People are fond of imagining futuristic dystopias ruled by sadistic elites who crush the people into the ground at every opportunity. Hunger Games is a recent example. Hunger Games is, of course, fiction, but it’s indicative of a common attitude. When you tell people that things might get better—that technology might bring us greater peace and abundance than we’ve ever had before— their answer often is that the elites won’t let that happen. Which I admit is possible. But while it’s rational to consider powerful interests that might be lined up against positive changes, it’s a strange leap to expect active sadism from elites when they have little to gain from it—when in fact, giving people pleasure might be a more effective strategy for maintaing control. In other words, I think somas probably work better than hunger games.
Along these lines, I was amused to discover a letter by Aldous Huxley to George Orwell in which he argues that Brave New World is a more likely outcome than 1984:
“The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World…
“Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency…”