The Captive Mind, by Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, is a classic work in the domain of “mental freedom” and resistance to propaganda and every kind of brainwashing. Every nation state is to some extent a “lie factory” and a “deception machine.” A person has to “fend off” this manipulative or ideological power grab.
This very handbook of mini-essays, “Meta Intelligence,” is itself partly a defense of the non-captive mind, in the tradition of the Miłosz book. On the other hand, there’s a danger here “on the other side” since there’s a “free floating intellectual” temptation to take a sneering attitude towards all belief systems and to look down on the average person. There are dangers on all sides of this “non-captivity” of the mind. By embracing globalized and cosmopolitan education and by looking for knowledge connections in lectures, fields, universities, we look for a mental stance which is non-captive but not dismissive of believers. The French have a saying for this sense of intellectual superiority, “de haut en bas,” talking from “high to low,” from top to bottom.
Our purpose is to promote educational understanding, re-enchantment and “homemade” exercises in holism and not to promote superiority attitudes. Herman Melville’s Ishmael, the only survivor in Moby-Dick is tolerant and cosmopolitan and not exclusionary or monomaniacal like Ahab or Starbuck. Ishmael’s receptivity to things is a good model for such improved education, whether by life, whaling ships, academe.
It was first published in English translation by Secker and Warburg in 1953. The work was written soon after the author’s defection from Stalinist Poland in 1951. While writing The Captive Mind, Miłosz drew upon his experiences as an illegal author during the Nazi Occupation and of being a member of the ruling class of the postwar People’s Republic of Poland. The book attempts to explain the allure of Stalinism to intellectuals, the thought processes of those who believe in it, and the existence of both dissent and collaboration within the post-war Soviet Bloc. Miłosz describes the book as having been written “under great inner conflict.”