Amusing Ourselves to Death


Neil Postman

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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Foreward Summary & Analysis

Postman begins his book by summarizing George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel 1984, as well as Aldous Huxley’s (also dystopian) 1932 novel Brave New World. Postman points out that these authors, though they both imagined a grim future, didn’t “prophesy” the same thing. Orwell predicts that we will be oppressed—not just in our actions but in our very thoughts—by the external forces of governmental control. Huxley, on the other hand, imagines a world where our internal weaknesses and desires to be entertained and pleasured drive us to laziness, stupidity, and intellectual incompetence. “In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.” Postman closes his forward with a provocative and slightly enigmatic contention: “This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
Postman immediately places this work in a dialogue not with other non-fiction essayists or cultural critics, but instead with two major writers of dystopian fiction. This points to Postman’s belief in the power and importance of literature and sustained reading, but it also shows that his book is yet another vision of the future. Though his is not a work of dystopian fiction, it is still a work that (like Huxley’s and Orwell’s) tries to bring to life a particular vision of the future in order to make a point to its readers. By saying his argument is about the possibility that “Huxley was right,” Postman puts his project directly in dialogue with dystopian projections of the future.
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