Sunday, June 21, 2009

Which dystopia?

I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on 1984. Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is.

The philosophy of the ruling minority in 1984 is a sadism that has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and that these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World... Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience... The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war—in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
Aldous Huxley, in a letter to George Orwell. It might be that while Orwell observed brilliantly a form of tyranny that appeared in the twentieth century, Huxley was closer to the mark in the longer term. His worry about nuclear war was very much a concern of the time he was writing in, and he was not immune to the hyperbole of ideas like "narco-hypnosis". But "infant conditioning" and "suggesting people into loving their servitude"? Absolutely.

Huxley was also correct, I think, in associating licentiousness with practical tyranny. I have no idea why this is - sexual liberty is a form of liberty, of course. Perhaps licentiousness is not. Or might it be that prescribed, approved forms of licentiousness are not?

UPDATE: And when it comes to "[tyrannical] change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency", that really has proved to be true. It has been very effective in Britain over the past ten years to combine the putting in place of very inefficient systems with a perpetual drive for efficiency that mandates the perpetual augmentation of those inefficient systems.


marksany said...

We know that building big systems, while supposed to be more efficient is in fact, less efficient. Theories exist, they have been tested and proven*. Here you propose a reason why the necessary changes are not being made. Depressing.

*Systems thinking in the public sector - by Jon Seddon

Peter Risdon said...

I don't know how conscious it is, perhaps not at all. I don't think the present government thinks of itself as tyrannical. They're stuck - to behave otherwise would mean the acknowledgement that everything they have ever believed and worked for was wrong.

Perhaps we're stumbling into tyranny rather than being driven there.

dearieme said...

The present goverment surely demonstrates that when Socialists abandon socialist theory, all that's left is the bullying.

Peter Risdon said...


dearieme said...

Of course, the technical term for people who have moved from a socialist background to bullying made into doctrine is "fascist".

Retardo said...

The thing about the licentiousness is, the approved forms of liberty are the ones that keep you distracted and quiet. Except drugs -- or maybe those keep you a little too distracted and quiet? But those in power aren't very thoughtful about this stuff anyway. I don't think they understand what they're doing.

Anyhow. Think of all the myriad ways the left would like you to enjoy yourself and express your creativity. I can't think of one that involves taking responsibility for anything, or doing anything useful. Starting a half-assed art gallery that requires subsidies to survive? Wonderful! Starting a business that turns a profit? Not so good. Unless the government requires your customers to buy what you're selling.

Of course licentiousness is liberty. You don't have to write it off just because some loathsome people happen to approve of it.

Trooper Thompson said...

"licentiousness is liberty" misused.

Corrupt and tyrannical governments do not fear licentiousness, but they do fear liberty.

Anonymous said...

I guess that for "narco-hypnosis" one might read "television".

- NaughtyRobot