Set & Setting
The story outlined in Part I contains a fictionalized summary of my thought process over the last few years and my transition into what I refer to as a “thoughtcriminal”. The term is a direct reference to George Orwell’s1984 novel, although my use of it carries a large dose of irony and cynicism. The book describes a dystopian world, where every aspect of life is controlled and subjugated to an established political doctrine and individuality & intellectual independence represent the biggest threats to society. As such, this grotesque depiction of civilization is viewed by many as a warning against the dangers of authoritarian political systems and the enforcement of repression though the gradual defeat of the individual.
Undoubtedly, our own world differs vastly from this grim vision for obvious reasons – freedom of expression. movement & enterprise, right to health and well-being, right to the pursuit of happiness, etc. are all considered fundamental human rights, and appear to be universally acknowledged and protected as such. However, beneath this harmonious façade reality shines with a somewhat different light. While formally we enjoy a plethora of liberties, the existence of problems such as surveillance society, media independence and the interdependence between economic and political groups paints a very different picture than what is marketed. Since I lack the necessary knowledge to adequately analyse these problems in depth, my focus is instead directed towards the individual and his relationship with the world.
As my fictional story illustrated, I came to a point in my life where I felt deeply unhappy. While unhappiness is not a disaster by itself, as life goes through multiple ups and downs, this was different and somewhat bizarre. I’d finally completed the final phase of my higher education and found a job. Logic dictated that from that point on the sky was the limit and I could fully focus on excelling at life in every kind of sense. Instead I was overcome with misery and dejection.
My unhappiness wasn’t caused by something I lacked, but rather by who I was. There was an evident dissonance between the projected version of the person I expected to be and my true character. As if I’d ordered a tailor-made suit, which didn’t fit at all when tried on. In time I discovered that this problem was caused by a lack of self-exploration and reflection on my part, as I’d never made the effort to seriously consider my own needs & desires. Instead of exploring the world and mapping it out on my own, I incorporated external mental models and concepts and assumed everyone else did the same. It didn’t occur to me that this would mean society consisted of variations of more or less the same person. Why would it?
All roads seemingly led to Rome and while the difficulty or the scenery of the journey could vary greatly, there was always the comforting thought of moving in the right direction. Like an insect hypnotized by a shining light, I always thought I was moving forwards. I didn’t realize you could end up at wrong place, veer of the path or get completely lost. These illusions eventually crashed into reality with the grace of the Chicxulub impact. What caused this conflict? I certainly didn’t remember actively deciding to ignore my own thoughts and feelings, so this shift probably wasn’t the result of a single event or decision, but rather an entire process, which I’ve tried to piece together in the following paragraphs.
We come into life as a blank slate and learn to use our own experiences and impressions, along with external ideas, to construct a mental image of the world and synch ourselves with the surrounding reality. Crucially, we go through a period where we accept ideas and information at face their value, without additional analysis and immediately transplant them into our own behavior as a mechanism of learning. It is only natural and makes sense, because as very small children we aren’t capable of understanding much, so external guidance and imitation on our part are essential to our education, learning process and from an evolutionary standpoint – survival.
This is an ingenious mechanism, because a child doesn’t need to understand how to walk or talk, but can observe others & try repeatedly until It can do it on its own. However, we quickly outgrow the complete dependence to this technique, as we enter the next phase of childhood, where we can form opinions and explore our own ideas. Transplantation of outside information is no longer the only method of expanding our knowledge and adding layers to the mental canvas.
We can now think.
Despite the shift, nothing changes in the method of our education & learning. In the formative 18-25 years of our lives, information is passed down in digested bits, which we’re expected to absorb as fast as possible, without sufficiently processing them first. This is not a conspiracy or done with any sort of malicious intent (at least on the individual scale), as modern life is so fast-paced that parents and teachers often lack the time and/or resources to give us an adequate amount of attention or explain things properly.
On the other hand, the educational system itself is designed to cultivate a high level of general proficiency in a large percentage of the population, in order to ensure that the majority of people will be productive for society and push it forwards. As a result, we simultaneously study multiple subjects in school, another language and are possibly involved in some other activity like a sport or artistic talent. So in practice the majority of available time is taken up by intense commitment to these studies, which doesn’t leave much space for other, equally vital forms of development or the necessary reprieve to consciously sort through and actually understand all this information.
