A posthumous dialogue on the problem of pain Religion EthicsAustralian Broadcasting Corporation Good dystopian fiction often contains a moment in which the vanquished hero is allowed to speak directly with an agent of the totalitarian system.
Towards the end ray ban predator sunglasses of Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World, there occurs one of the most philosophically provocative conversations in all of modern literature. In a kind of Socratic dialogue, World Controller Mustapha Mond and John "the Savage" discuss the nature of the good life. Their debate ends in a mutually acknowledged stalemate, with John continuing to insist that the casual hedonism encouraged in the World State has destroyed authentic feeling: "Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence. "I claim them all," said [John] at last. Brave New World presents a very curious sort of dystopia. French novelist Michel Houellebecq makes the case that it is wrong to interpret the work as a mere evil fantasy, as a warning about the future. "Everyone says Brave New World is supposed to be a totalitarian nightmare, a vicious indictment of society, but that's hypocritical. Brave New World is our idea of heaven: genetic manipulation, sexual liberation, the war against aging, the leisure society." While Brave New World contains many features readers find abhorrent genetic determinism, a rigid caste system, widespread ray ban 2113 euthanasia and human subjects who live out empty lives of total sterility it depicts a world that has succeeded in eliminating suffering. "The society Huxley describes in Brave New World is happy; tragedy and extremes of human emotion have disappeared," Houellebecq writes. The dialogue between Mond and John presents a powerful challenge to utopian thinking and a provocative consideration of the problem of pain, the question of whether suffering has any value. Many critics have overlooked this strongly theological element to Huxley's fable. (Among those who did not were Rebecca West, who called it "the most serious religious work written for some years," and Bertrand Russell, who wrote that the book "make(s) us sad" by forcing us to contemplate "a world without sadness.") Paradoxically, it is the technocratic Mond who represents commonsense morality. For Mond, a perfect world is one in which humans are protected from pain. What makes Huxley's imaginary society seem so alien and unreal is the fact that it has achieved this goal. Suffering has become so essential to our view of the human condition that it is hard to imagine life without it. Lewis converted to Christianity. If Lewis and Huxley are remembered together, it is more likely to be for reasons of historical coincidence ray ban aviator gold than any perceived solidarity of spirit. Both men died on 22 November 1963, the same day as John F. Kennedy a fact that has now been stated so many times that its surprise value has well and truly worn off. Huxley was into mysticism and psychedelic drugs and was hailed as a prophet by a generation of hippies. Lewis was an Oxford don who provided inspiration to many born again Baptists. Yet both men contemplated the existence of suffering and evil in the world with a level of seriousness not found in the work of their contemporaries. All political philosophies assume that humans want to make the world a better place. The implicit ideal of politics is a society of complete happiness and harmony. Who among us, if granted the power, would not choose to banish violence and illness from the realm of human experience? It is a purely academic question, but Huxley challenges us to think carefully about it. Would we really want a world without pain? Human beings have a deep addiction to melancholy, to sadness. We are elevated and enriched by sad songs and stories. We are moved by sad films. Huxley's defence of suffering is essentially aesthetic: pathos is purgative, it cleanses the soul. For Huxley, a world without tragedy would simply dull the spirits; the emotional range of its inhabitants would be greatly reduced. In an earlier novel, Antic Hay, he muses: "Perhaps it's good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he's happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?" These remarks may appear self indulgent, even callous. Like Lewis, Huxley lost his mother when he was only a boy. His brother committed suicide a few years later. All his life, he was blighted by bad eyesight an affliction that nevertheless saved him from time in the trenches. Lewis, on the other hand, joined up in 1917 and arrived at the front on his nineteenth birthday. In April 1918, he was wounded at the Battle of Arras but was able to make it back to his own lines. Several of his friends were not so lucky. It was during the Second World War that Lewis published his first major work on the theme of suffering. The Problem of Pain appeared in 1940 at a time when the readers of Britain, cramped in their air raid shelters, were daily confronted with the closeness of violent death. The work is a theodicy an attempt to explain why, if God is both all powerful and all loving, evil exists. Viewed in retrospect, The Problem of Pain appears as a rough draft, a first attempt at an answer. It is an interpretation Lewis would probably have accepted: the themes it dealt with would occupy him for the rest of his life. Lewis's apologia is beautifully argued, if ultimately unconvincing. He begins by mounting an orthodox defence: suffering exists, he argues, as a purely logical consequence of the fact that we possess free will and live as embodied, mortal beings in a material universe. But he goes further. For Lewis, God wants us to love Him, but he wants us to learn to love Him and to learn to know what this means. In an oft quoted passage, Lewis writes: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." The metaphor of pain as megaphone was one Lewis would use again, citing Huxley at the same time. (Lewis had previously called attention to his work in The Allegory of Love, referring to one of Huxley's short stories to illustrate the concept of courtly romance). Despite their different theological perspectives, Lewis regarded Huxley as an ally of sorts: "Atheists rebel and express, like Hardy and Housman, their rage against God although (or because) He does not, on their view, exist: and other atheists, like Mr Huxley, are driven by suffering to raise the whole problem of existence and to find some way of coming to terms with it which, if not Christian, is almost infinitely superior to fatuous contentment with a profane life. No doubt Pain as God's megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul." As melodramatic as this seems, Lewis is never flippant about pain. He always sees it for exactly what it is: "I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made 'perfect through suffering' is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design." But try as he might, Lewis cannot avoid giving the impression of God as a utilitarian, judiciously meting out pain in accordance with His divine plans. It is sad to watch as he performs various intellectual contortions in an attempt to exonerate God. At one point, he even seems to admit defeat: "My own idea, for what it is worth, is that all sadness which is not either arising from the repentance of a concrete sin. or else arising from pity. is simply bad." Pain borne neither of compassion nor contrition is, in other words, meaningless. As Lewis's fame grew, he became a sought after public speaker. In Richard Attenborough's masterful 1993 movie Shadowlands, a fictionalised Lewis tells an audience: "I'm not sure that God particularly wants us to be happy. I think He wants us to be able to love and be loved. He wants us to grow up. We think our childish toys bring us all the happiness there is and our nursery is the whole wide world. But something must drive us out of the nursery to the world of others. And that something is suffering." It is one of the film's most memorable and moving scenes. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek comes close to this position when he argues that "only a lacking, vulnerable being is capable of love: the ultimate mystery of love, therefore, is that incompleteness is, in a way, higher than completion. Perhaps the true achievement of Christianity is to elevate a loving (imperfect) Being to the place of God, that is, of ultimate perfection." As charming as this is, it is not Lewis's actual argument in The Problem of Pain. Rather, he scorned such dialectics, at one point explicitly rejecting the idea that imperfection can ever give rise to virtue. Yet, as Lewis himself conceded in his 1958 work, The Four Loves, his views subtly evolved. "Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God," he wrote. "This paradox staggered me when I first ran into it; it also wrecked all my previous attempts to write about love." For Lewis, suffering acquired a new meaning. It is what causes us to seek out each other, to seek solace in, and care for, one another. It is the root of compassion. "We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves." Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy also reflect this shift. For Lewis, it is our deficiency exposed by our desire that exalts us. "Joy" is carefully differentiated from mere happiness or pleasure. Rather, it is that "unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction." In the preface to his novel The Pilgrim's Regress, Lewis defines it as: "the longing for that unnameable something, the desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks ray bansunglasses flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves." In his sermon "The Weight of Glory," he again expresses the complicated emotions associated with longing. He refers to the "the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited." (It is interesting to ponder what Lewis would have made of Freud's distinction between mourning and melancholia, neatly paraphrased by Giorgio Agamben: "Melancholia offers the paradox of an intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object.") While Lewis was grappling with these ideas, Huxley's outlook also matured. The Perennial Philosophy, published in 1945, shows the growing influence of Buddhism on his thinking. Like Lewis, Huxley was given a new lease on life by the new world, settling in California in 1937. Lewis, on the other hand, was quite literally surprised by Joy. At the age of 58, he married an American woman, Joy Davidman.
In their twilight years, both men endured great suffering. Huxley was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue in 1960 while Lewis, battling health issues of his own, watched helplessly as Joy succumbed to bone cancer. Both also made final attempts to come to terms with the problem of pain, Huxley in Island and Lewis in A Grief Observed.
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