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1984 v. Brave New World (lettersofnote.com)
449 points by moritzfelipe on Oct 23, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 195 comments



BNW is a deeper book than 1984 because with BNW the first task is to say why that world is even bad to begin with. BNW represents the logical conclusion of a philosophy in which happiness is the top priority. In my opinion it shows that happiness can not be the top priority of life, contrary to the propaganda of marketers and psychologists over the past century. Life is not inherently happy and the attempt to make it that way destroys it. One of the many paradoxes is that if you accept unhappiness and just get on with the job, greater happiness can follow.


I like both 1984 and BNW, for different reasons, so my comment is not directly related to those books; I'm simply growing somewhat frustrated of "happiness as an end-goal" being perceived as wrong, and that's certainly not the point either of those books were trying to make.

I agree that there has been a sickening amount of "feel-good" propaganda in the relatively recent past, in no small part thanks to the movie industry, but please note that this "feel-good" tendency and the true pursuit of happiness are two completely different things.

I'm under the impression, possibly wrongly, that a lot of people confuse instant gratification with happiness. Confusing the two is seeing the forest for the trees, like assuming sex is the same as love. Real happiness is deep-rooted, it isn't swayed easily, nor is it a direct consequence of transient events.

No real advocate of the pursuit of happiness has ever believed that life was inherently happy, however most think that life provides the conditions and the tools to make it happen. The subject has evidently been discussed ad nauseam, but I think Buddhism[1] covers the basics really well.

> One of the many paradoxes is that if you accept unhappiness and just get on with the job, greater happiness can follow.

Subsequently (and hopefully not being too pedantic) I don't think there is any paradox here, simply a misunderstanding on your part. I honestly don't think "unhappiness" should even be a word, there is "sadness", but even that is not a direct antonym of "happiness". In your sentence, replacing "unhappiness" with "trouble" (or "problems") shows that there is no paradox, simply a difference in scope(s) of understanding.

I'm not even sure any of this makes sense to anybody, it took a very long time for it to even make sense to myself.

[1] I'm not Buddhist, I just appreciate the teachings, like I do other beliefs.


“The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them...But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy."

..."What you need," the Savage went on, "is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”

The Savage's conversation with Mustapha Mond in chapter 17 has a lot of heady stuff. It feels like a modern Book of Ecclesiastes.

The whole book is thought-provoking, but chapter 17 in particular says something to modern society and our desire to constantly entertain ourselves. This is why to me Brave New World is more relevant today than 1984. We've all seen 1984 in real-life, through totalitarian states. Society as a whole rejects categorically the world of 1984. But engineered utopia of Brave New World is a lot closer than we realize, and in mass advertising and relentless consumerism, as a society we show a desire to accept it as devastating as it is to individualism and broader and nobler concerns.

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3204877-brave-new-worl...



Life is Struggle.

“Why, suffering is the sole origin of consciousness. Though I did lay it down at the beginning that consciousness is the greatest misfortune for man, yet I know man prizes it and would not give it up for any satisfaction.”[0]

http://dostoyevsky.thefreelibrary.com/Notes-from-the-Undergr...


I never quite understood was was 'dystopian' about Brave New World. A world in which everybody is happy and content with who they are and the circumstances they live in, how is that dystopian? He threw in some bad things (the people in the reserves, the people who didn't take their meds, the 'conditioning' of the children) but never really justified why they'd be necessary. All of them (and the 'orgy-porgies') were, I felt, added to be able to make the argument that the society he was portraying was morally wrong.


Boy oh boy. Well, the thing is it is a society that is completely in thrall to a system of basic pleasure orchestrated with the questionable justification that a life without real pleasure or pain is a better one. The people are oblivious to all art and real achievement, they have no desires and no ambitions, they create nothing and have no desire to, they feel no real emotions and all sex is mechanical, and they happily march to their own deaths at a certain age. If a vision of humanity as infinitely complacent, all advancement come to an end, a billion pampered babies with their unremarkable and entirely calculated lives engineered since before birth — if that doesn't strike you as a dystopia, an "inverted utopia" in which what is meant to be perfect is anything but, well brother, I don't know what should!


> The people are oblivious to all art and real achievement

Or, maybe the people in our real society are oblivious to the peace and happiness experienced in A Brave New World's society.

> they have no desires and no ambitions, they create nothing and have no desire to, they feel no real emotions and all sex is mechanical, and they happily march to their own deaths at a certain age.

Are any of those differences actually useful things inherently, or only in pursuit of happiness? If you've got your happiness from another source (a drug), why keep doing the things that were previously necessary to attain happiness?


Well, people have been unable to settle on a comprehensive definition of happiness in the few thousand years the argument has been documented so I don't think we'll settle it here. But consider that we identify so many kinds of happiness, from the fleeting to the unforgettable: joy, euphoria, satisfaction, ecstasy, etc. I think Brave New World is about excluding all else in life but one of those. If that sounds good to you, go for it! No one can tell you what happiness is — except that's exactly what the authorities in Brave New World are doing, and they are eliminating the option of pursuing other, perhaps greater happinesses than the one they have chosen for you.


How is now not what you describe? Maybe there are no clear puppet-masters driving it, but vast swaths of people in the US live like this and fervently support it right now.


Yes, this is now. Welcome to the ultimate revolution. Enjoy your stay.


Yes, we have arrived. I have become more and more interested in Huxley over the last few years as I have become more and more aware that we have become something like what he described. The only thing left is for the powers that be to take advantage of our state of passivity and transition us to 1984


roel_v for one embraces his new Huxlonian overlords with open arms!


I just logged in to ask a similar question and would like to hear what others thoughts are on this. I don't support the ideas or situation described in BNW but what is the alternative that we should hope to achieve?

How do we draw the line between "helping people live happier lives" and "tricking the masses into contented servitude"?

What is the ultimate goal of humanity and our global society? What should it be? How do we reconcile differing opinions on this question?

A frequent answer for me is "to reduce suffering as best we can for the greatest number of people" but if taken to the extreme... a sedated and distracted society might be the one with the least amount of suffering? I can't support that idea but it is the unfortunate logical extension which reminds me of the sci-fi dystopias in which AI is tasked with ensuring the best for humanity...


Which is the greater horror: oppressively managed lives imposed on the populace, or sought by the populace?

"Billions of people just living out their lives, oblivious. Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program, entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from." - _The_Matrix_


It has been a very long time since I last read BNW, but at the time I read it I felt that that was a very conspicuous tension in the novel. Specifically that our expectations of 20th/21st century people, and our veneration of individualism, were at odds with a society that ostensibly delivered what hoped for in terms of poverty, crime, happiness. Even the rebellious that couldn't live in such a stifling society were shipped off (it was to Iceland right?) to live with other intellectuals and iconoclasts where they would likely be much happier than if they had stayed among the happy masses.


allow them to choose


> A world in which everybody is happy and content with who they are and the circumstances they live in, how is that dystopian?

Because being happy and content is by far not all what makes life worth living, and these people are stuck in eternal mental infancy. And they don't get a choice, either: they are conditioned to despise natural birth, not sleeping around, and deep affection -- and the caste system is proper for insects maybe, but not fully developed human beings. It is not what they eventually happened to agree on, it was engineered that way, they were born into it without even the ability to see what has been done to them, and all of this calculated. They are instant gratification junkies in an endless loop of mental stagnation, what's not to hate?

> but never really justified why they'd be necessary. All of them (and the 'orgy-porgies') were, I felt, added to be able to make the argument that the society he was portraying was morally wrong.

Do you think Huxley is making the argument that "being happy and content is bad", and the rest is just filler? If so, read his this one:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_%28Huxley_novel%29

Clearly, he's not against being happy and content. But it has to be real and come from within, not just from being deprived of the ability to grasp injustice or reasons to be sad, or reasons to love (which implies the possibility and eventual reality of loss, too).

If I injected you with drugs that made you a mindless, but very happy and healthy zombie, and hooked you up to IV everything-you-need -- "you" (there would not be much left of the former you) would love it, but how would your friends react? Badly. Does this then mean they are against happiness? Of course not.


Most cattle are relatively happy, have their medicine, their wild versions, conditioning of their young and forced sex (orgy-porgies without the orgy. . . ).

Do the social structure and outlook of cattle appeal to you?

Edit: because that's what the dystopia presented in A Brave New World is similar to.


Visceral reaction is not an argument. If you ask me to imagine undergoing surgery I'll think "eew". But I still think a world in which people can undergo surgery is better than one in which it doesn't exist.


Is your argument that a world in which people have no decision making power about their future is a good world to live in?


No, my argument is that your argument is bad.


Were they really happy?

Even a short interruption of soma led to a riot. You would get grumpy if you didn't have coffee one morning, but would you start destroying things? And it is likely a common thing, as they have a special police group just for addressing this scenario. So, to reiterate my original question, if even the smallest bad thing causes riots, are they really happy?


In brief, it's the same problem with the world of The Matrix. At the end of the day, that sort of life isn't "real" in some way. The masses are blissfully ignorant and patronized. It would be a robust (possibly unending) discussion to fully explore the philosophical implications, since it's an existential question at the end of the day.

The scene from The Matrix where Cypher enjoys a "steak" with Mr. Smith: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7BuQFUhsRM


You can poison someone and feed them to your dogs without them suffering or having a moment of unhappiness.

The problem is with using behaviorist methods to train (and breed) out all possibilities of choice or creativity outside of specified bounds for human beings, who are naturally creative and whose choices of what to think and consider doing are nearly limitless.


>> A world in which everybody is happy and content with who they are and the circumstances they live in, how is that dystopian?

In his book The Man's Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl made the case that "happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue." He said that one can't simply be happy. Rather, they must have a reason to be happy.

This article does a great job of summarizing his philosophy and relating it to the current state of our society: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/theres-m...


