Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley, 1958, Excerpts
Ivan Pavlov observed that, when subjected to prolonged physical or psychic stress, laboratory animals exhibit all the symptoms of a nervous breakdown. Refusing to cope any longer with the intolerable situation, their brains go on strike, so to speak, and either stop working altogether [the dog loses consciousness], or else resort to slowdowns and sabotage. Some animals are more resistant to stress than others. But even the most stoical dog is unable to resist indefinitely.
Pavlov’s findings were confirmed in the most distressing manner, and on a very large scale, during the two World Wars. As the result of a single catastrophic experience, or of a succession of terrors less appalling but frequently repeated, soldiers develop a number of disabling psychophysical symptoms. Temporary unconsciousness, extreme agitation, lethargy, functional blindness or paralysis, completely unrealistic responses to the challenge of events, strange reversals of lifelong patterns of behavior – all symptoms, which Pavlov observed in his dogs, reappeared among the victims of what in the First World War was called “shell shock,” in the Second, “battle fatigue.” Every man, like every dog, has his own individual limit of endurance.
Most men reach their limit after about thirty days or more or less continuous stress under the conditions of modern combat. The more than averagely susceptible succumb in only fifteen days. The more than averagely tough can resist for forty-five or even fifty days. Strong or weak, in the long run all of them break down. All, that is to say, of those who are initially sane. For, ironically enough, the only people who can hold up indefinitely under the stress of modern war are psychotics. Individual insanity is immune to the consequences of collective insanity.
The fact that every individual has his breaking point has been known and, in a crude unscientific way, exploited from time immemorial. Physical torture and other forms of stress were inflicted by lawyers in order to loosen the tongues of reluctant witnesses; by clergymen in order to punish the unorthodox and induce them to change their opinions; by the secret police to extract confessions from persons suspected of being hostile to the government.