Orwell and Huxley

George Orwell - Eric Blair #

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman.

The first half of the 20th century saw two competing visions of the future from British authors George Orwell (1903-1950) and Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). Though it came 17 years later, Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 is better known; however, Huxley’s Brave New World has proven more relevant. Written in the shadow of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, 1984 shows a world ruled by an oligarchical dictatorship with perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance and incessant public mind control.

Set in 2540 AD, Brave New World was published in 1932 and began as a parody of H. G. Wells’ optimistic and utopian novel Men Like Gods. Neil Postman contrasted the two visions in the foreword to his 1985 classic Amusing Ourselves to Death:

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and [Orwell’s] 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.”

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Neil Postman Penguin Books Copyright Neil Postman 1985

Orwell; #

 Feared those who banned books

 Feared those who would deprive us of information.

 Feared that truth would be concealed from us.

Huxley #

 Feared no reason to ban books as there would be no one who would want to read a book.

 Feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

 Feared that truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

• “We are long here before we are convinced that happiness is never to be found, and each believes it possessed by others, to keep alive the hope of obtaining it for himself.”

• “Abused as we abuse it at present, dramatic art is in no sense cathartic; it is merely a form of emotional masturbation”. It is the rarest thing to find a player who has not had his character affected for the worse by the practice of his profession. Nobody can make a habit of self-exhibition, nobody can exploit his personality for the sake of exercising a kind of hypnotic power over others, and remain untouched by the process.”

• “Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you.”

• “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” • “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.” • “Faith is a continuation of reason.” • “You may share the labours of the great, but you may not share the spoil.”

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.” • “There is no road too long to the man who advances deliberately and without undue haste; there are no honors too distant to the man who prepares himself for them with patience.” • “We can pay our debt to the past by putting the future in debt to ourselves.” • “So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.” Ends and Means ……. Throughout the 1950s, our compatriot, Marshall McLuhan, also made a number of far-sighted predictions.

Some are: we would eventually be living in a Global Village; that information would implode and the brightest minds would be enlisted to manipulate public perceptions. He was merely channelling Machiavelli, Aldous Huxley and Orwell.

There are disturbing parallels between 1930s Europe and what is happening in Western democracies today. Huxley already feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and impotence. He feared that truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. He was concerned about an over organised world and a conformist society lacking individuality and creativity - ’a nightmare of total organisation’. Huxley recognised that apathy is a greater threat to democracy than oppressive self-serving dictators.

“So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.”

Happiness is people loving their servitude. The state has triumphed over the very voiceless people they are meant to serve.

Paddy Ashdown is also horrified by the 1930s parallels. “I’m horrified,” he said. “The way that we again are retreating from internationalism to ugly nationalism”.

We need to acknowledge that Trump did not “win” in 2016 - apathy won. Trump got fewer votes than either McCain in 2008 or Romney in 2012, but Hilary got millions of fewer votes than Obama. People have given up on ineffective leftist pragmatic leaders.

Orwell’s Technique: #

  1. Irony: Verbal: Mini-True, mini-peace, mini-Plenty, Miniluv, Dramatic – Winston and Julia caught where they feel safest. Situational: Winston has always trusted O’Brien.

  2. Setting:
    realism: grit ubiquitous. Dull greyness bland.

  3. Exaggeration:

  4. We empathise and identify with Winston at first, but then become detached from him at the end as he fails the hero test

When Bob Hawke was elected as Prime Minister in 1983, one of his first statements was: “The primary purpose of being in government is to stay in government. You can’t be an effective agent of change unless you are in government.”

This statement reveals the realpolitiks of power. In a popular democracy, ideals often have to be compromised through expediency and pragmatism. While this appears at face value to be a rational and practical philosophy, it runs the risk of selling one’s soul to the devil for temporal advantage. Ideals and warm embracing compassionate policies are seen by many to indicate softness; weakness, while hard line, ruthless even cruel stands are seen as resolute and tough, indicating strong leadership. Rather than ethics, principles or morality, a stable government appeals to the populace on the grounds of strength and forcefulness.

