My commentaries occasionally refer to the brilliant book 1984, by George Orwell, who was inspired in 1948 by Stalinist tactics used in Russia to imagine a world of constant surveillance, deprivation and thought control. If the source of such words as Newspeak, nonperson, memory hole and thoughtcrime is still unfamiliar to you, then you must add 1984 to your reading list.
But there’s another fictional world in which the individual is destroyed, and that’s BRAVE NEW WORLD, written by Aldous Huxley in 1932.
Thanks to the news site LIBERTY DAILY –- which does the job THE DRUDGE REPORT used to do when it had sense –- we found a link to a prophetic 1958 interview between journalist Mike Wallace and Huxley. Everyone should see this.
It should be said at the outset that Mike Wallace was a powerhouse journalist. In later years, as a reporter on 60 MINUTES, he did go after conservatives like Ronald Reagan in a way that could irritate, but one didn’t get the impression that he was just shilling for one political party or narrative. His son, Chris Wallace, host of FOX NEWS SUNDAY, might want to think about that next time he tries to pressure a guest into saying Biden is the President-ELECT. To use a reference from 1984, it reminds me of the head of the Party making Winston Smith say 2+2=5. I digress.
Anyway, Mike Wallace was interviewing Huxley because of the author’s newly-published series of essays on the threats to freedom in America, called ENEMIES OF FREEDOM (also published as BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISITED).
"Who and what are the enemies of freedom here in the United States?” Wallace asked him. At that time, Mr. Huxley said he couldn’t really give an answer to the “who,” but he could see “impersonal forces” pushing us away from freedom. He also said there were “a number of technological devices which anyone who wishes to use can use to accelerate this process.”
This was 1958! Imagine if Huxley could see what we have now in the way of “technological devices” being used to accelerate the process of diminishing our freedom. Even his genius could never have foreseen it.
Instead, Huxley was contemplating such forces as overpopulation, not yet in America but in other areas of the world, as a reason to manage people’s lives. “Unfortunately,” he said, “in all these underdeveloped countries, the only highly-organized political party is the Communist Party.” He said they likely would be “the heirs of this unfortunate process.” And so they still are, in China.
The force at work in America he called “over-organization.” With increasingly elaborate technology, we need more hierarchical organization. (Conveniently, advances in organization have accompanied advances in technology.) More and more people live as “subordinates” in systems controlled by bureaucracies such as Big Business or Big Government. (Today, of course, we'd throw in Big Tech.)
When asked what specific devices might be used for control, Huxley mentioned the propaganda techniques used by Hitler to impose his will on masses of people. He said such methods weren’t being used in America –- remember, this was 1958 –- but they existed and were available, some more sophisticated than Hitler’s. “We mustn’t be caught by surprise by our own advancing technology,” he warned.
Huxley saw television as being used “quite harmlessly” (again, 1958) but foresaw it being used to control us. He noted that in totalitarian countries, it’s on “all the time,” giving out one message, “one single idea all the time.” (This sounds like Orwell’s telescreen, and also like CNN talking trash about Trump.) TV is “an immensely powerful instrument,” he said. "Morally neutral,” it can be used for good or evil.
When Wallace asked him what a future totalitarian state might be like, he said it might be very unlike those from “the immediate past,” meaning, I assume, Maoist China and Soviet Russia. Huxley saw future regimes maintaining control by gaining the consent of those being ruled. In BRAVE NEW WORLD, of course, the government uses a fictional drug called “Soma” to keep everybody content and cooperative.
But mostly they would do it with propaganda, by “bypassing the rational side of man and appealing to his subconscious, deeper emotions, and his physiology, even” so that he will be made to “actually love his slavery.” He’ll be happy, in a way, but “happy in a situation where he oughtn’t to be happy.”
Huxley said it was important to start thinking of these possibilities so we wouldn’t be surprised by the things that “people of bad will” tried to impose on us through technology.
In his essays, Huxley wrote prophetically about what was starting to happen to politics. Wallace quotes him: “All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere. Political principles and plans for specific action come to lose most of their importance. The personality of the candidate, the way he is projected by the advertising experts, are the things that really matter.”
The advertising business was merchandizing candidates “as if they were soap or toothpaste,” Huxley told Wallace.
"Personality is important, but there are certainly people with an extremely amiable personality, particularly on TV, who might not necessarily be very good in positions of political trust.”
Boy, did he say a mouthful. Quick, how many of you immediately thought of “good ol’ Joe” trying to project likability from his basement. Can I see a show of hands?
Once science has found that something works, he said, you can be sure the technology behind it is going to steadily improve. So advertising would, he predicted, become more sophisticated. Participation in democracy requires a rational side, but advertising tries to bypass rationality and appeal to unconscious forces below the surface. “So you are, in a way, making nonsense of the whole democratic procedure which is based on conscious choice on rational grounds.”
This is exactly what we’re seeing today. Especially the part about nonsense.
He spoke about the danger of these techniques being used on children, who are the most vulnerable. “It’s not an immediate threat,” he said, “but it remains a possible threat.” I wonder what he’d say about the indoctrination going on in schools today.
The big take-away, I think, is Huxley’s emphasis on the importance of limiting centralized control and the power of “the group” in favor of the individual mind. He’d hate modern "safe spaces," "cancel culture" and “identity politics.”
When Wallace observed that Soviet Russia wasn’t a free society but didn’t seem to squelch artistic creativity, Huxley said that in such a society, the scientists and others doing creative work enjoy far more freedom than others, and a relatively high standard of living. They have PRIVILEGE. And that’s how I imagine today’s leftists see themselves in a future socialist society. They’ll be special while others (we) are the drones.
Ironically, it’s Orwell who comes to mind here: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
We also found a must-read essay on the Huxley interview, written in 2017 by Frank Miele, that discusses Trump and the media propaganda machine targeting him.