09 September 2017

Huxley's prescience

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and [George Orwell's] 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. 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, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us”

- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985

(Via the Delancey Place email newsletter)

08 September 2017

Conversations with Prime Ministers

Photos from this evening's book launch at Te Papa's marae in Wellington, for journalists Guyon Espiner and Tim Watkin's The 9th Floor: Conversations with five New Zealand Prime Ministers. Mike Moore was unable to attend and sent his apologies, but present were Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer (Prime Minister in 1989-90), Rt Hon Jim Bolger (1990-97), Rt Hon Dame Jenny Shipley (1997-99) and Rt Hon Helen Clark (1999-2008). In what was a historic gathering possibly never before attempted in New Zealand, the four ex-leaders discussed the nature of the premiership, the challenges facing New Zealand and the interviews' contribution to posterity.

In Te Papa's marae

Helen Clark Snapchats while Palmer looks on

Shipley makes a point, Espiner listens


03 September 2017


SH1 & the Main Trunk Line from Fort Dorset, Wadestown

27 August 2017

Seal-spotting at Turakirae Head

It was perfect sunny weather for a walk to Turakirae Head on the Wainuiomata south coast yesterday afternoon - bright, breezy but not gusty. The last time I'd been out that way the whole city was dry but the south coast was wreathed in sheets of rain. The DOC signs at the entrance near Orongorongo Station say it's an hour walk to the head, but I took quite a bit less time than that, even allowing for photographic detours. The rocky landscape at the head - the result of a series of earthquakes over the past few thousand years - is perfect for the seals, and along with the fine views of Palliser Bay there was the rare opportunity to say (with tongue in cheek) that I had walked to the Wairarapa and back.

Looking southeast to Cape Palliser

23 August 2017

Launching 'A Bark But No Bite'

At Victoria University of Wellington's Rutherford House for the launch of the latest New Zealand Election Study book, A Bark But No Bite: Inequality and the 2014 New Zealand General Election, by Jack VowlesHilde CoffĂ© and Jennifer Curtin. Former fellow politics student and lecturer Rt Hon Helen Clark was the guest of honour, and other guests included another former Prime Minister, Rt Hon Geoffrey Palmer, and politics experts Dr Elizabeth McLeay, Dr Bryce Edwards, Colin James and Brian Easton. The book can be downloaded free from ANU Press.

Clark, Vowles, Coffe & Curtin

Rt Hon Helen Clark

Prof Jack Vowles