Are We Headed Towards 1984 or Will We Just Amuse Ourselves to Death? An Analysis of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Life

in philosophy •  3 months ago

Introduction

As all sorts of government surveillance and media censorship increase and big brother's oppressive boot gets bigger, something a lot of people often like to do is point to George Orwell's novel 1984.

Most people know the story: in it a dystopian future is being strictly controlled by a fascist government and The Party; the individual is all but meaningless, everything is about the party; people's lives are being controlled to the smallest detail by the tyrannical government machine.

This is what a lot of freedom-oriented people fear most in life, and what we see signs of all the time with our privacy becoming more and more of a thing of the past, and the government gaining a bigger role in our daily lives.

But is the oppressive big government the cause or the symptom? How did it happen? Why did we let the government get so big when no one was watching?

And if no one was watching this, what were they watching?

Orwell vs. Huxley

Much less known that George Orwell was an author named Aldous Huxley, someone you often don't hear much about. In contrast to Orwell's dystopia where the totalitarian dictatorship was put in place by violence, Huxley presented a world in which the violence would in fact be unnecessary, since the people would simply let it happen.

The people would let it happen since they would be drowning in a sea of entertainment with their senses cluttered with too much noise to take notice of their rights slowly being taken away, one by one.

When comparing the works of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, a popular saying is some sort of variation of "What Orwell feared was that government would ban books, what Huxley feared was that people would no longer want to read books".

In "Amusing Ourselves to Death", a book by Neil Postman, he argues that Huxley was in fact more right than Orwell in terms of what our dystopia will end up looking like.

We would basically be pleasuring ourselves to death with television and consumerism, simply enjoying ourselves too much to care about anything but the fun and entertainment that is being provided to us.

The tyranny of the government happens because another, more invisible, barely noticeable tyranny has already happened: people would voluntarily become fond of their oppression and love the very technology that undoes their capacity to think critically. They tyranny would not come from a place of banning information, but rather too much information - so much so that instead of making us more knowledgeable, the overabundance of information would be so grand that it would become impossible for the people to separate the relevant information from the irrelevant.

Just by looking at the western society, it would seem to me that Huxley's view of our dystopian future seems to ring more true. Perhaps, in the end, it will lead to a real life depiction of Orwell's 1984, but perhaps, at that point, people won't care anymore. And the lack of caring doesn't come from a place of fear or violence, it simply comes from being distracted.

You know the old saying the greatest thing the devil ever did was make everybody believe he didn't exist?

It kind of applies here.

A clear cut form of evil has a tough time getting over with the masses because, well duh, everybody is against evil. No one tyrant will ever rise to power by saying: "Hey guys, I'm for evil things! Support me and I will do them!" No, of course not.

The tyrant that will actually oppress us is the tyrant we don't notice. The tyrant we don't see. The best way to sneak up on us when we're not looking is to distract us.

Just like Huxley says, we're in the middle of so much noise that it becomes increasingly difficult to hear the sounds that really matter.

Angry peasants are difficult to control, but having an abundance of distractions to throw at the peasants makes them more easily manageable: give them just enough toys to play with that will keep them from seeing their prison.

The Effects of Entertainment

More dangerous than the things that are argued are the things that are assumed.
-C.S. Lewis

Entertainment has a sneaky way of changing the way we assume things - changing the way we perceive things. Television shows, movies, games, whatever the form of entertainment is it's always filled with ideas. Every time. And ideas are never an island to themselves, they always have consequences.

I will not verify them here since I haven't looked into them outside of glancing them, but several different studies have argued and have collected evidence to support the theory that the more people watch televised news, the less they know about the world around them.

It seems crazy and counter-intuitive, but like I said, several studies have shown this.

Postman says in his work that television lets us know about lots of things, but not really about those things. And of course we know why: television shows are platforms to sell ad space, and to be able to sell ad space, a show needs to capture the most amount of viewers and that's done by simplifying the content to the point that the least amount of people are left out. Television is easy and simple, easy to chew or already chewed.

The image on a television screen is fundamentally different than the written word.

On a TV screen, everything is so fast, the image changes so rapidly that it gives us very little, if any, time to really reflect on what we're seeing and what is being told us. Whatever we see on TV, we've forgotten the most about in about three to five minutes. So, even when after the fact we do have time to reflect on things, we've forgotten about most of it.

