nancylebov: (green leaves)
[personal profile] nancylebov
Are there any books about policing other people's imaginations? It's a very common human activity, but I can't think of any.

I'd be interested in histories of censorship and the destruction of information, but also about the emotional side. Why is imagination-policing such an attractive activity for some? What are the effects of having one's imagination policed? I'm thinking about compliance, resistance, and invulnerability. That last is the case of people who just aren't internally affected by a social pressure-- another interesting thing about the world which I've seen discussed a lot less than censorship. Sometimes social pressure just doesn't register-- a person who's invulnerable to a pressure may comply if it seems practical, but they don't have any feeling that complying is a good thing (either for themselves or other people).

The nearest thing I can think of is Wilhelm Reich-- he had some theories about hierarchy and interfering with other people's basic drives, but afaik, he was talking about forbidding actions more than forbidding thoughts and emotions.

He wrote about rules limiting sex. I think it's interesting to apply that analysis to the modern world and food.

Date: 2010-11-09 12:18 pm (UTC)
metahacker: A picture of my eye reflecting the camera taking the picture. I'm probably feeling introspective.  (eye)
From: [personal profile] metahacker
Does 1984 count? It circles a lot around the technique of engaging the emotions to disengage the rational side.

Your comment about invulnerability is interesting--that's an attribute I would mentally bucket under "sociopath", but you also see some people who are able to shrug off peer pressure get labeled as 'driven' or 'genius' (Tesla, for example, and it brings to mind Feynman's wife's comment, "What do you care what other people think?").

The 'thought police' are a common trope, but generally it's more focused on the here-and-now, rather than on thoughts about the future or imaginations of other lands. E.g. "Brazil", where the latter is used to escape the former.

Date: 2010-11-09 04:00 pm (UTC)
zenlizard: One lizard to another:  "Please to be shutting up now!" (Default)
From: [personal profile] zenlizard
Well, those are points along a continuum: but there are not necessarily labelled in the correct order, from my point of view. And it's an over simplification in the senses: 1. There are many other points along that continuum, and 2. the dividing lines between the regions surrounding the points are very blurry.

Date: 2010-11-09 12:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Nancy, this is really profound. I think you've just named something no one else in my experience ever has. "Mrs. Grundy" is the proverbial, but what's the generic? I must think on this.

Date: 2010-11-09 12:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
1984 is the obvious example: Newspeak, thoughtcrime, and O'Brien's reshaping of Winston's psyche through torture. Non-fiction books about the use of torture to induce confessions probably cover a lot of the same ground more realistically. I'd also look at works about the creation and maintenance of authoritarian societies like North Korea.

L. Bob Rife in Snow Crash became interested in mind-control partly out of concern over employees taking information learned on the job home with them -- he compared it to mechanics being allowed to take home their tools.

Date: 2010-11-09 01:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm also interested in the low intensity "A good person like you couldn't possibly think something like that" sort of social pressure.

Heinlein said "Everyone lies about sex". While this is an unprovable claim, it's plausible. The next step is why everyone is lying about sex, and I suggest that there's a lot of imagination-policing in that area.

Date: 2010-11-09 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ayn Rand deals with the issue of invulnerability to social pressure in The Fountainhead, which takes that invulnerability as a crucial human virtue. Her portrait of Howard Roark strikes me as owing a lot to Aristotle's concept of the "great-souled man" as presented in the Nicomachean Ethics. This was one of the things I looked at when I wrote about The Fountainhead for Troynovant a few weeks ago.

Though Rand herself was not so invulnerable as her heroes; the whole disastrous Branden incident could not have happened as it did had she truly not cared what other people thought about her sexual conduct. But then, there were penalties back then worse than mere social disapproval. Branden once quoted Houseman's "I, a stranger and afraid/In a world I never made" disapprovingly, as the expression of Houseman's betrayal of his own better self, but the full poem makes it clear that Houseman was looking at the prospect of going to prison if his sexual orientation were discovered.

