Aldous Huxley letter to George Orwell
30/01/17 09:30 Filed in: reviews
The current edition of New Philosopher magazine includes a copy of a fascinating letter written by Aldous Huxley to George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) after he read a first edition copy Orwell's famous book, '1984'. I thought I'd reproduce it here in its entirety, as I think it touches upon a very important subject, that Orwell's dark dystopia was very perceptive and prescient in its warnings and ideas but missed a key point, that it wasn't the most efficient system of population control. Here's the letter:
Dear Mr Orwell,
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the middle of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor eyesight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on ‘Nineteen eight-four’.
Agreeing with all that the critics that have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once once, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals - the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution - the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at the total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology - are to be found the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen eight-four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in ‘Brave New World’. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognisance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile and the rest.
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotise successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnosis. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of ‘Nineteen eighty-four’ is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in ‘Brave New World’. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large-scale biological and atomic war - in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
Thank you once again for the book.
Yours Sincerely, Aldous Huxley.
Huxley makes the perceptive point that the brutish violence of a totalitarian dictatorship is a crude system for controlling people. Machiavelli famously pointed out that fear is a very reliable way to control people, far more reliable than love, but he also missed the point that fear and beatings make a population unproductive. North Korea is a classic example where fear and a desire to leave, among other factors, has put the country in a state of near starvation. Huxley explains to Orwell that if the elite can mesmerise their population into believing they are in the best possible place and what the industrial behemoths supply to them is the ultimate things to strive for and possess, then such a system is far more effective than control through fear.
A poignant example of this 'upgrade' to an Orwellian state, a place that one might call 2104 or 'twenty-one four', is the television. In '1984', the televisions are designed to be always on; the hapless ordinary people cannot turn them off. In 2104, the upgraded version of 1984, the elite have so indoctrinated and mesmerised the population, using techniques developed in programmes such as the CIA's infamous MK-ULTRA project, that no one wants to turn off their television, a far more powerful form of control. This dark idea is most definitely happening now for a lot of people. I have had multiple experiences where I have entered a friend or associate's household and found their television on by default. What's more, when I sat and chatted to the person or couple concerned, the television remained on even though none of us were interested in its content. I've had to ask the couple concerned to turn it off, which often made them confused and unsettled. Other commentators have drawn attention to this problem and its related effects, particularly the effects of television on the brain, often quoting the influential work carried out by Paul Krugman.
There are lots of other elements that could be added to the idea of 2104, particularly such technologies as the smartphone, which I've written about in my psi-earth articles, but that's for another day. Huxley's letter to Orwell is fascinating enough all by itself; a brilliantly perceptive and prescient discussion of our social, technological, political, ideological and probably biological future.
Addendum (2nd Feb 2016):
Interestingly, there's been an article in the Guardian newspaper this week on exactly the same topic mentioned in this article, written by the son of the New York professor Neil Postman. The author makes the same point, that the book 'Brave New World' has been far more accurate in its predictions about a dysfunction future for Western Society than '1984'. There is also a strange angle to this topic, for I've read in the last few days that Aldous Huxley actually seems to have been actively involved in United States establishments that could be said to have been leading a programme of bringing about a 'Brave New World'-style future. For example, In the book 'Transhumanism' by David Livingstone, the author quotes the following words, supposedly taken from Aldous Huxley's speech to the Californian Medical School in San Francisco 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 they will rather enjoy it because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. This seems to be the final revolution."