Intelligence & Memory
The human brain is often compared to a computer and this analogy extends to the idea of knowledge, as we assume understanding information is the same as copying a file onto computer memory, which is a deceptive misconception. Memory is a prerequisite, but no the substance or equivalent of intelligence. The difference between simply knowing that water boils at a 100°C and understanding the consequences of sticking your head inside a sizzling pot is very substantial. However, the aforementioned daily bombardment, coupled with the focus on the educational system on results lead to the prioritization of memorization over understanding.
This is the only possible option in any case, because the intensity of the workload we experience through these formative years and the variety of subjects that are covered means there’s no time to get into details and actually try to understand a topic or a subject in a deeper sense. Doing so will make it impossible to pay attention to other subjects, which will lead to decline in academic performance, which in turn will bring about negative consequences in one or various forms, e.g. hinder potential opportunities or cause family problems, etc.
Even a quick study of the teaching methods is extremely revealing – classroom education, such as school or university is centered on a tutor who passes the information to the students and then moves on with the next topic. At the end of the lesson there’s usually time for questions, but how insightful can those be if you barely understand the subject or you just found out exists? Similarly, news broadcasts, hosted talk-shows and documentaries unilaterally bombard the viewer with information.
This disturbing part of this method of learning leaves no space for feedback or discussion, which further reinforces habit of memorizing over understanding. So there’s lots of input, but not necessarily any output in terms of using our intellect to apply the information that’s coming in. We aspire to be computers, despite the fact that we’re human and our most valuable attribute is thinking, not storing information. Intelligence is infinitely more complex than memorization and a lot harder to achieve, as evidenced by our position at the summit of the biological hierarchy of our planet and our unsuccessful efforts in developing general artificial intelligence so far.
As children and teenagers we gladly accept our role as information dumps, because it makes everything easier and when we do decide to investigate ourselves, the outcome often coincides with what we were told, which reinforces the belief to simply accept information without check. We are easily influenced from the outside world, because we lack the experience or the habit to form ideas of our own and outgrow the pre-set parameters determined by accepted social standards, which are important for us.
As a result, we freely adopt all sorts of ideas and concepts into our mental image of the world without processing them, because we lack the time, inclination or necessity of developing our own. Why bother when everything is already outlined in a neat and tidy fashion? This can lead to a serious mental schism, because as we mature and our character develops its own peculiarities with time, our real self can clash violently with the adopted ideal image we try to superimpose over it.
Society presents us with a template of how we should live our lives, which most of us accept and follow. There is no explanation to why what we’re given is considered a suitable model, how it compares to alternatives or if there are any, so we naturally assume it’s the only available option. We are accustomed to building our image of the world with external ideas and beliefs, so the scale of the concept, which in this case is gigantic. doesn’t really matter. As long as we align ourselves with the general model of the person and the world, as long we do what we are told we can’t really do anything wrong or hurt ourselves, on the contrary – we thrive.
We reap all kinds of rewards – social, professional, financial, etc. Which only serves as stimulation and incentive to continue in this streamlined and ultimately safe existence. “Safe” is to mean a way of life that has been tested out and is proven to work and lead to stability, which is ultimately what we all seek in some form. Why should anyone deviate from a path that is proven to work and is seen as the bedrock of modern society? Why should we take risks if what we have is so good? As the saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
The overall outcome of all of this social engineering is that we can consume tons of information quickly, but are incapable of using it. We can analyse different things, but only in relation to a particular problem or issue, as we lack the habit of thinking on a larger scale. Additionally, modern life is set up to be streamlined and comfortable, which is convenient, but further discourages us from being alert or taking action. The price for all this convenience and comfort seems to be the fast-paced lifestyle that we lead, where we have to multitask constantly, always moving from one thing to another, which reduces our dedication to a single subject and our attention span in general.
