HAVANA TIMES — Towards the 1930s, the West watched the ascent of fascism and communism in horror. Novelist Aldous Huxley, however, cast a glance at the times and presaged the advent of a Western-styled totalitarianism: one that would encourage hedonism, sexual permissiveness and the enjoyment of material possessions, a world where people are eternally young, healthy and happily alienated.
Years later, already an old man, the restless pioneer would experiment with a new “toy”: psychedelic drugs. His reflections on these would contribute to the cultural revolution that shook the United States and other parts of the world in the 1960s.
Much has been written about psychedelic experiences. Few, however, have managed to combine the analytical distance of the scientist, the humanism of the philosopher, the sensibility of the artist and the mystical openness of the bold psychonaut in their writings, as Huxley did.
I’ve enjoyed Huxley’s works immensely, but, this late in the game, I thought the old man no longer had anything in store to surprise me with me. I was wrong. Devouring Point Counter Point, a novel published in 1928, I ran into one of the first literary references to the geologicallimits of exponential growth. Let us hear the exchange that Huxley’s politician, Webley, has with the farsighted Lord Edward:
“Progress!” he echoed and the tone of misery and embarrassment was exchanged for one of confidence. “Progress! You politicians are always talking about it. As though it were going to last. Indefinitely. More motors, more babies, more food, more advertizing, more money, more everything, forever. (…) What do you propose to do about phosphorus, for example? (…)“you’re simply draining the soil of phosphorus. More than half of one per cent a year. Going clean out of circulation. And then the way you throw away hundreds of thousands of tons of phosphorus pentoxide in your sewage! Pouring it into the sea. And you call that progress. Your modern sewage systems!”
“But all this has nothing to do with me,” protested Webley.
“Then it ought to,” Lord Edward answered sternly. “That’s the trouble with you politicians. You don’t even think of the important things.
“Talking about progress and votes and Bolshevism and every year allowing a million tons of phosphorus pentoxide to run away into the sea. It’s idiotic, it’s criminal. it’s … it’s fiddling while Rome is burning.”
He saw Webley opening his mouth to speak and made haste to anticipate what he imagined was going to be his objection.
“No doubt,” he said, “you think you can make good the loss with phosphate rocks. But what’ll you do when the deposits are exhausted?” He poked Everard in the shirt front. “What then? Only two hundred years and they’ll be finished.”
Today, in the 21st century, Cuban politicians are as staunchly in favor of exponential growth (the kind measured on the basis of GDPs) and as indifferent to the fate of phosphorous as their capitalist counterparts were a hundred years ago. The difference is that the matter has now become a burning issue and they need to disguise their schemes with the makeup of “sustainable development.”