Indoctrination and bigotry

Rohit Dhankar

Indoctrination often leads to bigotry, and most bigots are most often also indoctrinated. However, this relationship between two intellectually and morally incapacitating inflictions is not necessary. People often wrongly associate indoctrination and bigotry with the contents of beliefs, actually neither is really determined by the content. Both are more a matter of corruption of disposition, intellectual destitution and moral debasement of an individual. The content of belief system of the indoctrinated bigot is a result of this mutilation of the soul, and even very lofty beliefs can turn into crushing dead weight on the mind of a begot. In a bigoted mind freedom can become ugly nakedness, justice can become cause of inflicting injustice on others, equality can become ‘more equal than the other’.

In the simplest terms indoctrination is ‘teaching a doctrine uncritically or without adequate rational grounds’. Doctrine means a belief or a system of beliefs held by some individual or a group. In other words, indoctrination means ‘instilling beliefs in an individual’s mind without him/her understanding why s/he should hold those beliefs to be true’. Notice that the term ‘indoctrination’ refers to the process of ‘instilling or forming’ the beliefs rather than to the content of beliefs themselves. A young boy could be indoctrinated into believing that ‘the God created the world’, but he can also be indoctrinated that ‘the world evolved on its own and it has no creator’. Indoctrination is not about how rational or justifiable the belief happens to be, it is about ‘how much of the justification is known to the boy’, and even more importantly ‘how important it is thought by the boy to have a cogent justification in order to accept a belief’. Indoctrination rests on authority, and not on rational justification.

It is not necessary that an individual has to be actively indoctrinated by another individual (a Guru, teacher, leader) to become ‘indoctrinated’. Often people may get so infatuated by some personality and his/her ideas that even without any active attempt from the Guru/teacher they develop a disposition of accepting everything he says or recommends; justification and analysis become unnecessary and burdensome. The authority of the Guru/teacher acquires sufficiency. This kind of blind disposition of acceptance leads to self-indoctrination. It usually happens because of the crushing weight of intellectual responsibility of forming one’s own beliefs. It is much easier, relaxing and looks secure to adopt what a Guru, a leader or a charismatic professor says and preaches.

This process results into a disposition of considering the belief system of adopted ideology/religion as the ultimate truth. No further investigation or entertaining counter views is seen as needed. Actually, counter views and arguments become a kind of irritant first, and then produce anger. One becomes incapacitated of intellectual deliberations on one’s own beliefs, of seeing merit in others arguments and gets cocooned into a closed belief system. Thus, indoctrination means fossilised intellect running into well defined grooves; and rejection of rational questioning as well as all counter evidence.

It seems to me that our universities and political discourse are producing armies of such indoctrinated individuals. Not all students turn into indoctrinated ideological automatons, but a large number of visible mass of students and graduates of these universities seem to foot the bill for indoctrinated individuals. They may be left or right of the centre, but on the same mind-less side of thinking. Those who are not indoctrinated and still have their minds active and open, either do not speak much or are not heard. The loud and vocal ones are intellectually atrophied.

Indoctrination almost naturally leads to bigotry. A bigot is a ‘prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from his own’. Bigotry is this fanatical zeal of eradicating all other opinions or beliefs. Bigotry requires uncritical unshakable faith in ultimate truth or correctness of one’s belief system, as a first step. That precisely is the definition of indoctrinated mind. There is a dim possibility of an individual who holds his beliefs to be absolutely true but still is not interested in eradicating all other beliefs. But this is only a remote theoretical possibility, particularly if the belief system is to do with religion or political ideology.

An indoctrinated mind loses confidence in its own capacity to shift truth from the falsehood, thus clings to the authority of the book, guru, professor, ideological formation, or something external to one’s own rational process. Questioning of the external authority for which one does not have justification naturally produces anger and intolerance. Existence of other belief systems is seen as perpetual source of uncomfortable questions and challenges. A constant danger to ones irrationally adopted belief system (Islam/Hinduism in danger phenomena). Therefore, to safeguard one’s ideology (political or religious) the other ideologies have to be eradicated, by hook or by crook. For an atrophied mind rejecting doctrinally held ideology or modifying it is threatening as the mind sees its own incapability to deal with the new ideology. Thus, what is at stake here is one’s claim of being a ‘thinking being’, i.e. being human.

The indoctrinated bigot, therefore, wants to destroy the others in order to safeguard one’s own sanity. His belligerence is an expression of his fear, his confident assertion is an expression of his soul-gnawing lack of faith, his bravado is a pathetic plea coming from his cowardice. An indoctrinated bigot is a wretched creature desperate in search of authenticity. It is a human being whose potential failed to flower, whose potential is killed either by design by others or by circumstances. This being needs help and compassion; not anger and punishment.

Presently, our universities and public discourse are producing large numbers of such unfortunate beings; of all hues: red, green and saffron. The religions, particularly Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, are virtual factories of such individuals.

In our public life and universities, we need to take Socratic principle of “unexamined life is not worth living” more vigorously.


19th November 2019


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