Back in junior high, I read George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World back to back. These weren’t assigned by a teacher. They were just part of my recreational reading I was doing back then–which involved devouring pretty much every science fiction book I could get my hands on. (Those covers shown above were on the versions I read. Seeing them again was like seeing a long-lost friend.)
By the time I entered high school, I had already read pretty much everything written by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clark and was moving on to the very “far out” and rather adult Robert Heinlein books like Stranger in the Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, and I Will Fear No Evil.
In the midst of all that, a friend recommended the two great dystopian novels of the 20th Cenetury–and I ate them up. Of course, that was the mid-to-early 1970s. The Cold War still very much defined the way everyone thought about pretty much everything.
Communism was on the march. The “dominoes” were falling in Southeast Asia. Soviet-backed insurgencies were undermining governments in Africa, South America, and Central America. And NATO stood guard lest Soviet tanks start rolling toward Western Europe.
Back then it seemed clear that Orwell’s vision of the future was the horse to bet on. But today that is not nearly so clear.
To be sure, people in North Korea have been living Orwell’s nightmare for six decades. And to somewhat lesser degrees people in Cuba, Syria, Burma, Belarus, Zimbabwe, China and Turkmenistan would recognize their lives on the pages of 1984.
But in the soft, free, decadent, declining West, it is Huxley’s vision that is becoming our reality. The other day I came across a “cartoon” by a talented illustrator named Stuart McMillen that beautifully depicts this truth. In the cartoon below, McMillen illustrates a passage from Neil Postman’s very important book, Amusing Ourselves to Death:
By the way, my good friend Casey Cook turned me on to Postman’s book several years ago and I am in his debt for doing so. I strongly recommend it.