Passion vs. stability?

Think of a society that is genetically-engineered, where drugs are used to erase any kind of human discomfort, sports are the major distraction and every person is conditioned from an early age to accept it all without question. It might sound familiar, but this story, Brave New World, was written by Aldous Huxley in 1931!

Huxley creates a futuristic world where the purpose behind every aspect of society is stability, by keeping each person content in their role.

“that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All the conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.”

One concept is this society’s promotion of promiscuity over monogamy (Looking back, I can’t believe this was required reading at my high school!).  This excerpt describes the high pressure of monogamy vs. promiscuity as many slow trickles –

“Think of water under pressure in a pipe.”  They thought of it.  “I pierce it once,” said the Controller.  “What a jet!”

He pierced it twenty times. There were twenty piddling little fountains.

Mother, monogamy, romance. High spurts the fountain; fierce and foamy the wild jet. The urge has but a single outlet.

A drug called soma is used by everyone, at any time, for the smallest mental discomfort. Here Huxley explains how drugs are used to cover any gap in activity to keep people content –

“Work, play – at sixty our powers and tastes are what they were at seventeen. Old men in the bad old days used to renounce, retire, take to religion, spend their time reading, thinking – thinking!”

One of the sources of societal instability in this world is art. Therefore, it must be eliminated. Here, the Savage, an illegitimate child raised in the natural world, argues this point with Mustapha Mond, Resident World Controller of Western Europe –

“Because our world is not the same as Othello’s world. You can’t make flivvers without steel – and you can’t make tragedies without social instability.”

The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.”

“Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art.”

The God they worship is Ford, in the image of Henry Ford – the creator of the Model T and mass production.

“Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t.”

In this excerpt, we have Mond, arguing with the Savage, further defending this brave new world

“We prefer to do things comfortably.”

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustafa Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

It makes the reader question the price of passion, choice and human suffering vs. contentment and stability. Anxiety can bring a great deal of suffering, making you wonder – would living in a world like this be worth it?

“Happiness is a hard master – particularly other people’s happiness. A much harder master, if one isn’t conditioned to accept it unquestioningly, than truth.”

Feel it (don’t fight it)

One of my favorite albums is Sam Cooke’s One Night Stand! Live At The Harlem Square from 1963.  His voice is so richly beautiful, and the live context showcases his energy & musicality.

Now I know his song “Feel It (Don’t Fight it)” is about love – of music, of dancing, of experiencing the two together. But when the lyric “Don’t fight the feeling” plays on repeat in my head, I can’t help but think of one thing:  anxiety.

Bear with me.

When I feel anxious, telling myself “Don’t fight the feeling” is one of the best pieces of advice I could give.  I’ve found that when I FIGHT the anxiety (which I always do; heck I did it several days this week!), the anxiety gets worse.

If I can remind myself to just FEEL it, to sit with it, to breathe through it, I am calmer and the episode seems to pass more quickly.  Now this takes patience, and the will to do something that could feel opposed to your natural instinct!

Check out the song, and maybe one day you will find “Don’t fight the feeling” playing on repeat in your head, just when you need it.

Insight into post-Communist Russia

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder

This book was hard to put down, for sure. Bill Browder gives fascinating insight into the crime & injustice of post-Communist Russia and is a hero for becoming a human rights activist. Below are just a few quotes from the book that give insight to the state of Russia after the fall of Communism. I hope these pique your interest, as I highly recommend this book!

Seventy years of communism had destroyed the work ethic of an entire nation. Millions of Russians had been sent to the gulags for showing the slightest hint of personal initiative. The Soviets severely penalized independent thinkers, so the natural self-preservation reaction was to do as little as possible and hope that nobody would notice you. This had been fed into the psyches of ordinary Russians from the moment they were on their mothers’ breasts.

Instead of 150 million Russians sharing the spoils of mass privatization, Russia wound up with twenty-two oligarchs owning 39 percent of the economy and everyone else living in poverty.

…by the year 2000 the richest person had become 250,000 times richer than the poorest person. This wealth disparity was created in such a short period of time that it poisoned the psychology of the nation. People were so angry that they were ready to spill their guts to anyone who wanted to talk about it.

Going after information in Russia was like hurtling down the rabbit hole. Ask a question, get a riddle. Track a lead, hit a wall. Nothing was self-evident or clear. After seventy years of KGB-instilled paranoia, Russians were careful to guard their information. Even inquiring after a person’s health could feel like asking someone to reveal a state secret, and I knew that asking about the condition of a company would prove exponentially more difficult.

Also, I love details on spy techniques. Browder describes meeting an informant while wired. When listening to the playback, “we heard a burst of white noise that drowned out everything.” They estimate they were in the presence of some kind of high-pitched jamming equipment. Truth is stranger than fiction.

His final thought on the dangers of becoming a human rights activist, and therefore an enemy of Putin:

But what I’ve discovered about fear is that no matter how scared I am at any particular moment, the feeling doesn’t last. After a time it subsides. As anyone who lives in a war zone or who has a dangerous job will tell you, your body doesn’t have the capacity to feel fear for an extended period. The more incidents you encounter, the more inured you become to them.