Sunday, September 09, 2007

Brave New World, Materialism and Artificial Happiness

"Brave New World at 75" “‘Mr. Huxley, of course, sees so clearly what the psychologists do not see, that such a world must give up not only war, but also spiritual conflicts of any kind, not only superstition, but also religion, not only literary criticism but also great creative art of whatever kind, not only economic chaos, but also all the beauty of the old traditional things, not only the hard and ugly parts of ethics, but the tender and beautiful parts too.’ Lamenting the death of metaphysics, Needham wrote that science, which was born of philosophy, had overtaken its parent to become “the only substratum for Reason” and “nothing more nor less than the Mythology accompanying a Technique.”

[ME: *Science was born of philosophy, especially Baconian and Cartesian philosophy. It is not a surprise that science has overtaken its parent, philosophy, when one considers that the philosophy that it was largely born from heaped contempt on philosophy and religion. See Descartes’s Meditations.

*Suppressing spiritual conflicts based on a wager that everything is material would seemingly be sensible if materialism was adequately shown to be true. But if it is not, solving spiritual conflicts by trying to suppress spiritual reality is bound to exacerbate the spiritual condition causing the conflict to express itself in more extreme ways. That is what happened in the political mass movements of modernity.

*The Epicurean mythos of materialism attempts to solve mankind’s problems by dismissing religious claims altogether. This “terrible simplification” is hardly a cure. The Soviet Union was powered by a materialist philosophy whose ostensibly humanitarian motives of justice did not end as the materialists predicted. The Enlightenment solution to the wars of religion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has proven a hoary nightmare. One might consider Nietzsche’s maxim at this point (paraphrasing from memory): “When you go to hunt monsters, be careful that you do not become one yourself.” That is indeed what happened. Now collective amnesia is cultivated to prop up the materialist narrative of the world, the meaning of unmeaning that they fitfully ascribe to the cosmos.]

“Needham saw in Huxley’s book an illustration of something Russell had observed: the mutinous tendency of the modern scientific enterprise, as the means of mastering nature overtake its original intended ends. “It is as if a number of passages from Mr. Bertrand Russell’s recent book The Scientific Outlook had burst into flower, and had rearranged themselves in patches of color like man-eating orchids in a tropical forest,” he suggested. Indeed, Russell’s blueprint of a scientifically ordered society in his 1931 book is very similar to Huxley’s World State, highly regimented and organized around the principles of comfort, stability, and efficiency.” - Caitrin Nicol , “Brave New World at 75”, New Atlantis, Number 16, Spring 2007. (Quoting Joseph Needham, a Cambridge biochemist and embryologist contemporaneous with Aldous Huxley).

[ME: “highly regimented and organized around the principles of comfort, stability, and efficiency”. In other words, Epicurean ataraxia. The lukewarmth of it and the repugnance naturally felt toward this including by Russell is of the essence. The root suppression of primal reality in order to make the flashing, soulless halls of power is sensed but not understood by the materialist who axiomatically, schematically can not incorporate the signals of transcendence into his understanding, making his understanding a mockery of knowledge the more perfect it gets. Only in the materialists imperfection and backsliding from their doctrine is their knowledge good. ]

