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

in philosophy •  2 years ago



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, what were everybody 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 farther 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 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.


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.

Sources: 1984 by George Orwell; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Image sources: 1, 2

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It's a story as old as mankind itself..."Bread & Circuses" my friend...As long as there's the NFL!!! I've wondered for decades why media...particularly the medium of television that has the opportunity to create the most educated populace on Earth- gives us drivel that declines in intellectual quality. Then I figured it out- it's just part of the plan!


Part of the plan - absolutely - tell them they like drivel, served with drivel and they will become drivelists.


Because it's profitable.

And I'm not anti market economy, anti-capitalism, but it is what it is. What gets sold is what ends up being bought.

And it's the consumers who are responsible in the end.

One of the best posts I have read on Steemit - I mentioned the frog story yesterday in a news related context - we all think we know the temperature of the water but do we? The barometer, to me, is the decline in originality of thought. Conspiracy theories (for which read glorified gossip), media consumption(now over 10 hours per person per day in the US, reality tv - reality? - adopting and inuring oneself into a fake situation is an interesting take on reality. A walk in the country is all most need.


Thank you. It means a lot to hear that something is "one of the best" you've read. :)

And I agree. Conspiracy theories - to a large degree - are like the reality TV of societal discussion.

Yup. We have it too good. We became self entitled.
We get too easy the things we want. Knowledge about everything is at our fingertips and this is why we become lazy.
I think we need something like a spiritual revolution. I hope we won't need a cataclysm to wake up.

Very thought-provoking and one of the best posts you've written so far.

Great points. I'm a fan of both authors. I think it is a combination of both processes. I think eventually the masses will stop reading altogether and worse than that people will completely lose the ability to think for themselves. The points about TV brings to mind Philip K Dick's idea of the mood organ - a device that would anaesthetise people to any kind of emotional discomfort. I think in many ways TV and most modern forms of entertainment do something similar by distracting us from reality in a way that we think everything is fine.


I forgot to reply.

But I agree, and I'd point out that it's actually important - or I'd argue - to feel pain sometimes. Both physical and emotional. If we numb our emotional pain all the time, what signals do we have to let us know that things are not as they should be?

There is that very rare disease that causes people to not feel any physical pain at all. On the surface, it sounds like a real life superpower, but the reality is that it's extremely dangerous for kids, since pain is how we learn. When a kid doesn't feel pain, he doesn't learn to avoid doing things that will break his bones.


Yes that is why loss of pain sensation (e.g. in diabetes) can be so dangerous too. It is also why leprosy used to cause disfigurement as it damaged the sensory pain perception.

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I finished 1984 not so long and it took me forever. I never heard of Huxley before that. It just remind me of Wall-e, where everyone is stuck looking at his or her screen. I don't have the Facebook app on my phone, and I am very happy about that.