We learn to prioritize quantity over quality, because if we don’t keep up with the general tempo, we’ll fall so far behind it may be impossible to catch up. And in this environment, where production results and output are used as to ascertain individual quality, falling to produce in any level leads to negative consequences, which only add up over time. So we rush, memorize, work, adapt and survive and do it over and over and over again. We don’t think or feel that much, because we don’t have time, because there’s nothing to gain from it (from a production sense) and because we haven’t learned how to do it.
Instead of becoming present and aware of ourselves we are constantly expected to produce. Over time internal struggles and questions add up and begin to cause problems, but we overlook them, because they inhibit our ability to produce. The infection spreads to a point it’s impossible to ignore it, but even we look for the sources of our problems in the surrounding world, rather than within ourselves. We desperately search for something corporeal with which to fill in the mental chasm. If we produce more, we have more and we should live better.
That is our mantra.
Cult of Productivity
In contrast to 1984, the thoughtcriminals of today don’t go to secret meetings or harbor dreams of rebellion, but instead possess the ability to ask the question “Why?”. They trust their own judgement, rather automatically accepting the general consensus on any issue. The use of the term shouldn’t be interpreted as some sort of masturbation tribute to my own ego and/or implication that I’m a deep thinker. Quite the opposite, it serves to highlight how low the standard currently sits. The protagonists of the book are oppressed to a point that even the slightest deviance from the norm leads to death. Despite that, they willingly reject the imposed doctrine and go to great lengths to liberate themselves.
In the 21st century, we are so conditioned to being drowned in information and incorporating outside ideas without scrutinizing them, that even the most limited attempt of critical thinking pierces through the mantle of blind obedience and conformity and ignorance. The systematic indoctrination and constant guidance we receive on every subject and aspect of life, result in insecurity about our individual qualities & abilities. We’re unable to trust ourselves.
Additionally, even if we go against the current and attempt to explore things on our own, life doesn’t slow down, so at some point we face a choice between following our intuition or falling back in line. A dual approach, which simultaneously juggles both conformity and individual development is possible, but ultimately unsustainable in the long term, because it soon becomes too mentally taxing.
Even if we’re naturally gifted with curiosity, at some point thinking becomes too exhausting, tedious and incompatible with our other obligations, which only increase as we age, so at some point we finally give it up for good. The result of this mental castration is that we become slow, apathetic, disinterested, docile, obedient, depressed and ultimately stupid, even though we naturally possess unparalleled powers of creativity and imagination. Since we have no thoughts connected to our actual self, we cease to live as humans and instead degrade to existing as husks of flesh.
We exist as consumers, workers, parents, statistics, assets and ultimately the cogs that push the giant machine of society forward. So we sit, eat, shit, sleep, love, reproduce and die. unaware of own strengths and capabilities, while high-positioned social and economic groups reap all the rewards from our efforts and exploit us to our deaths. We exist to work, consume and reproduce. We’re viewed as objects, resources to be exploited and the determining factor for our value as human beings is our productivity. The more we produce, the more valued we are, for which we are rewarded with social status and material benefits, which drives us on.
As a result, productivity serves both as an individual incentive and in my view a substitute to religion, as it essentially promises personal salvation, although through different means. Happiness is presented as a destination, which we reach by working hard and sacrificing the best decades of our lives (in the majority of the cases) in getting there. Instead of spiritual salvation, the religion of productivity offers material possessions and the opportunity to break free of the system, which are both extremely appealing. Having expensive & nice things is in no way bad or harmful as such, but the idea that material possessions will automatically make us happy is extremely misleading and destructive.
We lack the ability to make the distinction between the two, because we’re not used to analyzing things, but adopting external ideas and ready-made truths. We lack the ability of self-reflection and don’t know how to attend to our personal wants and needs, so we plug the holes in our inner self with what we’re told is the cure. We don’t trust ourselves, and instead blindly follow along a path we’re told will bring us inner peace. We willingly sacrifice ourselves to the benefit of this system, because we see it as our only chance of finding peace. We cannot think on our own, so all the choices are made for us. That’s the fundamental driving force of our society
Cogito, ergo sum
This is no shocking or horrifying revelation, as throughout the known history of civilization the masses have been used to benefit a small elite. The tragedy here is that, while historically political & social power depended heavily on military strength and forced oppression, in the 21st century they hinge on intellectual assassination of the individual. We are supposedly given rights, freedoms and opportunities, but never taught how to operate the tool that would enable us to use them or encouraged to do so.
