thomas_a_bass's picture
Professor of English and Journalism, State University of New York, Albany; Author of The Eudaemonic Pie and The Spy Who Loved US

We Are Enslaved Not By What We Fear, But By What We Love

George Orwell's Big Brother taught us what we need to know about authoritarian forms of social control. Mount perpetual war and call it peace. Debase language. Efface memory. Surround people with screens broadcasting propaganda and, at the same time, use these screens for surveillance.

But what if the screens that surround us are not objects of fear, but things we desire? What if propaganda and surveillance are delivered through the mediated images we crave?

This opposing model of social control—where we are enslaved not by what we fear, but by what we love—was described in 1932 by Aldous Huxley, George Orwell's former teacher at Eton. In Huxley's Brave New World, people delight in celebrity culture, sex tapes, recreational drugs, elaborate games, and pornographic films designed to rev up audiences for their own promiscuous pairings. 

Orwell and Huxley recognized the same historical amnesia, illiteracy, and debasement of language. They identified similar hierarchies of social control and propaganda regimes, enforced by surveillance.  But one world was ruled by fear, the other by love—or at least the simulated desire that today passes for love. As we delight in our screens and the happy images that bathe us in their networked glow, our pleasures present one of today's greatest perils.