Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 have a lot in common. Both depict a fruitless, empty dystopia in the future, both were written within twenty years (1931 and 1949 respectively) in the first half of the twentieth century, and thus both, in a fictional but nonetheless dark and even savage way, imagine what the world would be like today.
Fundamentally, however, they offer completely different accounts of what will enslave humanity in generations to come. In his Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman points out some of the differences, and argues that one of them was far closer to the reality that ensued than the other. Thanks to Justin Taylor for the link:
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.
…Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
That’s profound. So which do you find more frightening: The Hunger Games, or The Voice?
Do you agree?
This article first appeared at Think Theology.