Is Utopia a State of Consciousness?: Drugs and Literature (Part 2)

Doors Of Perception by Peikwen Cheng

If we look at the question in hand objectively, we already know that primarily all utopian texts are objective since they begin in medias res with all policies already operating effectively to their realised potential. However to infiltrate an altered state of consciousness is a highly subjective affair, that simply must possess a “before” scenario.

For Aldous Huxley this requires dumping the “before” of “the ruts of ordinary perception”, and entering the altered in “the outer and the inner world”. So rather primitively, to operate as a standalone piece of successful and most importantly realistic utopian literature, on this basis alone the “state of consciousness” notion simply isn’t feasible rhetoric. An already functioning society is most desirable when convincing the readership, however, if one is seeking utopia through an altered state of consciousness by relying predominantly on drugs, such a state in most instances is almost always going to be temporary.

In Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World soma is effectively a fictionalised mescaline, in that it too is not only void of that unattractive stigma the hangover: “mescaline is completely innocuous […] its effects will pass off after eight or ten hours, leaving no hangover”,[1] but that it’s also transcendental. And on reading Huxley’s premise for his perfect drug, specifying that “what is needed is a new drug which will relieve and console our suffering species without doing more harm in the long run than it does good in the short”,[2] we draw striking similarities to the known properties of soma. Huxley’s affiliation for psychedelic hallucinogens is widely documented and reached its climax when he desired “a more conscious experience” when making the transition to his new permanently altered state: he ordered 100mmg of LSD be injected into him whilst he lay on his deathbed.[3]

On his deathbed Huxley scribbled: "LSD-try it/intermuscular/100mmg/Then 200"

What is freedom? Whilst under the influence of an induced chemical high, freedom and personal responsibility become as mystical as the hallucinations the user is experiencing. To undergo an altered state of consciousness and be able to consider oneself “free” is a foolish concept, since the mind is at the total mercy of the soma or mescaline that is controlling you. There is no way the brain can retain the usual ‘instinctive’ power to speak or act without hindrance. In Brave New World, if an individual was able to exercise true freedom whilst on a soma vacation, the World State couldn’t possibly administer such a fate as there would be total chaos from a distinct loss of power.

Personal responsibility on the other hand is non-existent, since the conditioning centre dictate every individual’s destiny and role within society before they are born. If anything becomes too strange or too stressful in everyday life, rather than take responsibility and deal with the problem, people are able to administer incredibly high doses of soma and escape from the uncomfortable reality for as long as they think they need. With higher castes being left alone and the lower castes being manipulated, retaining any form of individuality and therefore an identity is effectively useless so they just lay back and become another nameless face. This way each and every citizen is under the illusion that they are in some form of “utopia” as a mass collective, and if any doubt is cast over this fact soma is on hand to calm the abnormalities.

To some extent this is easily an illustration of “utopia as a state of consciousness”, because they simply do not know any better. They have no “half-opaque medium of concepts” to “distort facts” into “familiar likeness[es]”, and I do think the removal of literature and therefore language really is the key here in maintaining mass unity. With his passion for Shakespeare, John is the only character to avoid this language breach, and as a result is unable to “fit in” with this society. Preferring solitude with his words, thoughts and symbol systems. However in reality, as esteemed radical feminist Valerie Solanas believes that “the male is completely egocentric, trapped inside himself”[4], Huxley to some extent agrees stating “the sum of evil, Pascal remarked, would be much diminished if men could only learn to sit quietly in their rooms”.[5] Enlightenment is far too flattering in its conviction that we are actually able to control ourselves, when we are all simply a product of our own sin.

In the very original Utopia, Sir Thomas More famously depicted that only the wise should rule; a debatable hypothesis when compared with Huxley’s ongoing stance that intellects actually need the “escape” to a far greater extent. This is prohibitively apparent in his Brave New World society, where the clever and creative are banished to a far off island to find an isolated use for what are deemed to be idle talents.

Here we can retract and consider the fashion in which Huxley enjoys the island concept as a symbol of isolation, tending towards the “imaginary” version rather than the type which occupies a physical space since we never actually visit this proposed island of geniuses and there is no apparent outcome of such an intellectual density. A physical example of an island of such intellectual power would surely yield a leader compelled to take over the society from which they were removed, but since there is no such political movement we can only assume they have perhaps been exiled to an “imaginary island” somewhere through the medium of a permanent soma “vacation”: a mental head-space only ably occupied by the individual rather than the majority.

The way in which Huxley supports this theory lies in his study of the intellectual’s mastery of language, which compliments his obsessive appraisal that intellectuals need to experience the world not as it appears to “a human being obsessed with words and notions”.[6] “To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call languages”.[7]

Huxley almost takes adopts the personified role of his “Mind At Large” concept, preaching to the reader the importance of filtering out any “words [that] are uttered but fail to enlighten”[8]. Such as “generic labels”, “explanatory abstractions” or other parts of “reality” in an attempt to view the contents of the world directly, abolishing the “ego-filter” which in this instance Huxley is certainly equating to human language. Summarily if one takes mescaline, they are destroying the ego-filter and thus viewing the world directly. Unaided by drugs, if one discards language then they are basically imitating the role of the brain and nervous system, eliminating what is noted as unessential information and viewing the world with clarity.

Huxley takes mescaline to seek this moment of clarity, to see what it is like looking through the eyes of an artist: “for the consummate painter with his little pipe line to “Mind At Large” bypassing the brain valve and ego filter”. Yet ironically, in his bid to justify a man of his academic stature taking hallucinogenic substances and simultaneously criticizing the language system, it is actually his own profound use of language which enables Huxley to clearly communicate his mescaline experience to us, thus separating him from the unauthorised takers he has labelled as “fiends”. Even in Brave New World, the newborns are conditioned to hate books in an apparent ploy to inhibit accidental reading of dangerous facts. However Huxley could merely be conditioning an absence and therefore preventing an overreliance on language. By starting early in the foundations, and trying to encourage an outlook where “the word” isn’t “fruitful” and one can experience life a little more directly.

[1] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, p.36

[2] Huxley, p.44.

[3] Blackmore, Sue, ‘Take a trip to ease your final journey’,, accessed 10/05/10

[4] Solanas, Valerie, S.C.U.M Manifesto.

[5] Huxley, p.27

[6] Huxley, p.51.

[7] Huxley, p.12

[8] Huxley, p.4

-James Godwin, May 26th, 2011

Copyright © 2011. James Godwin. All rights reserved.