Thursday, 5 April 2012

"Liking" ourselves to death?

Like most teenagers, "Brave New World" and "1984" were somewhere on my reading list once I'd graduated from the Puffin Club. I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't reread either book since and have fallen prey to the popular view that both authors were saying the same thing.

I've recently come across a quote from Neil Postman, from the foreword to his 1985 work "Amusing Ourselves to Death" which rang so true, reflecting where we've come in the three decades since 1984:

"Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

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 egoism. 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, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us."

The truth drowned in a sea of irrelevance, a trivial culture, reduced to passivity and egoism, with an infinite appetite for distractions - Postman had a point when he postulated that Huxley got it right.

It's ironic that maybe Orwell had the better title and buzz word - and that "Big Brother" as shorthand for Reality Show has become the phrase that we've adopted to describe our own 21st century Brave New World.

No comments: