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.

32 thoughts on “On Enslavement

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  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!

    Liked by 4 people

    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.

    Liked by 4 people

    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.

      Liked by 1 person

    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.

    Liked by 3 people

    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.

      Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 2 people

    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!

    Liked by 2 people

    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!

    Liked by 2 people

    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. 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.

    Liked by 4 people

    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.

      Liked by 1 person

    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.


  8. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

    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.


  9. “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).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. 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!


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