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[I apologize. This is going to be long. In fact, when I finally worked the thing out, it was far, far too long, and I realized that I had a compound thesis, so this will be part one, which will be about Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984 and how easily misread the latter is. The next will be about how "1984" came true in 2003 and came to fullness in 2011.]

Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death begins with a TV-style teaser. He was invited to speak at the 1984 Frankfurt Book Fair, whose theme was Orwell's “1984.” He argued that Orwell had gotten it all wrong by predicting a small group seizing power and imposing its will on the rest in a conspiratorial replica of fascist/Stalinist methods. Instead, he argued that the real prophet had been Aldous Huxley, whose Brave New World had people sedating themselves into oblivion. That, he felt, was how the future had unfolded in the thirty-five years since 1984, and the drug, the Soma that the free world embraced in lieu of thought, was television. Neil Postman's book has a great many interesting observations and provocative statements, but his headline was as commercial and undeveloped as anything he would discuss in media.

Let us start with 1984 and dismiss some canards. First, the book was not a prophecy any more than Animal Farm was a story about animals. Reverse the last two numbers, and “1984” becomes “1948,” the time of Austerity. The BBC had already been nicknamed “Big Brother” by Eric Blair/George Orwell when he was working for it during the war, primarily for its paternal, familial comfort. Its cooperation with wartime intelligence and the government in general made Blair see its omnipresence in a dualistic light, as both friend and overseer. In other words, big brother BBC had become a necessary and willing daily adjunct for the people because of its news and entertainment, and then, later, as its ability to condense and control information had become clear (when things were not true until on the BBC), it had been co-opted by government. What Blair saw was the way that an accidentally and exigently, even demotically, assembled network could become indispensable and, once trusted, once indispensable, become an entertaining Pravda.

Postman would argue that commercial television gets a pass into the home for entertainment and then, by its ability to trivialize, flatten, and control, and its desperation to entertain in order to keep its welcome, becomes a medium of denial and repression. In short, Postman's critique of television is the same as Orwell's “Big Brother,” except that Orwell seemingly never discussed the pleasures of Big Brother, and television in the United States was decentralized. These differences are somewhat illusory, however. The BBC war service had been put together from voices of opposition and ministry, with a tumult that ended up becoming Babel-like and then calmly paternal (or avuncular), while American broadcasting's putative competition maintained the tumult but competed away the innovations and experiments, resulting in a uniformly 'safe' product that Postman would regard as reductive.

What sets 1984 off from other dystopian works is its economic criticism and analysis. The characters in that world are always hungry, always looking for material goods. This is because their nation is always and eternally on a “war footing.” In the real world, Blair did not need to say that the government was always paying down debt before investing in growth. The difference between 1948 and 1984 was that one kept using the debt of the war to rationalize public harm, and the other merely literalized that into a perpetual war economy. This keeps Orwell's novel a generalized economic and political diagnosis rather than a satire.

In 1948, not only was there rubble in the streets, but the economy was shattered, and the nation was paying off all the generous lend-lease. Taxes were high, expenditures low, and the message on the BBC was that wartime food rationing would have to continue – that nylon, meat, steel, rubber, and all sorts of things would have to be carefully controlled for the common good. The wealthy, curiously, seemed to remain wealthy. (Orwell wrote in his war diary that rationing meant the selling of zoo animals, but, meanwhile, two thousand race horses were being kept just fine and eating as much per day as a division of men apiece.) Politicians, however, boasted of the progress they were making, whenever they sought re-election. Blair saw beneath this situation a possible reconfiguration of capitalism and state power. He saw how the authority of the state could use emergency to perpetuate control, how it could lavish money on militarism and starve the people, so long as there was always an existential threat. He saw a new fascism that had nothing to do with capitalism or socialism. Instead of “Hail, war!” his new group would say, “Hail war state, regardless.” He saw The Writings of Immanuel Goldstein.

Past the scribal cloud, I will discuss why Blair would disguise his subject and how likely and attractive it is to misread his book.

Most peculiar and particular to the real world of 1948/9 and the fictional world of 1984 is that economic dearth empowers everything else. Except for the accident of Winston's memory exceeding the ministry's mandated limits, the energy of the plot, the social organization, and the politics is shortage inside the novel. Outside of the novel, the reasoning for everything in Austerity was debt. The reason Europeans are referring to the current regime of sovereign debt crisis as “the New Austerity” is that it is, again, about debts. If “guns before butter” is one classic political game, then this is “banks before depositors.” Big Brother could keep the people over worked and underfed and grateful for everything because all profits were supposedly going elsewhere. Consequently, there was no Party Member to envy or hate. There were no profiteers to despise. There was only sacrifice for the troops, inside the novel, and to get the nation back on its (financial) feet outside of it. Naturally enough, inside and outside the novel there were people who were wealthy and growing wealthier from the public “good,” and these were the ones at war with (rather than in control of) the people.

Now, I would never suggest that one cannot read 1984 as a prophecy. One may, of course. After all, that is the fictional frame Orwell is using, and he took great care to broaden his critique so that it would not be about a single event. Prophecy is the device that allows him to lay bare the faults of the present. However, before we ask that his future be solely of a Party seizing power in a putsch or Revolution, let's recall that his book was about a present, where any party might have that power with no more than a radio and a sense of fear to aid it.

In contrast, Aldous Huxley was writing for and against the naïve faith in progress of his age. His was the era of a fundamental faith in science and human reason. Hegel's notion that historical direction would lead us ever forward toward civilization, on the one hand, American naïve empiricism and its faith that an individual with a technological innovation could generate both capital and improvement in labor, and, since individual genius cannot be constrained, this is unlimited and ever forward by chance, Darwin's mutations into social Darwinism, and even Marxism's faith that the material dialectic mandated a forward and progressive motion to history – all of these had intellectuals sure that the future must be better, at least in the long run. As has been argued in A Broken World: Europe 1919 – 1939 by Raymond Sontag and elsewhere (e.g. Robert Hughes's The Shock of the New), World War I was the great lie to each of these theories, and Huxley wrote his novel from abhorrence and during the war years.

World War I showed science, and particularly Huxley's own chemistry, in hideous form. It showed invention in killing. It showed the most educated people on earth in trench warfare. It also provoked a crisis in the value of social rank and obedience that had not been felt since the Jacobin period. After all, it appeared the obedience and nationalism were the culprits of the war's body count. From Classical literature (for evidence that Horace's ode really was used in recruiting, take a look at this photo from 1917 of the "Actors Fund" dance in New York City; the poster on the right depicts a cavalryman beneath "Pro Patria Mori") to laboratory science and experimentalism, the Great War threw the resources of all European and American faith into the war, only to have a third of the young men of the continent die and the survivors return with shattered bodies and new maladies, like heroin addictions.

Huxley takes active philosophical tendencies built on the faith of his day and projects them. One is the faith that medical and biological advances will make life not merely palatable, but better. Life must improve, philosophers argued. Huxley added the caveat that “improvement” is subject to those in power. He then projects social Darwinism out. The result is the drugged mass and the caste system. His was not political analysis as much as philosophical exploration. At the root of his work is a moral critique: “Can we be sure that the future is better? If our sciences make us better, who defines the 'better,' and who the 'us'?”

Like Thomas More or Jonathan Swift, Huxley gets to describe a system and world from above. Like Abbot's Flatland, he has the opportunity to postulate the impossible to see what it would look like. If Brave New World feels unengaging as a novel, there is a good reason for it: the author was not interested in the characters as psychologies, but as responses to systems. On the other hand, one reason that Neil Postman and generations of school children could make a fundamental mistake about 1984 is its very success as a novel. If you don't feel emotionally involved in 1984, the whole thing fails.

