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DailyNews-
Nov 8, 2009, 05:02 PM
Reference:
Huxley, A. In Modern Writers At Work; Piercy, J. K., Ed.; The Macmillan Company: New York, 1930, p 45-56.

“My own ambition in teaching English has never risen higher than this: to teach my pupils to write grammar and sense in the fewest and least pretentious words.”
Aldous Huxley



The Outlook For American Culture (1927)


by Aldous Huxley





I

The future of America is the future of the world. Material circumstances are driving all nations along the path in which America is going. Living in the contemporary environment, which is everywhere becoming more and more American, men feel a psychological compulsion to go the American way. Fate acts within and without; there is no resisting. For good or for evil, it seems that the world must be Americanized. America is not unique; she merely leads the way along the road which the people of every nation and continent are taking. Studying the good and evil of features in American life, we are studying, in a generally more definite and highly developed form, the good and evil features of the world’s present and immediately coming civilization. Speculating on the American future, we are speculating on the future of civilized man. If I were a prophet, I would describe the future, would say whether it was to be rosy or dark. But lacking the prophetic eye, I can only guess. And even of guessing I shall be chary. I shall confine myself mainly to a safer and, on the whole, a more profitable task. Prophecies of the future, if they are to be intelligent, not merely fantastic, must be based on a study of the present. The future is the present projected.

Every present event or existence possesses some sort of significance, however small, for the future. If I turn on the gas to boil my morning’s coffee, that means that the world’s coal supply will be exhausted some minute fraction of a second before it would have been exhausted if I had not turned on the gas. And so on. Literally everything in the present has some significance for the future. The prophet must make a selection of the facts that are most significant, that will have the greatest effect on the greatest number of future human beings. Even the greatly significant facts are very numerous. To discuss them all one would have to write volumes; one would have to possess the most varied kinds of special knowledge. Lacking both space and knowledge, I am forced to make an arbitrary selection from the mass of significant materials. I shall discuss in the most general terms a few of the great facts of contemporary life-machinery, political and social institutions, education-showing the ways in which these things affect and are likely to go on affecting the inner life of man, how we may expect them to be modified, and with what results. I shall try to show the potentialities for good and evil implicit in the contemporary facts and how these potentialities may be expected to develop into future actuality.


The benefits conferred by machinery on the human race are too well known to need a long description. Machinery has made possible for the payment of a higher wage for shorter hours and less drudgery. Thanks to machinery, the common man enjoys to-day an amount of leisure undreamed of by his predecessors, lives, and brings up his family in a style which would have seemed to them almost princely. Leisure and prosperity (at any rate in moderate quantities) are good in themselves; it is right that the animal in man should be well fed, comfortable, and not over-worked. But, good in themselves, leisure and prosperity are still better for what they make possible. For those who desire such things, they make possible the acquisition of culture, they permit of life being lived on its highest levels. Not that they automatically produce these blessings. It is as well to insist on this, since some enthusiasts for progress seem to imagine that wealth and leisure result in the higher life as surely as intense cold results in ice. The most superficial study of history shows that they do not. At the most, they make the higher life possible for those who want to live it. Whether the possibility will be realized in fact depends, of course, on the individual taste and the social environment.

The progress in mechanical invention has given something more than wealth and leisure. Cheap and rapid transport has enormously enlarged the human horizon. Travel, in the past, was a luxury which only the very rich could afford. The majority of men and women were born, lived, and died in the same place. They inhabited a universe ten miles wide; beyond its borders lay the unknown. To-day even the poor can take small journeys; the moderately prosperous are familiar with whole continents. The mind is nourished by its impressions from without; to enlarge one’s physical world is to enrich one’s mind. Machinery, in the form of modern transport, is providing for larger and even larger numbers of human beings a form of liberal education.
Nor must we forget the more direct educational contributions of machinery. Efficient methods of printing have made possible the dissimulation of information and ideas on an unprecedented scale. Knowledge of the visual arts can be spread by means of cheap-process reproduction. Music can be recorded and reproduced with extraordinary verisimilitude by the phonograph. And every form of noise, from the political speech to the symphony concert, from the jazz band to the sermon, can be broadcast over a continent. Machinery, then, has created leisure and multiplied the number of impressions which men and women can receive. Universal leisure and variety of impressions make possible a rich universal culture. Machinery has set up a tendency towards the realization of fuller life.
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II

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Now for the reverse of the medal. I have been careful to insist that leisure makes culture possible, but does not automatically create it. Machinery has brought leisure to America and the rest of the Western world, and that leisure will certainly tend to increase. But can we honestly say that this leisure has given birth to a corresponding culture, or that there are any clear signs that culture is destined to spread in the immediate future? We cannot. Leisure makes culture possible; but this possible culture has not in fact become actual. Let me advise anyone who believes in the near approach of the social millennium to go to any great American or European city and note what the majority of men and women do with their new-found prosperity and leisure.

