Lesson 86- Flaws of Capitalism and Brave New World
At the end of my last program I was explaining how Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World dealt with the basic flaw in capitalism. Capitalism had, according to Marx, the flaw that it had tied “production and distribution” together. At the time when capitalism first began, this made a great deal of sense because it was a time of scarcity when very few people had the wealth to afford more than the bare necessities. The Middle Ages were, for the most part, a subsistent economy in which people made a day-to-day living with very little surplus. Handcrafted items, although often functionally and artistically impressive, are very expensive simply because they take so much time and effort to produce, and that is why, at least in the memory of my lifetime, families often divided up furniture and other items at the death of a relative. No one every thought of throwing these items away because they were so well made and very expensive to replace. But then, with Capitalism, along came “mass production” in which machines were programmed to copy the artistic designs of the craftsman and suddenly it was possible to turn vast quantities of items out in large numbers in a very short time. The result was that the price dropped to the point where the average person could afford items that before were available only to the rich.
Thus, at a time when economic goods were scarce, it made a lot of sense to tie a person’s share of the distribution to the amount that he helped to produce. The longer and harder he worked, the more money he made and the more money he made entitled him to a greater share of what was produced.
However, a problem arose when technology increased the productive output of each worker to the degree that fewer and fewer workers were capable of producing greater numbers of goods. Thus in England in 1811 a group of craftsmen, known as Luddites, were arrested and sometimes hung or deported for destroying machines that were replacing them. In this, we can see the beginning of the problem that was to become a major flaw in the technology and mass productive methods introduced by capitalism. They produced greater quantities of goods, using less and less manpower and thereby created a problem with how people, who were willing to work, could get their share of the wealth when there were few or no jobs to be had.
Thus, the stable, rural life of the Middle Ages, where most people were born, grew up and died in the same area was slowly replaced with a floating population that, lacking work and a way to earn a living, went looking for work wherever it could be found. This often meant leaving the rural, small town, farm areas for the cities. However, the march of economic progress continued with the invention of bigger and faster machines that made manpower more and more obsolete. The result was that unemployment and economic insecurity became a major problem as the productive power of the machines created vast quantities of goods with less and less labor.
At first Capitalism’s solution was to find new markets throughout the world, thereby creating inadvertently, a world market that would lead to a world culture, which would eventually required an international government, with international laws, and international courts to supervise, regulate, enforce, and protect the contractual and property rights of the business class. However, if new markets were not enough to deplete the surplus, there was always Plan B to destroy the surplus so that workers could be employed to produce it again. However insane this might sound, it was done.
Thus, in the Great Depression, the federal government ordered that farm crops should be burned and livestock destroyed even though people were standing in breadlines for food thereby creating a shortage that caused the prices to rise high enough so that farmers could get a return on their investment. The problem of farm surplus eventually led to the creation of the Agricultural Adjustment Act that began the payment to farmers by the federal government to limit their production by taking acreage out of production. In other words, they were paid to do nothing.
During the 1930’s Communist throughout the world saw the Great Depression as the death knell of Capitalism that Marx had predicted in the Communist Manifesto and, as a result, American Communist were busy seeking recruits to their cause and were very actively pushing for the overthrow of the capitalistic system and the adoption of Communism. Later, following World War II, there were Hollywood types called before the House Un-American Activities Committee for their dalliance with Communism during the ‘30’s.
It wasn’t until after World War II that the third solution for the problem of overproduction kicked in. During the 30’s, when I was a child, it was still customary to pass furniture and clothes on to other family members and trash days were not the “curb to curb” spectacles that they are today. The first house that my wife and I bought was a row house in Olney and the closets were indicative of the attitude that existed when they were built in the 1920’s. Even with the small salary that I earned as a teacher, they were totally inadequate to handle the clothes that we owned.
Although there was advertising before World War II, it was nothing like the barrage that occurred afterwards. Manufacturers started to employ talented artists and behavior psychologists to attract and motivate consumers to buy their products. And the visual impact of television gave them a powerful tool. As a result, form, which is related to the right lobe, started to take precedence over function, which is related to the left lobe. In other words, a secondary purpose, -how something looked, felt, or tasted -, started to become more important than the primary purpose, - how it performed or worked.
