As Neil Postman so brilliantly observed in his 1985 classic “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, two great dystopian visions have defined contemporary anxieties about the future of society. The first is George Orwell’s “1984” and the second Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.
For a long time it was Orwell’s vision that received the most attention due to the extraordinary insight it offered into the role of war in economics and the language of propaganda (”newspeak”).
Since the dawn of cable television and the internet however, the world has started to take on an uncanny familiarity with Huxley’s prognosis of the future.
Orwell envisioned a totalitarian dystopia where there is universal surveillance and restriction of all information other than the official version of events. The economy is based on endless war and the majority live in spartan, joyless conformity with their lives centered around work and civic duty. Of course many elements of the book such as the concept of an engineered perpetual war, the power of propaganda and the idea of false flag (in the form of a concocted rebel underground) do resonate powerfully with our times.
When it comes to the portrait of a future society though, Huxley has proven to be the true seer. He envisioned a future in which people are not restricted from but inundated with information and entertainment. While older knowledge exists, all tradition is taught from childhood to be useless myth. Psychotropic drugs and electronic media dominate people’s lives and have enabled people to live a virtual reality of their choosing. Sound familiar?
In short, Orwell thought we would be controlled by fear and punishment while Huxley prophesied that we would be enslaved by pleasure and addiction to the irrelevant.
It is not hard to see why, today, Huxley’s prescience seems more remarkable than ever. As he foresaw, technology has evolved into the definitive religion of our times. We have submitted to it without protest and in most cases, with great eagerness and impatience.
It is the filter through which we now perceive the world and the only choice we really have is what brand we are going to choose. We rarely question its impact on our bodies, our mind and on the course of our evolution as biological organisms.
Coming to the point, when it comes to information technology we are finding that far from being the purveyor of veracity we had hoped it would be, it has become the supreme instrument of propaganda. Instead of bringing us closer to a narrative faithful to reality it leaves us adrift on a sea of contradictory information where every mooring is a potential falsehood.
For all the knowledge and genius at our disposal we are locked in interminable debates lacking any clarity or resolve. The end result is that we are easier prey for demagogues because our opinions are not informed by accuracy but by hyperbole and our diminished ability to delay gratification.
We bicker impotently while those in the corridors of power and affluence- the “1%” we claim to be working to bring down- maintain their influence over our lives and future.
Never has this paradigm manifested more dangerously than in the past two years. The amount of influence propaganda has on the democratic process and supposed “revolutions” is no longer conspiracy theory but established fact. We can be as indignant as we want about this idea but we can no longer hide from the reality of how easily manipulated we are.
We are unable to potently unify around our causes because we no longer believe in them long enough as our opinions are swayed by every new click bait we unfailingly hook our mouth on. Hence we repeatedly lose to those who have long discarded informed debate and utilize only lies and catchphrases.
We no longer pursue the truth: we pick it out of a perfidious hat.
Not only are we deceived and manipulated, we are being-and I mean this in earnest-psychologically abused. There is a reason why many people in this country who try to keep up with current events are experiencing feelings of distress and burn out. What the current President of this country is spearheading is more than just a propaganda or ratings war. It is an all out PSYOP that we have all unwittingly embraced.
The most psychologically damaging component of this information war is its core technique-gaslighting. We are not just being misinformed, we are being DISinformed. This is not a subtle swaying of opinion, this is an assault that aims to shake the individual’s very sense of reality.
Rudderless in a sea of lies and seeking assurance of their own sanity, people are desperate for absolute answers. Which is why more intelligent, educated people believe in outlandish conspiracy theories than ever before.
But we are not completely helpless.
We cannot control the flow of information or the amount of bias prevalent in media houses that are beholden to the profit motive and pursuing symbiotic relationships with political parties. What we can do though is start the process of debunking propaganda falsehoods with ourselves.
Let us not accept information without thoroughly deconstructing it and checking and comparing it against other versions of the same narrative. Let us not ascribe to someone’s ideas or raise their slogans merely because they resonate with our fidelities and prejudices.
Let us not share an article, blog, post or tweet merely because they suit our mood for that day. Because the next day, the next week or the next year, we may find out that we were tragically wrong and had become part of the currency of “public opinion” used to sway an election or distract from a state crime.
Let us not continue to fortify the very Bastille we seek to bring down.