Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Science, Liberty and Peace

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Chatto and Windas published Aldous Huxley's prescient book Science, Liberty and Peace. Here are some extracts from that work:

So intense is our faith in the dogma of inevitable progress that it has survived two world wars and still remains flourishing in spite of totalitarianism and the revival of slavery, concentration camps and saturation bombing. ...

Area bombing, saturation bombing, rocket bombing, bombing by atomic missiles – the indiscriminateness has steadily increased throughout the Second World War, until now no nation even makes a pretence of observing the traditional distinction between civilians and combatants, innocent and guilty, but devote themselves methodically and scientifically to general massacre and wholesale destruction. Other practical consequences of our ‘nothing-but’ [man is ‘nothing but’ an animal or machine/ mechanism, so no standards need apply] philosophies of life are the employment by civilized people, with a high standard of scientific and technological training, of torture, human vivisection and the systematic starvation of entire populations. And finally there is the phenomenon of forced migration – the removal at the point of the bayonet of millions of men, women and children from their homes to other places, where most of them will die of hunger, exposure and disease. (p30)

In the past, despots committed the crimes that despots always do commit – but committed them with a conscience that was sometimes distinctly uneasy. They had been brought up as Christians, Hindus, as Moslems or Buddhists, and in the depth of their being they knew they were doing wrong, because what they were doing was contrary to the teachings of their religion. Today the political boss has been brought up in our more enlightened and scientific environment. Consequently he is liable to perpetrate his outrages with a perfectly clear conscience, convinced that he is acting for humanity’s highest good – for is he not expediting the coming of the glorious future promised by Progress? is he not tidying up a messily individualistic society? is he not doing his utmost to substitute the wisdom of experts for the foolishness of men and women who want to do what they think (how erroneously, since of course they are not experts!) is best for them? (p30-2)

* * * *

What is needed is a restatement of the Emersonian doctrine of self-reliance – a restatement not abstract and general, but fully documented with an account of all the presently available techniques for achieving independence within a localized, co-operative community. These techniques are of many kinds - agricultural techniques designed to supply the basic social unit, the family, with its food supply; mechanical techniques for the production of many consumer goods for a local market; financial techniques such as those of the credit union, by means of which individuals can borrow without increasing the power of the state or of the commercial banks; legal techniques through which the community can protect itself against the profiteer who speculates in land values which he has done nothing whatever to increase.

* * * *

Furthermore [modern warfare] cannot be waged successfully, except by nations that can mobilize their entire man-power and woman-power in universal military or industrial conscription. But universal conscription is most easily imposed where large numbers of the population are rootless, propertyless and entirely dependent for their livelihood upon the state or upon large-scale private employers. Such persons constitute that dream of every military dictator – a ‘fluid work-force,’ which can be shifted at will from one place or one unskilled job to another place or job. Again,big centralized corporations and their wage-earning employees can be taxed much more easily and profitably than small-scale farmers working primarily for subsistence and only secondarily for cash, or than independent or co-operative producers of commodities for a localized market. For this reason anything like a popular movement in the direction of decentralization could hardly be tolerated by any government desirous of becoming or remaining a ‘great power.’ Extracts from Aldous Huxley, Science, Liberty and Peace, Chatto & Windas, (1947) For further extracts see The Social Artist, Winter 2014.

COMMENT: Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World (1932) anticipated a futuristic World State, whose citizens are environmentally engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy. Huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning combine to make a dystopian society which is challenged by only a single individual. Uncanny echoes of 2021?

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