The Dalai Lama once said that every living being ought to have the right to eliminate suffering. Most people do it by pursuing pleasures and various forms of gratification. The counterintuitive Buddhist way to end suffering is to temper our innate desires. Other religions may see the pursuit of pleasures as sinful.
An certain outspoken, authoritarian-justifying professor with rightist inclinations (vis-a-vis social order and deference to authority) shared the following quote which is deeply flawed and often hijack to promote certain religious causes:
What do other professors make of it? Check this out:
Like many pragmatists in Singapore, the professors are supporters of authoritarian regimes that produce politically predictable societies with glowing economic results. As far as I know, they are not conservative Christians or Jews. It’s thus very odd that the above quote from Neil Postman should be shared.
Or perhaps not. Always threatened by the potential for instability and sometimes challenged for their condemnation of protests against authority, they are eager to latch on to voices that might even vaguely appear to support their views on the necessity of censorship and how “freedom” can get out of hand. Let’s do an intellectual dissection of Neil Postman’s quote.
Neil Postman was an ultra conservative Jewish educator who challenged the deluge of entertainment programmes in mass media to attract ears and eyeballs. He was against what he believed to be the excessive use of technology in every aspect of American life. For instance, he was of the opinion that individuals have no need for “personal” computers.
The above quote shared by our academics is taken from the introduction of Postman’s bestselling book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Published in 1985, the book is still strongly recommended by conservative American Christian evangelists who wish to see entertainment programmes on TV (like Baywatch) cut down to a bare minimum as they too believe that it is threatening their faith. I won’t share their videos here, but there are quite a few churches, pastors and priests out there sharing Postman’s warning about the harm caused by sinful pleasures.
Like Postman, Huxley eschewed technology. That’s about as far as Postman can be compared with Huxley. Huxley’s book Brave New World is about a world “reduced” to a single state in the 26th century. In that purely science and technology driven world, everything must run like clockwork; nothing is wasted and optimisation and perfection cannot be compromised.
In Huxley’s world, children are created outside the womb and cloned in order to increase the population. Citizens are classified based on their genes. The embryos, which exist within tubes and incubators, are provided with differing amounts of chemicals and hormones in order to condition them into predetermined classes. These classes, in order from highest to lowest, are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. The Alphas are bred to be leaders, and the Epsilons are bred to be menial labourers.
All embryos must be optimally and predictably conceived this way and any child born naturally is called a “savage”. To make up for the lack of pleasure, the future government dispenses a pleasure pill. An overdose of it killed the female protagonist.
Huxley’s book was banned by many countries that had a sizable conservative Christian community. Even in countries where the book was not banned, schools and libraries all over the world refused to stock it. Now comes the interesting part. Why did Postman say that Huxley feared that there is no reason to ban a book? That’s because Huxley was making a sarcastic remark against the folks who banned his book.
Of course, Postman had somehow convinced some people and managed to interpret Huxley in a way that supported his stand. Actually, Huxley and Orwell had more similarities than differences. They both wrote about enslavement and argued for freedom.
On 21 October 1949, Huxley wrote to George Orwell, author of 1984, congratulating him on “how fine and how profoundly important the book is.” In his letter to Orwell, he predicted:
“Within the next generation I believe that the world’s leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narcohypnosis 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 them and kicking them into obedience.”
Huxley lamented that the free world is not that much better than a communist dystopia. People are enslaved by technology and not some totalitarian government. Scientific pragmatism forces people to conform and the only pleasure comes from narcotic stimulation.
Postman went on to further twist Huxley’s beliefs and dupe the folks who have not read Brave New World. How were people controlled by inflicting pleasure? No, in Huxley’s world, people were enslaved by their own perceived modern wisdom, pragmatism and rationality. Did Huxley fear that pleasure would ruin us? Of course not. He was the intellectual version of the Beatles and he obviously did not support any of the cold, calculative practices of the brave new world he wrote about. As a Hindu, he embraced the concept of letting things be. Huxley’s last request on his death bed (dying of throat cancer), was a shot of LSD! Talk about sinful pleasures. I haven’t read Postman’s book, but he has definitely misrepresented Huxley. But it’s amazing how he managed to change Huxley’s image as a mistakenly unChristian writer to one who is on their side.
Whatever the case, our professors need to read more.
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