On Enslavement

By Troy Headrick

My father is a creative genius and one of the most thoughtful men I’ve ever known.  He’s a natural born philosopher and someone I love to talk with about all sorts of topics.

In February of 2020, during one of my last face-to-face visits with him—the pandemic has robbed us of many opportunities to spend time together—I asked him to name the greatest challenge facing humankind today.  His answer was one I agreed with.  He told me that there was a huge need for people to be able to think for themselves.  He feels that too many lack the intellectual wherewithal to avoid being manipulated by conmen and demagogues.  Such a situation means that many are enslaved by those who would propagandize or brainwash them for one purpose or another.

Lately, as a way of doing research, I’ve been regularly lurking on a political discussion board where most of the posters are—how can I say this diplomatically?—reactionary to the point of being scary.  I have been studying the way they think and make arguments. 

Here’s something I see happening by virtually all the aforementioned posters:  They simply make assertions but provide no evidence in support of those claims.  They believe that the claim itself is all the proof needed to make their argument valid and strong.  (In other words, simply saying something is true makes it true.)  If they do provide evidence, it usually comes in the form of something someone they admire has said.   

Either these posters are being disingenuous, or they truly do not know that claims without proof are not true arguments.  As someone who has spent decades teaching classes on critical thinking and argumentation, I find this astounding and disturbing.  Once a large number of those in society no longer understand how to make reasonable assertions and provide relevant, sufficient, and compelling evidence in support of such claims, the ability to think logically—to move others with logic and be moved by it—atrophies.  In such cases, persuasion is displaced by bullying and other forms of intimidation.  A mind moved by logic and reason is orderly, strong, and just.  Logic and reason are bulwarks against those who would foment racism, nativism, xenophobia, and other kinds of fallacious “thinking” to achieve evil ends. 

My father is right.  Those who can’t think for themselves become enslaved, making them victims.  I would go further and say that they also tend to become victimizers because they begin to mimic those demagogic techniques they find so powerful.   

We have recently seen what the intellectually enslaved and easily manipulated are capable of.  They hold beliefs that cause them to act in ways that endanger themselves and others.

In my next blog, I want to talk about ways to free those who find themselves in this sort of bondage.  I look forward to your responses.


Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

54 thoughts on “On Enslavement

  1. I totally agree!

    My fiance, Robert, says, “I praise your belief in reason, but tribal instinct is a formidable challenge.”

    When such a large percentage of our citizens believe that the election was stolen, and a few resort to insurrection, I find that alarming. I look forward to your next post,Troy!

    1. Tribal thinking is certainly a problem, especially given that some very influential political leaders want to atomize us and then weaponize anger and frustration. I do think something can be done about this, and I’ll focus on solutions in my follow-up piece. It’s always nice to hear from you, Cheryl. We live in dangerous times. I have no way to know how this is going to play out. I am hearing some terrifying prognistications about what lays ahead. Lets pay attention and then be part of the solution.

  2. Ah, Troy, it would be so wonderful if we were taught how to reason logically, how be constructively critical in our thinking. I am agreeing with Cheryl’s Robert there though, in that this way of thought seldom comes naturally, but I do think it can be learned. There is an awful lot that’s missing from our public education, but whaddya want for nothing? A rrrrrrrrrrubber biscuit? 😀 (strange old song reference) I liked your thoughtful overthink. I wonder if the possible enslavement is because of bullying victimhood, or maybe laziness born of convenience? Both? Neither? I really enjoyed reading Thomas Paine’s book Common Sense and the Rights of Man, and insisted that my kids read it too. It seemed to help in some way, and they’re both now grown and full to the gills with strong opinions of their own, and take responsibility for those. That’s rather part of this, don’t you think? Taking responsibility for our own opinions, rather than passing attribution on to the loudest monkey in the cage? Didn’t AP2 say something about this a while back? Am I too full of questions tonight, and are they appropriately pointless? Hmmm. Thanks for the brain food.

    1. I learned how to think during my university years, especially during grad school. People don’t start off as gullible fools. They are turned into fools. What can be done can be undone. Unfortunately, we live in a time where spectacle is celebrated. Quiet deliberation is not. We also have this belief that just because people have brains that they know how to use them well. This is a mistake. Cars exist but we have to be turned into drivers. The world teaches us be angry and frustrated, but it does nothing to foster deliberation. My next blog with focus on solutions. I always enjoy your comments so much. They always push me to look further into whatever topic I’ve written about. Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks so much for your kinds words. Iike you, I don’t feel like I fully grasp causes and effects and such. But I’m working through it in my mind. We have an interesting period ahead of us.

