophet correct on specifics, even where he is deadly accurate on the overall trend. But it is this bird’s-eye-view that is most dangerous to the powers and principalities of this world. As Huxley wrote barely into the first chapter of Brave New World: “For particulars, as every one knows, make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils. Not philosophers but fretsawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society.”

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