Doomed to amuse ourselves to death in our post-1984 brave new world

Danyl Mclauchlan writes at The Spinoff about Seeking shelter from the information monsoon.

The whole article is worth reading but ironically: My brain is like a tiny teacup with a firehose gushing into it. The torrent displaces itself. I’ve read everything yet remembered nothing. Still it keeps coming.

But he remembers something written back in 1984.

Apparently George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty Four has become a bestseller for people struggling to make sense of our times. It’s a great book. But all the way back in 1984 the media theorist Neil Postman gave a series of lectures titled Amusing Ourselves to Death in which he argued that Orwell’s book was not the dystopian novel that currently described our society: instead he urged us to read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World:

“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. 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.”

This feels increasingly true to me.

Huxley’s version sounds far more accurate to me too.

One of the few books I have managed to read recently is The Attention Merchants, by Timothy Wu: it talks about where the sea of information comes from, and why it keeps rising and rising. It’s a history of media and advertising.

Another quote from Amusing Ourselves to Death:

The television commercial has mounted the most serious assault on capitalist ideology since the publication of Das Kapital. To understand why, we must remind ourselves that capitalism, like science and liberal democracy, was an outgrowth of the Enlightenment.

Its principal theorists, even its most prosperous practitioners, believed capitalism to be based on the idea that both buyer and seller are sufficiently mature, well informed and reasonable to engage in transactions of mutual self-interest. If greed was taken to be the fuel of the capitalist engine, the surely rationality was the driver.

The theory states, in part, that competition in the marketplace requires that the buyer not only knows what is good for him but also what is good. If the seller produces nothing of value, as determined by a rational marketplace, then he loses out.

The problem with any social or commercial theory is that in practice things turn out to be non-ideal, and as practices and behaviours evolve they can move further from the theoretical ideal.

So we come to “both buyer and seller are sufficiently mature, well informed and reasonable to engage in transactions of mutual self-interest”.

Commercialism has become corrupted. The sellers have become obsessed with duping people into buying things they don’t need, and in fact may be unhealthy, especially when consumed to excess as the sellers want.

And a significant proportion of buyers seem happy to be duped. It is easier than thinking for themselves.

There are some who see this and campaign against the corruption of commercialism, but their proposed solutions tend to be too extreme and easily dismissed as the naying of nutters.

The allergy industry is an interesting beast. Foods foisted on the population by product pushers has introduced an explosion of genuine allergy problems, but commercial interests have not only catered for this, they are creating business by promoting fear of falling to foul products.

Promoting balance in advertising, balance in diet, balance in technological acquisitions and balance in stuff you don’t really need doesn’t get much attention because the media needs advertisers to survive so are loathe to bite the hands that feed them.

Maybe what we need are the right algorithms for Google and Facebook to manipulate the masses towards healthy lifestyles. But social media giants live off advertising too.

So are we doomed to amuse ourselves to death in our post-1984 brave new world?

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54 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  April 17, 2017

    very interesting topic.My cynical view is that its pursuit of profit at any justification.An example is the ‘Marketing of Madness,’ where the big drug industry manufactures ‘problems’ that they then provide a solution for.A most revealing one..SAD…social anxiety disorder… and the prescriptions to solve it ,that created addictions.Morally reprehensible,but immensely profitable.As Capitalism is based on growth,and obscelecence through fashion cycles ,we are constantly bombarded with messages to purchase a dazzling array of products to satisfy needs from self esteem to survival.The gullible and unsophisticated pay the price.They are preyed upon by the unethical and opportunists.Payday loans,home shopping trucks,exorbitant price and interest rate ramping ……its part and parcel of …’our way of life’.Separating ‘want’ from ‘need’ is an unsolvable dilemma for the…hoi polloi.

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  April 17, 2017

      I’m glad you stated: ‘my cynical view’ Everyone has access to education. As a young socialist I was sucked in by this crap. I educated myself and became a Rightie. Best move I ever made.

      Reply
      • Conspiratoor

         /  April 17, 2017

        Good man brother corks…
        “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.”

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  April 17, 2017

          Corky does not like…plagiarism.

          Reply
          • Conspiratoor

             /  April 17, 2017

            If you can provide irrefutable proof of authorship I would be happy to add attribution, otherwise let’s just put this one down to …anon

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  April 17, 2017

              Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an 1875 French book of contemporary biographical portraits by Jules Claretie. A section about a prominent jurist and academic named Anselme Polycarpe Batbie included the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

              M. Batbie, dans une lettre trop célèbre, citait un jour, pour expliquer ses variations personnelles et bizarres, ce paradoxe de Burke: « Celui qui n’est pas républicain à vingt ans fait douter de la générosité de son âme; mais celui qui, après trente ans, persévère, fait douter de la rectitude de son esprit. »

            • Conspiratoor

               /  April 17, 2017

              Je suis impressionne …je pense

          • Blazer

             /  April 17, 2017

            @Kitty….what exactly is Corky….quoting?Try reading.

