Deliberate Alienation: Surrealism and Magical Realism Critical thinking is a terrible thing.
At least, that seems to be a popular opinion. We live in an age where people are willing to look to anyone but themselves for advice on what they should think. Rather than figure out what their own opinions are, they trust the thinly-veiled slant of the television newscasters, the politics-masquerading-as-reporting of magazines like Time and Newsweek. There are fashion shows and magazines that tell you what you think is stylish. Children in grade school and high school are actually discouraged from thinking differently from their peers or from their teachers. Even television commercials or assigned readings in school that encourage positive behavior are only promoting this phenomenon of mental laziness: whether people are told to think good things or told to think bad things is unimportant; either way they're still not doing their own thinking.
Lest we become a culture of zombies, it seems important somehow to stop this disturbing trend. But how to combat this kind of apathy? Any appeal to the brain-dead must require them to use that very organ which they are allowing to atrophy.
Perhaps some shock therapy is in order. There's a reason our language contains the phrase "to slap some sense into" someone. I propose that the best way to cure such mental apathy is to attack it. By presenting the individual with an apparent reality which contradicts or prevents what s/he is familiar or comfortable with, one would force him/her to spend the necessary cognitive effort to correct or reconcile the discrepancy, or risk existing in an utterly absurd, impossible, and nonsensical world. Purposely inducing cognitive dissonance may be the best or only way to elicit any sort of cognitive activity at all.
One of the easiest and most effective ways in which to achieve this goal is to deliberately alienate the individual from those things which s/he takes for granted -- to pull the rug out from under him/her, so to speak. I am not speaking merely of removing objects from the subject's world -- say, stealing a lamp from the nighttable -- but also of removing or rearranging relationships: moving the lamp to the other nighttable, placing a shoe on the nighttable instead of the lamp, etc. Jean-Paul Sartre understood the effectiveness of this kind of alienation when he wrote his short story "The Wall":
"Tom was alone too but not in the same way. Sitting cross-legged, he had begun to stare at the bench with a sort of smile, he looked amazed. He put out his hand and touched the wood cautiously as if he were afraid of breaking something, then drew back his hand quickly and shuddered. If I had been Tom I wouldn't have amused myself by touching the bench; this was some more Irish nonsense, but I too found that objects had a funny look: they were more obliterated, less dense than usual. It was enough for me to look at the bench, the lamp, the pile of coal dust, to...