Dumbing Down and How to Fight it: A Semi-Coherent "Tinfoil Hat" Rant
In many ways, we are witnessing the loss of intellectual entertainment. Literature, complex storytelling, and cerebral discussion are being replaced by the relentless onslaught of celebrity ass pictures, sallow gossip, and narratives without nuance. It would be easy to say that people are getting dumber. It would probably also be popular to say that but it is a simplistic answer and it only describes a symptom of the larger problem that faces us. We are not that different from any other people who have existed throughout history. We are just as capable of brilliance as any other society. However, previous peoples did not have to contend with the level of propaganda and the sophisticated system of indoctrination which operate in modern society. We are groomed to be consumers and servants of authority from our earliest years. For those who benefit from our ignorance, it is to their advantage to use the media, popular culture, and the education system to keep our thoughts, tastes, and desires simple. Anything that is challenging to us, requires critical thinking, or has the potential to inspire new modes of thought is removed, hidden, banned or dumbed down for our consumption. By preventing us from experiencing nuanced media and complex ideas, those in power prevent us from seeing the flaws in their narrative and realizing that their system not the only foundation upon which to build a society but we can combat their campaign of ignorance by seeking out the things that challenge our minds.
The process of dumbing down the population starts in early childhood. In Texas, in 2012, the Republican party stated that they wished to discourage critical thinking (I will provide a link below). In that instance, the story was seized upon as ammunition to be expended in the war of partisan politics but both sides are equally as guilty when it comes imposing a simplistic world view on students. The real problem with the stated goal of the Texas GOP was that it was stated openly. Keeping children simple minded is not exclusive to one political party. It doesn't matter who controls the education system in a given location, material that challenges the beliefs and intellect of students is hidden from view or outright prohibited. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is removed from school libraries because it may be "offensive" and children are not given the opportunity to cope with its message of adoptive paternal love across racial lines. In essence, the ability to receive a message of real value is denied and it is replaced with one that is far more simplistic. Instead of learning that words matter less than actions and intentions, students are told that "bad words are bad" and that we shouldn't listen to anyone who uses them. Now think about what the effect of this lesson has. We are taught that some things are not worth listening to regardless of their context. In the future, when these students reach adulthood, they will be more accepting of the censorship of ideas and, by preventing them from developing critical thinking skills, they are left ill equipped to call out any false official narrative. They will not question the authorities when they are told that something must be ignored because they think it is just to censor it. By keeping challenging concepts away from the youth, those who control our systems of power make their task of keeping the population docile and subservient easier. Removing books from collections is not the only way in which this issue manifests. Curricula are often tightly controlled and have difficult concepts and inconvenient facts glossed over or removed entirely. It doesn't mater which aspect of education is diminished to serve the interests of the systems of authority, the motives and the outcomes are the same.
We see our entertainment being simplified by the corporations that run the industry and this also serves the interests of those who seek to control our behavior. In this instance, the dumbing down seems to be less organized than it is with the government run public education system but it serves the same function for both the system of authority itself and elites who benefit from it. The entertainment that is designed for mass consumption is made simplistic and sensational to keep us from thinking too deeply about challenging concepts and to prime us for exploitation by the authorities and their corporate allies. We often see this when literature is adapted for film. The two forms of media are different and that accounts for some of the degradation of the story but it is insufficient to explain the conscious removal of depth from most of these works. I will point to ever popular series Game of Thrones as an example. The novels contain a lot of concepts that don't jive well with either the authorities or the elites and those things are, not surprisingly, completely absent from the television show. Gone is the juxtaposition of the lives of the poor and those of the wealthy (which served as a commentary on our own economic system) and so are its anti-war, anti-religion, and anti-authoritarian themes. Those concepts would be far too "dangerous" to have exposed to the mass market. Contemplating the wealth gap doesn't make people want to buy HBO branded merchandise. Being anti-religion is bad for business because it drives away customers who fear opposing viewpoints. Anti-war and anti-authoritarian messages start people thinking about things that the war profiteers and authoritarians would rather they didn't. The agenda is the true heart of the content that is marketed to mass audiences. Things are presented as black and white because that is how the authorities would like us to see the world. It just wouldn't do if some series or film caused us to start asking difficult questions; so we are fed only things that glorify consumption (to serve the corporations) and subservience (to benefit the authorities).
The media plays a big part in the simplification of our thought. They, like the entertainment industry, present things as black or white, right or wrong, good or bad and this serves both the systems of authority and the financial interests of the media outlets. This this concept isn't "news" to most people, of course. The media has been known to be little more than a propaganda machine for quite some time. They push the falsehoods of the establishment because they depend on the establishment. They suckling wealth and influence, like rancid milk, from its pendulous breast. When they need to sell a war, they frame it as though we are, by our very nature, just in our cause. They will tell us about how evil the "bad guy" is and they will do it in as sensational of a way as possible to keep us watching their paid ads. It is as sick symbiosis and it harms us. Because we have never been allowed to review accurate information and compare it to the establishment narrative, we are unable to see through the cracks in the lies we are told. Because we are never allowed to hear deep analysis, we begin to forget that such a thing exists. In short we are kept simple by the simplistic media.
Given the amount of effort that is put forth by the systems of power to keep our thoughts simple, it may be surprising that the best way to combat them is relatively easy. The thing that these authorities and elites fear is a free thinking population and if we hope to stand against their exploitation, we must become just that. We must start by challenging our beliefs. Compare the narratives that we have believed to others and see how well they stand against one another. We must also learn how to deal with difficult and murky topics by exposing ourselves to them with open minds and unpacking them in an attempt to understand their complexity. When we learn how to think with greater depth, shallow lies no longer have their effect. We will no longer believe the media when when they tell us that we need to go to war to get the "evil dictator." The glorified submission and consumerism in entertainment will begin to seem less glorious. The conditioning of our own childhoods will be undone when we relearn how to think about things.
Of course, I could just be slowly losing my mind and making connections where there are none but maybe not. I can't show you some internal government document referencing a brainwashing program. I also can't point to any media or film corporation that has stated that it wishes to keep people ignorant. However, I think that it is worth pointing out that those who control these systems of power and the wealthy elites who thrive under them have both the motive and the means to do these things. It doesn't take much effort to not teach someone something. It isn't hard to not write a deep story. One can poorly discuss the details of an issue with ease. There doesn't even need to be some grand "conspiracy" or shadowy organization behind these efforts to dumb us down. It is just as easily attributable to regular everyday greed, corruption, and lust for power. Then again, I could be wrong. What do you think?
All the images in this post are sourced from the free image website, unsplsh.com.