NOT AN EVENT BUT A PROCESS
A Trip To India 1926
Being stupid and having no imagination, animals often behave far more sensibly than men. Efficiently, and by instinct, they do the right appropriate thing, at the right moment – eat when they are hungry, look for water when they feel thirst, make love in the mating season, rest or play when they have leisure. Men are intelligent and imaginative; they look backwards and ahead; they invent ingenious explanation for observed phenomena; they devise elaborate and roundabout means for the achievement of remote ends. Their intelligence, which has made them the masters of the world, often causes them to act like imbeciles. No animal, for example, is clever and imaginative enough to suppose that an eclipse is the work of a serpent devouring the sun. That is the sort of explanation that could occur only to the human mind. And only a human being would dream of making ritual gestures in the hope of influencing, for his own benefit, the outside world. While the animal, obedient to its instinct, goes quietly about its business, man, being endowed with reason and imagination, wastes half his time and energy in doing things that are completely idiotic. In time, it is true, experience teaches him that magic formulas and ceremonial gestures do not give him what he wants. But until experience has taught him – and he takes a surprisingly long time to learn – man’s behaviour is in many respects far sillier than that of the animal.
So I reflected, as I watched the sacred bull lick up the rice from the dozing beggar’s bowl. While a million people undertake long journeys, suffer fatigue, hunger, and discomfort in order to perform in a certain stretch of very dirty water, certain antics for the benefit of a fixed star ninety million miles away; the bull goes about looking for food and fills its belly with whatever it can find. In this case, it is obvious, the bull’s brainlessness causes it to act much more rationally than its masters.
To save the sun (which might, one feels, very safely be left to look after itself) a million of Hindus will assemble on the banks of the Ganges. How many, I wonder, would assemble to save India? An immense energy which, if it could be turned into political channels, might liberate and transform the country, is wasted in the name of imbecile superstitions. Religion is a luxury which India, in its present condition, cannot possibly afford. India will never be free until the Hindus and the Moslems are as tepidly enthusiastic about their religion as we are about the Church of England. If I were an Indian millionaire, I would leave all my money for the endowment of an Atheist Mission.
Aldous Huxley from ‘Jesting Pilate’.1926. The Gutter Or The Stars (relevant)