Aldous Huxley: the Prophet of our Brave New Digital Dystopia

Aldous Huxley pictured in the 1930s. 'We failed to notice that our runaway infatuation with the sleek toys produced by the likes of Apple and Samsung might well turn out to be as powerful a narcotic as soma.' Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Aldous Huxley pictured in the 1930s.  Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Orwell thought we’d be destroyed by the things we fear. Huxley thought we’d be undone by the things we crave. Huxley was right

 writes:  On 22 November 1963 the world was too preoccupied with the Kennedy assassination to pay much attention to the passing of two writers from the other side of the Atlantic: CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Fifty years on, Lewis is being honoured with a plaque in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, to be unveiled in a ceremony on Friday. The fanfare for Huxley has been more muted.

There are various reasons for this: The Chronicles of Narnia propelled their author into the Tolkien league; Shadowlands, the film about his life starring Anthony Hopkins, moved millions; and his writings on religious topics made him a global figure in more spiritual circles. There is a CS Lewis Society of California, for example; plus a CS Lewis Review and a Centre for the Study of CS Lewis & Friend sat a university in Indiana.

Aldous Huxley never attracted that kind of attention. And yet there are good reasons for regarding him as the more visionary of the two. For one of the ironies of history is that visions of our networked future can be bracketed by the imaginative nightmares of Huxley and his fellow Etonian George Orwell. Orwell feared that we would be destroyed by the things we fear – the state surveillance apparatus so vividly evoked in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Huxley’s nightmare, set out in Brave New World, his great dystopian novel, was that we would be undone by the things that delight us.

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