But even if we've forgotten about it on conscious level, all of it leaves a mark on our brain. The little things always have an effect on our perception - and our assumptions. Even if we are not always aware of it.

Don't think for a second that the people who make entertainment don't include their own ideologies and biases in their forms of entertainment - of course they do. But this is what Huxley meant: it's not force fed to you through threats of violence, you voluntarily choose to consume it.

This is exactly what makes it more dangerous than whatever George Orwell proposed.

There's also the factor that we now have generations that have been brought up by entertainment - who know nothing else than the world of entertainment. Who have learned their perceptions and assumptions of what is a good way to live and what people should aspire to be from television shows and movies and music videos.

Their reality is that of a reality tv show.

Have you run into those text pieces that float online every now and again about the writer being in a restaurant or a subway or some other public place, where he or she encounters an antagonist like a racist or a sexist doing something racist and/or sexist, only to get stopped by the hero of the story who teaches him or her a lesson, usually one in tolerance? And when the antagonist is defeated, everybody in the public place of the writer's choice engage in a slow clap.

I'm sure you have, there are seemingly hundreds of these stories online - and they all share the fact that they're BS.

These are the result of the entertainment generation being unable to deal with the actual real world. They make up stories because the real world is too boring. They embark on these heroic journeys of becoming the heroes of their own personal stories, and that is why they clearly divide people into good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, protagonists and antagonists.

All that that they can live out their meaningless tales of fighting a good fight - all the while the real enemies laugh all the way to the bank, behind their backs.

Being constantly entertained by easy to access fun also impairs are ability to concentrate. It has been widely studied that people are less and less capable of concentrating on things for long periods of time. It's almost painful to try and not check social media updates and notifications on your phone. And once we do, it's usually not just a quick check, we soon lose ourselves in the ocean of easy content that entertains us and keeps us away from the unpleasantness of the real world.

I can see this in myself:

Whenever I find a Let's Play series of a fun videogame, hosted by someone who seems entertaining, I think to myself: "Oh, thank God! Hours and hours of entertainment that I can indulge in, while pushing back making important decisions and lifestyle changes! Hours and hours of just passively taking in stuff while not putting anything in!"

So, as you can see, I'm not exempt from this, at all.

The harder it is to concentrate, the more pieces our attention gets shattered into: the more tabs we have open our own brain's browser, so to say. And when we have a hundred tabs open, we are less likely to notice anything suspicious going on in one of them.

This is what opens the door for the tyrants to come in, quietly take away whatever rights they want, and leave without anyone noticing.

The further this goes, we might as well just be handing them whatever they want - just as long as they don't interrupt us watching our favorite reality tv cooking game show on a Saturday night!

Take whatever you want, but not our entertainment!"

This is the true story of our enslavement - NOT the government's gun to our heads. The gun is not needed, it's completely unnecessary.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Those not agreeing with this topic are probably asking who am I to think I'm qualified to say anything about other people's entertainment choices.

And the answer is I'm not qualified to such a thing. In fact, I just got done saying that I consume entertainment myself.

Not all entertainment is bad, not even close. A world without entertainment would feel like a pretty grim reality for the most of us.

But I do think that it's possible for us to have "too much of a good thing".

There's been a lot of talk lately about Sweden, and the fact that Sweden is experiencing a cultural downfall. What was once a great and prosperous nation is on its way down, with ghettos with burning cars and ares that are literally called "No Go Areas" forming.

It's been going on for a number of years, yet no one seems to care. The average Swedish person doesn't seem to bat an eyelid over the fact.

Could it be that the average Swede has access to enough to fun in his life that the disintegrating of the culture around them doesn't interest them? As long as he or she gets his entertainment fix, they're fine.

See, my theory, is that we as humans need something to aspire to; a meaning, a foundation, something to build on. For a long time, this foundation was religion. However, nowadays, religions have largely been exposed for what they are and can no longer really function as a foundation for one's growth, "spiritual" or otherwise.

I'm not a huge fan of religion - even though I can see the benefits - so I'm not that sad about the fact that religions have lost the meaning they once had in the west, but I do see the 60s as the beginning of a certain downfall, a trend that's still continuing today.

Secularism and material abundance have finally allowed us to think of nothing but ourselves.

We eat, we consume, we die - not from eating too little, but from eating too much.

