Who had the more prophetic and realistic vision of a dystopian future?
George Orwell? Or Aldous Huxley?
Orwell, most famous for Nineteen Eighty-Four (one of the earliest works inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame), was inspired by Stalinist communism in imagining his “hard tyranny” of brute dictatorship.
Huxley, best known for Brave New World, worried that a softer tyranny would ultimately prevail, one more insidious partly because it was more enveloping of both politics and culture and more seductive via a future of mindless pleasures.
Writing for the Institute for Art and Ideas, a British philosophical organization founded in 2008, British university instructor Emrah Atasoy compares Orwell and Huxley’s different dystopian visions in an informed and provocative essay: “Orwell, Huxley and the path to truth: How fiction can help us to understand reality.”
“In a world heavily stricken by disaster and tragedy, we may of late find ourselves asking whether we live in a utopia or dystopia,” Atasoy writes.
“In this transitionary period, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) come to mind whenever the word dystopia is spoken of as the two pioneering cult texts.
“These classic dystopias seem to depict completely different world orders; however, the rulers’ ultimate motivation in these respective novels remains the same: to circumvent possible dissent and uprising against their repressive regimes and to have total conformity and submission, in order to maintain absolute power and govern in line with their interests accordingly, even though their means are disparate.”
“Comparing and contrasting Huxleyan dystopia and Orwellian dystopia in the last instance, various pivotal questions emerge: Which projection resembles the reality we experience today? Which speculation best represents our society today?”
While finding much to savor in each novel and identifying several common themes in each that continue to resonate, Atasoy ultimately concludes that Huxley’s “soft tyranny” better fits the disturbing and complex trends of today.
“I believe that both authors predicted the future and today’s world correctly in their respective ways.
“Orwellian projection through sheer suppression can be observed in various parts of the world, as representation rather than truth itself may become more important and powerful due to the manipulative discourse and rhetoric of the ruling powers, and implanting absolute fear, rather than freedom, is the triggering force of various governing bodies.
“In different parts of the world, a society of fear, or surveillance society,.. has been created through constant watching via social media, populism, demagogy, and propaganda.”
BRAVE NEW WORLD
Meanwhile, Huxley’s dystopian classic achieves much the same goals through subtler and more seductive means.
“There is insistence on perpetual consumerism through the state motto “Ending is better than mending”; this social conditioning is compounded through the destruction of familial bonds and the prevention of emotional bonds, and through direct psychological conditioning in the form of hypnopaedia (sleep-teaching) or Neo-Pavlovian conditioning to deter children from books.
“Through all of the above measures, individuality is suppressed…, manipulative social engineering is enforced, and absolute power is maintained under the guise of a free “utopian” society.”
“Big Brother creates a cult of the leader, in which thought-crime is used to prevent critical thinking and questioning, and hate weeks are organised to make citizens hate enemies of Oceania such as Emmanuel Goldstein, and by extension increase loyalty to Big Brother and the Party. Banning sexual activity (which Winston violates through his sexual activity with Julia) aims to prevent the development of emotional bonds, and the violation of this results in “rewiring” this love towards Big Brother in the Ministry of Love, through torture (best exemplified through the protagonist Winston Smith’s journey of
rehabilitation and renormalisation in Room 101, which teaches him to love Big Brother again, and that 2+2=5).”
Of course, the subtitle of Atasoy’s essay makes explicit one of the assumptions behind the Prometheus Awards: That fiction matters…. a lot… in shaping our ideas and assumptions.Despite a common misconception, science fiction writers do not actually predict the future. Instead, they imagine various scenarios, asking “what if?” and exploring the consequences, but all within the goal of telling good stories and imagining human behavior under multiple scenarios.Great literature, at its best, reminds us of human nature and history as well as the manifold human possibilities that people have explored – a far broader range than has existed within any one time and place.
Orwell’s two Prometheus Hall of Fame winners – Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm – resonate today as cautionary tales… not specific prophecies of the future but reminders of the grim past that may arise again if the lessons of history and human nature are not learned anew.To read the entire essay, visit the IAI.TV website.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE:
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