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More Prophecies from Huxley

Edited Foreword to Brave New World
2nd Edition, Harper (1946) By Aldous Huxley

Brave New World is a book about the future and, whatever its artistic or philosophical qualities, a book about the future can interest us only if its prophecies look as though they might conceivably come true. From our present vantage point, fifteen years further on what has happened to confirm or invalidate the forecasts of 1931?

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One vast and obvious failure of foresight is immediately apparent. Brave New World contains no reference to nuclear fission. That it does not is actually rather odd, for the possibilities of atomic energy had been a popular topic of conversation for years before the book was written. So it seems very odd that the rockets and helicopters of the seventh century of Our Ford should not have been powered by disintegrating nuclei.

Assuming that we are capable of learning from Hiroshima we may look forward to a period, not indeed of peace, but of limited and only partially ruinous warfare. During that period it may be assumed that nuclear energy will be harnessed to industrial uses. The result, pretty obviously, will be a series of economic and social changes unprecedented in rapidity and completeness.

The immediate future is likely to resemble the immediate past, and in the immediate past rapid technological changes, taking place in a mass-producing economy and among a population predominantly propertyless, have always tended to produce economic and social confusion. To deal with confusion, power has been centralized and government control increased.

It is probable that all the world’s governments will be more or less completely totalitarian. Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-helpcan arrest the present tendency toward Statism. At present there is no sign that such a movement will take place.

A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers.

The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects, by lowering what Mr. Churchill calls an “iron curtain” between the masses and such facts or arguments as the local political bosses regard as undesirable, totalitarian propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have done by the most eloquent silence is not enough.

If persecution, liquidation and the other symptoms of social friction are to be avoided, the positive sides of propaganda must be made as effective as the negative. The most important Manhattan Projects of the future will be vast government-sponsored enquiries into what the politicians and the participating scientists will call “the problem of happiness”- in other words, the problem of making people love their servitude.

The love of servitude cannot be established except as the result of a deep, personal revolution in human minds and bodies. To bring about that revolution we require, among others, the following discoveries and inventions.

  • A greatly improved technique of suggestion- through infant conditioning and, later, with the aid of drugs, such as scopolamine.
  • A fully developed science of human differences, enabling government managers to assign any given individual to his or her proper place in the social and economic hierarchy. (Round pegs in square holes tend to infect others with their discontents.)
  • Since reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays, a substitute for alcohol and the other narcotics, something at once less harmful and more pleasure-giving than gin or heroin.
  • This would be a long-term project, which it would take generations of totalitarian control to bring to a successful conclusion a foolproof system of eugenics, designed to standardize the human product and so to facilitate the task of the managers.

Technically and ideologically we are still a long way from bottled babies and Bokanovsky groups of semi-morons. The sexual promiscuity of Brave New World seems [not] so very distant. There are already certain American cities in which the number of divorces is equal to the number of marriages.

In a few years, no doubt, marriage licenses will be sold like dog licenses, good for a period of twelve months, with no law against changing dogs or keeping more than one animal at a time. As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. And the dictator (unless he needs cannon fodder and families with which to colonize empty or conquered territories) will do well to encourage that freedom. In conjunction with the freedom to daydream under the influence of dope and movies and the radio, it will help to reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.

All things considered it looks as though Utopia were far closer to us than anyone, only fifteen years ago, could have imagined. Then, I projected it six hundred years into the future. Today it seems quite possible that the horror may be upon us within a single century.

Unless we choose to decentralise and use applied science, as the means to producing a race of free individuals, we have only two alternatives to choose from: either a number of national, militarized totalitarianisms, having as their root terror and as their consequence the destruction of civilization; or else one supra-national totalitarianism, called into existence by the social chaos resulting from rapid technological progress and developing, under the need for efficiency and stability, into the welfare-tyranny of Utopia.

Brave New World
Blackpool Grand Theatre
Tuesday 28 to Saturday 28 November 2015

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