Saturday, 7 July 2012

Huxley and followership

These extracts are taken from the first chapter of Aldous Huxley’s Ends and Means. This early part of his book is one of my favourite philosophical expositions and in my view an interesting contrast with the previous post on followership.

It is difficult to find a single word that will adequately describe the ideal man of the free philosophers, the mystics, the founders of religions. ‘Non-attached’ is perhaps the best. The ideal man is the non-attached man. Non-attached to his bodily sensations and lusts. Non-attached to his craving for power and possessions. Non-attached to his anger and hatred; non-attached to his exclusive loves. Non-attached to wealth, fame, social position.

The Gospel of Jesus is essentially a gospel of non-attachment to ‘the things of this world,’ and of attachment to God.

What Spinoza, for example, calls ‘blessedness’ is simply the state of non-attachment; his ‘human bondage,’ the condition of one who identifies himself with his desires, emotions and thought-processes, or with their objects in the external world.

The non-attached man is one who, in Buddhist phraseology, puts an end to pain; and he puts an end to pain, not only in himself, but also, by refraining from malicious and stupid activity, to such pain as he may inflict on others.

Of course Huxley’s ideal of non-attachment runs counter a social reality of leadership and followership. For how can one be both non-attached and a leader or a follower? It’s impossible in the world as it is and I for one can’t imagine a world without leaders and followers. 

Huxley’s view is an ideal though, as he well knew. A yardstick with which to measure our stupidities and wrongheadedness. It's an old yardstick but as sound as a bell and to my mind it applies mostly to followership. We follow too readily and too naively.


Sam Vega said...

Excellent post.

We can of course follow those who are non-attached; and neither following nor leading are strictly speaking incompatible with non-attachment. The non-attached have the same desires as the attached, but their attitude to them is different; a thing which Huxley clearly recognised.

A K Haart said...

Sam - thanks. Yes we can follow those who are non-attached, but they tend not to be leaders in the usual sense.
Following tends to be more conditional too - at least I find it so.