On Freeing the Enslaved

By Troy Headrick

There are two kinds of slaves:  Those who don’t realize they are enslaved and those who know their status but don’t know how to free themselves.  In my previous blog, the one that described the problem of intellectual enslavement, I focused mostly on discussing political manipulation by demagogues.  In fact, this blog, which aims to set out solutions, deals with intellectual slavery and indoctrination of all kinds. 

I’ll begin by setting out my assumptions.  I start with the premise that most people, if given the choice, would choose to think for themselves and to think well.  Even though there may be a small percentage of people who enjoy being slaves and puppets, the vast majority would prefer to be free of intellectual manipulation.    

I also start with the premise that most people have grown up being told what to think but not how to think.  It follows that a person cannot be expected to be skilled at doing a task that has never been taught.  Of course, a few clever individuals are capable of learning, on their own, how to be skilled thinkers.  Most, though, need to be helped to develop such skills.  Educational systems are constructed around the idea that human beings are malleable and can be improved through training.

I think there is a widespread hunger to know.  Most people naturally want to investigate, to experiment, to explore, and to gain new knowledge and abilities.  Of course, having said all this, there are those who, for whatever reason, are closed to the idea of expanding their horizons and opening their minds.  Some people are, for all intents and purposes, intellectually and emotionally fossilized. 

If my father was right that the greatest challenge facing humanity is the widespread inability to think well, then organizations of all kinds, including governments, need to get involved in solving this existential problem.

While putting together this blog, I was reminded of the Lyceum Movement that took place during the nineteenth century in America, a topic I learned about during grad school.  This movement was a precursor to the adult education programs of today.  A version of this movement could be reinstated, leading to the creation of gatherings, workshops, and discussion groups.  The purpose of these would be manifold:  to bring diverse peoples together, to provide them with expert training on the rudiments of critical thinking, to get them to become self-aware (mindful) of how they think, to examine their own deeply held opinions, and to serve as a potent antidote to the powerful influence of social media.  Organizations and governments could promote such educational opportunities and provide a variety of incentives for citizens to participate.

These workshops will be beneficial to both individuals and society.  Individual attendees will be provided with critical thinking tools and then shown how to use them to examine their own opinions. 

At the end of these workshops, the participants will have thought of themselves as thinkers who have thoughts.  More need to be helped to learn how to think about their thinking and encouraged to scrutinize long-held beliefs.  Most people certainly know that knowing is a good thing, but they need to be shown that the desire to know is even more valuable.

We need to get people off social media and provide them with opportunities to have deep and meaningful conversations—perhaps about uncomfortable topics—with people in a face-to-face setting.  We need to help people think about their own thinking.  We need to provide citizens with the tools to examine their views and foster a willingness to abandon those that are fallacious.  If we don’t help individuals become better thinkers and people, we cannot expect democratic society to flourish.


Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

40 thoughts on “On Freeing the Enslaved

  1. I’d like to agree with you, and for the most part I do. The problem is that there are people who don’t like to think. Being totally adverse to stress, they work, go home, grab a beer and bury themselves in video in some form. I understand that there’s a Russian term for them, nudniks, if I recall correctly. They won’t rebel — too much effort — but they will support people like Putin and Trump. What you describe would be way over their heads in several dimensions. These anti-intellectuals are simply a fact of life, as much as they are a drag on society. Now do we try to engage them or let Darwin take its course?

    1. Vic, I think I’m an optimist by nature. I certainly felt like I was being optimistic in my blog. But people constantly surprise me. Those know-nothings that you were talking about are likely to demonstrate a kind of critical thinking in their daily lives. They have to figure out how to accomplish something difficult at work and problem solve while raising their kids. So they think in interesting ways all day long even though one might never think to call them philosophical. Sadly, too many people worship authority which makes them gullible. I also agree with you that a person can’t be reached unless he or she wants to be reached. Most don’t know they’ve been manipulated. If you can help them see that–to see their condition through really clear eyes–they’d want to correct things. Thanks so much for helping me think further about this topic.

