"In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right..”
“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.
“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 bumblepuppy. 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, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
The American writer Paddy Chayefsky was, by all accounts, hard work as a collaborator. (Sidney Aaron “Paddy” Chayefsky owed his nickname to a Sergeant Bilko-ish episode during combat service in Europe during the Second World War. Awakened at dawn for kitchen duty, the Jewish Chayefsky asked to be excused so that he could attend Mass. “Sure you do, Paddy,” replied the officer – and the nominative die was cast.) Wounded by a landmine near Aachen in Germany, Chayefsky was badly scarred, which led to a certain awkwardness around women, which led in turn to his 1953 screenplay Marty, in which a Bronx butcher despairs of ever finding a soul mate. Chayefsky’s screenplay for the 1976 film Network has been described as “the kind of literate, darkly funny and breathtakingly prescient material that prompts many to claim it as the greatest screenplay of the 20th century.” Best known for Peter Finch’s “mad as hell” speech – Finch would win a posthumous Oscar for his performance – the film carries another barnstormer of a turn from Ned Beatty as the company chairman Arthur Jensen, rebuking Finch (TV anchorman Howard Beale) for having put the spanner in the works of a corporate takeover. We take the liberty of republishing the Jensen speech in full, below. You can watch the original scene here.
“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it ! Is that clear ?! Do you think you’ve merely stopped a business deal ? That is not the case. The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back ! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity ! It is ecological balance ! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and sub-atomic and galactic structure of things today ! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and You Will Atone !
“Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state – Karl Marx ? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel. (Beale: “Why me ?”) Because you’re on television, dummy.”
Like a small number of other films – including They Live, The Hamburg Syndrome and V for Vendetta – Network now looks less like prescient anticipation of the future (which it surely was) and even more like unvarnished documentary covering our current dystopia. A world in which individual nation states have been absorbed into a miasma of crony globalist corporate interests ? Did anyone say Bad Pharma or the WEF ?
Tim Price is co-manager of the VT Price Value Portfolio and author of ‘Investing through the Looking Glass: a rational guide to irrational financial markets’. You can access a full archive of these weekly investment commentaries here. You can listen to our regular ‘State of the Markets’ podcasts, with Paul Rodriguez of ThinkTrading.com, here. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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