            Reply
        • Gezza

           /  April 17, 2017

          The one I think of most is Churchy’s: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”

          Reply
      • Blazer

         /  April 17, 2017

        so you taught yourself everything …you know….without help from…Uncle ..Tom.

        Reply
    • John Schmidt

       /  April 17, 2017

      Blazer
      Interested in your views on an alternative to drug companies.

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  April 17, 2017

        Not sure what you mean by an alternative.The same drugs and many other products are marketed around the world….on ‘what the market will bear pricing’.I favour the pharmac method,but think doctors should not be allowed to be bought by drug companies the way they are.The less doctors visits,the less drugs the …better…imo.I have seen people who turn 65 ,come out of a doctors visit with a prescription list that is just about enough for them to open their own pharmacy.Aspirin,statins,……etc.etc,with very dubious endorsement.

        Reply
      • Corky

         /  April 17, 2017

        Lol !!!

        Reply
  2. Zedd

     /  April 17, 2017

    echoes of, the best way to obtain power: CREATE a crisis & then offer, THE only solution, to all those who are panicking.. Its been done many times, throughout history

    Reply
  3. Orwell and Huxley raised our awareness nearly one hundred years ago and since then, consumerism and mass marketing, globalization and hysterical memes have gone into overdrive, in a manner they’d not imagined.

    Most of us have filters, and I’d like to think nobody talks me into anything I don’t want to do and any impulse buying unless I can afford it. I’m influenced by exposure to commercials with regards to choices, but i believe that my upbringing and education have afforded me the discernment that helps enhance my life. There’s so much of life that is impossible to influence so exercising control where one can is empowering.

    Please don’t suggest that Facebook and google add algorithms as that gives them the power to manipulate and to be so much more powerful than the Ministry of Truth and it’s reinvention of history and the Party at large.

    All this false news and political/media manipulation has so much of 1984 about it that commercial manipulation seems almost benign in comparison.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  April 17, 2017

      you’re….soaking..in..it.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  April 17, 2017

        ‘Dishwashing liquid’ ???

        ‘Relax, it’s Palmolive.’

        Reply
      • Those who haven’t been taught to swim or flail about thinking the government should provide life rafts, preservers and safe places will drown blazer

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  April 17, 2017

          please tell that to…A.I.G,Citibank,JP Morgan,Morgan Stanley,Goldman,BofA,GM,Chrysler,Merrill Lynch,etc,etc,etc….all last seen still floating along,when they should have been sent to the bottom of the ocean,in the company of…the Vampire Squid.

          Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  April 17, 2017

      Orwell was 14 100 years ago.

      If anyone thinks that ‘conspicuous consumption’ is new, they haven’t read much history or English Literature-the term has been around the 1880s and the concept since the dawn of time. If anyone is persuaded to buy something, either they really do want it or they are very gullible, both age-old characteristics. Old tombs wherein rich people were buried with their possessions show that people have had expensive and elaborate things for thousands of years. People have been greedy and/or superficial forever-some people.

      I am the seller’s worst enemy-I won’t buy anything that I don’t need or want. When I do surveys that have a list of electronic items, I hardly tick any of them. I have a small, plain cell phone-no DVD player-no widescreen television-no sound system-no nothing, really.

      Traveller, I like clearance sales where I can buy expensive clothes at a fraction of the original cost, like the $170 handbag that was ‘half the clearance price’ so cost me $25.

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  April 17, 2017

        ‘I won’t buy anything that I don’t need or want. ‘…..hardly unique ,name one person who..does?

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  April 17, 2017

          Some people have many things that they don’t need or want once the novelty wears off. It would be pointless to name someone whom you don’t know and you can see people like the Trumps and their vulgar houses for yourself.

          Who NEEDS a huge television that dominates the room like a cinema screen ? Who needs huge cars ? Who needs fridges with ice-cube makers (why not just use the old-fashioned trays ?)

          You must have heard the expression about money burning a hole in the pocket-and being spent stupidly.

          Reply
          • Blazer

             /  April 17, 2017

            you have diluted your statement…big time…’ once the novelty wears off. ‘…..as you are well aware.

            Reply
          • Corky

             /  April 17, 2017

            [Deleted], your parsimonious cultural inheritance is showing. Goods of the realm can bring much beauty into ones life. I have a wondrous large flat screen TV. Everytime I look at its beautiful design and picture, I thank god for Capitalism.

            I buy things I don’t need. In fact I am given them on many occasions- broken down washing machines. I pass them on to a contact who in many cases just has to replace a belt or pump and its good to go. We even social engineered the codes for resetting the electronics.

            So my contact sells them for an average price of $350. I take a flat rate of $80-100. Average week, 4 washing machines sold.

            Conspicuous consummation…I love it.

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  April 17, 2017

              rinsing people and hanging them out to…dry…a feature of the ruthless…Capitalist.

