How to avoid a hybrid Orwellian-Huxleyian dystopia

One thing I’ve learned along the way of my explorations into the human condition is that, when we get chronically stuck in defensive nervous system states (fight, flight, fawn or freeze), we tend to become more: self-centred; manipulative; self-delusional; able to self-justify wrong-doing; resistant to admitting we are wrong, even to ourselves; resistant to backing down or apologising; prone to constructing own self-supporting narratives; unable to listen to advice from others or to understand different points of view; incapable of affinity, compassion or empathy.

After all, the purpose of these defensive states is self-preservation, which includes the preservation of sense-of-self, identity, and belief systems.

I feel that similar conclusions about defensive states carry over at a larger scale, at the institutional level, see: Trauma at the Institutional Level.

In particular, I believe that our institutions are not only currently formed in large part from people stuck in defensive nervous system states, but they also have become self-selecting of folks displaying such attributes. These self-amplifying systems then subject the individuals within them to ever more levels of chronic stress as a person rises through the ranks, traumatizing them even more, who then, in turn, heighten the chronic stress levels of the people they manage, while seeking and selecting broken people just like themselves to join them in the higher echelons.

Of course there are always still good people, fighting the good fight, from within each system, still trying to turn the tide, or to make a difference, but the problem is that, more often than not, they eventually tend to be worn down, corrupted or crushed by the system itself.

The places where I personally see this is most rampant is in politics, the news media, healthcare, large corporations, academia, education, justice. In my view, each of these arenas self-selects for people showing one or more of Heller’s trauma Survival Styles, see: Personality Types, Traits, Tests and Chronic Illness.

For example, the key characteristics of the Connection Survival Style loom large in academia, the Trust Survival Style is obviously at play in most of our politicians, and the Love-Sexuality Survival Style is apparent in many media types.

In a sense, we can think of an institutional-level analogue of a nervous system, and for many of our institutions, that nervous system analogue is well and truly operating from a defensive fight, flight or freeze state!

Once one knows what to look for, the tell tale signs of chronic defensive nervous system states are all too clear. At the institutional level, it manifests as mindless bureaucracy, level upon level of middle management, and smells of corruption, nepotism, cronyism, anti-meritocracy and incompetence.

It is not that I believe that people in these authorities are purposefully lying or out to harm us, but that the systems have been broken for a long time and are now surrounded by halls of mirrors of their own making. The people in them may genuinely believe the lies and delusions of the system, and may have constructed intricate narratives which self-justify and self-preserve, or else they are fully aware of the situations, but are unable or too afraid to do anything about it.

Much more worryingly, these broken institutional systems are now all interacting, amplifying, and encouraging each other into further dysregulation, forming one giant gestalt nervous system stuck in chronic defence, that now dominates our lives. Collusion and corruption between politics, big business, the news, lawyers, and scientists, are clearly happening. The revolving doors between them are everywhere.

Below, I describe what I think I see now happening, whether through deliberate collusion and planning, or just as the emergent nature of the various corrupted parts now forming a whole problem much worse than that posed by any of the individual institutions alone.

I believe that both Orwell and Huxley are relevant to these times and to what seems to be unfolding in the world. In Orwell’s vision, the people are controlled through fear and pain, in Huxley’s vision the people are controlled through doping them up on drugs and pleasure seeking. The question is which is playing out?

It looks to me that the traumatization of the powers-that-be has actually created a playbook which combines the “best” [worst] of Orwell’s and Huxley’s ideas. So I feel, unless we are careful, we could really be moving towards a kind of “Hybrid Orwellian-Huxleyian” Dystopia.

It works something like this.

Governmental messaging, nudge units, scientists, and mass media collude in fear mongering and catastrophizing, creating and ramping up scary and divisive narratives about wars, diseases, droughts, famines and death.
The resulting disruptions to our nervous systems make us prone to seek out self-soothing behaviours, coping and escape strategies, that lead to addictions.

We are presented with a menu of ever present and cheap junk options: junk food, junk conversations [social media], junk sex, junk shopping, junk games. Here junk refers to low value things which create dopamine rewards without any effort on our part – the bad kind of dopamine reward which needs ever increasing amounts in ever increasing extreme forms to get the same effects, eventually leading to anhedonia and inability to take any pleasure in the small things in life, see: Book Review: “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence”.

These addictions to junk further disrupt our nervous, immune and endocrine systems, and our relationships, making us feel more psychologically and physiologically unwell and ill, and more isolated and lonely. Doctors and psychiatrists are then readily on hand to prescribe us with a personalized cocktail of junk pharmaceutical and drugs to take for the rest of our lives.

The side-effects of the pharmaceuticals then make it even harder for us to form and maintain healthy relationships, further weaken our defences, our ability to resist the narratives, and to think straight. This makes us sitting ducks, ripe for the fear mongering, nudging and polarization.

Thus, the circle is complete.

All is not lost, however, and there are things we, the people these institutions are supposed to serve, can still do to prevent ourselves falling into dystopia.

I believe that awareness, calm resistance to the directions our institutions are pushing us in, and (self)-knowledge are key.

By becoming trauma aware, we can learn to spot the signs of defensive nervous systems at play. We can learn to recognize the Survival Styles in people, and stop electing, rewarding and idolizing the folks who clearly display them.

We can refuse to live in fear, and become aware of the fear mongering for what it is. We can read up on the “science” of Nudging, and learn how the magic is trick done. This makes it much harder for us to be fooled or tricked into fear.

Most of all, we can stop consuming the news media. Indeed, this is the number one recommendation I give to people with chronic illnesses who want to reduce their symptoms. I guarantee this will not only make us less fearful, but will also improve our quality of life.

We can also resist the divide and conquer tactics emanating from our institutions, which seek to get us to dehumanize, other and blame each other. I provided a toolbox for avoiding this, see: Overcoming Division, Disdain, Despite and Defensiveness.

We can identify and attend to our addictions.

We can avoid the junk, and prevent the need for pharmaceuticals.

We can help other people who are still stuck in chronic defensive nervous system states to wake up, and come back to a calm place. This cannot be achieved simply by argumentation with facts and logic, because this just feeds the defensiveness, so it must be done by appealing to the right brain hemisphere via re-connection to love and common humanity, through metaphor, comedy, poetry, music, awe and beauty.

Author: Gary Sharpe


December 7, 2022


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