Most universal of all the obstacles to human advancement and social improvement is the failure of most human beings to play a rational, energetic and conscious part in the direction of their own lives and of the social groups to which they belong. We attribute this failure to ignorance (not understanding or knowing); to indifference (not caring sufficiently to translate discomfort into action), and [to] inertia (continuing in the established ruts of tradition, custom and habit.
Ignorance, indifference and inertia are due to a failure of vision, and to unwillingness to couple understanding with effective action. Together they exercise their immense blocking influence over the thoughts and actions of human beings, because it is easier to stay put or drift with the current than it is to break away and swim upstream. Their influence is felt by all members of the human race. In the lives of most people, most of the time, these are the influences which determine both thought and action.
The immense hold which ignorance, indifference and inertia have over men’s lives is not due in the main to any deficiency in human nature, but to the deliberate, determined efforts of ruling minorities to maintain their authority and perpetuate their power. Until recent years, landlords, ecclesiasts and militarists needed docile, obedient dependents who would work, pay rent, contribute to the church and when necessary turn from their ordinary pursuits to fight in wars arranged by their masters.
Industrial revolution brought with it the need of sufficient technical skills to build, service, improve and direct the new machines and the increasingly complex social apparatus. A working class capable of reading drawings and specifications, carrying out technical directives and writing reports became a prime necessity. General education, developed to meet these new requirements, entailed grave dangers. Men and women trained to read and reason would not be content to promote the interests of their masters. Once trained, they were more than likely to advance their own interests and those of the groups or classes to which they belonged. In order to counter this danger, the masters provided the bread, beer and luxuries which have played such an important role in keeping industrial wage earners and the ranks of the rapidly growing middle class in line behind the interests of those who owned the economy and formulated public policy.
Today this phase of masters class activity is called variously advertising, persuasion, indoctrination, brain-washing or propaganda and is covered by one word: “promotion,” or, in the vernacular, “selling.” Men “sell” themselves. Enterprises “sell” ideas, merchandise, services, beliefs, policies. Promotion is taken for granted in business. It is equally widespread in politics. It is the coin current in religion, education and in the multitude of patriotic and social service organizations.
New means of communication and recently developed channels of information have played an important part in this process. Tidal waves of national loyalties, pride and aspiration have helped in the same direction. Equipped with the new technology of persuasion and coercion, the masters are able to keep 24 hour supervision over those who serve them and promote their interests. The same instruments are equally effective against their opponents and enemies at home and abroad.
Modern society is conditioned, rather than enlightened, at state expense and under state control. The process is called “educational.” Unquestionably modern education encourages and imparts technical skills. The educational apparatus presently existing in the “free world” turns out a citizen who is ignorant, insensitive and unaware of the forces, techniques, instruments and machinations which plan, arrange, organize and supervise the environment in which he exists. The products of this conditioning live in deadly fear of change, lest it lead to “communism.” Dulled into the belief that whatever is, is right in this best of all possible worlds, citizens accept regulation, and conform to a social pattern designed by their exploiters to keep their victims ignorant, indifferent, inert.
(from Chapter III, The Conscience of a Radical, Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965)
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