  3. I deliberately set up a twitter account to eavesdrop on the alt.right sort of folk in hopes of balancing the echo chamber of my friends and like minded folk on my ‘real me’ twitter/FB platforms.
    That right sided feed had a lot of bullying and straw man burning getting pretty intense at times. Any attempt to be logical was snubbed pretty quickly.
    Part of it is lack of critical thinking skills but there’s also a strong feeling of being committed to a cause. Once anyone makes that kind of commitment they will quite literally go down with that ship. It’s like military break ‘em down/build ‘em back up basic training.
    I am really interested to see your suggestions for trying to have a rational conversation.
    Do you mean on line or in real life? I’ve had great experiences conversing face to face with some people who others told me were old white racists and dedicated Trumpers. We never talked about it and seemed to get along quite well.
    On line, however, there’s no way to read the room, so to speak.
    It is vital we find some way to get through, however, because it seems some of the trumper troopers are set to burn everything down…And I fear your president plans on setting the example.
    Anyway, cheery thoughts….have a good night and stay safe, my friend.

    1. It astounds me that the American education system (the same is true in other places as I can attest to) focuses on teaching people WHAT to think and not HOW to think. I was lucky because I happened into a path that focused more on the latter and less on the former.

      I do think you hit upon an important point when you talk about many of our most current reactionary people being committed to a cause. In such a situation, people are not apt to question their thinking because the ideas they hold are inextricably interconnected to how they see themselves as people. In other words, their thinking reinforces their sense of self.

      I’m still putting my ideas together on my follow-up blog. I’ll put that out in about a week.

      Thank you for giving me so much to think about, and it’s good to meet a fellow “researcher.” I also appreciate you sharing your story about your experiences talking with friends and family who happen to be supporters of Trump.

      Take care and stay safe.

      1. As a public educator for the last twelve years, I will say I have hope for the thousands of students who have gone through our English department during my tenure. They have been taught free and critical thinking skills, and I hope it is remembered and put to use in these treacherous times.

        As part of a vey large district in Illinois, I will say that there is a lot of pressure to teach English in a more concrete or “easy” way. And while the fight for teaching the art of argument has seldom been easy, it is being advocated for by many just and dedicated educators.

        I’m excited about your next post! Thank you for such a thought provoking piece.

      2. Hi, Daniela. Like you, I have taught composition and critical thinking for years. I have mostly taught at universities, though, in the US and abroad. Many people like to dismiss the liberal arts and humanities as less than serious subjects–far too often Americans only view those activities and enterprises that produce money (and lots of it) as worthy–but I can’t tell you how happy I am that I studied rhetoric and such and how “rich” I feel as someone who values thinking and problem solving. Keep up the good work! We practice a noble profession! I just wish the world could see the value of what we do. Thanks so much for your comment. I always like to talk with fellow writing teachers. I currently manage a writing center at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas. Take care and stay safe.

  4. Two thoughts: You are fortunate to have your father in your life and in such a beautiful way. Also, you are both correct about a problem that has been profoundly true since the beginning of humankind. The sad truth is that these individuals have a huge voice.

    1. You are correct. I’m blessed to have a very close relationship with my father, but it wasn’t always like that. As a younger man, I didn’t see my dad as often as I would have liked as my parents divorced. I’m so glad we’ve become best friends in recent years, though. Take care and thanks for your comment. I hope things are still going well in Portugal!

  5. This is wonderfully stated! I, too, have struggled with the lack of critical thinking among people that I truly love, but cannot stand to be around because of their opinions. They believe there is an argument to everything, which is simply not true if there are no facts to back up one side. I also think that sometimes they are so scared to be wrong, that they can never admit, even if they wanted to, that they ARE wrong. Instead they double down on the hate and rhetoric, to make themselves SEEM right. But it isn’t just the fault of these “enslaved” people…it is the news outlets in which they are finding their “facts.” As long as someone with authority is telling them that their most base fears and opinions are true, they think that there can be no other way of thinking. Truly scary times we live in!

    1. It seems that many deeply need to “be right” and “to win” discussions/arguments as if discussion and debate are sports. Unfortunately, in the US, people are often taught what to think and not how to think. As you’ve noted, we’ve become extremely tribal which makes everything worse. I often wonder if “news” sources, like FOX and OAN, actually know that they are lying (and are just being cynical) or if they truly believe what they’re reporting. Thanks so much for sharing your story and being part of this important conversation.

