Huxley vs. Orwell: Who has it right?

I know this isn’t directly related to the business of journalism, but I figured I’d be allowed to write one off-topic post.  Actually, it does have something to do with the business of journalism, it’s just not directly correlated.  I’m blabbing.

I’m not sure how many of you have read both 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, but they are both works of fiction that describe a dystopian future.  More people are familiar with Orwell’s boot-in-your-face, Thought Police (police can read your thoughts), Newspeak (oppressive language that limits variety in vocabulary); less, though, are familiar with Huxley’s dystopia.  His dystopia is a lot less outwardly oppressive.  Citizens are given a wealth of entertainment and distractions and are kept happy via Soma, a pharmaceutical drug that has similar effects to opiates.  

After reading an article by Bill Moyers on the topic, he firmly cemented my beliefs that, while both have valid points, Huxley’s dystopia is more feasible than Orwells.  Essentially, happiness is the key to control.  People want to stay happy, and it’s much easier to control a happy populace than it is an angry one.  You can only control a population if you have the will of the people on your side; in Orwell’s 1984, the people are forced to submit their will to the government; in Huxley’s dystopia, people are voluntarily submitting their wills.  

Huxley also makes a very interesting statement about the mass communications industry:

Mass commu­nication, in a word, is neither good nor bad; it is simply a force and, like any other force, it can be used either well or ill. Used in one way, the press, the radio and the cinema are indispensable to the survival of democracy. Used in another way, they are among the most powerful weapons in the dictator’s armory. In the field of mass communications as in almost every other field of enterprise, technological progress has hurt the Little Man and helped the Big Man…

 In regard to propaganda the early advocates of uni­versal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democra­cies — the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.


Aldous Huxley is so underrated. Our downfall will not come from an outwardly oppressive government, it will come from within. We’ll have the truth at our fingertips, but we’ll be drowned in triviality and irrelevance; information overload, if you will. Orwell is a great writer, but Huxley’s dystopia of unabashed, almost-willful ignorance seems a lot more plausible than Orwell’s boot-in-your-face, Thought Police dystopia.


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