M. Simon’s post about the Obama Zombies book linked my earlier post on the general subject of zombiedom, and Simon offers a personal observation:

…a lot of us tried to warn you but you were so caught up in hope and change that your eyes glazed over whenever we tried talking reason.

Yeah, that is a problem. Perhaps resorting to reason is a waste of time when you’re dealing with people whose eyes glaze over. However, I have had arguments with leftists who have accused me of refusing to listen to reason, and I admit, my eyes probably would have glazed over.
However, I think the terms “zombies” and “brainwashed” are a form of political hyperbole which tends to dismiss or minimize the possibility that some (by no means all) people might actually think what they say they think, and have reasons for thinking it. In the process, people are absolved of real responsibility for their thoughts. As someone who believes in accountability, I don’t think that’s the right approach. And as a practical matter, I find it very annoying when people on the left do the same thing to people on the right. An example was candidate Barack Obama’s attempt to portray gun owners as victims of demagoguery:

According to Obama, firearms ownership thus becomes not an individual choice, but something other people have planted in the minds of the “gun-clingers.” Their clinging to guns becomes not an individual act, but something demagogic leaders drive people to as part of their exploitation of wedge issues. (“Condescending” is almost too kind a word to use for this ruling class-style denial of the fact that gun owners — and I am one of them — actually think what they think.)

I have given a lot of thought to the gun issue, and I would not find it persuasive at all if someone told me I was a “Gun Lobby Zombie,” or that I had been “brainwashed by the NRA.” Disagree with me if you must, but please, give me fucking credit for thinking what I think.
Now, despite what I just said, I will grant that there are plenty of people who in fact do not think what they purport to think, but are instead parroting the thoughts of others in an unoriginal manner. It is one of my pet peeves, of which I have complained in a number of posts. It’s tough to define what it is, but I know it when I see it. People resort to canned slogans (like “there’s a right to health care!”), but when you ask them about specifics about rights theory, (“Why would you define a right as a positive obligation on the part of others?”) they are unable to explain themselves. It’s hard to have a discussion with someone who only “knows” slogans, and such people strike me as having at least been indoctrinated.
But I don’t think they’re brainwashed in the true sense of the word. They just haven’t taken the time to think. Whether calling them zombies is effective, I don’t know. (It may be in some cases. But there are other people who might see it as name-calling, and it might only heighten their determination.)
Now, I would agree that those who have been indoctrinated (and whose thoughts are not their own) really don’t deserve the same credit as people who actually think what they say they think. But calling someone brainwashed who does in fact think what he thinks is futile, extremely condescending, and it tends to let him off the hook. As if what they think is not their fault, because it’s someone else’s fault. (And where does such a process lead? Were Hitler’s and Stalin’s and Mao’s willing followers actually victims of their leaders?)
I may be a hopeless individualist, but I think the better overall approach is to have the simple common decency to give people credit for thinking whatever they say they think. And if they are hapless followers, maybe that will cause them to stop being followers.
But this touches on another issue which might be strategically important. I’m not a psychologist, but which of the following is an easier admission for people to make?
“I was wrong!”
“That bad leader brainwashed me!”
(I realize there are excuses I am leaving out, such as the “I voted for Obama to prove I wasn’t a racist!” excuse, but at least that’s driven by practical self interest. So is “I voted for Obama because I want more entitlement money!” Say what you will about such people, but they’re hardly brainwashed.)