Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Neil Postman Revisited

"You catch more flies with honey than vinegar."
In the foreward to his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman compares George Orwell's 1984 vision of the world with that of Aldous Huxley in 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. 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 distractions". In 1984, Huxley 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.

~ Neil Postman
What do you think? Will what we love ruin us? Will too much information reduce us to passivity and egoism? What are the implications?

1 comment:

seev said...

Very interesting comparison, Jim. Perhaps we're caught somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. Well, that's the whole problem, isn't it? Where are we?

I'd say it's true that the many distractions we have, not all pleasurable ones either, are keeping us from finding the truth, or from the reality of what's going on, a reality that may be being controlled by a relatively few powerful people, like, say, the Bush-Cheney crowd, the big corporation crowd, perhaps other power centers, like maybe powerful evangelicals. So, do "ordinary" people have to fight to keep their heads above water, so to speak, or is it easier for the "ordinary" people to just focus on the distractions, all the things it's possible to do these days, have fun doing. There are others, of course, closer to poverty who have little time for much else than keeping bread on the table. The big guys can run ruff shod over them, a la Orwell.

Thanks for a very interesting topic for discussion, Jim.