Attention, Attention.

attention“Here and now, boys,” the bird repeated yet once more, then fluttered down from its perch on the dead tree and settled on her shoulder.

The child peeled another banana, gave two-thirds of it to Will and offered what remained to the mynah.

“Is that your bird?” Will asked.

She shook her head.

“Mynahs are like the electric light,” she said. “They don’t belong to anybody.”

“Why does he say those things?”

“Because somebody taught him,” she answered patiently. What an ass! her tone seemed to imply.

“But why did they teach him those things? Why ‘Attention’? Why ‘Here and now’?”

“Well …” She searched for the right words in which to explain the self-evident to this strange imbecile. “That’s what you always forget, isn’t it? I mean, you forget to pay attention to what’s happening. And that’s the same as not being here and now.”

That’s from Island, Aldous Huxley’s last novel. It’s not as famous as Brave New World, which is a shame. Huxley said that his earlier novel was a failure because it only offered a choice between two insane societies. There had to be a third way and Island was it: a novel set on a small Pacific island that has developed a good and just and sane society. Sanity, though, isn’t self-sustaining–it takes some effort. The island’s mynah birds, trained to say “Attention, attention,” and “Here and now, boys, here and now” provide gentle reminders to be mindful of the present, to be aware.

In a small well-organized society that’s easy but it’s not hard to imagine the whole program breaking down on a larger scale and the mynahs dropping f-bombs eventually fading to background noise. The problem with Huxley’s ideal society is there’s no room for jokers, tricksters, or chaos–which makes it far from ideal.

Both Brave New World and Island raise big questions about the nature of freedom and its limits but neither one really offers any answers. Answers are beyond any single person, but the key to finding the answer is to first know what the question is.

Maybe the question is down there in the weeds.

Seen any graffiti? Send your pictures to, located in a small island somewhere.

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  1. Gilly Maddison

    Your music videos are always good choices – thanks for the Steve Miller interlude! And Island – wow – I need to go dig that out of my book stash. I started reading it when I was much younger (like MUCH younger!) and was probably too inexperienced with life to understand it. What you are saying about smaller societies is something I was pondering about myself only this week – I suddenly started thinking about a commune I used to visit, as a guest, regularly in the late 80s. From the outside, it seemed idyllic – 60 people plus children living in a massive sprawling mansion with acres of land. But in reality, it was just a microcosm of society as a whole. The same imbalances of power, the same problems caused by lazy people versus hard workers, the same cliqueyness and divisions. I love to watch Big Brother (a reality show which I think the US has a version of). I love it because you can see ALL the problems of the world played out between 12 people and it fascinates me to watch it develop in miniature. Watching that this week made me think back to the commune and then I saw this post – wonderful thinking material.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t finish Island when you were younger. It’s one of those dangerous books that a young person could easily assume has all the answers when it really raises more questions.
      The funny thing is both the commune you describe and the show Big Brother made me think of something else that had been on my mind–the ’60’s sci-fi show The Prisoner, about a similarly enclosed and, supposedly, ideal world, but one where everything–spoiler alert!–breaks down in the end. As it must. Of course The Prisoner was a fictional exploration of the existential dilemma in relation to the other, whereas Big Brother is more of a reality-based exploration of the same. With more alcohol and nudity and fights.

  2. Ann Koplow

    Here and now, Chris, I am paying attention. Many thanks to you.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And I thank you for your attention. Without it I might not be doing this.


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