Legit, I was just linked a video by a friend where a guy drank a whole bottle of laxatives and superglued his a-hole shut - just so that the end result of that would get him YouTube clicks and views. I didn't watch it, but the description told me everything I need to know: we have it too good.

Something I'd argue that's been really important to the Jewish culture is the fact that the Jews have existed in this constant state of struggling. The Jews have always been this oppressed group, a group that nobody likes and one that has always needed to battle for its survival and existence and acceptance.

There has always been a meaning to being a Jew that is bigger than the individual Jew.

The Jews are also one of the affluent, most influential groups in the entire world. While the rest of the west has degenerated, the Jews never really have. They have always aspired, it seems.

And this is not pro or anti Jews, just merely an observation about the state of things.

Most of us don't have a struggle anymore. It's so easy for us to survive and be entertained. Anything that's attainable through a struggle simply becomes not worth the effort - and we get fat, lazy and obedient.

Though, this is not the case for everybody, it seems. It would seem to me that some people simply create a need for a struggle - and this results in things like the Social Justice Warrior movement that makes a humongous deal out of how men sit in subways. I theorize that this is a result of a longing for a struggle.

As a species we grew and evolved in an environment of constant struggle, and even though every advertisement and media outlet in the world seems to feed us this lie that we want is fast and easy, now that we have finally arrived in the time and place that is fast and easy, we're suffering because this is just not natural for us.

But we don't see it because we're too busy amusing ourselves to death.

Conclusion

I think we can see signs of both Orwell and Huxley being right; big brother's boot gets more oppressive, but what allows it to do so without anyone noticing is the fact that we're too distracted.

Orwell's dystopia gets a lot of attention and his clichés get parroted around so much that I don't think they need to be repeated as much. Huxley, on the other hand gets a lot less press, and that's why I felt like I wanted to bring him up.

I hate to sound like an elitist, I'm not a university student who wears a scarf and drinks an expensive latte with his pinky up in the air, while blogging about the horrors of capitalism, but I would advice people to pick up books. Whole books.

There written word is still very important. Even if we get seemingly the same information on video form, the written version gives you an entirely new way to reflect on the information you're receiving. I have tested this out myself: I have set myself to receive basically the same information through reading a book and through entertainment. My ways of thinking about it where vastly different on the two accounts.

I would also advice you to struggle for something. Go to the gym, start running, learn a new skill, work harder, improve your dating game, whatever it is. Don't be complacent, strive for something. I sometimes feel like going to the gym is the worst thing imaginable and there's no way I can pull it off, but once I do, the feeling is so much better than what it would have been had I just sat on my ass on the couch all evening.

The best things in life still require effort - and are usually worth it.

Pay attention to your surroundings, your life and yourself - and don't amuse yourself to death.

Because if you do, you might find yourself in the 1984.

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A pretty accurate analysis, good publication.

I don't think, in fact, that there is a real possibility on the establishment of a dictatorship or a tyranny, I believe that if it is moving towards that place, and neo-Marxism is the north, nevertheless, the divisions that are generating in society, and the extremism that is increasing at the expense of a chimerical State that does not act in tune with the people, will end up turning society into a chaotic anarchy and not into a totalitarian state.

I fear more of the eminent fall of the West in the near future, because everyone is looking at the economy or politics that is just a drop, but the sea that is ignored is the cultural issue, and this is the basis of society, not so with politics or the economy.

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Exactly! Everybody always ignores culture altogether. It's always just politics and economics. I've been meaning to write about that, as well.

The Western culture is becoming fucking terrible. Thanks for reading. :)

@schattenjaeger I enjoy your views and writing because I agree with your thoughts on the subject.

I remember years ago when the news started becoming entertainment. Ratings went up for entertainment.

Games seem to draw people in and they stay there for hours. They cost my brother his first marriage. Seems most of the time he was online playing computer games. I don't engage much in games for fear it will take me over. LOL

There is a story and you probably know it about boiling the frogs.
Wikipedia explains for those who have not heard it. Instead of writing the story out here is a Wikipedia explanation.

The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.

You hit the nail on the head saying they are using entertainment as a distraction.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to read my ramblings. :)

And yes, I'm familiar with the boiling frogs. Nice to see you bringing it up.

If we paid attention, a lot of damage could have been prevented, but we obviously don't. Nearly Everyone's too busy looking for some ways to fill the holes of our boring lives to care about the futute

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Factual and unfortunate.

