Tearing Down Our History is Just the Spin Cycle of the Left’s Cultural Brainwash
One of my favorite venues is Aeon. It offers “long reads,” which by today’s distracted magpie standards appears to include anything over 1,000 words. Even less trendy: It doesn’t appear to have a partisan or sectarian agenda. It looks at provocative topics and presents multiple viewpoints that stimulate further thought. That’s it. I’ve found myself scanning long lists of stories, looking in vain for what I’ve learned I should always expect to find: a hidden agenda. There is no “man behind the curtain” telling Dorothy and the Scarecrow what to think.
In other words, Aeon is what our parents used to call a “magazine.” Its stance is what historians might remember as “humanist.” (In the healthy, Renaissance, not embittered-atheist-who-pretends-he-belongs-to-MENSA sense.) Such a stance meant that you focused on issues of interest to civilized humans, with an openness toward varying worldviews, including those grounded in faith.
I dimly remember when large swathes of media were like this, from PBS and BBC to Time, Newsweek, even The New Yorker. No more, of course. The veal-colored pointy-heads at venues like that got tired of being called “apolitical.” They decided that they, too, wanted to play a “role in the struggle” for “justice.” By which they meant power. For the Left.
Even when they can’t muster the testosterone to put on face masks, hoods, and skateboarding armor to go crack heads for Antifa, most media mavens do their best to atone by doing rhetorical violence — if only to the truth or logic.
So thank you, Aeon, for carrying on those almost forgotten virtues. In you I feel like I’ve found the last buggy-whip maker in town. Today I read at Aeon a fascinating essay on the tangible roots of religious liberty: It turns out that brave ideas like freedom of faith went almost nowhere for centuries, however many intellectuals called for them. It took the leaders of modern states to see the sheer cost to public order and tax revenue that came from policing thought in religious questions. Countries that tolerated freedom of faith tended to prosper, while those that strove for uniformity declined and faded. Savvy rulers made the connection, and there lie the roots of Western religious liberty.
Conversely, the more we let the state and other institutions police and punish discourse, the poorer, dumber, and angrier we are bound soon to become. It’s how places like Ronald Reagan’s California turn into cesspits like Venezuela … or Jerry Brown’s California.
The more we let the state and other institutions police and punish discourse, the poorer, dumber, and angrier we are bound soon to become. It’s how places like Ronald Reagan’s California turn into cesspits like Venezuela … or Jerry Brown’s California.
Brainwashing Then and Now
In the same issue of Aeon was an even more helpful essay. It’s a piece on the history of psychiatry that’s of burning relevance today. It told the story of an archetypal modern progressive, Donald Ewen Cameron. For this “Scottish-born psychiatrist … technology was a passion bordering on an obsession.” Cameron wanted to use the latest high-tech gear of his day (the 1940s and 50s) to speed up the treatment of psychological problems:
Beyond its capacity to simplify everyday life, Cameron believed that technology could be the handmaiden of a psychiatric revolution. Denouncing conventional therapy — with all its talking, listening, and trust-building — as slow and ineffective, Cameron instead subjected his patients to a radical new treatment that promised to accelerate the process of psychological healing. Termed ‘psychic driving’, this treatment utilised a brand-new technological saviour: the reel-to-reel tape machine.
Psychic driving was a two-stage process. Firstly, distressing memories and pathological behaviours were ‘annihilated’ from the patient’s mind through an unrelenting regime of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). While most of his peers conservatively limited ECT to 12 shocks per month to avoid damaging short-term memories, Cameron increased this to 12 shocks per day to capitalise on this usually unwanted side-effect. Then, patients were placed in front of tape machines emitting endlessly looping messages designed to push them towards particular psychiatric epiphanies. ‘Peggy, you have discovered that your mother never wanted you,’ one such tape proclaimed. ‘Can you see now why you have given affection in such lavish degree to your children and why you became so desperately anxious when your daughter decided to enter a convent?’
Messages were repeated for days, weeks, and even months on end, in order to overwhelm the patient’s conscious defences. When patients became distressed by the relentless repetitions, they were restrained using a variety of crude and bizarre methods, from securing their headphones with tape to immobilising them with hallucinogenic substances.
Now The Technique Controls the Culture
Does all of that sound familiar? Well of course it does. It’s just a straightforward, “hands on” version of what happens to conservatives and Christians in the culture. At universities. Increasingly at workplaces like Mozilla, Apple, and Google. And of course on social media, where cultural oligopolies like Facebook and Twitter routinely brand dissenters as “hate” criminals and silence them.
Reading about “psychic driving” reminds me of a bizarre punk rock song from the 1990s. Crafted by the noise band Negativeland, it uses a sample from old-timey radio preacher Rev. Estus Pirkle. The preacher imagined the brainwashing that would take place in a U.S. conquered by Communism:
(Communism is good.)
Communism is good.
Communism is good.
Give up. Give up. Give up.
From 5:00 in the morning till 10:00 at night! (Give up! Give up!)
From 5:00 in the morning till 10:00 at night! (Give up. Give up.
From 5:00 in the morning till 10:00 at night! (Communism is good.)
Christianity is stupid. Christianity is stupid. (Communism is good.)
Christianity’s stupid. Christianity is stupid.
(Communism is good.)
(Give up! Give up! Give up! Give up! Give up!)
The video, which uses clips from the great anti-utopian film Metropolis, is worth watching:
Just Repeat the Slogans
When I heard that song I ran out and bought the album. I wanted to play it for people so they could get the experience of attending grad school in the humanities, at a fraction of the price.
“Psychic driving” didn’t achieve the outcomes which Dr. Cameron had hoped for, the Aeon article reports: “The results were devastating: rather than overcoming their conditions, patients often emerged with severe memory loss, unable even to recognise their own families.”
And that’s where Cameron parts company with today’s cultural leftists. Our culture is getting that outcome, all right. But it’s exactly what they were aiming at.