Unless you were born in the Arctic Circle and raised by polar bears, you had to struggle with some remaining conditioning from the propaganda you were inflicted in childhood, and is still being inflicted in the media and by people around you. This is an arduous process at best. In extreme cases, such as indoctrination in a cult or religious sect, it can take decades to come back to a relatively normal state of mind. And even the normal state of mind is very aberrated indeed.
Well, I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I’ll speak for myself. I had a very freethinking childhood, so if I an an exceptional case, it is probably in that I received far less propaganda than most people. Growing up, I was an atheist and a libertarian. So even though I grew up in pretty much the best memetic conditions possible, I still have all this residue brainwashing in my head. And it makes me wonder, how much do other people have? What is it like to live with this weight? And how good is it for people to have just a bit of it lifted, when they deconvert?
Because deconversion, unfortunately, and despite its apparent finality, is just the first step. Even a pure individualist has not shaken off his brainwashing, even if he now recognizes it for what it is, and can act in more moral ways than he was programmed to act. Within the sanctity of our own minds, we know that we are still damaged, and the realization, I’m afraid, does not erase the damage.
What are some of the things I was brainwashed to think?
1. I was conditioned to care about other people’s “race” and “culture”. Sometimes, when I meet someone, I think of them as “white”, “black”, “asian”, and so on, even though I know very well that these distinctions are collectivist mind-bugs, irrelevant and ultimately mentally damaging. Since I was raised in a more left-wing society, this indoctrination probably comes from the cultural supremacist belief that “races” and “culture” must be respected in and of themselves, that we should see individuals not as individuals but as skin hues and nationalities. It is a racist, collectivist belief, which I resent very much.
2. I was conditioned to believe that nature, the “environment”, and other species have inherent value, and that, as a human being, I don’t. The fact is that in our society, nature is constantly glorified, and technology and science are constantly put down (as in the LOTR example I gave recently). Although this is still present, I think I’ve managed to get rid of that conditioning when examined on a piecemeal basis. It still took me a long time to realize that the concept of “endangered species” doesn’t carry any moral weight to it, for example. I was not particularly exposed to this so it wasn’t a big problem for me. Keep in mind, however, that virtually everyone has been thoroughly brainwashed in most of the areas I list here, and most don’t even know it’s a problem at all.
3. I was conditioned to believe in “countries” and to feel good towards pieces of fabric that represent them. I still have a residue of belief in “Canada” and how I am supposed to praise my slavemasters above all other slavemasters. Since I was not raised in a right-wing environment, this is not very strong however. Still, it takes a conscious effort to put names of countries in quotes, simply because writing as if countries exist are common usage, and that is a harder habit to break.
4. I was conditioned to believe in the masculinist model of the self, and the One Model of relationships. When growing up, a male teenager generally does not want to be “gay” or act “gay”, for instance. Although I was very anti-social and was not subject to peer pressure at all (which probably helped me a great deal), I was still indoctrinated in the One Model (one male, one female) and in the anti-homosexuality, machismo-oriented model.
5. Religious brainwashing. Although I was not raised religious and was always atheist, I was conditioned to accept the evil narratives of Christianity as being benign. Most people suffer far more damage than that. It seems that the most common religious brainwashing is making people think about morality in an absolutist way, making them unable to reason about values or justification. I really wish I knew how to cure that one, because it is probably the biggest block for atheists to be able to reason about morality. Other atheists also long to believe again because of all the purported “benefits” they would get (even though most of them are easily achieved with secular means). Others feel like praying in tough situations, even though they know prayer is nonsensical and even damageable.
Everyone is brainwashed to a certain extent. The kinds of brainwashing I’ve listed are just the most fundamental ones- there are many, many higher-level propositions that one accepts simply because of indoctrination and cannot reject without some knee-jerk reactions (such as “the state is necessary and there’s GOT to be a justification for that somewhere”, or “if the universe is ‘merely’ material, then nothing can POSSIBLY have any meaning”).
We can’t talk to people and try to get them to drop their beliefs in some way without realizing that people have predictable paths of behaviour dictated by propaganda. There are general stages through which most people will go through when going down the path of individualism, simply because they have been brainwashed to resist in certain memetically fruitful ways. This is just how it is.
There are ways to tell if someone is talking “from the book”, so to speak, or if someone is genuinely arguing. Raja Reddy, who has some experience in deconverting statists, suggests that someone who says “but who will build roads?” is genuine (as the question simply manifests a lack of exposure), while someone who says “but what about the poor?” cannot be talked to, as he is just regurgitating propaganda. The same thing applies to Christianity- if you tell someone you’re an atheist, and the reply you get is “you have to respect people’s beliefs”, you know you’re not gonna get far with that person. But if he says “how do we get morality then”, you know you can probably continue fruitfully.
So to a certain extent, propaganda is an added layer of opposition, but it is inherently predictable. We can use this to our advantage, by structuring our efforts around these stages of the deconversion process, and being aware of people who are not possible fruitful deconversions.
There are other factors involved. Younger people tend to be less brainwashed than older people, which is natural. This is why cults naturally gravitate towards colleges. People living in areas where belief is enforced by more peer pressure will tend to receive more brainwashing, although this can also have the effect of polarizing those who don’t believe as well. It is easily observed that the areas where there is the most belief, are usually the areas where non-believers are most organized.