The island turns 60

The island, posthumous novel of aldous huxley (1894-1963), published in 1962, although it did not match the fame of a A happy worldwritten thirty years before by the same author, is a work of great interest for the present time.

On the utopian island of Pala, forbidden to foreigners, they have spent three generations trying to combine the best of the Western and Eastern worlds: they have been able to equip themselves with a social organization and agricultural technology that have allowed them to end hunger and poverty and, on the other hand, they have developed a spirituality, meditation practices and attention to the “here and now” and an education system that conjure up the most greedy and selfish part of the human being. A type of bird related to parrots flutters around the island and frequently pronounces the word “Attention”. And, since they have not wanted to be contaminated with the society of abundance, they have refused to grant concessions to the big oil companies, fleeing from the hierarchies, inequalities and unwanted morality that mega-companies bring with them.

It is worth dwelling on the values ​​that Huxley imagined for Pala and that were instilled in infants and young people because, 60 years later, everything indicates that in the West we are suffering from a major crisis of principles. Of course we have other serious problems, such as climate change, great social inequalities, the million species of animals and plants that we have put in danger of extinction, the endless wars or the rise of hatred towards the other, towards the immigrant person. , homosexual, poor or voter of another party.

But, it is worth asking, are these serious problems not closely related to the lack of ethical values ​​and the rise, in this “model” of society, of selfishness, individualism, consumerism and the supremacy of the “I” over others? “others”, as if a person could survive even one day without the help of the baker who bakes the bread, the milkman who milks the cow, the farmer who grows lettuce and carrots, the carpenter who sets up the table where we have lunch, the doctor that watches over our health or the world of culture that feeds our spirit?

In The island, Will Farnaby, a journalist hired by the president of one of the big oil companies, manages to arrive on a sailboat on the coast of Pala. He is entrusted with making contact with influential figures, supporters of “leaning” the country further towards the West and enthusiasts, of course, of exploiting the abundant oil in the subsoil. In his dangerous landing, Farnaby will suffer an accident, which makes it difficult for him to be deported. The leaders of Pala then decide to treat him as a guest and show him how the island works. And there is no need to tell more so as not to spoil the reading.

The values

Let’s go back to values. Although social changes are necessary for the improvement of societies, we seem to have lacked the combination of transforming governments -and the social movements that support them- with “internal change”. Without it, the risk of transformations failing is high. We have seen it both in developing countries -remember the case of Ortega in Nicaragua, turned into another Somoza, or that of Mugabe in Zimbabwe, a leader against apartheid and colonialism, later transformed into another dictator-, as well as in the United States, with the arrival of Trump to the Presidency or in Europe, with the rise of the intolerant extreme right.

The western system has taken the “every man for himself” to the extreme. The advances achieved in the past with the agreements between capital and labor, cooperation between nations, multilateralism or the United Nations, have been touched. Financial speculation, the interests of the bank, of the big technology, oil, pharmaceutical, and arms companies, have their respects. And if the problem of Soviet socialism was to forget the individual, the problem of current capitalism is to forget the collectivity. “Society does not exist, there is the individual,” said Margaret Thatcher.

In a Cherokee legend, a grandfather tells his grandson that, within each person, two wolves fight: one represents anger, envy, jealousy, sadness, greed, arrogance, resentment, lies, falsehood, pride, superiority…; the other symbolizes love, joy, peace, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, loyalty, generosity, truth…”. The grandson asks, “Grandpa, which wolf wins?” And the Cherokee answers simply: “The one you feed.”

On Pala, the island imagined by Huxley, the population is inspired by Buddhism. “I show you suffering,” Buddha said, “but also its end.” The answer is in self-knowledge, in the acceptance of how honorable and dishonorable we are, the only way to change. The classics of Greek philosophy also insisted on that “know yourself”, a knowledge that allows you to feed the “good wolf” and that leads us to others: “Do not want for others what you do not want for yourself”, the golden rule of Kantian philosophy.

The question is: can all people reach knowledge or is it something that is reserved for the initiated, the enlightened? In Pala they believed that yes, that the majority of the population could achieve it. How? Above all, through education.

On the utopian island, one was taught from childhood to be fully aware of the world and to enjoy that awareness. “The most ordinary things, the most trivial events, are seen as jewels and miracles,” explained one of the spiritual leaders to Will Farnaby. Why would they have to resort to luxury cars and motorcycles, to expensive imported drinks if, in addition to not being able to afford it, they didn’t need it either, since what they wanted was to be happy in a way other than that offered by compulsive consumption? . “In Pala we have managed to resist the temptation to which the West succumbed: that of overconsumption. We don’t get coronary heart disease by swallowing six times more saturated fat than we need; we do not hypnotize ourselves to the point of believing that two television sets will make us twice as happy as one.”

In childhood and adolescence, they were taught to experience what unites all human beings, what equalizes us and, at the same time, the uniqueness that each one of us is. Each case was analyzed, how each child was, their degree of sociability, their talent for the different branches of knowledge and the arts, their greater or lesser predisposition to fall into the clutches of any trickster charlatan, to avoid it, to reinforce their self-control. And when the personality of each person had been diagnosed, little by little, in the classrooms, the different types of people were made to coincide, so that everyone understood that each individual has the right to be respected.

Huxley already imagined for his island the need to explain from childhood that everything that has life is related: the forests with the rain, the rain with the streams, the villages with the streams and the countryside that surrounds them… “We will be able to live on this planet as long as we treat nature the way we want to be treated.” And in Pala the entire population dedicated time to agriculture or some kind of manual labor. Job satisfaction was higher than productivity.

Taking advantage of Huxley’s musings, let me jump into today’s society. First issue: doesn’t it make perfect sense to have a quality public education so that students mix, learn about their similarities and differences, and respect and take each other into account, in addition to equalizing opportunities and taking advantage of all the talents? And, on the contrary, shouldn’t private and elitist education for the children of the wealthiest be avoided, a segregation that will cause future elites not to recognize themselves among other people and that, when they exercise command in companies and governments, disregard their luck? If business leaders who refuse to negotiate increases in minimum wages or pay revisions in line with inflation had grown up in the same classrooms as employees and workers, would they be just as stubborn?

Second matter: doesn’t education for citizenship, education in values, in ethical attitudes towards others, such as integrity, respect, kindness, gratitude or generosity, also make sense? It is not necessary to remember that those who oppose education in values ​​are the same ones who advocate “every man for himself” and those who end up lowering taxes for the richest. They are people worthy of all respect, of course, but as long as they don’t see the need to care more about others, the groups that represent them had better stay in opposition.

“Civilian Service”

Another element that enhances ethical values ​​would be practices in the field and in sectors such as the health system, education, care or the environment. Young people in this “civil service” would learn useful and enriching occupations and value work for others. Afterwards, if the private sector does not provide enough jobs, the public sector should guarantee them with decent remuneration, so that all people feel part of their community.

In the Shovel that Huxley imagined, many other issues are collected: they lacked an army, birth control offered no doubts; cooperativism flourished although there was room for private initiative on a small scale… but no one could become much richer than the common people.

The spiritual dimension, ethical values, are essential to understand our place in the world, to build a deep relationship with ourselves, with the rest of humanity and with nature, to find meaning in a life that otherwise lacks. of sense. Transformative governments, challenged by organized civil society, must courageously promote ethical values ​​in schools without being influenced by the cries of conservatives, those of: “Against indoctrination in the classroom!” They can also promote spaces for meditation and yoga, to get to know ourselves better, be more focused and take others into account. There are green shoots: some Western universities are already studying the beneficial effect of meditation on people who practice it, and there are teachers who do not neglect ethical lessons in schools. They correctly consider that individual change, along with social change, is the way. The island of Pala can serve as inspiration. @mundiario

The island turns 60