Orwell vs. Huxley on the Future of Books

May 14th, 2010

My friend Bob McArthur recently wrote to me, “Am nearing the end of Chris Hedges Empire of Illusion…a dark and angry book about the rotting from within of North American culture.” Later he sent an excerpt, which itself contained an excerpt from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. It’s a well-written and provocative glance at the future of books from two of the 20th century’s greatest writers.

wordle2“What (George) Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What (Aldous) 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 distraction.” ln 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. ln 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.”