Dystopic QOTD: Huxley to Orwell on Hypnosis and Governance

Letters of Note is a fantastic blog that posts fascinating, inspiring and sometimes frightening bits of correspondence, often between famous writers. Today’s offering is a letter from Aldous Huxley to George Orwell following the publication of 1984. Huxley praises Orwell’s book, but argues that government will not need to use such forceful means (“boot-on-the-face”) to maintain order. Rather, Huxley argues that hypnosis and drugs will solve the problem of creating an subservient public:

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency.

While we can dispute the emphasis on hypnosis per se (Huxley goes so far as to argue that government was delayed from becoming so totalitarian for 5 or 6 generations because reputable scientists refused to investigate hypnosis in the 19th century, and thus governments were delayed in their access to such tools), Huxley’s analysis of the tendency of government to produce subservience by seemingly non-violent means with the goal of enhanced efficiency resonates with Foucault’s thesis in Discipline & Punish, along with other critical takes on modernity.

Huxley does conclude his letter with one out from the Brave New World dystopia – the victory of violence on a grand scale:

Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Happy Tuesday!

Also, has anyone tried teaching dystopias and social theory? That could make a fun syllabus – a variant of the sci-fi and social theory class I’ve been pondering for a few years.

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1 Comment

  1. Hadrian Micciche

     /  March 6, 2012

    Aldous Huxley’s understanding of hypnosis was informed by the year he was the subject of a series of experiments conducted by Dr. Milton Erickson, a founder of clinical hypnotherapy. A paper about those experiments appears in Erickson’s Collected Works as “A Special Inquiry with Aldous Huxley into the Nature and Character of Various States of Consciousness.” An interesting online article covers Huxley’s involvement with hypnosis (including his time with Erickson) and other means of modifying consciousness: “Hypnosis and Awareness Expansion: The Case of Aldous Huxley”. http://www.hypnos.co.uk/hypnomag/whitlark2.htm