  2. I really appreciate this well-written and thoughtful post. What I would add is the need to not just foster critical thinking, but a comfort in discussing ideas and beliefs that are different from our own with others– even those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. We have hit a crisis in our society where the issue goes beyond just having the opportunity to learn– we all can take the time to read and discuss viewpoints that are different from our own; social media has made that more possible than ever. But we have instead used social media to surround ourselves with information that supports our own preconceived notions, beliefs, and worldviews. This leads to learning, but only learning more information that supports our already existing ideas. I am surprised daily by the people that say they can’t be friends with individuals who have different political beliefs than themselves. We must take value in learning and thinking, yes. But more importantly, we must learn to value learning about other ideas/beliefs without responding in fear. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Learning–in its most fundamental form–IS a conversation. It’s a conversation between the learner and whatever new idea/way of seeing the world the learner is being confronted with. Thus, learning (and growing intellectually) can’t happen unless that interaction (between the knower and the thing to be known) takes place. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and I know I need to work on this aspect of myself. I think I also connect those things I know with important values I hold. For example, I value multiculturalism so I seek out others who have this same value. I recently have started purposefully visiting a website where very reactionary views are posted. I know I need to be exposed to these things. Is this helping me “see the other side”? I hope so, and I think so. (I grew up in the rural American south, so I’ve always been exposed to reactionary thinking.) Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

  3. Ah, Troy…conversation? That’s a fabulous idea. Difficult now, it’s either fobidden physically or volatile. Volatile can be interesting, as long as no one throws a shoe or a punch. Didn’t the Lyceum happen around the time of the World Exposition? I can’t remember, being but a child at the time. 🙂 I was just telling my daughter yesterday, about that movie ‘My Dinner With Andre’ and it is not an easy movie to entice a young person to see. I think I need to see it again, now that I’m older and feel entitled to nap in my chair if I wanna. My only point with Andre, is that something like that endless conversation is both appealing in an artistic way, and a big challenge in this time of instant gratification. There are some private schools in the US that do offer some basics in Socratic method of group questioning/ discussion, so perhaps it’s not a dead form. I think you ought to give it a try! Not the schools, but a conversational engagement workshop. Make it appealing, a theme perhaps? Deeper discussions about unusual things. I am concerned that if you jump right into subjects that make people uncomfortable, they will not be wanting to return. In-person too, we all need that now. Maybe offer this through a community center at first? Whaddya think?

    1. Your workshop idea is a really cool and intriguing one. You’ve got the wheels turning in my head. As a matter of fact, I’d like to discuss this idea with you further. I’ll look at your website to see if your contact info is there. I can be reached at troyheadrick@gmail.com. I’d like to pick your brain–what an odd phrase, don’t you think?–on this topic/idea (if you are interested in discussing it further).

    2. Hi, kjensenstudio. Check out my comment two posts down. (I don’t why it appeared there.) It’s been a long time since I last saw “My Dinner with Andre,” but you’ve inspired me to watch it again. Thanks.

    1. I often wonder which is more deadly: the Coronavirus or the Conspiracy Theory Virus? Both seem to spreading like wildfire. And both seem to be deadly too. Thanks for the comment.

  4. In the light of what I observe these days, I must say this:
    Virus that attacks the body is one thing, virus that attacks the mind is the other one. The society is very much oriented towards recognizing and fighting the first one, without realizing (in my mind) It is the other one that is causing the decay on various levels. Regular people are prepared to defend physically the “truth” as served by the media at this moment never asking any critical questions that will not support the situation they are in, no matter how bad they feel.

    I teach individual courses that draw out personal insights/ personal truths and innate wisdom and those can come to you when your thinking is challenged. I teach people the inside-out of the perception. And there is the mental virus I encounter: fear. I challenge people to think differently…. Unfortunately, many of us humans prefer not to think critically or engage personal value system. Never question the situation that “happens”, never dare have an opinion that is away from the crowd. People are afraid to be him or herself. It takes effort, is very uncomfortable and brings great personal responsibility.
    We do not need discussion or debate, these are inevitably leading to establish the winner. There is always “I am right, you are wrong” label. We need a dialog that translates in reason from two sides. Value be placed not on the content (I am right you are wrong), but value that celebrates our ability to BE, as we are. Every single one of us is different and yet we are all one in a way.
    The idea of workshops you (Troy) are talking about: face to face, away from the social media, sounds excellent. There is already a teacher available (and practicing) in Portugal.

