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Brave New World humane inhumane

Over the years I’ve seen countless book lists and there are two books on “must read lists” that speak to the modern world insightfully, but in differing manners. As dystopian works, people have tended to see them both as “prophetic” and yet, of the two, most think that the one literary vision was closer to reality than the other.

The two works are George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Just prior to the year 1984 Orwell’s book became a best seller even though it was originally published in 1949. However, of the two works the case could be made that Huxley’s vision was closer to getting it right and it has remained increasingly contemporary even though it was originally published in 1932.

Orwell’s nightmares do not seem to have come true. People who have not read both works or either work mistakenly think that they both “predicted” the same future. Orwell described a world where humans would be overtaken by externally imposed threats. In Huxley’s forecasting there is, no Big Brother who reaches into our everyday lives. Huxley imagined that the common person will simply surrender and will actually come to love what oppresses them. They would come to “worship” the everyday technologies that eclipse our ability to think and our will to really live.

Orwell wrote of a time of terrible book banning. Huxley was much more accurate when he described a world when book banning was unnecessary because people just stopped reading. Think about how few people actually go to Barnes and Noble to buy books and how few people even on college campuses who don’t read the university newspaper or their textbooks. One hopes they can at least read.

Most importantly Orwell was genuinely afraid that the truth would be hidden from us while Huxley seemed to hit the nail on the head that truth would be lost in the midst of sights and sounds and dismissed as unimportant.

Huxley was not too worried about some grand tyranny overtaking humanity but (as Pascal before him) was more aware of our insatiable appetite for the next distraction that would keep us from what really matters. So, may I urge you to open your eyes and see that our world is becoming less and less humane and asking you to join the efforts to reclaim the lost humanity. Read a book, have a meaningful conversation, think deeply and consistently about what really matters.

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5 replies to this post
  1. Despite its being set in the future, of which the year 1984 is a symbol, Orwell’s novel is a response to phenomena of the author’s time. Fundamentally, the fictional superstates Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia reflect the wickedness of their all-too-real, mid-twentieth-century counterparts: the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, and Imperial Japan. The novel is less prophecy than revelation; however, something of Orwell’s story persists in the modern impulse to merge small entities into large ones, examples of which include the European Union and, in the private sector, most telecommunication and media companies. In all cases, whether fictional or actual, individuals and their “little platoons” are assimilated into sterile, sprawling, bureaucracies.

  2. I have read both books and though I agree with the author that an increasing portion of the population does not read, does not think or care, and that technology has taken hold and Brave New World deals with that, 1984 shows that there will always be a portion of the population that does not “go along” and they must be dealt with. The other aspect that Orwell deals with is the scrubbing of information, that there are no reliable facts, there is just today’s narrative. I think we are living in that time. Today, if you disagree with the narrative you are “dealt” with; shame, ridicule, name calling, boycotts are just some of the methods. Part of controlling the narrative is controlling the past and how we think about it. It is well known that public school children do not begin learning about History until Jr. High school. I have asked my son 5 years in a row, on Columbus day, if he learned about Columbus at school and he says NO. It is not enough that those of us who know how important knowing the past is to our future, teach our own children History. We must insist, demand that all American children have that right.

  3. I would postulate that we are nearing a mixture of both. Excellent article. This is something I have been thinking about since recently reading Brave New World.

  4. C, Certainly in light of the NSA lately. I am always scaring myself day after day as I notice how we are increasingly resembling both Orwell’s Oceania and Huxley’s World State at an alarmingly rapid pace.

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