Doris Lessing died in 2013 at the age of 94, just a few years after winning the Nobel Prize for literature. She identified as a communist for many years and was also known as an icon of modern feminism. But she came to firmly reject communism as well as the label “feminist.” A New York Times article from 30 years ago describes how her politically correct followers became confused and annoyed by her exploration into different ideas and trains of thought.
What’s especially fascinating to me is how Lessing developed some keen insights into how humans behave in groups and how we handle dissent. She could see the noxious effects of groupthink on human relationships. It disturbed her so much that in 1985 she gave five lectures on the subject, which are contained in a little known volume entitled “Prisons we Choose to Live Inside” (1986).
It’s a gem, especially given Lessing’s legacy and renown. Consider these two passages that pretty much sum up the mechanics of political correctness:
“ .. . we can stand in a room full of dear friends, knowing that nine-tenths of them, if the pack demands it, will become our enemies. .. . But there is always the minority who do not and it seems to me that our future, the future of everybody, depends on this minority.”
” . . . whenever people are actually forced to recognize, from real experience, what we are capable of, it is so shocking that we can’t take it in easily. Or take it in at all; we want to forget it.”
Lessing also contemplates the effects of technology and how poorly we use it:
“I believe that people coming after us will marvel that on the one hand we accumulated more and more information about our behavior, while on the other, we made no attempt at all to use it to improve our lives.”
In fact, our blindness to the realities of our own patterns of human behavior will be our downfall. If we could just take a clinical look at the mechanics of groupthink and how it hurts us, we’d all become freer and happier.
Lessing also ventured to say that she believed that critical knowledge of human behavior is actually being hoarded by elites in order to amass their own power, prompting her to ask this:
“How is it that so-called democratic movements don’t make a point of instructing their members in the laws of crowd psychology, group psychology?”
Today everyone would do well to read this handy 77-page volume. You may not agree with every opinion Lessing includes in it (I didn’t) but her insights are absolutely essential if we are to remain a free society. I’ll offer more quotes from Lessing’s work in future posts. I absolutely love it.