The evolution of contemporary American culture holds a fascination for many. They can observe the ebb and flow in their own lifetime.
In a democracy, or even in a republic, a society usually gets what it wants. If a society wants more goods and services from government, the government grows. As a government grows, those who rule require more from the people to sustain the government. That means more rules and regulations to control the population and mold it to fit a bureaucrat-conceived standard. The tradeoff in obtaining larger government is the loss of liberty and freedom. In doing so the government insures conformity, control and standardization.
Many observers have rendered their opinions throughout the twentieth century. My favorites include Francis A. Schaeffer (“How Shall We Then Live?”), James W. Sire (“The Universe Next Door”) and Os Guinness (“Fit Bodies, Fat Minds”).
One of my all time favorite commentators is Neil Postman (1931 - 2003), sociologist from the University of Pennsylvania. Postman made many contributions over the years including “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” In this book he wedges his observations between two other observers, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.
There are at least two ways a culture may be devastated. The first is when a culture becomes its own prisoner as described by George Orwell in “1984” and “Animal Farm.” The second is when a culture becomes a caricature and a parody of itself as described by Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World.”
Orwell and Huxley did not predict an equivalent fate for contemporary western culture. Here are a few distinctive notes.
Orwell believed oppression would be imposed externally by “Big Brother” who would take away people’s knowledge of their autonomy and history. Huxley believed people would come to love their oppression and adore their technology that unravels the ability to think clearly.
As a means to an end, Orwell believed “Big Brother” would deprive people of books to read. Huxley, on the other hand, saw that no one would want to read a book.
As a follow up, Orwell believed “Big Brother” would deprive people of information. Huxley wrote that people would be given so much information that they would be reduced to passivity.
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Orwell believed “Big Brother” would conceal the Truth from us. Huxley feared that Truth would be overcome by irrelevance.
In the end, Orwell believed the West would become a captive culture. Huxley feared a trivial culture preoccupied with the “touchy-feelies.”
Orwell foresaw population control through the use of pain. Huxley foresaw population control by inflicting pleasure.
What we hate will ruin us said Orwell. What we love will ruin us argued Huxley. In an age of advanced technology, devastation would come from an enemy with a smiling face. “Big Brother” will be watching us said Orwell. But Huxley argued we will be watching “Big Brother” on TV and in the movies.
Another difference. Orwell claims the masses will need wardens and a Ministry of Truth. Huxley argues the opposite. People will become the audience and witness a public affairs vaudeville act. At that point the death of a culture becomes real.
Huxley is much more sinister, almost devilish, in his perception.
A shared vision as exemplified by the institutions of family, school and church serves as a glue to hold a society together. That was taught in Freshman Sociology a half century ago. In a postmodern world where all three institutions struggle with a changing identity, there is a greatly diminished unifying sense of connectedness. It seems every individual stands alone. Alienation would rightly describe this condition.
If true, Huxley’s vision foretold our predicament more accurately than did Orwell’s.