Your first duty is to think for yourself.
Humanity’s greatest scourge is groupthink. Millions have marched off to war, convinced of their side’s goodness and the enemy’s evil, and didn’t come back or came back in coffins. Billions have embraced politics and political philosophies with warning labels for anyone who cared to look: destruction and death sure to follow. Against the death toll from groupthink, the Black Plague, Spanish Flu, cancer, heart disease, and every other human malady shrink to insignificance.
If you could somehow open the brains of those who followed leaders and malignant idiocies to their deaths, the one thing you would find is the thought—actually the stale remnant of a thought, a trite rationalization—because everyone is doing it. Fortunately, it’s never everyone doing it, there are always those who oppose; it’s how the human race has survived. When word and deed become too dangerous, they oppose in thought.
Those times when it has been too dangerous to overtly express opposition to groupthink have been humanity’s darkest ages, lived under its most corrupt and barbaric regimes. We are entering such a time now. These descents are always presaged by a deterioration in thought—mob think and mob rule that become increasingly deranged and dangerous. The specifics of the various manifestations are trivial details, the important commonality is their reflexive hostility to independent thought and the truth.
“Probably. But not quite. I’m not afraid any more. But I know that the terror exists. I know the kind of terror it is. You can’t conceive of that kind. Listen, what’s the most horrible experience you can imagine? To me—it’s being left, unarmed, in a sealed cell with a drooling beast of prey or a maniac who’s had some disease that’s eaten his brain out. You’d have nothing then but your voice—your voice and your thought. You’d scream to that creature why it should not touch you, you’d have the most eloquent words, the unanswerable words, you’d become the vessel of the absolute truth. And you’d see living eyes watching you and you’d know that the thing can’t hear you, that it can’t be reached, not reached, not in any way, yet it’s breathing and moving there before you with a purpose its own. That’s horror. Well, that’s what’s hanging over the world, prowling somewhere through mankind, that same thing, something closed, mindless, utterly wanton, but something with an aim and a cunning of its own. I don’t think I’m a coward, but I’m afraid of it. And that’s all I know—only that it exists. I don’t know its purpose, I don’t its nature.”
Stephen Mallory to Howard Roark, Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, 1943
Having lived through the Russian Revolution, Ayn Rand knew well the nature of the mob—a drooling beast of prey or a maniac who’s had some disease that’s eaten his brain out…closed, mindless, utterly wanton, but something with an aim and a cunning of its own.