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Saturday, March 08, 2014

Our Culture Was Predicted Over 80 Years Ago

Many people liken today's society to George Orwell's dystopian futurist book 1984. I can see the attraction, with Big Brother controlling people's actions by force and official departments of doublespeak editing history. It makes for an interesting picture.

However, I don't think 1984 is the closest parallel we have to what's happening to Western society today. In 1932, some 16 years prior to Orwell's work, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, an earlier dystopian caution about where modernity was headed. But instead of the government crushing dissent wherever it may be found, it is the populous that is really driving the push for conformity in Huxley's vision. By labeling those with traditional values as strange and "savages," by promoting the newest ideas and newest technologies as obvious advantages, and by allowing the population to always feel good about themselves (primarily through the drug Soma), it is the culture that drives conformity and discomfort avoidance at all costs.

Below is one telling passage from the book. Here, the natural-born "Savage" who has escaped his Reservation and is discussing the importance of pain with Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers. It eerily predicts many today's pushes for equality and moral "openness." While our soma isn't found in the form of drugs, I see us self-medicating more and more thought the acquisition of our toys. IPhone and entertainment channels are the rights we demand, with almost all government housing projects are littered with satellite dishes. "Choice" is seen as the highest ideal, with everyone exercising their right to delve into any practice they so desire "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else." Chastity is considered nothing more than a punchline, with only the backward and old-fashioned holding it up as a virtue.
"You'd have a reason for chastity!" said the Savage, blushing a little as he spoke the words.

(Controller Mustapha Mond:) "But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can't have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices."

"But God's the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God …"

"My dear young friend," said Mustapha Mond, "civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended—there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren't any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that's what soma is."

"But the tears are necessary. Don't you remember what Othello said? ‘If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.' There's a story one of the old Indians used to tell us, about the Girl of M├ítaski. The young men who wanted to marry her had to do a morning's hoeing in her garden. It seemed easy; but there were flies and mosquitoes, magic ones. Most of the young men simply couldn't stand the biting and stinging. But the one that could—he got the girl."

"Charming! But in civilized countries," said the Controller, "you can have girls without hoeing for them; and there aren't any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago."

The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them … But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy."
Huxley, Aldous (2010-07-01). Brave New World (Kindle Locations 3047-3062). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. Very interesting, and sad.

    ReplyDelete

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