In 1958, twenty-two years after he wrote Brave New World, the Englishman-moved-to-Los Angeles Aldous Huxley revisited his book and the future. Of democracies, Huxley said, “Under the relentless thrust of accelerating over-population and increasing over-organization, and by means of ever more effective methods of mind-manipulation, the democracies will change their nature.”
World population was then 1.5 billion; it’s now 7 billion with explosive growth led by Africa. The administrative state was in its infancy. Today, 21st-century corporate geniuses and government agencies comb through internet-based metadata, opening astonishing windows into the collective soul and then trying to direct it.
Huxley went on to say:
the quaint old forms — elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest — will remain.… All the traditional names, all the hallowed slogans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days. Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial … Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.
And as Huxley’s counterpart, George Orwell, imagined in his dystopian novel, 1984, prurient entertainments would fill dim emotional needs and ease boredom. Orwell called this, prolefeed. Such electronic spectacles now include contrived race-injustice performances, pussy-hat marches, and mass killings, as likely as not explicitly crafted for cameras.
Hundreds gunned down in Las Vegas. (“That seems like ages ago!” a friend remarks.) Jihad in Manhattan. (“Only eight dead, whew.”) A few days later, a ghastly church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The cable channels light up for a few days, with ritual hand ringing over gun violence from the news establishment, then silence, and on to something new.
Bread and circuses have an immense following that cuts through all classes, races — everything. The audience includes those who ardently self-identify as conservatives. Fun suppliers — no longer hemmed in by religion-infused moral censors, aristocratic models, or legal barriers as in the past — gleefully push depravity, getting rich, powerful, and arrogant in the process.
This ethos sanctions creeps and misfits. A rising number of U.S. residents — white native-born included — grow shiftless, shameless, criminal, or insane. Tattooed, shacked up, unemployed, possibly high and armed, this rainbow underclass has no incentive or capacity to change its ways.
Liberal political theology exempts non-whites from reproach or recognition of “social pathologies.” As neighborhoods, jobs, schools, languages, and signage go foreign, or just downhill, liberal America demands redress, restitution and boundless good feelings from the nation’s yeoman about their dispossession. Unrepentant bourgeois nationalists fed up with creeps and misfits get called clingers and deplorables, white supremacists, and Nazis.
Thanks to First World wealth, affluent legates of plenty — if they wish to — squander their lives playing Minecraft and promoting themselves on Facebook. Drugs, sleazoid entertainment, and MMA-type sports fuel the savagery. The indolent have the good fortune, for now, to ride the thought system, surpluses, and laws that make their self-indulgence possible. But how long can this last?
No wonder a lot of hard-working people are angry. Americans steeped in time-honored verities — think the Boy Scout Law — watch things fall apart. In spite of the cultural tide, Huxley’s quaint old forms, reminders, and vestiges endure. Yeoman millions hold vivid memories of a legible, coherent, self-assured society, and in spite of censure, they still idealize these ways — depend on them in fact — to stay sane and get to work the next day.
Cushioned by wealth, pagan and hedonic in mood, on the other hand, the nation’s cosmopolitan, citizen-of-the-world, imperial class has grown accustomed to watching others do the manual labor and rote work. If the overclass needs exercise, it goes to the gym or does hot yoga. Accounting and orthodontia, ringing up items as a cashier in a big-box store, digging ditches and building freeways is something that other people do — as is fighting global wars.
Economists have no idea what to do with millions of unruly state clients who don’t want to — or can’t — do much of anything. If robotics renders millions of marginal workers obsolete and income-free, who will pay for accustomed treats? The imperial class is counting on gated communities and private security to keep it safe, warm and dry, if need be. Middling Americans aren’t so cosseted.
Potentially unstable domestic conditions and public interest argue in behalf of hands-on policing, a surveillance state, and broadly interpreted Second Amendment right to arms. Thinking this way — having to think this way — gives conflict-averse, peace-hungry citizens the willies. Do they have any other good, self-protective choice?
For decades, the progressive left has sermonized Americans, viewing non-believers as heretics and moral lepers. Institutional America — news outlets, universities, information providers, and advertisers — remains glued to its political theology. On race, gender, rights, immigrants, pornography, and so much more, it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. Yet we’ve written iron rules into law and daily life, and for new-order zealots, there’s always more work to be done.
Civilized Americans watch the bills come due in helplessness and mounting horror. Where and what savagery comes next, no one is sure. But we can no longer pretend there won’t be a next time, and a time after that.