I’m Bill Moyers, and this week I read Julia Angwin’s new book “Dragnet Nation: A Quest For Privacy, Security and Freedom In a World of Relentless Surveillance.” I heartily recommend it to you. And, when you finish reading it, there are a couple of classics that will resonate in the aftermath. Yes, I’m talking about George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” I know, I know. Comparisons can be exaggerated, analogies can be false and writers don’t always imply what readers infer.

Nonetheless, attention should be paid to the fact that when Edward Snowden dumped the government’s huge vault of secret spying onto the floor of our collective consciousness, reported that sales of Orwell’s “1984” shot through the ceiling – at one point, a 9000 percent increase. Writing for, the critic Lewis Beale reminded us of the ubiquitous presence in Orwell’s totalitarian state of telescreens – those big screen TVs on which the government projected propaganda and censored entertainment. But as people watched what Big Brother wanted them to see, Big Brother was watching them – through that same screen.

Today, big screen TVs grace our living-room walls, but these have become our two-way mirrors. Here’s how we learn Orwellian newspeak like “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” and spelling and thinking they are oh so old-fashioned if you can merely type OMG, YOLO and ROFLMAO. As for the prophecies of Aldous Huxley, well, a lot of things go on in his “Brave New World” that are weird and far-fetched, but so help me, all those people genetically designed to be regimented into total social conformity and subservient to the groupthink of the one percent, they could easily have walked right out Huxley and straight into Roger Ailes’ Fox News playbook or Rush Limbaugh’s studio. But I digress, just to point out that the state is not alone in stalking our imagination and preying on our privacy. Try this antidote to Big Brother’s big chill: “Dragnet Nation” by Julia Angwin.

Bill Moyers Essay: An Antidote to Big Brother’s Chill

In this Web-only essay, Bill recommends a book out this week by award-winning investigative journalist Julia Angwin. Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance explores how we have become a society in which unbridled technology enables our government and corporations to constantly and indiscriminately collect data on us with no concern for privacy.

Bill notes the striking similarities between 21st century America and the dystopian societies invented more than a half-century ago by George Orwell in 1984 and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. Perhaps that’s why sales of 1984 went through the roof after Edward Snowden dropped his trove of classified documents last summer.

Like Orwell’s telescreens — through which Big Brother broadcasts propaganda and spies on citizens — our lives are dominated by cellphones, tablets and laptops that are our real-life two-way mirrors. And although Huxley’s Brave New World contained some far-fetched ideas and scenarios, Bill concludes that “all those people genetically designed to be regimented into total social conformity and subservient to the groupthink of the one percent… could easily have walked right out Huxley and straight into Roger Ailes’ Fox News playbook or Rush Limbaugh’s studio.”

Dragnet Nation, he says, is the “antidote to Big Brother’s chill.”

Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Rob Kuhns.

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  • Alpha Wolf

    In his now classic, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Neil Postman contrasts “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “A Brave New World”:

    “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 egotism. 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…..”

    While the Snowden revelations/National Security state lend themselves to obvious comparisons to “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” culturally and politically we are much closer to “A Brave New World.” While our ubiquitous “glowing rectangles” are used to track us by the state, they also play the role of “soma” in our Brave New World:

    “In the book, soma is a hallucinogen that takes users on enjoyable, hangover-free “holidays”. It was developed by the World State to provide these inner-directed personal experiences within a socially managed context of State-run “religious” organisations; social clubs. The hypnopaedically inculcated affinity for the State-produced drug, as a self-medicating comfort mechanism in the face of stress or discomfort, thereby eliminates the need for religion or other personal allegiances outside or beyond the World State.” (Wikipedia)

    Personally, I would described our “social clubs” as the self-selecting ideological “tribes” that form, and reinforce themselves, on the Internet (or FOX or MSNBC) and speak in the same ideological codas, endlessly replicating the same sound bites and memes, and demonizing their enemies. (Queue Jonathan Haidt.)

    This is an absolutely fascinating 1958 Mike Wallace interview with Aldous Huxley in which he discusses his essay collection “Enemies to Freedom,” including the use of technology..

    The interview gets really interesting starting at 10:30. “….the dictatorships of the future will be very unlike the dictatorships we’re familar with in the recent past…If you want to preserve your power indefinitely, you have to get the consent of the ruled. This they will do partly by drugs….partly by these new techniques of propaganda. They will do this…..of bypassing the rational part of man and appealing to his subconscious and deeper emotions and his physiology even, making him love his slavery.”

    Brilliant! Mike Wallace quotes from his “Enemies of Freedom” essays at 13:30: “All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere….The personality of the candidate, the way he is projected by the advertising experts are the things that really matter.” Huxley goes into a brilliant discussion of the trivialization and marketing of politics that clearly applied 2 years later in the 1960 election as well as in every campaign since, including particularly both of President Obama’s campaigns.

    Definitely worth watching. There are also fascinating Mike Wallace interviews with Ayn Rand and Erich Fromm (“Escape from Freedom,” etc.) on youtube for those interested in seeing the template for Moyers & Co.

  • stephen a johnson

    Who is Big Brother? Those who would starve the government of funds want less of it therefore no Big Brother. Those want a more active government that would uphold fairness and equality of opportunity also want no Big Brother.

  • Anonymous

    This is an agenda that was put on hold THANKS to Huxley and others who recognized the power grab in progress starting with the phony crashes, the engineered war and racism and monitoring of the masses that started in 1907, continued through the 1913 banking act to create the FED, the propped up wars in 1917 and 1930s-40s. These schemers went underground…until now.

    Now we see outright attacks on unions, public schooling, US labor and privacy. No conspiracy, it’s an agenda with the same names for decades: The Bushes, the Rockefellers, now Gates and many more.

    Want to get some attention? Try going “off the energy grid”. If you do you’ll be labeled.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant, thank you for posting.

  • Anonymous

    Outstanding. Thank for sharing. Hope more people click that link.

  • msbhavn

    Wow. Great post, and thanks for the links!

  • zayxln
  • david asleep

    Two novels with different approaches but with the same dark outcomes. . for me it is the doublespeak and doublethink of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four that is most frightening and prophetic. . . and the very thing that lives in the heart of almost every American and our world quest for “freedom” won by bloody war. / / Atomic Bomb and other such horrors escape our conscience and justify our double minded morals. As a soldier in a war. . .i had to come to horrible terms with such doubled minded thinking. . .it shattered me.

  • Maheen

    We are actually far more Huxleyan (in Western countries) than Orwellian. We’ve allowed pleasure to dull us into a sleep of conformity and control by others.