In my previous two posts on indoctrination, I allowed some sloppiness when it came to the age of the target. I’d like to clear that up here.
As a helpful commenter pointed out, we all impose on our children some of the methods of indoctrination I outlined in my original post on the topic, and we don’t generally consider this to be a negative thing. Indeed, regardless of social, cultural, and family history, children below a certain age are not capable of thinking critically and rationally in the same way well-educated adults are. To some extent, then, we have to use the tools of indoctrination to raise our children. We have to rely, to some extent, on our position of authority as parents or teachers, and our children must occasionally just take our word for it that we’re being fair and balanced.
My view of this is that it’s a necessary evil – in an ideal world, such methods should never be necessary, but we don’t live in such a world.
Yet this is also why indoctrination can be so pernicious when targeted at the young: it works better on naive, unsuspecting youngsters, than it does on adults. Hence the Jesuit saying, “Give me a child for the first seven years, and you may do what you like with him afterwards.”
The difference between a parent (or teacher) intent on indoctrination, and one intent on raising an independent thinker, is that the latter will look for every opportunity to encourage the child to think for himself. In this way, the child will be weaned from his dependency on authority as soon as possible.
There is another big difference. The parent intent on raising an independent thinker will generally not use emotional ploys to encourage obedience. As a parent of a young child myself, I’ve discovered that an effective way of convincing my child to do something is by explaining to him exactly why it needs to be done, and what the consequences are of him not doing it. However, I could just as easily run a guilt trip on the child: tell him how disappointed and sad I’ll be if he fails to comply, or how happy I’ll be if he does comply. Suffice it to say, I find this latter approach to be both manipulative and unnecessary.
It seems to me that indoctrination, in the pejorative sense that I’ve been using in these posts, takes advantage of these sorts of emotional tools – tools that fail to explain the reasoning behind claims but instead encourage fealty by manipulating the emotions. Critical thinking cannot blossom under such conditions. (Religions, in particular, are quite good at this: God will be upset if you don’t do X. You’ll make God sad if you do Y. It makes God really happy when you do Z.)
Once again, this can be applied to children or adults, but it tends to be more effective with children given their greater desire to please role models.
So, with the above discussion in mind, here are some modified criteria for indoctrination.
Once again, I’m not claiming that all criteria have to be met simultaneously. I’d also like to say a quick word about number 2: I’ve rephrased it to reflect the concept of consistent praise. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to teach a particular doctrine over a long period of time, but one should also be willing to share any weaknesses and flaws that the doctrine may have. Careful avoidance of such weaknesses is not conducive to critical thinking.
- Start when the target of indoctrination is a child, if possible.
- Consistently praise only the desired doctrine over a long period of time, preferably years.
- Demonize or mischaracterize alternative views and/or insulate the target from them.
- Teach the target that he is not capable of making decisions about beliefs for himself (i.e., that obedience to authority is paramount).
- Lead the target to believe that he owes it to you (or someone else) to uphold your worldview. Make him believe he has a debt to pay. In short, use guilt and other emotional ploys.
- Discourage doubt by characterizing it as a weakness.
- Immerse the target in a social environment composed only of people with the same beliefs.