“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” —Henry Ford
Year one of the calendar in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is 1908, the year Henry Ford introduced the Model-T. As expected the media duly noted the 100th anniversary of the event in October 2008, but they missed out on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Brave New World Revisited, in which Huxley concluded that far from being some 600 years away in the future, his dystopian society based on ‘Fordian’ principles of mass production, commercialization and consumerism, was just over the horizon.
Since my attempt at a 50th anniversary retracing of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries ended with me being beaten to the punch by an American who did it two years early, I should have learned my lesson about trying to sell time-critical articles. This time round I was beaten by Margaret Atwood owing to the 75th anniversary of Revisited having taken place in 2007.
“How close have we come, in real life, to the society of vapid consumers, idle pleasure-seekers, inner-space trippers and programmed conformists that it presents?” asked Atwood. Assuming for a moment that this is what we have become, though she believes there is hope for us yet, might the more challenging question be: “what has enabled us to become so?” The answer is technology. And technology affects everyone, even those who can’t afford to own it. So let us look at the areas of prediction identified by Huxley.
It took most of human history for the population to reach 1 billion around the year 1800. It took a little over 100 years for it to double to 2 billion and a further 50 years to doubled again to 4 billion. But growth seems to have peaked. Although we are on our way to 7 billion we are probably not going to hit 8 billion by 2020, and even if we did that would mean the growth rate had remained constant for a century. In practice the world could sustain much larger populations than this, if it wasn’t for the fact that 1% of the population is consuming 99% of the resources.
Quantity, Quality, Morality
In 1958 technology hadn’t yet caught up with Huxley’s predictions, but by 2008 selective human breeding was common place. The first baby to be concieved by in vitro fertilisation was born in 1978 and the practice is now well established. Access to legal abortion has had a profound affect on women’s lives, but the ability to determine the gender of a child at the early stages of development using ultra sound has led to sex-selective abortion. The desire of parents to choose has also led to techniques being developed to pre-select the sex of their child. These could account for there being around 50 million more males than females on the planet. People are still arguing over the morality of it all.
Propaganda in a Democratic Society
As Neil Postman wrote: “Huxley feared those who would give us so much [information] that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.” This has in fact happened.
Propaganda Under a Dictatorship
It has been written that the Internet is merely the passive observer of events in the Maghreb and the wider Arab world, and that these uprisings are the result of hungry mouths rather than technology. On the other hand, the Internet does make it a lot easier to organize a rally. And as Wikileaks has shown, while it’s hard to find the truth on the Internet, it’s much harder to prevent the lie from being exposed.
The Arts of Selling
We live in a world where everyone and their dog now has a least two iPods. My entire record collection fits on a 40GB hard disk with room to spare, and I don’t really see the need to upgrade, but Apple is still making money from iPods. Capitalism relies on built-in obsolescence. In the past this was achieved through lower build quality, but that could result in early failure and associated bad publicity. The solution was to convince people that they must have the latest greatest thing. In truth, a computer made a decade ago is perfectly adequate for the tasks most people perform on a daily basis. But the marketing people have got us suckered in, and even in an economic downturn Apple is posting record profits.
Pop Idol, X Factor, Dancing with the Stars, Justin Bieber.
Prozac and Ritalin are Soma.
Subliminal advertising does not work, but product placement does.
While hypnotism may have cured the odd case of hiccups, the practise of playing audio to terror suspects while they are trying to sleep is well documented, although its effectiveness is not.
Education for Freedom
Education about freedom is now at such a low point in human history that the last British Labour government was able to revoke protection from double jeopardy, habeas corpus, the right to trial by jury, the remaining parts of Magna Carta including the right to due process, without so much as a murmur from most of the population. Some people even signed up for computer chip ID cards.
What Can be Done?
Huxley concludes: “Under a scientific dictator education will really work — with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.” And indeed, the modern social contract is that the government will protect you from the moral panics so long as you don’t question it, and in return you can have your escapism and be left alone. What indeed?
Ford Model T Facts
- October 1, 1908 marks the anniversary of the first Model T built for sale.
- The Model T was the first low-priced, mass-produced automobile with standard, interchangeable parts.
- The Model T was equipped with a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with a top speed of about 45 miles per hour, weighed 1,200 pounds, and achieved 13-21 miles per gallon.
- The moving assembly line for the Model T revolutionized manufacturing in 1913.
- More than 15 Million Model Ts had been sold by May 26, 1927, when a ceremony marked the formal end of Model T production.
- Henry Ford called the Model T “the universal car,” a low-cost, reliable vehicle that could be maintained easily and could successfully travel the poor roads of the era.
- On Dec. 18, 1999, the Ford Model T was named “Car of the Century” by a panel of 133 automotive journalists and experts who began with a list of 700 candidates in 1996 and sequentially narrowed the nominees through seven rounds of balloting over three years.