ORWELL, HUXLEY, AND KACZYNSKI
By Roland Watson
For my final comments on current social conditions, I will consider, briefly, the ideas of a few prominent critics, both past and present.
Orwell and Huxley
Among the most original and recognizable critics - I quote them a lot - were George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Both writers had great perspicacity, but the passage of time has revealed that they made an error as well. They both missed the coming dominance of economic organizations, of corporations, and expected instead continued and strengthened government control. I should add, though, that this applies more to Orwell than to Huxley, who did foresee many of the consequences of automation and mass-production.
Orwell's book 1984 posited the rise of an oppressive, fascist world, with power controlled by three regional states, which engaged in perpetual conflict with each other to satisfy their own ends. Huxley's Brave New World, on the other hand, gave us one dominant, worldwide government - with regional "controllers," which used its power to degrade people such that they would never resist.
Even with this one lapse, though, their warnings, or predictions, however you choose to take them, had great merit. We are approaching the Orwellian world of two-way tele-screens and complete, never-ending personal surveillance. And, his description of Newspeak, a language that was purposely constructed and continually shrunk, to control and restrict thought to what was socially-orthodox, was a great insight into the use of language to convey form, and the extreme limits to which it could be applied in the process. In addition, the modern idea of political correctness, which arose, ironically, as a means to correct prior forms, but which has now taken on its own dogmatic inflexibility, such that it has become a negative form as well, can be viewed as a predecessor of his thought police.
As to Huxley, although we do not yet have "feelies," virtual reality films which you experience as of life itself, he did give an accurate portrayal of the use of entertainment to degrade people, including as a means to change and control emotional responses. Orwell and Huxley also both predicted the perpetuation of class structure. In Brave New World, the people were bred for their social roles, thus eliminating any tendency to rebellion. Emotion was also abolished in support of this. And, while 1984 also gave us a rigid class order, I prefer, as a more accurate precursor of our present social conditions, because they focus on the underlying problem, two of Orwell's comments in Animal Farm.
"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." And: "The pigs didn't actually work, but directed and supervised the others. With their superior knowledge, it was natural that they should assume the leadership."
Animal Farm demonstrated that as long as we accept assumptions such as these, we will never achieve our goal of equality.
The other social critic that I want to consider is Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber." I have also quoted him a couple of times, and this is because I agree with some of his views. But, I also reject many of his views, and, of course, his actions and ethics. Kaczynski was a terrorist. To him, the end justified any means, including murder, and I repudiate this completely.
I would also point out that there is an ethical question whether it is appropriate even to read his book, Industrial Society and Its Future, much less publicize it. Media outlets often give undue attention to the arguments of terrorists, with the effect that, indirectly at least, they support them. This is a similar case. The question is: what guideline should we use when considering the work of such people?
On the face of it, it is unethical to read Kaczynski. He wrote: "In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we've had to kill people." Kaczynski's means to the end of getting us to recognize his ideas was murder. By fulfilling his end, we are effectively validating his means. The more ethical position would be not to support him, and his means, in any way.
There is another argument, though, although I will admit it is a weak one. Kaczynski did not kill people to get us to read his book - although he threatened to do so if it wasn't published. The statement I just read was a purposeful lie. He killed people because he hated modern social conditions, and rebelled against them as a violent revolutionary.
Only when time proved the futility of his actions did he collect his thoughts, including as a means to justify his actions after the fact. Obviously, he should have worked his ideas out better, before he acted. But, he was swayed by his own anger, and many innocent people have had to pay the consequences as a result.
But, the question remains: should you read the works of anyone guilty of such crimes. For instance, is it appropriate to read Hitler's Mein Kampf? One can only say that to the extent reading such people helps you understand them, and their motivations to crime, and thereby assists you in avoiding the actions of similar individuals in the future, or in alleviating the conditions that propel them, it is justifiable.
I said that I agreed with some of Kaczynski's views. So far in the website these include that society makes greater demands for conformity than ever before, and that this starts with children and has included a complete redefinition of the role of women.
I also agree that these demands for conformity are causing serious social ills; that a society is in trouble if it feels the need to have a great number of police; that there is too much surveillance in the modern world; and that technology has had complex and highly negative effects.
