Are We ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death”?

Two classic books, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell, the first published in 1932 and the second published in1949, offered dark visions of modern society. Orwell’s prediction, published at the start of the Cold War and emergence of the totalitarian threat posed by Soviet Russia, initially seemed far more real and far more compelling. But Neil Postman argued in his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, published at the height of the age of television, that Huxley’s vision was far more prophetic.

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares,” Postman wrote.

“But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell‘s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. 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.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. 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. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”  

— Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Postman went on to make these points, as collected in these quotes on Goodreads: Continue reading “Are We ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death”?”

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Verbal Or Online Insults in UAE Can Get You Fined Or Imprisoned

A man who insulted a woman on a news website has been ordered to pay a Dh10,000 fine, The National reports. This follows an earlier case in which a man who sent a text message accusing another man, his wife and entire family of lying was convicted of verbal assault on the honour and prestige of the recipient, and ordered to pay a Dh1,000 fine.

In spring 2014, James Kottak, drummer for the heavy metal band, the Scorpions, was sentenced to a month in jail after he acknowledged drinking five glasses of wine on a airplane. Then upon arriving in the UAE, he was accused of loudly insulting Islam, and lifting his middle finger at Muslims in the Dubai airport. Police said he also exposed his behind. He denied the additional charges. Coverage in The National.

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Different Standards for Copyright of Online and Printed Material Spark Global Debate

If a publisher reprints an article in a book without the author’s permission and without compensation, that is, legally, a copyright violation. But if a publisher links to the same article online, that is considered fair use, and indeed, the publisher is thought to be doing the author a favor, by giving his material more exposure.

“This almost instinctive distinction between what is proper in the analog realm and what is proper in the digital realm is at the center of a global debate about the state of copyright law,” writes Louis Menand in an important exploration of evolving copyright law in The New Yorker.

“Statutes protecting copyright have never been stricter; at the same time, every minute of every day, millions of people are making or using copies of material—texts, sounds, and images—that they didn’t create. According to an organization called Tru Optik, as many as ten billion files, including movies, television shows, and games, were downloaded in the second quarter of this year. Tru Optik estimates that approximately ninety-four per cent of those downloads were illegal. The law seems to be completely out of whack with the technology.”

Read Menand’s piece here.

Of particular interest are the anecdotes about Mickey Mouse; George Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord” ruled a copyright violation of “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons;  and Warner/Chappell Music claims to own the copyright to “Happy Birthday to You.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Inspired by U.S. First Amendment: Five Freedoms

There is a universal right to free expression, and it is a fundamental human right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. This universal right to free expression has its roots in the very First Amendment to the US Constition. Above, attorney Kevin Hayslett explains the First Amendment, as it relates to freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition.

The Illinois First Amendment Center, a program of the Illinois Press Foundation, produces educational materials about the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which is a model for countries the world over. It produces free classroom materials on the five freedoms — and why they are important to Americans and to other nationalities. It also provides a good summary of the importance of the First Amendment in history.

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