Aldous Huxley is to the negative or anti-utopia what Plato and Sir Thomas More combined are to the positive. We are apt to be less familiar with the Republic’s guardians and Utopia’s jeweled toys than we are with Brave New World’s Controllers, its hatched and identical humans, its sleep conditioning, its feelies, its soma happy pills, and all the other paraphernalia of horror in the orgy-porgy of total organization.
As Huxley himself observed, mind control has become a reality-in brainwashing, conditioning during sleep has been successfully attempted in experiments with sleep teaching, Brave New World’s mass pleasures that degrade and enslave the mind have their equivalent in our relentlessly distracting and intrusive mass entertainment, and the soma pills of chemically induced happiness correspond to the billions of anti-depressants and related mood products prescribed every year.
Striking though these parallels are, it takes a certain amount of straining to see Brave New World in our own. But it takes very little to see 1984. George Orwell’s masterpiece ranks, after Brave New World, as the greatest in the growing field of anti-Utopias, and the offspring culture it has spawned such luminaries as Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore and even Margaret Atwood; Big Brother and Doublethink are not, like the characters and devices of Huxley’s work, cleverly extrapolated from the existing world; they are the existing world. They are what became of the Socialist utopia once it was subjected to Marx’s “scientific” treatment.
But how much ought we to blame on Marx, and how much was already present in those early revolutionary idylls and egalitarian schemes? The question must go even further back. For was not Big Brother born simultaneously with the Guardian, however noble of intent, ruling the Republic? And was not Doublethink invented with the principle that the people must be lied to for their own good?
Besides the aforementioned “dissent industry” works, the other chief domain of utopia today is science fiction. And the overwhelming majority of science fiction utopias are negative, as we are encumbered with a technologically supported totalitarianism. The early works in this genre such as The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth were prescient and intuitive in describing a kind of madison Avenue anti-utopia where commercials can be projected directly onto the retina. The consumer oriented society is the starting point of the short story The Midas Plague also by Pohl, who visualizes an anti-utopia of glut in which mankind is flooded with goods. True comfort, true riches consist in not having to consume more than one’s neighbor.
In Ray Bradbury’s anti-utopia, Fahrenheit 451, the hero is a fireman whose duties are systematically to burn proscribed books according to a fixed schedule: Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman etc. The rebel theme exposed here, and one that has been ingeniously embedded into the fabric of modern advertising, is that the hero has an unbroken spirit, yet the rebellion is never for anything positive, simply a restoration of some measure of human values in a society like our own, but with more decency and less television. Much like the “Rebel Sell” dynamic exposed by Potter and Heath which zeroed in on the cooness of social capital as consumer driver. Today, we don’t really have or believe in utopias anymore; it has come down to the levels of traffic gridlock, tuition fees, decent retirement pensions and so on. Perhaps what we really want in eighteenth-century democracy with gold plated health insurance and lots of room to park. With the exclusion of the religious messianists, our true utopia, it seems, is in the past.
Slavoj Zizek:So, Père Joseph is the ultimate embodiment of the plotting. Machiavellian politician, ready to sacrifice thousands of lives, ready to resort to spying, lies, murder, extortion. OK, nothing new. But, and this was the feature that fascinated Aldous Huxley, there is another side to this same Père Joseph. He was, OK, during the day, horrible, a plotter, the worst politician; but after doing the dirty job during the day, every evening he was not only a priest but a mystic of the most authentic kind. Every evening, after a day full of painful diplomatic intrigue, he plunged into deep meditations. His mystical visions bear witness to an authenticity worthy of St Teresa, St John of the Cross, and so on. He corresponded regularly with the sisters of a small French convent, giving them advice as to their spiritual distress, and so on. This was the enigma for Huxley. How are we to reconcile these two sides?
At this crucial point, I think, Huxley himself avoids
true paradox and opts for an easy way out: by putting the blame on the alleged weak points of Pere Joseph’s mystical experience. According to Huxley, the excessive centring on Jesus Christ – Père Joseph’s obsession with Christ’s suffering on the Way of the Cross – is made responsible for rendering possible the reckless manipulation of other people’s suffering, and so on.
As you probably know, for that reason, Huxley turned away from Christianity. He sought spiritual salvation in Eastern wisdom, and so on. But I think one of the lessons of psychoanalysis is precisely that we must fully accept this paradox. Yes, you can be, at the same time, an absolutely authentic mystic – that is, of course, not a reproach – and the most horrible plotting politician. There is no guarantee, in your authentic private experience, what the political effects will be. I think this is the illusion we must renounce. There is no guarantee what the political effects of your subjective experience will be.Read More:http://www.lacan.com/zizlacan3.htm