America 2022; “1984” or “Brave New World”?
by Andy Joppa
Below is an extract from the foreword of Neil Postman’s book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (Published in 1985). Postman compared the futuristic projections of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” to George Orwell’s, “1984”. His conclusion in 1985 was that Huxley was proving to be more accurate. I don’t believe Postman would have reached exactly that same conclusion in 2022.
Yes…Huxley’s view seems even more meaningful and ominous as we look at America in 2022. However, Orwell’s view seems equally imposing…and expanding. In fact, they were writing about two, entirely different, parts of our nation’s identity. Orwell was primarily describing government and Huxley was primarily describing culture. My position is that they both have proven to be absolutely correct in their descriptions of what lay ahead. Their ideas were not contradictory but, in most ways, mutually reinforcing.
Postman wrote in 1985 (bold is mine):
“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the 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 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.”
In 1985, Postman was correct in his positions. We can see, however, in the intervening 38 years, “1984,” has proven itself to be equally prophetic to “Brave New World.”
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. Both are true. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that information would be reduced to irrelevance by its contradictory abundance. Both are true.
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would become immaterial. Both are true. Orwell feared we would become a captive people through actions of government. Huxley feared we would become a frivolous culture, preoccupied only with purposeless trivialities. Both are true.
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”, Orwell 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. Both are proving prophetically true in America 2022.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a classic literary example of political and dystopian fiction. It also popularized the term “Orwellian” as an adjective, with many terms used in the novel entering common usage, including “Big Brother”, “doublethink”, “Thought Police”, “thoughtcrime”, “Newspeak”, and “2 + 2 = 5”. Parallels have been drawn between the novel’s subject matter and real-life instances of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and violations of freedom of expression among other themes. This includes, perhaps most notably, America 2022.
We can find within our federal bureaucracy comparable versions of the ministries of “1984.” While a ministry is supposedly headed by a minister, the ministers heading these four ministries in “1984”, were never mentioned. They seem to be completely out of the public view. In America 2022, we scarcely have an awareness of the bureaucrats who control our lives.
Ministry of Peace: The Ministry of Peace supported perpetual war against either of the two other super-states.
Ministry of Plenty: The Ministry of Plenty rationed and controlled food, goods, and domestic production; every fiscal quarter, it claimed to have raised the standard of living, even during times when it had, in fact, reduced rations, availability, and production.
Ministry of Truth: The Ministry of Truth controlled information: news, entertainment, education, and the arts. Winston Smith worked in the Records Department, “rectifying” historical records to be in accord with Big Brother’s current pronouncements so that everything the Party says appears to be true.
Ministry of Love: The Ministry of Love identified, monitored, arrested, and converted, real and imagined dissidents. This is also the place where the Thought Police beat and torture dissidents, after which they are sent to Room 101 to face “the worst thing in the world”—until love for Big Brother and the Party replaces dissension.
There can be little doubt that the American government, 2022, is more than fulfilling these ideas; ideas that Orwell provocatively made available in “1984”.While not aligning with our specific federal bureaucracies, Orwell’s ministries incorporate them all.
“Brave New World” tells the story of a civilization where suffering and pain have been eradicated at the price of personal autonomy. It explores the dehumanizing effects of technology and implies that pain is necessary for life to have meaning. The story begins with three chapters describing the futuristic society of World State. In this society, marriage, family, and procreation have been eliminated, and babies are genetically engineered and grown in bottles.
Citizens are programmed to be productive and complaisant through a combination of biological manipulation, psychological conditioning, and a drug called soma. A character named Mustapha Mond explains that in the previous era, people suffered from poverty, disease, unhappiness, and wars. A new society, named for the twentieth century automotive manufacturer Henry Ford, was formed to improve the human experience. They signal that World State brainwashes its citizens to remain obedient. The World State emerges as the antagonist of the novel, a sinister force that prevents characters from achieving meaningful happiness or free will.
As you read these brief descriptions of these two great novels, I believe indisputable conclusions must be reached. America is living out the dystopian brilliance of both Huxley and Orwell. It seems impossible to ignore that both “1984” and “Brave New World” have become almost fully manifest in America 2022. Their thoughts have proven to be, not contradictory, but rather, mutually reinforcing and perhaps are creating an inescapable future for our great nation.