Centrifugal Bumblepuppy*

Just watching all the posts and announcements from the Consumer Electronics Show, wrapping up today in Las Vegas, is overwhelming. Thousands and thousands of new devices to make sure that no real work ever gets done.

As the electronics industry had its annual orgy of new toys, my warped little brain flashed back to a particularly relevant book which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death.

You might see the linkage in what Postman had to say in the foreword.

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, 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.

Postman’s discussion of the way many parts of our society are being converted into entertainment for the masses is extremely relevant for those of us who are teachers. As much as education critics would like to think so, schools don’t work in a cultural vacuum.

However, all of this is not to say I wouldn’t love a few of the new toys on display in Sin City this week. :-)

* I have no idea what Huxley meant by that but as a title for a post, it will certainly grab some attention in the rss feeds.