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Huxley and Orwell saw two dystopian futures in different ways: one, totalitarian and ever watchful government. The other, a society robbed of cognitive and personal agency via societal pressure and medication.

When I was young, I thought Orwell's future was the most dangerous an imminent. Then later Huxley, especially once things like "apps" were created. Now I see they both work together to erode liberty.

Your culture works against the expression of your constitutional rights, especially in certain areas of our country. And of course, if you stop using those liberties you might never notice once they're taken away.






The weird thing, if you study history and step outside the culture you were raised in, is to realize that Huxley and Orwell were both describing the world they were writing in, not some hypothetical future. 1984 is based on Orwell's experiences writing propaganda for the BBC during WW2; 1984 was intentionally chosen by switching the last two digits of the year it was written, 1948. Brave New World is a Depression-era reaction to the excesses of and hangover from the 1920s. The World State of Brave New World is based on Fordism, the logical result of taking Henry Ford's assembly-line mentality and applying it to a whole society. In many ways the creative class (which didn't really exist in the 1931 of Huxley's day) enjoys significantly more liberties than the populace of Brave New World.

It's also interesting to note that Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are also literary reactions to that time period. Note that Saruman turns Isengard evil with "The fires of industry"; orcs cut down the trees and defile large areas of the countryside, while the Nine Rings corrupt men in the name of greed and power. Tolkien's answer to industrialization was to return to small pastoralist villages; Lewis's was to accept the redemption of Christ, in the form of the lion Aslan.


> Tolkien's Lord of the Rings...literary reactions to that time period

It was also a response to WWI. Tolkein's childhood friends were killed and shattered by that war...and why? Because in 1831, Britain agreed to be a guarantor of Belgian neutrality.

So when Gondor calls for aid... when Isildur calls the Men of the White Mountains to war... when Minas Tirith is besieged... what ought elves and men do but honour their allegiance? We now have all seen that war is obscene as cancer, but perhaps to march to death is still more fitting than to forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship.

Otherwise... what was the point?


Tolkein apparently furiously denied allegory - although there are preexisting tropes that predate even his influence (decline of the mythic past Götterdämmerungn Atlantis) is hard to not see. Which I suppose probably owes itself both to decline of youthful myths like "parents and ancestors as infalliable" and the distant mutated memories of the Bronze Age collapse where the greatest empires indeed did fall from lofty heights and take millenia to be reached again.

What I'm pointing to isn't allegory though. Allegory would be if the Rohirrim at Helms Deep represented the Belgians and the elves led by Haldir represented the British Expeditionary Force. They don't.

But stories are still about (among other things) the choices people make, the way we see those choices, and the things we think about our own choices.


He denied allegory with WW2 in the foreword to Lord of the Rings. It's nearly impossible that his own service in WW1 with its industrial warfare had no influence on his writing. Mordor bears a striking resemblance to the trench-infested battlefields of Europe.

Similarly, the Black Mirror episode "Fifteen-Million Merits" is sometimes described as being about some kind of possible future, but I'm pretty damn sure it's just depicting now (or, "now" when it was made a few years ago, anyway) through the lens of a kind of heightened sci-fi allegory.

A lot of good sci-fi is predicting the present. Lilliput was a criticism of religious disputes at the time: how to break eggs.

1984 was basically a sci-fi adaption of Koestler's Darkness at Noon, which was based on the real-life Moscow Trials. Orwell had read (and favourable reviewed) Darkness. He also used a lot of similar details (Rubashov even had a tooth-ache that flared up for dramatic effect much like Winston's varicose vein).

I read both books one after the other a while ago to compare them. I think there are aspects of both that are becoming reality (or have been reality for some time), but can absolutely say that Huxley was closer to predicting the future (at least in the West).

The rise of mass media (hollywood, netflix), pornography, the pill (and other forms of contraception), large expendable incomes, smart phones, pharmaceuticals - the world now is basically Huxley's + a bit of a Orwellian propaganda sprinkled on top to keep you in Huxley's world.


On the other hand consider all the ways in which our society is fundamentally unlike BNW. The big one: we are not bred in test tubes and raised in massive government-run factories with our destinies determined by a letter from alpha to epsilon. Families have not been abolished, nor has pair bonding. Our lives are not engineered by an all-powerful global government, not even by an all-powerful national government.

Maybe you could say that these are non-core aspects of the story, like the fact that in BNW they travel by rocket instead of jet, but I think they’re extremely central to the story.

These ideas didn’t come out of nowhere, many of them ( like the replacement of family life with communal life) were taken seriously by progressives of the day.

Huxley took the trends and novelties of the early 1930s and imagined what things would be like if they continued in that direction. Some trends continued, but others stalled out, and these trends are perhaps more interesting than the ones that continued.


Well yes, there are plenty of ways we are unlike BNW. I see those things are plot devices to explore the deeper concepts of: lack of individuality / self-determination, increase in use of contraception, increase in diversion and hedonism, trivialising of religion, ostracising of those that will not conform, etc. He takes all these things to extremes, yes, but I think our own society is moving in that direction more than moving in Orwell's.

Just consider the Facebook newsfeed. Do you think the false headlines, or the memes and reaction videos scattered throughout, have more of an effect on people's inaction to perceived injustice? People won't react any differently to a headline that claims one things or the other. That's Huxley's prediction right there.


I think the most fundamental difference between our world and BNW is that I know many people who lead fulfilled lives, carry on meaningful relationships, and who critically examine the culture that surrounds them.

Neil Postman wrote about this at length in _Amusing Ourselves to Death_. There's a classic comic strip based on it: https://highexistence.com/amusing-ourselves-to-death-huxley-...

Neil Postman was my single most favorite find in a thrift store.

Huxley wrote a letter to Orwell, claiming that his own prediction of the future would be more likely than the recipient's.

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/03/1984-v-brave-new-world....


Interesting justification there as well.

> I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency.


I'd agree with the spirit of your assertion that both the state, through surveillance and beauracratic control, and the market, through ever increasing share of our attention and hold over our appetites, are having harmful effects on many people. But it's interesting that you frame that harm as 'eroding liberty'.

I've recently been reading a book called "Why Liberalism Failed" by Patrick Deneen, which also sees these two forces as working together to harm both the individual and society at large, but not by restricting our liberty so much as trading away other valuable social goods for a surfeit of liberties most of us don't actually need or benefit from. The liberty to buy whatever our appetites desire, at any time. The liberty to uproot ourselves and live "globally" without concern for the locales we leave behind. The liberty to profit seek without regard for externalities.

Deneen draws a contrast between "liberty to <do, own, or be something>" and "liberty from being ruled by our animal urges and appetites". The ancient Greeks who coined the term saw liberty as a virtue explicitly in the latter capacity. But the modern sense of what it is to be liberated is explicitly centered around the former. But I think the liberty you allude to is more of the ancient conception, and I agree, the pincers of the government and the market are eroding our liberty from animal urges, in exchange for an ever expanding menu of nominal liberties to which are often harmful to ourselves and others.


I’d think a Roman or Latin-descendant-language-speaking person would have coined the term, since it's based on the word liber, Latin for “free”. I would also think the ancient Greek word [1] would have been more commonly used in context of freedom from slavery than from any self-imposed restraint (or lack thereof).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleutheria




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