It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: That we are in the process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarch who have always existed and presumably always will always exist to get people to love their servitude.
There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.
George Orwell was a wonderful writer, deeply in love with the English language and always quick to call attention to its abuse. Yet it has always puzzled me why dystopian views of the future always cite his 1984 as a benchmark by which we measure this future dystopia, when our dystopia bears a closer resemblance to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
The unfortunate thing about the emphasis on 1984 is that is a misleading diversion. We look at our little worlds and conclude that they are nothing like Orwell’s world so everything must be okay. (Of course, if you’re an inner-city Afromerican male, your world is probably closer to Orwell than Huxley.)
In a 1962 speech at the Berkeley Language Center Huxley pointed out that Orwell wrote his book between 1945 and 1948 at a time that saw the downfall of Hitler’s totalitarianism and the rise of Stalin’s.
Huxley wrote his in 1932, at a time when the influence of Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was beginning to peak. It was Bernays who argued that, “The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.”
I’m inclined to think that the scientific dictatorships of the future, and I think there are going to be scientific dictatorships in many parts of the world, will probably be a good deal nearer to the brave new world pattern than the 1984 picture, they will [be] a good deal nearer not because of any humanitarian qualms of the scientific dictators but simply because the BNW pattern is a good deal more efficient.” (Huxley’s point that there will always be oligarchs is a good argument for changing them from time to time. This is called a revolution. Of course, it’s a given that no matter how democratic a revolution is, the formation of an oligarchy is inevitable, and any oligarch will sour over time. This is why they must be changed freaquently, much as you change the oil in your car every 5,000 miles.)
Huxley’s point was that a dictatorship was much more stable if the people consented to their servitude than if the servitude was enforced by guns and clubs, though even the most scientific of dictatorships will resort to the latter if the mob gets testy.
In Brave New World, people love their servitude because they are given an unlimited supply of SOMA, a drug that soothes. Instead of SOMA, we have a full medicine chest of psychotropic drugs comfort and caress our minds.
Our houses are filled with screens that divert our attention from the real world even as they paint a distorted view of that world. The problem with this ubiquity of screens is not mind control ala 1984, it is mind apathy.
In his talk, Huxley also spoke of suggestibility, which is the degree to which a mind can be manipulated. He suggested that in any given population, twenty percent of the people are highly suggestible while twenty percent can totally resist it. The remaining sixty percent could go either way depending on the circumstances, though he did point out that a heightened state of anxiety makes an individual more prone to suggestibility, as in the War on Terror.
What this means is that in the United States, 60 million people hang on Rush’s every word while 60 million think he’s a complete asshole. The remaining 180 million watch “American Idol.”
We are entering an era of increasing unrest as economic and environmental problems continue to mount. How this plays out depends to a large extent on how well the 60 million skeptics in America are mobilized. This is especially important because Fox News, the Tea Party and the radical right are mobilizing the 60 million sheep. And lies, if they are repeated enough, can sway the remaining 180 million, and that would be enough to silence the skeptics.