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Ed Driscoll

Man’s Infinite Capacity for Distraction

September 21st, 2012 - 10:53 am

Some thoughts on what Nietzsche dubbed the Last Man from Mark Tapson at Acculturated, with an assist from Neil Postman:

Also this week, in 1917, young Aldous Huxley was hired as a schoolmaster at Eton. Huxley would go on to become a celebrated novelist, writing dozens of books, including that staple of high school reading lists, the dystopian classic Brave New World. One of Huxley’s students at Eton was Eric Blair, who would also go on to be celebrated by his pen name George Orwell. Orwell, of course, wrote his own famous dystopian novel, 1984.

But Orwell’s future was a more straightforwardly totalitarian one than Huxley’s. In his 1985 book about the corrosive effects of television on public discourse called Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman wrote that Orwell underestimated “man’s almost infinite capacity for distraction.” It won’t be necessary, Postman suggested, to enslave future generations in the traditional manner using brutal coercion–not when we willingly embrace our own intellectual subjugation through the apathy induced by petty diversions:

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 egotism. 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.

Call it “America-Lite,” as David Gelernter dubbed it.

And speaking of Gelernter, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

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