Interview by Mike Wallace
The interview originally aired on Wallace’s television show, The Mike Wallace Interview, on May 18, 1958. The show ran from 1957 to 1960 and now more than 65 episodes are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, was 63 when he sat down for this interview. He died in 1963.
The Animated Transcript
Mike Wallace rose to prominence in the mid-1950s with the New York City television interview program, Night-Beat, which became the nationally televised show, The Mike Wallace Interview.
It’s a question of education to teach people to be on their guard against the sort of verbal booby traps into which they are always being led, to analyze the kind of things that are said to them. I think it’s terribly important to insist on individual values, that every human being is unique. And it is, of course, on this genetical basis that the whole idea of the value of freedom is based.
This is Aldous Huxley, a man haunted by a vision of hell on earth. Mr. Huxley wrote a Brave New World, a novel that predicted that some day the entire world would live under a frightful dictatorship. Today Mr. Huxley says that his fictional world of horror is probably just around the corner for all of us.
There are a number of impersonal forces which are pushing in the direction of less and less freedom. The first of them can be called overpopulation. The whole essence of biological life on earth is a question of balance and what we’ve done is to practice death control in the most intensive manner without balancing this with birth control at the other end. In the underdeveloped countries, people have less to eat and less goods and the central government has to take over more and more responsibility for keeping the ship-of-state on an even keel, and then of course you are likely to get social unrest under such conditions, with again an intervention of the central government. One sees here a pattern which seems to be pushing very strongly towards a totalitarian regime.
Are there specific devices or methods of communication which diminish our freedoms?
Well, there are certainly devices which can be used in this way. Hitler used terror on the one kind, brute force on the one hand, but he also used a very efficient form of propaganda. He had the radio which he used to the fullest extent and was able to impose his will on an immense mass of people. I mean, the Germans were a highly educated people. We mustn’t be caught by surprise by our own advancing technology. This has happened again and again in history and suddenly people have found themselves in a situation which they didn’t foresee and doing all sorts of things they really didn’t want to do.
At the present the television, I think, is being used quite harmlessly. But, I mean, imagine, which must be the situation in all communist countries where the television, where it exists, is always saying the same things the whole time; it’s always driving along. It’s drumming in of a single idea, all the time. It’s obviously an immensely powerful instrument. All technology is in itself moral and neutral. These are just powers which can either be used well or ill; it is the same thing with atomic energy, we can either use it to blow ourselves up or we can use it as a substitute for the coal and the oil which are running out.
In this book of mine, Brave New World, I postulated a substance called ‘soma,’ which was a very versatile drug. It would make people feel happy in small doses, it would make them see visions in medium doses, and it would send them to sleep in large doses. I think it’s quite on the cards that we may have drugs which will profoundly change our mental states without doing us any harm.
I think what is going to happen in the future is that dictators will find, as the old saying goes, that you can do everything with bayonets except sit on them! If you want to preserve your power indefinitely, you have to get the consent of the ruled, and this they will do partly by drugs, partly by these new techniques of propaganda. They will do it by bypassing the sort of rational side of man and appealing to his subconscious and his deeper emotions, making him actually love his slavery. I mean, I think, this is the danger that actually people may be, in some ways, happy under the new regime, but that they will be happy in situations where they oughtn’t to be happy.
Writing about American political campaigns you say, “All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere.”
Well, this is the idea that the candidates had to be merchandised as though they were soap or toothpaste and that you had to depend entirely on the personality. I mean, personality is important, but there are certainly people with an extremely amiable personality, particularly on TV, who might not necessarily be very good in positions of political trust. I mean what does a democracy depend on? A democracy depends on the individual voter making an intelligent and rational choice for what he regards as his enlightened self-interest, in any given circumstance. But what these people are doing, is to try to bypass the rational side of man and to appeal directly to these unconscious forces below the surfaces so that you are, in a way, making nonsense of the whole democratic procedure, which is based on conscious choice on rational ground.
I must say, I still believe in democracy, if we can make the best of the creative activities of the people on top plus those of the people on the bottom, so much the better.
Mr. Huxley, I surely thank you for spending this half hour with us, and I wish you Godspeed, sir.
Watch The Full Mike Wallace Interview
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
Brave New World Revisited
Huxley appeared on The Mike Wallace Interview shortly after the release of Enemies of Freedom (later retitled Brave New World Revisited), a collection of essays revisiting the themes and predictions postulated by Huxley in the novel Brave New World, published a quarter-century earlier. Speaking to Mike Wallace, Huxley lays out what he believes are the greatest threats to Americans’ future freedom:
“As technology becomes more and more complicated, it becomes necessary to have more and more elaborate organizations, more hierarchical organizations, and incidentally the advance of technology is being accompanied by an advance in the science of organization.
It’s now possible to make organizations on a larger scale than it was ever possible before, and so that you have more and more people living their lives out as subordinates in these hierarchical systems controlled by bureaucracy, either the bureaucracies of big businesses or the bureaucracies of big government.”
