Friday, November 5, 2010

Aldous Huxley vs. George Orwell

Further proof that I have the greatest boss ever: we found ourselves enjoying a political sidebar which got even more interesting when he asked me whether I had heard of Neil Postman. I wished I could say yes, but I am a poor bluffer, so I admitted the truth. He went on to describe the reason for his inquiry: Postman's juxtaposition of Huxley and Orwell. I did confess some awareness of these great authors and their most famous works: A Brave New World and 1984, respectively.  

So who got it right, Huxley or Orwell? Whose vision of the future was most accurate? My knee-jerk reaction: Orwell. Think of the regulation, the control, the standards, and the conformance. Ironically, tellingly, even non-conformists complain about the same things using the same techniques. Huxley's vision was, comparatively speaking, a Utopia.

Not so fast, says my boss.

Postman's book is called Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business. Given the title (PhilosFX) and purpose (philosophical musings about life with special effects) of this blog, I can scarcely imagine a more intriguing book title. Postman argues in his book that it was Huxley, not Orwell, who actually got it right, at least for this country. Orwell's post-Soviet world best describes the Taliban at this point in time. And I admit--I am not likely to suffer from a dearth of information in this country. I am far more likely to suffer from the opposite, a flood of information and a gradual dulling of the senses brought about by overexposure. Many people spend too much time watching TV and surfing the net. People can be exposed to so much information that the next bit has no marginal value. It's not censorship or propaganda that will do us in. It's the moment we stop caring whether what we hear or see it true or not. 

For more information, I refer the reader to a cartoon based on Postman's work, which can be found at this link: Amusing-Ourselves-to-Death. The same site also offers links to related tid-bits. For example, you can read the foreword from Postman's thought-provoking book. You can watch a 60-minute lecture by Neil Postman on technology and society. 

What do you think? Huxley, or Orwell?