Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Huxley, Orwell, and Fascism

George Orwell wrote an essay prior to writing 1984 where he analyzed Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and made the case that it didn't really address all the questions and problems of modern life. The novel is about a futuristic society where everyone is given drugs that make them happy, everyone is given things that satisfy their biological needs and drives, and people in general are kept content by consumption so that they don't realize what's really going on. This scenario could be updated for today's consumer and media driven society, where constant consumption and work to fuel that constant consumption as well as a dominance of life by the media, particularly by television, are facts of life.

Orwell made the case that just being drugged by consumption and by media control wouldn't really be ultimate form of dystopia, negative utopia, because people possess drives other than hedonistic fullfilment. People also possess drives that urge them to seek to have power over others, to hurt people, to dominate, to control. They have drives that urge them on to war on other peoples and to enjoy a vicarious thrill of a strong leader. People have the urge to exalt the group and to demonize people outside of the group.

These types of things, Orwell argued, were what the negative utopias of the future realized in the present would be based on. I believe that Orwell specifically mentioned the nationalism of the first world war as proving this.

It's a good description of Fascism, and the ideas from that essay informed 1984 directly. You have "Big Brother" who is fighting a perpetual war for the defense of the world against whatever enemy is there at the time. Instead of drugs, besides the alcohol that's readily available, you have the "5 Minutes of Hate", where people are encouraged to yell and scream at what the official traitor, Emmanuel Goldstein, is supposedly doing. This is coupled with extreme paranoia about enemy agents infiltrating and constant vigilance to protect the state against subversion.

Not exactly a happy hedonistic society.

But it addresses all those urges that are, or were, officially ignored in the media. Since 9/11, in the United States, that's changed.

Anyways, part of what Orwell was saying was that socialism on its own wouldn't be enough to address society's problems because even if we lived in a substantially equal society there would still be the issue of power. That observation has been confirmed. With a rough equality established in the socialist countries, despite the countries being poor, the will to power manifested itself in the behavior of the beaurocracy, the party, and the state, with a will to dominate prevailing.

The concentrations of power itself need to be addressed; the ability of a small group of people to command and control things, playing on the spirit of nationalism, playing on the spirit of these negative drives while pursuing them, has to be addressed.

The structures of power that turn some people into the exercizers of power and other people into the victims of power have to in some way be overcome.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

The question of power in a socialist society is not new to socialism. The bigger question is how to stop bureaucracy.

The discussion is different talking about USA or UK in 2007 versus Russia in 1917.

Good post.