How To Know If You Are Brainwashed

Are you brainwashed? This is a tricky subject. I have been thinking about this frequently due to the current political atmosphere. Joe Biden has recently won the election and there are seriously mixed feelings. I noticed that many of my otherwise informed and intelligent friends were sharing news articles that were demonstrably false. This got me thinking. Maybe it is me. Am I brainwashed? Certainly not something anyone would readily admit regardless of the evidence presented. I decided to try to figure it out. I made myself a list of behaviors that are possible signs. I tried to be pragmatic and use common sense. Once I had my own list I went and read as much as I could from sources such as Psychology Today, Scientific American,…etc. I took my list and added a couple ideas from them and here we are. Let me make one thing very clear. This is my opinion. I am in no way qualified to diagnose anyone for anything. This is a thought experiment meant for introspection. 

  1. If you only read articles or watch news organizations that already agree with your point of view. I have found myself guilty of this. I tend to gravitate to stories with titles that support my point of view and avoid those that do not. You can not claim to be informed if you have only heard one side of the story.
  2. If you only demand a story be fact checked if it does not fit your opinion. You accept any statement, article, or meme without hesitation if it fits your preconceived notions but if not then it should be rigorously fact checked and even the slightest discrepancy gets it ignored and ridiculed. 
  3. If your worldview comes from only one or two organizations or personalities. If everything you believe comes from political hacks and ideologues’ who have an obvious agenda then you may be brainwashed. If your point of view is fashioned by Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow(in my opinion, two sides of the same coin) you have a narrow perspective.
  4. If you are comfortable with people with differing opinions being ostracized from society. In fact, you are surprised they have not been silenced previously. If you think freedom of speech extended to those you disagree with is detrimental to the country and could incite violence so violence is proper to shut those voices down unless they are on your side because then they are victims. The “others” should not have jobs, lives, families, or opinions.
  5. If you can not have an open and honest discussion about differing opinions, even with friends and family, without getting angry. If someone points out a fault of those you support and you take it personal you may have lost your objectivity. It should be easy to refute their claim and provide evidence to the contrary.
  6. If your default argument is a slur. You heard a thing that does not fit your narrative and you instinctively lash out. If you go straight to the name calling, epithets, and character assassinations’ before attempting to understand where they are coming from is a tell. Ad hominem attacks are the refuge of the intellectually shallow.
  7. If you are worried about going against the group. You may see a fault in a position or agenda but you would rather keep it to yourself. The group’s opinion is more important than your own. It becomes part of your identity. You allow that to sway your opinion.
  8. If your side or party is always right and the other guys are always wrong.That isn’t possible and lacks common sense. Five minutes of meditation with Sam Harris will reveal that no group, entity, party, union, fan club, knitting circle, assembly, congress, species or whatever line up you manufacture is correct every time. If you are convinced that your party is right every time then you are slipping down the rabbit hole. 
  9. If you accept anecdotal evidence over peer reviewed studies or hard facts. This is another behavior I catch myself leaning into. Personal experiences, no matter how inconsequential in the larger scheme, are hard to dismiss. The revelation  here is if you are using someone else’s anecdotes that can not be verified to justify your position. If you remove the anecdotal evidence and your hypothesis can not withstand the scrutiny yet you still cling to the idea is an unmistakable clue that you are drinking the Kool-Aid.
  10. If you find it acceptable that an event took place that will hurt Americans but it will make the opposing party look bad. Bill Maher once said that a recession would be a good thing if it hurt Donald Trump’s chances to get re-elected. How could anyone be such a narcissist? The other side of that is if you hope some legislation, decision, or action that would be good for Americans but would make the opposing party look good does not happen. You are selfish and brainwashed. 
  11. If you read the title of this article and you automatically thought that it will obviously only apply to the “other” party or “other” group or “they”. I will let you contemplate the implications.

I am sure I am missing other red flags. In my opinion, everyone should start with taking a long hard look at themselves first. Look long into the mirror and ask yourself if any of the above apply. If you display three or more of the above behaviors you may be brainwashed. Brainwashed in the sense that you have been listening to the wrong people or getting your information from the wrong place. Introspection with the intent to improve one’s self should be the goal of every individual.

To quote Michael Douglas in The American President, “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad.” I disagree with virtually every other word in that speech, as stirring as it is, but those three lines ring a sharp truth that the Liberty Bell can no longer sound. Another quote by Michael J. Fox in that same movie is relevant, “…in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership…”. Ask yourself this. Are you making the effort to earn that advanced citizenship or are you listening to whoever steps up to the microphone?

Serious teen boy surrounded by darkness looking at himself in mirror with wooden frame