Every student who goes to SparkNotes knows that 1984 is a dystopian novel. Why? In other words, what's wrong with the world Orwell describes? When we answer that, when we describe what's wrong, specifically, we begin to see how the novel was constructed.

I would argue that the darkness we feel is due to its success as a novel and its achievements at representing human psychology and emotional responses. This is a dystopian novel because its hero is a dissident. Were O'Brien or the fictive Big Brother our hero, we would think 1984 was a strange but satisfying novel of a society dealing with trouble makers or a satire of how governments look at their people. When the public goes to Hate Hour, or when they all stop their activities to listen to the war news, we would easily recognize CNN's Gulf War coverage or Fox News's coverage of the Park 51 Community Center (aka “ground zero mosque”), and we would think that there is ironic media and cultural criticism at play.

However, we are invested in Winston from the start, taken along with a man who is realizing that his world is controlled, that his rights are illusory, that Austerity is a system of control, that all the heroes are fictions, and so are his enemies. He comes to realize that treason is not to the nation, but to the ongoing system. More to the point, we are tortured, with him, for understanding this, and we are asked to recant with him.

Postman's analysis of television in 1984 missed Orwell's description of 1948 and the underlying fait d'accompli of mass media as accomplice because Blair, the novelist, never took his narrative point of view away from the conscience of a political sinner -- an undesirable, wretch, and victim. Big Brother never seems to have much in the way of entertainment programming, or nothing that captures the narrative attention, but that, too, is due to a novelistic feature. If we know that the analog is the BBC, we know plainly enough that the soothing programming of music acting as a salve between the news announcements. Also, we know that Blair has pinned us to a man who cannot be soothed, who begins his journey in the MiniTru. As such, there is never a third person, omniscient description of a scientific system until we get to the harrowing of Room 101.

Originally posted to A Frayed Knot on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 11:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Part 2 coming Sunday (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee, ybruti

      If the devil tarry and the Creek don't rise (and I'm 1/32nd Creek, so I promise not to revolt), part two will be trimmed, shaved, pruned, and perfumed and posted on Sunday.

      It will be posted to the Anti-Capitalist Meetup. This initial essay has anti-capitalist elements to it and sets the stage, but the second part will, I hope, make a stronger case for parallels. Right now, it's a tangled, roaring mess, but I'll do what I can.

      Thank you to everyone who has read this essay and been kind.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 02:13:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Your writing - and the discussion - sparkles (0+ / 0-)

      What a rich and pleasant conversation;  thanks to ALL!


      by chmood on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 07:36:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Orwell's own purpose for the novel is best (13+ / 0-)

    seen in his review of Zamyatin's We, which provided the framework for 1984.  In his critique, Orwell says that Huxley probably wrote the better novel, but Zamyatin's is more relevant to our time:

    It is this intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism--human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself, the worship of a Leader who is credited with divine attributes--that makes Zamyatin's book superior to Huxley's.
    What drew Orwell to Zamyatin is the idea that the dystopian novel can be used as "a study of the Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again."

    He also rejects the belief that We is a prophetic novel, for the same reason you (rightly) say the same of 1984:

    Writing at about the time of Lenin's death, he cannot have had the Stalin dictatorship in mind, and conditions in Russia in 1923 were not such that anyone would revolt against them on the ground that life was becoming too safe and comfortable. What Zamyatin seems to be aiming at is not any particular country but the implied aims of industrial civilisation.
    I should note that Orwell seems to have missed the point of Zamyatin, but like all authors who build on the past, he constructed his own monument in his own way.

    (Also, for what it's worth, I much prefer Zamyatin's novel to Orwell's.)

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 11:30:54 AM PDT

    •  Love "We," but love 1984 more (8+ / 0-)

      I don't think that Orwell provides his motivation in the critique of We. Zamyiatin's novel is not merely a dissection of the totalitarian state, but a meditation on why reason fails as the construction for human systems. The engineer's fascination with the lover, the continuing collapse of the rational.... (At least that's how I've always read it, but I'm a Swift reader first and foremost, and Swift does not believe in the irrational, but the moral. I think Zamyiatin has the Irrational Number and Love as the inescapable factors that ruin all systems, and that's not the same thing.)

      I do think that Orwell saw that such a novel could do things in exposing the system as system, but, again, for his own work, I think he was looking at how the "democratic" and "free" world could become a complete fiction with nothing but Need to unite the people. The Party that is so prominent in 1984 is important, but that's inside. Outside, everything comes down to the banks.

      In part 2, I'm going to talk specifically about the Keynesian vs. old laissez-faire tensions and how the UK was subject to the worst of it. I highly recommend reading Blair's war diaries. His insights on a daily basis show a mind operating at full strength full time.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 11:49:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'd say the most accurate lens for approaching (6+ / 0-)

        Zamyatin is Nietzsche - in its larger framework the novel is a dramatization of The Birth of Tragedy's conflict between the Apollonian and Dionysian - filtered through Dostoevsky, whose 'crystal palace' in Notes from Underground is what Zamyatin expands to the transparent walls of the United State.  For Zamyatin there's no functioning state without the tricky balance of Aeschylus' Eumenides.  

        The biggest non-thematic difference between Orwell and Zamyatin is that Orwell places this critique in the context of a detached 19th century realism - the social problems are described within the novel  - whereas Zamyatin's modernist sensibilities cause the writing itself to become complicit, so the breakdown of sense and semantics is D's diaries is a necessary consequence of his critique.  Orwell found this a weakness, but he wasn't very fond of modernist experimentation, so there's that.

        I have read Orwell's war diaries.

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 12:35:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, here I must disagree (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Larsstephens, pico, Nulwee, G2geek, Ice Blue

          I don't think Orwell was up to the same game at all.

          I quite agree with you about Zamyatin, although I wouldn't have gone through Nietzsche to get there. I especially wouldn't have gone through Nietzsche to get there. We can find the basic principle in, as you say, Dostoyevski and, in a mushy form, Tolstoy. We can find it in Kierkegaard's "A" volume of Either/Or, where the eager student is trapped in tautologies. We can find it in Hesse (we have to remember that he was 1920), who had cribbed his Magic Theater from Kierkegaard.

          Orwell was a pragmatist and that very English form of Marxist. He read his theorists, but he was always looking for the practical and angry with the doctrinaire (even though he was dogmatic himself). He was, we know, a man who felt complicit in imperialism and the failures of unionism to radicalize. When capital came to the fore and replaced the common good after the war, I don't think he was interested in mythic structures.

          Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

          by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 07:10:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, for what it's worth (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            The Geogre, Nulwee, G2geek
            I especially wouldn't have gone through Nietzsche to get there.
            You may not have, but Zamyatin most certainly did.  Zamyatin wrote about Nietzsche's influence on him in a 1923 essay, "On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters" - and Birth of Tragedy was probably the most popular quasi-philosophical work in late Imperial Russia: it's impossible to avoid him during the years leading up to and immediately following the revolution.  

            Zamyatin had read Kierkegaard, but didn't consider him a major influence  - unlike Schopenhauer, who definitely was (and on Tolstoy, for that matter, which is the thin thread of relationship between Tolstoy and Zamyatin.)  

            I don't think we're disagreeing on Orwell: I was just referring to his aesthetics.  

            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

            by pico on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 09:13:00 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thank you (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Nulwee, G2geek, pico

              You are the first person I have spoken with on Zamyatin since I read him. Ever since I read We, I have been trying to convince people of what a wonderful book it is, but even the Russian Comp. Lit people seem ignorant of it. Oh, Mayakovski, sure, but "Eugene Zamyatin?"

              One person knew of his grandson, who worked for Soviet television.

              The reason I'm surprised by Nietzsche being there is his status in the Reich. There was more than a generation that would find his name unpronounceable. Today, for whatever crazy reason, he has had an apotheosis. (I'm also personally hostile to Nietzsche because of his conclusion from the death of rationalism. I'd far rather a moral system than an egoistic one or Darwinist one.) I can forget that his essays are not all metaphysic and moral. (Like Kant's Towards a Universal History -- the thing just shows up everywhere.)

              I wonder how praising Nietzsche went down with the Soviet.

              Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

              by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 04:38:09 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Complicated, for a couple of reasons. (0+ / 0-)

                I don't think they cared much about the Reich's appropriation of him, but they did care about decadent Imperial Russia's love of him, so that made him a suspect source from the outset.  On the other hand, one of the few philosophers who built his career during the early Soviet period, Aleksei Losev, was influenced by Nietzsche, so he was one of many who kept Nietzsche's ideas in circulation.  And there was a definite draw of new-man-ism that the Soviets cultivated, even if, as one pre-revolutionary commentator put it, Nietzsche himself was a "complete degenerate".

                There's a whole book on Nietzscheism in Russia by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal.  I haven't seen it in a while, and I don't know if it goes into the Soviet era very much, but it covers the late Imperial period very well.  I haven't read this, but it appears to go into the Soviet period more fully.

                Personally, I think Nietzsche is completely bunk, but a lot of fun to read (especially his aphorisms, and his attempts at self-critique.)

                Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                by pico on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 05:11:10 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Here's a concise version for you (11+ / 0-)

    Are We an Orwellian or Huxley Dystopia?

    (paraphrased from wikipedia):


    There would be no one who wanted to read book.

    Those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.  

    The truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

    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 Brave New World, people are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

    In short, Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.


    Those who would ban books.

    Those who would deprive us of information.

    That the truth would be concealed from us.

    WE would become a captive culture.

    In 1984, people were controlled by fear of pain.

    In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us.

    I FEAR

    That we have been on the Huxley path for a long time which will lead us onto the Orwellian Path.  

    The technology is almost in place for a totalitarian/fascist force to take control, and I don't say this lightly.

    It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

    by War on Error on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 11:52:16 AM PDT

    •  I.....ssssort offffff.... (10+ / 0-)

      You see, in part 2, I'm going to argue that we've been there for some time. In fact, our ability to think of these works still as prophecy is almost an argument that they are past, that we are numb.

      Now, I'm not talking Ted Kazcynski stuff or the Harvard Human Experience class. I'm just saying that the temporized systems of control aren't temporized anymore, and we're pretty happy with them in general.

      We already get videotaped hundreds of times a day walking through any major city, already carry cell phones that locate us, already happily spend $0.50 to cast a vote for American Idle, already have more knowledge of Bristol Palin than Salem Mass. or Watergate or Iran-Contra.

      I think 1984 is the more frightening, although BNW certainly had humanity's humanity down.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 12:09:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ya couldn't design a system (8+ / 0-)

        better than Facebook.

        Just sayin'.

        •  really? it sounds awful, to me, & it seems (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Larsstephens, Nulwee, G2geek

          like every other day there's some new scandal or problem with it.

          as far as i'm concerned, telemarketers & data mining operations already know too much about me & i'm not about to make it any easier for them.

          but then, i'm cranky & stubborn   :)

      •  Peope pay to vote for Am Idol? (9+ / 0-)

        Seriously?  That's over the top vapid.

        Speaking of vapid.  I'm watching the 30 somethings.  They don't read books anywhere near the volume my gen did.

        Grandkids don't read at all.

        Heck, the Middle/Junior high school doesn't even give the kids textbooks to take home to study.  All they get are worksheets to be completed..

        It dawned on my that newborn grandkids won't need to diary their life's activities.  Somewhere out there on a cloud will be a digital record of their life if someone wanted to bother to compile it.

        That said, I forgot to mention, as I was on the fly earlier.

        GREAT, GREAT WORK, Geogre.

        Food for thought.  Electronic book tablet named KINDLE.  Helloooo.....

        Our local Barnes & Noble now looks more like a Kiddy Store.  Seriously, half the store is devoted to kids stuff.   Gone are the couches and gathering centers.  For that matter. Gone are most of the books for adults.

        There are some docs I have found on line that I have copy/pasted and stored in case they are disappeared.

        I'm glad I'm old.  I don't like this world anymore.  People have lost dignity and graciousness.  Everyone seems so easily angered.

        The least the gov could do would be to let us grow our own weed for some relief from the grief in our own homes.  I advocate for grow and consume.


        It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

        by War on Error on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 01:58:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  a better question is: people watch american (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Geogre, Larsstephens, Hamtree, G2geek


          sorry, but high school talent shows aren't for me.

          •  It's not a high school talent show (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            It's semi-professional singers who've been working hard to build their careers, but presented under the guise that they're just random people that have finally been "discovered."

            "A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself." - Joseph Pulitzer

            by CFAmick on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 09:43:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Alas, O tempore O mores (really this time) (8+ / 0-)

          One thing about reading a lot is that you realize that everyone thinks it stinks "these days." I think there's empirical evidence that there is less cultural continuity today.

          If we say, "Nobody reads," then the book industry points out that sales are up. They're selling many copies of "bondage for housewives" and "Oprah sez" and "Soduku for Dentists Offices." Oh, and Screamin' DJ sells copies of his book, "Negroes! I see negroes!" What we mean, of course, is that literature is disappearing, that works that aim (even if they fail) at stylistic superiority and multivocal meaning are few.

          To that the defenders of today's world will say, "So? It's a hip-hop nation? Cut and paste is the new normal! Plagiarism doesn't exist! Post-modernism means that it's all cool, man."

          What we're actually discussing, I think, is a loss of common culture. Whether it's "Last night's 'All in the Family'" or "Ed Sullivan," the network model had national contributions to popular culture. The Bible provided what Northrop Frye called The Great Code that all artists could use as a symbol bank. The "great books" lists infused generations with common vocabularies of reference. These bound individuals together, enabled metaphor, and allowed for allusion.

          I can talk to "Bible based Christians" majoring in Christianity and say, "And what was it that the serpent promised Adam and Eve in the garden?" (This is when teaching "Young Goodman Brown" by Hawthorne.) They don't know. They haven't read it. They've never read the Bible. They just read bits.

          I don't care anymore if they all watch stinking cartoons. I just want the world, nations, and regions to have cultures.

          Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

          by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 07:19:46 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  To have, or to be cultured? (5+ / 0-)

            I want Utopia, a place to fit in w/o fear of derision.  A united people lacking patience for any sort of injustice and where kindness is popular.  For a kind soul, traversing an unkind landscare, finds no rest except in seclusion, or perhaps the company of one or two others.

            Thomas More, Utopia

            “If you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then punish them?”
            ― Thomas More, Utopia

            “Until you put these things to right, you're not entitled to boast of the justice meted out to thieves, for it's a justice more specious than real or social desirable. You allow these people to be brought up in the worst possible way, and systematically corrupted from their earliest years. Finally, when they grow up and commit the crimes that they were obviously destined to commit, ever since they were children, you start punishing them. In other words, you create thieves, and then punish them for stealing.”
            ― Thomas More

            “Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody's under the frightful necessity of becoming first a thief and then a corpse.”
            ― Thomas More, Utopia

            It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

            by War on Error on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 08:19:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Bertolt Brecht (4+ / 0-)

              "You gentlemen who think you have a mission
              To purge us of the seven deadly sins
              Must first work out the basic food position:
              That's where it begins. . .
              First make sure that those who are now starving
              Get proper helpings when we all start carving."

              Actually, one of More's near contemporaries, Thomas Hoby, wrote a nice little piece (it's quite readable, esp. if you can handle Utopia) called "The School Master." He makes the point that a gentleman will spend two hundred pounds on his horse and boast of it, but he will grow upset and spend as little as possible on the education of his son, but the son will be responsible for supporting him in his old age, and the horse will be long dead. (A rich guy with an $80,000 car complaining about paying taxes for public schools that spend $1,500/student.)

              Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

              by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 04:50:29 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thank you (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                The Geogre, helpImdrowning, ybruti

                This is the type of conversation that is so lacking.  Volumes have been so well written that, if read, could help humanity understand present day dilemmas and even expose the vileness of today's so-called political discourse.

                Example:  I would have had the Wisconsin's Congress and citizens read Sinclair's The Jungle immediately after Scott Walker attacked the unions.

                My eyes were opened by Leo Tolstoy, whose writing style has spoiled me forever.  So much of the hearts of men are revealed in his writings.

                I stepped over the disinformation about the evil of Machiavelli, and read a collection of his works.  I wish I had done so in my youth.

                What a brutally honest man.   And what a talent for being able to see the darkness of man's intent and write about it in a manner that is accessible to all who are willing to admit the truth.  

                I will look for your continued series.

                For those of you interested, there is free Machiavelli online.

                Niccolo Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 1 (Life of Machiavelli, History of Florence) [1532]

                It's anyone's guess whose translation is an honest one.  I personally tip toed into Machiavelli with this book:

                The Essential Writings of Machiavelli (Modern Library Classics)

                It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

                by War on Error on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 07:41:39 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Discourses! Must read! (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  Machiavelli's Discourses are fantastic. I read them in a class on the development of the essay (unofficially; officially, the class was on something like periodic literature of the 18th century, but we were all over Montesquieu and La Rochefoucauld and Machiavelli). Discourses is modern in its irony (or, rather, Modernism finally got back to the Renaissance in ironic sophistication).

                  Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

                  by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 10:09:44 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  The purpose of making thieves and punishing them (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              The Geogre, helpImdrowning

              .... is entertainment for people who derive pleasure from the act (direct or vicarious) of cruelty toward someone who is powerless.

              Punishment is our outlet for sadism, all neatly wrapped up in jargon and made socially acceptable compared to other forms of sadism.  

              We don't want to legalize kidnapping and torturing other peoples' children, because that would break the social darwinist paradigm whereby each person gets to believe that their genes are most-fit.  And as a pragmatic matter, that would be destabilizing to society, whereas punishment at least claims to have a stabilizing effect.

              In any case we need a rationalization for the sadism, and "he deserved it" works wonders.  

              "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

              by G2geek on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 06:50:11 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  This seems a bit harsh as a judgement of people's (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                emotional motivations for seeing others punished for so-called misdeeds.  Declaring it to be, or associating it, to sadism seems to be a somewhat of a stretch and maybe even mean spirited toward a large portion of humanity.  It might be more accurate to say many, or most, people feel a burning need to feel superior to others, because if sadism is at it's root, there isn't much hope for us as a species.  Of course I could be wrong.  I wish you well.

                "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy

                by helpImdrowning on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 03:43:35 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  OK, I'll admit to an excess of hyperbole. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  I don't agree with my own statement as written above, for the majority of humanity.  I wrote it that way in part for shock value.  And I caught myself in the contradiction when I noticed my own reaction to those child sex abuse cases shortly after posting that comment.  "Oh, so you enjoy punishing those bastards, eh G2G?"

                  However it does apply to a subset of society, notably the puritans and extreme right wing, particularly the religious right: you can see it in many of their statements.  Robertson and Falwell on 9/11 and about Katrina and so on, were classic cases, blaming the terrorist attack and storm deaths on gays, abortions, and witches.  

                  The most extreme case is the Phelps cult, who "protest" at funerals.  

                  However there are also leftie equivalents of that, and we see them frequently in these pages.  

                  But for most of us, the desire to punish comes from outrage at the crime and the desire to reduce the fear of criminality in our society.   Though, that "reaction to fear" stuff can also become dangerous in its own way, when it eclipses the necessity for objectivity in administering justice.

                  "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                  by G2geek on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 05:04:07 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

          •  THIS! (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            The Geogre
            What we're actually discussing, I think, is a loss of common culture. Whether it's "Last night's 'All in the Family'" or "Ed Sullivan," the network model had national contributions to popular culture. The Bible provided what Northrop Frye called The Great Code that all artists could use as a symbol bank. The "great books" lists infused generations with common vocabularies of reference. These bound individuals together, enabled metaphor, and allowed for allusion.
            There is the great wound from which we continue to bleed.

            Almost nothing has a name.

            by johanus on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 07:33:46 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary (10+ / 0-)

    And I agree, in major part 1984 was a commentary on Orwell's current conditions.

    But isn't it amazing how well it works as prophecy?  After all, the war on terror is, by definition, perpetual, and is used to condition us to give up our cherished legacy of civil liberties -- the stated justification for America as a country -- in the name of safety.  Things that would have been unthinkable a generation ago -- data mining, targeting American citizens for assassination without due process, drones in our skies spying on us, torturing citizens with electro-shock if they don't treat police with sufficient respect, breaking the torture taboo, refusal to prosecute the elite while imposing ever more draconian punishments on the weak and powerless, continual calls for the poor to sacrifice more and more, in the name of the common good, while the wealthy become ever more rich and powerful -- are accepted without a whimper by the American populatioon, which was once composed of free men and women but now seems to be mainly sheep.  The world of 1984 was in many ways an updated feudal society, and that is what I fear America is becoming.   Read Goldstein's book within a book and see how closely it corresponds to the trends in our society.  Of course, we're not there yet; but we're moving in that direction, not away from it.

    "[W]e shall see the reign of witches pass over . . . and the people, recovering their true spirit, restore their government to its true principles." Jefferson

    by RenMin on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 11:58:56 AM PDT

    •  Absolutely! (7+ / 0-)

      What's more, the Reynolds decision that first gave classification authority for all things military to stay out of U.S. courts, was based on a lie, we now know. (Gary Wills's Bomb Power really is a kickass read.)

      He locates it in the Bomb, which had to be trusted to One Man, who had to be the President, and then it had to be Secret. As Wills points out, most of the things that are top secret are not secret at all to our enemies. For example, the bombing of Laos was hardly a secret to the Laotians. It was a secret ONLY FROM THE VOTERS.

      War, war, war. 1984 was great at pointing out how the war had led to the abridgment of rights. What I think is sneakier is that Orwell was making the argument that the post-war debt was being used to achieve the same thing, but now it was to serve bankers, not the national good. It was a 'war' for international capitalism that kept the rationing going.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 12:14:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Huxley said this explicitly (10+ / 0-)

    In some of his essays -- that progress was a myth, that increases in human knowledge did not necessarily result in a better life for human beings.   Hence his interest in mysticism and The Perrenial Philosophy.

    By the way, a slight digression:  I have read most of both Huxley's and Orwell's published books and many essays, and I can truthfully say that I have never read anything by either that I did not at least thoroughly enjoy.

    One more observation:  Leaving aside the content or meaning of the work, I believe Orwell is the greatest master of English prose in the 20th century.  His work is completely limpid, straightforward, yet beautiful.  Indeed, the only writer I can compare him to is Swift.  (Again, not on the basis of content, just on beautiful use of the English language is a competely clear and transparent fashion.)

    "[W]e shall see the reign of witches pass over . . . and the people, recovering their true spirit, restore their government to its true principles." Jefferson

    by RenMin on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 12:10:12 PM PDT

    •  Thank you (11+ / 0-)

      Huxley was, indeed, part of the backlash against the progressive myth. I was hoping, without nailing down biographical elements, to make the case that his novel is part of a small (ok, Bloomsbury) rejection of the progressivist assumption.

      There were a few reactions to the failure of progress. One was anti-rationalism. This is one reason existentialism and its bastards became au currant. One was mysticism, either in a neo-nativist or animist or synthetic form. Modern wicca dates from the post-theosophist groups. Another was a redoubled progressivism based on anti-humanism -- D'Annunzio's explosions and violence of the machine and fascism.

      People don't get that Hitler's people were doing neo-pagan stuff because they were part of the "get back to the real native religion" nationalism and that Italy's fascists had a poet behind their political movement.

      A ton of people embraced spiritualism and "thymic" life and the like, I think. I wish our polemics today were even half so rational as the craziest of the Tarot readers then, though.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 12:35:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh, and the prose! (7+ / 0-)

      Orwell's prose is gorgeous. I have to admit, though, that it matured. His Burmese Days still seems marked by Edwardian lushness to me and an incomplete control of pace. The Blair who came out of the 1930's, though, was a hard polished, pugilistic, and aware man with his own voice that was plucked clean.

      [I'm a Swift scholar... or was once... haven't written on him in ages and ages. I read A Tale of a Tub every summer and teach the usual dreary selections in surveys, but I never get to do a real class.]

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 12:38:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Re Swift (8+ / 0-)

        I don't know if Gulliver's Travels is the greatest book in the English language -- actually probably not -- but it's my favorite.  I first read both Gulliver and 1984 when I was 12-13, somewhere in that time-frame, and I've probably re-read them more often than any other books.  

        Totally irrelevant, but you'll appreciate this -- many years ago, at a used book shop in Georgetown, I was fortunate enough to run into the complete collected works of Swift -- 19 volumes, I believe -- published in Edinborough in 1824 and in beautiful shape, for the ridiculously affordable price of $15 per volume.

        I'd really like to know more about him -- I've read some criticism, but know nothing more than the barest bones of his biography.  Can you recommend a good critical biography?

        "[W]e shall see the reign of witches pass over . . . and the people, recovering their true spirit, restore their government to its true principles." Jefferson

        by RenMin on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 01:05:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I recall A Modest Proposal as hitting my (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Geogre, Larsstephens, Nulwee, G2geek

          satire bone.   Think I'll seek out his writings again.  Thanks for the reminder!

          "I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong." Richard Feynman

          by leema on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 05:25:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, errm (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Larsstephens, Nulwee, G2geek

          See, the standard biography is Irwin Ehrenpreis's. I just kind of hate it. Ehrenpreis allows himself some psychoanalytical biography. Richard Ellmann, the biographer of James Joyce, said (in Golden Codgers) (from memory),

          "No doubt many of our greatest authors would benefit from posthumous psychotherapy, but I doubt that we'll cure any of them."
          When I was coming up, psychoanalytic criticism was still practiced but was giving way to Marxist and New Historicist criticism. I was inclined toward rhetoric and found myself at home with Hans Robert Jauss's form of "reception aesthetics," so I've never been fond of trying to get into authors' heads.

          In particular, my special love is A Tale of a Tub, and I think Ehrenpreis's interpretation of it is flat out wrong. I'm backed up in this by A. C. Elias, whose Swift at Moor Park makes an airtight case that the younger Swift was no fawning lapdog to his "mentor" William Temple.

          ... Oh, yeah. Ehrenpreis, I suppose, but keep your wits about you. I don't know if Angus Ross has done a biography, but, if he has, I'd go toward that.

          Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

          by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 07:29:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  For pure prose, devoid of any judgment on (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, RenMin, Larsstephens, Nulwee

      the content, I'd have to go with E.B. White.  His sensitivity to the slightest sliver of nuance in word choice is almost unmatched.   I think it took Orwell a while to approach the same level, but he did eventually get close.

      At least among the 'straightforward' prose writers... I think Joyce is probably the best overall, but I wouldn't call his prose limpid, for starters.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 01:02:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting Choice (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pico, Larsstephens, Nulwee, ybruti

        One I wouldn't have thought of.  I haven't read any of his "adult" work, just Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web.  (As well as Strunk & White, but that's a different matter.)  They were good books, especially Charlotte, but I wasn't struck by the prose.  I need to read more, recommendations?

        Another limpid prose stylist, though I guess he is out of style now, is Hemingway.  He could sure write a beautiful sentence, at least when he wasn't in an almost self-parodying mode.

        For non-straightforward, I'd have to go with Nabokov -- Pale Fire and Lolita are beautiful books.  Even more of an accomplishment given that he was not a native English speaker (though I do understand he grew up learning English from his English governess).

        "[W]e shall see the reign of witches pass over . . . and the people, recovering their true spirit, restore their government to its true principles." Jefferson

        by RenMin on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 03:51:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  White's essays are just stellar, (5+ / 0-)

          especially when he gets into issues related to language use.  I've frequently cited this perfect little nugget of language wisdom, and then this excellent essay on writing and difficulty.   My favorite statement about writing comes from the Strunk & White book, and captures his sensibilities well:

          The question of ear is vital. Only the writer whose ear is reliable is in a position to use bad grammar deliberately; this writer knows for sure when a colloquialism is better than formal phrasing and is able to sustain the work at a level of good taste. So cock your ear. Years ago, students were warned not to end a sentence with a preposition; time, of course, has softened that rigid decree. Not only is the preposition acceptable at the end, sometimes it is more effective in that spot than anywhere else. "A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool he murdered her with." This is preferable to "A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool with which he murdered her." Why? Because it sounds more violent, more like murder. A matter of ear.
          Generally, though, anthologies of White tend to cover his essays on New York (which are excellent) and the much-anthologized nostalgia piece "Once More to the Lake".

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 05:17:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  oh but how times change. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            The subordinate phrase "not an ax" renders the sentence oh so formal-sounding.  Today we might use something along the lines of:  "The tool he used to murder her was not an ax, but a claw hammer."  

            And it's also a telling commentary upon our twisted culture, that the example that is provided concerns a gruesome murder.  

            Here is an exercise I'll call "Bonobo English."  Everywhere you encounter violent language, replace it with sexual language and then adjust the surrounding verbiage accordingly so it all fits.   Suddenly our example about claw hammers and axes becomes an example about cunnilingus or some such thing.

            Consider the effect that would have on the culture.

            See also Prescott, "Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence."


            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 07:07:33 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  "a telling commentary upon our twisted culture" (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I'm going to leave you alone on that one.

              Even your phrasing is too formal for today.  I'd go with "He murdered her with a claw hammer, not an axe."

              Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

              by pico on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 04:54:52 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  E.B. White is great (5+ / 0-)

        Certainly he is economical and very highly tuned. His word choice is magnificent. Joyce in Dubliners/Portrait probably has more hermeneutic depth than any ten others. However, there are different marks of beauty.

        What Swift did that marks him above so many others is control. He could convey complex matters simply and pace a paragraph to increase and decrease the rhythms and manipulate the mood. If we look for beauty in symmetry and variety, though, Joseph Addison and Thomas Babbington "Karl Rove of the 19th century" Macaulay would be the guys.

        Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

        by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 07:33:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Orwell appeals to the political sensibility, but.. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Geogre, Ice Blue

      .... Huxley appeals to the mystical (properly defined) sensibility, even in his earlier works that predated his own discovery of Vedanta and its chemical analogues.  You could tell he had the mind for mysticism early on: in his handling of paradoxes, his way of looking at human minds, even his clever turns of phrase and sense of humor.

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 06:57:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Later in life (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        G2geek, RenMin

        he also dropped acid.  No old fuddy duddy, he.

        Never meddle in the affairs of cats, for they are subtle and will piss on your computer.--Bruce Graham

        by Ice Blue on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 12:22:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yeah, i know the history. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ice Blue, RenMin

          Starting with his friend Humphrey Osmond and a dose of mescaline in the Southern California hills, which led to The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell.

          And ending with his death due to cancer on the same day as JFK was assassinated, where he (Huxley) was given a dose of LSD to ease his departure from this world.  

          He knew most of the intellectual heavyweights of the psychedelic research scene at the time.  But there is another aspect of his practice that is not often discussed: what he called "deep reflection," which was covered in an article in C. Tart's book Altered States of Consciousness.  To my mind this is every bit as important or possibly more so, as it was a frequent or even daily practice.

          "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

          by G2geek on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 04:56:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  very entertaining diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, Nulwee

    looking forward to more.  i haven't read orwell since hs & that was -- well, it was a long, long time ago   :)

    i like huxley's poetry (he did write poetry, didn't he? -- again, the memory thing).

  •  The Hunger Games posits a future dystopia with (5+ / 0-)

    both Orwellian and Huxleyan features, complementing and reinforcing each other.

    For those that don't know, the futuristic police state of Panem consists of a Capitol region and 12 districts.

    District citizens live under Orwellian near-starvation conditions. Their lives are controlled by surveillance, restrictions on movement, and pernicious economic regulations. Lacking foreign enemies, District citizens are encouraged to cheer for their own District's competitors in the Hunger Games, and hate the kids from the other districts. The winner's district gets its food ration generously increased for a year. As long as the District citizens fight each other, vicariously through the Games, they can't unite against the Capitol.

    Capitol citizens are passive consumers obsessed with style and televised sensationalism. They earn much more money that district citizens, but spend it on expensive clothes, body piercings, tattoos, unusual hair styles, and elective surgery to make themselves look like cute animals (ie, one character in the 3rd book has catlike ears and whiskers). They also enjoy betting on reality TV, of which the most infamous is the Hunger Game itself, a contest where children aged 12-18 from the districts are forced to kill each other. This is all very like Brave New World.

    In The Hunger Games, our descendents end up with both, without contradiction.

    "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

    by Kimball Cross on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 05:39:53 PM PDT

    •  Indeed so. (5+ / 0-)

      What's even more interesting is that those books -- "Hunger Games" -- are either a conscious echo or a cosmic irony, because guess what happened in 1948?

      In 1948 the Olympics were in London.

      They were "The Austerity Games."

      There has never been a contradiction between the two visions, but Orwell's effort was at describing an economic atrocity through the eyes of a functionary -- a man guilty of being part of the machine but also grist for its milling.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 07:39:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not too long, and very well argued. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Nulwee, ybruti, helpImdrowning

    Though I am one who often goes for the 'long form' in
    my pursuits of reading for reflection and understanding.

    While there is, and always will be, evidence to the contrary,
    I think I must agree with Pinker that there has been some
    sorts of measurable progress in the human conditions.

    How such is defined and understood, and more importantly,
    the very tangible personal and societal costs that results
    from progress of any kind, do seem to be somewhat neglected
    when evaluating its subtle and massive effects over us all.

    Not so evenly shared, or distributed, as you noted, and as
    many authors, along with the ones you featured, have noticed.

    Well worth my power lurkage time to read and reflect on.

    Thanks for all of your efforts.

    •  Thank you (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee, helpImdrowning

      I'm not sure about progress, myself.
      1. I don't trust us, anymore, to judge it.
      2. I don't know what frame of reference we can use to measure it.
      3. I can't argue that counterbalancing goods and evils negates or does not negate progress, because I cannot say that progress is individual, social, or global, or if it is environmental or geologic or in biomass.

      I do think, though, that the teleological myth has done a number on us. One fashionable criticism of China was that it did not make "progress" because of Buddhism and its belief in balance. Well, our belief in racing "forward" has its own consequences. I can't say good or bad, right or wrong, but just that we humans are lazy, and so an assumption about History will sneak into a practice in business or banking or ecology, and that's bad.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 04:57:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, it is the definition of progress that (0+ / 0-)

        does appear to posit the most troublesome dilemma.
        For one tribes manifest destiny is another's genocide.
        One faiths terrorism is yet another's struggle for justice
        and freedom. The opaque services of the written word
        on either side in such conflicts can not be underestimated.
        Who wouldn't long for an ultimate and definitive answer
        in such examinations, its actual impossibility notwithstanding?

        One can hardly object, say, to the germ theory of
        disease, or deny its manifold furtherance of mostly
        beneficial attributes. But such knowledge of the micro
        and macroscopic worlds, which previously had been
        unavailable to all, can lead to fixations and phobias,
        and many other unexpected consequences, even pathologies.

        I am not so sure that trading highly mythologized
        cultural or religious 'spirits' as agents of causation
        in exchange for real life microbial demons of every
        stripe and fancy is progress, as they both tend to
        occupy the same real estate in human consciousness,
        and cause the exhibition of the very same behavioral
        attributes of rigid authoritarianism and resultant demagoguery.
        This may have much more to do with what we believe,
        rather than what actually can be known or proven.

        Perhaps there are other more useful ways and or methods
        of symbolic processing that may yet emerge as we race
        towards our post literate destinies, hiding in plain sight,
        until we discover or remember the correct lenses of focality.
        Until then, I suppose we are all stuck with what we have.

        Thanks for all of your efforts.

  •  Outstanding analysis (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melo, The Geogre, Nulwee, helpImdrowning

    But what of causal factors?  Who is imposing this new world order?  Why?  We in the developed world have accepted much of it, few question.  But to what end?  Construct the worlds of Orwell or Huxley, maintain power.  Why would this be necessary to anyone or any group of people?  I continue to maintain that the balance of wealth across nations, the redefining of historical and moral truth is a product of a very few multinational entities - corporate captains.  The delicate strings of power lead back to only a very few very wealthy, very powerful.  They have bought one political party in the U.S., they have corrupted the other. Similarly in europe.  They have also interfered with asian and african economies in their goals to dominate world finance. The interconnectedness of world financial markets today is simply astonishing.

    Thanks for the excellent diary

    •  Thank you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      A few hands? Maybe. I can't see it clearly enough, because I'm trapped by my own ideological position, but when we cut the puppet strings without changing the underlying distribution of power, another hand quickly snatches them up.

      If we believe that rent on capital is justified by the "venture" spirit....

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 05:00:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was a philosophy major at Cal in '57. (6+ / 0-)

    My dorm, Bowles Hall had a sweet little library.  I read all of Aldous Huxley my freshman year when I should have been studying....  probably worked out for the best.

    Shortly before his death, Aldous spoke at SF State.
    He was very big on 'doors of perception', meditation,hypnotism  and computers.  He was optimistic and inspirational. He thought that we would find our way.

    I was reading about JFK's assassination in the L.A. Times when I noticed a very brief mention of Huxley's death.  I thought he was slighted.

    •  Huxley and CS Lewis (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      died the same day. How odd. Two very different authors who retreated from the excesses of Modernist progressivism in very different ways. Interesting to think that Tolkien, Lewis, Williams and Sayers often took refuge in a sort of quasi-Medieval mysticism or religion as Hitler did, and Huxley did not. Perhaps that was due to the latter's background in hard science.

      "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

      by northsylvania on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 02:00:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Doors of perception." (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Geogre

      Trivia--that's where the band The Doors got their name.

      Never meddle in the affairs of cats, for they are subtle and will piss on your computer.--Bruce Graham

      by Ice Blue on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 12:26:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent essay. Hotlisted and rec'd. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania, The Geogre, Nulwee

    I look forward to more.

    Please, though: "fait accompli". The d' makes no sense.

    Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end.

    by rcbowman on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 10:07:38 PM PDT

    •  My planned mistake! :-) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee, helpImdrowning

      Actually it wasn't, but I have at least one embarrassing error in every post.

      I'd like to think this is my tribute to Eris or my payment to Entropy or that I'm being very John Cage, but, of course, it's because I make at least one major error every time out.

      My personal motto: "Write drunk, edit sober."

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 05:03:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As to prophecy or not... great works speak (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nowhere Man, The Geogre, Nulwee

    long beyond their first blush in the public eye. Because they observe what and how human affairs occur.

    Just as we can experience Shakespeare all these centuries later, as he records human motivations and passions. But all his characters still are recognizable, despite a really vast cultural gap.

    Orwell focused on the passion for power, which certainly marred his lifetime. And still mars ours using much the same, or improved, mass-communication technologies and methods of Stalin and Hitler.

    So, prophecy? Who cares, pointless discussion. Accurate then; accurate now? Yup.

    Pretty much all that can be said for Huxley, except replace passion for power with passion for ease and pleasure. In both cases you get the banishment of real humanity. You get pretty much what we have now. (Personally, this is where I add Philip K. Dick to fill out the picture completely.)

    In practice, today, we find both approaches used on the populations.

    The Internet is just the tail of the Corporate Media dog.

    by Jim P on Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 10:36:26 PM PDT

  •  Curious how these books were required reading when (5+ / 0-)

    I was in school and too young to fully comprehend the meanings. It is chilling to go back now and read them again as I almost see a blueprint for how we are controlled in the present day. How comfortable are any of us with drones and the epidemic of their use in not fighting terror but now in domestic surveillance ? Protesters are being legally defined as anarchists. Gardens are becoming illegal. Storing food for emergencies is becoming illegal. I am just waiting for guns to become illegal.

    •  Interesting (0+ / 0-)
      Gardens are becoming illegal. Storing food for emergencies is becoming illegal.
      I can see that some neighbourhood associations might put a stop to the former, along with repairing your car in the back yard, but storing food? That's new since I left the States.

      "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

      by northsylvania on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 02:02:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I will argue that this is the last step (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee, Ice Blue, ybruti, helpImdrowning

      The reason those books was required reading is the experience of the 1960's. The generations that felt lied to by Truman and Eisenhower (trial of Oppenheimer, the Reynolds case, bomb scares, declaring the Communist Party illegal and automatic treason) wanted kids to grow up with open eyes.

      We are supposed to have kept it from happening. We are the ones who were supposed to read Darkness at Noon and know that fundamentalists become bigots at the drop of a hat. We were supposed to realize that democracy is fragile, and the difference between democracy and mob rule is a thin line. We were supposed to read "The Lottery" (written as lynchings were going on across the South) and realize that venerating tradition was scary.

      What is happening now is broken from the cover. We are already there.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 05:09:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, we baby boomers saw our fears confirmed (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        before our eyes but we so far we've done nothing to stop it and have had little success in slowing down its progress.

        "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

        by Kimball Cross on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 06:07:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This is the only diary I've truly enjoyed (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    johanus, The Geogre, Ice Blue

    reading for some time.

    Thank you to jayden, Dr Erich Bloodaxe RN, Aji and everyone in the Daily Kos community involved in gifting my subscription and gifting others!

    by Nulwee on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 06:34:38 AM PDT

    •  Wwwow (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ice Blue, Nulwee, ybruti, helpImdrowning

      I'm stunned.

      Heck, I'd love to talk literature and the Big Ideas. After all, it's what we do not do in college anymore. [When teaching low level, there is no capacity for introducing a larger theme or political reality. At the upper level, the material is usually confined to a small area of theme or time. So, we get 200 level classes "Beowulf to J.K. Rowling in 15 weeks" and 400 level classes "The Queer Novel of the Victorian Period" or "Lyric Poetry in the Renaissance."

      I've been blown away by the comments. Zamyatin? Machiavelli? It's great stuff. The world is rich with joys and short only of time.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 10:16:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm grateful there are still a few people (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Geogre, Nulwee

        who remember Huxley.  He was one of my favorites in high school--him, and Orwell and Faulkner and Graham Greene.  I guess I've always like novels where the setting is at least as important a player as any charachter.

        Btw, a couple years ago I heard Leonardo DiCaprio was planning on doing a film version of BNW.  I guess that fell through.  What a shame.  That would give Huxley the attention he so richly deserves.

        Never meddle in the affairs of cats, for they are subtle and will piss on your computer.--Bruce Graham

        by Ice Blue on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 01:25:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is a mediocre film (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ice Blue

          I had heard the rumor, too, that someone was going to do it.

          Odd that you mention Graham Greene -- just listened to "Paris 1919" the album by John Cale for the first time in ages and there is a wonderful line in the song "Graham Greene" that I didn't understand when I was 20: "So shocking to see/ The old Church of E/ Looking down on you and me."

          What a fruitful subject by himself. I'd love to spend some time just thinking about why it's "I'm Colley Cibber, and I want my ten pounds" in Brighton Rock. Why Colley Cibber? No accidents in his books, no, "It popped into my head, and I thought it was funny."

          Of course Faulkner's writing is great, but he can bug me sometimes. There's a cranky guy on the other side of the page sometimes, and I can feel it.

          Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

          by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 02:22:10 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Faulkner was a dirty old man. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            The Geogre

            I read a story once by a woman journalist who, back when she was still in college, was granted an interview with the great William Faulkner shortly before he died.  He was a delightful host--the two of them enjoyed a wonderful lunch out on his veranda.  Then, midway through the interview, he rather crudely propositioned her.  That one caught her off guard.   It took a moment to sink in before she said, "," without any trace of professionalism.  Faulkner just shrugged it off and, with a gallant smile, answered her question.  He was quite charming for the rest of the day.

            Many years later, the woman still had trouble believing Faulkner had the nerve to pull a stunt like that.

            Never meddle in the affairs of cats, for they are subtle and will piss on your computer.--Bruce Graham

            by Ice Blue on Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 08:26:13 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Much credit to the diarist, to be sure, (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Nulwee, ybruti, helpImdrowning

    but, I've rarely seen a posting so well enhanced and enlarged by excellent comments.  It's a fine example of how powerful and rewarding a platform this can be.  To watch it happen is delightful and inspiriting!

    Almost nothing has a name.

    by johanus on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 07:53:50 AM PDT

  •  Great diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Nulwee

    I would agree that neither are prophecy but more teachings of who we truly are all the time. They are stories that shine light on the human condition.

    Was it so different now from say in Rome circa 100AD where the peasantry and slaves often starved at times, were controlled via a militaristic state. While citizenry in Rome were distracted with the back door dealings and corruption in their state with grandiose games? It was only a short time ago where we found that our own government tortures people to force results, and many of us as you pointed out happily click away to vote our next Idol.

    Polly anna of me, I would love to live in a world where such barbaric natures do not exist, however history teaches me otherwise.

    That is not for despair however, that is where I think Huxley and Orwell come in. They write about two ends of the extremes and are a reminder why progressives must remain ever vigilant.

    In a way we must be Heimdall, with our eyes ever present on the bridge.

    --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

    by idbecrazyif on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 08:41:21 AM PDT

    •  If we have the iron boots (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      idbecrazyif, Nulwee

      Heimdall's boot rooted him so firmly that he could prise apart the jaws of Fenrir, but we find, I fear, the ground eroding beneath us.

      Part two is slapped up in the editing box now. I may be completely wrong, but I think at least in the terms of these two novels, our day is past, that the progressive project, from their point of view, failed. That does not mean despair either, but it does mean that we must strip away some illusions from our own sight and forbid them from dancing on the stage of our history.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 10:20:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "1984's" Oceania only oppresses their middle class (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Nulwee

    One of the recurring themes is that the proletariat - the vast uneducated working class population - was not subject to the same degree of oversight and propagandization.  

    To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

    by Visceral on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 10:02:52 AM PDT

    •  IF you consider those conditions non coercive (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee, helpImdrowning

      Orwell had made it fairly clear in other works that he regarded the "tramps" as not fated to their positions, that the proletariat's ignorance and sweat are repression. It is qualitatively different when you are not allowed to know something than being forced to recant what you know, but not quantitatively different.

      In 1984 there is the outer zone, though, and that . . . we're never sure. Is it paradisical, or is that simply another myth set up to trap dissidents?

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 10:23:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "If there is hope, it lies with the proles" (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Nulwee, The Geogre, helpImdrowning

        That's a direct quote from the book.  The proles may be ignorant and apolitical, but they can also disagree with and mock the regime with impunity.  Given the degree to which thought control is practiced in "1984", the fact that they are still psychologically capable of doing so is considered as significant as the lack of legal consequences for doing so.

        Winston's hope is not simply for freedom but to reclaim humanity, and in Oceania, the proles are the only ones still human: from their promiscuity (versus the rigorous sexual repression enforced on Party members), to their patronage of a wide range of pop culture (even if it's state-produced trash), to the survivals of bits and pieces of the old England in the midst of the slums, and so on.

        In short, their existence outside the system means they're the only ones capable of challenging it.  Winston (echoing sentiments discussed in many of Orwell's essays) is almost hoping less for an organized and high-minded brave-new-world proletarian revolution than for a very English sort of cultural inertia to reassert itself.

        To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

        by Visceral on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 01:07:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You think he's authorial? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I think Winston's hope in the proles is genuine, but they are controlled the moment they become noticeable. In 1984 there is a powerful desire that feels Fabian, but I think, honestly, that's not politically relevant as much as a pointer outside the book.

          Remember that outside England is paying debt, paying debt, paying debt. Austerity wot wot. Well, why? A Marxist, and a pragmatist, can look at that world and say, "We are perfectly capable of industry." To reflect that inside the frame, one has to do it in a way that sounds like Tolstoy -- the grunting peasants understand, and the land is whole where the people are not. The English had a long, long tradition of this feeling, too -- John Ruskin, then the Arts and Crafts stuff -- but we know how Blair felt about that line. The yearning is there, but I think it's a fictive translation.

          Winston, however, cannot be seen as a reliable authorial voice as much as an attenuated one. (I.e. he does speak Orwell's sentiments, but not in a straight form.)

          Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

          by The Geogre on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 02:33:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  anyone for a cold buket of water? (0+ / 0-)

    I am not trying to discourage people for musing over these novels and by the way it is a great diary and I am looking forward to part II. But that said, another take comes to my mind… Not to put too fine a point on it but,  and it’s a big but ….   

    It might be better to describe both 1984 and Brave New World as a listing of the symptoms, the means of control that come about as a result when humans become enslaved to a system which is run for the benefit of the very few at the top.

    The means of control in one system is external – we must wage constant war against the other, the unclean outsiders, in the other system the means of control is internal – you are a broken human hence you need a drug or intervention of some kind to ‘fix’ you and make you ‘right’.  

    In one case the individual is engineered from birth and medicated preventing any messy social outcomes and in the other the individual is held in a tight straight jacket of brute force.

    This might be a gross simplification, but who really cares, right? Like right-wing wonks and their fellow travelers who believe in corporate rule give a dam about real democracy, the rule of law or give any real thought to an honest narrative on any subject…

    Both writers are a reflection of the times in which they lived, no doubt, but sadly beyond that are not much help to the current state of affairs, because both were too extreme and lax at the same time, in their description of how rulers actually rule.

    Let’s take the brute force approach first. Under the Stalinist state and the Nazi state one step out of line whether it be by pure accident or real circumstance led to your death; the very real death of millions of people.

    One who wishes to explore this in more detail should pick up a copy of the book “Bloodlands” as its author does the subject more justice than I could render in a few short lines.

    When takes on the more complex subject of Brave New World and a society engineered from birth and drugged into a false reality of consent I would say outright no ruling class would ever waste the time to create that kind of society, as all rulers are selfish lazy little brat children who could give a rats ass about consensus when the rubber meets the road.

    It is much easier to let the poor kill each other over a bag of crack, and leave it at that, whilst privatizing prisons into another profit center for the degenerate super rich. In both cases the divine “job creators” of the super rich win.

    That they no longer create jobs seems lost in the details of modern life.

    If you think the drug wars raging across the globe, or the Methland reality eating away the American soul in any way resembles Brave New World I’d say the this type of literature has blinded you, and discussion of said mythical constructs is at best a curious distraction from a more harsh reality that is just too fucking ugly to take on.

    If millions of people in the modern world are medicating themselves one should rather than condemning the act of medication,(while temporally forgoing the debate about the profit motive in all drug sales),  ask why so many are in  pain and see drugs as the only way they can face the world.

    As for television itself I only counterpoise this simple truth: as the austerity rat hell imposed by corporate rule gets even more obvious in its depravity millions more will be forced to choose between paying for cable TV and putting a roof over their head or food on the table. That means the business model of trivial entertainment and propaganda will render itself irrelevant by its mire cost.

    When millions of working class Americans have lost all hope about any outcome that might benefit them, and spend billions on lotteries and scratch off tickets one must stand back and take a more sober assessment of what is really going on.. “I too can become a millionaire” is a symptom of something much more profound and disingenuous.

    The disingenuous part is more of a concern here, if you can still afford cable TV I’d say why the fuck do you pay to watch commercials and have largely shallow entertainment part metered out in little drabs and drips, between lousy dishonest news coverage?

    In much of the world, say the North American, European and Asian parts the mythology of business wealth and corporate rule has become so engrained that even when the system has a outcome that is just as brutish of the killing fields of eastern Europe in the last century, one must call for a really big bucket of cold water to change the nature of the debate.

    Take the private health insurance industry. Many more knowledgeable folk than I have clearly stated that in the United States alone 20,000 to 30,000 people die each year because they can not afford health insurance or worst the policy they paid money into fucks them literally to death.

    If one takes the low ball estimate and only concedes 15,000 per year and start counting from 1980 on…. The figure is 480,000 people have died in the Unites States alone over the last 32 years for lack of health coverage.

    Nice body count, in reality it approaches the same kind of numbers as the killing fields of Stalin and Hitler.

    Now be a good corporate slave and scan and bag your own groceries as in Unionized super markets across the United States the ruler rat elite got the unions to agree to those scanners as the price of keeping the union at all…. While another couple thousand retail clerks lost their jobs….. Yep bag your own groceries and ensure the hidden profits to the over lords by doing a job they should be forced to pay someone to do because this rotten system of the super rich is nothing more than the rotten system of the super rich.

  •  I recently read in a book about Lucretius, (0+ / 0-)

    The Swerve, that one reason only a few of the ancient Greek and Roman classics have survived is that for centuries in Europe few people read much of anything. I had always thought the loss of the ancient works was due to war and the deliberate destruction of libraries and pagan texts, but it was more than that.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 04:01:26 PM PDT

    •  It's a bit more complex (0+ / 0-)

      That's true, but what we have to recall is that paper depends upon trade and complex networks. When civilization is shabby, paper is hard to get. Vellum is labor intensive. Before the printing press, copyists are not so very common, so. . .
      1. Literacy grows less and less common as
      2. Books grow more and more expensive as
      3. Ecclesiastical and secular authorities ask, "Why waste your time on that?"

      So, yes, things disappeared out of neglect, mainly, but the neglect was an indirect consequence of the wars you suspected before. By the 14th century, the ancient Greek language would be confined to a very few European scholars.

      In other words, by the time Europe's civilization had rebounded enough to have literacy, paper, and transmission of information, there was no capacity and weren't the texts. Then the Reconquista happened, the Fall of Grenoble, and a dawn of the Renaissance as the Europeans got their hands on Aristotle and a bunch of Arabic science.

      Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

      by The Geogre on Sat Jun 30, 2012 at 07:40:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you so much for this great diary/essay! (0+ / 0-)

    Beautifully written and thought provoking.  I especially enjoyed the excellent discussion that followed.  I look forward to part II.  Best wishes.

    "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy

    by helpImdrowning on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 04:12:15 PM PDT

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