    A quote from Life of Brian (Monty Pythons Flying Circus, from … I am not sure… 80s?)
    “You are all individuals!”
    “We are all individuals!”
    “I´m not…!”

    1. Hi. Do you have a website for your courses/business? If so, I’d love to have a look at it. Why not post the link here? I’ve been doing similar things in affiliation with the educational institution I work at. Please send a link if you’d prefer to not post it. I can be reached at troyheadrick@gmail.com.

  5. Watching films recently on Trump and Roger stone has confirmed my view that we are mostly wasting our time. Those who have climbed to the top of the pyramid have done so by dubious means indeed and it will take a lot to remove them. even more to change society. I do not think social media is to blame – other than to make it easier for demagogues and tyrants to sway the idiot masses.

    I would like to believe as you do that face to face contact and so forth would make a difference. I would like to believe we can make the world a better place.

    I fear however that I have little optimism.

    1. We can make a difference, Anthony, it’s true. We just have to remember that, as conversationalists, nowadays we are perceived as a satisfied bear in a roomful of hungry rabbits. Awkward and occasionally annoying to the other, and not likely to change until we get out of the room. 😀 Keep making those ripples.

    2. I have this ongoing debate with myself: Was Trump mentally ill or was it all a very calculated plan? Did he actually believe the things he was saying or was he reading from a kind of script? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, Anthony.

      1. I believe (from what is publically available) that he is both ill educated and stupid. He has a fox like cunning however and great energy. Is he evil? Is anyone? I doubt it ~ its just the way he was born. I’m not sure profound change is possible. For most of us anyway. Mentally ill? Well in terms of a gaussian distribution he is certainly on one of the tails.

      2. As a psychological study, he’s fascinating. On the one hand, he seems flat and entirely predictable. On the other hand, there’s no telling what he might do. It certainly is true that we are fascinated by him. What does that say about us?

      3. Trump pretty clearly has a narcissistic personality disorder. You can check out the definition on DSM-V. Stir in a cup of delusions of grandeur and simmer.

        I don’t think that makes him insane or stupid. His motivation is the adoration of his sycophants. To maximize the adoration he stirs the fires up and presents himself as the solution. He is EXTREMELY good at that.

        I would say he was a very intelligent man working to gain that which is most important to him, the applause of his followers. The more extreme the applause the better. All the things we think of as being stupid behavior makes perfect sense in this light.

        And he is also a con man. Stupid con men never get very far.

        Oh and here’s a great video on conspiracy theories. I think you will LOVE Laci Green!


    1. Good question. I’m wondering if there’s a desire in the US for people on opposite sides of the political spectrum to dialogue with one another or to simply stay inside their information silos. What do you think?

      1. There may be a few here and there, but really we need to be investing in educating our kids on real history and critical thinking.

  6. Great post, Troy. This really is, I think, THE question of our lives. How will we make a positive impact, on ourselves, on others, and our world? How will we advance our species, and take sustainable strides toward a truly free existence? There are so very many factors in The Human Experience. Both the physical and mental conditions we’re born into—and later choose to engage in throughout our adult lives—hold the keys. And simply put, as a teacher, parent, artist, and human being on Planet Earth, I want to do everything I can to truly learn and grow. And it’s a mess. It’s uncomfortable. And the work never ends. There is beauty in the struggle, I suppose. Let’s keep at it, my friend.🕊

    1. I guess I had a belief when I was much younger that human beings were headed toward some form of enlightenment mostly because there was something in us that wanted enlightenment. I now know I was projecting my own desires outwardly. The opposite seems to be true. Far too many prefer delusion because that’s the path of least resistance. The best we can hope for is the struggle, as you point out. It’s never going to be about “product,” if enlightenment is seen as some final state of perfect understanding. It’s always going to be about process, about the struggle, about becoming. Thanks so much for prompting me to think further about all this.

