So-called conservatives out of their minds — still, but moreso: 3 reasons not to fear ‘Brave New World’


You can’t make up this kind of crazy.  This guy’s been Tweeting this to everyone he can find on Twitter:

Seriously?  Hatcheries for children?

Isaac Asimov‘s great off-the-cuff essay one why 1984 wouldn’t be like 1984 is sort of a prototype of the sort of take-down of dystopias one finds in literary and historical circles.  (Once I had a link to a version of the essay, but it’s buried in the bowels of the internet now.)

First edition cover

Is this where we are going, so rapidly in this handbasket? First edition cover, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – Wikipedia image

But it never makes the true crazies see the light.  They can’t see contrary evidence.

Asimov’s essay noted Orwell’s lack of foresight in simple things, and human things.  In Orwell’s Big Brother dystopia, Winston Smith couldn’t get razor blades or shoe laces, indicators of the economic failures of Big Brother.  Asimov wrote that, in reality,  he used an electric razor, and wore slip-on shoes.  Blades and laces were foreign to his world, too, but not evidence of dystopia; instead, they were evidence of changing fashion and innovation. Orwell thought Big Brother would watch everyone with electronics.  We learned that people as a mass, who use phones, especially cell phones, and the internet, put out too much information in total for a Big Brother to make sense of it, absent other indicators — and that even when hints of wrong-doing turn up, the bureaucracies tend to prevent quick action, or any action at all.  (See the report of the 9/11 Commission.)

One wishes Asimov were alive to do a take-down of the Brave New World fears.  One also suspects those living in fear of Huxley wouldn’t understand the takedown.

Huxley himself gave it away.  Nothing in scientific discoveries has altered Huxley’s errors of prediction (if he was “predicting” and not simply fantasizing).

So, here are three reasons a rational human should not fear we are on the verge of Brave New World, as Huxley scared us all:

  1. Huxley’s dead, and out of date.  Huxley died 50 years ago (on November 22, 1963, coincidentally enough — Sam Theissen with find some omen in that; superstition can’t be stamped out of those who refuse to learn).  Huxley’s premises, his assumptions about society, don’t work in a modern world.  Huxley’s imaginings were almost pre-modern science.  His story doesn’t imagine electricity on the Navaho or Hopi or Apache reservations.  He didn’t foresee Interstate Highways, nor even Route 66, and America’s love affair with travel and the automobile.  He didn’t see the rise of broadcast television and radio, nor rock ‘n roll, nor especially did he see the cultural effects of popular radio on U.S., British or world politics.  Huxley assumes a Soviet-style dictatorship can work.  We know better.  We have Solzhenitsyn.  We had Sakharov protesting in the Soviet Union, and Oppenheimer protesting in the U.S.  That should also remind us that Huxley missed nuclear power.  Huxley simply missed most of the technology and especially culturally-affective technology that makes a Brave New World impossible.
  2. Human hatcheries don’t work.  Hatcheries work for fish; we’ve been unable to make them work for most birds.  Critically, they don’t work for humans, nor for any other complex mammalian — nor chordate, in the ways Huxley describes the embryoes being programmed for certain kinds of intelligence and physical traits.  Oddly, that seems to be the focus of Thiessen’s fears — but the technology simply doesn’t work.
  3. Sex is fun. Huxley’s story required that sex and procreation be done away with.  Oh, there was some sex — but procreative sex is presented as a shameful character flaw, like patricide, embezzling or drug dealing.  Brave New World is frustrated, in the 20th century, by the backseats of cars and the simple fact that sex is so much fun.  Raising kids is fun, too, and valued by adults the world over, a value that got much more expression after World War II.

It’s difficult to imagine kids in high school reading Brave New World without giggling, and without noting the difficulties of the story now (try to get a high school kid to believe Superman used phone booths . . .).

Sam Thiessen is convinced civilization will collapse — he’s written books about it.  I wonder about people who miss the ultimately fatal flaw of Huxley’s story, that humans love one another, and humans like to have sex.  Those who fear Huxley’s book is a forecast, I think, either don’t get enough sex, or don’t know how.

