Friday, January 10, 2020

American Dystopia


" Scheer: ...I hope everyone listening to this is, obviously, familiar with these books. One, Orwell’s, is very bleak–totalitarian, sadism and so forth of the totalitarian state; and Huxley presents a view that is also a reflection of the work that Noam Chomsky has written about the advertising society, the manipulative society, the consumer society. Manufacturing Consent, the drug effect of sports and consumerism, lulling people into acceptance. And in his letter to Orwell, and by an accident of history, Huxley had been, in 1917, Orwell’s French teacher at Eton, and knew him. And the publisher had sent it to Huxley thinking Huxley would just embrace it. And Huxley said some nice things, but he said: I think you missed the point; it won’t be so overt, because the ruling classes that want to hold on to their power will find that more subtle, manipulative means much more effective. That was Huxley’s rejoinder to Orwell.

Now, your own work has sort of talked about all of it. And when I look at the current situation in the United States now, it seems to me we have an amalgam of these two totalitarian, dystopian models emerging. We, in the words of Neil Postman, we amuse people to death, we distract them; in your writing, you’ve talked about those distractions. But we’re also a militarized state. We have punitive surveillance, and we use the espionage law. We have the boots on the ground; we have 800 bases.

So take it from there. Which–I think we can start with the assumption we have to be concerned about a dystopian future. Which model do you see emerging?

Chomsky: Actually, I could add a third one. The first of this series of dystopian novels was Zamyatin, his book We, around 1920, Russian, gave a very vivid picture of a dystopian society that kind of amalgamates the kinds of pictures that Huxley and Orwell were developing. But we are very clearly moving to a tight surveillance society. There’s interesting work on this: Shoshana Zuboff, whose work you’ve probably seen, a Harvard professor, has a book called, I think, Surveillance Capitalism, which is about the techniques that are being developed to influence, control behavior, control people through the use of modern technology."

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