Jason e-mailed this to me earlier in the week, and I thought it was well worth passing along. It’s important to note that this book was written in 1986 (!), long before DirecTV, reality shows, etc. and the explosion of cell phones and the internet. His comment about the truth drowning in a sea of irrelevance is frighteningly timely.
In the foreword to the book (Amusing Ourselves To Death) Postman contrasts the visions offered in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949):
Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing.
Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.
In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.