It's a society where nothing ever improves. People are put in their place before birth and jailed in it by means that they can not even perceive.


liberty



That illustrates it very well.

It's a shame that recombinantrecords.net has removed that from his site, even though it's original work, because lawyers sued him for using the title of a (good) book "Amusing Ourselves to Death". Then, 9GAG & other sites have no problems copying the content. It just goes to show you that you can't stop information flow. All you can do it stop legitimate players from controlling it.


Thank you for sharing that link. It's a great summary. As we turn into a hedonistic society, the impetus for doing good and morality will deteriorate.


That comic is based on Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death. It originally appeared at...

http://www.recombinantrecords.net/docs/2009-05-Amusing-Ourse...

...but was apparently taken down due at the copyright holders' request. More on the book:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death


I'm torn about this takedown. Until today I had no idea it was based on prior work.

If they left the comic up but clarified what it was inspired by it would definitely help the Postman estate.

The conversion rate of "Do yourself a favour and read Neil Postman's words in full. Purchase a copy of Amusing Ourselves to Death new/used (aff)" must be a rounding error on 0.


Definitely agree that the comic, staying at one canonical location, could have served as a boon to the sales of the book and awareness of its themes.

(I'm guessing that the subtlety of the comic's original Postman mention – at the very bottom – compared to the top line "AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH by Stuart McMillen" may have started the attribution discussion off on the wrong foot.)


I think the reality is a combination of the two. Most of the world (including the media) is so distracted by the entertainment trivia of Brave New World that almost no one cares about the 1984 surveillance/censorship world that is being constructed all around is.


Wow excellent! I'm always been more drawn to Orwell. But I think this illustrates how we are definitely headed more towards Huxley's vision.


It does cherry pick from Huxley to make the point. There's little uptake of genetically engineered class systems in modern society, for example. Regardless, I think that between the two texts, 1984 is by far the closest to our reality. Not here, of course, but in North Korea. No western country can be drawn as either without some major overreaches.


Right now it rather seems Orwell had it closer to right on the predictions in the letter: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/US_incarc...

Some of this stuff is expanded on in Huxley's forword to BNW[1], btw, written in 1947. I have always been fascinated by this assertion in it:

     As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase.
He doesn't support this axiom in the forword (or this letter), and I've always wondered if anyone has ever written a compelling, historically-based, argument for this idea.

[1] http://www.wealthandwant.com/auth/Huxley.html


IMO Huxley's predictions are much harder to appreciate given the relativity of cultural norms to what we grew up experiencing. While it's certainly possible to be desensitized to totalitarian oppression, I think it's harder to really appreciate the a more gradual cultural shift wrt acceptance of mood-altering prescription drugs, sexuality, mass market entertainment, etc.

Not scientific in the slightest, I just think it's easier to miss the subtler ways that Huxley's predictions have been realized.


One of the issues I have with Huxley's view of things is that I think it makes a massive leap from the idea of people being content to that being pathologized into being oppressed.

Part of that is that I'm not sure there's ever been a point in history in which the majority of people actively contribute to the political sphere on a regular basis. They have always been distracted by something (often mere survival). Even revolutions have usually been driven by top-down movements led by discontent elites.

Given that, I don't find the argument that a state in which most people are content and non-participant (somewhat the current state of most western nations) is worse than one in which most people are discontent and non-participant (the previous state of most western nations, and the extreme form of which is presented in 1984).

Even more fundamentally, there's a distinct air of moralism to Huxley's arguments. Anti-sex, pro-marriage, body-is-temple kind of stuff. These positions are taken as given, and given very little support, in all of his writing. I think it taints his entire premise.


If you've read Brave New World or you like psychedelics, you should really check out Island, the novel Huxley wrote after taking mescaline (PDF version is online).

Island is pro-drug (magic mushrooms), pro-sex, pro-enjoying life, sensible use of sperm banks, sensible non-coercive education, playful response to religion.

Sado-masochism is presented as child abuse or a kinky adult game, not as in BNW as a nobel response to an immoral world (BNW ends with the savage whipping himself, getting into an orgy with curious onlookers, and then hanging himself in disgust).


The people of "Brave New World" (BNW) are not truly content, they are merely happy. The BNWers are terrified of being without their soma, because without the soma, they realize their lives are empty and unfulfilling. The soma is a way to escape the reality of their lives, and avoid any self-awareness or unpleasant truths. If you were to examine their lives under almost any metric, such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you would see that they are not leading good lives; in Maslow's terms, they have only satisfied their physiological and safety needs.

I would not describe this state as 'content and non-participant', it is more of a self-perpetuating drug-induced ignorance.


Sure. To be clear, I'm not saying that they are happy in BNW. BNW is deliberately an exaggeration of trends that Huxley feared in his present, though. And, as can be seen in other threads (see the comic someone linked to) is taken as a meaningful depiction of the current state of affairs.

So I'm here arguing about the idea that Huxley would see the state we're in now as being representative of his dystopic ideas in principle if not in fact. And given his own commentary on his and others' work, I think he probably would.

The question then is: is the contentedness of the masses right now reflective of a 'drug/distraction-induced ignorance' of a Huxleyan style? It's often asserted, but I don't think I've seen a compelling argument. People are largely free to be discontent, and what means the state actually seems to use to work against popular discontent look more like Orwell than Huxley to me.


Huxley's anti-sex Savage in Brave New World was ridiculous in his extremism (and the World Controller wise) for a reason. Whilst his views on drugs certainly mellowed over time he was never really a committed puritan.


BNW is about infantilisation of the populace. Amazingly, nobody here seems to have talked about ownership of power/wealth - that's the difference between the sedated, patronised citizenry and the conscious, responsible one.


"Island" is completely pro-sex, anti-monogamy.


While I probably agree with you about the prison system, I dislike your graph. Using the absolute incarceration count is misleading, as the population has grown threefold since the 1920s. To put it differently, I could say that the there are 200 million more Americans out of prison now than there were in the 20s, so we must be better off now than before.

The next graph down on the wiki page is far more representative:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/48/U.S...

It actually makes your case stronger by showing a relatively flat line from the 20's through the 70's, indicating that this is really a recent trend. The other graph made it look like a historical inevitability, since the prison population is always increasing.


Yes, I didn't notice the better graph before I posted. This one is indeed better.


I think both sides of it go hand in hand. The government is only having such an easy time of going Orwellian on us because we've become so Huxlian and easily distracted.


I'm not convinced by the thesis that sexual freedom is inversely related to political and economic freedom, but if you were to chart virtually any of indicator "sexual freedom" over the same time period as that graph of prison population the trend line would certainly be moving in the same direction.[1] Same goes for "level of alarm at the apparent 'decadence' of modern society expressed by economically poorer and religiously strict cultures" which is a pretty major theme in the book.

For all Brave New World's glib exaggeration for comic effect, I'd argue that anticipating sexual liberation (and mass consumerism and distraction-based mass media strategy) was a far more perceptive view of the future than Orwell's ideological slavery. Whatever the intended or actual psychological effects of the "War on Drugs" may be, those prison sentences certainly aren't an Orwellian attempt to unite the population in support of the executive. Then again, Huxley was satirising what he perceived as relatively novel trends emerging in the United States whereas Orwell directed his ire at the Soviet Union, fascism and highlighted tendencies present in virtually every other authoritarian state that had gone before.


I admit I'm actually kind of caught up in a potential self-contradiction here, where I'm arguing that people are largely freer than they were before while also pointing out that the government does seem to act in a fairly orwellian way and seems to desire to do so more (both in terms of surveillance and imposition of a prison-driven police state). I think that both these things can be true, but I haven't completely convinced myself of that.

So what I'd really like is an example of a state that undisputably reduced in political and economic freedoms while also undisputably increased in sexual freedoms. Maybe Rome? But I think sexual freedoms probably only increased for the most privileged classes there. I'm not aware of a sexual renaissance in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany or Soviet/American client states with brutal puppet governments.


The US is big exception here, and the supposed inverse relation between sexual liberty and incarceration rates evaporates when you look at the bigger picture. Western European countries are arguably more liberal in this area (take a look through what is acceptable in advertising, for one example) and have much lower prison rates than the US, at least.


I think both Orwell and Huxley had some extremely prescient insight on the future, and I personally felt that we have come to somewhat of an Orwellian time period, although a lot of Huxley's predictions will be seen in the long term future as well.


These are two giants in science fiction, in political philosophy and in pop culture. I'm a big fan of both. Great to read a discussion between them.

First, there's the artistic stele of the books. 1984 has got this graphic novel, Noir feel to it, like Walking Dead or Sin City. Brave New World has this brightly colored surreal feel to it. It's hard to compare books that are different in this way.

Overall, Orwell's world felt more real to me, like it could have been brought about by real political circumstances. The system itself is evolved around the principle that whatever improves control survives. It feels like a political system that has devolved into its current state with the original vision or rhetoric of the ideology that brought it about remaining as a vestige, like Marxism in China.

Huxley's world feels a little more fake to me. It's like some political genius designed it head to tail and things went ahead as planned. It's like Canberra (If you go there, you'll see what I mean). That makes it feel more like a made up word to me, inorganic.

Orwell's "mechanisms," training society to gradually train their minds using language, euphemism, historical revisionism, social penalties for bad thought patterns and as much control over what people see & hear as possible… it feels real to me. We see that stuff at work now as Orwell saw it in his time. It feels possible, though I think Winston's are inevitable too. Euphemisms to control thought is stronger today than it was in Orwell's time.

Huxely's mechanisms of Soma, infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis feel less real. I can't count that against the author or the book though. Brave New World is distant future. That's inevitably more fantastical and less realistic. I think he's right though about using pleasantness over direct confrontation. Humans are pleasure seeking and denied pleasure, there will always be a force of instability.

