Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley (

Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA mass surveillance techniques evoke comparisons with the dystopian nightmares of George Orwell, as portrayed in his classic Nineteen Eighty-Four.

A likeness to an Orwellian state of surveillance, which exerts its power through violence and repression, seems to fit these times; a whistle-blower is forced to go into hiding for fear of persecution.

The same system which now admits it went too far, according to US secretary of State John Kerry.

However, today is the 50th anniversary of the death of another famous old Etonian writer - Orwell's opposite number as far as dystopian visions are concerned - Aldous Huxley. It's a day that is also overshadowed by the historical memory of John F Kennedy's assassination.

Aldous Huxley was the grandson of a distinguished Victorian biologist and Darwinist who authored in 1932 a chilling indictment of progress gone mad - Brave New World.

It describes a totalitarian society ruled by a supposedly caring dictatorship which has obtained the ultimate dream of any regime: a perfectly enslaved population that is nonetheless perfectly happy.

Set in London A.F. 632 (AD 2540), the novel depicts a world in which newly-born children are subject to a eugenics programme and are divided into five castes. Those chosen to become members of the lower castes, are subject to chemical interference to cause arrested development in intelligence or physical growth.

"Individuals" are moulded and educated from a young age by the leaders to fit without complaints into the various social and industrial roles pre-set for them.

Everyone loves and enjoys his own condition of slavery, nobody falls ill; everyone has the same life-expectancy.

Should a spark of freedom of personal anxiety emerge, the subjects are universally "encouraged" to use a hallucinogenic drug called "Soma" - an allusion to the Indo-Aryans drink of the same name.

People fall into a state of group hypnosis on the drug and become utterly compliant: today, people are similarly consumed by and addicted to Facebook. The launch of a new Apple or Samsung product provokes the same distraction and leads to frenzied, ritualised consumption.

It does not matter that those same tools allow giant corporations such as Google to spy, read, investigate, combine and ultimately share with state organisations such as the National Security Agency, our most intimate details.

It is not important that cookies infect our online subjectivities, or "data doubles", to look for ways to reproduce our appetites - influencing our tastes on "neutral" search engines.

The vast majority of Americans, as demonstrated by several polls, are completely fine with the idea of Google spying on our data - as long as entertainment is guaranteed.

So in a sense we are consenting to become like Brave New World's subjects - non-individuals, humanoids whose servitude is totally voluntary, and which seems to bring us delight and satisfaction.