We exist within a democratic and free society, which allows us to instigate change whenever we want and by our chosen means, at least in theory. This removes the effect of forced oppression, which ultimately acts as a catalyst for rebellion, regardless of the brutality of the regime in place. So while in practice political change or activism can be difficult to achieve, in our minds we feel liberated and free.
As a result, the battlefield is moved from the physical & external reality to the inner world. Ironically, this is ideal, because how we feel about life ultimately depends on the balance of this inner world. Even if we achieve success and possess the insignia of happiness, we might feel extremely dissatisfied, due to a lack of self-awareness. Isolation, anxiety and depression are all very prevalent within our society, despite the abundance of material wealth, convenience and technology, because we are ignorant of our inner world and fear self-exploration. We never learned how to think or even feel, which has left a lot of us mentally underdeveloped. So we feel lost, alone and incapable of doing anything on our own.
Finally, we’re led to believe we should be satisfied with what we have and how repulsive our life turns out to be. Since we’re ignorant of our true capabilities we not only accept this lie, but boast to others and take pride in it, because we have no other choice. Like starving prisoners who find a rotting rat and gloat in front of those that are dead. We are surrounded by a golden cage, which we locked ourselves and threw away the key. We reach a point where our fear of our unknown self is so strong that we would rather die than leave this cage. In that precise moment our intellectual assassination takes place.
As I final note I should highlight that I don’t believe this some deliberate conspiracy to de-humanize the individual, but as previously mentioned, a system which aims to benefit select groups. As such I don’t view it as malicious or intentionally destructive, instead like all systems or organisms it aims to function in the most efficient way possible. It’s designed to benefit itself, rather to intentionally crush the individual, which in my opinion is a necessary, but accidental outcome.
So what does mean to be a thoughtcriminal in this world? Like previously stated it’s not necessary to conspire against society or harbour grandiose ideas or dreams of any kind or subject.
For me it’s enough to have thoughts of your own.
To end our first date in style, here’s a cheesy, but accurate (succinct) quote:
“Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem to be more afraid of life than death.”
James F. Byrnes
Though this blog I aim to explore the questions we all ask ourselves and seek answers to. All my writings are a reflection of my personal opinions and although my style may suggest otherwise I don’t claim to hold the keys to the Universe, but simply share my thoughts, as we aim to shed the veil of ignorance and illuminate some of the mysteries of this great adventure called life!
Welcome to Thoughtcriminal!
At a superficial level the repression is physical (as well as in the immediate aftermath of the revolution), but as more and more control is established, it slowly moves to take aim at the individual’s thoughts, rather his action, hence the necessity for the Thought Police.
Which seems to be the usual case and can take various forms – health, money, love, a job, sense of security, etc. ↑
As I’ve stated at the end of this post honesty and forging a true connection to readers is very important to me. So I must admit that I haven’t solved the problem completely, but have identified it, which is the first step in the process. Like a scientist that has discovered a dangerous strain of a disease, I’m actively working on my mental vaccine.↑
To underline the widespread character of this problem I’ve used a plural form. ↑
This shouldn’t be interpreted as an appeal against studying and incorporating external ideas, which would mean that every generation would need to discover fire and the wheel on their own. Rather, as the next paragraphs reveal in details, I imply that we should evaluate and consider new ideas, instead of blindly adopting them ↑
In the majority of the cases by 25 people have accumulated the necessary life experience to form the bedrock of their own personalities. For this reason, I believe 18 years to be insufficient, but since individual development varies I’ve set it as the minimum. ↑
Emotional. social, etc. ↑
Of course no one has the time or desire to explore every little piece of information on their own. That’s why memory is essential to intelligence, because it allows to make use of information instantaneously. However, relying solely on memory inhibits the development of our full intellectual capabilities. ↑
Irrespective of whether it’s political, social, spiritual, intellectual, etc. ↑