  7. I agree with much of your post however, like other commenters here, I feel the deeper issue is one of fear. Fear for facing the responsibility and dangers of freedom ( although my life experience is such that I can only base this on my life and views of life at a distance ). Sometimes it feels safer to lie than face a mistake or the damage ( and, lets face it, as societies we frown on failure ).

    I do like this idea most of all because, a lot of people are looking at changing leaders or rules to change the world but I still hold that changing individuals and smaller communities could have a more lasting effect of altering, rather than suppressing, anger and segregation.

    1. Yes. I totally agree. Change can’t really be forced upon us from the top down. Change (in the form of greater enlightenment and such) comes from the bottom up. It starts with individual change and then ripples outward in the way ripples in a pond move outward. I think that’s what you’re saying in your post. If so, I’m right there with you. We would be in a much more hopeful position if more wanted change. Is there hope? Should we be hopeful? What do you think?

      1. Yes, that’s exactly what I meant.
        I think there’s always hope. People just need to feel it’s ‘safe’ to change, and make mistakes.

        People aren’t bad, just scared and often caught up in keeping themselves and those close to them, safe. I guess the biggest change is to see others as friends rather than enemies or obstacles.

  8. The first challenge ( I apologize if this has been pointed out prior) is to make people want to attend such things. I love the idea, it would be fascinating, uncomfortable, and deeply personal, all in one go. But, the trick is people only get out of such things what they put into them. I’m not trying to shoot you down – I’m saying that those who are stubbornly of one mindset aren’t going to be leaping into the “I’m going to think critically” express. It’s so much easier to be spoon fed garbage. (Rats – now I *must* review other replies!) Which more or less reiterate the above…

    People don’t seem to want to be individuals, unless it’s how many followers or friends they have on a global platform, which is utterly bewildering. Somehow these folks need a validation that can’t come from within, that is beyond their local circle of friends or family. Not a pro here, but it’s a very disconnected way to interact with the world, and it may be seen as less “messy”. Someone disagrees with you? They’re a troll – you move along. But life – real human life IS messy. Relationships take work beyond keystrokes and tapping on screens – they require looking at the bits you don’t like and figuring out how to live with them, or make them better. Then those “influencers” gather a herd of people who don’t want or have the ability to think critically, and bingo! You have a herd with no real shepherd – not to be Biblical.

    I’m a fan of having groups that journal, that turn off the socials for a bit (ironic, as I consider this a social media platform) and if need be have a “talking stick” or some kind of indicator of who is speaking, and people listen. Maybe make a few notes on questions/comments. But be present in that time and space. If anything, social media has removed a lot of being “here” and present, which is what helps define us as human. Yes, there are benefits to it, but it’s not the whole enchilda.

    Hope you and those you care for are well!

  9. Hmmm… Think about it this way.

    Human units are characterized by specialization in skills. It then pays for someone who is not a thinking specialist to have someone who is one do their thinking for them. The allure of someone else offering to take that load off them is pretty strong. How they pick their “thought specialist” is based on emotions because, after all, thinking isn’t their strong suit. If you feel vaguely cheated by life, you pick a thinker who reflects that feeling. Not the one who logically explains how you contributed to your own mess and how you can clean it up. That isn’t so warm and fuzzy.

    Nothing new about it. Every great leader of people – good or evil – in history has taken advantage of it. Right now, there is no one appealing to our better angels so self righteousness fills the gap.

  10. We must become adept at separate the wheat from the chaff in our lives, intellectually and in our actions. Thank you for this Part 2 of very necessary learning.

  11. People are psychologically conditioned to think in particular ways, media plays a great role in doing so. We are discouraged from thinking critically, we are made to live in fear if we try to think. Thinking and using one’s own intellect to understand phenomena is termed as “rebelliousness” in our societies. Think differently and you end up in trouble. I agree with you.

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