In a televised interview with ABC’s Mike Wallace in 1958, author of the seminal classic Brave New World, Aldous Huxley laid out his rather grim vision for the future of the human race in a prescient and timeless warning for us to wake up. After having lived through the bloodbaths of World War I and II and in the early stages of the nuclear cold war, he discussed the problems of freedom and survival in America, making a number of predictions more relevant today, nearly 60 years later, than ever before.
Huxley, as introduced by Wallace:
“A man haunted by a vision of hell on earth. A searing social critic, Mr. Huxley 27 years ago wrote Brave New World, a novel that predicted that someday the entire world would live under a frightful dictatorship. Today Mr. Huxley says that his fictional world of horror is probably just around the corner for all of us.” ~Mike Wallace
As the world now sleepwalks into a third world war which will certain bring about a nuclear holocaust, Huxley’s message is more important than ever because it serves as a reminder that a critically thinking individual is the truest and most formidable weapon against the destructive and psychopathic tendencies of tyrants.
The following 6 predictions taken from this interview were exceptionally farsighted at the time, and are presented here as an amplification of Huxley’s imperative that we all must wake up to the truth of how power is misused in our world.
1.) Technology, Bureaucracy and Television Would be Used to Enslave Us
HUXLEY: As technology becomes more and more complicated, it becomes necessary to have more and more elaborate organizations, more hierarchical organizations, and incidentally the advance of technology is being accompanied by an advance in the science of organization.
It’s now possible to make organizations on a larger scale than it was ever possible before, and so that you have more and more people living their lives out as subordinates in these hierarchical systems controlled by bureaucracy, either the bureaucracies of big businesses or the bureaucracies of big government.
HUXLEY: Hitler used terror on the one kind, brute force on the one hand, but he also used a very efficient form of propaganda, which er…he was using every modern device at that time. He didn’t have TV., but he had the radio which he used to the fullest extent, and was able to impose his will on an immense mass of people. I mean, the Germans were a highly educated people.
WALLACE: Well, we’re aware of all this, but how do we equate Hitler’s use of propaganda with the way that propaganda, if you will, is used let us say here in the United States. Are you suggesting that there is a parallel?
HUXLEY: Needless to say it is not being used this way now, but, er…the point is, it seems to me, that there are methods at present available, methods superior in some respects to Hitler’s method, which could be used in a bad situation. I mean, what I feel very strongly is that we mustn’t be caught by surprise by our own advancing technology.
This has happened again and again in history with technology’s advance and this changes social condition, and suddenly people have found themselves in a situation which they didn’t foresee and doing all sorts of things they really didn’t want to do.
WALLACE: And well, what…what do you mean? Do you mean that we develop our television but we don’t know how to use it correctly, is that the point that you’re making?
HUXLEY: Well, at the present the television, I think, is being used quite harmlessly; it’s being used, I think, I would feel, it’s being used too much to distract everybody all the time. But, I mean, imagine which must be the situation in all communist countries where the television, where it exists, is always saying the same things the whole time; it’s always driving along.
It’s not creating a wide front of distraction it’s creating a one-pointed, er…drumming in of a single idea, all the time. It’s obviously an immensely powerful instrument.
WALLACE: Uh-huh. So you’re talking about the potential misuse of the instrument.
HUXLEY: Exactly. We have, of course…all technology is in itself moral and neutral. These are just powers which can either be used well or ill; it is the same thing with atomic energy, we can either use it to blow ourselves up or we can use it as a substitute for the coal and the oil which are running out.
2.) Advertising Will Bypass Rationality and Capture the Mind’s of Children
HUXLEY: …advertisement plays a very necessary role, but the danger it seems to me in a democracy is this…I mean what does a democracy depend on? A democracy depends on the individual voter making an intelligent and rational choice for what he regards as his enlightened self-interest, in any given circumstance.
But what these people are doing, I mean what both, for their particular purposes, for selling goods and the dictatorial propagandists are for doing, is to try to bypass the rational side of man and to appeal directly to these unconscious forces below the surfaces so that you are, in a way, making nonsense of the whole democratic procedure, which is based on conscious choice on rational ground.
WALLACE: Of course, well, maybe…I…you have just answered this next question because in your essay you write about television commercials, not just political commercials, but television commercials as such and how, as you put it, “Today’s children walk around singing beer commercials and toothpaste commercials.” And then you link this phenomenon in some way with the dangers of a dictatorship. Now, could you spell out the connection or, have…or do you feel you’ve done so sufficiently?
