The Colonized Mind

The following is the seventh chapter of my book “Industrial Society and Its Future: A Reexamination”, available on Amazon/Kindle and as a .pdf on Gumroad.

“Low self-esteem, depressive tendencies and defeatism are… widespread in our society. And today’s society tries to socialize us to a greater extent than any previous society. We are even told by experts how to eat, how to exercise, how to make love, how to raise our kids and so forth.”

T.J. Kaczynski, “Industrial Society and Its Future” (1995)

The unrelenting and pernicious influences that have been applied to the populations of industrialized societies have left the average person almost completely disconnected from themselves, from nature, and from other human beings. Although the psychological sciences have correctly identified that profound psychological suffering has been produced as a result of this disconnection, they have either been unwilling or unable to conclude that the pain modern humans feel is a result of modernity itself.

Indeed, the natural rhythms of human life have been warped beyond recognition by the inexorable drive of progress. Despite the advantages of beer, bread, and plentiful harvests that accrue to farmers, the average hunter-gatherer “works” significantly less than the average agriculturalist[i], and most people today can expect to work ten to twelve hour shifts for a good portion of their life in addition to commutes which can often be time-consuming and stressful. The necessities of pre-industrial life people once sought to escape, such as homemaking, hunting, and vegetable growing, are now seen as luxuries or leisure activities. In short, human life has become contorted and backwards.

This contortion, perhaps unsurprisingly, is felt most acutely by indigenous peoples, whose ways of life bear the least resemblance to industrialized society and whose very existence serves as a living rebuke to the seductive claims of modernity. Scholars have observed that one of the first reactions of a colonial power upon discovering or encountering an indigenous people is to cast “those people” as primitive, unenlightened, and foolish, which facilitates exploitation and conquest[ii]. If the colonial power doesn’t subjugate or destroy the indigenous peoples outright, as was the case with the Conquistadors’ capture of Central and South America, it is often the case that extensive efforts are made to “civilize” or “modernize” the indigenous population by replacing their traditions with contemporary practices and perspectives.

Although colonial powers who embark on projects of civilization deceive themselves into believing that their designs are for the benefit of indigenous peoples, this process of “civilization” is inherently violent and destructive. In the Canadian residential school system, perhaps one of the most ambitious and infamous examples of such practices, tens of thousands of children were taken from their homes and placed in overcrowded boarding schools. They were punished for speaking their ancestral languages and for practicing traditional art forms, and many died from tuberculosis and other diseases: the ones that didn’t were often subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse[iii].

The results of the Canadian endeavour, and others like it, were not the uplifting of a population, but the destruction of indigenous ways of life and the isolation of generations of young people from their heritage, ancestral knowledge, traditions, and families. The survivors of this ordeal often report feeling stranded between two cultures, unable to connect to themselves or others. Indeed, the pain inflicted by the residential school system is profound and has been observed across generations of indigenous Canadians[iv].

While the processes of colonization have undoubtedly been brought to bear on indigenous peoples for centuries with catastrophic effect, people who have grown up in the modern world often fail to realize that these same processes have been systematically applied to them from birth in order to psychologically mold them for participation in the industrial economy. Furthermore, their ancestors were, at some point, uprooted from an agrarian lifestyle to participate in the madness of modernity, and were therefore subjected to an erosion of their traditional knowledge, a disruption of family ties, and the adoption of restrictive laws and customs. These invisible scars still cause pain today.

Although the word “colonization” is most often associated with the physical appropriation of land and the expansion of one country’s control across the globe, scholars have also used it to describe the psychological processes by which a person becomes ensconced within, and potentially enamoured with, modern society[v]. Signs of a “colonized mind” include a perverted or surface-level understanding of how knowledge is constructed, the confusion of systemic goals for personal ones, and the use of language games to distance oneself from reality.

The most important thing a high modernist bureaucrat must accomplish when exerting control over a population is convincing them that the “new ways” are superior to the “old ways”. This is usually done by presenting modern technology as superior to traditional technology, and therefore colonial knowledge as superior to traditional knowledge. Even the mere presence of modern settlements near indigenous communities can be enough to seduce younger generations away from tribal traditions, disrupting the transfer of heritage and sometimes extinguishing it entirely[vi].

There are two sleight of hands being accomplished by this feat. First, the complexity of modern technology or knowledge is often overemphasized while the drawbacks or negative externalities are downplayed or ignored. To whom the technology is ultimately beneficial, and at what cost, are rarely topics of consideration. To further complicate matters, some of the answers to these questions can only become known decades after adoption.

Second, modern ways of knowing are implicitly privileged over traditional ones in discussions of progress. Especially in current times, anything not derived from scientific observation and validated through the peer review process is discounted either heavily or entirely[vii]. If indigenous or traditionally-minded people can be convinced that the way their knowledge is constructed is inferior to the scientific method, then they can be led into believing any number of things in the name of “science”.

However, a careful consideration of how knowledge is constructed in indigenous and scientific contexts is necessary. Today, scientists conduct carefully controlled studies and use mathematics and technology to discover properties of the natural world. Findings are recorded in journals, carefully reviewed, and then replicated by other scientists to ensure rigour and accuracy. Studies with replicable findings become generally accepted knowledge. This has proven to be a reliable and robust method of gathering information, and it is easy to see why it has become the gold standard in modern society.

