Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Invisible Chains

Perhaps it was coincidence that it was the year after 1984 that Doris Lessing gave this series of lectures on the theme of how the individual is manipulated by mass psychology. In Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, Lessing discusses social research pertaining to how group thinking, particularly in a political context, stifles individuality of thought. Social psychology provides tools for encouraging the revitalization of society, however, the encouragement of individualistic thinking is anathema when the state seeks to maintain a general state of complacency and manageability through propaganda and "patriotic" groupthink.

As an example, Lessing insists that, in time of war, rationality goes out the window as "war fever" spreads through the citizenry. A study of history, which Lessing believes the young are disinclined toward, shows how time puts these mass enthusiasms in perspective. World War I, for instance, approached with a sense of foreboding, but during the war years, propaganda regarding the "enemy" galvanized societies into enthusiasm for the cause. Only from a longer perspective, after the war, did society at large come to recognize the futility of the conflict and the nature of the propaganda that stoked the citizenry into support of the war.

Given in 1985, these lectures surely have resonance today.