That increased leisure does not lead to increased culture among the leisured is due to two main causes, one hereditary and the other environmental. A great many men and women-let us frankly admit it, in spite of all our humanitarian and democratic prejudices-do not want to be cultured, are not interested in the higher life. For these people existence on the lower, animal levels is perfectly satisfactory. Given food, drink, the company of their fellows, sexual enjoyment, and plenty of noisy distractions from without, they are happy. They enjoy bodily, but hate mental, exercise. They cannot bear to be alone, or to think. Contemporary urban life, with its jazz bands, its negroid dancing, its movies, theaters, football matches, newspapers, and the like, is for them ideal. They can live out their lives without once being solitary, without once making a serious mental effort (for the work which most of these people do is mainly mechanical and requires little or no thought), without once being out of sight or sound of some ready-made distraction. The notion that one can derive pleasure from arduous intellectual occupations is to such people merely absurd. More leisure and more prosperity mean for them more dancing, more parties, more movies, more distractions in general. Most of the inhabitants of ancient Rome belonged to this type; so probably do most of the inhabitants of modern New York and London. And unless some system of eugenics is practiced in the interval, there is no reason to suppose that the inhabitants of the great cities in the year 3000 A.D. will be radically different. Machines are giving universal leisure, and universal leisure makes universal culture a possibility. But a large proportion of human beings are so constituted that they do not want to actualize that possibility. The obstacle in the way of the beneficent tendency inaugurated by machinery is constitutional and cannot be removed except by some slow process of natural or artificial selection. But there is another obstacle, not inherent in human nature, but resulting from the particular circumstances of the case. The machines themselves supply the means of checking the progressive movement which they have made possible. The machines give leisure; but at the same time they give what is almost a guarantee that, except by a fortunately situated and well-endowed minority, that leisure shall be misused. Machinery creates prosperity and leisure by enabling men to manufacture enormous numbers of exactly similar objects in a shorter time. Mass production is an admirable thing when applied to material objects; but applied to the things of the spirit it is not so good. It might be good if the spiritual wares retailed by our mass-producers of the mind were of high quality. But they are not. As things are at present, mass-produced material objects are of much better quality than mass-produced ideas and mass-produced art. The material standard is higher. A boot factory whose finished products were as thoroughly shoddy as the products of the average idea- or art-factory would go bankrupt in a few months. Everybody objects to leaky ill-fitting boots; but only a small minority objects to anything like the same intensity to imbecile ideas and vulgarity in art. The really passionate haters of mass-produced stupidity do not go to the ordinary idea- and art-factories for their goods. They are strong-minded enough to create and consume an exclusive product of their own.

But between the born culture-haters and the born culture-lovers, between the half-wits and the one-and-a-half-wits there exists a great mass of human beings, whose rather indeterminate nature is ready to receive the imprint which circumstances may set upon it. Environmental forces can push them towards culture or away from it. In the Americanized world of the present and the immediate future those forces are set against culture. A little reflection will show that this is almost inevitable. Proprietors of newspapers and theaters, directors of movies and radio companies are naturally as anxious to make money as anyone else. They find themselves living a world in which a substantial percentage of the inhabitant are definitely haters of culture, while another substantial percentage are more or less neutral between the culture-haters and the culture-lovers and can be persuaded by judicious propaganda to move towards one side or the other. The born culture-haters are much more numerous than the born culture-lovers. Consequently, the mass-producers of ideas and art are anxiously to bring the neutrals over to the culture-haters’ side. The rotary press, the process block, the cinema, the radio, the phonograph art used not, as they might so easily be used, to propagate culture, but its opposite. All the resources of science are applied in order that imbecility may flourish and vulgarity cover the whole earth. That they are rapidly doing so must be obvious to anyone who glances at a popular picture paper, looks at a popular film, listens to popular music on the radio or phonograph.
The mere standardization of ideas made possible by modern machinery is in itself another obstacle to culture. One of the blessings of machinery, as I pointed out, is that it enables human beings to move about the surface of their earth with an unprecedented ease and rapidity. Travel has been, and still is, a liberal education. But newspapers, the radio, and elementary education are making all human beings more and more alike. One can anticipate a future in which men will able to travel round the world without finding an idea or a custom different from those with which they are familiar at home. In 3000 A.D. one will doubtless be able to travel from Kansas City to Peking in a few hours. But if the civilization to these two places is the same, there will be no object in doing so.
There is another way in which machinery adversely affects culture. It removes man’s recreation to amuse himself. In the past when people needed recreation they were compelled to a great extent to provide it for themselves. If you needed music you had to sing or play an instrument. If you wanted a pictorial record of some person or scene you had to draw and paint. If you lived in a village or out-of-way town and wanted drama, you had to act yourself. To-day you need do none of these things. You turn on the gramophone or the radio when you need music; you click your kodak when you want a picture, you go the village movies when you want drama. Recreation is provided ready-made by enormous joint-stock companies. The play-instinct, which found active expression in the past, is now passive. In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were compelled, in their humble way, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to entertain them by the aid of machinery. It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can flourish in this atmosphere of passivity.
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IV


