I will be out of town for the next several days so I’m dumping out the Best Of MY LIFE WITH KANT.
When I wrote this, I was pissed off at society. I still am, in fact. Probably always will be.
I was also pissed off at science for some reason that I can’t explain. Truthfully, I don’t remember a damn thing about this episode. So please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors. Enjoy!
My Life With Kant: Aldous Huxley
My primary concern when it comes to science, or our ambitions for it, is that some day, it could possibly become a replacement for religion. Those that cast aside such superstitious nonsense, don’t completely rid themselves of the desire for religious appeal, but instead shift their beliefs into the cold hard facts of scientific inquiry and development. That becomes the new god, with Newton, Einstein, Darwin, and many others becoming venerated as its prophets.
However, on its surface, it seems that this god would be preferable to the old One. These are beliefs that are based on data, direct observation, and experimentation; far better foundations to place beliefs than the old supersititous one. In fact, we can probably go so far as to say that these would not be beliefs, but factual truth. A far superior replacement.
A world reduced to nothing but matter in motion becomes the new orthodox within the church of science. And the human equation is nothing more than that…an equation. The mind can be easily reduced to chemical reactions. Nothing more. While these are things that we intuitively understand, that the universe is nothing more than physics in action, the way we experience it is anything but rational. We don’t so much as experience the world as feel it, the sensations of which trigger emotional responses that can only be experience in the brain. An easily explainable event, yet no equation can adequately explain how it is felt on the individual level.
Yet humans are also rational creatures. Perhaps our most important tool for understanding the world is science. A tool that is subservient to the user. A tool that has helped us discover wonderful truths, and has progressed humanity in a direction unparalled by any other known species. Because science is so powerful, it could one day rival its master. Suddenly humanity is the tool of science, and we must sacrifice for the betterment of it.
Now science is an awesome thing, but it has led us down some pretty dark paths before. Remember eugenics? So you might be thinking “Wes, you sound incredibly stupid right now.” But you know what…guess who else shared my concern? Aldous Huxley.
So, who’s stupid now?
You remember Aldous Huxley, right? The guy who wrote Brave New World. Well let me remind you. Brave New World is set about 600 years into the future, at a time when humanity is divided into a caste system. Embryos are bred and developed to live in a given caste. There are the Alphas, down to, I don’t know, Gammas. Those at the top are allowed to engage in sexual activity, and old school morality is thrown out the window in favor of a pleasurable and safe societal system. Families and monagomy are considered a taboo subject, and independence is also rejected because “everybody belongs to each other.” Plus, there’s a drug called soma that flows freely about, and that’s what keeps everybody happy and content.
That doesn’t sound too bad, right? I mean, other than the caste system. It sucks for the guys at the bottom. But for the people at the top? They get to fuck whoever they want, I mean, as long as the other person is willing. They get to be drugged up 24/7. What’s not to like about that?
Well in this world, religion gets replaced with Ford. Henry Ford that is. They consider when Henry Ford introduced the assembly line as the beginning of their modern era. And consumerism is the law of the land. “Spend, don’t mend.” Or something close to that. It’s all about consuming products to keep the assembly line going. So pop your pills, don’t get too attached to yourself, or anyone else, and continue to consume products like it’s going out of style. Additionally, nature is a waste of time that could be better spent wasting products.
So, by this description, this future doesn’t seem all that plausible. Huxley may or may not have gotten few things wrong here, but what do we know, we still have 500 years to go. Anything could happen. But there are still a few things here that are very much present in our current time. The one that jumps out to me is the use of the drug, soma. What is quoted at some point in the book, is that unhappy people are a disruption in society. So just drug ’em up. That’s not all that dissimilar to nowadays. When we consider the mental health problems in current society, more often than not, people are prescribed a drug to correct their problems. In many cases, people become addicted or are reliant on the drug. In many ways it becomes a denial of reality, and a denial of who you really are. Or at least an inability to adequately adjust to your surroundings.
