The Obama Administration: More Orwellian or Huxleyan?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has obtained a top secret court order, showing that “for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”

While observers are sure to call this “Orwellian,” that might not be the best analogy. In fact, some would argue this is more “Huxleyan” — as in Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.

As Hillary might say, “What difference does it make!?” This might be academic.  But the distinction between whether or not our freedoms are taken by force — or instead, willingly surrendered — may tell us which dystopian author had it all figured out (at least, as it regards the western world.)

Whereas past regimes like Soviets forcefully imposed an authoritarian regime, one could argue that every time we embrace a new technology, we willingly surrender a little bit more freedom. After all, many of the abuses involve such things as phone records and emails. And this can all happen behind the scenes, in the shadows. Thus, it’s not terribly threatening.

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This spring, the HuffPost’s Jon Ward was on my podcast. And during the conversation, he sang the praises of Neil Postman’s classic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Postman clearly influenced him, as evidenced by this Tweet regarding the NSA’s collection of telephone records of Verizon customers:

“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression,” wrote Postman. “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.”

“Huxley grasped, as Orwell did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcotized by technological diversions,” Postman continued.

Everyone , of course, seems outraged by the abuses today. But if the Obama scandals are greeted by the general public with a yawn — if they think about it for a minute, and then decide to watch another episode of “Arrested Development” (which, of course, will be monitored by the state) — you’ll know it was Huxley, not Orwell, who was right.

Matt K. Lewis