We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened,
we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. 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.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
Interestingly, this book was written in 1985. Sadly, Mr. Postman has proven to be more of a prophet on this matter than even he could have imagined.
I highly recommend this book and would note that this is a prime reason why we educate our youth and more specifically, why we need to education them classically. Images have replaced the written word as the primary vehicle for conveying ideas, and consequently our ability to transmit our culture to succeeding generations has
suffered due to the fact that the greatest ideas in the history of the world cannot be done justice through multimedia. It is like teaching the Declaration of Independence through the use of smoke signals – the messenger obscures the message.
As people, young and old, worship at the altar of technology and become increasingly distracted and desensitized, it is our mission to hold firm to eternal truths and pass along the heritage that has made our country great. This is not to say that technology does not serve a very important purpose in every society – we are not Luddites. However, our focus should have a higher aim.