On Brave New World and surveillance

Here are some thoughts on Huxley’s dystopian (utopian?) vision in relation to our world, provided by Matthew Polinski:
In lecture Dan mentioned Huxley’s (or someone else’s?) ideas on repressed societies. It was mentioned that Huxley posited repressed societies do not notice how repressed they are, or maybe that they are at all repressed. Brave New World certainly has a repressed population. How repressed are we in Canada and Western Society as a whole? Do we notice it?
While reading Brave New World a certain passage connected in my mind to an article I had read on a recent current event.  In lecture this connection grew deeper roots. Here is the passage from Brave New World and the passages from the article that made me consider repression in our society that may: (a) Be noticeable; (b) Be right under our nose–perhaps we can even smell it but do not ever take clear look at it and consider it; (c) we may not sense our repression at all  or that we willingly concede it.
“In the end,” said Mustapha Mond, “the Controller’s realized that force was no good. The slower but infinitely surer methods of ectogenesis, neo-Pavlovian, conditioning and hypnopaedia…” (Huxley 43, Polinski’s emphasis)
In “Unmournable Bodies,” published in the wake of the Paris attacks earlier this month, Teju Cole writes
Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies…. The U.S., the U.K., and France approach statecraft in different ways, but they are allies in a certain vision of the world…. Heresies against state power are monitored and punished. People have been arrested for making anti-military or anti-police comments on social media in the U.K. Mass surveillance has had a chilling effect on journalism and on the practice of the law in the U.S. Meanwhile, the armed forces and intelligence agencies in these countries demand, and generally receive, unwavering support from their citizens. (Cole n.p., Polinski’s emphases, Dan’s ellipses)
Works cited
Cole, Teju. “Unmournable Bodies.” The New Yorker, 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Toronto: Vintage, 2007 [1932].
(Dan here again. Matt draws interesting and provocative connections between the practice of conditioned docility in Huxley and surveillance in today’s secular democracies (among other states). What do you think of this comparison? Is it fair? It is accurate? What is the link, if any, between “unwavering support” from the citizenry and surveillance on those very same citizens by their government? How is this acceptance bought or, if you prefer, sold? To bring back a question I asked in the first lecture: is our society closer to Huxley’s or to Orwell’s in 1984? Or are both comparisons unhelpful? If so, what future fiction better approximates our present?)
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2 Responses to On Brave New World and surveillance

  1. Matthew Polinsky says:

    To answer Professor Newman’s question,

    Is our society closer to Huxley’s or to Orwell’s in 1984? Or are both comparisons unhelpful? If so, what future fiction better approximates our present?

    I believe they are both unhelpful. I mean, we could meld elements of the two together in an attempt to fashion a closer approximation to our current society however, I think it would fall short in many aspects and intricacies that were not foreseen in either of those books. I argue it is better to forget about them both and look to, or rather add to them, recently written science fiction.

    So what future fiction better approximates our present?

    I hope to have a better feeling for this question, a better answer for it, after reading Super Sad True Love Story. Shteyngart’s book, published in 2010, is able to take what is currently happening in our society and extrapolate to where it may land us at some point in the future.

    The reason why recent writing may more accurately approximate our future is because it encompasses whatever has come up in the meantime that has drastically interfered with the path society was on. Shteyngart is a satirist, and I think the following quote applies to him.

    “Imagining that what’s happening now will keep on happening is what satirists do. It is also what simpletons do. Every huckster on television tries to sell gold by pointing to an ascending price line and insisting that it can go only ever upward. In the real world, a vector never keeps going in a straight line. It meets a countervailing force or splits in two. We never got to 1984, or to boiling Irish babies. Other forces intervened.”
    Perhaps some books are more visionary than others, maybe only in hundreds of years we’ll see which books stick, but for today I’ll settle with the answer that other forces intervene. The reason why some aspects of 1984 or Brave New World might not speak to us or apply to our society is because some of the things of that time stopped happening altogether, or something new came up to interfere with it, or something new came up with its own disparate trajectory.
    “The fun of satire is to think what would happen if nothing happens to stop what is happening. But that’s not what happens.”
    That’s not what happens. Therefore Brave New World and 1984 are unhelpful comparisons. We need new science fiction to approximate our present, as well as our near and far future.

    Works cited
    Gopnik, Adam. “The Next Thing.” The New Yorker, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.


  2. danewman1 says:

    Great comments, Matthew. I wonder, though, whether comparisons with novels like Huxley’s and Orwell’s might be “helpful” without necessarily being accurate or even approximate in the details. I don’t think either author got it quite “right,” but I do think that both raise important questions about and reveal uncomfortable aspects of our society, our psychology, and our understandings of power.


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