Archive for March, 2016

Orwell v. Huxley

Posted: March 9, 2016 in Education

Huxley

*The caption for the cartoon above states: Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance* – the visual is part of a series by Stuart McMillen (2009)

I am currently teaching George Orwell’s 1984 to my grade 11 class. We’re into chapter 5 (of 24) and they are enjoying it… I’m pretty sure. They’re engaged and that’s as much as I can ask for at the moment. It’s a novel written in 1949 that highlights Orwell’s fears of what the world would look like 35 years into the future. The novel is about a 39-year old man living under constant surveillance being run by a totalitarian government. Every part of the protagonist’s life is controlled by the government, including (but not limited to): when he eats, what he eats, when he exercises, when he works, what his job is, and what rations he is entitled to. The history books are filled with lies, sex for pleasure is a rebellious act, bonds between people do not exist, and faith/love are shown only towards the leader (Big Brother).

“This world could never exist,” says a grade 11 student.
“It has,” I say. “And it still does.”

This morning I showed the VICE documentary on North Korea…

In any case, 1984 is an interesting study since our current culture exists in a world of surveillance – everyone seems to have a cellphone these days, there are cameras on every street corner, and even in Minority Report fashion, department stores are starting to cater their advertisements to specific people based on facial recognition. Is there a private world anymore? I reference Shawn Simoes – a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University who recently lost his Sunshine List job due to a comment he made (FHRITP) while on camera at a Toronto FC game. Hydro One (his now former employer) claimed that his on-screen antics didn’t match up with the company’s ethical standard to which its employees were expected to uphold. I, personally, agree with the dismissal.

Years prior to the publication of 1984, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World (1932). In this novel, Huxley wrote about his fear of the future. The visual at the top of the post highlights one of his many worries featured in his novel – the ‘sea of irrelevance’ that seems to have taken over our culture.

Here is how McMillen broke down the thoughts of each author:
Orwell – He feared people who banned books
Huxley – He feared that one day books would become irrelevant
Orwell – He feared that governments would keep information from their citizens
Huxley – He feared that citizens would be hit with too much information
Orwell – He feared that the ‘truth’ would be concealed
Huxley – He feared that the ‘truth’ would be drowned by insignificant news
Orwell – It is evident in his novel that people are controlled by pain
Huxley – It is evident in his novel that people are controlled by pleasure

To sum up, Orwell feared what others may do to us, but Huxley worried about what we may do to ourselves. Both authors have valid arguments, as both sets of fears are relatable to our current culture.

What values are we aligning ourselves with and how do those values make their way into the classroom?