  6. Yeah – really agree with the piece and with what Kimberley just said. Earlier, I was having a conversation with my son, who’s 17 and wanted to talk about the free speech implications of Twitter banning Trump. There’s lots we could say about this, but what pleased me most about him being silenced is that it shuts down one of the most powerful and obnoxious lie factories out there, and is a small setback for the industry of lying for the powerful – Astroturf organisations, alternative facts, fake news – that (as Kimberley points out) has enslaved so many probably otherwise decent people recently. Troy’s right, too – these views have taken hold despite there being absolutely no evidence for them (something I talk about in my latest blog if you care to take a look!). I can only surmise that it’s the turbo-charging of them on platforms like Fox and Twitter that allow fables to take root, even though they don’t have roots… Good stuff again, Troy. Thanks!

    1. I’ll have a look at your blog. Why not post a link here so that others might read it too. Trump is such a skilled liar and understands psychology and psychological manipulation so well that something needs to be done. Unfortunately, many will gobble up whatever he happens to spew. If everything that we do politically needs to have some level of popular support, then the need to have a nation of knowledgeable people with critical thinking skills is incredibly important. My father is right (as he often is). Take care and thanks for your comment. Again, I hope you post a link to your blog here. (And I still love your user name.)

  7. This is a great and timely article, Troy!
    Society inevitably degenerates when we abscond our right to think and reason to other people.

    I am looking forward to your next post!

    1. It’s scary that so many are so willing to allow “influencers” to think for them. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! I hope things are going well for you in Nairobi!

  8. Great post Troy. It’s an issue that plagues my mind often. I’m not sure what the reason is for such a lack in critical thought among Joe public. I’m guessing it has to do with number of different factors. Social media giants pandering to our emotions for the sake of click bait. Rampant misinformation and smear campaigns. Poor (out dated?) education systems.
    Perhaps the way many of us have been raised has something to do with it too? Individuals who do not want to know their own truth colluding in denial with society by looking for a common enemy to act out their repressed rage. (An argument presented by Alice Miller in her book – Drama of the Gifted Child.) Add all of that to that the fear monger in chief plus a global pandemic and it appears we’ve found ourselves in the midst of the perfect shit storm… It seems clear that if we are to protect our freedoms going forward we must start protecting the truth. We simply cannot afford to allow liars to lead anymore.

    “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
    – HANNAH ARENDT (From her 1951 book: The Origins Of Totalitarianism.

    Thanks Troy – looking forward to your next post.

    1. Your comment made me think about how many people simply “inherent” their views from their parents and predecessors. We often think of “maturity” as being determined by age, but I would argue that “maturity” is best measured by the extent to which one has become one’s own person, especially intellectually. In other words, maturity is less about conformity and more about the ability to become individualized. In fact, critical thinking is based on the notion that one is going to “test” ideas and adhere to those that survive scrutiny and abandon those that don’t. I do agree that this is a very complex issue and that there are multiple factors that play a role in whether or not one falls prey to disinformation and the like. I have read the Arendt book you mention but it was a long time ago now. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the text? I would recommend that you read Professor Timothy Snyder’s stuff. He’s published several books and lots of articles. He’s been interviewed countless times–he specializes in authoritarianism and the authoritarian mindset–so you can find lots of his stuff on YouTube too. Take care and thanks for your very thought-provoking comment.

      1. I echo your thoughts about maturity. As children we trust and believe our parents because we have to. As adolescents we reject our parents to fit in with the rest of “the clan” – consequently sharing their thoughts and beliefs. Then as adults we form our own opinions and beliefs – becoming true individuals. I wonder if many people simply fail to make the leap from adolescent/childhood beliefs because of past circumstances/trauma?

        Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll look into him. I’m fascinated by the subject. In fact I believe a greater understanding on a collective level may be necessary if we are to avoid repeating the horrors of the twentieth century. Always enjoy the chat Troy – thank you for yours. 🙏

      2. Trauma could explain a person getting intellectually “stuck” in the way we’ve been talking about. I think some are simply proud that they carry on something akin to a “family tradition” by holding on to views that are familiar and connect them to loved one and bygone days. I once had a family member who would tell people that she didn’t want to learn anything new (or be challenged in her thinking) because her ways of being and thinking felt comfortable to her. I guess such views partner well with the old “ignorance is bliss” idea. Some people find learning disturbing because it upsets the apple cart (in a manner of speaking).

    1. Americans seem to like to divide up into “teams” and then compete with “opponents.” (This may be true about other places too.) We think too often in terms of “winning” and “losing” with losing being disgraceful. I think your notion of blind allegiance is getting at this same thing. Trump has many fans that like to support him and his movement in the same way many like to fanatically cheer on their favority sports team. If we continue to think is such dualistic terms, we’ll continue to come apart at the seams. Thanks so much for your comment.

