1984 or Brave New World?

1984

It’s been 70 years since George Orwell published his dystopian novel 1984.  It’s considered one of the pivotal books of the 20th century, and if you haven’t actually read it (in the 21st century, most people haven’t) you certainly know what it’s about.  It’s a complicated tale, but the Twitter version is we better watch out or Big Government is going to go power mad and control (read “enslave”) us all.  Orwell lined up the usual suspects – censorship, disinformation, propaganda, surveillance, informants and fear – to create a pretty scary Stalinist view of the future (read “the present.”)  In fact, it’s so convincing that many of the terms Orwell invented — like Newspeak, Doublethink, Room 101 and Big Brother — are now part of our language.  The problem is George may have got it wrong.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Some computer in California is probably reading your text messages and can pinpoint your location, anywhere on planet, but – uh — so what?  Quite frankly, if the CIA, MI5, FSB or the Chinese MSS want to know anything about you, all they have to do is log into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and they’ve got all the information they need.  And that’s the crux of the situation.  Who do we have to fear – our government or ourselves?

For my money, if you want a scarier version of the future (read “the present”) take a look at Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932.  Huxley’s view is deeper and darker and a lot more prophetic.  Huxley’s says the future won’t be bleak and hungry but actually rather happy – too happy.  Huxley’s society is just as closed and lock-step conformist as Orwell’s, but the difference is nobody cares.

In 1985, Neil Postman published a book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and part of it is a comparison of 1984 and Brave New World.  Here are a few of his observations.

Orwell said that, in the future, many books would be banned.
Huxley said there would be no need to ban books because nobody would read them.

Orwell said that information would be strictly controlled and distributed by the government.
Huxley said that there would be so much information no one would pay attention to it.

Orwell said the truth would be concealed from the people.
Huxley said the truth would be irrelevant.

Orwell warned us about the dangers of the Cult of Personality.
Huxley warned us about the Cult of Celebrity.

Orwell saw a joyless, sexually repressed, poverty-stricken society that had lost its soul.
Huxley saw a drug-soaked, sexually promiscuous, consumer society that didn’t have one.

Orwell feared a manipulated culture.
Huxley feared a trivial culture.

Here, in the 21st century, the future is now, and Big Brother might very well be watching you — but personally, I think the bigger problem is … he doesn’t need to.

9 Bold Predictions (Plus 1)

futurePredicting the future is like explaining the past — you’re going to get an argument from somebody.  However, when was the last time I was afraid of a verbal bare-knuckles?  So here are some bold predictions for the not-so-distant future.

America — The long-anticipated demise of the USA will, once again, be greatly exaggerated.  America may have hit a serious bump called Trump, but remember that Amazon, Google, Facebook, Visa, Mastercard, Disney and Walmart are all American companies.  Plus, even the most detailed economic indicators don’t mention that, while that t-shirt, sold around the world, might be “Made in China,” the logo on the front is the Los Angeles Lakers, and the licensing money for that is going back to California.

China — China’s economic dominance will be short-lived — if it happens at all.  China is betting against history, which tells us two things.  One: if you give the middle class economic power but deny them the political power to protect their newfound money, you’re just asking for trouble.  And two: if you create an uber upper class that’s conspicuously wealthy, eventually the Have-nots are going to say WTF? and demand a bigger slice of the pie — by force, if necessary. (China is on the verge of satisfying both these conditions.)

Unemployment — Eventually, we’re going to realize that we don’t actually need all these lawyers, consultants, administrators, HR, PR, IT and WXYZ people, taking up space in government and industry.  In fact, we’d all be better off if they just left their make-work jobs and went home.  The problem is what’s our society going to do with a boatload of over-educated people, sitting around playing video games?

Stupid Vacation Pictures — Unfortunately, tourists are still going to act like jackasses at the Tower of Pisa, The Great Wall, the Venus de Milo and every other “must-see” with a website.  The only way around this is a universal ban on selfie sticks.  (Where’s the United Nations when you need them?)

Secrets — As ordinary people continue to give away their privacy with both hands, secrets will become a commodity only the very rich can afford.

English — Despite North America’s Politically Correct culture doing its best to tear the guts out of the English language, it will become the lingua  franca of the 21st century.  (FYI, twice as many people in Asia are learning English than speak it in the USA!)

Money — Folding money is rapidly going out of style. Eventually, the only people who will use it regularly will be international drug dealers and local bake sale charities.  A couple of years ago, I saw Girl Guides selling cookies with credit card readers on their telephones.  Think about it!

Bitcoins — Bitcoins are crap!  Remember what happened to tulips!

Zombies And Englishmen — Ever since social justice warriors made every identifiable group (except middle-class white males) an oppressed minority, it’s been impossible for Hollywood to find a villain who doesn’t come equipped with an angry Twitter mob.  So, for the foreseeable future, only Zombies and Englishmen will be acceptable as the bad guys in the movies and on TV.

And finally:

Energy Is Not Going Be A Problem — Right now, in most industrialized countries, people pay more for a cup of Starbucks coffee than they do for a litre of gasoline.  Check it out!  So, as long as fossil fuels remain relatively cheap, oil-producing countries are going to have the rest of us by the shorthairs.  Fortunately, though, a lot of us are getting sick and tired of sucking up to these people, and we’re starting to produce our own energy.  (NB! As you read this, the Netherlands is using wind power to drive all their trains.)  Obviously, as more and more people do this, the world will become a cleaner, happier place — and the Middle East will go back to being a gigantic, unhappy sandbox.