Back in 2010, I read Aldous Huxley’s classic, Brave New World. Somewhat embarrassingly, It is one of the few fiction books I’ve read over the past several years. However, the imprint it left with me is perhaps enough to make up for my lack of reading in this particular arena.
What would the future look like if it was centered around pleasure? Would society crumble if hedonism was one of its pillars? Could a society where distraction ruled move beyond anything but triviality? Questions like these are what Huxley was after in this insightful, eerily prophetic book published in 1932.
Neil Postman picks up where Huxley left off, yet his work Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse In The Age of Show Business is not fiction. Written in 1984, the year of George Orwell’s fictional dystopia where pleasure and distraction were banned, he tells of the fulfillment of Huxley’s vision. Postman says of Huxley: “As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” From this point of reference, Postman sets out to show how it was Huxley, not Orwell, who was correct in his foresight. Following suit with Huxley, Postman wrote of the trajectory Western culture was on in 1984. Now, in 2013, his words ring true with a shrill brilliance that we must attend to.
Or so I’m assuming having read the Foreword.
I plan on reading this over the next several weeks (perhaps months) and blogging about his prophetic foresight and insight. In particular, I’m interested in his take on how technology effects identity formation and communal life.
For now, read this section from the Foreword of this modern classic for yourself:
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.