"Prisons We Chose To Live Inside", by Doris Lessing

Has anyone read her book?

Lessing was brought up in Southern Rhodesia, where the small white minority dominated the black majority. Lessing said that the white attitudes were assumed to be unchallenable and unalterable, though the merest glance at history would have told them that it was inevitable their rule would pass, and their certitudes were temporary.

She also said there is always the minority who do not agree and it seems the future of everybody depends on this minority. And Lessing says that we should think of about ways to educate our children to strengthen this minority and not revere to the pack.

What I don’t get is why Lessing thinks we should expect “good verus evil” thinking in times of controversy? And I’m curious as to what you think can be done to prevent such counter-productive thinking? Do you agree with Lessing that the majority of people tend to seek absolute truth in a way that vilifies those who disagree with them?

I read this book - oh maybe 10 or 15 years ago - and I think reading it was a genuine formative moment in my development. I was quite the lefty at the time and though I remained a lefty after reading it, the book gave me resistance I didn’t realize I needed - that is resistance to being brainwashed by those “on my side.” (always the greatest danger, aren’t they?)

I wish I could remember the details of her arguments, but I remember more the impact it had on me than anything else. I’ve been looking for the book to reread it for some time now but it hasn’t turned up. So thanks for reminding me, I’m going to look again this weekend.

I do agree with Lessing that people - even the brightest of us - have a horrendous habit of vilifying the other side. Or, if we don’t outright vilify the other side - we build absurdly high barriers to even seriously entertaining their point of view.

You see it happen all the time on this message board. A controvery emerges out of nowhere (say - is it a serious faux pas to order milk in a bar). One group tends towards one side of the controversy. The second side disagrees on this or that point. The first side fortifies its position in the face of opposition. They collect evidence and rationales they hadn’t even considered an hour earlier. These soon become self-evident truths. The second side does the same and suddenly you have two camps. Each camp starts defining its side as the keeper of some profound wisdom the other side apparently is too benighted to see. The insults fly. Real animosity develops. Each side then starts identifying their position with other, older divisions - say class, or gender or race or ethnicity…this happened in a day or two in an entirely idiotic thread on this board. Imagine what could happen over years in a country with real political divisions. I shudder.

Can I ask your opinion on one more thing? Do you agree with Lessing that people tend to seek absolute truth in a way that vilifies those who disagree? I loved your examples…