NEW YORK – “What we love will ruin us,” predicted Aldous Huxley in 1932. In Brave New World, he described a human race that, by 2540, has been destroyed by ignorance, a lust for constant entertainment, the dominance of technology, and an overabundance of material goods. With Donald Trump’s recent election as president, the United States seems to be fulfilling Huxley’s prediction more than 500 years ahead of schedule.
America’s public culture has long shied away from highbrow thinking, often touting a kind of demotic laissez-faire egalitarianism as a precondition for unrestricted creativity and the unbridled capitalism that it supports. All anyone needs to get ahead are guts and perseverance.
That was once an attractive proposition for countries like the Soviet Union, which was closer to the world of George Orwell’s own dystopian novel 1984. In a place where government control had forced all cultural creativity underground, the demotic spirit and imagination that America seemed to embody seemed like a dream.
But in a world like Orwell’s, political pressure ultimately builds, and a surging dissident movement sweeps away the system, as the Soviet Union was in 1991. When people are distracted by mindless entertainment and piles of stuff, however, they lose their will to resist. Eventually, they are so lacking in knowledge and skills that they could not reject that life, even if they wanted to.