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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #82, 3/8/2007

The Death of Free Thought

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

In a traditional totalitarian regime, dissent is firmly suppressed by the government. If you foment unrest or speak out against the status quo, you could receive a visit from the secret police. If you persist, you might even be sent to the gulag for your opinions. The citizens of the police state are ruled by fear. They may think subversive thoughts, but they dare not speak them.

Thanks to advances in technology, the modern totalitarian state has no need for such primitive measures. Today, dissent and free thought are controlled not by secret police or direct suppression but by more positive means. Today, subversive ideas are suppressed by entertainment. If you keep the population continuously occupied with inane diversions, then they have no time to foment unrest or challenge the status quo.

The relentless goal of modern media, commerce and culture is to keep your brain stimulated at all times, leaving no time for undirected thought. In modern Western Civilization, 200 channels of input is seen as a good thing, while three channels is regarded as somehow impoverished, as though you had only bread and water to eat. In the modern "1984," all boredom is banished. Artificial experiences are pumped directly into the eyes and ears, leaving the citizen no idle moment to engage in authentic experience.

A overstimulated society is ruled by passivity. Consumers may be momentarily outraged by the news they read on the internet or the stories they see on television, but they are rarely moved to the point of action. Just as the viewer is beginning to think about the presented problem—poverty, crime, injustice, child welfare—that stimulus is immediately replaced by something new, so that no thoughts are ever completed and no real response is ever generated.

When a citizen is finally goaded to action, it is usually by a problem that has directly impacted them, like their house actually being burned down. For example, when someone loses custody of their children, they may organize a protest outside of Family Court, but it is usually a shallow and ineffective one. They think that all they need to do is attract the attention of the media and the problem will be solved. Having been bathed in media since their birth, they don't know anything else.

The entertainment-based power structure has no fear of protests. If you parade on the sidewalk with signs, no jack-booted thugs will break it up. There is never any need. The TV stations will come and record the event, then the protesters will go home, watch themselves on TV — then continue watching TV and never come back.

Modern society has plenty of criminals, eccentrics and deviants. It has no lack of people expressing their "individuality" through body piercings, outrageous hair and unusual sexual preferences. What modern society can't support are any effective revolutions or subversive movements. People are simply too scattered for that.

The default organization of modern society is along commercial lines. Certain products and lifestyles are promoted because there is money to be made in it. There may be better ideas, but if there is no way to attach them to a profit motive, then they probably won't be heard. The profit potential is what gets the message into the media, which gets the product sold, which molds people's lives accordingly.

If you give people a rat-maze to run, most people will do it, without thinking about whether there is a better way or whether the cheese they have been promised is really worth the effort. Almost no one has the independence—or the time—to think outside the rat maze.

Commercial society supplies you with a prepackaged plan for your life, no assembly required. To consider yourself successful, you are supposed to acquire real estate, obtains certain commercial goods and visit certain vacation destinations. All of this has a profit motivation for the people selling you these services. Instead of the structure and activities of ones life being dictated by tradition, as they once were, they are now decided by advertizers, who tell people how to live based on how much money can be made from it.

Extremely rare in the modern world are people who step outside of the rat maze and think about what really works for them. "Thinking" itself isn't banned outright by the industrial-entertainment complex, but it is strongly discouraged. Who needs thought when advertizers and other good people with commercial interests are doing all your thinking for you?

Big Brother knows what you want and knows what is best for your life, even if he has never actually met you and doesn't know the specific circumstances you are facing. If the media says that underarm wetness, bad breath and the upcoming Big Game are all that is important, most people pretty much accept it. They would object strenuously if the government told them what to do, but when advertizers tell them, they offer surprisingly little resistance.

In practice, isn't advertizing just another form of totalitarian government—controlling all media and overwhelming all dissent?

You could say, "I'm going to ignore all these commercial messages and just do what works for me," but that is a lonely position that very few people can tolerate. If you don't watch the Big Game, see the most popular show or attend the latest blockbuster movie event, what are you going to talk to other people about? With all other traditions wiped out, commercial messages have become our sole unifying culture. The Energizer bunny, the Geico gecko and other commercial creations are the only common language we have left.

In the modern world, the real subversive ideas are ones that bypass commercial interests, solving your problems without making anybody any money. The trouble with these solutions is that they have no advertizing budgets. Someone may know what the truth is but can't effectively share it with others.

If Gillette is selling a $10 four-bladed razor in a national advertizing campaign, but you find that you get just as good results with a 25-cent generic razor, you have very little means of getting your message out to anyone else. Although Gillette has no secret police and is not actively trying to suppress your message, they are just as effective as the Communist Party in controlling the media and assuring that only their message is conveyed.

If you see a better way of living than the promoted commercial solutions, you could try to tell people about it, but it is unlikely that anyone will listen. Most people's brains are too scrambled by media overload and simply respond to the loudest message.

It is like trying to have a rational debate with someone who is high on drugs. Their attention span is about 15 seconds, and although they may agree with you during that time, their fragile consciousness is soon drawn away. In the end, no thoughts are completed; no decisions are made, and the biggest advertizing budget wins.

—G.C.




Reader Comments

“Glad to see ya back, I was starting to wonder if everything was ok w/ you! Great way to return with one of your best philosophical compositions. Extremely reflective -- kudos.” —Some guy in Texas 4/13/07 (rating=4)

“Very Nice. BTW, Glenn, UFOMIND was one of the first Internet Sites I have visited back in 98 or so. Have you lost interest in the whole Area51 thing?” —Hamburg, Germany 4/13/07 (rating=4) ... Response from Webmaster: Yes. It was amusing for a while, but it's main value was to prepare me for the Family Court project. --GC

“Nice to see I am not alone then.” —Lady Portia. 5/16/07 (rating=5)

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