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"Now, This!"

By       Message Stephen Pizzo       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink

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I've spent a lot of time of late mulling what I think are the most important questions of our time.

- How the hell did we get to a place where two successful draft -dodgers were able defeat their opponent, a decorated combat veteran, with the thinest tissue of lies?

- How is it that Americans were convinced to launch an unprovoked war against a third-world nation run by a tinhorn tyrant?

- How is it that Americans passively submitted to a tax scheme that enriched the already rich, gutted the national treasury and burdened the nation with such back breaking debt our children's children will still be paying it off.

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- How is that America's working class voters were brought to believe that their best interests would be served by a class of politicians historically associated with Robber Barons of old?

- How is it that the America that coined the phrase "Don't Tread on Me," so passively agreed to new legislation allowing massive intrusions into their private lives, in the name of "national security/"

At least some answers -- I believe the most important answers -- can be found in a book written during the Reagan presidency by media scholar, Neil Postman, in his book,"Amusing Ourselves to Death."

I am not going to waste your time with my ramblings. I strongly suggest you go to Amazon.com and pick up a copy of the book and read it. In lieu of that, I have cherry-picked some of Postman's most salient points. Understanding what Postman is saying here is key to understanding everything that's happened over the past two decades and what's happening right now.

This may well be, the most important thing you read this year.

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Amusing Ourselves to Death

by Neil Postman, 1985

"When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainment, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility." (Postman)

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.

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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 bumble-puppy. 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.

(Excerpts follow)

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a (more...)

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