Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Quote of the Day (Aldous Huxley, on ‘The Leisured Rich’ and the Poor)

“The leisured rich, who are not paid to do anything, themselves pay for the privilege of filling their vacuum with active occupations or passive diversions. Sport in all its varieties, alcohol and elaborate eating, love-making, theater-going, card-playing—these are some of the activities and diversions with which the rich can afford to fill up the aching void of their leisure. By means of such distractions they contrive to keep boredom and melancholia at bay….To the onlooker, the leisures of the rich may not provide a particularly uplifting spectacle; but for the rich themselves unemployment is not intolerable. A poor man, living at subsistence level, can buy no opiates or stimulants. Foe him, the vacuum of leisure is complete. He is exposed to the full force of boredom and depression. He is never able to forget, as the rich man can forget in the whirl of his distractions, the futility of a life deprived of sense or purpose and contributing nothing to the greater life of society at large. The effects of prolonged and unmitigated leisure are appalling. Slowly and insidiously it tends to reduce its victims to a kind of living death.”  — English novelist/essayist Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), “The Man Without a Job,” December 20, 1936, in Aldous Huxley, Between the Wars: Essays and Letters, edited by David Bradshaw (1994)

These days, addiction rates are twice as high among the jobless as among those with a job, according to the information web guide Addiction Center. So Huxley’s contention about the poor man being unable to buy “opiates or stimulants” does not hold true today, no matter what may have happened when he wrote this during the Great Depression that gripped both side sides of the Atlantic.

Huxley—who, later in life, experimented with mescaline and LSD—recognized, in his 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World, that “psychotropic drugs were not just toys for recreational purposes but had the power to fuel political and religious change,” according to this Oxford University Press blogpost by pharmacology professor Richard J. Miller of Northwestern University.

Huxley's other point, about the poor being exposed to “the full force of boredom and depression,” remains true, as does his warning about “prolonged and unmitigated leisure” among what used to be called the “idle rich.” The impact of the current COVID-induced recession will take a long time to sort out, but the psychological effects cannot be discounted.

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