Why does indoctrination happen? It’s a question I thought about a bit when a friend of mine shared a progressive meme mocking the notion of liberal indoctrination in higher education.
In essence, the meme said that university professors were not indoctrinating anyone. The only thing happening was that conservative students were encountering diverse ideas for the first time in their lives and changing as a result.
Like most memes, it’s simplistic and mistaken. But the purposeful extremism makes this point: Everyone on the right is backward thinking and closed-minded. The irony, of course, is that this is a projection by these same leftists.
When Allan Bloom wrote about the closing of the American mind in 1987, he spent his time talking about universities destroying minds and indoctrinating students in a closed universe of ideas. Bloom’s issue wasn’t conservatives; it was the illiberal left that was closing the minds of all universities.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines indoctrination as “1: to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle; 2: to instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments.” It continues with this explanation of the word’s evolution:
Indoctrinate simply means “brainwash” to many people. But its meaning isn’t always so negative. When this verb first appeared in English in the 17th century, it simply meant “to teach” – a meaning that followed logically from its Latin root. The “doc” in the middle of indoctrinate derives from the Latin verb docēre, which also means “to teach.”
That first definition describes an unusually partisan or sectarian point of view. You see, if this were entirely an even playing field, then the common trope wouldn’t be, “conservative student goes to college and becomes liberal.” If everything were equal, you’d see both liberal and conservative students going to college and changing.
But the trope only goes in one direction for a reason. There’s no diversity of viewpoints in higher education. It’s a closed-minded system (which Bloom castigated). According to the Washington Examiner, a recent survey of the faculty of Harvard University showed that only 1% of the faculty was conservative.
If you blithely go through life, never being challenged in your beliefs — as many on the left do, you’ve never truly encountered diversity of any kind. You can pick up on this idea in social psychology research. Jonathan Haidt found in his book, The Righteous Mind, that conservatives actually understood liberals far better than liberals did conservatives.
The closed minds are coming from these woke progressives, who only believe their narrow view of the world. They are the very thing they claim everyone else is guilty of being.
The irony doubles when the left attacks statues and monuments, and not just the confederate monuments for which there are defensible arguments for removal. They attack all monuments to the American past, regardless of nuance or historical context.
Modern civilization with governmental structures of one form or another has existed for millennia. Philosophers have long debated how governing bodies could best be organized so as to allow for human prosperity. Edmund Burke, renowned statesman and member of the parliament in Great Britain who watched the French Revolution unfold, famously warned:
It is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society, or upon building it up again, without having models and patterns of approved utility before his eyes.
His point is simple. Governments and traditions that endure and allow humans to flourish should be replaced only in the most extreme cases and never lightly. He continued, saying, “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port we steer.”
George Orwell was less subtle when it came to the topic of states interfering with families and traditions. In his novel, 1984, he describes how Big Brother, the tyrannical mechanism of government, controls families:
The family could not actually be abolished, and, indeed, people were encouraged to be fond of their children in almost the old-fashioned way. The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police.
The combination of those two great thinkers, Burke and Orwell, brings us to the current moment. We have a progressive movement that is at war — not with racism, but with all of history. The entire CHAZ/CHOP experiment in Seattle was founded on a claim that the participants could build a new government, a new society from scratch using only human reason while throwing off all entrapments of the past.
This mindset is not only unwise, it’s the height of narcissistic morality in that it requires one to believe he or she is superior to those from previous ages. In prior generations, people erroneously thought their superiority was derived from their race. Now, the dividing line appears to be generational, in which one’s birthdate can condemn a person to become answerable for the sins of their contemporaries and those who came before.
And this is where college indoctrinating of America’s youth comes into play. The New York Times has posted stories of teens hunting for “problematic” posts by friends and family members so as to provide a rationale for “canceling” them. Vox has written many, many explainers advising readers on how to argue political points over Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s like watching a version of Orwell come to life. Cancel culture is an attempt to use social media and political fights to spy on everyone’s thoughts and punish them for wrongthink.
Everyone is filming and reporting anyone they don’t like to social media, so that the world can ruin whomever they hate on a given day. When these are the outcomes of your so-called intelligent university professors, the problem isn’t the right. The illiberal right is tearing down everything and rebuilding tyranny behind them.
It’s the embodiment of a key part of Big Brother’s chilling motto, as described by Orwell: “Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength.”
Indoctrination is about power and control, and it happens because too many people are hungry for those things and will do whatever it takes to get them.