Date: 2010-11-09 02:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Rand didn't address where invulnerability comes from. Roark is simply like that. Other characters aren't, though I think the implication is that Dominique becomes so.

In the real world, I think it's more common for some social conditioning to take for a given person, and other social conditioning to not stick. There may be something interesting going on there.

Date: 2010-11-09 03:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think in a sense one of the big stories in The Fountainhead is precisely Dominique learning to be invulnerable. She starts out unwilling to value anything, because she's convinced that anything she loves will make her hostage; her throwing the statue of Helios off the balcony so that no one will ever see it is symbolically what she tries to do to Roark. And she can only be united with Roark when she's finally convinced that he's indestructible, and that she can be too.

Date: 2010-11-12 02:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] (from
Isn't this invulnerability a standard stated goal of the so-called 'liberal education' / 'arts & humanities'? To be able to overcome trickery and unconscious assumptions through rigorous critical thinking habits?

There's a deconstructionist element to mysticism, such that even the fundamental tenents of reality and self, life and death, are seen through as mental constructs. It is thought that maybe one who has gone even beyond Descartes in 'returning to first principles' like this will be immune to propaganda/social pressure that rests upon so many layers of assumption. I don't know. But I do know that merely intellectual deconstruction is a limited activity; if that is all we are capable of, I feel certain that we will always have assumptions driving our thoughts and actions, and unless we are, as someone suggested, a sociopath, some of those assumptions will come from others and their imposed values.

If you are the leader of a circle of acolytes it is very easy to be your own person.

Date: 2010-11-09 08:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There are some threads of this in China Miéville's The City and the City.

Date: 2010-11-09 09:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Followed here from the comment you left in onceupon's LJ. My $0.02, if you like:

Most religions are about some form of imagination-policing - trying to avoid or purge "impure thoughts". In the christian tradition, even one of the commandments ("Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors' [wife or ass, depending on translation]...") is a direct admonishment to not think or feel a certain way, as does "Honor thy mother and thy father". I'm sure there are others from other religions, but I can't think of an example at the moment. And I would imagine any number of books from any number of fundamentalist religious groups and/or leaders would be able to offer examples of imagination policing, especially when dealing with "primal" urges such as sex, food, etc.

For non-religious social pressure, I imagine that some aspect of "imagination policing" is the desire for the *predictability* of behavior of people in social groups. There is for most people a direct line between thought-> (and/or)-> emotion-> behavior (regardless if that view is accurate), and so reassurances that certain thoughts are verboten makes predicting the behavior of other people just a bit easier. And it also assures conformity, which is comforting for groups.

WRT to invulnerability: There are individuals who "do not comply" with social pressure, until and unless there is a specific or, as you call it, practical reason for doing so. Such an individual is easily pathologized, as there is a term for it: Sociopath.

Anyway, interesting perspective on social pressure; nice nomenclature, especially.

Date: 2010-11-10 03:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
In the christian tradition, even one of the commandments ("Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors' [wife or ass, depending on translation]...") is a direct admonishment to not think or feel a certain way, as does "Honor thy mother and thy father".

Well, Jewish tradition; the Christians inherited it.

I'm not sure "honor thy father and thy mother" counts as an injunction about inward thoughts. "Honoring" can be done through external actions, through obeying them, not cursing them, taking care of them, speaking to them respectfully and submissively, and so on. For a parallel, the crime of lèse-majesté is the crime of failing to show outward deference to the king or queen; monarchs might want to know if people were secretly plotting against them, but that was a different offense. Now that I think of it, Locke's first book on government was explicitly a refutation of the idea that the king was the father to the people and deserved deference as such. Covetousness seems to be more internal.

Date: 2010-11-10 01:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
From memory, there's some elements of this in Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind

Date: 2010-11-10 03:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I find myself recalling Blake's "London":

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

Blake certainly was a man who refused to let his imagination be chained.

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