The eighteenth-century political theorists believed that men were congenitally equal and that education was all-powerful to make or mar them. According to Helvétius, any child could be turned into a Newton or a Shakespeare at will; it was just a question of giving him the right kind of training. Only Behaviorists agree with Helvétius now. The rest of us feel certain that children are not born with equal capacities, and that nature has as much to say in determining character, and achievement as nurture – probably more than nurture, in fact. But this has not prevented every reformer for the last hundred years from clamoring for more and yet more education – “liberal” education at that – for all children, regardless of their abilities, their tastes, their natural bent; this has not prevented governments from giving effects, in considerable measure, to the reformers’ demands. In all Western countries all the children receive the preparatory rudiments of a liberal, abstract education, while a certain percentage of them remain at school and college to acquire something more than the rudiments. It cannot be said that the results of our educational policy are particularly encouraging. The only striking effect of having taught everybody to read and write is that the human beings of lowest intelligence are now vocal instead of being dumb, as they were in the past. The great achievement of universal education is to have called into existence the contemporary popular press. I have spoken earlier in this essay of the way in which most men and women spend the leisure which machinery has given them. If education were effective, these people would lead – or at least desire to lead – that higher life whose beauty is the theme of all the homilies of all the teachers of the world. That they do not make any attempt to lead the higher life is sufficient proof that our present system of education is faulty.

The education of the future – like its politics, its religion, its social organization – will be based on psychological realism. Men will take the trouble to find out the truth about their own souls and will then make social institution to fit human nature. At present human nature is too often compelled to fit social institutions devised abstractly, in an intellectual void remote from all living reality. Contemporary educationists behave as though all human beings were by nature the same. The fundamental principle of future education will be that human beings are not the same, but belong to a variety of widely different types. To our fathers, and to a lesser degree to ourselves, it seems just and reasonable to give all children are the same abstract, liberal education. This principle has been practically applied, and its disappointing results have made us begin to wonder if it is a sound one. To our children and grandchildren it will without doubt seem fantastic and absurd. They will give different kinds of education to different kinds of people. Children belonging to the various psychological types will receive the sort of training by which they can profit. The child with a concrete, practical mind will have a predominantly practical education; he will not waste his time, as he does at present, trying to learn abstractions which he cannot understand, trying to acquire a literary and pure-scientific culture which does not interest him.

It is for the purposes of education that human beings will first be officially divided up into different psychological types. But the process will not stop there. All political and social institutions will be organized so as to fit the psychological reality. One can imagine the evolution of a new social hierarchy, based on the facts of human nature and not, as was the old medieval hierarchy, on a system of more or less arbitrarily chosen artificial values. The new state will be democratic in so far as all men will be equal before the law and will be given every possible opportunity to achieve the career for which their capacities have fitted them. It will be humanitarian in so far as all will be guaranteed a certain respectable minimum of material comfort and all will have the education which they are fitted to receive. But political democracy, as now practiced, will be unknown; our descendants will want a more efficient and rational form of government. The humanitarianism that professes to regard all human beings as equally endowed with moral worth and intellectual ability will be looked upon as archaic absurdity. Countries which, like America, are traditionally wedded to the old-fashioned democratic and humanitarian ideas of the eighteenth century will probably resist the new tendency. But the force of circumstances will be too powerful for them. The growing incapacity of political democracy to deal intelligently with the ever-more-complicated problems of modern world-policy will force them to change their ideas about government. The wastefulness and inadequacy of the present educational system will compel them to change their ideas about education. The social chaos resulting from the breakdown of the ancient standards of value will make them desire to set up a hierarchy more natural and therefore stronger and more permanent than the old. The changes may be resisted; but they will be made. For it is fate that will impose them.



