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Posts Tagged ‘“1984”

 

Which Dystopian Novel Got It Right:

Orwell’s ‘1984’ or Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’?

In Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, Charles McGrath and Siddhartha Deb debate which classic dystopian vision rings truest at the beginning of 2017: George Orwell’s “1984” or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

By Charles McGrath

Was Orwell right after all? Not yet. Trump would be much more comfortable in Huxley’s world.

Photo

Charles McGrath Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

A month ago I would have said that not only is “Brave New World” a livelier, more entertaining book than “1984,” it’s also a more prescient one.

Orwell didn’t really have much feel for the future, which to his mind was just another version of the present. His imagined London is merely a drabber, more joyless version of the city, still recovering from the Blitz, where he was living in the mid-1940s, just before beginning the novel. The main technological advancement there is the two-way telescreen, essentially an electronic peephole.

Huxley, on the other hand, writing almost two decades earlier than Orwell (his former Eton pupil, as it happened), foresaw a world that included space travel; private helicopters; genetically engineered test tube babies; enhanced birth control; an immensely popular drug that appears to combine the best features of Valium and Ecstasy; hormone-laced chewing gum that seems to work the way Viagra does; a full sensory entertainment system that outdoes IMAX; and maybe even breast implants. (The book is a little unclear on this point, but in “Brave New World” the highest compliment you can pay a woman is to call her “pneumatic.”)

Huxley was not entirely serious about this. He began “Brave New World” as a parody of H.G. Wells, whose writing he detested, and it remained a book that means to be as playful as it is prophetic.

And yet his novel much more accurately evokes the country we live in now, especially in its depiction of a culture preoccupied with sex and mindless pop entertainment, than does Orwell’s more ominous book, which seems to be imagining someplace like North Korea.

So was Orwell right after all? Well, not yet.

For one thing, the political system of “1984” is an exaggerated version of anticapitalist, Stalin-era Communism, and Trump’s philosophy is anything but that. He would be much more comfortable in Huxley’s world, which is based on rampant consumerism and where hordes of genetically modified losers happily tend to the needs of the winners.

Huxley believed that his version of dystopia was the more plausible one.

In a 1949 letter, thanking Orwell for sending him a copy of “1984,” he wrote that he really didn’t think all that torture and jackbooting was necessary to subdue a population, and that he believed his own book offered a better solution. All you need to do, he said, is teach people to love their servitude.

The totalitarian rulers in Huxley’s book do this not by oppressing their citizens but by giving them exactly what they want, or what they think they want — which is basically sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll — and lulling them into complacency. (That’s exactly what the US has been offering its citizens in the last 50 years)

The system entails a certain Trump-like suspicion of science and dismissal of history, but that’s a price the inhabitants of Huxley’s world happily pay. They don’t mourn their lost liberty, the way Orwell’s Winston Smith does; they don’t even know it’s gone.

Charles McGrath was the editor of the Book Review from 1995 to 2004, and is now a contributing writer for The Times. Earlier he was the deputy editor and the head of the fiction department of The New Yorker. Besides The Times, he has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic and Outside. He is the editor of two golf books — “The Ultimate Golf Book” and “Golf Stories” — and is currently working on an edition of John O’Hara’s stories for the Library of America.

By Siddhartha Deb

Why stop at one of two books, as if the literary realm must mimic the denuded, lesser-of-two evils choices of electoral politics?

Photo

Siddhartha Deb Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

There exists a comfortably predictable and, to my mind, uninspired approach to the dystopic novel and its powers of prognosis, a Pavlovian response that involves reaching for a copy of George Orwell’s “1984” or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” whenever extreme turbulence hits the West.

Together they make up a short reading list, if a rather familiar one, redolent of high school literature classes and expanding, if forced, to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

That’s it, we’re done — a brief tour in four books to dystopias where the individual’s sense of freedom is always under threat from the totalitarian state.

The last few months have been hard, no doubt, the news more distressing by the hour, but there is still something perversely groupthinkish in the fact that the impulse of resistance has homed in on the same book, and that a measure of opposition to the horrors of the Trump administration is the climb of “1984” to No. 1 on Amazon.

There is much in Orwell’s novel, in fact, that translates poorly into the contemporary moment. From its texture of material deprivation, the loosely packed cigarettes and boiled cabbages recalling wartime rationing in Britain, to its portrayal of Ingsoc, Big Brother and various Ministries (Truth, Peace, Love, Plenty), all of which assume control by a heavily centralized State, it is a work very much of the ’40s as experienced by an English intellectual.

In “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” the American media critic Neil Postman in fact argued that Huxley’s novel was far more relevant than Orwell’s when it came to the United States, where the dominant mode of control over people was through entertainment, distraction, and superficial pleasure rather than through overt modes of policing and strict control over food supplies, at least when it came to managing the middle classes.

Three decades after Postman’s account, when we can add reality television, the internet and social media to the deadly amusements available, “Brave New World” can still seem strikingly relevant in its depiction of the relentless pursuit of pleasure.

