Sometimes it’s impossible in the moment to know what will imprint randomly on your Being as very significant, though in the moment it seemed totally insignificant.
I have reminisced on this blog before about the random young traveler at the airport who told me I was ‘on the list’ before I’d ever known there were any such lists in the United States. It took me another year and another two flights to fully register that encounter enough to make any inquiries.
There’s another one that haunts me in a similar way, nearly two decades later. This one I have not shared before, because there is so very little to share about it and it did not have any significance for me for a decade, and only makes full sense to me in the last few years.
I was teaching intensive leadership seminars for gifted and well-funded high school students in Washington, D.C. for a short while. There was a student whose face or name I don’t remember, nor anything else about him except he was male and mildly confrontational.
The curriculum of these seminars came from the Carnegie Institute, though I did not realize that at the time and found the material very engaging and totally new to me. The schedule we kept for these 1-week workshops was really tough though, 16 hour days, 6 days a week, for 2 months per contract. In each of these week-long workshops I was one of 20 other teachers or so, and we each led a couple dozen students each week.
Of all those students I remember no names, no faces, it’s all like a huge blur. Mostly I remember feeling drained, challenged, fascinated, reluctant, all at once, with no time to process any of it. Basically, I remember my own experience of this unusual experience. I have a couple of parting gifts still though, of students writing their appreciation, some of them very enthusiastic about their experiences, which I wonder today what they remember and where they are in their lives. But I don’t remember them as individuals.
The only singular contact with any of the students remains with that one slightly smart-ass kid who said to me something along the lines of: “You know this is brainwashing, right? It has nothing to do with leadership.”
And I replied, in reaction and nothing else: “Brainwashing?! It’s not brainwashing if it’s for you own good.”
And I meant it. In the time that I said it I honestly believed what I was saying, though I knew nothing of brainwashing and thought good intentions naturally lead to good results. This was good material, it was teaching mostly sociology and psychology and the art of assertiveness, what could possibly be the harm there?
Brainwashing?! Seriously, that’s what the military and communists do!
That’s not what I’m doing!
Now it’s actually embarrassing for me to realize how much less wise I was to the ways of the world than this student, 15 years my junior.
What I understand now is that it most certainly was a kind of brainwashing, established in elite think-tanks, training young minds in the Skinner fashion to mold themselves and others into pre-fashioned categories. It was indoctrinating students (and teachers!) into a mindset of collectivism, deferring to experts and to group-consensus, becoming a sort of professional ‘middle man’ and calling that leadership. There was no introspection, no down time, no unstructured fraternizing. No individualized guidance, at all.
“It’s not brainwashing if it’s for your own good.” Wow, where the hell did I come up with that line of auto-bullshit?
I said it last time, Pink Tyranny! I see it now so plainly, but it’s taken a lot of washing the lipstick off that pig for me to really get it. I’ve had to remove myself very far from the picture to get an objective lens and what I see that I participated in blindly, even enthusiastically at times, is not something that makes me proud today.
Sure, nobody died. It’s not like some big dramatic TV-worthy event. Just the small encounters of everyday life and work.
But, I think that’s what makes it so insidiously unforgettable now, with all the time and space and distance and research I’ve got behind me since then.
I’d rather spend another hour cleaning the duck shit off the deck than continue to participate in the on-going indoctrination camps we’re calling education.
Rand had it part right for sure, she just didn’t realize the technology would replace the need for out-right brute force in this culture, and that the ‘pink tyranny’ of mass indoctrination could be so effective in cooperation with the right incentives and enough entertainment to subdue several continents and put the entire history of the circus to shame.