In my previous post on this topic, I suggested a list of criteria that might be identified with the pejorative sense of the word “indoctrination”. I realize there are non-pejorative definitions of this word in use, and perhaps I ought to have used “brainwashing” or some other word instead. However, for the sake of continuity I will continue to use the word “indoctrination”.
Here, for convenience, is a reproduction of the list of criteria. I’ve made some minor changes, shown in bold. Not all criteria need necessarily be met simultaneously.
- Start as early as possible.
- Persistently teach and praise the desired doctrine over a long period of time, preferably years.
- Demonize alternative views and/or insulate the child from them.
- Teach the child that he is not capable of making decisions about beliefs for himself (i.e., that obedience to authority is paramount).
- Make the child believe that he owes it to you to uphold your worldview. Make him believe he has a debt to pay. In short, use guilt.
- Discourage doubt by characterizing it as a weakness.
- Immerse the child in a social environment composed only of people with the same beliefs.
The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that indoctrination, as defined above, is not exclusively a religious phenomenon. To do this, I simply provide some examples of non-religious indoctrination in recent history. Here they are.
Nazi Germany (see here)
These boys and girls enter our organizations [at] ten years of age, and often for the first time get a little fresh air; after four years of the Young Folk they go on to the Hitler Youth, where we have them for another four years . . . And even if they are still not complete National Socialists, they go to Labor Service and are smoothed out there for another six, seven months . . . And whatever class consciousness or social status might still be left . . . the Wehrmacht [German armed forces] will take care of that. (Adolf Hitler, 1938)
In Hitler’s quote, we see the following elements of indoctrination:
- Start early (children were 10).
- Demonize other worldviews and people (Jews, obviously).
- Lavish praise on one’s own worldview.
- Instill obedience instead of critical thinking.
- Tight control of youth’s activities, steering them through pro-Nazi organizations.
Mao’s Communist China
The Cultural Revolution in China saw a number of features of indoctrination. Youth were encouraged to join the Red Guard, where they were instilled with party propaganda. At one point, all children, starting from primary school age, were required to read Mao’s “Little Red Book”. Many schools were closed, and urban children sent to the country to work the land under peasant farmers.
Here, we have the following characteristics of indoctrination:
- Start early
- Lavished praise on one’s own worldview.
- Discouraged critical thinking (e.g., by shutting down schools)
- Encouraging youths to join the Red Guard, thereby ensuring that most of their time is spent carrying out party policy.
North Koreans appear to be indoctrinated quite heavily. The list of “brainwashing” techniques mentioned in the first link above have much in common with my criteria for indoctrination, including isolation and persistence over time.
New recruits into the military are, in a sense, indoctrinated, since they’re trained to obey their commanders, to place their allegiance strongly in one worldview, and sometimes to demonize others. They are discouraged, to some extent, from thinking for themselves.
A case might, however, be made that some elements of military indoctrination are necessary elements of a well-oiled, efficient military. The pejorative nature of the term “indoctrination” might therefore be a little strong in this context. A more detailed analysis of this situation might be interesting – perhaps I shall return to it later.
In the meantime, the above examples should demonstrate that negative forms of indoctrination (as delineated by my criteria) are found in non-religious settings.
I would, however, argue that the most pervasive form of indoctrination in most parts of the world today is religious.