Unthinking is a kind of militant stance against thinking, for oneself and others. It goes beyond a simple distaste for or preference against thinking, and on into something of a dedication, mission, or serious zeal for anti-intellectualism. As well, the Unthinking mentality includes a sort of reverence for instinctiveness and impulsiveness, and a distaste or contempt for “over-thinking” or being “overly sensitive.”
Fascism and cults have a technique in common: “thought stopping.” In cults, followers will be directly taught to attack negative and critical thoughts from their minds via use of a mantra — this further insulates them from independent sources of information outside the cult and its belief systems. Under fascism, the tactics of this type of unthinking are more easily disguisable:
- short, repetitive slogans (“Lock her up!” “Build the wall!”)
- arouse fear — invent enemies, dramas with the enemies, and distrust of allies to sniff out disloyalty
- create confusion — say one thing, then confidently say its opposite
- sow doubt — plant rumours, falsehoods, and conspiracies amongst the people
- intimidate — threaten, while pledging to rescue
Unthinking is a reactionary response to professionalization and globalization
Unthinking is the sinking feeling that perhaps more of Gustave Le Bon’s controversial 1895 Study of the Popular Mind is true than one might hope. Our willingness to trade away our independent, critical thinking faculties to follow orders from authorities has been well-documented — yet somehow we still struggle to wrap our minds around those folks who, well, don’t seem to be nearly as interested in wrapping their minds around stuff.
Those folks do exist, and they have no intention of coming in second place to the coastal brainiacs who manage to enjoy mental labor thank you very much. In the Trumpian world view, if you are at a deficit in the intellect department, you do not under any circumstances accept the intellectual authority of The Enemy as legitimate. You simply rebrand yourself as the “smartest guy in the world” no matter what the subject, and you say it confidently, no matter how absurdly false it is and no matter that all the people around you know it to be false. It is their compliance with your non-stop stream of lies that brands them as useful pawns and allows them to live another day under your beneficent gaze.
It’s the status, stupid
Much has been made about how the so-called “Hillbilly Elegy” types are actually a distribution that includes plenty of comfortable and well-off business owners and working professionals who are not struggling economically. While that is true, I think it’s still relevant to the upper-middle class whites who support Trump that they perceive themselves as having not done as well as their liberal Commie counterparts in big cities. They may not be hurting so much themselves in Barbara Eirenreich fashion, but they are “hurting” in terms of status wounds. They are not being recognized as much as they believe they are due.
And they know the reason they’re missing out on this entitlement is because some globalist scum outsmarted them. They know instinctively, whether consciously or unconsciously, that they cannot win in an intellectual battle with the Coastal Elite Enemies. This vulnerability is absolutely unforgiveable and can never be discovered by anyone — so they move the goalposts. They claim that intelligence is a worthless thing to have, and/or that if you have it you’ll be impure and no longer worthy of membership in the tribe. This anti-intellectual streak on the right is equal parts self-delusion (“smarts don’t matter!”) and hyper-competition — by discouraging potential rivals from becoming more educated than they are.
Unthinking is a reactionary response to secularization
The seemingly inexplicable Evangelical support for the violence of Trumpism can perhaps in part be explained by the great paranoia and growing existential fear of a secularizing nation. In a way, they’re not wrong to be foretelling of the End Times — most likely not the one they’re envisioning from the book of Revelations, but the one where Christianity dwindles from the landscape, leaving a roiling mass of American heathen liberal commies to eat babies at their pedo parties right out in the open.
That reality is happening before our eyes — the dwindling part, anyway, if not so much the rest (if anything, evidence so far has shown those pedo parties are on the Right…). Older believers are dying out, and new ones are not being formed fast enough to create a new base. You could look at this as a triumph of science over superstition, as liberals do — or, you could look at it as a threat to your way of life, as the Trumpists do.
It is highly problematic that there are not really many or even any replacements for religion and the church in terms of providing people a place and a platform for spirituality. As religious adherence continues to drop, this hunger for spiritual solidarity will only grow — many folks will seem as if hungry ghosts, gasping for a wisp of organized religion’s shared hivemind experiences.
Where else shall we get our sacred? What new institutions can we collectively devise, by which to safely explore the mystical unknowns of our most basic existence? How can we find, regain, or re-imagine a sense of shared togetherness and fellowship? How can we rebuild basic reciprocity?
It is urgent we find these answers, for the doomsday clock is running for American democracy.