Habeas Corpus, Habeas Mentem, and Mental Independence
While reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited for the Nth time, I stumbled over the term habeas corpus at a time when there are individuals around the planet being held prisoner who are not being told why.
As Huxley warned us, education for freedom is urgently needed. Somehow, perhaps at “the academy in Lincroft, New Jersey,” I may have learned how to think for myself. I don’t know. Maybe I was predisposed to thinking for myself before I got there. Whatever the case, this inclination for mental independence was nurtured back then, not destroyed.
Today, our mental independence is menaced. The Lawmakers of the Old World were concerned about protecting the physical freedom of the individual. In 1679, the concept of habeas corpus was introduced.
A person being kept in prison can appeal to a higher court for a “writ of habeas corpus.” This means that the jailer must bring the actual body that suffers encagement before the judge. With the help of technology, now the judges can harass inmates via the telescreen.
Habeas corpus and the absence of physical constraint is absolutely necessary, but, as Huxley suggests, it is not all that is necessary.
“It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison, and yet not free – to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel and act. There will never be such a thing as a writ of habeas mentem; for no sheriff or jailer can bring an illegally imprisoned mind into court, and no person whose mind has been made captive would [even] be in a position to complain of his captivity. The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him, the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people. His servitude is strictly objective.
“No, I repeat, there can never be such a thing as habeas mentem. But there can be preventive legislation – an outlawing of the psychological slave trade, a statute for the protection of minds against the unscrupulous purveyors of poisonous propaganda, modeled on the statutes for the protection of bodies against the unscrupulous purveyors of adulterated food and dangerous drugs. There could and, I think, there should be legislation prohibiting the use of subliminal projection in public places or on television screens. There could and, I think, there should be legislation to prevent political candidates not merely from spending more than a certain amount of money on their election campaigns, but also to prevent them from resorting to the kind of anti-rational propaganda that makes nonsense of the whole democratic process.
“Such legislation might do some good; but if the great impersonal forces now menacing freedom continue to gather momentum, they cannot do much good for very long. The best of constitutions and preventive laws will be powerless against the steadily increasing pressures of over-population and the over-organization imposed by growing numbers and advancing technology.
“Under the relentless thrust of accelerating over-population and and increasing over-organization, and by means of ever more effective methods of mind-manipulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms – elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest – will remain. The underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism. All the traditional names, all the hallowed slogans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days. Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial. Meanwhile, the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.”
What we have today is kind of a combination of mind-manipulation backed up with violent force. It’s a little bit more like Orwell’s vision for the underclass (proles) and more like Huxley’s vision for those who inherit authority. What we really have is something closer to John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up. So how do we go about educating ourselves in order to create alternative communities that might exist beyond the control of a centralized authority?
We’re working on it, but it doesn’t look very promising