28 octobre 2018

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited (note de lectura)

Freedom and individualism are willingly exchanged for sensory pleasure and endless consumption.

Chapter 1. Over-population
- the completely organized society
- the abolition of free will
- the scientific caste system
- the servitude made acceptable by regular doses of chemically induced happiness
- the orthodoxies drummed in by nightly courses of sleep-teaching
- the nightmare of too much order
- prophecies made in 1931
- George Orwell’s 1984 was a magnified projection into the future of a present that contained Stalinism and an immediate past that had witnessed the flowering of Nazism.
- animal behaviour – control through the punishment of undesirable behavior is less effective, in the long run, than control through the reinforcement of desirable behavior by rewards
- 1984 – punishment and fear of punishment
- Brave New World – mild punishment, systematic reinforcement of desirable behavior, many kinds of non-violent manipulation, genetic standardization
- representatives of commercial and political organizations who have developed a number of new techniques for manipulating, in the interest of some minority, the thoughts and feelings of the masses
- human numbers are now increasing more rapidly than at any time in the history of the species
- in the Brave New World, the problem of human numbers in their relation to natural resources had been solved.
- The problem of rapidly increasing numbers in relation with natural resources is the central problem of the mankind.
- the Age of Over-population
- there is a close correlation between too many people, too rapidly multiplying, and the formulation of authoritarian philosophies, the rise of totalitarian systems of government

Chapter 2. Quantity, Quality, Morality
- in Brave New World eugenics and dysgenics were practiced systematically
“In the bad old days children with considerable, or even with slight, hereditary defect rarely survived. Today, thanks to sanitation, modern pharmacology and the social conscience, most of the children born with hereditary defects reach maturity and multiply their kind. Under the conditions now prevailing, every advance in the survival rate of individuals cursed by some genetic insufficiency. In spite of new wonder drugs and better treatment (indeed, in a certain sense, precisely because of these things), the physical health of the general population will show no improvement, and may even deteriorate.” (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited)
We know that the pursuit of good ends does not justify the employment of bad means. But what about those situations, now of such frequent occurrence, in which good means have end results which turn out to be bad?

Chapter 3. Over-Organization
- must of humanity facing the choice between anarchy and totalitarian control
- allied with immensely powerful forces generated by the very advances in technology of which we are most proud
- democracy can hardly be expected to flourish in societies where political and economic power is being progressively concentrated and centralized
“We see that modern technology has led to the concentration of economic and political power, and to the development of a society controlled (ruthlessly in the totalitarian states, politely and inconspicuously in the democracies) by Big Business and Big Government.”
It is in the social sphere, in the realm of politics and economics, that the Will to Order becomes really dangerous. Here the theoretical reduction of unmanageable multiplicity to comprehensible unity becomes the practical reduction of human diversity to subhuman uniformity.
Too much organization transforms men and women into automata, suffocates the creative spiritu and abolishes the very possibility of freedom.
Biologically speaking, man is a moderately gregarious, not a completely social animal – a creature more like a wolf, let us say, or an elephant, than like a bee or an ant. In their original form human societies bore no resemblance to the hive or the ant heap; they were merely packs. Civilization is, among other things, the process by which primitive packs are transformed into an analogue, crude and mechanical, of the social insects’ organic communities.
Brave New World presents a fanciful and somewhat ribald picture of a society, in which the attempt to re-create human beings in the likeness of termites has been pushed almost to the limits of the possible.
To give organizations precedence over persons is to subordinate ends to means.
In the more efficient dictatorships of tomorrow there will probably be much less violence than under Hitler and Stalin. The future dictator’s subjects will be painlessly regimented by a corps of highly trained social engineers.
To the question quis custodiet custodes? – Who will mont guard over our guardians, who will engineer the engineers? – the answer is a bland denial that they need any supervision.
Higher education is not necessarily a guarantee of higher virtue, or higher political wisdom.

Chapter 4. Propaganda in a Democratic Society
No people in a precarious economic condition has a fair chance of being able to govern itself democratically.
There are two kinds of propaganda – rational propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with the enlightened self-interest of those who make it and those to whom it is addressed, and non-rational propaganda that is not consonant with anybody’s enlightened self-interest, but is dictated by, and appeals to, passion.
Mass communication, in a word, is neither good nor bad, it is simply a force and, like any other force, it can be used either well or ill. Used in one way, the press, the radio and the cinema are indispensable to the survival of democracy. Used in another way, they are among the most powerful weapons in the dictator’s armory.
- man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions
But even in Rome there was nothing like the non-stop distraction now provided by newspapers and magazines, by radio, television and the cinema.