Once style replaced function as the major motivator in the consumer, producers had found a better solution to the problem of overproduction for which they were looking. After all, purposely destroying what you produced so that someone could be paid to make it again, violated logic and common-sense. What was needed was a less obvious method.
In the past, when overproduction caused them to slow or stop production, lay off their workers, or temporarily shut down their factories, the country would slide into an economic slump. The solution often was to simply wait until the surplus was eliminated by those who still had money and needed their products. Now they didn’t have to wait for new customers or for their products to wear down and need replacement. All they had to do now was to change the style and make minor changes in performance to convince consumers that what they had, even though it was still functional, was inadequate and needed to be replaced. This became known as “planned obsolescence” because its intent was to make people dissatisfied with a product long before it became functionally obsolescent.
Some of us might remember when the automobile manufacturers changed their models every five years. Now they began to change them every three years, then every two years, and now it is every one year and is creeping towards every six months. The result was a glut of cars that still had ten of thousands of miles of performance left in them. And if changing style could keep consumers buying automobiles, the same would work for clothes, furniture, and other products.
The most recent attempt to solve the problem of keeping people working by keeping the factories and businesses busy has been the revolution in credit. When I was a kid you almost had to beg the banks to lend you money. They wanted all sorts or assurances that you had enough assets to back up the money that you were asking them to lend you. Today, credit cards are handed out and mailed indiscriminately to people who often lack any visible means to pay back the money that they borrow. And the interest rates that are charged are the same that used to be charged illegally by “loan sharks” and, as a result, some people will never be able to clear their debt during their entire lifetime.
What this means is that our super active economy is floating on a sea of debt as people are spending money that they don’t have and may never have. We have the lowest rate of savings in the entire world as nearly every cent that we have is already committed to paying off or reducing outstanding debt. Debt has become the identifying quality of our time as both the government and the citizenry are trillions of dollars in debt.
Our economy is like a “house of cards” that will crumble if any of supporting cards are removed. If there was a serious recession or depression in which tens of million of people became unemployed and began to default on their debts, the impact would be catastrophic for lending institutions.
So in an economic sense, we have a “tiger by the tail” because we can’t stop our frenzied spending no more than we can let go of the tiger’s tail because, if we did, the tiger would turn around and bite us and if we stopped spending the economy would come to a grinding halt and \ everything would come tumbling down.
Thus consuming has become a patriotic duty because not only must the economy be maintained at a pace to keep the husband in the family working, as was the case back in the 1930’s, but also his wife. Now, since the number of women in the workforce has increased dramatically and the double-income family, which began as an exception, has now become the norm, what was once extra money has now become necessary money. I once heard a millionaire say that “every man lives at his own level of poverty” by which he meant one’s lifestyle increases with one’s income and thus the millionaire is in as much debt, if not more, than the person in poverty because his lifestyle outstrips his income.
When the normal curve of family income shifted from a single income family to a double income family it had repercussions in other areas. The Law of Supply and Demand says that when a lot of dollars are chasing limited goods, the prices will go up, and, after a while, double incomes became necessary just to stay even while single income families drop into poverty.
At the present time, real estate prices are soaring out of sight as properties, such as those in my neighborhood, which sold new for $15,000 in the 1950’s, and for $100,000 ten years ago, are now selling for $240,000. We are pricing our own children out of the real estate market or we are forcing them to risk a debt ceiling that seems incomprehensible.
Thus we have to keep on working to pay the debt that drives the economy by purchasing the goods that keep people working so that they have the money to pay the debt that allow them to continue to buy the products that drives the economy that keeps people working etc… It’s a vicious cycle. Where does it end? Common sense and wisdom say that sooner or later the “bubble has to burst.”
Never in the history of the human race have people had so many time saving devices and so little time to spend with other people. Everyone is working like we are faced with such dire scarcity that if we didn’t work Saturdays and Sundays, we would all starve to death where in reality we have such a glut of things that the real problem is how to get rid of what we have so that we can get more.
