Postman on Orwell and Huxley

I used to think Orwell and Huxley were saying the same thing. Dystopian worlds, oppression of the masses, big bad government, the whole schtick. To my mind, they couldn’t be that different. (This was before I actually studied it for myself, you know.)

In the forward to his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman explains why Orwell and Huxley were not saying the same thing:

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.

“Inflicting pleasure.” I like that. It conjures up images of something damaging, and we don’t usually think of pleasure that way. Maybe we should. Maybe, in our quest to avoid being undone by external oppression, we should remember that it is far easier to be undone from the inside out.

Lord, save us from ourselves.

9 thoughts on “Postman on Orwell and Huxley”

  1. Reading Postman was an interesting experience for me. Coming from a legalistic background, I felt much freer to watch television for the purposes of amusement after reading him, while at the same time appreciating much more the dangers of “serious” television. I’m guessing Postman wasn’t trying to persuade people that it was okay to watch tv, but oh well. :)

    1. As Postman said, “We do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant.” :)

      I don’t agree with him on everything, but he certainly has many wise and insightful things to say about American pop culture. I’d like to read his other books – like The Disappearance of Childhood – at some point.

  2. Wow…this is really interesting. And scary too.

    “Maybe in our quest to avoid being undone by external oppression, we should remember that it is far easier to be undone from the inside out”…Amen to that!
    Thanks for sharing.

    (So, now I have ‘Amusing Ourselves To Death’ AND ‘Wordsmithy’ on my reading list :D)

  3. I read this book then showed it to my professor in Political Science. The next semester she made all her classes read it.

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