But what of indigenous knowledge? Take, for example, the case of someone placing small rice offerings around the perimeter of a communal cooking hut in order to appease “spirits”. Although this may seem like a useless ritual to an outsider, a close examination of the environment of the building may reveal that ants, a bane of cooking environments around the globe, are drawn to the offerings and leave the central hut unmolested[viii]. Whereas modern humans have invented all kinds of industrial chemicals to ward off and kill bugs, this simple and elegant indigenous solution, likely founded on careful observation, a close relationship with nature, and a trial-and-error approach, is more than sufficient.

Furthermore, this knowledge doesn’t just come from nowhere. The wisdom, skills, and cultural information carried by indigenous knowledge-keepers is corroborated by the community and refined by successive generations in an ongoing process of survival that has lasted many thousands of years. The depth and reliability of this knowledge is often similar in quality to the peer-reviewed scientific literature so loved by modernists and has been subjected to a similarly rigorous process of review. There are even case studies clearly demonstrating that oral traditions can be accurately transmitted over thousands of years[ix]. Yet, because these things are not written down, they are perceived as less reliable.

The modern obsession with science has even become noticeable to scientists, some of whom have begun using the term “scientism” to refer to people who talk about matters of science without having direct knowledge of the experiments, the data, or the general processes of knowledge creation[1]. To make matters worse, the official pronouncements of governing scientific bodies, which should be free of politics and driven by the evidence at hand, are often tainted by personal bias and political gamesmanship: this shall be discussed shortly.

Once someone’s relationship with their history, heritage, and traditional knowledge has been disrupted or disparaged by “science”, they may begin to question why they do the things that they do. They stop observing rituals, holidays, and customs. Their goals begin to shift. This is where the modernist wins, for as soon as someone becomes enamoured with things like material wealth, media, and technology, they will have to engage with the system to acquire money in order to satisfy these new desires.

In many cases, modern people even confuse the system’s desires for their own. Why is it the case, for example, that businesses and countries pursue endless growth when this creates a great deal of stress for everyone involved? Why do political parties exist in the particular way that they do, and why do people keep supporting such projects when they continually fail to deliver on their promises? Are vaccine passports really necessary for public safety? Why are some people so excited about the metaverse? Indeed, far too often, people go through their entire lives without realizing that they have been living someone else’s dream.

The contortion of life’s natural rhythms, the psychological conditioning imposed on modern humans, and the creation of new value structures has a tremendously negative impact on the psyche of the average person, and this is made worse by an ineffective educational system that fails to help people develop enough autonomy to function fully in the world. For example, it is currently estimated that up to two-thirds of Americans do not have a written plan for their life[x]. This suggests that if sat down and pressed in conversation, most people would not be able to explain why they are doing the things they are doing or what they are hoping to accomplish. Sadly, they’re just doing what they’re told.

As a result of the forces applied upon it and the bewildering complexity of the modern world, a general state of confusion and dissociation exists in the colonized mind. Messages from experts and authority figures tend to be seen as authoritative and unquestionable, especially so in times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. People who dare to question orthodoxy are immediately derided as insane, stupid, or “conspiracy theorists”. These cheap labels are verbal tricks, or “language games”, that serve to create psychological distance between the colonized mind and information that might cause it to experience cognitive dissonance.

Another language game that many colonized minds play is the “straw man”, a classic type of fallacious thinking that reduces an opposing argument to its weakest form, or caricaturizes it unfairly. If successful, this allows the colonized mind to dismiss the argument, and often the arguer, out-of-hand and eliminate any cognitive dissonance. One of the most famous contemporary examples of this fallacious thinking in action is the 2018 standoff between Cathy Newman and psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, where Newman repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to reduce sophisticated arguments made by Peterson into their most simplistic and foolish-sounding form[xi].

One might think that the acquisition of information would help liberate people from the state of internal colonization, however this is not the case. Scholars throughout history have observed a peculiar class of people who are both highly intelligent and extremely ignorant, and have further noted that these “intellectuals” often possess a great deal of influence in society[xii],[xiii]. Such figures tend to be eloquently wrong about fundamental issues, and their educated ignorance can in fact become dangerous when inflicted upon a trusting and uninformed population.

[1] Here, it is recommended to read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.

[i] Dyble, M., Thorley, J., Page, A.E., Smith, D. & Migliano, A.B., “Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers.”, Nature Human Behaviour (2019)

[ii] Laenui, P., “Processes of Decolonization” (2006)

[iii] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “The Survivors Speak”, McGill-Queen’s University Press (2015)

[iv] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Canada’s Residential Schools: The Legacy”, McGill-Queen’s University Press (2015)

[v] Hall, R.E., Livingston, J., “Psychological Colonization: The Eurocentrism of Sociology vis-à-vis Race”, Current Sociology (2003)

[vi] Plotkin, M.J., “Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest”, Penguin (1994)

[vii] Savory, A., “What Is Science?”, YouTube (2020)

[viii] Abram, D., “The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World”, Vintage (1997)

[ix] Barras, C., “Is an Aboriginal tale of an ancient volcano the oldest story ever told?”, Science (2020)

[x] Weinstein, L., “​​Survey Finds Two-Thirds of Americans Do Not Have a Plan for Their Life”, DHM Research (2017)

[xi] Newman, C.E., Peterson, J.B., “Jordan Peterson debate on the gender pay gap, campus protests and postmodernism”, Channel 4 News (2018)

[xii] Newman, J.H., “The Idea of a University”, Longmans, Green, and Co. (1852/1907)

[xiii] Hayek, F.A., “The Intellectuals and Socialism”, The University of Chicago Law Review (1949)