Kaczynski further commented that the restructuring of society has interfered with what he called the "power process," or our ability on our own to meet our basic needs. He said that working as a small part of a massive organization, as many of us do, and attempting to fulfill such a need to exert power over our lives through accomplishing what he termed "surrogate" activities, was insufficient. In this regard, he commented that anyone who was the master of his or her life would not fear aging, and would accept death as inevitable.
I agree with this, with one alteration. It is possible to develop an overall satisfaction with life, even as a cog in the machine, if your extra-work activities are devoted to achieving a higher goal: to helping others; to creative expression; to the love of another person - including the raising of a family; or to the pursuit of education, experience and wisdom. Such an effort gives you a sense of power. It makes your life fulfilling, and counters the demeaning aspects of your employment. Indeed, it is important to recognize that Kaczynski himself had a narrow life. He was a childless, and friendless, hermit.
I also agree with his observation that "the conservatives are fools," for promoting technological change but not recognizing that such change would undermine traditional society and its values. Similarly, I am in agreement when he derides leftists for reconstructing a general motivation to social activism into a new form of religious faith, with the demand that we adhere to the rigid dogma of our duty to serve society.
The duty to correct the wrongs of society and of other individuals is not the same as the requirement that you subordinate yourself to society and its goals. We do not owe service to society, but we do have a personal obligation, grounded in ethics, to correct wrongs when we confront them. The individual, not the group, is paramount. We developed by – among other things – helping others, starting with learning the ethic that we should. This personal, ethical goal is not the same as the imposed social obligation to serve.
It is also noteworthy that many activist groups themselves become institutional.
In summary, both the far right and the far left are objectionable, because they use the techniques of form. They are so assured - brainwashed - of the rightness of their cause, that they feel justified in telling us that we must believe them, and that we have to do what they say. My apologies: "left" and "right" are of course form words - used to stereotype people. But, as such designations do have some validity - the stereotypes have been fulfilled - they can be applied, cautiously.
In addition to his ethics, another major problem with Kaczynski is that he is a determinist. Kaczynski's determinism is in fact highly complex, and contradictory. First, he is a behavioral determinist. He wrote: "It has been established beyond any rational doubt that human thought and behavior have a largely biological basis." If this is interpreted narrowly, which would be consistent with the ideas in the rest of his book, it grants no role at all to human will.
Secondly, he is a determinist because he believes we are at the mercy of technology - and behavioral manipulation, that they control us completely, and that the technological system cannot be reformed, only destroyed.
It is here that he is inconsistent. The accomplishment of this destruction will require the exercise of will. Also, he believes you cannot separate good technology from bad technology. In other words, the technological system is itself an ecology. But, he also believes that there are two "kinds" of technology: small-scale and organization dependent.
It is difficult to see how the first will not lead inexorably to the second, and also why, given the patterns of history, even a successful revolution against technology would not be reversed. Following such a revolution, and the civil conflict associated with it, the survivors would want such things as transport and refrigeration, to meet their basic needs, so they would reconstruct or reinvent the motor. And, following this, the technological system, including large organizations, "economies of scale," and mass production, would be revived again.
It is also odd, for a mathematician who presumably is familiar with the concept of chaos, that Kaczynski believes the technological system will function when it attempts to control us completely, particularly the implication that widespread genetic engineering, and eugenics, will work. Such technological control of society and humanity is not possible, without Orwell or Huxley's total repression. Anything less will break down due to unexpected events and consequences.
Actually, Kaczynski also has an inconsistency here, since some of his views do reflect chaos accurately. These include his contention that genetic engineering will necessarily move beyond fighting predispositions to certain illnesses to reconstructing all manner of personal characteristics, and also that when a destructive technology is invented the worst people in the world inevitably get their hands on it.
More broadly, he seems not to understand that form is a phenomenon that is always present, and that one of the deepest aspects of our existence, of all life, is our continual drive to break free of it. Through this, it would appear that he does not believe in evolution.
Lastly, Kaczynski's pessimism and determinism is also linked to his view that pursuing activism is a negative responsibility, and here I also disagree. To the extent that it is viewed this way, this is the result of institutional form. Instead, the rewards of activism, while rarely financial, are positive, particularly the increase that you get through doing something to help out, in your sense of "personal power."
In the next article, I will explain why human society continually cycles to a system of dictatorship.
© Roland Watson 2015