“In a review of Brave New World called “We Don’t Want to Be Happy,” Russell elaborated on the promise and perils of this scientific deliverance. Huxley, he wrote, “has undertaken to make us sad by the contemplation of a world without sadness.” After describing the material comforts of the fictional society, he reflected on the puzzling instinct to recoil from it:In spite of these merits, the world which Mr. Huxley portrays is such as to arouse disgust in every normal reader, and obviously in Mr. Huxley himself. I have been asking myself why, and trying hard to think that his well-regulated world would really be an improvement upon the one in which we live. At moments I can make myself think this, but I can never make myself feel it. The feeling of revulsion against a well-ordered world has various sources: one of these is that we do not value happiness as much as we sometimes think we do.Unlike the other great dystopias, Huxley’s World State, though totalitarian in its orthodoxy, is ostensibly ordered on the wants of the governed rather than the governors. Threats are rarely used or needed. Rule by bread and circuses has proved more potent than force—and more pernicious, precisely because every means of control is a perversion of something people really want. The only people with any capacity for dissatisfaction are a handful of Alphas, who are as unable to articulate their objection as Russell is. It is difficult to reject the sinister when by slight distortion it masquerades as the sublime. Why feeling should be able to distinguish these things while reason cannot is an interesting question, one which could be left forever unsettled by tinkering, through biotechnology or psychological control, with what Huxley (in a later foreword to the book) called “the natural forms and expressions of life itself.One such expression, of course, is a certain measure of autonomy over the meaning and direction of our lives. Its total absence in the World State is ominously signified by the professional title of the genetic engineers: the Assistant Predestinators. But conflating the influences and experiences that shape our identities with the biological reconstruction of life, Russell, revolted but bemused, reasoned himself into a corner:But we are shocked—more, I think, than we ought to be—by the idea of molding people scientifically instead of allowing them to grow. We have a notion that we can choose what we will be, and that we should not wish to be robbed of this choice by scientific manipulators drugging us before we are born, giving us electric shocks in infancy, and whispering platitudes to us throughout our childhood.But this feeling is, of course, irrational. In the course of nature the embryo grows through natural causes. The infant learns haphazard lessons of pleasure and pain which determine his taste. The child listens to moral propaganda, which may fail through being unscientific, but which, none the less, is intended to mold the character just as much as Mr. Huxley’s whispering machines. It seems, therefore, that we do not object to molding a human being, provided it is done badly; we only object when it is done well.”In the end, Russell said, “what we cling to so desperately is the illusion of freedom, an illusion which is tacitly negated by all moral instruction and all propaganda. To us human life would be intolerable without this illusion. In Mr. Huxley’s Brave New World men live quite comfortably without it.”[ME: Russell, like Dawkins today and so many other materialists, in their idolatrous exuberance for the power of the method, become apologists for the enslavery of man. He, like Dawkins, must axiomatically call freedom an illusion. To me this seems fundamentally because freedom can not be incorporated into the mathematical method, which would mean that Descartes was wrong in his extrapolation, the modern materialistic extrapolation. No, man must be cipherable under the Method as well. This is the initial commitment. You don’t want to have an embarrassing God of the Gaps exposure moment do you? So stick to the Method like a madman even when it means sacrifice, massive sacrifice. Thus an expression of faith such as the following by Sam Harris is commonplace: “In a follow-up article, Fish deepens his inquiry by looking at the kind of evidence that atheists like Dawkins and Harris present for their "scientific" outlook. Harris, for example, writes that "there will probably come a time when we will achieve a detailed understanding of human happiness and of ethical judgments themselves at the level of the brain." (Qtd. in: the sake of these future dream worlds present life is to be sacrificed. Such was the Communist schtick as well, and they sacrificed millions of lives to that illusory end.What I find especially interesting in this article’s treatment of Russell is what it reveals of Russell’s ambivalence, of his unrest in exerting his “logical”, “scientific” point of view when it comes to human freedom and happiness. He struggles with Huxley’s insight. After all, it is a story envisioning his materialist dream world. He cannot figure out why it is repugnant and suggests it is because we don’t value happiness. His ambivalence is revealing of the materialist suppression of reality in their pursuit, in an idolatrous fever, of a feeling-less world of quantified happiness, one that repulses them when it is reflected to them in a prophetic mirror. The aspect of human freedom is a key aspect of materialism. I do not understand those who claim freedom and meaning as materialists (perhaps if they could explain) but their adopted spokesmen are clear enough in their repudiation of these. But it necessarily involves a suppression and disingenuousness to go forward with the materialist program. I sympathize with those who call Marx and Nietzsche “intellectual swindlers” on this point. If everything is determined by things outside of us, who is driving the boat? And why are materialists moralizing and avidly, in some cases, rabidly, trying to persuade and move the course of events as if they were, well, free agents? Because they lie and suppress. That seems the best reason I can make out for how they could hold such belief contradictory to their behavior. Has anyone come up with a better answer?]."In the Grand Inquisitor’s indictment, he pits Christ’s offer of redemption against the church’s promise of security:With us everyone will be happy, and they will no longer rebel or destroy each other, as in your freedom, everywhere. Oh, we shall convince them that they will only become free when they resign their freedom to us, and submit to us. Will we be right, do you think, or will we be lying? They themselves will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember to what horrors of slavery and confusion your freedom led them."{ME: How to escape the weight of glory in being free? Succumb to materialist doctrine}.“In the thematic climax of the novel, Mond defends his spiritually arid civilization by recalling the terrible history that preceded it. Love, literature, liberty, and even science itself are sacrificed in this most scientific of societies—all to serve the goals of happiness and stability. “Happiness,” Mond says, “is a hard master—particularly other people’s happiness. A much harder master, if one isn’t conditioned to accept it unquestioningly, than truth.” To achieve lasting social happiness, all else must be given up…”“Christ’s answer is a resurrection and a kiss; John parries, thrusts, and grandstands. His haphazard education has ill prepared him to argue with the World Controller—but armed with Shakespeare, desperation, and an excess of nobility, he bravely embraces those things which once made bravery necessary:

“Exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death, and danger dare, even for an eggshell. Isn’t there something in that?” he asked, looking up at Mustapha Mond.

“Quite apart from God—though of course God would be a reason for it. Isn’t there something in living dangerously?”

“There’s a great deal in it,” the Controller replied.

“Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time.”

“What?” questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.

“It’s one of the conditions of perfect health. That’s why we’ve made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory.”

“V.P.S.?”“Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It’s the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.”

“But I like the inconveniences.”

“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”

There was a long silence.“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders.

“You’re welcome,” he said.”

“… In the foreword to Brave New World’s 1946 edition, Huxley regretted not giving John an alternative to “insanity on the one hand and lunacy on the other,” an alternative he would later try (unconvincingly) to negotiate in his positive techno-utopia Island. But read in conversation with The Brothers Karamazov, West saw that something deeper is on trial: “Mr. Huxley is attacking the new spirit which tries to induce man to divert in continual insignificant movements relating to the material framework of life all his force, and to abandon the practice of speculating about his existence and his destiny.”…

[ME: This is another key aspect, it seems to me, of embracing philosophical/ religious materialism: suppression of primal questions. One of the evasive movements in currency today of the practice of elevating to the level of certainty speculation about multi-verses, to replace the ancient materialist belief in the eternality of matter. With such a “warranted” belief in place, the question why anything exists at all is put at a further remove, allowing materialists to assume the answer to this question as part of their core doctrine: The universe is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be (Democritus originally, before Carl Sagan)].“By shifting the question from political control to personal conscience, West’s reading anticipated the decentralized way that many of the particular scientific and cultural furnishings of Huxley’s world have made appearances in ours. Orwell’s and Zamyatin’s predictions of inevitable centralized totalitarian government have not come to pass—and indeed, neither have Huxley’s. But the separation of sex from procreation, and love from sex; the consumption-saturated culture threatening to commodify the consumers; the increasingly physico-chemical attempt to explain and treat a troubled psyche—we did not need bureaucratic threats or hypnopaedic repetitions to want these things, and in this sense Huxley profoundly overestimated (or is it underestimated?) mankind, and his book may, in the deepest sense, have gotten our present all wrong. We chose these things ourselves, uncoerced by terror or war or social engineers. They have been developed to respond to real human hurts and desires; and, as might be expected of human choices, the results and motives have been mixed.”

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