*Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to Losing Americana, and part of a series on the “real” greatness of America.

A political friend recently shared the observation:

Indoctrination is a necessary evil to keep societies from being torn apart.

It’s an interesting choice of words, one that got me thinking about the nature of indoctrination in our current-day culture. Anyone willing to rub two brain cells together understands that we face strong and constant indoctrinating pressures, from pre-school through retirement and beyond (true liberty from such pressure only comes to the very oldest among us, because you can most easily tell people to [redacted] off when you’re in “bonus time”).

Indoctrination, however, needn’t be of the “evil” sort. And, indeed, were we to engage in a good flavor of indoctrination, our society would benefit and prosper. I’d go as far as saying that society’s ills are the result of the lack of this good indoctrination.

To what do I refer? At the risk of sounding jingoistic, it’s the idealized “American Way.” It’s the idea that individual liberty, individual responsibility, and a work ethic are the foundational blocks of a successful society, that the Bill of Rights matters, that government should be limited, and that no member of society should be elevated above another. Of course, the nation’s history is chock-full of examples where it failed to live up to these standards, but it’s one thing to strive for the correct goal and fall short, and another thing entirely to push towards a bad, destructive, and corrosive goal.

This “way” includes not only the primacy of the liberties and protections of the Bill of Rights, and the aforementioned personal ethics, but also includes the “melting pot” assimilation that has been the fabric of our nation’s culture, as well as the basic premise of open arms embodied in the engraving on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. Every wave of immigration has been met with suspicion and resistance from some, but time and the idea that people come here to be Americans, not exhibits in a zoo, have folded those waves into the stew that is “America.” The abandonment of this presumption of assimilation, in the Left’s embrace of multiculturalism, in the Right’s close-the-borders nativism, and in some immigrants’ arrogance (born of the Left’s encouragement and declaration of exalted-victim status), is at the root of much of the cultural toxicity we witness today. These stances are themselves born of mis-indoctrination.

Don’t think that the modern Left has wholly reversed course on the time-tested “melting pot?” Consider the crusades against “cultural appropriation.” The idea of the melting pot IS cultural appropriation. People bring that which they know into American culture, where it gets introduced to others, and slowly but inevitably blends into the single, melting pot culture. Today, social justice and more-woke-than-thee types attack that assimilation, and demand that it not take place. Not only have they abandoned the melting pot, they actively oppose it.

Don’t think the modern Right has abandoned the concept of the melting pot? Many assert a sharp distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, but how many have you heard favor expansion of legal immigration, and how many have you heard assert that the country is full, that we don’t need more immigrants, and that low-wage workers are “stealing” American jobs? How many have you heard wanting to end birthright citizenship? The argument against illegals is an argument rooted in the current state of immigration law, but many want to change that law to make for fewer legal immigrants as well. This is often excused with “this time it’s different, they don’t want to assimilate” sophistry, but time and generations inevitably lead to assimilation. Today’s immigrants grandkids are almost certainly going to be deeply Americanized, no matter what today’s Right or Left wants.

Individual liberty goes hand-in-hand with individual responsibility. When I assert that I own myself and the fruits of my labor, I assert control over my person and my property, and thus I accept responsibility for what I do (to myself, to others, to my property, and with my property). This is the idealization of the American Way, and it’s what we should be teaching each other and presenting to our children and our students.

I know, the word “indoctrination” carries a negative connotation, and indeed, the dictionary definition (the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically) makes it a rather inapt term in this context. Critical thinking and the questioning of authority should be as big a part of the “way” I describe here as the way itself, and they are the opposite of indoctrination. But, as is so often the case, the term’s colloquial use has softened and strayed from its proper meaning, and it’s often used merely in reference to a curriculum that one dislikes. The quote at the opening of this essay carries that looseness as well, in that it suggests that we all be taught in a common fashion as a societal lubricant.

Don’t like the “I” word? You needn’t use it. But, the underlying message remains. Donald Trump won the Presidency by advancing the motto “Make America Great Again.” The definition of “great,” and the path by which we might pursue it are matters for discussion, but such discussion should start with the things that are good (sometimes uniquely so) about the nation. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo may have killed any chance at the Presidency with his shockingly tone-deaf utterance that “America was never that great,” a gaffe that promptly produced a full-court-press round of damage control. Fact is, for all her flaws, all her past failings, and all the wrongs committed within her borders, America was and is a singular achievement in human history, and the ideals that made her so are ones we should embrace, not eschew. Most Americans believe this, and bristle at those who insist on telling them otherwise.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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