I remember reading a couple commentators back in the 90s who suggested that Huxley was the most correct of the authors of early and mid-20th century dystopias, in terms of how our society had lost its moral center and become completely hedonistic, but now in terms of other aspects, Bradbury and Orwell look to have been right. Indeed, we seem to be increasingly speeding to the USA depicted by Ray Bradbury in _Fahrenheit 451_. I never read _1984_, but here is a website that compares Orwell’s predictions to our time (and many of them overlap with Bradbury’s). Some of the things Bradbury and Orwell got right:
1) Becoming a military state by convincing the populace it needs to fear THE ENEMY (“Terrorists”)
2) Planes flying overhead
3) A populace benumbed by wall-sized TVs
4) Reading becoming more and more rare, books abridged, etc. Bradbury predicted that mass censorship would not come top-down but bottom-up with the people demanding they be saved from the “burden” of reading. ”
Since we both read the novel in 2010, my wife has often commented on the very name of “Kindle” as suggestive of book burning. In theory the digitization of text should be a good thing. Every new technology seems to provide another way for increasing human knowledge. In Disney’s “Carousel of Progress,” the 1940s family talks of how wonderful TV will be for providing everyone a chance to watch the opera and study Latin. We all know how that turned out. Look at Christan Classics Ethereal Library or one of the various Great Books sites. In theory, you can fit a ton of information in pure TXT format into what is today a relatively small amount of space. Supposedly, the entire print collection of the Library of Congress would take up about 10 TB (about $500 worth of hard drives), but even in the 90s, a reasonable “Great Books” collection could fit on a CD in TXT or even PDF format. In theory, a person could fit a complete and quality education onto a single smart phone and carry it for life. So, in theory, digitalization of text should be preserving culture, but not if people aren’t reading it. Listen to ads for Kindle and Nook: the “e-readers” now advertise all the different fun things you can use them for *besides* reading.
“Where orthodoxy becomes optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” —Neuhaus’ Law
In “Lilies that Fester,” C. S. Lewis argues that when education becomes a means to a job, and government pays for it, then government becomes a means of brainwashing by the business managers and the government.
So, in the past 20 years, paleoconservatives/traditionalists have been pushed out of the education discussion in this country (and turned to homeschooling), while a conspiracy of liberal and neoconservative forces have promoted “common core standards of learning” in almost all states (then Gov. Bill Clinton was one of the first to jump on that bandwagon along with George HW Bush and Bill Bennett). The standards movement has proven to amount to exactly what C. S. Lewis warned about: especially because it’s not so much about what students are expected to *know* as what they are expected *not* to know. For in order to *teach* the “expected standards,” teachers must *not* teach other things. When I was growing up, you never could finish everything in the textbook in one year, and the teacher picked what you learned. This provided what one of my college professors described as one of the most important elements of an education, “to learn from as many lunatics as you can.” The teacher’s personality and interests are *supposed* to influence the education.
Now, the teacher is told *exactly* what to teach, and all that material *must* be covered, and they provide far more material than can realistically be covered and learend in one year just so they can avoid teachers talking about what they *don’t* want. And it’s very clear, if one reads the high school standards of any given state, how the standards reflect political agendas for either party. For example, in South Carolina, students are NOT supposed to learn about official persecution of Catholics in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Now, they’re getting to where over 75% of “required reading” in high school English will be nonfiction.
This besides the abandonment of text, is one of Bradbury’s concerns: gradually, fiction itself is becoming forbidden in our culture. I’ve argued this for a few years regarding “reality TV.” Even though “reality TV” itself is often rigged, if not outright scripted, it provides simplistic entertainment while avoiding intellectual or imaginative stimulation. Best to have people numbing their minds to the shouting matches on CNN, MSNBC or FOX, and feeling “informed,” when they’re actually being brainwashed. If not, then watch _The Real World_ or _Jersey Shore_ or whatever the latest “hit reality show” is. And if people *insist* on entertaining themselves with fiction then make sure it’s obscene comedy, titillating sex, or abject violence, with as little plot as possible–and then make them *think* they’re “intelligent” for enjoying listening to someone spewing profanities.
Bradbury missed the violent video games, but he rightly imagined the “interactive” entertainment that makes people think they’re involved when they’re being brainwashed. He also predicted people having multiple abortions and multiple divorces.
A commenter in my article about _Les Miserables_ insisted that the movie should be banned for its “graphic” depictions of sexual activity. I first noted how the depictions are graphic in a slightly different way, but questioned how they are any worse than a lot of what’s on TV these days. I also noted how, while the scenes are meant to show the disgusting nature of prostitution–they’re not to titillate or to glorify but to make people see the disgusting, repulsive nature of prostitution. He said he failed to see the distinction. I suggested he read Flannery O’Connor but noted how he probably would be opposed to her, as well. He said that comment was rude. I asked if graphic depictions of homosexual rape are better than graphic depictions of prostitution. I’m wondering if he’ll respond.
O’Connor holds that the closer fiction is to real life experience, the more it must lead us to God. Of course, as some of us argue, real life experience can have many meanings. I read a joke on FB today: “I’ve noticed how shows that describe themselves as containing ‘adult situations’ rarely show people doing chores, going to work or paying bills.” Kevin O’Brien over at Theater of the Word is often using Hallmark movies as an example of bad film making. I’m often protesting when he says that. Certainly Hallmark Hall of Fame is a bit more quality than Hallmark Channel Original movies, though I enjoy both. And Hallmark Channel Original movies, I admit, are a nice kind of low-thought entertainment which Flannery O’Connor might herself criticize for being overly “nice” in a distorted way. However, in their own way they serve as a more authentic representation of human life than most of what Hollywood produces or certainly a lot of “reality” TV.
So, anyway, now the “standards of learning” are being used to NOT teach kids Homer or Shakespeare or O’Connor or Orwell or Hawthorne or Austen. Russell Kirk said, “deprive a boy of Homer, and he will turn to Mickey Spillaine or Ian Fleming, or worse.” Well, even Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillaine will soon be proscribed.
For over 100 years, people from across the disciplines and ideological spectra have seen something on the horizen in Western civilization, given each generation’s decreasing morality and increasing construction of technological terrors (to paraphrase Emperor Palpatine). Yet while Ray Bradbury said to prepare for it by reading and memorizing, while the mystics have said to prepare for it by turning our hearts to God in prayer and fasting, so many of those who actually pay attention are preparing by stockpiling food and guns.
Better start memorizing, folks.