Socialist governments espouse high ideals, yet when they get to power they are often quick to abandon those ideals to maintain control. In Orwell’s time, the Spanish Civil War opened his eyes to the apostasy of Russia’s Communist Government. During the Second World War, he saw further evidence that the British Labour Party was prone to abandon its principles to gain power. In many ways, the novel, 1984 is a warning about the dangers of the erosion of ideals, since the governing party, called INGSOC, represents English Socialism in a corrupted, perverted and debauched form. It has succumbed to the seduction of power and is determined to hang on to power by whatever means it can,

Orwell well! Well! When you invoke George Orwell in an op-ed, you’d better get your ideas straight. In this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald Labor right speechwriter Dennis Glover brags about getting the gig of editing Labor’s 2019 program (dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”) by eviscerating most of its progressive measures. Apparently he got the news of Labor’s 2019 defeat while on holiday in Spain, looking at the trenches above Barcelona where Orwell got shot in the neck. The alleged lesson of Orwell’s brigade’s failed attack? Don’t go over the top.

Wow, you know you’re in the Labor right when the lesson of the Spanish Civil War is to duck the fight. But it gets better. Orwell was shot by a sniper while actually in the trenches, which were exposed to the enemy. The attack on Barcelona was a breakout from being pinned down.

In the election campaign, ScoMo’s Christian warriors may well do the same to a cowering Labor and pick them off one by one. Still, at least this suicide note — which shows that the right, as always, is more interested in owning the left than beating the Libs — is concise and well-edited.

How did IngSoc gain and maintain power? Orwell uses the device of O’Brien, a seemingly compassionate and understanding man, to reveal to Winston Smith how the party gained control and how it intends to rule forever; the ultimate power trip.

The book O’Brien gives Winston, outlines how the Party got to power legitimately, but then in order to perpetuate permanent power learned from the weaknesses of past totalitarian regimes, like the Medieval Despots, the Catholic Church and the Fascists.

O’Brien admits that the party seeks power for the sake of power, they are not interested in the common good, solely power over people and their minds. “Power is not a means; it is an end.”

The Party has learned from the past and perfected absolute control over the masses in several ways. Firstly the power is collective; it is not controlled and dependent on one individual but a cabal that will continually renew itself and rule forever. Secondly, it maintains its power through suffering, pain, fear. There is no loyalty except towards the party. All trust between individuals, family members will be destroyed. Parsons is proud that he was dobbed in by his own daughter. People have lost all their rights, dignity and sense of freedom. As O’Brien states “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human- face forever”.

The Party maintains power by destroying the dignity and nobility of humanity. The loss of privacy and politicisation of love and sex, propaganda or thought control through the degradation of language, control of history and distortion of truth, self initiated Terrorism, constant war, diversions such as fake lotteries and cheap beer/Gin, deprivation and Brutality. It learned from past totalitarian regimes not to create martyrs. Before anyone was killed (vaporised) their spirit had to be utterly destroyed. It is the brutal irony that self preservation wins out in the end and Julie and Winston betray each other and Winston can pronounce at the end that “He loved Big Brother” . This becomes the pen-ultimate defeat.

Promiscuity #

As Christopher Turner notices in his very amusing and intelligent book, “Adventures in the Orgasmatron,” George Orwell, not usually associated with promiscuity of any kind, included central elements of the Reichian theory and program almost uncritically in the pages of “1984.”

The terrifying inquisitor O’Brien tells the cowering Winston Smith:

“The sex instinct will be eradicated. . . . We shall abolish orgasm.”

And Winston’s intensely promiscuous girlfriend, Julia, explains why the Party needs sexual repression:

“When you make love you’re using up energy. And afterward you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and Three Year Plans and all the rest of that bollocks?”

Orwell’s relationship with the libidinous was, as we know, a generally distraught one. Did his private resentment on this score inhibit him from seeing that a really clever ruling class would saturate its subjects with all sorts of treats, from the erotic to the narcotic, and enlist them in their own soft slavery by means of hedonism?

Toward the end of his life, this suggestive point was actually put to him in a letter from his old French teacher at Eton, who enclosed a copy of his own latest novel, “Brave New World.”