Many of you might remember reading George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World while growing up. Both novels described a dystopian version of the future the served as a critique regarding the social, political, and technological trends of the day. That said, I’m more interested in the differences between the two.
Orwell described a world that was caught up in perpetual war and ruled by an authoritarian state that employed tools of mass surveillance and propaganda to control every thought and action of a reluctantly servile populace.
Huxley’s depiction, by contrast, described a “willingly” servile population. I say “willingly” in quotes because people were actually mass-produced via in vitro fertilization and genetic modification into a predefined caste system. Further, they were constantly under the influence of Pavlovian-style conditioning and a powerful narcotic that rendered them blissfully unaware of the true state of the world.
Perhaps I can draw a modern analogy to better describe these two scenarios.
You might say that Orwell’s dystopia looks something like North Korea. Overt mass surveillance. Overt propaganda. People living under a state of fear and many risking their lives to escape. (I’ve never been to North Korea or spoken to anyone that lives there, so we’re stuck with my imagination)
And what place, you ask, might represent Huxley’s version? Dare I say the United States? Think about it for a second. You might say that Facebook and Google offer us “free” services in exchange for the intimate details of our lives and the right to control what we see and consume. You might say that advertising, media, and industry have created a culture of rabid overconsumption as a distraction from the true nature of reality. You might say that we live in a state of willing servitude where the services and products that we love are actually are captors.
So I guess the question is: which is preferable, ignorance or awareness of captivity?