It is because they mistrust the imbecile who, in the body of every human being, cohabits with the criminal lunatic, the easy-going animal, the good citizen, and the potential, unawakened, deeply latent saint, it is because they recognize his truly diabolical power that the contemplatives have always imposed upon themselves and their disciples such rigid self-denial in the matter of all distracting and irrelevant stimuli.
That is why the would-be mystic is always told to refrain from busying himself with matters which do not refer to his ultimate goal, or in relation to which he cannot effectively do immediate and concrete good. This self-denying ordinance covers most of the things with which, outside business hours, the ordinary person is mainly preoccupied— news, the day’s installment of the various radio epics, this year’s car models and gadget, the latest fashions.
But it is upon fashions, cars, gadgets, upon news and the advertising for which news exists, that our present industrial and economic system depends for proper functioning. For as ex-President Hoover pointed out long ago, this system cannot work unless the demand for non-necessaries is not merely kept up, but continually expanded; and of course it cannot be kept up and expanded except by incessant appeals to greed, competitiveness, and love of aimless stimulation.
Men have always been prey to distractions, which are the original sin of the mind;
but never before today has an attempt been made to organize and exploit distractions, to make of them, because of their economic importance, the core and vital center of human life, to idealize them as the highest manifestations of mental activity.
Ours is an age of systemized irrelevancies, and the imbecile within us has become one of the Titans, upon whose shoulders rests the weight of the social and economic system (Cribb Note: I would also add political to these systems). Recollectedness, or the overcoming of distractions, has never been more necessary than now; it has also, we may guess, never been so difficult.
Distractions – I (compiled and presented in Huxley and God 1992)
A. Huxley 1941