Thursday, October 22, 2009

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Recently I read Brave New World (by Aldous Huxley) and 1984 (by George Orwell). I had heard great things about each book and how both authors wrote about different, yet similar, takes on the future. I thoroughly enjoyed reading each one and it was interesting to see what aspects of each author's philosophy seemed to be true about the world we live in today. Both were incredibly engaging and thought-provoking, so I encourage you to read them if you haven't.

Rather than give my own synopsis of each one, I just wanted to highlight a quote that was the main impetus for me reading these books back to back. It comes from a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death which is written by Neil Postman. Read the quote carefully. Both scenarios are likely (and frightening), but I ultimately agree with Postman's conclusion. I believe we are living in the age of over stimulation that Huxley describes and are truly amusing ourselves to death:
Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. 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.

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.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
Also, here's a great cartoon that illustrates this quote.


  1. I've seen Amusing Ourselves to Death quoted and referenced to great effect in multiple places. Seems to be a significant work... I'd like to pick it up at some point. Are you reading it?

  2. No, I'm not. I'd like to though. Roy is reading it and is liking it a lot.