I just finished reading, and experiencing Huxley’s utopian novel Island, the third of his works I have bitten off now after the Doors of Perception, and Brave New World, and this is another work of genius, foresight, ingenuity, and pioneer literatureship, is that a word? Now it is.
Where in Brave New World, a strange society, and strange is the world for it was quite removed from it’s political and social setting of the time, is set as the status quo, a population of genetically engineered beings, who are perfect in every way, with manicured behaviors, and conformist attitudes, and if anything happens there is always Soma. This narrative is one of futuristic outlook on a rapidly evolving world and the authors own subjective fantastic analysis of one of it’s possible outcomes. The upheaval of a hyper-modern and industrial age, set betwixt an aristocratic backdrop of representative England, and the savage and brutal worlds of American and Iceland, for those that missed those references. While in The Doors of Perception, there is a personal account of a self-induced experience with the alkaloid mescaline, and a kind of social commentary of drugs, medicine, social politics, and a slew of interesting academic brain scratchers, it really gets you thinking in a transcendental way. But I think Island is the most approachable so far I have read, for someone who is looking for a lighter work with a higher spiritual inclination. It is a book that was relevant then, and I would say is even more so important to read today, and its subject matters are something growing in concern for us all. The revolving themes of colonization, industrialization, modernism, teaching, drug use (in an atavistic religious way), community forming, human behavior, consciousness and a few other metaphysical concepts that are intersticed through the grain of this work.
The subjects are part of the everyday life of the people of Pala, a small island in the tropics, with a stable population of essentially Indo-Europeans, tuned onto Mahayana Buddhism, self-sustainability, and radical schooling. This is a dart on the bulls-eye for all those out there who are interested in seeing the precepts in potentia, or theorizing and observing how they can function in a small population, so I would recommend it not only to people like permaculturalists, environmentalist country folk, psychedelic thinkers and activists, but also vastly different personalities like city planners, politicians, and government officials, though for that sake, I don’t really have the latter in my friend circle.
Will Farnaby is washed ashore this island, and gradually starts to meet the ‘indigenous’ people there, and it is through him and his questions, juxtaposed through a ‘your way and our way’ perspective, that is of Pala vs. the West/America. The main character comes with his problems, nervosas, and issues, and gradually learns, through the brilliant mind of Huxley’s fictional residents, what a healthy population looks like, how it works, and what to be aware of. That is a key thing throughout the book, awareness, and is quite humoristic in the way it is passed across. The people of Pala came from abroad, but chose to settle here, until they were reformed, and started to practice a kind of spiritually enlightened branch of Buddhism. There are these religious tenets stuck in through the daily life and text of this book that even I found highly intriguing from a heathen perspective because it is not overbearing or dogmatic in any way. The island has something they call mutual adoption clubs, which is a practice that most indigenous tribes of the Amazon, Africa and the rest of South America instilled in the upbringing of their offspring. Basically these were larger tribal families, and one child had several mothers, several fathers, and many siblings, so there was a preservation of diversity of care, intelligence, teaching, and discipline. This was one of the main teaching points I thought, and represents how far modern families have diverged from this healthy paradigm, where now the nuclear family, usually 2 parents, 2 children of opposite sex, all living in the same house until the children reach full maturity, which ironically takes about 18-20 years in these conditions, and sometimes embarrassingly longer. The youth are stifled from lack of attention, integration with society, and a diminished form of love when being raised, and family socialism becomes a kind of limitation for interaction with the world, the neighbors and even stagnates by itself in the household, because of having no outlet for problem venting. So the nuclear family vs. the mutual adoption society is a keen thing that is addressed, but in a novel sentimental way. Huxley has a way of conveyance that opens empathy, sympathy, and mutual understanding.
Another rather taboo confluence of thoughts that runs through the book is the use of indigenous drugs for conscious altering experiences. Not for the sake of pure hedonism and leisure, but as medicine. This is the distinguished difference here. Today we smoke weed for leisure, at least the majority, for thrills, for sexual stamina, and sometimes there is nothing wrong with this, but the medicinal value is often disregarded or forgotten and instead the commercialism of product reigns in its place. The people of Pala use something they call the moksha-medicine, which early in the book they refer to the biology of, in what I took to be the Amanita, even describing it as red, but then later talking about the effects, and considering the climate and ecology they exist in, I am rather convinced it may be Psilocybin but it is hard to say, as also Asian shamans have traditionally used the Muscaria, and not the latter. I would have to consult Huxley’s ghost for that, but it’s beside the important point, and would be missing the meal offered here. The Palanese use this medicine, and encourage to youth to take it as a rite of passage, after they have undergone an ordeal. So it is shamanic in nature. Their reasoning is, the moksha can take one to vistas of the luminous bliss and light, to realms that are beyond the mundane, the ordinary, and profane, while their spiritual practices, like anger management, and all the Yogas of being they persuade are ways to maintain the perpetual course taken to preserve the closeness of that state. In the end, Will Farnaby himself takes the moksha medicine, and is elaborated through a psychedelic experience that would make McKenna blush, and Lovecraft grin. The advocacy of this drug, and their philosophical stance of control over consumption should be a model for this bizarre paradigm most of the developed world, especially first world, still tries to impart with the war on drugs. They are only drugs, because their healing and evolutionary properties are undermined, and used improperly.
Their use of Yogas I highly admire, as well from Aldous’ view essentially, exudes a more subtle truth of the real Yoga. Something I was turned off of for a couple years, after heavy intensive practice in my early-twenties because of the sheer commercialization, profit mongering, and pseudo-spirituality that surrounded that scene. I just didn’t want to be part of it. But the Palanese practice a form of personalized and subjective yoga that I think is way more important, one that goes to the roots. Of ‘yoking’ with the intentional actions of their body, and will, thus building soul. It really just has a lot to do with awareness of everyday passing ons, and proper behavior. There are no deep secrets in this yoga, which I also practice every day in my own lifestyle, even this very minute. So there are things like the yoga of love making, the yoga of not doing, the yoga of remembering, the yoga of speaking, and every other niche sympathetic, and mechanical function we have as humans. This is part of the Palanese teaching, as well as a unique kind of stress management. Using energy arising from possibly violent tendencies and turning them towards productive means. They have a whole group who just chop wood, or scale cliffs, or stamp their feet in a bizarre dance form. They cultivate skepticism in their youth, and teaching them all the practical sciences when they are young, the hard stuff first, which I think is really radical. The children grow up to actually appreciate the relative simplicity of surviving, and thriving through responsibility and change. They have an interesting experiment that involves checking their sons/daughters for hypnotic tendencies, because they can then be taught to defend themselves against future commanders, authority, outsiders, religious fanatics and militants, into exploiting them.
Pala is a picture of an organic community that has not been developed, they have no wars, no plantations or factories, no harbor for possible invasion, no self-defeatist and dogmatic religions, or surplus, no need to import or export. They are their own microcosm, where the individual is as sovereign as the whole. I would be interested to know if the general plot of the Western man who visits a native population, still in touch with their spiritual heritage and animistic lifestyle, using entheogens and cut off from the world mimics Ernst Junger’s work A visit to Godenholm? If anyone has read it in German or the English translation, I would love to hear about it. Also if anyone might recommend another gem in Huxley’s line up, because he has quite the stack of literature he was written, I am really getting to be absorbed by his mind. Their are many take-aways from this one, insights into our certain cultural crisis’, personal sentiments, empathy of characters in sometimes dark ways, and an intriguing eye into thinking you are actually reading a real anthropological account of a lost people, which I love.