            • Corky

               /  April 17, 2017

              Four hundred dollars a week for just sourcing and dropping a machine off.
              That’s the difference between a Rightie and a Leftie. Much brains, little work. Verses, no brains and no money…..so give me yours you rich undeserving prick I deserve a slice of your pie.

              You know my reply to that.

            • Gezza

               /  April 17, 2017

              That’s just trading, rather than capitalism. That’s basically how antiques & second hand shops dealers operate.

            • Corky

               /  April 17, 2017

              Its capitalism, and I use it to trade as an individual. True, its similar to how second hand shops work…but we don’t have as many overheads, apart from a one off payment for a course I demanded my partner undertake so he could issue a code of compliance.

            • Conspiratoor

               /  April 17, 2017

              To hell with capitalism brother corks. You are the poster boy of the zero waste economy. Sustainable energy without the hot air. A 21st century steptoe!

            • Gezza

               /  April 17, 2017

              Well, that might be arguable whether that’s capitalism as you don’t own the means of production. Nothing wrong with being an entrepreneurial trader with a business partner.

            • Blazer

               /  April 17, 2017

              $400 a wk…less ..tax…eh….Corky….tax!

            • Corky

               /  April 17, 2017

              To true, CPR… you knew I had gone beyond the confines of capitalism. I call my system Conspicuous Consummation… I and my product become one. Therefore because I have emotional and legal ties to my possessions I automatically encompass many socialist ideals.

            • Blazer

               /  April 17, 2017

              @Corky,…do your washing machines have…..agitators?

            • Corky

               /  April 17, 2017

              Tax…very vexing topic..don’t know much about it.

            • Blazer

               /  April 17, 2017

              @Corky….you seem to know about…everything else…hint…if you evade it,thats a criminal offence….might find yourself contributing to those woeful…stats.Bol.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  April 17, 2017

              Repairing and selling things for a profit is not the same as acquiring & hoarding material goods for the sake of having them. YOU don’t need all those washing machines, but the people to whom they are sold, DO.

              If you are using the old Jews are stingy (very racist) generalisation, you could not be more wrong. Many people are not materialistic & don’t need to have houses full of expensive things to prove something to themselves.

            • Corky

               /  April 17, 2017

              Hint,eh. You are one call away from being a stat yourself. Be good to me please…….Blazer.

            • Corky

               /  April 17, 2017

              Fear not, Kitty. I’m no Jew Hating Leftie. I was just checking to make sure you hadn’t forgotten you are Jewish.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  April 17, 2017

              The two deleted words were at the lower end of the patronising,sexist scale-if anyone’s wondering, they were not indecent 😀

              Seriously, Corks, if you’re not declaring it, do, the penalties are eye-watering if I read them right !

            • patupaiarehe

               /  April 17, 2017

              LOL Corky.

              Conspicuous Consummation

              Marketing made easy, I don’t imagine you’ll have much trouble gathering an audience… 😀

      • Conspiratoor

         /  April 17, 2017

        juxtaposing needs and wants …an age-old characteristic

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  April 17, 2017

          The two words can be synonymous. ‘This washing machine just wants a new (whatever)’ is the same as ‘This washing machine needs a new whatever.’

          The thesaurus gives them as synonyms of each other.

          Living in want is the same as living in need.

          ‘Man wants (needs) but little here below/Nor wants that little long.’

          Do be careful about taking that amount of foldies, Cork, if the IRD found out the consequences could be severe and not worth it.

          Reply
  4. Corky

     /  April 17, 2017

    I will answer your comments after I take pedagogical and legal advice….and help my neigbour with using Google Earth to get a front view of his home for a hopeful sale.

    Reply
    • Conspiratoor

       /  April 17, 2017

      Flick me the xys brother corks, I could be interested. I presume your front yards not cluttered with old whiteware…

      Reply
      • patupaiarehe

         /  April 17, 2017

        Actually C, some old whiteware & a couple of car wrecks, are a great ‘passive security measure’, in my neighbourhood, anyway. Burglars don’t bother investigating any further, if one’s property looks more ‘feral’ than theirs… 😉

        Reply
        • Conspiratoor

           /  April 17, 2017

          I’m sure that is a very effective deterrent pat but I think I’ll stick to auto gates, monitored alarm, black shuck and a widow maker. Cheers,c

          Reply
          • patupaiarehe

             /  April 17, 2017

            Each to their own C. I’d far rather know my neighbours, and have them think I’m a ‘little dodgy’, than be a prisoner in my own home…

            Reply
  5. Back to the subject! Is not moderation the ultimate measure of what is best for us as human beings, in all of our activities. I also really do believe that individually, we should be very clear about what our real needs are, as opposed to selfish “wants”. The other thing that I do believe that is important in life is, never say anything about any person that you are not prepared to say to their face, and explain why you have adopted whatever is your position!
    A huge day for fairness for salary for equal pay today.
    Hopefully the news about Immigration to be announced tomorrow will be equally significant!
    Finally, the opening up of the UN Holocaust files is late but has much significance to those who deny the deniers! Progress people.

    Reply

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