August 5th 2020
Many decades ago, I worked for a while in one of the old Victorian lunatic asylums in England. They were by then called ‘long-stay mental hospitals' and the patients were all highly institutionalized, conditioned by years of dull routine to an existence of passive compliance. Psychotropic medications helped, and if a patient displayed some reluctance to follow routine, the usual response was to instigate a short program of behavioral conditioning. It was all designed to be very humane. The days of violent confrontations were largely in the past, and the dreaded glass syringe containing paraldehyde was becoming only a memory, as were the straitjackets and the padded cells. But we still wore white coats and walked the wards as if monitoring for any signs of deviance, and the psychiatrist's verdict was final.
What is happening today in the West increasingly reminds me of what I saw in that long-stay mental hospital many decades ago, but is less humane. Today, when a person displays signs of deviating from political correctness, the cultural overseers leap into action and denounce the behavior and the culprit, whose guilt is incontestable. If confession, contrition, and penance are not instantly forthcoming, the only sentence is to be declared a ‘far-right bigot', with the likely result that the mainstream news media will then pick up the story and try to ruin what is left of the pitiful target's life. Only the most courageous and resourceful will stand fast to their values and principles and defy the modern Maoist cultural revolutionaries of the radical progressive liberal-Left. The task of enforcement by the latter is, however, made considerably easier by the almost ubiquitous smartphone, which makes social conditioning extremely easy.
The smartphone functions as a virtual Skinner box. The original Skinner box was constructed of clear perspex inside which a hungry pigeon pecked at a lever. A reward of grain was delivered only for the desired behavior. Today the box is virtual, as humans tap the keys of their smartphones. Usage of social media from these smartphones appears to be highly addictive, and can turn even previously well-adjusted people into obsessive narcissists who crave ‘likes' and will leap onto any bandwagon in an attempt to increase their virtual popularity.
Combine this with the credulousness and gullibility of willingly impressionable youth and one has the ideal material for social conditioning. Hence the smartphone as a virtual Skinner box. The radical progressive liberal-Left have -- with great enthusiasm -- seized upon this opportunity to socially-condition the young, and anyone else with high suggestibility, and are intent on turning tens of millions of people into compliant instruments of their political will.
The astonishing feature of all this is that the involuntary but mostly compliant subjects of this vast experiment in social engineering appear to lack any insight into what is being done to them. They have surrendered their critical faculties to invisible minders who program them to feel emotions, think thoughts, deliver utterances, and commit acts at the behest of hidden controllers who can avoid taking any responsibility for what ensues. And, perhaps most alarming of all, these cultural automatons are voluntarily giving up their cultural history, allowing it to be replaced by political propaganda which misrepresents the past. The result is that such people live in a present that is created and controlled by someone else, as is their future. Their lives are no longer their own, yet they are oblivious of this.
All this takes my thoughts back to that long-ago time when I worked in that long-stay mental hospital. My instructor used to tell me that insight was neither necessary nor desirable in those we were behaviorally conditioning. How true that is of the indoctrinated supporters of radical progressivism today! And if one politely asks such individuals why exactly they hold their opinions, one is often met by a discomfited mystified expression hinting that the problem lies with those who disagree. If one persists with such questioning the cognitive dissonance soon becomes evident and the resulting outrage may be directed at the questioner, as if asking questions is now considered a counter-revolutionary act.
On one of the wards in the old asylum there was a remarkable old lady, with a charming smile if a little vague at times (especially as to the reasons that had brought her there). Her clinical records revealed she had been committed to the asylum in 1915 for ‘giving birth out of wedlock'. There was actually nothing wrong with her mentally, apart from being considered a little ‘dull-witted' at the time of admission. Despite numerous pieces of reforming legislation on mental health since that time, no one had considered releasing her in 65 years. In the basement of the hospital I found enormous leather-bound photograph albums, the earliest dating from the 1880s, which contained pages of small portrait photographs of every new admission, arranged in date order (this practice had ceased only in the 1920s).
Every new inmate had a mugshot, with name, date of birth, date of admission, and reason for admission detailed in neat hand-writing below. The mugshot was considered necessary in those days because if an inmate absconded, a sketch artist from the local newspaper would visit, draw a likeness, and then this would appear in the local newspaper to aid recapture. The old lady I researched had her picture in the 1915 volume, a composed young woman looking strangely out-of-place and a little anxious and bemused. She had never absconded -- she seemed quite content with her life in the asylum. Perhaps it was better than the one she had before. We'll never know.
In today's open-air asylum that is the West, the monitoring of the inmates is much more sophisticated. A smartphone allows the user to be tracked every minute of the day and night, phone-calls, emails, and texts can be monitored by the service provider, as can all social media and internet use. Counter-terrorist legislation enables the government to acquire such records with ease, and the social media companies themselves are already censoring content they disapprove of. Which, strangely enough, almost always seems to consist of opinions that the radical progressive liberal-Left dislikes. It wouldn't take much by way of legislative change to make such censorship official -- on counter-terrorist grounds, of course.
It is no wonder, then, that we live in an age of increasing conformity. Most of those who conform often have no idea of why they do so, viewing any attempt to inquire more deeply into the origins of their opinions and behavior as a sign of hostility. People who hold views counter to their own are seen as a threat, and the wrong choice of words can be perceived as a violent act. This is the pathologically irrational world of radical progressivism, where insight is considered neither necessary nor desirable, and any deviation from the permitted ideological tropes is viewed with suspicion and elicits intolerance.
The West is now one vast social engineering experiment with virtual Skinner boxes for conditioning the inmates.
Those determined to retain their insight and critical faculties, their intellectual independence and their moral sovereignty, may well become a minority within a generation.
Why is this not a matter of serious public concern ?
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Wen Wryte is the pseudonym of a retired teacher of philosophy who likes a quiet life.