In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley describes a society where people are artificially bred to think a certain way and to be content in their social situation. They’re brain-washed and drugged and never have a thought for themselves.
Huxley was right. Our thoughts are not our own. Even without some evil dictatorship to implant these thoughts, our minds are a product of our families, friends, images, media, education and so on. We like to think of ourselves as free thinking individuals, but we aren’t. None of us are – not truly. Odds are, we share the religion or political beliefs of our parents…and even if we rebel against this, we may spend the rest of our lives trying to escape its legacy.
And then we try to have a democracy. Despite the fact that not one of us, not one, is a free thinker. How can this possibly work? Well, I have serious doubts about the benefits of “democracy,” but I’ll address that in another post. Still, if we’re going to strive to have anything resembling actual democracy, it depends on having a well-informed, critically-thinking populace. At present, we don’t have that.
Becoming a free-thinking individual is not an easy task. But here’s one question that may help. A critically thinking consumer may ask, “Who will benefit from this purchase?” when buying something at the store. I think we should take that question a bit further and ask, “Who will benefit from the way I think?”
Of course the benefit is not always financial. It could be power, sex, social status, etc.
Who benefits? If the answer is something other than yourself, your family, or society in general, you may want to consider the source for this thought. Perhaps, it has been subtly fed to you by a powerful external force. (And I don’t mean the government. The “government” is a scapegoat. Again, who might benefit from you thinking that the government is the one to blame?) Look for the truth…like Roddy Piper in the 80s-cheese classic They Live.
Even without the sunglasses, we should ask:
Who benefits from these thoughts? Who might want me to think this way?
- I need a man or woman to fulfill me.
- The minimum wage should be kept low.
- Unions are bad for me, or unions are corrupt.
- My church is right and the others are wrong.
- I deserve to be in the position I am in life.
- Global warming is a myth.
- All politicians are corrupt so I might as well not vote.
- I am fat. I am ugly. I am too skinny. My skin isn’t clear. I’m not cool. I’m not hip. My clothes are out of fashion.
- War is sometimes (or often) necessary.
- My neighbourhood is unsafe.
- The wealthy are too highly taxed.
- My house isn’t big enough.
- Other countries are evil/scary.
Some will, say, “yes, the powerful will benefit, but so will I.” Again, I ask, where did you get that thought? Is it actually true? And who benefits from you thinking that way? We always believe that our thoughts, opinions and decisions benefit us personally. Just as in Huxley’s universe, we are conditioned to believe that the powerful are benevolent and what benefits them will benefit us as well. So, for those who struggle with this, you may want to modify the original question to “Other than myself, who also benefits from me thinking this way?” Because, no matter what you believe (two people believing contradictory ideas, for example), you’re certain to convince yourself it has some benefit to you. Okay, fine, that’s a given. Now, who else is benefiting? Because more than likely, this is the direct source of your belief.
If the powerful could create any type of mind they wanted, what would it look like; what sorts of things would that person say?
Somehow, I doubt it would be anything like this:
The “powerful” is not some vague conspiratorial force. We know very well in a capitalist system who the powerful are and who they are not. Carlin more-or-less spells it out for you in the video. Living in another country under another system, the “powerful” may be a different set of people. The point is that our thoughts are not without external influences and we should be diligent in dissecting these influences.