Book Reviews: Into the Crystal Ball
“When I dipped into the future as far as human eye can see.”
Every generation produces at least one writer who sets upon paper his visions of the future. As early as the 13th Century Roger Bacon is reputed to have visualised a “horseless chariot.” Tennyson in his “Locksley Hall” foresaw aerial warfare. Early this century H. G. Wells dreamed up all kinds of weird and wonderful phenomena which if nothing else, at least made an intersting film.
Many of these writers use this medium, as did Plato with his “Republic,” as a vehicle for their own political and philosophical ideas. 1949 has produced two novels of the future which are in reality no more than their respective authors’ views upon contemporary events.
For Aldous Huxley, ” Ape and Essence” is a second attempt. His first, “Brave New World” with its pre-determinism and Malthusian belts was a sensation twenty or so years ago. Since then apparently this peculiar mystic of the Californian coast has developed and now instead of seeing the highly complex press-button society of the “Brave New World,” he sees, as did Jack London fifty years before, the complete destruction of civilisation as we know it. Only with London it was the plague; with Huxley it is the atomic bomb.
About fifty years after the third world war has destroyed the rest of the world an expedition from New Zealand lands on the coast that was Los Angeles. One of their number is captured by the inhabitants whom he had found engaged in exhuming the corpses for their clothing and jewellery. He learns of the results of an atomic war. Machinery is unusable. Human beings instead of having a permanent potency have an animal-like sexual cycle. All the breeding takes place during a fortnight’s orgy which is opened by the assassination of all deformed children and their mothers by a castrated high priest. Women are degraded and known as vessels of evil. In short, good has succumbed to evil to such an extent that their god is the devil and the sign of the cross has been displaced by the sign of his proverbial horns. The whole story is written in the form of a film script which enables the author to introduce many side issues, one of which is the picture of baboons leading humans resembling Einsteins, symbolising the degradation of the intellectual.
Summing up, if one can see through the thick clouds of erotic pipe dreams which seem always to surround the author, the warning that he issues is not a new one. It has been used to justify every war and struggle in history—that it is a battle between good and evil, though the purveyors of this argument are always careful not to define or describe the terms they use. Huxley presents what will happen if this particular form of evil triumphs. So children, gather around Uncle Aldous and his happy band of intellectuals, and lay down your lives that his “goodness” may live to fight again.
George Orwell, the other crystal gazer, takes us but thirty-four years hence to the world 1984, and thus his book his titled. He too had previously attempted satire with his “Animal Farm.”
By 1984, Orwell visualises the world resolved into three states, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, who are all conducting long-distance wars against the other. The scene of the story is Great Britain, now known as Airstrip 1 of Oceania. In this society there are still two classes, Party members and “proles,” and although the latter are in the majority they live as they do to-day and count for very little. The Party members are dominated by one “Big Brother” who is quoted, heard and pictured but never seen. In every one of their homes there is a television on reverse which conveys to the Party all that each member does and says. The language spoken is “Newspeak” in which no word has a definite meaning. For example, “war is peace,” and “strength is weakness” are phrases they use. It is the intention of the Party to crush all individuality and permanency of ideas.
The hero, Winston Smith, is a member concerned with erasing contradictions in the Party’s propaganda. He meets a young woman, a section leader in the Women’s Anti-Sex League and they become involved with a secret revolutionary organisation led by one Goldstein. At the same meeting they become attached to each other—a crime against the State. They have clandestine meetings in the “proles” quarters and speak of the happiness to be found amidst the bug-ridden slums where they live as normal human beings. Unfortunately they are captured and Smith, like thousands before him, is tortured both physically and mentally until he is convinced that he loves “Big Brother.” With the juggernaut of the State continuing uninterrupted he can only hope that one day the “proles” will rise and alter things.
Analysing the book, it seems that George Orwell fear the centralisation that is the trend of present-day society. We have seen the dictatorship of Germany which, with its lack of “left wing” jargon, was old-fashioned, and the more fashionable Russia, and now, with the advent of the Labour Government and nationalisation, to say nothing of the expulsion of Platt-Mills, Zilliacus and company. Orwell fear the same trend in Great Britain. His “Newspeak” is aimed at the new illiteracy wherein masses of words lack any different meaning. He offers no solution but hopes that one day the masses will rise. If his hope is to be fulfilled, then surely the masses would have been powerful enough to prevent that state of affairs arising in the first place.
Yet in spite of their difference of approach there is a great deal of similarity between the two writers. They both use the symbol of the sex instinct to portray the crushing of what is generally mis-named “human nature” — in other words, that the advancement of scientific discovery is making man less and less a conscious organism and more and more an appendage to a machine. Both of them are struggling in a mental morass. Huxley, having started with the post-1918 cynicism, has dabbled in psychology and all the other fads of the inter-war years and finally, along with his contemporary T. S. Eliot, arrived at the conclusion that God is the answer — that there’ll be pie in the sky when you die. What a lie! Orwell, like so many of the other self-styled left wing intellectuals has finally decided that the system in Russia is not all that he thought it was and is now groping in the dark for some new axe to grind, and for the moment is content, instead of offering false hopes to issue unmerited warnings.
But both of them are agreed on one point—the need for intellectual leadership, and like every other advocate of this will-o’-the-wisp, they are the boys for the job—the figurehead in whose wake the masses will rally.
What tripe! As members of that mass let us do a little crystal gazing of our own and inform these two worthies that leaders, whether they style themselves as practical or intellectual, are no more than reflections of the ignorance of their followers. Just as the gods and hobgoblins are fading as men solve more of their problems, so will the need for leadership die when men decide exactly where they want to go. Gradually they are finding the correct road. As slumps and wars grow more frequent, each one more vicious than its predecessor, more and more are rejecting the excuses and finding the cause. With the cause comes the cure. When there are enough of us with that understanding, the Huxleys and the Orwells will be left at the post. Men will march forward together not to a 1984, or to destruction, but to a new society where all men and women can live full and happy lives.