Great write-up Schatt, I see kids as young as 6-8yo playing on the tables watching videos being bombarded with rubbish and playing games for way to long - sad to see.

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Thanks, man. Glad some people read this.

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Blaming governments is great fun, of course, but we are, in fact, all doing it to ourselves and each other.

Even a simple thing like hundreds of thousands people in The Netherlands standing still in traffic for hours every day to get to jobs they don't like is stunning. It absorbs so much time and energy that there is little time left for critical thought, but everybody feels they have no choice, yet the same everybody built this society together removing said choice.

Just a tiny simple example.

Add entertainment and advertising to general tiredness and lack-of-time and making-a-living pressures and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and before you know it you have a malleable population without much knowledge or interest beyond their specialisation. Opportunists in politics and corporations do the rest, but I doubt they started this all.

And yes, books. A few more:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Space_Merchants
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Perfect_Day
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_Piano_%28novel%29

Two of the oldest in the genre:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Iron_Heel
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_%28novel%29

You speak from my heart.

Yes, Huxley's version of a brave new world applies for western societies whereas Orwells does more so with other countries under different regimes in one way or the other. Your analysis is for me an attempt to get a grasp on complexity.

Convenience is really a problem. Humans have a very natural tendency to solve problems. That is one of man's great strengths. In our modern societies, we are constantly identifying problems and looking for methods and applications that eliminate or permanently resolve a previous problem. Since we never reach the final state of the art, but rather raise a new problem with what has been solved, we are constantly working on new solutions. Now, however, we have somehow lost the sense in it, because one could actually say: problem solved! We are able to build aircraft and operate airports, we have built up a gigantic transport network. The old problem of being tied to a place and therefore also to time is no longer there (apart from the fact that this could not have been regarded as a problem at all). But now a new problem arises: How do we manage to counter this speed? I would say that the entertainment industry is only one side of the coin. The other side is the constant being driven and the search for new problems, triggered by the division and subdivision of any specialization. New things are constantly being researched outside the convenience zone in order to bring them back into it. It is a state between total inertia and total tension. Boredom and stress are responsible for the famous burnout.

What you're talking about is about external supplies, right? I don't have a food problem, nor do I miss a roof over my head. I therefore need a meaningful activity that only seems meaningful if I make a certain effort to experience a process in its entire added value. Here our will to create comes out again and again. If I can't experience it and feel worthless and useless, I'm threatened with great tiredness. This makes me the consumer of the convenience offers. Every machine and apparatus that saves me physical and mental energy and thus creates a gap forces me to fill this gap with something.

That's why I don't have a coffee machine, dish-washer, microwave, stick mixer or TV anymore. I don't drive a car but a bicycle and sometimes I deliberately go shopping on foot to carry my bags home, which gives me some trouble. I have decided not to board any more planes, which prevents me from travelling to distant countries. I grind the coffee with an old-fashioned wooden grinder and mix the pancake dough manually. I actually enjoy those things

For example, my parents used to buy a whole half of a pork from a farmer and then laboriously cut it into its individual parts, turn it through the mincer, cut fillets, make aspic and so on. They cultivated fruit and vegetables in their garden for self-sufficiency.

I'm trying not to get too comfortable in my life. Admittedly, I spend more time thinking than doing physical activities. I think this is a performance of adaptation that people in modern societies achieve because they see that cognitive performance is valued higher than peasant performance. We are all consciously or unconsciously aware that progress is something very powerful that we follow more than we question.

The deep-rooted work ethic you speak of is both a curse and a blessing. We always produce and invent more than we actually need and the existence as consumer and not as creator is a very sad one. I think that these two poles reflect each other very effectively. The more we consume, the more we want to create.

If sport or being active is merely an end in itself, then this also has no particular meaning. Through physical activity in sports no food is created and no house is built with one's own hands. It is therefore only a kind of health care, but one will probably unconsciously ask oneself: What should I keep my body fit for if it is only used for thinking? Although I think you still need exercise.

From what I think - old fashioned - that feeding ourselves with home grown food, curing diseases with home made medicine and also with socio-cultural nutrition is a deep longing.

May I ask you, where do you get this nutrition from personally?

Sorry for this long comment, but you touched a sensitive point.
All the best!

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You mean socio-cultural nutrition?

Orwell and Huxley are two of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, together with Camus they represent courage and the defense of freedom and human dignity in front of a world that crushes us.