Choosing the Evil We Live With
I once heard a preacher say that people almost always choose organized evil over disorganized evil. His point was that societal breakdown, if it lasts long enough and is violent enough, has great potential to result in totalitarianism. The modern corollary might read something like this – we will give away our freedoms to a government that makes us feel safe from random evil acts.
It is safe to say that our society has a fascination with dystopian movies and books. These books and films depict a totalitarian world that often arises from the ashes of apocalyptic events. We know we don’t want the future they describe, but we can’t look away.
Seminal Dystopian Works
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, published in 1932, portrays a world in which children are created outside the womb and then conditioned using chemicals and hormones to become one of five hierarchical classes. Society and economy focus on entertainment and leisure. Technology produces movies called “feelies” that allow the participant to experience all the tactile sensations that are seen on screen. A drug called soma ensures that people feel no pain and remain happy. Huxley’s fictional world portrays the logical outcome for a society that exchanges freedom and truth for pleasure, consumerism, superficiality, and government control. Accomplishing this “stable” society requires the eradication of individualism, religion and family.
1984 by George Orwell, published in 1949, describes a world divided into three zones, but the story focuses on Oceania. It is a world of constant surveillance (Big Brother) and control. “Newspeak”, the state’s controlled language, outlaws words for self-expression and free will and continually reduces language to simplistic expressions that support Big Brother and the party. A number of state “ministries” bear names that are opposite their function. For example, the Ministry of Love oversees torture and brainwashing and the Ministry of Truth produces propaganda and rewrites history. The “Thought Police” punish (and eventually torture and execute) any who dare to think in any way that is not approved by the Party.
In the foreword of his book Amusing Ourselves to Death (Published in 1985), Neil Postman stated his belief that Orwell feared a society that would deprive us of information and truth while Huxley feared a society in which, despite access to nearly unlimited information, truth would become irrelevant as people became increasingly self-absorbed and passive.
Postman goes on to say that Orwell envisioned a world in which the state controlled people by inflicting pain and that in Huxley’s fictional world people are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In 1984 humanity is ruined by what we hate. In Brave New World humanity is ruined by what we love.
The Future is Now
Dystopian movies and books have become commonplace, but few writers exhibit the foresight of Orwell and Huxley.
What better example of Big Brother could we have than modern-day China where they employ 170 million surveillance cameras to spy on its citizens with another 400 million cameras in the works. Facial recognition technology, geo tracking and a newly developed method of identifying individuals by their gait help government entities keep tabs on the citizenry.
A social credit system, already in place in some 30 cities including Beijing, will go nationwide by 2020. Surveillance data along with medical and financial records and Internet browsing history affect your social credit. Social credit scores go down for offenses such as littering, bad driving, jaywalking and smoking in non-smoking areas. Good citizens get rewards such as discounts and bank loans with lower interest rates. Bad citizens are banned from buying plane or train tickets, and have their internet speeds throttled. A bad social credit score can result in children being banned from the best schools and their parents from the best jobs. Good citizens have their portraits placed on public boards while bad citizens are publicly shamed. This is no small consequence in honor/shame societies.
Ostensibly, the Chinese government hopes to rebuild moral values and maintain societal harmony. But given that critics of the communist party or its officials get the lowest social credit scores, something more sinister is afoot.
In the United States surveillance has increased to help police catch criminals and to fight the war on terror. Private companies collect our personal data and Internet habits so that they can target us for marketing and advertising, a practice known as surveillance capitalism.
A recent Fox News report demonstrated how Google tracks our movement via our phones even with sim cards removed, WIFI turned off and the phone in airplane mode. After a trip around town with the phone in this state, they reconnected to an internet source capable of capturing the data that the phone automatically transmits to Google once internet access is restored. The data showed every place they had been and when they had been there.
Big Brother exists in the U.S. It just hasn’t yet been employed in the sinister ways seen in China.
Other Orwellian ideas have taken hold in our society. Political correctness, biased reporting, and leftist fascism all attempt to limit free speech. Fake news and revisionist history have the same effect on society as Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Whole groups within our society take on a self-appointed role of Orwell’s thought police as overlapping concepts such as social justice, intersectionality, critical theory, identity politics and cultural Marxism gain traction.
Perhaps Huxley’s vision frightens Westerners more than Orwell’s because it seems more likely to succeed. Gradually relinquishing freedom to satisfy desire while slowly sacrificing truth is an easier pill to swallow than submission to totalitarianism through ideological coercion. In fact, it seems that America’s indulgent lifestyle has made it vulnerable to collectivism, secularism and attacks on traditional marriage and family.
Socialism can give us Orwell’s world. Huxley’s indulgent society requires capitalism, at least at first, in order to produce enough technology based hedonism that people abandon purpose and meaning in their lives. Both dystopias result from loss of freedom and distortion of truth. It’s the story of humanity’s fall and the antithesis of God’s redemptive plan.
Do you see America sliding into either Huxley’s or Orwell’s vision of the future? Perhaps both? Please leave a comment.