Circumstance (n) - hoàn cảnh, trường hợp, tình huống

Ex: Material circumstances are driving all nations along the path in which America is going

Contemporary (adj) - đương thời, cùng thời, hiện đại

Ex: Living in the contemporary environment, which is everywhere becoming more and more American, men feel a psychological compulsion to go the American way.

Compulsion (n) - sự ép buộc, sự cưỡng bách, sự lôi kéo

Ex: Living in the contemporary environment, which is everywhere becoming more and more American, men feel a psychological compulsion to go the American way.

Civilization (n) - nền văn minh

Ex: Studying the good and evil of features in American life, we are studying, in a generally more definite and highly developed form, the good and evil features of the world’s present and immediately coming civilization.

Speculate (v) - tự biên, suy đoán, ức đoán

Ex: Speculating on the American future, we are speculating on the future of civilized man.

Confine (v) - hạn chế

Ex: I shall confine myself mainly to a safer and, on the whole, a more profitable task.

Possess (v) - có, chiếm hữu

Ex: Every present event or existence possesses some sort of significance, however small, for the future.

Significance (n) - ý nghĩa, sự quan trọng, sự đáng chú ý

Ex: Literally everything in the present has some significance for the future.

Minute (adj) - nhỏ, vụn vặt

Ex: If I turn on the gas to boil my morning’s coffee, that means that the world’s coal supply will be exhausted some minute fraction of a second before it would have been exhausted if I had not turned on the gas.

Effect (n) - tác động, ảnh hưởng; ấn tượng.

Ex: The prophet must make a selection of the facts that are most significant, that will have the greatest effect on the greatest number of future human beings.

Confer (v) - phong, ban

Ex: The benefits conferred by machinery on the human race are too well known to need a long description.

Leisure (n) - thì giờ rỗi rãi, lúc thư nhàn

Ex: I have been careful to insist that leisure makes culture possible, but does not automatically create it.

Prosperity (n) - sự thịnh vượng, sự phát đạt, sự phồn vinh

Ex: More leisure and more prosperity mean for them more dancing, more parties, more movies, more distractions in general.

Drudgery (n) - công việc vất vả cực nhọc, lao dịch; kiếp nô lệ, kiếp trâu ngựa

Ex: Machines have already greatly diminished human drudgery and increased prosperity and leisure, and there seems to be no reason to suppose that they will not continue their beneficent work.

Progress (n) - sự tiến tới, sự tiến bộ; sự tiến triển, sự phát triển

Ex: It is as well to insist on this, since some enthusiasts for progress seem to imagine that wealth and leisure result in the higher life as surely as intense cold results in ice.

Horizon (n) - tầm nhìn, tầm nhận thức, phạm vi hiểu biết

Ex: Cheap and rapid transport has enormously enlarged the human horizon.

Predecessor (n) - bậc tiền bối, ông cha, tổ tiên

Ex: Thanks to machinery, the common man enjoys to-day an amount of leisure undreamed of by his predecessors, lives, and brings up his family in a style which would have seemed to them almost princely.

Nourish (v) - nuôi, nuôi nấng, nuôi dưỡng

Ex: The mind is nourished by its impressions from without; to enlarge one’s physical world is to enrich one’s mind.

Dissimilation (n) - sự làm cho không giống nhau, sự làm cho khác nhau

Ex: Efficient methods of printing have made possible the dissimilation of information and ideas on an unprecedented scale.

Unprecedented (adj) - không hề có; chưa hề thấy, chưa từng nghe thấy

Ex: Efficient methods of printing have made possible the dissimilation of information and ideas on an unprecedented scale.

Verisimilitude (n) - vẻ thật, việc có vẻ thật

Ex: Music can be recorded and reproduced with extraordinary verisimilitude by the phonograph.

Realization (n) - sự thực hiện, sự thực hành

Ex: Machinery has set up a tendency towards the realization of fuller life.

Hereditary (adj) - di truyền.

Ex: Monarchy and hereditary aristocracy may be a permanent source of corruption; but so is plutocracy.

Solitary (adj) - một mình, cô độc, cô đơn; hiu quạnh, vắng vẻ

Ex: They can live out their lives without once being solitary, without once making a serious mental effort (for the work which most of these people do is mainly mechanical and requires little or no thought), without once being out of sight or sound of some ready-made distractions.

Derive (v) - nhận được từ, lấy được từ, tìm thấy nguồn gốc từ

Ex: The notion that one can derive pleasure from arduous intellectual occupations is to such people merely absurd.

Arduous (adj) - khó khăn, gian khổ, gay go, miệt mài, gắng gỏi

Ex: The notion that one can derive pleasure from arduous intellectual occupations is to such people merely absurd.

Actualize (v) - thực hiện, biến thành hiện thực

Ex: But a large proportion of human beings are so constituted that they do not want to actualize that possibility.

Tendency (n) - xu hướng, khuynh hướng

Ex: Their tendency, therefore, is to disseminate ideas and art of the lowest quality.


Obstacle (n) - vật chướng ngại, trở lực, sự cản trở, sự trở ngại

Ex: But there is another obstacle, not inherent in human nature, but resulting from the particular circumstances of the case.

Disseminate (v) - gieo rắc (hạt giống, tư tưởng...); phổ biến

Ex: Their tendency, therefore, is to disseminate ideas and art of the lowest quality.


Inherent (adj) - vốn thuộc về, vốn gắn liền với

Ex: But there is another obstacle, not inherent in human nature, but resulting from the particular circumstances of the case.

Consume (v) - dùng, tiêu thụ

Ex: They are strong-minded enough to create and consume an exclusive product of their own.


Inevitable (adj) - không thể tránh được, chắc chắn xảy ra

Ex: A little reflection will show that this is almost inevitable.

Proprietors (n) - người chủ, chủ nhân

Ex: Proprietors of newspapers and theaters, directors of movies and radio companies are naturally as anxious to make money as anyone else.

Propagate (v) - truyền bá, lan truyền

Ex: The rotary press, the process block, the cinema, the radio, the phonograph art used not, as they might so easily be used, to propagate culture, but its opposite.

Imbecility (n) - tính khờ dại, tính ngu đần, hành động khờ dại; lời nói khờ dại

Ex: All the resources of science are applied in order that imbecility may flourish and vulgarity cover the whole earth.

Vulgarity (n) - tính chất thô tục, tính thô lỗ, hành động thô bỉ

Ex: All the resources of science are applied in order that imbecility may flourish and vulgarity cover the whole earth.

Standardization (n) - sự tiêu chuẩn hoá

Ex: The mere standardization of ideas made possible by modern machinery is in itself another obstacle to culture.

Rapidity (n) - sự nhanh chóng, sự mau lẹ

Ex: One of the blessings of machinery, as I pointed out, is that it enables human beings to move about the surface of their earth with an unprecedented ease and rapidity.

Adverse (adj) - bất lợi, có hại

Ex: There is another way in which machinery adversely affects culture.

Passivity (n) - tính bị động, tính thụ động, tính tiêu cực

Ex: It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can flourish in this atmosphere of passivity.

Diminish (v) - bớt, giảm, hạ bớt, giảm bớt; thu nhỏ

Ex: Machines have already greatly diminished human drudgery and increased prosperity and leisure, and there seems to be no reason to suppose that they will not continue their beneficent work.

Monarchy (n) - nền quân chủ; chế độ quân chủ

Ex: The scale of social values culminated, as we have seen, in monarchy and hereditary aristocracy.

Aristocracy (n) - tầng lớp quý tộc, chế độ quý tộc; nước do tầng lớp quý tộc thống trị; chính phủ của tầng lớp quý tộc thống trị

Ex: The scale of social values culminated, as we have seen, in monarchy and hereditary aristocracy.

Plutocracy (n) - chế độ tài phiệt

Ex: Monarchy and hereditary aristocracy may be a permanent source of corruption; but so is plutocracy.

Culminate (v) - lên đến cực điểm, lên đến tột độ, lên đến tột bậc

Ex: The scale of social values culminated, as we have seen, in monarchy and hereditary aristocracy.

Hierarchy (n) - hệ thống cấp bậc; thứ bậc, tôn ti

Ex: Theoretically, at any rate, it was by a divine, inborn right that the aristocrat headed the social hierarchy.

Disinterestedness (n) - tính vô tư, tính không cầu lợi, sự không quan tâm đến

Ex: The essential virtue in the saint and the mane of learning was disinterestedness.

Apparent (adj) - rõ rành rành, hiển nhiên, không thể chối cãi được

Ex: With regard to political democracy, its disadvantages are becoming daily more apparent in America as in all other countries which have adopted it as a system of government.

Devise (v) - nghĩ ra, đặt (kế hoạch), sáng chế, phát minh

Ex: At present human nature is too often compelled to fit social institutions devised abstractly, in an intellectual void remote from all living reality.

Absurdity (n) - sự vô lý; sự ngu xuẩn, sự ngớ ngẩn

Ex: The humanitarianism that professes to regard all human beings as equally endowed with moral worth and intellectual ability will be looked upon as archaic absurdity.