Chapter 5. Propaganda Under a Dictatorship
Hitler’s dictatorship was the first in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship which made complete use of all technical means like the radio and the loud-speaker.
Hitlerism – ecclestiasticism without christianity, the discipline of a monastic rule, not for God’s sake or in order to achieve personal salvation, but for the sake of the State and for the greater glory and power of the demagogue turned Leader.
Hitler’s first principle: the masses are utterly contemptible. They are incapable of abstract thinking and uninterested in any fact outside the circle of their immediate experience.
Groups are capable of being as moral and intelligent as the individuals who form them; a crowd is chaotic, has no purpose of its own and is capable of anything except intelligent action and realistic thinking. Assembled in a crowd, people lose their powers of reasoning and their capacity for moral choice.
Unlike the masses, intellectuals have a taste for rationality and an interest in facts. They are the kind of people who demand evidence and are shocked by logical inconsistencies and fallacies.
Philosophy teaches us to feel uncertain about the things that seem to us self-evident. Propaganda, on the other hand, teaches us to accept as self-evident matters about which it would be reasonable to suspend our judgment or to feel doubt.

Chapter 6. The Art of Selling
- consumerism requires the services of expert salesman versed in all the arts of persuasion
People may start out with an initial prejudice against tyrants; but when tyrants or would-be tyrants treat them to adrenalin-releasing propaganda about the wickedness of their enemies, they are ready to follow him with enthusiasm.
Effective rational propaganda becomes possible only when there is a clear understanding, on the part of all concerned, of the nature of symbols and of their relations to the things and events symbolized. Irrational propaganda depends for its effectiveness on a general failure to understand the nature of symbols.
On the levels of politics and theology, beauty is perfectly compatible with nonsense and tyranny.
the principle of disproportionately fascinating symbol
the Singing Commercial – Orpheus has entered into an alliance with Pavlov – the power of sound with the conditioned reflex
children are highly susceptible to propaganda
Self-government is in inverse ratio to numbers. The larger the constituency, the less the value of any particular vote.
The political merchandisers appeal only to the weaknesses of voters, never to their potential strength.

Chapter 7. Brainwashing
Ironically enough, the only people who can hold up indefinitely under the stress of modern war are psychotics. Individual insanity is immune to the consequences of collective insanity.
every individual has its breaking point
For the dictator and his policemen, Pavlov's findings have important practical implications. If the central nervous system of dogs can be broken down, so can the central nervous system of political prisoners. It
is simply a matter of applying the right amount of stress for the right length of time. At the end of the treatment, the prisoner will be in a state of neurosis or hysteria, and will be ready to confess whatever his captors want him to confess.
fatigue increases suggestibility
The effectiveness of political and religious propaganda depends upon the methods employed, not upon the doctrines taught. These doctrines may be true or false, wholesome or pernicious—it makes little or no difference. If the indoctrination is given in the right way at the proper stage of nervous exhaustion, it will work.
Brainwashing, as it is now practiced, is a hybrid technique, depending for its effectiveness partly on the systematic use of violence, partly on skilful psychological manipulation.

Chapter 8. Chemical Persuasion
In the Vedic hymns we are told that the drinkers of soma were blessed in many ways. Their bodies were
strengthened, their hearts were filled with courage, joy and enthusiasm, their minds were enlightened and in an immediate experience of eternal life they received the assurance of their immortality. But the sacred juice had its drawbacks. Soma was a dangerous drug—so dangerous that even the great sky-god, Indra, was sometimes made ill by drinking it. Ordinary mortals might even die of an overdose. But the experience was so transcendently blissful and enlightening that soma drinking was regarded as a high privilege. For this privilege no price was too great.
The soma of Brave New World: in small doses it brought a sense of bliss, in larger doses it brought visions, if you took three tablets, you would sink in a few minutes into refreshing sleep.
Soma was not a private vice, it was a political institution, the very essence of Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.
The daily soma ration was an insurance against personal maladjustment, social unrest and the spread of subversive ideas.
In Brave New World, opium (soma) was the people’s religion.

Chapter 9. Subconscious Persuasion
Pure science does not remain pure indefinitely. Sooner or later it is apt to turn into applied science and finally into technology. Theory modulates into industrial practice, knowledge becomes power, formulas and laboratory experiments undergo a metamorphosis, and emerge as the H-bomb.
The scientific dictator of tomorrow will set up his whispering machines and subliminal projectors in schools and hospitals (children and the sick are highly suggestible), and in all public places where audiences can be given a preliminary softening up by suggestibility-increasing oratory or rituals.
Above the threshold of awareness, one of the most effective methods of non-rational persuasion is what may be called persuasion-by-association. The propagandist arbitrarily associates his chosen product, candidate or cause with some idea, some image of a person or thing which most people, in a given culture, unquestioningly regard as good.

