When I was a kid, I always thought it was crazy when I heard about people being “brainwashed.” I couldn’t come to grips with the idea that someone could make someone else believe something that could make them do things they otherwise would not have done. If I remember correctly, the earliest stories I heard were about POWs that were captured in the war, then brainwashed to turn against their country.
Now, I see how it is done. The problem is that I see it everywhere, to the point where it seems important to recognize that we are all brainwashed. We just call it something different. We call it bias, purchase intention, reality.
Sometimes I like to think of the mind as a file system. We experience things through our senses, and then we store the things we think we might want to retrieve later in our memory. It seems that the most effective way to get things into your long-term memory is to pair them with things that are already in there. Then, once the associations are made, the new information and old information can be pulled out in particular contexts. Hopefully, the right associations are made, because this is how we construct our understanding of the world. This is how we determine what behavior is best for a particular situation. This is what we call learning.
So, what are the chances that over our lives we have built identical file systems to the people that surround us? Well, the likelihood increases when cultures, histories, experiences, education, and religion are shared. But we know that these are not. It is safe to say that we all have unique lives. So we also have unique file systems with unique associations between data points. It is no wonder that two people can attend the same event, listen to the same lecture, read the same book, or have the same conversation and walk away taking different points of value.
Going back to the brainwashing for a minute… a good way to look at this seems to be when a person, organization, education or religion is allowed access to shape your file system. It is where they repeatedly tell you what associations you should be making. “If you wear this brand of clothing, you will be able to attract a mate or have the respect of your peers.” “If you believe this set of beliefs, perform these actions, accept this grace, you will have everlasting life.” “Black people are dangerous.” “The media is lying to you, I am the only one who can be trusted.” “The Jews own the banks, entertainment, and plan to take over the world.” “Slime is squishy and feels good in your hands.” And then those associations are made. It is the literal construction of your reality.
Great observation Philip… So what’s the point with the title of the piece?
It is important to recognize that we are all biased. We have all been brainwashed to a certain extent. Eliminating that bias is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. What we need to do is realize that we have biases and that we are carrying them into all of our conversations and all of our responses to stimuli. When we encounter someone with a different view, we should try to understand the associations they have made in their file system. Perhaps through conversation and the collision of differing viewpoints, the outcome can be closer to a shared bias. A more collective consciousness. Our bias.
This is challenging because we identify with our biases. Often, a threat to the file system is a threat to our perception of self. For many, it is easy to get so entrenched in a pattern of belief (Christians, Dodger Fans, Academics, Conservatives, Liberals) that the cost to change one’s mind would mean losing a part of one’s Self.
It is critical that we all examine how attached our identity is to our file system and realize that our current associations are not who we are, and more importantly, incomplete.
Our file system should be evolving, changing, and getting increasingly close to the ultimate goal of seeing reality as it is, free of interpretation. Free of bias.