As a result, Vance Packard wrote a book entitled “The Wastemakers” in which he outlined the tremendous problem of waste removal that was developing as a result of our “throwaway society.” Throwaway pens, throwaway flashlights, throwaway napkins, throwaway plates and utensils, throwaway tires… throwaway people. The people of the United States, who represented about 6% of the world’s population, are consuming over 50% of the world’s natural resources and causing a tremendous negative impact on their own environment. Nor were we alone because the same lifestyle is spreading rapidly throughout the rest of the world as American values became the ideal for many people in the Third World.
As the problems of resource depletion and environmental degradation began to grow and become obvious, “doom-sayers” arose to warn us that it was over-population that was the source of the problem. They called for zero-population growth which, they said would take anywhere from fifty to one hundred years. To accomplish this goal, they pushed contraception and abortion and the substitution of “recreational sex” for “reproductive sex.”
Secular humanistic agencies like Planned Parenthood arose to educate and promote the need for population reduction. Although they say they favor “Choice” what they really favor is the “choice to avoid pregnancy and reproduction.” If they really favored “Choice” they would have no problem with every woman having an “informed choice” in which she received the whole story about the humanity of her baby. However, I have seen in my own experience that they do not want this type of information to enter the decision. Their major goal is population reduction and that is the “choice” they favor.
However, the so-called experts prediction about it taking fifty to a hundred years to reach zero-population growth proved to be wrong. The contraceptive and abortion mentality found a willing audience and within ten years population in the Western world was already reaching and exceeding that goal in some areas. Now it has reached the point where the Europeans are decimating themselves as their birth rate has dropped well below “zero population” growth. The result is a growing aging population sitting on a shrinking younger population. For example, in England over 50% of the adult population is over 55 years-of-age. As this trend continues, more and more countries are becoming concerned with non-productive elderly people who require care and maintenance without giving anything back. In Hitler’s words, they are “useless, eating mouths” who would be better off dead. Thus, we see the growing movement towards euthanasia.
A culture that was formerly based on “the sanctity of life” is being replaced by a new culture based on “the quality of life” which translates into the abortion of any children that, who in the opinion of others, might have a physical or social handicap that might threaten his happiness or the happiness of others. And that is how we reached the present battle between what John Paul II called the “culture of life” versus “the culture of death.”
However, there is one variable in this argument to which nobody seems to pay any attention. Even the Church concedes that the earth, in the long term, cannot withstand unlimited population growth and accepts that at some point population has to be limited. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the Church opposes birth control. For serious reasons, the Church, while emphasizing that we have a moral responsibility to reproduce new life, accepts Natural Family Planning. As always, the Church’s argument with the world is more with “means” rather than “ends.”
What the Church senses is that it is not population that is responsible for the negative effects on the natural resources and the environment. Rather, it is lifestyle. For example, every child born in the United States has the same impact on resources and the environment as five children born elsewhere. Thus, if there wasn’t another baby born for the next fifty years and our lifestyle was spread to the rest of the world, the impact on resources and the environment would be the same as if the population had increased by five times. What this says is that the materialism of Western culture is a greater threat than the natural expansion of the population.
As Christians the basic question to any situation is whether it is wise because we are the followers of the Incarnate Wisdom of God and anything that violates Wisdom is a sin because it is “missing the mark” of rational behavior. So, as Christians, how should we be looking at this? First, as Christians we believe that we have a responsibility to be stewards of the earth and therefore we should be concerned with the unwise use of natural resources and the spoilage of the environment. We should be the major proponents of recycling and protection of the environment. Second, as followers of Jesus, who is the Wisdom that God used to create the universe, we should be the “salt of the earth” that is suppose to preserve it by offering alternative solutions that cooperate with “natural laws” rather than opposing them. This should be our highest priority and we should never speak as Tip O’Neill, former Speak of the House of Representatives, who said “I am a Democrat first, Irish second, and a Catholic third.” If you are not a Catholic or Christian first, then you are neither. If God, which means the “Highest Good”, doesn’t come first in our lives then whatever does has become our God.
Unfortunately, Christians have allowed non-Christian forces to take the lead in some of these issues because they have confused their Christianity with some other ideology. We are not American, or Capitalist, or Communist, or Unionist, or Democrats, or Republicans or anything else first. We are followers of Jesus Christ whom we believe to be the Incarnate Wisdom who created the universe. Therefore, we, above everybody else, should be wise and know how to make our secondary purpose or interests subservient to the primary purposes and interests of our Creator.
We should be the environmentalists; we should have the solutions to waste; we should have the solution to unemployment; we should have the solution to the depletion of natural resources; we should know how to solve the energy problem; we should know the solution to poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth. We should know how to get off the mad merry-go-round of “consumerism” without driving the economy into a depression. In fact, we should be the ones who know what the New World Order ought to be because, in our frame of reference, it is called the Kingdom of God on earth. In other words, we should be the real revolutionaries who, dissatisfied with the “world as it is” are constantly seeking to revolutionize it to make it into the “world as it ought to be.”
However, the major difference between us and other revolutionaries should be our “means” not our “ends.” Where Communists call for the violent overthrow of all existing institutions and where Chairman Mao of China declared “that revolution comes out of the mouth of a gun”, we should be the Gentle Revolutionaries that Thomas Merton wrote of who declare that “revolution comes from the changing of men’s hearts and the first heart to change should be our own.”
What the world needs is an example not a sermon and we will never be “the light on the hill” that Jesus instructed us to be until we have put our minds to the solutions of the problems facing the world and have applied the Wisdom of God to them. How we should do this is the ultimate aim of these talks.
If Brave New World, Communism, and Secular Humanism are examples of the wrong paths, then we should analyze them, and through their mistakes, learn what is the right path. With this in mind, let me return to my description of Brave New World.
When we last left Brave New World, the students on tour were being shown the Neo-Pavlovian Nurseries where “sleep teaching” methods were being used on young children to instill slogans and suggestions into their young minds. As they slept a speaker beneath their pillows whispered “sleep teaching lesson” like “ending is better than mending… ending is better than mending… the more stitches, the less riches… the more stitches, the less riches… I do love flying… I do love flying…” all of which were, like the advertisements of today, implanting suggestions in their unconscious minds to motivate them to keep the factories running through the constant consumption of goods.
Suddenly, everyone snaps to attention as a voice announced the arrival of Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers who has come to instruct the students. Huxley writes:
"His Fordship, Mustapha Mond!" The eyes of the saluting students almost popped out of their heads. Mustapha Mond! The Resident Controller for Western Europe! One of the Ten World Controllers...and he sat down on the bench with the Director, he was going to stay, yes , and actually talked to them... straight from the horse's mouth. Straight from the mouth of Ford, himself.
"You all remember," said the Controller, in his strong deep voice," you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford's:' History is bunk!' That's why you're taught no history. But now the time has come..."
The Director looked at him nervously. There were those strange rumors of old forbidden books hidden in a safe in the Controller's study. Bibles. poetry... Ford knew what.
"It's alright, Director. "Mustapha Mond said, "I won't corrupt them."
Mustapha Mond leaned forward, shook a finger at them. "Just try to realize it, " he said. "Try to realize what it was like to have a natural mother. " That dirty word again. But none of them dreamed this time of smiling.
"Try to imagine what "with one's family' meant. And do you know what home was?" they shook their heads.
"Home, home- a few small rooms, stuffy, overcrowded. No air, a space, and under-sterilized prison; darkness, disease, and smells." His description was so vivid that one of the students got sick.
"It was a rabbit hole, reeking with emotions." Our Ford- or Our Freud as, for some unknown reason, he chose to call himself whenever he spoke of psychoanalytic matters. Our Freud had been the first to reveal the awful dangers of family life (this is a reference to the Oedipus Complex in which Freud claimed that every male child had incestuous desires for his mother and wanted to hill his father). The world was full of fathers- was therefore full of misery; full of mothers- therefore of every kind of perversion from sadism to chastity; full of brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts- full of madness and suicide. And there was also husbands, wives and lovers. There were monogamy (one husband or wife) and romance. Though you probably don't know what those are, "said Mustapha Mond. They shook their heads.