Chapter 10. Hypnopaedia
Intellectual activity is incompatible with sleep. Hypnopaedia became successful only when it was used for moral training—in other words, for the conditioning of behavior through verbal suggestion at a time of lowered psychological resistance.
Under proper conditions, hypnopaedia actually works—works, it would seem, about as well as hypnosis. Most of the things that can be done with and to a person in hypnotic trance can be done with and to a person in light sleep. Verbal suggestions can be passed through the somnolent cortex to the midbrain, the brain stem and the autonomic nervous system. If these suggestions are well conceived and frequently repeated, the bodily functions of the sleeper can be improved or interfered with, new patterns of feeling can be installed and old ones modified, posthypnotic commands can be given, slogans, formulas and trigger words deeply ingrained in the memory. Children are better hypnopaedic subjects than adults, and the would-be dictator will take full advantage of the fact. Children of nursery-school and kindergarten age will be treated to hypnopaedic suggestions during their afternoon nap.
The ideals of democracy and freedom confront the brute fact of human suggestibility. One-fifth of every electorate can be hypnotized almost in the twinkling of an eye, one-seventh can be relieved of pain by injections of water, one-quarter will respond promptly and enthusiastically to hypnopaedia. And to these all too co-operative minorities must be added the slow-starting majorities, whose less extreme suggestibility can be effectually exploited by anyone who knows his business and is prepared to take the necessary time and trouble.

Chapter 11. Education for Freedom
All the available evidence points to the conclusion that in the life of individuals and societies heredity is no less significant than culture. Every individual is biologically unique and unlike all other individuals. Freedom is therefore a great good, tolerance a great virtue and regimentation a great misfortune. For practical or theoretical reasons, dictators, organization men and certain scientists are anxious to reduce the maddening diversity of men's natures to some kind of manageable uniformity.
[...] "Science" (that wonderfully convenient personification of the opinions, at a given date, of Professors X, Y and Z) [...]
The orgy of spying, lynching and judicial murder, which these wrong views about magic made logical and mandatory, was not matched until our own days, when the Communist ethic, based upon erroneous views about economics, and the Nazi ethic, based upon erroneous views about race, commanded and justified atrocities on an even greater scale. Consequences hardly less undesirable are likely to follow the general adoption of a Social Ethic, based upon the erroneous view that ours is a fully social species, that
human infants are born uniform and that individuals are the product of conditioning by and within the collective environment. If these views were correct, if human beings were in fact the members of a truly social species, and if their individual differences were trifling and could be completely ironed out by
appropriate conditioning, then, obviously, there would be no need for liberty and the State would be justified in persecuting the heretics who demanded it. For the individual termite, service to the termitary is perfect freedom.
In Brave New World, desirable behavior was insured by a double process of genetic manipulation and postnatal conditioning.
Suffice it to say that all the intellectual materials for a sound education in the proper use of language—
an education on every level from the kindergarten to the postgraduate school—are now available. Such an education in the art of distinguishing between the proper and the improper use of symbols could be inaugurated immediately. Indeed it might have been inaugurated at any time during the last thirty or forty years. And yet children are nowhere taught, in any systematic way, to distinguish true from false, or meaningful from meaningless, statements. Why is this so? Because their elders, even in the democratic countries, do not want them to be given this kind of education.

Chapter 12. What can be done?
Freedom is menaced, and education for freedom is urgently needed. But so are many other things—for example, social organization for freedom, birth control for freedom, legislation for freedom.
It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison, and yet not free—to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel and act. There
will never be such a thing as a writ of habeas mentem; for no sheriff or jailer can bring an illegally imprisoned mind into court, and no person whose mind had been made captive by the methods outlined in earlier articles would be in a position to complain of his captivity. The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him, the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people. His servitude is strictly objective.
preventive legislation
“The best of constitutions and preventive laws will be powerless against the steadily increasing pressures of over-population and of the over-organization imposed by growing numbers and advancing technology. The constitutions will not be abrogated and the good laws will remain on the statute book; but these liberal forms will merely serve to mask and adorn a profoundly illiberal substance. Given unchecked over-population and over-organization, we may expect to see in the democratic countries a reversal of the process which transformed England into a democracy, while retaining all the outward forms of a monarchy. Under the relentless thrust of accelerating over-population and increasing over-organization, and by means of ever more effective methods of mind-manipulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms—elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest—will remain. The underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism. All the traditional names, all the hallowed slogans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days. Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial—but democracy and freedom in a strictly Pickwickian sense. Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.”

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