The devotion to Fordism is interesting. I guess in the time of Huxley, that would have been an earth shattering concept. And who knows, as the job market starts to turn out more and more mind numbing jobs, Huxley may have hit the nail on the head. But I don’t think that it would have been possible for him to foresee the advent of the internet. I tend to think that, when historians look back 500 years from now, they’re going to see the internet as a far more important invention than the printing press. And likely far more important than the assembly line. It’s our technology addiction, and living our lives through the internet and social media, and how we isolate ourselves from nature, that really brings Brave New World to life.
We may laugh now, but when someone cracks the joke “if it didn’t happen on social media, then it didn’t happen”, they might actually be telling some truth. For many, not most, they live their life through Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and whatever else is out there. So they define themselves by how other people view them. Maybe not now, but eventually, standing in a room, or in nature, completely disconnected from the internet, without concern for what other people think, will become the exception to the rule. “Everybody exists for everyone else” may sound crazy right now, but that is current reality. The way how we engage in politics, social interactions, and whatever, we just define ourselves, and others, by our relation to other people. So we really are moving towards a direction where, quote “Everybody exists for everyone else.”
In the book, there are those that live in the great achievement called society, where people are massed produced and addicted to drugs, and then there are those who live a more natural lifestyle on a reservation, or reservations. Those in society are disgusted with those that live in nature with their religion, child-rearing, and other by-gone practices of the past. Society itself has become a barrier that separates mankind from its natural element.
But I like to think that Huxley and I envision the same kind of person that exists today, that would probably fit in quite well with this dystopian future. We all know the guy, or girl perhaps, that likes to show you their new car, or stereosystem, or phone or whatever gadget. They take pride in possessing the latest and greatest, without (at least outwardly) having any thought towards what that piece of technology is doing for them. The focus becomes on the object. Does possessing that car make them feel free as they’re racing down the highway. Does the soundsystem make you feel the music. Does that new phone, you know, make better calls? I mean, what more do you want out of a phone?
I mean, I’ve been guilty of desiring the latest and greatest as well. But it’s such an irrational desire. What about it accentuates our humanness? I often wonder when people become obsessed with an object, if they’re even aware of the reason for their obsession. Do you know what I mean? Do you ever wonder that? Have you ever had that feeling once when you get something that you’ve been desiring, and once when you get it, you realize that it does absolutely nothing to fill that empty hole in your soul? That may sound a little dark, but do you get what I’m saying?
I think that once when our collective desires become driven by material gain, where objects are no longer for our use, but instead we become the purpose of its use, and our concerns are no longer about how we define ourselves, but exclusively how other people define us, then we might have crossed the threshold into dystopia. When we become disconnected from nature, and we have to take drugs to keep ourselves distracted from that empty hole where the human heart once was, then we have officially entered into a Brave New World.
Of course, I started this episode talking about making science and (by extension in my mind) technology the new religion, where we replace the supernatural with the achievements of mankind, namely rationality and understanding of the natural world. However, if Aldous Huxley has shown us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t make a tool the master. Doing so only replaces humanness with vanity and emptiness.
Additionally another aspect to Brave New World that stuck out to me, was the value of stability. Society became a stabilizing force, at the cost of pretty much everything that was human. That doesn’t seem all that far fetched. We can even look at our own society, and see elements of exchanging individual freedoms in exchange for safety and stability. Just thought that was interesting. Anyways….
Now Huxley was a pretty interesting guy. By far, the best thing that I’ve read since doing this podcast, is his essay entitled The Doors of Perception. This is where Huxley takes a dose of the hallucinogen Mescaline, and describes his experiences. Classic stuff. But he advocates for this drug by stating that humans are all too eager to free themselves from the confines of consciousness, but many of them take the route of far more dangerous drugs like smoke and drink, which in turn have terrible consequences for society as a whole. The best way to deter people from taking those drugs, is by allowing them to open alternate doors of perception by taking mescaline, which is a far safer alternative.
I usually don’t recommend stuff, but you’d only be doing yourself a disservice by not checking it out. There’s an excellent reading of it at Audible.com, which I should add is not a sponsor of mine…at least yet. But this is one of those rare works where I actually came out feeling like a different person after I read it the first time. But what’s interesting about it is how Huxley almost advocates for this drug from a religious angle. Which is kind of strange, almost like an about-face from what he was talking about in Brave New World, but it almost reads like poetry. So check it out