February 5, 2013

Brave New 1984: We Live in the Orwell|Huxley Hybrid

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.

What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.

Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.

Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.

Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”

In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain.

In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.” – Neil Postman – Amusing Ourselves to Death

Posted by gerardvanderleun at February 5, 2013 5:07 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Huxley was echoing a far greater observer and thinker:

"Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueville, Vol. II Sec. 4. Ch. VI


* * *

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

* * *

For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones, if it were possible to be secure of the one without possessing the other. Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated ... It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.

I add that they will soon become incapable of exercising the great and only privilege which remains to them. ... To manage those minor affairs in which good sense is all that is wanted, the people are held to be unequal to the task; but when the government of the country is at stake, the people are invested with immense powers; they are alternately made the play things of their ruler, and his masters, more than kings and less than men. ...

It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people.

Posted by: Fat Man at February 5, 2013 6:14 PM

I recall this debate more than 50 years ago, when I was an adolescent; I do very clearly remember coming down on the side of Huxley's vision as the more horrifying. And Nineteen Eighty-Four gave me nightmares for weeks as a child.

I also remember that it stimulated, as it does now, some worthwhile discussion, and the citation of clear thinkers on the subject.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at February 5, 2013 9:25 PM

I read Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death", having worked in the local news media I talk how the news is nothing more than entertainment to sell advertising. The news is given to the viewer in 40 second segments, which is divided into sections. (News, commercial, News, commercial, weather, commercial, sports, commercial, light news story)
That is what stood out to me.

I am glad you posted that, I vaguely remember Postman discussing those books. That section is more important to me now.I have wanted to re-read Postman's book, but I gave the book away.

I think Orwell nailed it, we are being controlled by "pleasure", we are bombarded by so much information we can't processes it.

Posted by: Potsie at February 6, 2013 4:49 AM

I messed that up, Huxley nailed it, we are being controlled by pleasures, we are bombarded by so much information we can't processes it all.

Posted by: Potsie at February 6, 2013 4:59 AM

Both Orwell and Huxley were correct in their own way. Orwell's stance is that the government is to be most feared (and rightly so as we are seeing these days). Huxley's stance is that the popular culture is the more insidious force that will destroy us (again, rightly so).

Taking Orwell's side for a moment:

Government IS banning books through a variety of means (e.g. school and public libraries routinely refuse to carry certain books).

Government officials ARE depriving us of information by not releasing key information about their activities (e.g. Benghazi and Fast & Furious, among many, many such activities). This means that the truth is being concealed from us at the same time. They (the gov't) have actively lied to us for decades about their goals and intentions and are only now coming "out" so to speak about their real goals.

We ARE becoming something of a captive culture due to so many rules and regulations that have been imposed from on high. At any given moment, every American is breaking at least one law, even if they are just laying in bed breathing (all that CO2, ya know!).

People ARE being controlled through the deliberate infliction of unnecessary economic pain created by higher taxes and reduced economic opportunities, especially for those in the lower socioeconomic classes. And when Obamacare fully kicks in, then the REAL (as in actual physical) pain will begin. How much will you give up to find relief from crippling pain?

So while the author of the cartoon may ultimately think Huxley was right, I think Orwell was ALSO quite correct in his own way. The combination of BOTH Orwell's vision and Huxley's vision coming to fruition is truly terrifying to contemplate.

On that cheery note, have a nice day!

Lord Squirrel

Posted by: Lord Squirrel at February 6, 2013 5:45 AM

We studied both "1984" and "Brave New World" together in Senior English. At the end of this segment our Jesuit priest teacher aked which world would you rather live in. Of course, we all unanimously said "Brave New World." Our teacher then responded that Huxley's world was the one to fear for reasons concerning free will that were way too Jesuistic for our puny minds to comprehend. So it all went way over our heads.

And this may explain why we are so close to living in a Huxleyesque super state. Orwell's novel did makes folks aware of certain techniques of persuasion and the vision he painted was so awful that average people did in fact watch out for signs of Orwellian tyranny. In the meantime, the Huxley soft tyranny slipped in under the radar

Posted by: Callmelennie at February 6, 2013 7:40 AM

Soon enough you wont have to burn books, they will just be deleted.

Posted by: Potsie at February 6, 2013 10:20 AM

There is no question but that they were both right. Orwell's version of tyranny was of the Stalin's, the Mao's, the Ills. Huxley's version was the more powerful and longer lasting, the democratic tyranny. But that was first described by Tocqueville, in the paragraph where he warned he had no word to describe it since historians had not yet seen it. What Tocqueville would have advised Churchill was this: democracy without liberty is the worst form of government, including all the others.

Posted by: james wilson at February 6, 2013 10:47 AM

Here' your antidote, Gerard, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=PFb6NU1giRA

Posted by: Fausta at February 9, 2013 7:56 AM

endless war with "one of those countries over there" after another,

a tv in every room showing propoganda tailored to the tastes of every age, gender and racial/ethnic group,

xbox-one kinect and cable set-top boxes taping everything you do for "advertisment" purposes which the nsa conveniently reserves the right to use if needed (this one is scary. once one console uses it the game publishers/paying advertisers will expect it out of all competing products thus eventually making it the norm)

militarized police while simultaneously disarming all citizens (say what you want about guns, if they become illegal then police shouldnt have one of every flavor right behind the center console),

autonomous and remote controlled drones with thermal imaging from a quarter mile up capabilities being used in "drug busts" on local farmers co-ops,

everyone carrying a tracking device with their name, age, race, gender and address directly linked to it via an accouunt,

schools teaching kids to snitch out their parents for money,

envitro fertilization being considered as a real life alternative to the real thing,

the "voluntary" culling of disenfranchised populations under the guise of womens rights,

food by and large becoming "standardized" (just look at the ingredients),

speding habits, debt, and private life tracked and recorded so that someone can deny you housing and employment at discretion based on that information (why dont you just turn my chip off?).

thats just the stuff we know about.
i think its pretty obvious. anybody scaring you by talking about 1984 being the future is just trying to distract you from the fact that it has already happened. we live in it right now.

Posted by: james at September 10, 2013 3:45 AM