Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Indoctrination and Education (Part 1 of 2)


Indoctrination and education are similar processes except for two differences: one conditional difference, and one crucial difference. The conditional difference is that indoctrination is one-sided and uncritical, while education is multifaceted, allowing for free and critical evaluation of at least two perspectives, either intentionally or by default. This difference is “conditional” (a difference depending on circumstances) because education can be entirely one-sided in an environment of indoctrination and still be education, since the existing indoctrination serves as the strong presentation of the other side of the issue.

The crucial difference is that indoctrination necessarily involves some sort of influence, power, coercion, or appeals to authority or tradition to maintain a monopoly or similar control over information, and thereby control agreement or consensus; while education shuns influence, power, coercion, and appeals to authority or tradition of any kind as a method of controlling agreement or consensus. It is this difference that essentially distinguishes indoctrination from education.

The influence, power, coercion, or appeals to authority or tradition that defines indoctrination can come in many forms, and does not necessarily use any kind of violence or threats to maintain agreement and consensus. For example, the power inherent in financial or economic control over mass media and what information mass media presents is the kind of power that does not involve any violence or threats whatsoever against the public, but it is extremely effective in maintaining control over public opinion. Similarly, parents’ sheltering of their child from information and reasoning that encourages the nonviolence of veganism can be entirely free of any violence or threats of violence. Even the momentum of mass market economics and widespread cultural prejudice itself is a form of domination, undue influence, and power over belief that qualifies it as a strong – and perhaps the strongest – mechanism of indoctrination.

Our Speciesist Indoctrination

We live in a society that heavily indoctrinates us, throughout our entire lives, to accept the widely shared dogma that animals are things, property, and commodities here for us to use, consume, and exploit in virtually any way we desire, as long as we do it “humanely”. (“Humanely”, as used in this context, is so inaccurate and misleading from a practical point of view as to be close in meaning to its antonym. See Note [1] at the end of the essay for an important elaboration on this point.)

The remainder of this two-part essay will focus on how, and how much, we are indoctrinated, in the hope that seeing the power-based, one-sided, and uncritical nature of such indoctrination, along with vegan education as an antidote to indoctrination, will help in overcoming it.

Indoctrination in Early Childhood

Our indoctrination begins when we are, as infants, fed certain foods before we have any idea what (or whom) we are eating. When we find out as children that we are eating the bodies of dead animals, many of us are uneasy about our new-found knowledge. Our parents or guardians, heavily indoctrinated for decades themselves, try to assure us that some animals are “meant” for us to eat, and that we “need” to eat animals to be healthy. Many of us continue to question such assurances, but even the most precocious of us will generally get no more of a “reason” from the adults in our lives than some form of “that’s just the way it is” (e.g. the Bible says so; God put them here for us; they had bad karma in previous lives; they’re not rational like us) or false statements to ease our consciences (e.g. they don’t mind being our food; they couldn’t live comfortable lives if we didn’t eat them, and so on). Either way, the vast majority of us are forced – whether by threats of punishment for not eating our meat, or by duress in wanting to please our parents and siblings – to accept that animal products will be what we eat, whether we like it or not. Note the influence and power differential involved in, and uncritical nature of, our “learning” about animals-as-food, and how our concerns are almost always dismissed out of hand by the vast majority of non-vegan parents.

Indoctrination in Youth and at School

From pre-school to high school, the indoctrinated beliefs formed in our early childhood are further reinforced by teachers, other students, the school lunch menu, the “food pyramid” and nutritional “education” (formed by a political process heavily involving animal agribusiness interests), and a constant bombardment of advertising by industry on television, radio, billboards, and in newspapers. For the vast majority of us, there are no alternative perspectives. Our society and the institutions of which it consists have an extremely powerful monopoly on the information and perspectives we receive. Not only that, but almost without exception, the influential people in those institutions have been heavily indoctrinated themselves, whether or not they are aware of it.

We are to uncritically accept the claim that dairy, eggs, and meat are “necessary” for our health. We are to uncritically accept that there are no satisfactory alternatives to animal products. We are to uncritically accept that killing, enslavement, and exploitation is “humane”, necessary, and morally acceptable.

Most of us, if we critically challenge or reject animal products in our diet and life as school-aged youth, are swimming upstream against an overwhelming current of parents, teachers, other students, the school lunch menu, and relentless advertising. Critical challenges of society’s dogma regarding animal product consumption and animal use are often met with hostility and even ridicule. The exception is when we have parents who either are vegan or strongly support our decision to be vegan. Even then, however, indoctrination and hostility from non-parental sources is strong, and our sense of independence must be equal to the task. Again, the power differential is strong, and the nature of the reinforcement of the paradigm of animals-as-things is almost always blind and uncritical.

Indoctrination as Teenagers

As we enter our teens, the same indoctrination continues from the same sources as when we were younger, but there is perhaps a shift from parents and teachers to advertisers and our peers being the most influential on us. Most of us start attempting to create an identity for ourselves, and often choose role models to assist in this process. Our peers and potential role models will rarely, if ever, be vegans who have rejected the cultural prejudice of speciesism. In fact, as victims of powerful and heavy indoctrination themselves, they are just as likely to be as deeply prejudiced regarding species membership as anyone else.

Even if we are exposed to a positive vegan role model as a teenager, indoctrination from other sources continues, powerful and uncritical, and again, our sense of personal independence from those speciesist sources must be equally strong.

This concludes Part 1 of this two-part essay. Part 2 will continue with the on-going indoctrination we receive as adults and will conclude with vegan education as the antidote to indoctrination at any age.



[1] “Humane”, under the law, means no more pain, suffering, and torture than is approximately deemed “necessary” by the owner of property to achieve the instrumental goal in question; therefore, enslavement, solitary confinement, burning, torturing, beating, rape, stabbing, shooting, bone-breaking, electrocuting, inducing psychosis, inducing drug addiction, inducing severe mental illness, severe psychological torment, electrical shocking, and just about any other form of torture you can think of is perfectly legal, as long as it achieves legally established industry-specified or owner-specified instrumental goals set by animal experimenters, hunters, trappers, family farmers, dog owners, or any other industry or adult human. Even when the torture can be shown to be “gratuitous” or “unnecessary” for achieving the owner’s goal, and violates a welfare law, the animal is still property, and therefore the legal consequences are trivial enough to almost never act as a deterrent to the cruel behavior. Consider reading Animals, Property, and Law (see recommended books on the side bar for a link) by Professor Gary Francione for more details on why legal welfarism protects, and will always protect, almost every kind of torture imaginable.