Huxley’s Dystopia vs Orwell’s Dystopia – SotD #5
I have stumbled upon this comic a couple of times now, and I really do enjoy seeing it every time. I don’t completely agree with the conclusion it draws – that in some way Aldous Huxley is right, and George Orwell wasn’t – I think they both had incredibly insightful and prescient warnings in each of their books. They just have different angles on the same thing…
Without a doubt it is easy to look around our society and see incredibly frightening elements of each novel in plain sight. Whether it be the thousands of surveillance cameras scattered throughout every public area, or the constant distraction of modern ‘entertainment’, it is easy to find plenty of evidence FOR either one of the authors. Students for an Orwellian Society do this very well in favour of Orwell.
Very recently in fact I read this article on Boing Boing:
TSA screeners are learning to recognize set of secret, forbidden facial expressions. If your face slips into one of these during a TSA inspection, you will be taken off and given a thorough, secondary screening
They then made a frightening comparison to Orwell’s description of Facecrime in 1984.
…to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called. (Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 1, Chapter 5)
What I really want to point out in this piece though, is that this comic seems to forget, or miss one major point about 1984 – the book was about the members of the ministry. It constantly referred to the ‘proles’, but essentially had no contact with them. I remember when I first read the book as a naive teenager who didn’t understand what ‘Prole’ meant, I thought they were some sort of underclass of people, much the way slaves were once thought of. When I found out the proles were the working class, I had to go back and re-read it!!
1984 is about the Upper Class vs the Ruling Class. Brave New World is about the Working Class. They are describing different classes, different groups of people, and different forms of control. And they are both right.
1984 doesn’t hide this fact at all, and most of the book is spent showing how the Proles are the only chance that the Upper Class have of over throwing the dictatorial Ruling Class that have entrenched themselves…
One scene where Winston is walking amongst the proles will always stick in my mind. He sees a group of proles together, clearly excited – “It was obviously some serious piece of news that they were reading” – Winston got excited, thinking that the Proles were getting worked up over politics, or something which mattered, only to find out that they were a group of people looking at the lottery numbers.
1984’s warningÂ is not in competition with Brave New Worlds warning – it is in TANDEM. The proles – the working class – the people who are happy with an average life and who don’t really care about politics, don’t really care about why we go to war, or what motivates people in power – they are easily ‘controlled’ – that is, you give them enough to do, enough pleasure, enough hope, and they will be happy. They will stay in their place. Both books make the same point.
Brave New World is all about the proles and how easily people are kept slaves to their own desires. 1984 is all about the elite – the thinkers, the activists…the people who UNDERSTAND the problem – and how these people are controlled. Thinkers and activists don’t watch television. They don’t play the lottery. They don’t read Horoscopes. But they do fear being singled out when travelling and detained for long periods, with threat of being put in prison. They do fear being declared a terrorist. They fear losing the ability to be informed.
I think Huxley was absolutely right with his warning, and his vision of society is definitely very close to how we live, and where we are going. The average person really doesn’t care, and is happy with their life. I’m glad we have something closer to Brave New World for the working class than what was pictured in 1984 for the Proles.
I think Orwell was absolutely right with his warning, and his vision of how the top 0.1% power brokers on earth control the next 10-20% of power is incredibly insightful. Most of the population may not care about government censorship, increasing surveillance, forfeit of freedoms etc because it won’t impact on their day to day inane lifestyles – but the people who fear for the ongoing freedoms, the people who understand what one loss of freedom at a time may mean – they are being kept in perpetual fear of what our governments are getting away with.