HUXLEY: Well, I mean, here, this whole question of children, I think, is a terribly important one because children are quite clearly much more suggestible than the average grownup; and again, suppose that, er…that for one reason or another all the propaganda was in the hands of one or very few agencies, you would have an extraordinarily powerful force playing on these children, who after all are going to grow up and be adults quite soon. I do think that this is not an immediate threat, but it remains a possible threat, and…
WALLACE: You said something to the effect in your essay that the children of Europe used to be called ‘cannon fodder’ and here in the United States they are ‘television and radio fodder.’
HUXLEY: Well, after all, you can read in the trade journals the most lyrical accounts of how necessary it is, to get hold of the children because then they will be loyal brand buyers later on. But I mean, again you just translate this into political terms, the dictator says they all will be ideology buyers when they are grownup.
3.) The Rise of Dictatorship Based on Terrorism
HUXLEY: I think this kind of dictatorship of the future, I think will be very unlike the dictatorships which we’ve been familiar with in the immediate past. I mean, take another book prophesying the future, which was a very remarkable book, George Orwell’s “1984.”
Well, this book was written at the height of the Stalinist regime, and just after the Hitler regime, and there he foresaw a dictatorship using entirely the methods of terror, the methods of physical violence. Now, I think what is going to happen in the future is that dictators will find, as the old saying goes, that you can do everything with bayonets except sit on them!
4.) The Pharmacological Revolution Will Make Us Love Slavery
HUXLEY: …this is the… the pharmacological revolution which is taking place, that we have now powerful mind-changing drugs which physiologically speaking are almost costless. I mean they are not like opium or like coca…cocaine, which do change the state of mind but leave terrible results physiologically and morally.
…if you want to preserve your power indefinitely, you have to get the consent of the ruled, and this they will do partly by drugs as I foresaw in “Brave New World,” partly by these new techniques of propaganda.
They will do it by bypassing the sort of rational side of man and appealing to his subconscious and his deeper emotions, and his physiology even, and so, making him actually love his slavery.
I mean, I think, this is the danger that actually people may be, in some ways, happy under the new regime, but that they will be happy in situations where they oughtn’t to be happy.
…We know, there is enough evidence now for us to be able, on the basis of this evidence and using certain amount of creative imagination, to foresee the kind of uses which could be made by people of bad will with these things and to attempt to forestall this…
5.) Political Candidates Would Become Merchandise Marketed by Professionals
WALLACE: You write in Enemies of Freedom, you write specifically about the United States. You say this, writing about American political campaigns you say, “All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere; political principles and plans for specific action have come to lose most of their importance. The personality of the candidate, the way he is projected by the advertising experts, are the things that really matter.”
HUXLEY: Well, this is the…during the last campaign, there was a great deal of this kind of statement by the advertising managers of the campaign parties. This idea that the candidates had to be merchandised as though they were soap and toothpaste and that you had to depend entirely on the personality.
I mean, personality is important, but there are certainly people with an extremely amiable personality, particularly on TV, who might not necessarily be very good in political…positions of political trust.
WALLACE: Well, do you feel that men like Eisenhower, Stevenson, Nixon, with knowledge aforethought were trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public?
HUXLEY: No, but they were being advised by powerful advertising agencies who were making campaigns of a quite different kind from what had been made before. and I think we shall see probably, er…all kinds of new devices coming into the picture. I mean, for example, this thing which got a good deal of publicity last autumn, subliminal projection.
WALLACE: And we’ll be persuaded to vote for a candidate that we do not know that we are being persuaded to vote for.
HUXLEY: Exactly, I mean this is the rather alarming picture that you’re being persuaded below the level of choice and reason.
6. ) Evil People Will Take Advantage of Technology and Government to Gain Power
WALLACE: The question, of course, that keeps coming back to my mind is this: obviously politics in themselves are not evil, television is not in itself evil, atomic energy is not evil, and yet you seem to fear that it will be used in an evil way. Why is it that the right people will not, in your estimation, use them? Why is it that the wrong people will use these various devices and for the wrong motives?
HUXLEY: Well, I think one of the reasons is that these are all instruments for obtaining power, and obviously the passion for power is one of the most moving passions that exists in man; and after all, all democracies are based on the proposition that power is very dangerous and that it is extremely important not to let any one man or any one small group have too much power for too long a time.
After all what are the British and American Constitution except devices for limiting power, and all these new devices are extremely efficient instruments for the imposition of power by small groups over larger masses.
This interview was recorded 27 years after the publication of Brave New World, which in and of itself was an eloquent warning to freedom loving people. Fast-forward to 2016 and we find that Huxley was right on every account,
“…after all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” ~Aldous Huxley