Resident WAMK smart-guy The Interface drops some knowledge on us. Make sure to read the whole thing.
Postman’s Forward places before us a contrast between the equally chilling prophecies of two of the twentieth century’s earlier writers. George Orwell wrote in his novel, 1984, of a totalitarian society that burned books, of a Big Brother who militantly deprived the people of their autonomy, maturity and history. On the other hand, Aldous Huxley’s vision in his Brave New World foresees the day when “people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” To quote Postman more extensively on this contrast,
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.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
As the ramifications of the last election are slowly (or not so slowly, depending on your level of consciousness) dawning on this country, I want to propose an expansion to Postman’s hypothesis that extends his predictions further into the 21st century in which we now find ourselves.
My hypothesis is based on the fact that both dystopias envisioned by Orwell and Huxley share a common denominator: the death of critical thought, indeed, of any thought, where “Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think.” The difference is the executioner and his methods, but the result is the same.
Orwell’s version of history is rather more obviously oppressive in that it is an overt tyranny, however slowly it may have entered into the system. But a thinking man has a tendency to recognize and take action against tyranny just as a functional immune system recognizes and attacks disease organisms. In the past, overt Communism and fascism were discerned and opposed almost immediately by other free countries and eventually by at least some in the subject population even when they were overcome by the military might of such totalitarian regimes. It is no accident that one of the first steps after coming to power in these forms of government has been, and is, the persecution and elimination of the thinking educated class. Thus, Postman is correct in that Orwell’s dystopia would not have been successful at the time he created his work.