30 April 2012

Centrifugal Bumblepuppy

I was reading Justin Taylor's post on Kyle Smith's look at Neil Postman's comparison between Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984.  (There's enough links to keep you distracted for the rest of the day, and a rather busy run-on sentence to sort out to boot.)

According to Postman, Huxley was right, and Orwell was wrong.  I agree. Here's what he said...see if the shoe doesn't fit-

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.

Where the rubber meets the road on this in my life is my kids' apparent addiction to stimulation.  If there isn't an electronic device in their hands every minute they are awake, they feel out of place.  This is scary until I start thinking about my own activities as a child- at around the age they are now. We didn't have iPods and tablets and laptops and such. But I always had some form of distraction in my own hands.  My favorite was the several sets of 'army men' (little green toy soldiers) that I'd set up and play with in my room.  But I also had a metal pipe that was Daniel Boone's rifle, a couple of phasers made from blocks of wood, and a schematic of the helm of the USS Enterprise drawn on poster board and hung over my head on the bottom of the top bunk above me.  And I had a library.  I was the only kid I knew that owned a thousand books by the time I started high school.  (Yes, I read them all. I never got as far behind as I am today because I didn't have the money to buy books faster than I could read them.  Shame on me now!)

So I then wonder if distraction is all that dangerous to our mental and emotional development, or if it is just part of being human. Certainly, the type of distraction is a factor.  After all, books are not nearly as much a waste of time as TV, and so on.  But there are good books and bad books, right?  And I learned a lot of useful stuff from TV as a kid- like the fact that professors are smart, Ginger isn't, and Skipper will use corporal punishment (hit you with his hat) if you mess up.  That was a valuable lesson.

I guess I'll go read Postman's book.  It's obviously a classic and I've never read it.  It'll be a good distraction.


  1. Good thoughts. I'm currently reading Popologetics, by Ted Turnau. It's a very thorough apologetic method on discerning pop culture through a Christian worldview. If I can get my act together, I'll be posting the review tomorrow (right now I'm busy distracting myself w/your article!). Anyway, I think he offers great tools for thinking critically in our culture. Tim Challies' book, The Next Story, addresses the distraction part pretty well.

  2. I haven't read Turnau. I do admire those who can deconstruct pop culture without any effort (I'm thinking Al Mohler here). I'll be interested in the review.

    I did read The Next Story, and liked Challies' analysis of distraction. I'm still waffling over exactly how dangerous (or not) distraction really is, as opposed to specific kinds of distraction, or even specific topics of distraction. (I wonder how many men have become addicted to pornography, for example, not because they had serious issues with lust, but because they were bored and it was an available distraction? The same question could be asked about substance abuse, involvment in gang activity, and so on.)

    Just some light thinking for the week. (c:


I welcome comments, and will read them, but they are moderated.