  9. Great post! Being ever the cynic, I’d ask: is there an incentive to having a population enslaved? That is, without the function to think critically and logically. And for whom?

    If that’s the case, then perhaps one of the solutions (which I’m so eager to read in your next post) is to personally move out of this narrative and self-study. Teach yourself how to think. Take back control of the only thing you have control over, your own mind.

    1. Are you asking about the old strategy of “divide and conquer”? On the one hand, there are certainly powerful forces that have a vested interest in keeping people distracted and “busy” with their grievances, but no one benefits from societal disintegration. Wait. I take that back. Those that sell guns and ammo benefit during periods of extreme strife. And we’ve long known–on a more global scale–that the military-industrial complex benefits when the nations of the world begin to eye one another with extreme suspicion. I guess you made your point. Also, I like how you point out that the only thing any of us has total control over is thinking. I guess that means that those of us who regularly work on our thinking abilities will always be free no matter how many try to become our slave masters. Thanks so much for your wonderful comment. You’ve pushed me to think further about all this.

  10. “Once a large number of those in society no longer understand how to make reasonable assertions and provide relevant, sufficient, and compelling evidence in support of such claims, the ability to think logically—to move others with logic and be moved by it—atrophies. ”
    If I understand correctly, this article is about (current, local) politics? I am not about current and/ or local politics, yet very much about not using your own head (and mind), values. I have seen authorities (in different countries) behave badly, enslaving their own citizens, that have become sheep by numbers and lack of any opinion of their own. For many of those citizens, something is literally true because “they say it´s true”. “They” know, “they” say, “they”… (Erich Fromm called this “anonymous authorities)
    I see a religion-like trance around me based on fear and atrophied (I like this comparison) use of reason, and logic, lack of any thought that will not support “the truth”.. Many fellow humans waved their own critical thread of thinking… This is sad and scary! These same unaware neighbours are first scared to death, kept in that fear (fed by “those who own the truth”), and now are religiously awaiting the be saved by the same entity…
    I hope I have raised my child in a slightly different manner, and that I keep giving an example of options.
    Have a nice day (writer and readers alike).

    1. I like so much of what you’ve said. Do you mind if I ask you something? You’re not American, are you? Where do you reside? I’m always curious where PO readers live, having lived as an expatriate for many years myself. You mentioned Erich Fromm. I read The Fear of Freedom many years ago now. Perhaps I need to look at it again? Thanks so much for your wonderfully contribution.

      1. Good morning!
        No, I do not mind, here it goes:
        We (the whole family) moved to Portugal about 5 years ago. My husband is Dutch, I have lived in The Netherlands for almost 20 years. However, we met during the UN mission in ex YU 26years ago…I hold Dutch and Croatian passports. You have an EU reader here 🙂
        Erich Fromm is a source of wisdom every time I read. The fear of freedom was the first one I have read. The art of love and the art of listening are also great reads.
        Thank you for taking time to read my observations and replying.

      2. Cool! I have visited Portugal–Lisbon is one of my favorite European cities–and my wife and I have even talked about moving there. (I’ve actually done quite a bit of research on Coimbra.) I was lucky to have spent about 20 years living in a variety of countries–Poland, the UAE, Turkey, and Egypt, and I have been a tourist in many other places. Amsterdam–a place I’ve visited at least ten times–is also one of my favorite places. Unfortunately, I haven’t been to Croatia, but it looks like a beautiful country. I agree with your assessment of Fromm. Your posts are prompting me to read him again. Take care. It’s always nice to meet a fellow Citizen of the World.

  11. Great post. I think your dad is spot on. Critical thinking has gone by the wayside in this country of ours. It’s such a damn shame. I look forward to your next post about how to address this situation.

  12. Out of the many options facing humankind today, I couldn’t have thought of a more encompassing problem at the core of it all. Your father is a wise man. Unfortunately, I think a number of factors play into this enslavement we speak of, social media as one of the main culprits. You’ve got me on the edge of my seat waiting for your next post!

    1. Hi, Ellen. I used to think that the internet was going to save us all, to turn us linto life-long learners and help us grow and sate our curiousity. Now, I’m not so sure. I do know that I’ve gotten off of social media pretty much entirely. I used to be very active on Twitter but found that it was turning me into a angry ogre. Thanks so much for your comment.

