What’s happening to us: Postman, Orwell, and Huxley

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INTRODUCTION

Funny how things come together, crisscross, intersect, lead us down roads no one has ever walked before. Neil Postman offers insight into what’s happening. I read it one morning last week at the cabin, away from everything that entertains and distracts me from that little plot of land on the edge of the wetland in Central Minnesota.

William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readingsexcerpts from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business painted a picture that felt true, like a revelation pealing back the curtain to find that Lewis Carroll’s walk down the yellow brick road with Alice, the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow is outdated. Oz is no longer a harmless little old man.

Neil Postman on Orwell and Huxley

Contrary to popular belief. . . Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] 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 oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley fears 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 those 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 feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centripetal bumblepuppy . . . . 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.
—Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

The wetland pond, the flyway, and return home

At the cabin, the water in the wetland is unusually high this year because of record-breaking rainfall. The flocks of Buffleheads and other non-diving ducks have by-passed their familiar stop on the flyway; the water is too deep to for them to reach the food sources below. Only the long-necked Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and Canadian Geese, and the diving Loons and Mergansers that can reach the bottom have stopped by this year.

Leaving the cabin and the wetland lead home to the world Huxley feared where the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance. We settle back into the lounge chairs in front of the television and flip through Netflix, YouTube, and other means of entertainment in what Postman later called the Technopolis in which our capacity for critical thought is numbed.

The new normal

We turn on the evening news and see two very different versions of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaking to the press. One is real. The other is altered by technology that deceives viewers into believing the Speaker is drunk, on drugs, or mentally impaired by slowing and altering the pace of her speech. The culture of amusing ourselves to death in the Technopolis distorts truth into propaganda, the first wave of what will become the new normal.

The culture of amusing ourselves to death in the Technopolis distorts truth into propaganda, the first wave of ... the new normal.

We’re not in make-believe Mayberry anymore. What we love — entertainment — is drowning us. In the world foreseen by Huxley, Orwell, and Postman, truth is hard to find. “Where there is no critical perspective, no detached observation, no time to ask the pertinent questions, how can one avoid being deluded and confused?” wrote Thomas Merton in Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice.

Only the long-necked Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and Canadian Geese, and the smaller, deep-diving Loons and Mergansers can reach or swim to the bottom to see what’s real and what’s not in the Technopolis. William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins with Neil Postman, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Thomas Merton took me there this morning.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 26, 2019

America and “the Fall”

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange addressed the United Nations General Assembly yesterday. His speech is reminiscent of American theologian William Stringfellow who declared in 1968 that we were already living under the rule of “extra-constitutional powers and authorities” that operate covertly in the shadows of democracy.

Watch WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking by satellite from Ecuador where he lives in exile. Unedited Politics deserves credit for posting this.  Of particular interest are references to President Obama that hold his Administration accountable while seeming to grant some credit and holding out hope that he might change things.

Julian Assange Speech to UN General Assembly: “US Trying to Erect National Secrecy Regime” – 9/26/12.

William Stringfellow

William Stringfellow – author, lay theologian, lawyer among the poor and defense attorney for Bishop James Pike and the Berrigan Brothers (Frs. Phil and Dan) – wrote the following in 1973:

“In this world as it is, in the era of time, in common history – in the epoch of the Fall, as the Bible designates this scene every principality has the elemental significance of death, notwithstanding contrary appearances. This is eminently so with respect to nations, for nations are, as Revelation indicates, the archetypical principalities… All virtues which nations elevate and idolize – military prowess, material abundance, technological sophistication, imperial grandeur, high culture, racial pride, trade, prosperity, conquest, sport, language, or whatever – are

subservient to the moral presence of death in the nation. And it is the same with the surrogate nations – the other principalities like corporations and conglomerates, ideologies and bureaucracies, and authorities and institutions of every name and description…

“The Fall is where the nation is. The Fall is the locus of America… Since the climax of America’s glorification as a nation – in the ostensible American victory in World War II, most lucidly and aptly symbolized in Hiroshima – Americans have become so beleaguered by anxiety and fatigue, so bemused and intimidated, so beset by a sense of impotence and by intuitions of calamity, that they have, for

the most part, been consigned to despair… Racial conflict has been suppressed by an elaborate apartheid; products which supposedly mean abundance turn out to contaminate or jeopardize life; the environment itself is rendered hostile; there is a pervasive Babel; privacy is a memory because surveillance is ubiquitous; institutional coercion of human beings has proliferated relentlessly. Whatever must be said of earlier times, in the past quarter century, America has become a technological totalitarianism in which hope, in its ordinary connotations, is being annihilated.”

An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, William Stringfellow, 1973. (Bolded print added by Views from the Edge)

WikiLeaks at the United Nations 9/26/12 – a Reflection

Watch WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking by satellite from Ecuador where he lives in political assylum. Unedited Politics deserves credit for posting this. It’s chilling. But it’s important. Of particular interest are references to President Obama that both hold him accountable and seem to hold out hope he might still do what lies beyond the power of the Oval Office.

After watching the video, read William Stringfellow’s words in An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, published in 1973. Stringfellow argued that “extra-constitutional” powers and authorities had already walked off the republic.

Julian Assange Speech to UN General Assembly: “US Trying to Erect National Secrecy Regime” – 9/26/12.

William Stringfellow – author, lay theologian, lawyer among the poor and defense attorney for Bishop James Pike and the Berrigan Brothers (Frs. Phil and Dan) – wrote the following in 1973:

“In this world as it is, in the era of time, in common history – in the epoch of the Fall, as the Bible designates this scene every principality has the elemental significance of death, notwithstanding contrary appearances. This is eminently so with respect to nations, for nations are, as Revelation indicates, the archetypical principalities… All virtues which nations elevate and idolize – military prowess, material abundance, technological sophistication, imperial grandeur, high culture, racial pride, trade, prosperity, conquest, sport, language, or whatever – are

subservient to the moral presence of death in the nation. And it is the same with the surrogate nations – the other principalities like corporations and conglomerates, ideologies and bureaucracies, and authorities and institutions of every name and description…

“The Fall is where the nation is. The Fall is the locus of America… Since the climax of America’s glorification as a nation – in the ostensible American victory in World War II, most lucidly and aptly symbolized in Hiroshima – Americans have become so beleaguered by anxiety and fatigue, so bemused and intimidated, so beset by a sense of impotence and by intuitions of calamity, that they have, for

the most part, been consigned to despair… Racial conflict has been suppressed by an elaborate apartheid; products which supposedly mean abundance turn out to contaminate or jeopardize life; the environment itself is rendered hostile; there is a pervasive Babel; privacy is a memory because surveillance is ubiquitous; institutional coercion of human beings has proliferated relentlessly. Whatever must be said of earlier times, in the past quarter century, America has become a technological totalitarianism in which hope, in its ordinary connotations, is being annihilated.”

An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, William Stringfellow, 1973. (Bolded print added by Views from the Edge)