From the use of soma as a kind of happiness drug to the erasure of the past not so much as a threat to government, as is the case in Orwell’s dystopia, but as simply irrelevant (“History is bunk”), Huxley marked out amusement and superficiality as the buttons that control

His relentless focus on the body, too, seems inspired, his understanding of what Michel Foucault identified as “biopolitics,” extending to the individual body as well as to entire populations and, in “Brave New World,” playing out as a eugenic system based on caste, class, race, looks and size.

As for his depiction of the “savage reservation” in New Mexico, this seems to foreshadow the fetishization of the natural on the part of one of the most artifice-ridden populations in the history of the world.

A great deal funnier, subtler and darker than Orwell’s book, Huxley’s satire nevertheless has its limitations.

A World State? Games of escalator squash? In any case, why stop at one of two books, as if the literary realm must mimic the denuded, lesser-of-two-evils choices of electoral politics?

There are other powerful fictional dystopias that speak to the United States of today, including a significant portion of the oeuvre of Philip K. Dick and Octavia E. Butler.

There is J.G. Ballard’s hallucinatory Reagan-era “Hello America,” with a future United States that has many contending presidents, including President Manson, who plays nuclear roulette in Las Vegas.

Why not read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and Sandra Newman’s “The Country of Ice Cream Star” and Anna North’s “America Pacifica” and Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” and Claire Vaye Watkins’s “Gold Fame Citrus” and Vanessa Veselka’s “Zazen” and Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Water Knife”?

If the world is going dark, we may as well read as much as possible before someone turns off the light.

What sort of Democracy the Greater Middle East plan has for the Moslem World? (Dec. 30, 2005)

Under the threatening banner of fighting terrorism in the Greater Middle East (GME) region and installing democracy and freedom of speech instead of extremist Islamic salafist religious’ dogmas the USA and its allies are encouraging civil wars among the people and splintering the region into smaller and smaller self governing state-nations. Every civilian killing attempts perpetrated every where in the World are labeled a terrorist act and the perpetrators heaped on the Al Qaeda group which was supposed to have been wiped out in Afghanistan or in most instances blamed on other Islamic extremist offshoots.

Meanwhile, the Western Nations are enacting laws restricting freedom of speech in Media and publications, extracting war executive orders to detaining of suspects without due legal recourse, spying on their own citizens and listening on communication calls against the rules of law in the name of fighting terrorists’ plans and their organizational and financial resources and capabilities.  The political atmosphere in the USA and many European countries is heading toward applying Martial Laws and these restrictive and restraining climates against Liberty and Freedom could be viewed as training sessions for the coming open war.

What is this GME policy?  The USA was feeling comfortable after the Second World War as to its global strategic military superiority and its naval and land military bases throughout the five oceans.  The oligarchic and dictatorial regimes in the Arab World were facilitating the USA policy of dominion and Israel was its local heavy stick whenever any regime ventured to resist it by simply recovering lands captured by Israel or to exhibit independent tendencies with the support of the Soviet Union. The advent of Worldwide organized “terrorist attacks” and the inability to contain that movement with classical military interventions, mainly after the failure of the USA to maintain peace and stability in Iraq, led to a smoke screen change in the tactical approach for preserving hegemony in the Arabic Islamic World.

The code name is to divert the attention of the Islamic masses by offering minimal political representations within the oligarchic regimes which might satisfy the disposition of the people to a first step democratic level of governance and more leeway for freedom of speech and publication. It is interesting to study the small changes that the USA means to bring to the region through the electoral systems in Egypt and Saudi Arabia; at this pace these two countries might require a century before any meaningful democracy is established, for starter the female gender has still to be permitted to drive officially in Saudi Arabia.  It is also interesting to hear the howl of despair coming from the US administration every time the extremist Moslem political organizations are about to win any election; for example, Hamas in Palestine is to be forbidden to participate in the Parliamentary election if any election is to take place and the Moslem Brotherhoods in Egypt are detained and fraudulent election admitted as legitimate; the election results in Iraq need more than 3 weeks to be officially declared while the wide sweeping victory of the Islamists in Algeria was militarily canceled and savagely contained a decade ago.

Not that the people in this region care to have Islamic salafist doctrinal political systems installed but a reaction to the complete failure of the US to regard us but merely modern slaves in an area flush in oil.  For more than 80 years the people in every Arabic country have been trying to experiment with democratic systems and these attempts have been aborted by the tacit support of the US to monarchic, oligarchic and one party regime.

The war strategy is not concerned with the governments, already subjugated and controlled for decades, but targeting the Moslem people in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain and the Arab Emirates.  The Moslem countries not socially or culturally closely related to Arabic or Persian influence or having large Moslem minorities will be drastically contained through strict financial and economic constraints such as Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Malaysia in Asia and Nigeria and the Northern non Arabic African people in Chad, Niger, Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea.

What is being offered is basically a psychological “feeling good” attitude toward the prospect of fair representation without any substantial variations in the system of governance that suit grandly the interests of the USA imperialists. The policy of the GME striving for mega Media propaganda of “feeling good” attitude of forthwith democratic change is a sick chimerical gamble hoping that the average masses will be tamed into moderation or the regimes would have an opportunity to win a majority that would permit them to repress the extremist elements. The Arabic people and Moslems in general have digested the smoke screen tactics of the US and Western World and their god fatherly dialogues that make their blood curl and they cannot be fooled for long; in the mean while precious time is burned away mindlessly with no serious alternatives to genuine solutions.

So far, Iran has grasped the extent of that visible danger and has been feverishly acquiring military deterrence power, economic self sufficiency and utilizing the mass Medias to enlightening the Moslem World to the coming calamities.  The Iranian regime is diffusing the message of unity and integrity among the Moslem masses and projecting the image of confident defiance: it is steadfast on its Uranium enrichment program on its proper soil for nuclear deterrence, saving its oil production, negotiating with Russia, China and India for economic cooperation and openly casting Israel as a spearhead colony of the US in the region.  Iran is not about to relinquish its influence in Iraq or in Lebanon through the powerful political party of Hezbollah or in Western Afghanistan where its Foreign minister is currently spending a few days there to keep strong links with its citizens.  Iran is heading to become the catalyst of the next calamity with the tacit economic and military support of China and Russia.

The alternative to prevent this dangerous trend and revert to a rational and peaceful coexistence is a secular, democratic and national Arabic force to take control of its destiny; unfortunately, what is required is inexistent, not even in its embryo, because of the perennial foolish US policy in this region of squashing the spirit of secular and democratic nationalism for short term benefits. The US cannot win the looming war in the long term in the Greater Middle East, unless the purpose is indeed to set this region ablaze and its populations impotent for centuries to come, because the masses consider the US policies as the master evil in the world in planning and execution.

The reaction of the Moslems, in face of the sustained heavy handed and total disrespect of the US policies to support our claims for human rights and fair representations and abusing the United Nations to squeeze our survival capabilities through economic and financial embargoes, is toward fundamentalism and is typified by the successes of Hamas in Palestine and the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt in the Parliamentary and municipality elections and the strong inroads of the Islamic Jihad political parties in Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Sudan in the societies’ fabrics. It seems that the Moslems are reverting to staunch dogmatic principles reminiscent of a coming war with the infidel Crusaders and with valid rhetorical and logical reasoning.

There are a few baffling signs that this GME policy might not survive or a more viable alternative supercede the current policy of alienating the Arabs and Moslems; for example the pressures on the Bush Jr. administration to rescind the restraining laws on private freedom and telephone and internet communication and acknowledging the flimsy basis for conquering Iraq and a popular waves of demonstrations against the all encompassing powers that the administration has snatched from Congress and concentrated in the executive branch under the prerogatives of war on terrorism.

I am leaning toward the option that by coining the term “terrorists” to connote Islamists and acknowledging that terrorism is stronger and far reaching than contemplated that the momentum for carrying the GME policy is becoming a bipartisan policy throughout the USA and the Western World. The quagmires that the international forces are experiencing in Iraq are driving them out; though it appears a tactical maneuver to regroup and figure out a strategy to crank the vise on the GME people and let them succumb under a wretched life of lack of freedom, democracy and poor economic and social development.  The European Union is about to give up on the application of human rights in the GME and is ready to adopt shortcuts to our difficulties and may temporary let us die slowly and vanish in the night.

Let us not fool ourselves; every time discrimination on the basis of religion or color or gender or nationality or custom is condoned inside or outside the boundaries of a nation, whenever human rights are baffled, people detained on flimsy charges and without due normal legal recourse, prisoners tortured to extract confessions and killed in their detention centers then the spirit of extremism has indeed taken roots and the dictatorship system is deeply entrenched regardless of how developed a nation is or how loud they claim to have democracy and the rule of law and order among its citizens.

If we had to rely solely on the United Nations to temper the drive of the most powerful Nations, nations that have the tendency of bypassing genuine diplomatic procedures into direct military interventions toward the weaker nations, then we should be pessimistic about the coming war.  There are a few realities that might prevent outright declaration of war by the Western World to the Islamic Arabic and Persian World; first, the European Union is a complex assembly of Nations that could not be easily ruled solely by France, Germany and Britain in matters of participating in wars with multiple interactions with other bordering Nations; second, the Latin American countries are leaning toward socialism and are verbally antagonistic to USA imperialism; thirdly, the Far East with a heavy concentration of Moslems is not about to endanger its economic cooperation by internal political struggles that do not enhance their survival as a viable economic and financial block; and fourthly, Russia is too aware of the importance of the stability of its former Islamic Nations bordering Iran, Turkey and Pakistan to gamble on a fruitless policy of discrimination against the Moslem people.

However, if war is declared and any powerful nation sides with the Islamic masses and support it militarily then we might witness the prophetic vision of George Orwell for future social and political organizations based on Communist blueprints as he described in his book entitled “1984”; an era of constant low level wars among three super blocks of nations. One other thing, if another world war is declared against the Moslems our puppet regimes would collapse and, win or lose, Israel will cease to exist before an armistice is reached.

If the attack on the Twin Towers occurred during the invasion of Iraq then the US would have declared war plainly and simply and the Moslem and Arabic people would have not vacillated for so long and remained manipulated, extorted and abused by the reactionary Arabic regimes holding on for dear life.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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