“These [televisions and radios] are all instruments for obtaining power, and obviously the passion for power is one of the most moving passions that exists in man; and after all, all democracies are based on the proposition that power is very dangerous and that it is extremely important not to let any one man or any one small group have too much power for too long a time.
After all what are the British and American Constitution except devices for limiting power, and all these new devices are extremely efficient instruments for the imposition of power by small groups over larger masses.”
“I think it’s quite on the cards that we may have drugs which will profoundly change our mental states without doing us any harm…
I mean, this is the…the pharmacological revolution which is taking place, that we have now powerful mind-changing drugs which physiologically speaking are almost costless. I mean they are not like opium or like coca…cocaine, which do change the state of mind but leave terrible results physiologically and morally.”
A Brave New World?
Do you believe that this Brave New World that you talk about, er…could, let’s say in the next quarter century, the next century, could come here to our shores?
“I think it could. I mean, that’s why I feel it so extremely important here and now, to start thinking about these problems. Not to let ourselves be taken by surprise…
We know, there is enough evidence now for us to be able, on the basis of this evidence and using certain amount of creative imagination, to foresee the kind of uses which could be made by people of bad will with these things and to attempt to forestall this, and in the same way, I think with these other methods of propaganda we can foresee and we can do a good deal to forestall.
I mean, after all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
Cool Fact #1
The Doors took their name from Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, published in 1954. The book, basically a long-form essay, chronicles an afternoon Huxley spent tripping on mescaline in 1953.
“I took my pill at eleven. An hour and half later I was sitting in my study, looking intently at a small glass vase. The vase contained only three flowers — a full-blown Belle of Portugal rose, shell pink with a hint at every petal’s base of a hotter, flamier hue; a large magenta and cream-coloured carnation; and, pale purple at the end of its broken stalk, the bold heraldic blossom of an iris. Fortuitous and provisional, the little nosegay broke all the rules of traditional good taste. At breakfast that morning I had been struck by the lively dissonance of its colours. But that was no longer the point. I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation — the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.”
Watch Blank on Blank’s Jim Morrison episode here.
Huxley’s Acid Trip
In Brave New World, Huxley wrote of a future where drugs are used by the ruling class to maintain control over the population. Later in life, beginning in the early 1950’s, Huxley had a change of heart. He was introduced to Vedanta, a school of Hindu philosophy that embraces yoga and intense meditation to “reach the deeper strata of his being, wherein lies his unity with all mankind.” Huxley began to experiment with mescaline, later moving on to LSD, as he believed that some drugs – particularly hallucinogenics – had the potential to open the mind and allow the user to experience similar higher states of mind. He would often record his acid trips, as well as those of his wife and other friends, and included these observations in many of his later books and lectures.
Cool Fact #2
Who do we find on Carl Sagan’s Reading List (via Brainpickings) but one Aldous Huxley? His short novel Young Archimedes appears here on Sagan’s reading list for the 1954 fall semester.
Watch our Carl Sagan episode here.
November 22, 1963: A Fateful Day
Huxley died from laryngeal cancer on November 22, 1963, shortly after being injected with 100 mcg of LSD at his request. However, his passing was overshadowed by a much more shocking death on the same day – that of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.
After Huxley’s death his wife wrote this note to his brother and his brother’s wife, describing his last day:
He asked for his tablet and wrote, “Try LSD 100 intramuscular.” Although as you see from this photo static copy it is not very clear, I know that this is what he meant. I asked him to confirm it. Suddenly something became very clear to me. I knew that we were together again after this torturous talking of the last two months. I knew then, I knew what was to be done. I went quickly into the cupboard in the other room where Dr. Bernstein was, and the TV, which had just announced the shooting of Kennedy. I took the LSD and said, “I am going to give him a shot of LSD, he asked for it.” The doctor had a moment of agitation because you know very well the uneasiness about this drug in the medical mind. Then he said, “All right, at this point what is the difference.” Whatever he had said, no “authority,” not even an army of authorities could have stopped me then. I went into Aldous’ room with the vial of LSD and prepared a syringe. The doctor asked me if I wanted him to give him the shot – maybe because he saw that my hands were trembling. His asking me that made me conscious of my hands, and I said, “No I must do this.” I quieted myself, and when I gave him the shot my hands were very firm. Then, somehow, a great relief came to us both.
Aldous was not so agitated physically. He seemed – somehow I felt he knew, we both knew what we were doing, and this has always been a great relief to Aldous. I have seen him at times during his illness very upset until he knew what he was going to do, then even if it was an operation or X-ray, he would make a total change. This enormous feeling of relief would come to him, and he wouldn’t be worried at all about it, he would say let’s do it, and we would go to it and he was like a liberated man. And now I had the same feeling – a decision had been made, he made the decision again very quickly. Suddenly he had accepted the fact of death; he had taken this moksha medicine in which he believed.
Read the full letter here
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