Prisons We Choose to Live Inside by Doris Lessing
Well--the pleasures of irony, one sometimes has to think, are the only consolation when contemplating the human story…
[On the Comfort of the Group and the Odiousness of the Group]
It means that if you are a member of a close-knit community, you know you differ from this community's ideas at the risk of being seen as a no-goodnik, a criminal, an evil-doer. This is an absolutely automatic process…But there is always the minority who do not, and it seems to me that our future, the future of everybody, depends on this minority. And that we should be thinking of ways to educate our children to strengthen this minority and not, as we mostly do now, revere the pack.
Opponents are never hated as much as former allies.
[On Knowledge and Cognizance]
As I said in the last essay, I believe that people coming after us will marvel that on the one hand we accumulated more and more information about our behavior, while on the other, we made no attempt at all to improve our lives.
I believe that we are in the grip of something very powerful and very primitive, and that we have not begun to come to grips with it. To study it, yes, that goes on in a hundred universities. But to apply it--no.
Meanwhile, we observe later generations going through it and, knowing what we are capable of, fear for them. Perhaps it is not too much to say that in these violent times the kindest, wisest wish we have for the young must be: "we hope that your period of immersion in group lunacy, group self-righteousness, will not coincide with some period of your country's history when you can put your murderous and stupid ideas into practice."
But it is one thing carrying a burden of knowledge around, half conscious of it, perhaps ashamed of it, hoping it will go away if you don't look too hard, and another saying openly and calmly and sensibly, "Right. This is what we must expect under this and that set of conditions."
[On Fear of Ambiguity]
People like certainties. More, they crave certainty, they seek certainty, and great resounding truths.
[On Mind Control &, just, Control]
Brain-washing has three main pillars or processes, by now well understood. the first is tension, followed by relaxation. This one is used, for instance in the interrogation of prisoners, when the interrogator is alternatively harsh and tender--one moment a sadistic bully, the next a kind friend. The second is repetition--saying or singing the same thing over and over again. The third is the use of slogans--the reducing of complex ideas to simple sets of words. These three are used all the time by governments, and always have been used. While I said before it is interesting to speculate to what an extent the use of these methods is unconscious,…separate for example from some sophisticated operator knowing exactly what he is doing.
One mass movement, each a set of mass opinions, succeeds another: for war, against war; against nuclear war; for technology, against technology. And each breeds a certain frame of mind: violent, emotional, partisan, always suppressing facts that don't suit, lying, and making it impossible to talk in the cool, quiet, sensible low-keyed tone of voice which can produce truth.
[On the Collective Mind: Follow-My-Leader]
It has all been very entertaining but it has also left me feeling sad and embarrassed for my profession. does everything always have to be so predictable? Do people really have to be such sheep? Of course there are original minds, people who do take their own line, who do not fall victim to the need to say, or do, what everyone else does. But they are very few. Very few. On them depends the health, the vitality of all our institutions, not only literature, from which I have been drawing my examples.
[On the Individual]
Meanwhile, we may note that we all rely on, and we respect, this idea of the lonesome individualist who overturns conformity.
I see what a great influence an individual may have, even an apparently obscure person, living a small quiet life.
It means, and I hope this won't sound too wild, choosing to laugh… The researchers of brainwashing and indoctrination discovered that people who knew how to laugh resistd best. The Turks, for instance… the soldiers who faced their torturers with laughter sometimes survived when others did not. Fanatics don't laugh at themselves; laughter is by definition heretical, unless used cruelly, turned outwards against an opponent or enemy. Bigots can't laugh. True believers don't laugh. Their idea of laughter is a satirical cartoon pillorying an opposition person or idea. Tyrants and oppressors don't laugh at themselves, and don't tolerate laughter at themselves. The liberated person, however, can laugh at herself, himself.
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