Over the past few days, since the revelation of Big Government’s Big-Data surveillance of the citizens of the world, there has been many references to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”, and that book is now soaring on Amazon’s list of sales.
What surprises me is not the many references to Orwell, but the lack of any references to another book on the same theme, which IMO is a much better analogy for the situation at hand in our western society: Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World“.
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.
To me, Huxley’s book is a much better match than Orwell’s to our contemporary “age of decadence” society, where entertainment plays a much bigger role in our lives than any intellectually demanding activity, such as having a keen interest and close eye on what kind of society our chosen politicians are really creating for us, or what our large multinational corporations are doing to society.