Imprisoned by assumptions

Assumptions are the highest walls of the prison in which the human spirit is currently confined.

The most pernicious assumption of all is that industrial capitalism is the only possible form that human society can take: the path of history could only have ever taken us to this point and the path of the future can only ever take us further still in the same direction.

To suggest that things could have been any different is regarded as absurd. The very fact that our society is how it is today is taken as irrevocable proof that it could never have turned out any other way. This is nonsense, of course – a ridiculous, circular, self-justifying argument.

Just because I missed my bus this morning, does not mean that I could only ever have missed my bus. It does not mean that if I had set my alarm clock properly I couldn’t have caught it. It doesn’t stop me from saying that I wish I had managed to catch the bus or from deciding to take precautions to ensure that I don’t miss it again tomorrow.

Bound up with this assumption of the “inevitability” of industrial civilization comes the assumption of its “inevitable” continuation. This is even more obviously ill-founded. The future can be whatever we, collectively, want it to be.

So where do these assumptions come from? Although propaganda is all-pervasive in contemporary society, assumptions function on a deeper, almost invisible level. They are built into the structure of our thinking as much as into the specific contents.

As such, they are not necessarily propagated in a consciously deliberate manner. It is quite likely that most of those who maintain them in the public mind are unaware of what they are doing, are themselves held in the same mental trap.

These delusions – for this is what they are – are an aspect of the system itself. Without them it would not exist. They are part of the process by which it has come into being and remained in being. The delusions, the assumptions, create the system as much as the other way round.

They are very hard to counter, containing as they do a sort of in-built defence mechanism against any challenge to their validity.

The same assumption that says that history is just something that inevitably happened – in a retrospectively pre-determined way! – also prevents us from seeing that this is an assumption. It presents itself as an undeniable truth. You can’t challenge an undeniable truth. You don’t even consider whether or not it is an “undeniable truth” – you just accept its message as undeniably true, without even seeing that there is a message there, without registering that there is any subjectivity at all in what it is proposing. I suppose that’s what an assumption is: it’s something that never even gets thought about, it just sits there as the basis of something’s thinking. It is the canvas on which people’s opinions are painted.

So how do you reach down far enough to be able to challenge an assumption? How can you even show people that there is an assumption there, when their closed mindset is working on the assumption that there is no assumption – just historical reality that is absolutely undeniable?

You can hammer away at the outer shell of all these layers of delusion for as long as you like, without making a dent. You can shout at people until you’re blue in the face but if what you’re saying makes no sense to them, because it does not relate to what they have come to believe is reality, they will just assume you are mad.

We dissidents need to find creative ways of worming past people’s defences, bypassing the mental barriers erected against anything that challenges the framework on which they have built their understanding of the world.

Subverting, undermining and then demolishing these prison-walls of assumption is perhaps the most crucial and urgent task that lies before us if we are to pull our species back from the brink of self-destruction.