Monday, 23 April 2012

Huxley on cogs

Aldous Huxley - from Wikipedia

We are members of a very highly organized society, in which it pays best to be either a man who understands and unremittingly wills, or else a kind of obedient automaton. Inevitably; for the more complicated a social machine, the more inhumanly and mechanically simple becomes the task of the subordinate individual, the more inhumanly difficult that of the commanding organizer.

Those who wish to live a quiet life in our modern world must be like Babbitt – unquestioningly a cog. Those who are ambitious to lead a (by current standards) successful life must be like Ford, determined and very consciously intelligent.

Those who would lead a thoroughly disastrous life have only to model themselves on the pattern, shall we say, of Burns or William Blake. In a society like ours the successful are those who live intensely with the intellectual and voluntary side of their being, and as little as possible with the rest of themselves.

The quietly Good Citizens are those who live as little as possible on any plane of existence. While those who live fully and harmoniously with their whole being are doomed to almost certain social disaster.

Aldous Huxley – Do What You Will – pub 1929.


Sam Vega said...

I love Huxley, but can only partially agree with this. We are cogs, but only in certain roles, and those normally to do with earning a living. It is possible to do what has to be done at work, and still have a lot of lattitude outside of that. The fact that we are in a society whose economic organisation almost inevitably leads to alienation is something to be borne as bravely and as skilfully as possible. The real fools are the ones who take work to be a matter of supreme importance.

There are many who behave like Burns or Blake outside of work, and long may they do so. Collectively, we need to work to prevent the constraints from spreading, and to keep the social regulation to an absolute minimum.

Anonymous said...

Work to live or live to work? - at one time one had a choice. As for the arts - always a chancy game. Mick Jagger seemed a chap headed for disaster and being dead before old - but look at him now!, a
follower of the Burns mode of life it seems. I doubt anyone would choose the Blake mode of life.

When I started work there seemed room for everyone. Back then many musicians spent their formative years living on the dole and bashing out music at night, a sort of win-win on a modest scale. Thoughtful types could at one time amble the byways of knowledge and still get a post. Now the world of work seems horribly intense and everywhere one looks there is vicious grab for money.

By the way, was Huxley having a little joke with 'Babbitt' - babbitt metal being what you used to make bearings out of?

A K Haart said...

Sam - I like Huxley too, but usually I only partly agree with him. I find this is a common reaction when I read him, yet he still says so much that is well worth reading more than once.

Roger - horribly intense it certainly is. It's why I left.

Babbitt refers to the anti-hero of Sinclair Lewis' novel of the same name. It was probably all the rage at the time because it satirized the dog eat dog aspect of the American Dream.