Notes philosophy

Chapter 11: The Huxleyan Warning (Amusing Ourselves to Death)

Chapter 11: The Huxleyan Warning

Our world has any prison-cultures who have structures similar to what Orwell describes.

If one were to read both 1984 and Animal Farm, and then for good measure, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, one would have a fairly precise blueprint of the machinery of thought-control as it currently operates in scores of countries and on millions of people.

Orwell was not the first to tell us about the dangers of tyranny to the spirit, but what is remarkable about his work is that it makes no difference if our wardens are inspired by left or right-wing ideologies.

The gates of the prison are equally impenetrable, surveillance equally rigorous, icon-worship equally pervasive.

Huxley teaches us that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to result from an enemy with a smile than one who stirs suspicion and hate. In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us by his own accord – we watch him, by ours.

There is no need for wardens or Ministries of Truth.

When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

Orwell’s prophecies are not relevant to America, but Huxley’s are. America is engaged in the world’s most ambitious experiment to accommodate itself to the technological distractions that have become available through the electric plug.

By ushering in the Age of Television, America has given the world the clearest available glimpse of the Huxleyan future.

It is easier to recognize an Orwellian world.

We are not likely, for example, to be indifferent to the voices of the Sakharovs and the Timmermans and the Walesas. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Bacon, Voltaire, Goethe and Jefferson. But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements?

Huxley believed that it was very important to understand the politics and epistemology of our media because…

In the end, what afflicted people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show BusinessChapter 11: The Huxleyan Warning (Amusing Ourselves to Death) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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