The things are going with current witch hunts, Texas teachers who use Huxley’s book should look out — Thiessen and his fellow travelers will soon accuse them of indoctrinating students in the stuff, instead of warning them against it.  After all, Thiessen seems to have missed the warnings himself.

I’d wager that in other rants, self-titled conservatives and libertarians like Thiessen rail at the usual-suspect decline in morals, including a lot of actions shocking to them, caused by the fact that most people find sex really fun.  Does it not make sense that they’d take a step back, and see that the behavior they claim disgusts them, also makes possible the broken future they fear?

Oblivious to this odd balance of freedoms, they then campaign to end the immorality they see, never thinking that by doing so they advance the dystopia they claim to fear.  What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to misperceive.

More:

A note about the title of the book:

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

  ♦ William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I; spoken by Miranda

About these ads

5 Responses to So-called conservatives out of their minds — still, but moreso: 3 reasons not to fear ‘Brave New World’

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Also, there is this section from Asimov, below. Just try to read through it without seeing in it the CSCOPE critics, the Texas State Board of Education, and without then laughing out loud, with a little shudder:

    In addition to the immortality of Big Brother, Orwell presents two otherways of maintaining an eternal tyranny.

    First -,present someone or something to hate. In the Orwellian world it was Emmanuel Goldstein for whom hate was built up and orchestrated in a robotized mass function.

    This is nothing new, of course. Every nation in the world has used various neighbours for the purpose of hate. This sort of thing is so easily handled and comes as such second nature to humanity that one wonders why there have to be the organised hate drives in the Orwellian world.

    It needs scarcely any clever psychological mass movements to make Arabs hate Israelis and Greeks hate Turks and Catholic Irish hate Protestant Irish – and vice versa in each case. To be sure, the Nazis organised mass meetings of delirium that every participant seemed to enjoy, but it had no permanent effect. Once the war moved on to German soil, the Germans surrendered as meekly as though they had never Sieg-Heiled in their lives.

    Second – rewrite history. Almost every one of the few individuals we meet in 1984 has, as his job, the rapid rewriting of the past, the readjustment of statistics, the overhauling of newspapers – as though anyone is going to take the trouble to pay attention to the past anyway.

    This Orwellian preoccupation with the minutiae of ‘historical proof’ is typical of the political sectarian who is always quoting what has been said and done in the past to prove a point to someone on the other side who is always quoting something to the opposite effect that has been said and done.

    As any politician knows, no evidence of any kind is ever required. It is only necessary to make a statement – any statement – forcefully enough to have an audience believe it. No one will check the lie against the facts, and, if they do, they will disbelieve the facts. Do you think the German people in 1939 pretended that the Poles had attacked them and started World War II? No! Since they were told that was so, they believed it as seriously as you and I believe that they attacked the Poles.

    To be sure, the Soviets put out new editions of their Encyclopaedia in which politicians rating a long biography in earlier editions are suddenly omitted entirely, and this is no doubt the germ of the Orwellian notion, but the chances of carrying it as far as is described in 1984 seem to me to be nil – not because it is beyond human wickedness, but because it is totally unnecessary.

    Orwell makes much of ‘Newspeak’ as an organ of repression – the conversion of the English language into so limited and abbreviated an instrument that the very vocabulary of dissent vanishes. Partly he got the notion from the undoubted habit of abbreviation. He gives examples of ‘Communist International’ becoming ‘Comintern’ and ‘Geheime Staatspolizei’ becoming ‘Gestapo’, but that is not a modern totalitarian invention. ‘Vulgus mobile’ became ‘mob'; ‘taxi cabriolet’ became ‘cab'; ‘quasi-stellar radio source’ became ‘quasar'; ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation’ became ‘laser’ and so on. There is no sign that such compressions of the language have ever weakened it as a mode of expression.

    As a matter of fact, political obfuscation has tended to use many words rather than few, long words rather than short, to extend rather than to reduce. Every leader of inadequate education or limited intelligence hides behind exuberant inebriation of loquacity.

    Thus, when Winston Churchill suggested the development of ‘Basic English’ as an international language (something which undoubtedly also contributed to ‘Newspeak’), the suggestion was stillborn. We are therefore in no way approaching Newspeak in its condensed form, though we have always had Newspeak in its extended form and always will have.

    We also have a group of young people among us who say things like ‘Right on, man, you know. It’s like he’s got it all together, you know, man. I mean, like you know -‘ and so on for five minutes when the word that the young people are groping for is ‘Huh?’

    That, however, is not Newspeak, and it has always been with us, too. It is something which in Oldspeak is called ‘inarticulacy’ and it is not what Orwell had in mind.

    Like

  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Thank you! Yes, that’s the one. Especially these paragraphs:

    Orwell was unable to conceive of computers or robots, or he would have placed everyone under non-human surveillance. Our own computers to some extent do this in the IRS, in credit files, and so on, but that does not take us towards 1984, except in fevered imaginations. Computers and tyranny do not necessarily go hand in hand. Tyrannies have worked very well without computers (consider the Nazis) and the most computerised nations in today’s world are also the least tyrannical.

    Orwell lacks the capacity to see (or invent) small changes. His hero finds it difficult in his world of 1984 to get shoelaces or razor blades. So would I in the real world of the 1980s, for so many people use slip-on shoes and electric razors.

    Then, too, Orwell had the technophobic fixation that every technological advance is a slide downhill. Thus, when his hero writes, he ‘fitted a nib into the penholder and sucked it to get the grease off. He does so ‘because of a feeling that the beautiful creamy paper deserved to be written on with a real nib instead of being scratched with an ink-pencil’.

    Presumably, the ‘ink-pencil’ is the ball-point pen that was coming into use at the time that 1984 was being written. This means that Orwell describes something as being written’ with a real nib but being ‘scratched’ with a ball-point. This is, however, precisely the reverse of the truth. If you are old enough to remember steel pens, you will remember that they scratched fearsomely, and you know ball-points don’t.

    This is not science fiction, but a distorted nostalgia for a past that never was. I am surprised that Orwell stopped with the steel pen and that he didn’t have Winston writing with a neat goose quill.

    Dear Readers, click over to that site and take a read.

    Who was it said, “Predictions are difficult, especially about the future?” Or something like that?

    Still true.

    Like

  3. eyeonicr says:

    Is this the Asimov review you were talking about? http://www.newworker.org/ncptrory/1984.htm

    Like

  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Lars, I think you’re right — though Orwell’s book was treated as a warning for what would happen if we didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance with enough gusto, or what could happen if we voted for commies and didn’t read enough, while I was young.

    Asimov’s pointed out, perhaps not so explicitly as needed, that treating the books as predictive was unproductive. His illustrations on predictive errors in technology and culture were preface to his argument that we need to think in order to make a better future.

    Conservatives aren’t thinking, today — especially those who fall sucker to the hoaxes about our president’s religion, those who cannot see beyond his skin color, and those so blinded by fear that they think any U.S. politician is in cahoots with Joe Stalin.

    We had a remake of “Red Dawn” in the last year, I hear (it didn’t hit my radar). It was a stupid movie the first time, though it did suggest Americans would resist a tyrant. That’s still true.

    More important, a free-market, free-swinging, “immoral” economy like ours is like a herd of cats, cats of all sizes. You can’t herd ‘em, you know?

    Where does totalitarianism work today? North Korea? No one desires that. (I didn’t ask where totalitarianism works to the benefit of its people — the closest to that might be Singapore, but that’s a rather different story, one that these conservative Chicken Little’s don’t know.)

    Like

  5. Lars says:

    Ed, I think that both 1984 and Brave New World were intended as satires, drawing attention to trends that both authors saw and worried about in the world around them at the times that they were writing. I could probably make a better case for 1984 – I’ve read a lot more Orwell – but both he and Huxley were primarily realistic writers (OK, there was Animal Farm, but that was about as far as Orwell went and further than Huxley ever did) and the prognostications were probably more there to provide traction for their messages than intended as serious pictures of a world to come. The reader’s going to be drawn further in to a future imagined in detail, which will contrast the more markedly with whatever (the totalitarian mindset, comfortable consumerist fascism) the author is satirizing.

    Like

Play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,332 other followers

%d bloggers like this: