I admire Aldous Huxley, and all his work. His earlier, satirical and dystopian work tore down all hypocrisies and inequalities with piercing intelligence and wit. The novel Brave New World famously shows the possible dehumanising consequences of advancing science, and of advancing the fortunes of only a genetically ‘superior’ few. In that world dominant powers act like the religions and totalitarian regimes we know: they do not allow people to accept or respect difference – the quality of difference that we all share ¬– and they attempt to make everyone to follow the one same path to fulfilment whether they like it or not. But Huxley didn’t simply take the easy route of one who only criticises others, without offering positive alternatives; he didn’t simply show us an impending road to hell, without suggesting an alternative route.
After years of preparation Huxley wrote Island, a novel published the year before his passing in 1962. He sought to show how a community can choose to adopt practical and pragmatic systems in order to prioritise happiness, deeper present moment awareness, and love; he tried to describe a system which enables individuals to cultivate their own unique gifts, perspectives, and paths to happiness, to the benefit everyone. Equally, in an essay called ‘Human Potentialities’ (1961), which I will focus on here, Huxley outlined a positive direction for the future. He offered us something to strive for now, and an alternative to locating our hope in the consolations of an afterlife. In ‘Human Potentialities’ he criticises wealthy nations, where they envisage their futures in terms of more military might and more consumption. Rather, we should orient ourselves toward meeting everyone’s basic human needs, so that we might create a world in which everyone will have a chance to actualise their desirable potentialities. If we will it, or if we choose it and aspire to it, says Huxley, we do have the capacity to share our resources so that every human being will be nourished, secure, and valued; so that every human being will then be in a position to develop their capacities for intelligence, creativity, contentment, and love.
Aldous’ ‘Human Potentialities’ appears in a volume called ‘The Humanist Frame’ (1961), which was edited his elder brother Julian. Julian Huxley was a biologist, Humanist, and he had been the first director-general of UNESCO – his preface is worthy of mention. It is preface which centres on ‘Evolutionary Humanism’, as a way of giving humanism a set of principles and a ‘movement in a certain definable direction’. This ‘Evolutionary Humanism’ gives us hope and meaning, when it relates every kind of human activity to evolutionary movement. Evolution, Julian Huxley says, is not simply a biological process, but a psychosocial process which – particularly now, following recent strides in our knowledge and technologies – we can and should direct: "Today, in twentieth-century man, the evolutionary process is at last becoming conscious of itself and is beginning to study itself with a view to directing its future course. Human knowledge worked over by human imagination is seen as the basis of human understanding and belief, and the ultimate guide to human progress."
Linking in to his brother’s piece, Julian describes ‘Evolutionary Humanism’ as an aim for human species ‘…in the shape of greater fulfilment through the realisation of potentialities.’ In my next post I will show how Aldous Huxley thought we might practically go about realising human potentialities.