The Twentieth Century gave us two dystopias to consider: George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It is interesting to note, years after the fact, whose vision is closer to the reality. My vote goes to Aldous Huxley, as does the writer of this website, which compares the two point by point using comics to make their point.
In 1949, right after 1984 came out, Huxley wrote a letter to Orwell in which he doubts the latter’s vision would ever come true:
The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which 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 these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.
Last night, I saw a DVD containing what my friend Lee Sanders claims is the only filmed interview with Huxley, shortly before his death in 1963. Considering the extent to which Huxley has been one of my gurus over the last half century, it is no surprise that I found it fascinating. During the interview, Huxley repeatedly made the point that our own intellectualism was over-rigorous. He brings up the point that the Ancient Greeks needed the frenzied Corybantic Dances to maintain their lives on an even keel.
He also quoted two related poems by William Wordsworth entitled “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned.” The the former, a visitor, thought to be Hazlitt, remonstrates with the poet, who appears to be sitting and doing nothing:
‘The eye—it cannot choose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where’er they be,
Against or with our will.
’Nor less I deem that there are Powers
Which of themselves our minds impress;
That we can feed this mind of ours
In a wise passiveness.
’Think you, ’mid all this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?
’—Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
Conversing as I may,
I sit upon this old grey stone,
And dream my time away.’
In “The Tables Turned,” Wordsworth goes on the offensive:
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
Significantly, Huxley wrote a novel entitled Those Barren Leaves (1925), which I have not yet read.
Whether we fling our clothes off and engage in wild corybantic dances, or we sit still and let the world communicate with us in its own time, we are in the process sharpening and shaping our minds using all of our faculties, rather than just a few.