I was leaving the downtown library when I saw a familiar face. His hair was a little longer and wilder, almost like the Doc Brown character from the 1980s “Back to the Future” movies. And his face was thinner with deeper creases. But the eyes were as lively as ever.
“You’ve got the wrong book,” said my old friend K.C.
“What do you mean?” I responded.
“The wrong book,” he said pointing to the copy of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” that I held.
“You won’t find what you’re looking for in Orwell,” K.C. said. “Try reading Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” It’s closer to what we’re facing today.
“But people are talking about Orwell and how prophetic “1984” was about what’s going on now,” I said. “You know, fake news, Big Brother, that kind of stuff.”
“If ‘1984’ was prophetic of anything, it was the authoritarian rule in China and the Soviet Union during the 1950s and ’60s. It’s not that relevant today, to us. But ‘Brave New World’ is.”
“How so?” I asked.
“I read an article a few weeks ago in The Guardian by a guy named Andrew Postman,” K.C. said. “Postman said his father, Neil Postman, who taught at New York University, wrote a book in 1985 called ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ in which he looked at the depictions of Orwell and Huxley and concluded that we have a lot more to fear from ‘Brave New World’ than ‘1984.’
“First,” K.C. said, “when Postman wrote his book, the year 1984 had already come and gone without any of the dire predictions of Orwell’s Big Brother or thought police occurring. At least, not here.
“But,” I said, “ ‘Brave New World’ was written in 1931, and ‘1984’ was published in 1950. If nothing else, you’d think Orwell had the advantage of nearly two decades and a world war.”
“Maybe Huxley was just smarter,” K.C. said. “If you think about it, his novel makes more sense. It’s set 600 years in the future, which allowed time for a lot of technology to develop that people were just talking about in 1931, like television and genetic engineering and pharmaceuticals,” he said.
“It just makes sense that, if you’re a dictator trying to maintain control, you’ll have better long-term success by lulling people into complacency by gratifying their basic desires, rather than scaring them into submission.
“Huxley never knew what a video game was,” K.C. said. “But if he had, I’m sure he would have included it in his list of control mechanisms, along with ‘feelies,’ which were total immersion movies, and ‘soma,’ which was his feel-good, cure-all pill.
“What’s really scary is the leaders in Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ thought science and art were dangerous and needed to be carefully controlled so they did not foster critical thinking and lead people astray. “Those leaders learned over time that permanent war is a good antidote for liberty and individuality,” K.C. said.
“In a follow-up written after World War II,” he added, “Huxley explained that another trick dictators, including Adolf Hitler, used was to ignore reality and make up their own facts.
“Dictators use propaganda to control people by acknowledging only black and white, no gray, and by repeating violent words, like “hatred,” “force,” “ruthless” and “smash.”
“Or warning about ‘bad hombres’ and inflating crime statistics,” I suggested, smiling.
“Whatever,” K.C. said, scowling as he walked away.