Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One More Post on Postman

(See HERE to view my previous writing on Postman) I want to throw out another Neil Postman post, as he has many attention grabbing ideas, but it may be my last at least for a while for as I read more of his articles online these last 2 days I began to again feel drawn to a much deeper and fuller reservoir of knowledge, or may I say, truth of us human beings, that being the work of René Girard. This is not to put down Postman for he helped me come to see much about the human predicament. He made sense out of what was going on around me as a student of human behavior - through my interest in marketing/advertising, as a retail store entrepreneur and as a parent of a special needs child (and his struggles particularly with schooling - right or wrong his mother and I chose public education for him). Anyway, here is a sample of juicy thoughts to ponder from Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death.

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Today, some 22 years after this book, I can't help but see where we are beginning to experience some of Orwell's fears coming into play, maybe due in part because of how deeply Huxley's fears took root in our beings and then in our culture. If allowed to bring in a bit of mimetic theory, I think Huxley's comment about our huge "appetite for distractions" easily advances us to what Gil Bailie relates - the generational effect of this distraction, where its fruits are a generation of hearts of indifference or defiance. And these hearts of indifference or defiance will inevitably usher in a "revolution" from outside (enter Orwell's fear). Though great in their overt ways of grabbing the attention of the masses, these 2 authors were telling, maybe in a rudimentary manner, what the Church has been pronouncing some 2000 plus years and what Girard more recently has re-focused in methodology that some sciences can start to incorporate into their research.

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