"Family, monogamy, romance. Everywhere exclusiveness, a narrow channeling of energy and impulse. But everyone belongs to everyone else,' he concluded, repeating the '"sleep teaching" proverb. The students nodded, emphatically agreeing with statements that upwards of sixty-two thousand repetitions in the dark had made them accept, not merely as true but as axiomatic, self-evident, utterly indisputable.
"No wonder these poor pre-moderns were mad wicked and miserable. Their world didn't allow them to take thing easily (without struggle); didn't allow them to be sane, virtuous, happy. What with mothers and lovers, what with the moral laws they were not conditioned to obey; what with the temptations; what with the uncertainties and the poverty-they were forced to feel strongly. And feeling strongly, how could they be stable? Stability, said the Controller, "stability". No civilization without social stability. (Order) No social stability without individual stability. "Fortunate boys!" said the Controller. "No pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easy
(soft slavery?)- to preserve you, so far as possible, from having emotions at all " ..."Ford is in his flivver," murmured the Director, " All's well with the world." (a takeoff on the saying "God is in his heaven and all is well with the world.)
At this point I want to remind you that Aldous Huxley came from a very famous Secular Humanistic family. His grandfather was T.H. Huxley a famous biologist in the 19th century who was one of the strongest supporters of Darwin and the theory of evolution. It is believed that he also coined the word agnosticism, which refers to a person who believes that the existence of God is unknowable and therefore is also irrelevant. His other grandson, Aldous’ brother, Sir Julian Huxley was the director of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, between 1946 and 1948 where he used his influence to instill secular humanistic values and goals into it programs. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica “He applied his scientific knowledge to social and political problems, formulating an ethical theory of “evolutionary humanism.” Aldous, on the other hand, seems to have distrusted the trend towards the application of science and technology to social and political problems and “Brave New World” is his description of a futuristic society in which both are used to dehumanize us. In fact, unlike his scientifically oriented relatives, he developed an interest in mysticism and Hinduism.
Thus, in Brave New World there is an obvious conflict between science and religion, feelings and logic, the right lobe and the left lobe and, as in all of these dialectical battles, the problem occurs when one or the other gets out of balance.
It seems obvious that Huxley is playing around with the symbolism in the Book of Revelation when he describes how Brave New World came about following a great war and economic collapse. Furthermore, the Ten World Controllers in Brave New World seem to be a direct “take-off” on the Beast in the Book or Revelation whose ten heads represent ten kingdoms.
There is no doubt that Huxley meant Brave New World to be an anti-Christ society because all throughout the book the values of Brave New World are set in opposition with and values and attitudes of Christianity and the Bible. Our Ford and our Freud have replaced Our Lord. Every cross in Brave New World has had their tops cut off to become “T’s” for Henry T. Ford. The Bible has been outlawed and Christianity is described as the philosophy of “under-consumption” that frustrated human happiness with its moral laws involving sex, self-control, and the family. Statements like “God is in his heaven and all is well with the world” are replaced with “ Ford is in his flivver. All is well with the world.”
But the thing that is most anti-Christ about Brave New World is the least obvious. The World Controller, Mustapha Mond, says, "Fortunate boys!" No pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easy, to preserve you, so far as possible, from having emotions at."
When most people think of the dictatorship of the anti-Christ, they think of “hard slavery” in which whips and chains are used to control people and, obviously, this is something that most people would resist. However, Huxley gives this image a twist by suggesting that the real and most insidious form of slavery is “soft slavery” which enslaves with what seems to be kindness. In other words, Brave New World was dedicated to removing every obstacle, every difficulty, every antithesis, every cross and to make life as easy as possible.
What, we might ask, is wrong with this? Isn’t that what everybody wants? Didn’t God originally intend for life to be easy? Isn’t it the devil who created all the difficulties that the human race faces? Well, Jesus rebuked Peter when he suggested that He didn’t have to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and St. Paul says that the basic message of Christianity is the “absurdity of the Cross” which the “world” can not understand. Is it possible that this is what the scriptures mean when God says, “My ways are not your ways…”
Think about it… Is the goal of human existence a trouble-free life?
Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom….