Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Trump, Postman, Orwell and Huxley

In the introduction to Neil Postman’s classic “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” the author draws several distinctions between the dystopia of George Orwell in “1984” and that of Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World.”

As Postman described it, Orwell’s vision was of an oppressive dictatorial mind control that “flipped” human values. Vis. “War is peace. Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.”

Huxley, on the other hand, described a world in which we ourselves choose to escape through drug-induced fantasies. “…most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

On the status of truth, Postman wrote: “Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

There’s more that Postman contrasted and it’s well worth reading, but at the end of his introduction, he concluded: “This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

Looking at the 2016 election and the on-going Trumpian transition to power, I conclude that both Huxley and Orwell were right…but there is much, much more going on.

Certainly Orwell’s fear of truth being concealed from us is true and has been throughout our history. But, likewise, as Huxley predicted, truth has become “drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

Indeed truth itself seems irrelevant, not because it is concealed, but because what passes as truth is fabricated and, even after being unmasked, still manages to retain its power.

So we have “fake news.” We are dizzily forced to tease reality from “reality.” Fact from fiction. If we have the time or inclination for it….

The consequences are clear and dangerous beyond the results of the election.

Yesterday’s news of the armed “self-investigator” set upon threatening a pizza parlor is a case in point. The pizza establishment had been falsely portrayed by trolls as being at the center of child sex ring operated by none other than Hillary Clinton. The gunman bought the lie.

Such rampant lies result from financial as well as political incentives.

Witness the entertainment business. Entertainment, much of it violent and outlandish, is richly rewarding. That has been true for decades, but, amplified by new technologies, it has escalated in brutality.

Society and civility are far the worse for it.

And so we have the president of CBS, Les Moonves, confessing during Trump’s profane, violence-prompting, news cycle-grabbing campaign. "It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Solitary trolls have made small fortunes concocting “fake news” (ie. lies) to attract internet “clicks” and hence money on Facebook and other sites.

In such an amoral environment, lying overwhelms truth in the marketplace of “ideas.”

Just as “truth will set us free,” today’s rewards for lying have doomed us to enslavement.

So who was right? Huxley or Orwell?

While I wouldn’t wish our predicament upon Postman (who died in 2003), Orwell or Huxley, I yearn to put the question to them.

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