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Who Was Right? Huxley or Orwell?

From writer Neil Postman about the future:  “What George Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Aldous 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 feelings instead of facts. 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, that 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.

We must face the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

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  1. In some respects, perhaps both Orwell and Huxley were right: The truth is concealed from us in many ways, one of which by being drowned out in a sea of information overload irrelevance. Because of our culture that’s trivial on many levels and preoccupied with feelings, rather than a blend of facts and feelings – many of us have become captive to a diminished and small existence. Our society is one fueled by distractions. I see this every time I travel outside of the U.S. (at least twice a year) and watch the news about the U.S. Often times, countries have a completely different spin on things and also provide a vantage point to see how we are engrossed in the celebrity phenomenon while serious issues are happening around the world.
    Those who want the truth must seek for it. A small example of this is the advice that a person shouldn’t just read one newspaper, but several from different areas to get a more balanced view about the issues being discussed. And it’s possible that both what we hate and what we love has the potential to ruin us, if pushed to any extreme. Allen Paul Weaver III
    Author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers
    and Speedsuit Powers (August 2009)

  2. Postman was lone voice who was more concerned with the state of education rather than the general condition of how society formed its worldview.  Without being a Ludite, himself, he did call us back to an 18th century form of reading, writing and rithmatic (sic).  His perception of TVs devastating effect on the mind as a whole has still to be taken seriously by most, since we suffer from the Barnian syndrom of the frog in the kettle.  Bravo for bringing up this important author, all too forgotten and unknown by those who don’t study communication theory. A scary and worthwhile read.

    Well done again, Phil. 

  3. I think we can’t address the grim reality of what we hate if we’re pleasantly distracted by what we love.  In America we’re engrossed by celebrities, reality TV, and the shallow image of politicians.  The necessity of studying the past is not clear to many in our society.  Americans don’t read anymore.  Liberties are eroded while people are busy worrying about trivial bits of culture.  Orwell imagined the horrible methods of tyranny while Huxley described the mechanisms by which it is brought about.

  4. I’ve just written a blog about this too and I’ve come to the same conclusion.  Huxley appears to be more pertinent to modern society, although they are both amazingly valid visions all these years later.

    What worries me is that we’re moving ever onwards towards an Orwellian/Huxley reality and worse still we are willing participants. This post from Derren Brown shows you where things are scarily headed…

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