The point where 1984 slips ahead though is the book-in-the-book 'The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein.' In particular, it describes how the system must allow some non hereditary class movement. If the class system is too rigid, pressure builds up as talented individual press against the ceiling. If some are allowed to progress and there are prominent examples the class system becomes less explicit and more stable. I don't know if it's some of my earliest political exposure being socialist, but that just rings true to me. I see it today. Statistically, classes are fairly rigid, but individually, they are malleable.

I'm very biased though I think 1984 is one of the most important books I read as a teenager. It shaped how I saw things.


See, I'm just the opposite. With as hedonistic as human nature seems to be, it makes perfect sense that the pursuit of happiness leads to nothing but; in other words, A Brave New World.

1984 felt just too dystopian. It just tasted wrong; like someone would have stood up and said, "No thank you" well before the point the book stepped into.

A Brave New World? That's simply distraction taken to the nth degree. Perfectly plausible.

I read Huxley's book when I was a teenager, and as you said, it shaped how I see things. Moderation and critical thinking are key in everything (moderation, even in moderation).


> A Brave New World? That's simply distraction taken to the nth degree. Perfectly plausible.

Good point. Technology can help create newer, more engaging distractions. Magic Leap hopes to offer a new "magical" layer on top of reality, when their devices are "on", for instance.

> 1984 felt just too dystopian. It just tasted wrong; like someone would have stood up and said, "No thank you" well before the point the book stepped into.

This is part of why there's such a push towards punishing intelligence community whistleblowers. When the public is made aware of the mass surveillance programs, they do say "No thank you."

Both books examine a different facet of human nature, and they both remain relevant to this day.


> Technology can help create newer, more engaging distractions.

Watching how people react to the Occulus, "OMG it's sooo real!" I can't help thinking how badly screwed we are as a species when it goes mainstream. FarmVille addiction, World of Warcraft will look like a walk in the park to Occulus addicts who no longer know or care what reality is. Perhaps I'm just overly pessimistic


I don't think that's going to happen.

No matter now realistic Oculus appears, it's still just a device strapped to your face - it's not that immersive.


Maybe not the Oculus Rift but that's coming out soon, one can only imagine what the next 10-20 years will bring. Here is Ray Kurzweil helping with that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=660oel93vZA


Which is why people wearing corrective lenses feel so detached from the world. You are seriously underestimating the ability of the human brain to tune out irrelevant inputs.


Eventually it will just be a pair of contact lenses, or even an ocular implant.


Even then, you're aware of the contacts or the implant, unless you're living in the Matrix and were genetically engineered with a AV jack in your spinal column.


Their overall point stands, though.

If people can get this addicted and consumed to World of Warcraft or Facebook games, imagine what will happen when that's literally at eye-level.


I imagine much of the same will happen. People will live their lives like always, and sometimes escape to a fantasy world, just now using a different new technology. Also like now, some will be addicts. We've had many new entertainment technologies come and go, each one thought to be more engaging than the last, but the fundamental behaviors of human beings seem to be the same.


I think the mind makes it real, even when it's words on a page or dots on a tiny screen. So I honestly don't think it's going to make a lot of difference.

The first time I saw a 3D movie it was incredibly immersive. But after a few, the brain reconfigures its expectations, and the same inputs are interpreted as "just a movie".


>"When the public is made aware of the mass surveillance programs, they do say "No thank you"" Actually they say "I've got nothing to hide" or "there is nothing you can do anyway"


>It just tasted wrong; like someone would have stood up and said, "No thank you" well before the point the book stepped into.

The current state of North Korea indicates that this statement is wrong. When the odds are so overwhelmingly stacked against you, its hard to start a rebellion.

Granted, things weren't looking very good for the U.S. when the revolutionary war began, but we had astronomically good odds when compared to the average North Korean.


Absolute dictatorships are funny things. Romania under Ceaucescu was not far short of North Korea and seemed pretty stable for decades, but then some brave soul said "Boo" during one of the Leader's speeches and it all fell apart within 24 hours: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanian_Revolution

I can fairly easily envision the same happening in North Korea, where by all accounts nearly the entire population is dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. One big protest in Pyongyang, and boom.


The US revolution was not a revolution for independence of a oppressive regim. I mean common, in many ways the americans or rather english americans where better or just as well of as the english themselfs.

I have been listening to lecture about the english empire and comparing americans with the lower class in North Korea is quite a strech.


Our revolution had much better chances because, in spite of the seemingly overwhelming odds, we still had quite a bit going for us, unlike the North Koreans.

I never suggested that we were battling an oppressive regime. Literally the entire point of my comment was to highlight the difference between us and North Korea; I didn't suggest the things you seem to think I did.


>1984 felt just too dystopian. It just tasted wrong; like someone would have stood up and said, "No thank you" well before the point the book stepped into.

Where exactly is that inflection point? So far, we've complained a lot, yet we slide more into it every day, and statistically, no one is leaving.


Intelligence services are currently setting up the ultimate tool for creating a totalitarian state that cannot be overthrown. Every little bit of dissent can be stopped cold with an all-seeing intelligence apparatus. Historically a dictator needed soldiers and police officers to enforce his power. A single human couldn't be a dictator against the will of the army and police. We are building fully automated weapons that need no human pilot. This means that a single person can command an army without depending on anybody else.

If these two developments are allowed to continue, 1984 doesn't sound unlikely at all to me. There just needs to be one point in history where somebody grabs the power, and then it will be impossible to take that power away.


That wrong taste may be a luxury we have now.

From what I've heard, 1984 was passed around as "samizdat" in the Soviet Union, and many were convinced George Orwell was actually living in the Soviet Union since his descriptions were so true to their lives.


Interesting. Maybe it's a matter of where we grew up.


I feel like 1984 and "A Brave New World" are occurring simultaneously to varying degrees in society, but I expect in the long run, massive unexpected events (world war, sun goes nova, whatever...) that eventually we will settle into something more akin to "A Brave New World". It is simply less effort for those in power to manage a society by drugs and indirect manipulation than by brute force.

Think of all the distractions that already occur today with smart phones, facebook, twitter, continuous streaming TV, constant video games that are always with you and continuing to grow more immersive. Here we have our growing distractions.

Now start giving these things to younger and younger children; how many toddlers do you see tapping on a smart phone or a tablet?

Add to the mix a good healthy dose of drug induced behavioral control via Ritalin or Adderall, prescriptions written for these are at an all time high http://www.wnd.com/2013/04/radical-increase-in-kids-prescrib....

Fast forward to that child as an adult; they have spent their whole life on behavioral modifying drugs and start to feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with their lot in life. What are these "strange feelings", so off to the doctor they go where they can be diagnosed with depression and get put on some Paxil/Prozac/Zoloft so they can be content going back to that same hum drum existence they were starting to question. Since they were trained as children to take behavior modifying drugs, as an adult they are predisposed to accept this as the correct course of action.

Seems to me, at least in the USA, we are already coming pretty close to Huxley's vision today.


> Fast forward to that child as an adult; they have spent their whole life on behavioral modifying drugs and start to feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with their lot in life. What are these "strange feelings", so off to the doctor they go where they can be diagnosed with depression and get put on some Paxil/Prozac/Zoloft so they can be content going back to that same hum drum existence they were starting to question.

Not to derail the conversation too much, but fuck you. That's not even close to what depression is or how it works. Depression isn't when your life sucks so you feel bad, it's when you feel bad for no reason, even when your life is objectively pretty good. It's a well documented medical phenomenon that can fortunately be managed rather well with, among other things, medication. Comments like this, though, serve only to stigmatize treatment and actively discourage people from seeking help.

I have a close family member with depression. They've been on Zoloft for a little over a year now and it has been a huge blessing. The single biggest obstacle to getting them help was helping them overcome the social anxiety and sense of failure caused by stigmatizing and belittling attitudes like yours.

Yes, many more people are on antidepressants than in generations past. Many more people also take antihistamines daily and get an annual flu shot and nobody thinks that signals some downfall of civilization. Modern medicine has provided effective treatments for countless conditions, ranging from minor annoyances to debilitating illnesses, that previous generations had no alternative but to endure quietly. In almost every area, save this one, this is rightly regarded as a triumph of science and a huge net good for humanity. Why is it about mental illness that causes otherwise smart, empathetic, and scientifically literate people to start clutching their pearls?


> Not to derail the conversation too much, but fuck you. That's not even close to what depression is or how it works. Depression isn't when your life sucks so you feel bad, it's when you feel bad for no reason, even when your life is objectively pretty good. It's a well documented medical phenomenon that can fortunately be managed rather well with, among other things, medication. Comments like this, though, serve only to stigmatize treatment and actively discourage people from seeking help.

You don't know me; and you almost certainly haven't seen the personal affects of depression up close like I have.

My post was in no way "belittling" depression. The fact is a mix of lazy doctors, lazy teachers, and yes lazy parents makes it very easy for children to be put on drugs for ADHD. So much so that the FDA has launched investigations into this practice, but ultimately no change has come out of. Also FACT, Ritalin and Adderall are both known to cause drug induced depression to such an extent that is has been highly tied to teen and young adult suicides. Catching this early results in treatment with anti-depressants to continue mood altering. This is a case where the patients do not suffer underlying depressive disorders, but rather it is directly caused by long term use of other mood altering drugs that in many cases were not necessary.

This is a situation where you have unwittingly stuck your foot in your mouth. You have no idea the level of irony that you just reached by trying to call me out on this.


> You don't know me; and you almost certainly haven't seen the personal affects of depression up close like I have.

I have, actually. The person I care about did not have any substantial pre-depression experience with mood altering substances, prescription or otherwise, but post-depression treatment with antidepressents has been a huge help to them and, indirectly, to me and the rest of my family. Nevertheless, I do have a pretty good guess as to what your experience has been like.

My post was intemperate, to say the least. Your post struck a nerve with me and provoked a reaction that was undeserved. I've had to deal with one too many "depression isn't real" and "people just want happy pills" attitudes in the past and it's apparently caused my reading comprehension to suffer. I painted with far too broad a brush and you have my sincerest apologies.


> objectively

So, what's the entity without agency (agenda?) that would be objective. There is no objectivity. I don't know how well documented it is, but I doubt I really want to know. If it is well known, why isn't it prevented regularly or is it?

> Why is it about mental illness that causes otherwise smart, empathetic, and scientifically literate people to start clutching their pearls?

It's treating the symptom, not the problem. Just a hunch.


>It's treating the symptom, not the problem. Just a hunch.

So then why isn't taking an ibuprofen for a headache, or cold medicine to help with cold symptoms the same?

Plenty of medicine treats the just symptoms, and there don't seem to be people proclaiming the downfall of society because of cold medicine. It helps alleviate the symptoms and allows the sufferer to work towards curing the cause. I would imagine that this is especially true for something like depression where the symptoms are a direct obstacle to curing the cause. I've read that exercise and a healthy diet have been shown to help with depression, which in my opinion is probably better than just taking medication. However I'd be willing to bet that someone who is currently experiencing the symptoms of depression (such as fatigue, apathy, and a reduced motivation and task salience), is going to have quite a bit a of difficulty in doing that, and sticking with it. On the other hand, if the medication gets rid of the symptoms, the individual would probably have far more success eating healthy and exercising, or addressing any other issue that may be the cause of their depression. We don't tell people to get over a heart attack or chastise those who take medicine to help with cardiac problems, we deal with the symptoms as best we can, and then we deal with the cause once we get the symptoms in check.

Now to make some wild and likely inaccurate generalizations. I frequently get the feeling that people who rally against mental health medication have the mindset of "It's their fault, and it's just because they're weak, they should just stop being lazy, buck up and get over it like I would instead of cheating and taking pills for it." or even think that they deserve it due to some unknown choice they made and should have to deal with the consequences.

Honestly, even if it was "cheating" to take a pill, and people could just get over depression if they tried hard enough, why the hell is that a problem? I'd have no qualms "cheating" and taking a medication that improved my cognition, abilities, health, or anything else even if there was no issue with it in the first place. I know I'm just knocking down my own strawman here, but isn't that the whole point of technology? We create new things so that we longer have to waste our time and effort doing things "the hard way". Why is it any different when that optimization benefits our body or mind instead of our computer? Pshh, smart phones, get over your laziness and hand deliver letters to whoever you wanna talk to, don't cheat and take the easy way out. You got hit by a drunk driver? Well that's your fault for driving, you should've just walked 30 miles through the woods instead. And now you want to go to the hospital too? Why don't you just buck up and walk on your broken leg, no one else has a problem walking. And don't give me that paralyzed crap, everyone else seems to be able to walk just fine, you just want attention. Getting surgery is the easy way out.


If you have headaches everyday, ibuprofen is not gotta cut it, you should have a doctor look for a tumor. Likewise, if the cerebral region responsible for releasing Dopamin and Serotonin, or whatever else is not functioning as intended in depressive people, would shrink, like an untrained muscle, supplementing with medication only helps so far, when it doesn't stop the shrinkage. I say shrinkige, because I don't know a proper explanation, mind you. Now, if there is nothing else to doctor about, it's well better than nothing, but it isn't the end of the story. Yes, lack of exercise can lead to a weak body, which feels uncomfortable, sports are a great way to exercise thought as well.

> think that they deserve it due to some unknown choice they made and should have to deal with the consequences

That's the conservative approach. If the depression comes from social interactions, there has to be another side of the coin, this is it.

> Honestly, even if it was "cheating" to take a pill

In the context above, it's a masquerade and can make the interaction even more difficult, because besides the obvious symptoms, there are probably others as well.

Also, a certain fear of medication based on ignorance is there, I won't deny that I don't know.


BNW even shows that. There perception is blunted, they have no empathy and childlike curiosity, showing that they are unable to deal with changes in their environment. It seems good, but they are not prepared for an eventual storm in paradise and lack informed opinion. It's not very fictive, either, just a crass generalization.

It's surprising so many on HN would


You hit on something interesting here.

With a few exceptions, everyone on this site experienced childhood without the barrage of information and sensations that is the Internet.

It is scary to imagine how children who from birth have been trained to always look for entertainment through iPad games and the need to always be connected - how that might affect them. I suspect this is an overblown concern, people probably said the same when the television became a staple in society and human beings are adaptable. Still, children are especially malleable at that age, the impact modern technology will have on them is...interesting.


> people probably said the same when the television became a staple in society

I personally witnessed people saying the same thing about TV after it had become a staple in society. I suspect that earlier that they said the same thing about radio.


The problem I have with this is that a historical maximum in the prescriptions for behavior controlling drugs doesn't seem to imply that society is any closer to BNW. Obtaining complete control over society through the use of drugs is significantly more challenging than simply giving every citizen a prescription.


A comic that juxtaposes then nicely:

http://www.juxtapoz.com/current/huxley-vs-orwell-in-graphic-...

I strongly feel that BNW is more realistic. Neither will play out in entirety, but we are certainly addicts of our opioid receptors.


The problem with this juxtaposition is that it leads one down the path of thinking each topic is a mutually exclusive all-or-nothing affair. From the perspective of an upper middle class software developer who is paid six figures to create cutely-named CRUD websites and reload Hacker News, it certainly feels like we're primarily victims of distraction. From the perspective of someone else who isn't an economic sure-bet and can't simply throw money at problems, the ever-invasive systems of control they run into are much more non-voluntary and absolute.

I'm certainly not arguing that the world should be viewed solely through the eyes of the lowest classes - I think this can result in focusing on zero-sum solutions that invariably invite more tentacles of control into our everyday lives. But looking at such perspectives is a good way to get over the initial "soft controls" and see that there definitely is a system of "hard controls" backing them up.


I think BNW is tier 1, first line of defense against control resistance, and 1984 is tier 2, for those that are able to resist the controls of the first tier. The Internet in its original form prevented tier 2 from existing, but it is gradually moving toward becoming controlled.


I came here to make sure someone had posted a link to that comic. Thanks.


I always find it ironic that this comic gets posted on blogspammy content farms, but this one seems to be not so bad.


It is beautiful that that link was blocked by the corporate firewall.


>it describes how the system must allow some non hereditary class movement. If the class system is too rigid, pressure builds up as talented individual press against the ceiling. If some are allowed to progress and there are prominent examples the class system becomes less explicit and more stable.

Just like Whitman, Price, and Haddad[1]!

[1]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLlVa6HjV8k


But... last season winners?


Brave New World is already here to some extent largely due to the work of Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays. The excellent documentary "The Century of the Self" explains this better than I ever could: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Century_of_the_Self.

Overview from Wikipedia: "This series is about how those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy." —Adam Curtis'

Edward Bernays also wrote a book titled Propaganda and he invented the term Public Relations.

From wikipedia:

Edward Louis Bernays was an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, referred to in his obituary as "the father of public relations". He combined the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud. He felt this manipulation was necessary in society, which he regarded as irrational and dangerous as a result of the "herd instinct" that Trotter had described.

In Propaganda he wrote:

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind."

You don't need to look far to see how hedonism, particularly through television programs like American Idol and ESPN*, have supplanted the laymans need for government involvement. I see no better example of hedonism than the fact that the word 'Selfie' was awarded 'Word of the Year' by the Oxford dictionary last year: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24992393. I work at Disney and when I look to the television monitors I see ‘inspirational’ quotes that tell me that selfishness is desirable. In particular, I have learned that ’mephobia’ is defined as the 'Fear of becoming so awesome that the human race can't handle it and everyone dies.' Disgusting…


Upvoted for Century of Self. Everyone in the industrialized world should watch it.

Although I will add that Freud's theories are only one part of it. The documentary really exposes a vast plethora of social control techniques.


Agreed - Century of Self is fantastic.

Along the same lines as Noam Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent". The book is great, and there's a documentary from 92: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzufDdQ6uKg


Ah, I had forgotten about Manufacturing Consent. That is an excellent documentary as well. I have the book but I haven't yet read it.


>I work at Disney and when I look to the television monitors I see ‘inspirational’ quotes that tell me that selfishness is desirable.

What's that got to do with your workplace?

Selfishness is desire. It has just the negative meaning because it is either considered rude to call others selfish unless it's too much selfishness, or because it is a common selfishness, at which point it's only selfish against a third party. Just my interpretation.


Perhaps encouraging narcissism would be a better way to phrase that. Our society seems to be increasingly encouraging this type of behaviour...


I think the true genius of the modern age is that both approaches are used in the modern world.


"Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it." -Orwell


> In particular, it describes how the system must allow some non hereditary class movement. If the class system is too rigid, pressure builds up as talented individual press against the ceiling.

Thats basiclly lenins great innovation. If you look at the leaders of the USSR, you will see people from all around the empire, while in the older system you would have the older familly based fudalism.

The soviet dream, get into the low levels of the party, work yourself up. That was not possible befor.


Huxely's mechanisms of Soma, infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis feel less real.

Marijuana legalization is Soma. We don't need as many workers any more, and pot will help to keep the drones passive.


I'll assume you don't know any adults who smoke. I know a number of startup founders who do (myself not included) and work their asses off. They are not being passive.


"Working your ass off" and "being passive" are utterly orthogonal when discussing societal control.

Weed does seem to foster novel insights about longstanding things, but when it wears off the thoughts don't seem so coherent or actionable - imho. Then again I only smoke occasionally and socially, and haven't really tried eg coding while high.

I personally think all laws against drugs are immoral. But I see the present absorption of marijuana into the status quo and can only lament "not like this" - counterculture sucking up to power via taxes, regulatory complexity increasing rather than simply being erased, and persecution of other drugs even stepping up (not that I really want to see anybody putting needles in their arm. but public health, not societal banhammer). Feel good rationalizations like "change is slow" only make sense if you aren't simultaneously taking multiple steps back in other areas, and focusing on one substance seems quite myopic.


If you do know people who smoke it goes both ways. There's a lot of people that marijuana really does just kill their desire to do anything productive (though I can say the same thing about videogames or a number of other things).

On the other hand, I don't know too many people where pot has had the reverse effect, and increased their drive. It does seem to have a numbing effect, broadly speaking.

Not saying I completely agree with the OP's sentiment, though.


Loosing the desire is second place. Excruciatingly, the ability is lost. It's a narcotic, mind numbing indeed. It has negative effects on aspiration, leading to decreased levels of oxygen.

Loosing desire is just a way to cope, switching one activity for the other, as both can't be combined. I am convinced the addictive effect, the positive connotation people allude to it are largely placebo.


And you don't know Soma, do you? Work and pass out, rinse, repeat. Yeah, no, thank you.

>(myself not included)

You are not per chance paranoid or subconsciously ashamed?


This is wrong. In the book Soma is described to have roughly the positive effects of alcohol, without the negative consequences.


Soma's definitely not like alcohol, or pot for that matter.

Soma is described as being able to take a few grams and experience an eternity of time within a few hours. It sounds more like an intense psychedelic.


The notion of psychedelic drugs is a convolution of terms, not very surprisingly, considering the adverse effects drugs have on the users who'd describe the effects. Huxley used LSD for example.

The term you are looking for is trance. Think of those manic church sessions, where people feel all so connected to god and go stark raving mad. Psychedelic trance can be achieved playing music or through meditation, as well.


It doesn't matter what Soma 'is'. As someone responded below, maybe it's religion. Maybe it's smartphones with endless social notifications. Maybe it's Farmville and similar internet addiction patterns. Sure, pot addiction might get you there too. It doesn't have to be just one thing, as long as it leads you to becoming a complacent, passive pawn unwilling to think past immediate gratification.


I'd just like to say that Disneyland has always felt like BNW to me. In that sense, it seems more realistic, because I've experienced something like it in today's society.


Brave New World is satire. It's _supposed_ to be over the top.


Satire is humorous in mind.

Edit: Maybe It is funny if you get the message and I just don't get the kind of dark humor, though.


Satire and humor are independent of each other.


You may want to check out the TV adaptation with Keir Dullea, which was quite funny. It showed me the humour that was running under the surface of the novel.


>Huxely's mechanisms of [...] infant conditioning [...] feel[s] less real

One word: Circumcision. Do I need to explain?


>science-fiction

yeah, right. Which invention was there in the books, that seemed unlikely at the time and that had a significa t impact on the story?

Drugs, microphones, cameras, TVs were basically an old hat at the time, like 50 years past for television and the phone, not comparing consumer articles. The stretch from widely available radio to TV is not a big one.

The control and deception, dissociation and assimilation likewise. 1984 was the time of WW2 no less. What do you know about the situation in some hidden archipellagos somewhere in Oceania.

BNW i found much less irritating, though it is not far from reality either. The only take away for me was sociatal exclusion, soma and population control through distraction. Enough in my bookkeeping, but not much science is involved.


At the time of this letter, Aldous Huxley was very into 'Animal Magnetism' and Hypnotism (read his novel 'Island' to see his utopian vision for such things). He seems to somewhat overrate their potence. 65 years later Animal Magnetism is long forgotten and hypnotism is slightly helpful for giving up smoking or being a bit less angry.

I feel sorry for past thinkers who could only stumble upon ideas from books and digest them one at a time, rather than instantly find the history and connections and evidence and counter-arguments for an idea as we can now.


Yes, what a horrid fate to have the weeks and months needed to think ideas through. How horrible to go to a library to find what you need. The sheer inhumanity of going 20 minutes without compulsively checking a glowing screen because you feel restless.


Yes, what a horrid fate to have the weeks and months needed to think ideas through.

Thing is, thinking ideas through on your own sometimes doesn't help much. For ideas to really develop, they need dialogue, and experimentation and evidence, and for people to communicate with each other. IMHO People who are left to think about things on their own for too long can become defensive and obsessed with their own ideas and end up in dead ends, like Huxley did with his ideas about drug-enhanced hypnotism.

The internet is like a Large Hadron Collider for Ideas.

How horrible to go to a library to find what you need.

Well, frankly yes I find the notion of going to a physical location to find out simple bits of knowledge pretty horrible. You really shouldn't underestimate the immense potential we now have to access knowledge very quickly. Its fashionable to disparage it but frankly I think its a wonder of the modern world.

The sheer inhumanity of going 20 minutes without compulsively checking a glowing screen because you feel restless

"Haha they made a handheld device that contains all human knowledge and now we make fun of each other for looking at it too much" https://twitter.com/Arr/status/309565153924505601


This comment is equally useful as its predecessor!


I think the problem with Huxleys predictions come from his not realizing how blunt an instrument narcotics are... Fine work and subtle tweaks are beyond our power (just look at the side effects)... Using drugs to adjust personality is like using a sledgehammer to rearrange porcelain figurines. Not that we might not get there of course.... but we'll have many years of boots stomping on faces in the interim.


What about all those anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and ADHD drugs ?

Many students I know were on ADHD drugs even though they didn't really need it.

Many professionals are on anti-anxiety and anti-depressants now too...


While true, it's a pretty uniquely American problem. Not many other countries even allow for prescription medicine to be advertised to consumers.


Mass obesity was also a pretty uniquely American problem, until it wasn't.


Well yes, but both are because America exports its problems.


I actually agree with some of the other commenters in this thread: Huxley's dystopia is, well, far less dystopian than Orwell's. Or, in a more nuanced look, Huxley's book suffers an unfortunate dichotomy: the things that are bad are not realistic and the things that are realistic are not bad.

The legitimately dystopian part of Brave New World are often technical in nature—effectively mind control through drugs and a caste system propped up by genetic engineering. These don't just require advances in technology but also a surprising level of social organization. Where 1984 feels like a continuous progression from a Soviet Union that never collapsed, these core parts of Brave New World comes of as discontinuous, a jump both socially and technically.

And without these extreme social and technical changes, it stops being a dystopia. If not for the eugenics, genetics and soma, it sounds like a nice place to live! Freer sex, freer entertainment, more automation, more leisure... It's radical, certainly, but not in a bad way—a radical departure from our current almost Puritan work ethic and our obsession with certain abstractions (the poorly defined "real vs superficial", "honor", "the dignity of work"¹...etc) sounds like just what we need.

I like giving people what they want, even if I think it's shallow or superficial. Then again, I've never been one to treat hedonism as a bad word.

That cartoon people like to pass around really captures my thoughts—in a way that's opposite to its intended message! It shows how some of the believable things in Brave New World are believable, but never shows why they're bad. It just assumes, and ties into cultural ideas (like "hard work is good" or "your life must have meaning") that many people don't question. But it misses the mark because it ignores the parts that are not plausible but actually created the dystopian environment.

The cartoon (much more than the book itself) is also a bit grating because I sense some condescending overtones. "Look at all those people who don't care about the world but just distract themselves with popular entertainment. How shallow!" Obviously you, the reader, do not belong to this group. And hey, I don't disagree per se—I think most popular distractions are shallow and have much better alternatives—but I also think there's nothing inherently wrong with enjoying them. I mean, I follow the news, I care about recent events and where does it get me? Nowhere. I guess I could vote² a bit better, but all it's done is sour me on all major candidates. Is this meaningfully better than comfortable ignorance? No, but people tell me it is. And here I am.

Really, Brave New World minus the implausible bits and with a larger dash of individual freedom thrown in is pretty much as far from dystopian as it can get. Radical, certainly, and jarring—very different from our current social order—but fundamentally good. It feels like it's just a few exaggerated risks thrown in to make leisure and entertainment seem crass and indolent. 1984, on the other hand, doesn't feel all that different from my parents' tales about the Soviet Union.

I know which one I'm more afraid of!

footnotes

¹ I've always really disliked this phrase. It's one part rationalization and one part a way to keep people down and working even if they don't want to. Doing something menial or boring or easily automatable just for the sake of working is not my picture of dignity!

² Haha, no I can't, because I'm not a citizen. So I'd have to become a citizen first. It doesn't matter, but it is annoying.


"If not for the eugenics, genetics and soma, it sounds like a nice place to live! Freer sex, freer entertainment, more automation, more leisure... It's radical, certainly, but not in a bad way"

Well, it's all fun and games if you happen to win the genetic dice roll and end up as an Alpha. I imagine it's considerably less fun if you're a Gamma.

More to the point, the world in Brave New World isn't dystopian on account of torture suffered, atrocities committed, or free expression squelched, a la 1984. The real horror of Brave New World is the complete reduction of the human race to a soulless, animalistic state. Or a robotic state, if you prefer that sort of analogy.

The humanity we encounter in Brave New World is a dead end: artistically, culturally, technologically, philosophically, and evolutionarily. This humanity will never reach beyond its comfort zone to achieve anything else. It will never colonize the solar system, or explore the stars. It will never make brilliant art, or profound discoveries. It will never question anything, and because it will never question anything, it will never improve itself. If you believe that humanity's crown jewel is its capacity for self-improvement and progress, then the world in Brave New World is a severely bleak one. It is a vision of the human race infantilized, neutered, and forever trapped in that infant state. (If there are any ihyperintelligent beings out there, bent on conquering Earth and rendering humanity a null threat, Brave New World reads like a perfect playbook).

On a visceral level, sure, I suppose I'd rather live in Huxley's dystopia than in Orwell's. That doesn't make Huxley's vision any less scary for me. Big Brother puts us in a cage; Huxley's society convinces us the cage doesn't exist.

From the standpoint of literary merit, 1984 is the superior book. But that's a whole different discussion, and I digress.


As the grand parent, i also see the society of Brave New World as much less dystopian than usually portrayed.

> Well, it's all fun and games if you happen to win the genetic dice roll and end up as an Alpha. I imagine it's considerably less fun if you're a Gamma.

Yes, from the external point of view of a book reader, i would prefer to "win the genetic dice roll". But if i were decanted as a Gamma, i wouldn't mind, i wouldn't prefer to be an Alpha, with all that complex work they do, i'd prefer my simpler life. The casts system in BNW works only because the members of each cast feel happy to belong to their cast.

> It will never question anything, and because it will never question anything, it will never improve itself.

This is actually why i think the vision of Huxley in BNW is not as dystopian as 1984 [spoilers of both books ahead!]: they not only not kill or get rid of the free thinkers (Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson) as they do in 1984, they actually send them to an island with an environment more suitable for their mental fostering, thus allowing new ideas to be born, and maybe very very gradually be introduced in the society.

Yeah, it's quite a bummer that no radical improvement can happen; the society could stuck in a local maximum. But it's a trade-off for stability, peace and abundance.

Would Huxley live today, i'd wager his vision of BNW would not include such a restrictive casts system. BNW's society had a great desire for efficiency, so it is expected that they would use computers to thoroughly automate as much labor as possible. And with that thorough automation, there'd be no need for conditioning humans to accept and do the worst kinds of labors that Deltas, Gammas and Epsilons do.

I guess the means of control applied to higher casts would still "make sense" in order to maintain social stability, which is rather discomforting. But without the restrictive casting system, that future doesn't seem as bleak.


Isn't this basically an endorsement of the caste system and a form of slavery?

Huxley's society functions largely because no one questions their role in it. Gammas have no aspiration to rise up because theu have been coached to not have any aspirations.

Thus doesn't this form of society rob humans of the ony characteristic that separates them from animals?The ability to think, reason and make decisions for themselves. A world where humans cannot and ARE NOT allowed to think for themselves is definitely a horrible dystopia.

At least in 1984 some humans still have the ability to think for themselves. In BNW they have no choice in the matter, unless of course they are born with the ability, which again resembles the relative freedom of the Party members from 1984. Come to think of it, the upper echelons of both societies employ a sort of doublethink, whereby they convince themselves that what they are doing is correct.

There really isn't much difference between the two societies, in 1984 the commoners get to fuck and entertain themselves as they wish, and the same goes for society in BNW.


We already have a caste system, in the form of unearned wealth, and that divide is increasing rapidly.

I think that media, public discourse, entertainment and most especially industrial schooling are already tuned to condition people to accept servility to capital. There's a whole economic religion set up to perpetuate the superiority of the top 1% of the capitalist caste.

There's more to it, but it's not a conspiracy, it's not a conscious thing, but it is an emergent properly of the system we've set up, and individual incentives exist that perpetuate the system.

I think it's unstable - the trends observed by Piketty cannot continue for more than a few more decades without significant risk of social upheaval. But for now, the system is fairly unassailable, and it is very like BNW already.


I think you mean undeserved wealth, via inheritance, rent-seeking and downright theft. The wealth was created and actually earned by someone.

The sheer number of sports/movie stars, well-off politicians and entrepreneurs in the US with humble beginnings don't give weight to your claim. Sure, there might be a top "caste" that controls who can belong to that "caste", and very much tries to use the law to protect their collective wealth, but they don't have much control on the rest of the population's "caste mobility": http://www.verisi.com/resources/prosperity-upward-mobility.h...


I'm not worried about "undeserved" wealth or lack of mobility, I'm worried about increasing inequality.

It doesn't matter if there's a different 1% every year, if 1% owns 90+% of the wealth - and that's where trends are headed.

I think "deserved" wealth often isn't; a lot of it is luck of birth and opportunity, and more of it is being in a position of leverage to earn more by being high up in a hierarchy. But even if it is fully "deserved", it is still problematic.

What does "deserved" even mean in this context, anyway? It is not enough for wealth to be gotten by moral means, "deserved" must reflect a judgement by society as a whole, that everyone is in aggregate and justly better off by rewarding any particular person their particular share of everyone's future production (viewing wealth as a claim on future production).


I think you first have to clearly define what aspects your trying to maximise. Maximising "happiness" doesn't seem to be viable, because you can just suggest that the human brain will be modified such that it will be happy whatever it does.

So, the first question in my mind, is to define what characteristics you want to maximise in society. Without such a set of characteristics it's hard to say "this social structure is better".

I also think it's unlikely that a clear consensus on this metric can be found. That is, if it is even meaningful to create one.


Human obsolescence wasn't on Huxley's mind.

Instead of Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons doing awful labour, they will do none.

While CGP Grey has a very consumer-oriented view, it's quite compelling. www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU


Technologic/scientific achievements don't hold any intrinsic meaning. It's like saying you make art for art's sake instead of for an audience. That's the same as saying there's no point to your work. I can achieve great things in chess, but I don't squander my life obsessed with chess, because no one in the real world cares. But someone can play football instead, and it's not a waste of time because with it comes status, money, and so on. You're saying humans are going to stop being competitive. And if we're relieved of the nagging sense that we have to achieve something, you could consider that a cure.


"Technologic/scientific achievements don't hold any intrinsic meaning. It's like saying you make art for art's sake instead of for an audience. That's the same as saying there's no point to your work."

I'm not sure I follow your logic from sentence A to sentence C here. I think I get what you're saying, but you kind of lose me on the point about "That's the same as saying there's no point to your work." Are you suggesting I've made a statement whose logical outcome is "There's no point to your work?"

"You're saying humans are going to stop being competitive."

That's not really what I said. I said humans in Huxley's world are going to stop trying. Trying, full stop. We can fill in the blank however we wish: trying to explore; trying to create; trying to question; trying to answer; trying to figure out; trying to obtain; trying to..., etc. Sure, I guess you could fit "compete" in there, but competition was not the crux of my point.

"And if we're relieved of the nagging sense that we have to achieve something, you could consider that a cure."

It's not about a "nagging sense that we have to achieve something." It's about a nagging sense that we can improve our lot beyond its current state, whatever that state happens to be. Maybe we can and maybe we can't. But we try, and over time, we usually do. It's not that the trying holds any intrinsic meaning -- and you'll notice that I've been very careful to avoid words like "meaning," which I find squishy and soft for arguments like these. Rather, it's that trying has a chance at improving our circumstances in some measurable way.

Even if you remove "meaning" from the act of trying, you can still place a value on trying. That value, very simply put, is the expected value of whatever you're trying to do/build/make/learn/achieve, plus any ancillary achievements/learnings/accomplishments/etc. along the way. (Recognizing, of course, that progress is not teleological or deterministic!)

Let's take this a step further, though. Let's play with the assumption that a life of care-free leisure is perfectly fine, if not exemplary. Ok. Then isn't a life of superior leisure and more entertainment even better? The citizens of Huxley's world -- at least the privileged Alphas -- have it pretty good, from a purely hedonic standpoint. But certainly they could have it even better. They never will, because they've lost their ability to wonder what "better" might be. That wonderment, even absent any intrinsic value, is still a very valuable thing to have lost.

Even if we evaluate Brave New World's society from a purely utilitarian standpoint, we conclude that society can do better. For example: a society based on pure leisure and entertainment, just as in BNW, but in which there are no subordinate/slave classes. That would be an improvement, I'd think.


This back and forth reiterates why I like BNW so much more. For some people it is just simply not a dystopia, yet for others it seems so much worse than Airstrip One because at least in 1984 there is still ambition and motivation, albeit aggressively quashed, but with a fundamental inability of the party to just violently stop everyone from trying.


I think that the ingsoc could simply stop anyone from trying to escape, they are so confident in this, that they go way ahead and make them fundamentally change their view to one of compliance, it's not out of strict necessity (although the system does benefit from it), but rather because they can do it.


I think you missed the whole point of the book. If you were a gamma, you would like being a gamma, and wouldn't want to be an alpha. The only reason you feel the way you do now from the outside is because you are pretentious enough to fancy yourself an alpha.


> Really, Brave New World minus the implausible bits and with a larger dash of individual freedom thrown in is pretty much as far from dystopian as it can get. Radical, certainly, and jarring—very different from our current social order—but fundamentally good.

And that's why Brave New World is far more frightening: an educated, intelligent person looks at it now and thinks, 'that's not so bad!'


Then it should be easy to argue the point instead of offering feigned surprise that someone might think that way.


Good and bad are fundamentally subjective. If you look at BNW and think "that's not so bad", we;ll just have to agree to disagree.


But now the "intellectuals" (like OP) who have the power are drastically far removed from the common person, and thus their opinions of good and evil are harmful.


What's even more frightening is we're getting both.


No, we got Snow Crash instead.


Snow crash had an emphasis on corporation habitats, and scrutiny of employees. I believe that was it, care to elaborate?


I was thinking of the globalization, cyberpunk, collapse of social/governmental authority, widespread poverty, and cyberpunk.


Yeah wow I need to get off Hacker News. These are scary hive-mind hedonistic ideas.


I think comparing Brave New World to 1984 misses a bit of the point. The books came out near each other and deal with similar themes, so they very often get compared to each other. But they are also significant and important books in isolation.

Yes, BNW is a better dystopia to live in than 1984. But... it's still a dystopia. Free thinkers are socially ostracized, personal preferences (outside a certain set) are ignored, personal destiny is decided at conception (one case where the world of 1984 is preferable). It's a shocking world, and one that I wouldn't want to live in.

And inevitably, the discussion revolves around the fact that it's not as bad as 1984. As if "actually only the second-worst dystopia in classic fiction" is anything but damning.

Having a dystopia-off distracts from a significant part of the value that these works have to us as members of a society: There is more than one road to hell (and more than one hell to reach). 1984 shows an example of a possible future, why it is bad, and how it got that way. BNW shows an example of a very different future, why it is bad, and (less clearly) how it got that way. They give useful common ideas for possible outcomes of current actions. While BNW is preferable to 1984, it still shows that avoiding a 1984 outcome as hard as you can is not enough because there are other ways that freedom can be destroyed. To simply say "I would prefer my freedom be destroyed in one of these two ways" is not the most useful thing one can take away from reading these two books.


> our obsession with certain abstractions (the poorly defined "real vs superficial", "honor", "the dignity of work"¹...etc)

Let's conjugate together: "I understand X, you believe Y, they are obsessed with certain poorly defined abstractions T, U and V" (after the old saw: "I am erotic, you are kinky, they are perverted").

You reel off things like "Freer sex, freer entertainment, more automation, more leisure" as if all these things are an a priori universal good while values that you don't prize are wrapped up in a snarky prelude (people are apparently "obsessed" with "certain abstractions" that are "poorly defined"). Later on other people's ideas about the meaningfulness of life are presented as "cultural ideas" that "many people" don't question. Hilariously, you then go on to sense "condescending overtones" in a cartoon....

To quote the Dude: "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

I don't doubt from your perspective that Huxley's dystopia doesn't sound so bad. I think that tells us more about you than it does about Huxley's dystopias.


> The legitimately dystopian part of Brave New World are often technical in nature—effectively mind control through drugs and a caste system propped up by genetic engineering. These don't just require advances in technology but also a surprising level of social organization. Where 1984 feels like a continuous progression from a Soviet Union that never collapsed, these core parts of Brave New World comes of as discontinuous, a jump both socially and technically.

These seems like crazy steps in our modern society, but keep in mind, Huxley was writing this in 1931. Eugenics were something readily embraced by the upper classes. The Soviet Union gravitated towards the totalitarian state it was, but at that time, it wouldn't have been crazy to imagine a government (imagine a less jingoistic Germany, with all the creativity and efficiency), creating something very much like what Huxley envisions. In fact, had the West not had the ongoing competition with the totalitarian Soviet Union, the capitalist impulses could have merged with a much larger government, and the United States, or Continental European powers could have turned into something like that. Constant conflict both militarily and ideologically may have been the only thing that prevented it.

> It's also a bit grating because I sense some condescending overtones. "Look at all those people who don't care about the world but just distract themselves with popular entertainment. How shallow!" Obviously you, the reader, do not belong to this group.

You may be right, but that's probably not fair to Huxley. In writing his book, he was speaking directly to his readers, trying to convince them that they were not so different from the utopia which he mocks.

> And hey, I don't disagree per se—I think most popular distractions are shallow and have much better alternatives—but I also think there's nothing inherently wrong with enjoying them. I mean, I follow the news, I care about recent events and where does it get me? Nowhere. I guess I could vote² a bit better, but all it's done is sour me on all major candidates. Is this meaningfully better than comfortable ignorance? No, but people tell me it is. And here I am.

But here's the thing. At that stage, you have two choices. Either realize that our societies are flawed and struggle to do something about it, whether you can turn the tide or not, or take the soma, act like the world is okay (in the West, or own small worlds often are perfectly fine), and do nothing. What is disconcerting about our society, and similar to Brave New World, is apathy and consumerism have caused a lot of people (not necessarily you), to fall into the latter column, which could very easily lead to 1984.


> departure from ... our obsession with certain abstractions (the poorly defined "real vs superficial", "honor", "the dignity of work"¹...etc)

That's easy to say in California, but not New England. Mental models give one the ability to plan ahead, and are necessarily based on heuristics. Winter is coming.

Some specific heuristics, and the ways they are interpreted, are a bit outdated. But it sounds like you're advocating for letting go of independent moralistic thought, and going along with the flow of what feels good.

> It's also a bit grating because I sense some condescending overtones. "Look at all those people who don't care about the world but just distract themselves with popular entertainment. How shallow!" Obviously you, the reader, do not belong to this group ... I mean, I follow the news, I care about recent events and where does it get me? Nowhere

I take the opposite analysis - World events are a stratum of popular entertainment, and politicians are just a different set of celebrities. Each focused topic makes you feel a way, but it's ultimately tourism because your opinion on something that will not affect you and that you have no input to does not matter. Any discussion of topics where an intelligent decision could actually be reached ultimately get lost in the noise and clamped to one of two choices. Voting itself has devolved into a team sport where you channel all your built up outrage at the "other people" who are messing up the world, but it ultimately just signals assent to the entire system.

My two main points do seem a bit at odds, and I think the second is what causes people to depart from the first. They don't want to be like the people who cling to the first yet deny the second and thus spend their time shouting at the TV, especially as we all now carry self-activating TVs in our pockets. But I think the resolution is embodied in phrases such as "be the change you want to see in the world", "cypherpunks write code", etc. (Not that any mantra is free of problems, but I digress..)


> it sounds like you're advocating for letting go of independent moralistic thought, and going along with the flow of what feels good.

What has moralistic thought ever done for us? No, seriously. Moral titans don't normally do good things because they've thought about it, they do it because they feel like it. Ethics professors IIRC behave less ethically in real life than their peers. Human moral instincts are pretty sound. While I'm usually all for a careful analysis, in this particular field it doesn't seem to have paid off.


I rather like this interpretation, actually. But I'm still going to try disagreeing.

Speaking more broadly, Orwell portrays a world where the freedoms of people are forcibly oppressed, whereas Huxley portrays a world where they are willingly oppressed. The people in Brave New World are more caught up in (what Huxley might call) a shallow culture, disinterested in the real world. This view does not seem so far fetched after all. Looking at the modern world, how easy it is to turn a blind eye to the troubles of far off countries when you are living in relative comfort?

Fahrenheit 451 is interesting novel to consider from this point of view as well, as I think it portrays a middle ground between these two extremes.


"The legitimately dystopian part of Brave New World are often technical in nature—effectively mind control through drugs and a caste system propped up by genetic engineering. "

"Caste system via selective breeding," actually. If you believe Charles Murray, that's what we have now. We also have some huge fraction of the population taking soma pills, and while the words "father and mother" are not yet considered dirty words, we're half way there. I submit the reason you don't consider BNW a dystopia would be the uncomfortable realization that this is more or less the world we live in, minus the enlightened caste of "alphas."


I think your main point is wrong. It might be that some of the technological advancements are still (73 years after it was written) unrealistic, but they are not what makes the world 'bad': They are just tools to bring the ideas about caste and class to their extremes, and make them clearer that way.

I would agree though that not all aspects of the 'dystopian world' are bad, and it's very interesting to read his utopian book Island, that definitely embraces drug and hedonism, but in a different way.


it's the 'ol Cypher talking about liking steak in the matrix .. scary.


>"things that are realistic are not bad"

Are they not realistic to us because we already exist in a kind of Huxleyan dystopia and therefore we simply perceive them as not bad?


You've bought in to Brave New World. You love your servility, and have abandoned aspirations of freedom.


Neil Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death is a great continuation of this topic. I only wish they were still around to see how right they were.


Good point. It's an excellent book.

I also thought of Mark Crispin Miller's re-vision of the parallels between Orwell's 1984 and TV advertising culture, in his essay, "Big Brother is You, Watching" [1]. It's a long essay but it is very insightful on the current significance of Orwell's book. Just substitute "internet" for "TV" and you can update it to today.

[1] http://books.google.com/books?id=Lhsg1ZZ3hMQC&pg=PA331&lpg=P... (and scroll up to the start of the chapter)


Excellent recommendation. I'm reading it now.


I think Neil Postman wrote the most concise examination of this topic in the foreword to "Amusing Ourselves to Death"[1]:

"We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. 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."

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Amusing-Ourselves-Death-Discourse-Busi...


I've always believed that Huxley was closer in regards to the wealthy and upper middle class of society, whereas Orwell's predictions appear to line up better with the experiences of the poor and lower middle.


I think Huxley hit some interesting notes for those with lower income levels, especially if you consider consider cheap entertainment and junk food to be opiates. As far as sexual mores, marriage rates are at an all-time low, and pornography is basically free.


Something I realized only recently regarding Brave New World and 1984: the former is a criticism of its own society, that is, Western commercialism, capitalism, entertainment, and escapism. The latter is a criticism of the other society, that is, Soviet Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist Communism.

From the point of view that criticism of your own enemy is often far easier to swallow than criticism of yourself, it isn't quite so surprising that 1984 is the more popular and better-known work.

Both are tremendously prescient.

As noted elsewhere in comments, Neil Postman, particularly Amusing Ourselves to Death, continues Huxley's critique. Postman himself is very strongly influenced by (and studied under) Marshall McLuhan. You'll also find this theme in Jason Benlevi's Too Much Magic, and other more recent works.


The foreword to _Amusing Ourselves to Death_ (which I haven't read otherwise) does a fair job of comparing _Brave New World_ and _Nineteen Eighty-Four_:

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.


I think the central thesis of BNW, insofar as it is relevant to western societies and their possible futures, is that escapism is bad in excess.

In the information age, access to entertainment is utterly unfettered, and it's shockingly easy at times to get caught in a dopamine loop (example: Zynga, candy crush). While this is, I believe, a valid concern, I find the conspiratorial aspects a little absurd. Claims that this is orchestrated specifically to prevent the unwashed masses seizing power describe such an undertaking so as to be unfeasible. We're in this position due to very, very, rapid changes in technology that as a society, we have yet to fully adapt to and understand.


I have always liked this excerpt from the video game Deus Ex. It to me foreshadows where the security state seems to be heading --- When one maniac can wipe out a city of twenty million with a microbe developed in his basement, a new approach to law enforcement becomes necessary. Every citizen in the world must be placed under surveillance. That means sky-cams at every intersection, computer-mediated analysis of every phone call, e-mail, and snail-mail, and a purely electronic economy in which every transaction is recorded and data-mined for suspicious activity. We are close to achieving this goal. Some would say that human liberty has been compromised, but the reality is just the opposite. As surveillance expands, people become free from danger, free to walk alone at night, free to work in a safe place, and free to buy any legal product or service without the threat of fraud. One day every man and woman will quietly earn credits, purchase items for quiet homes on quiet streets, have cook-outs with neighbors and strangers alike, and sleep with doors and windows wide open. If that isn't the tranquil dream of every free civilization throughout history, what is? -- Anna Navarre, Agent, UNATCO


Related, there's some very interesting connections between Huxley and MKULTRA, the CIA program that performed experiments on people with drugs (LSD) and hypnosis, among other things. So it appears that he was more than just an author, and actually a key player in pushing the Brave New World "agenda" forward.

https://webbrain.com/brainpage/brain/6FBA86B0-0C57-9FCA-5CF9...

Quoting his speech at UC Berkeley in 1962:

> If you are going to control any population for any length of time you must have some measure of consent. It’s exceedingly difficult to see how pure terrorism can function indefinitely. It can function for a fairly long time, but I think sooner or later you have to bring in an element of persuasion. An element of getting people to consent to what is happening to them. Well, it seems to me that the nature of the Ultimate Revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: that we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably always will exist, to get people actually to love their servitude!


Orwell's rulers seem to have a much more satisfying experience of ruling. I don't think it's enough to have mere control; I think "lust for power" implies a certain sadism. They want to be Trujillo[1] or Kim Jong Il[2] - someone to be respected, feared, and absolutely obeyed. The point of being Big Brother was to attain the pleasure of torturing Smith, inside and out. (It wouldn't surprise me, or anyone I think, if they killed Smith after all was said and done.)

Huxley discounts the pure pleasure of putting your boot on someone's face, of being able to raping anyone in your country at will (as Trujillo was particularly fond of doing). Intriguingly, I think it is this class of evil people that will actively prevent humanity from turning into the Brave New World cul-de-sac, since it represents a steady-state that absolutely denies the kind of sadism that they crave.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafael_Trujillo [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il


What? No, the despotism is part of the control as much as it is malevolence, control is the vehicle. Lack of a reason might as well be deception, or despair of Orwell, as he was writing the end in his last years in sickness after WW2.

I'd say Ignorance is Strengh


"Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience."


Why do people think that BNW represents a dystopia? The whole point of the work is that it is in fact a utopia or as close as you can get. The reason for this is to undermine the notion that one should even want to organize a society around happiness in the first place (undermining one of the central assumptions of nearly 2500 years of western political philosophy). To this end I think Huxley succeeds brilliantly. Furthermore he raises far deeper questions of what it means to be human in ways that Orwell simply does not address. Finally the fact that many identify his depiction of the future as dystopian is a good sign that he successfully gets readers to reevaluate their own thinking about what it means to live a fulfilling life, since I think almost all of us here would agree that the world Huxley depicts is in some ways thoroughly empty of any real fulfillment or achievement.


Also, a little known fact is that 1984 is essentially a remake of a 1924 novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin "We".


There are certainly enough similarities to make Orwell's review[1] in which he describes the plot of We as "rather weak" and suggests Huxley borrowed heavily from it rather uncharitable.

[1]http://theorwellprize.co.uk/george-orwell/by-orwell/essays-a...


Sadly, we are learning this is not an either-or proposition: it's perfectly logical that some elements of society will seek to narcoticize us while others worry about increasing our surveillance and control.

And the worst part? Both of these elements do these things because we ask them to.


The very worst enemy operates on the belief that they are helping you/the majority. The only way to win against such an enemy is to educate them on the error of their ways.

Support transparency. Support sunset clauses (continue to justify a thing is necessary). Support full accountability.


I love BNW. It is such an magnified representation of the post-war world. Like all literature, it's a metaphore, not to be taken too literally as a prophecy--although it was clearly a possibility in Huxley's mind. BNW may never be, but we're already there, in many ways. We are not clones, but we are expected to specialize, to identify with roles that aim to produce value, get paid, buy things, entertain ourselves, to feed the system and forget about it. It is a really seducing utopia--compared to the more openly overt dystopia of 1984, at least. Huxley, I believe, saw it coming and wanted to warn us about its costs and limitations.

People said about Aldous Huxley that he could have an in-depth conversation about virtually any subject. As a well read person, he was aware the current developments at the time in the fields of psychology, management and life sciences--to name a few. It is no surprise that he came to speculate about the rise of advertisement and human resources management, which turned psychology on its head by applying it as a tool to generate and maintain a compliant supply of consumers and producers before anything else. His utopia is one where life is ruled by convenience, from the crib to the death. The more alarmist speculations of managed births and intitutionalized overmedication are simply logical extensions of this philosophy. It may be too easy to just go along with it without asking ourselves if life shouldn't be about something else than finding purpose through our given social functions. There's something deeply tragic about BNW, which isn't so unfamilar and requires us to take a step back from such ideals. The questions it raises are terribly current to us.

BNW is far from perfect, but the last century showed us that Huxley was right. Most of us want to love their servitude, and we're willing to work pretty hard in order to do so. The spectre of 1984, of surveillance and repression, is mainly reserved for those who stray away from what's expected of us. It stands as a menace to keep us in check. When people occupy the streets or participate in activity that undermine the accepted order, only then does it show its ugly head. In a way, 1984 and BNW are complements to each other.


This comparison comes up fairly regularly in my circles, both online and offline, and my response is usually the same. Note that Huxley says, "Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World."

This is why my response is almost always that it is Brave New World for the people, and 1984 for anyone who dares resist.

And if you doubt the veracity of Huxley's claims about hypnosis, and other mental manipulations, just refer to MKULTRA and similar programs.

Another factor that most people don't like to hear about, because it leans too far on the side of "conspiracy theory", but the reason Huxley and Orwell both were so fearful of the coming future was because they were actually insiders of the power elite that has largely guided this progression. Orwell was trained at Eton college, and was a member of the Fabian society. Huxley was less involved, but from what I understand his younger days he did talk with Bertrand Russell, but as far as I can tell he didn't really interface with the elite, so I consider his point of view more independently insightful.

Now, at the risk of going off the deep end a bit, I would like to introduce HN readers to the origins of Orwell's Fabian society: The British East India Company. Overlap this with the secret "rings within rings" will of the Rothschild backed Cecil Rhodes (the goal of which was to establish and maintain anglosaxon dominance of the west), and the picture of the elite will make more sense. It was the Rhodes and Fabians behind the round table groups, including but not limited to, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and Committee of 300.

Unfortunately, I have found very few places on the internet where modern talk of this subject isn't quickly overrun with the less fact-based "conspiracy theories". I said in about 2009 to one of my British friends that this is why we are going to see an increasing attack on the internet (TPP anyone?). As the last bastion of free speech, it won't be allowed to stand unified much longer.

I'll end it on that note for now.


I'd recommend the BBC television play The Year of the Sex Olympics. Brave New World but tuned down to something more realistic, and astonishingly prophetic: in the 1960s, it predicts a society kept passive by media full of empty sex, and the invention of reality TV (semi-scripted, of course) to improve the process. I watched it in a group and at the end we just said "wow, it's all come true".


I think the climate in Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil is heading to a combination of both dystopias.

On one side, Chaves, Evo Morales and Lula assembled fantastic propaganda machines in order to ensure their respective parties continue in power. They claim that those countries are at war against the "imperialists".

On the other, they provide plenty of "soma" in the form of popular sport and music events and public subsidies.


I don't understand why everyone is obsessed with which of the novels got it right. I think both made amazing predictions as there's no the triviality culture (Facebook and narcissism) and a fearsome Big Brother (NSA, GCHQ...).

It would be better if we focus our energy on how we can help fix that before it's too late.


It's interesting Huxley addresses him as Mr. Orwell (a pen name) even though they knew each other personally.


Interesting. The "final revolution" that Huxley describes could also be called "the singularity" from transhumanism. In the end, we all become subservient to "the system" through our own choice. The system need not be run by humans.

The thing is, the indoctrination of children and coordinated use of psychotropic drugs as a means of control would be morally repugnant to a human. But for a non-human ruling class, morality does not apply and the efficiency argument makes more sense.

Obviously, neither of these men could have predicted computers the way they exist today. It is now plausible to think that a malicious AI could undermine our entire system of government without us knowing. No such AI exists today, but if it did, it would have near unfettered access to communications and data globally simply based on today's technology systems. The levers for control are already in place.

Ultimately, when the machines take over, it'll probably be because we willingly hand over the keys. What happens to us after that is anyone's guess.


> No such AI exists today

Do you have any reasoning to back up this assertion?

I see quite a number of self-modifying systems that are unintelligible to humans, unaccountable to others, and that exert significant control over the larger world. Whether these systems qualify as 'AI' seems like a question of how developed they are, and that seems like just a matter of time and available resources.


It's very interesting to consider what kind of social structures could eventuate in a post-scarcity society.


The obvious example of an extreme post-scarcity society is, of course, the Culture from the novels of Iain M. Banks.

Interesting to note the emphasis in both BNW and the Culture on drug taking. In the case of the culture their bodies are engineered to produce a wide variety of drugs on demand:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Culture

You could argue that the humans in the Culture are effectively kept as pets by the god-like AIs that run that civilization. However, this is probably less threatening than it sounds as the Culture seems to be quite open to people (or AIs) leaving for whatever reason and seems to be slightly reticent about encouraging immigration as they are aware that it looks like a form of disguised colonialism.


I looked up the names mentioned in the last paragraph and ended up on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_magnetism , which seems to me to be the Europeans' name for chi.

Funky stuff.


Here's a great comic comparing Orwell's and Huxley's ideas.

http://imgur.com/3lnAy1l


Nobody has found strange how two individuals with apparently common interests met? French lessons? For such cultivated men? Weird...


Interesting that Huxley refers to Orwell as Orwell instead of Mr Blair




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