  13. It really astonishes me the number of people who will follow the path of the alt.right. Family members assure me that the economy is in the best shape it’s ever been in. That all lives matter, so why focus on Black? That business opportunities have given our family some of the benefits we’ve enjoyed. While I can’t deny the argument that some government can be too much, I’m not on board with opening Tribal lands or National Parks for Big Oil. That is a disgrace, and quite honestly would have my ancestors spinning in their graves.
    So what motivates these people? I’m of the opinion that it’s fear – that they will be treated with the same disrespect and minimalization of communities that they themselves have participated in. There seems to be a lack of understand that freedom and rights are not available in a limited supply, and only by certain groups. That’s not freedom – it’s fascism.
    As for “they say” or the aforementioned “experts” – Bah! People need to think critically and for themselves. Why, in the name of all the saints, anyone who is struggling to survive in these times (and aren’t we all to some extent?) would think going across the country, to a Federal Building, armed, and maskless was going to make everything “normal” again is freaking insane. Great – you’d like more stimulus money? It’s going to have to be paid back somehow – can you say “taxes”? You want your Second Amendment Rights, but then take guns with rapid fire magazines to a rally? Where is the logic in that?
    I’m still reeling from the whole series of events, and how very difficult it is to have a conversation with some of these believers. It’s not just the constant repetition of “facts” (fan theories) as Gospel – but the profanity, the rage, the entitlement…. I’m so ashamed to be an American right now.

    1. Hi, Liz! I’ve been wondering where you’ve been! I miss our interactions! I’ve got a family member who supports Trump because the stock market is up and thus his retirement account “looks good.” Can you believe that? This same person also claims to be a real patriot, yet he’s willing to let American democracy be destroyed because he selfishly focuses on his own bank account while ignoring all the evil and destructive things being done. Incredible! This form of “conservatism”–fascism is a more accurate descriptor–is so self-centered, so egocentric, so “me, me, me!” that it really disturbs me. I guess I need to step down off my soapbox now. I’m so happy that we’re talking again. Thanks for your comment.

      1. HI Tory!
        Let’s just say December kicked me to the curb with various illness issues, and now that I’m back at work – well my time is a little less free. Which is a mixed bag – income is good (who can turn down work these days?) but keeping up with blogs that I respect gets squished.
        The Trumpists in my family are just – wow – heartless? This whole ugly thing about “being a patriot” and “Oh, I have more money” seems a bit twisted to me. Maybe I have it backwards, but while there will always be those with more resources than others, that doesn’t happen without the hard work – that needs to be respected and appreciated – of those who don’t have a summer home. Honestly, it is gut twisting.
        It’s lovely to be back in conversation with people I “know”. The strangest thing about returning to work is that I’m in close proximity to so many people i don’t actually know, yet am often sitting right next to. Yes, we all have our PPE on, but still, it’s unnerving.

      2. Hi, Liz. I totally hear you. I’ve taken on a couple of extra projects, just as you have, so it’s hard for me to keep up too. I guess we can’t beat ourselves up too much for falling a little short. We’re doing the best we can!

  14. As you and several people have eloquently stated here, it comes down to constructive communication, being willing to talk but most importantly to listen. We must *hear* what evidence is saying, and not just believe it says what we want it to.

    I wrote a post a while back called “Not for and against, but with”. Using a classroom as an example it shouldn’t be about the teacher being the source of all knowledge in the classroom and always having the answer. We humans do not know everything and should never claim that. What a classroom should be about is everyone helping each other critically think about problems to find the best solutions.

    As you so rightfully point out: it’s most important to learn *how* to think, not just how to find answers.

  15. Ideological bubbles are a *social* phenomenon. They are governed by the logic of needing to belong, not the logic of connecting to the truth. Think of them as cults on a large scale. The right gets all the attention because of physical violence and obvious bigotry but the left has its own vicious tendencies. Ask anyone who has run afoul of “cancel culture.”

    The internet allows us to form extended families with thousands of members and primes us with dopamine pings every time we get a “like.” Our schedules allow us to engage in this activity many hours a day. The most prolific posters are also the ones who lack outside interests and may not even have many IRL friends. They need those pings desperately.

    People make statements within their bubble not as arguments in a case but as demonstrations of their fitness for inclusion in the group. They do it because that is what is rewarded and how one gets to belong, to be accepted as a part of the tribe. You would never make a reasoned argument to the contrary because you’d lose friends that way. maybe get evicted from the troop.

    And hate has its own perverse rewards. You get to be blameless while the other guy becomes a demon.

    Demagogues love this phenomenon. Ideological discipline (political correctness) is the most important tool in their bag. That gets enforced not by force of arms but socially. Social people instinctively understand banishment to be the most terrible punishment short of death.

Leave a Reply