Some Study Questions for “Cults in our Midst”

If you decide to read Margaret Thaler Singer’s book, “Cults in our Midst,” I offer a few study questions below.  I also hope you have the beginnings of a book club to get the conversation going on these issues.

We are living through a time of immense social change and instability.  It is during such times throughout history — especially with fast technological changes — that cult activity takes root and thrives.  But even more alarming is that there is virtually no discussion in public discourse about how cult-like thinking penetrates and infects a society.  This level of unawareness is a red flag.

If you can’t read the whole book, I recommend focusing just on the following pages/chapters:  Singer’s INTRODUCTION (to the first edition); Chapter 1 – DEFINING CULTS (pp. 3-28);Chapter 2  A BRIEF HISTORY OF CULTS – Just 2 pages: 29-30)  THE PROCESS OF BRAINWASHING —  (pp. 52-82); Chapter 4 – WHAT’S WRONG WITH CULTS?  (pp. 83-102); Chapter 5 – RECRUITING NEW MEMBERS (pp. 104-124); Chapter 9 – THE THREAT OF INTIMIDATION (excerpt pp. 224-43); Chapter 11 — WHY IT’S HARD TO LEAVE – (excerpt pp. 270-79)

Pay special attention to Chapter 3 in which Singer identifies the six basic features of cults, which are as follows:  1. Keep the person unaware that there is an agenda to control or change the person; 2. Control time and physical environment (contacts, information); 3. Create a sense of powerlessness, fear, and DEPENDENCY; 4. Suppress old behavior and attitudes; 5. Instill new behavior and attitudes; 6. Put forth a closed system of logic.

Singer also includes discussion of the eight themes of cults, as ennumerated by cult expert Robert Jay Lifton:  1. Milieu control; 2. Loading the language; 3. Demand for purity; 4. Confession; 5. Mystical manipulation; 6. Doctrine over person; 7. “Sacred science;” and 8. Dispensing of existence.

Singer also discusses the Edgar Schein’s theory of three stages that a person in a cult goes through as their attitudes are being reshaped to suit the cult’s leadership:  the freezing of thought processes; the transformation of thoughts; and then the unfreezing of thought processes.

Here are some study questions to consider while reading:

1.     Review the charts in Chapter 3, and especially the list of Singer’s six conditions that allow brainwashing to happen.  Then answer: What makes a person susceptible to that kind of psychological manipulation?  

 2.     What groups (or institutions or policies or social trends) can you name in Western life today that apply cultic methods and techniques to unduly influence behavior and suppress freedom?

3.     According to Singer, the effects of brainwashing are very often reversible. What can ordinary citizens do to help Americans – and especially students – keep their minds free of undue influence?

4. Why do you think the methods and techniques of cult activity never come up for discussion in America today?

 

The SPLC Scam

What would the Southern Poverty Law Center do if there was no poverty? If there was no hate? Or ignorance?  I suppose its leaders would invent all those things.  Because if you examine the SPLC’s operations, it certainly cultivates ignorance, hate, and poverty — perhaps to keep itself rolling in dough.  For more on this, take a look at my recent Federalist article:  “12 Ways the Southern Poverty Law Center is Scam to Profit from Hate-Mongering.”

The tragic irony is that the United States was on the road to real racial healing before self-professed watchdog groups like the SPLC got addicted to the practice of tearing the scabs off of the nation’s wounds and pouring salt into them.  Division is the name of their game:  isolating people, de-humanizing them, labeling them as “haters” or “bigots” and inciting mob anger at anyone who dares to express a different perspective on life than the one the self-appointed authorities at the SPLC have assigned to us all.  Sadly, the SPLC uses pathetic and scattered cases of “white supremacists” as cover to lump in and label anyone who doesn’t buy into their agenda.  And since 95 percent of all media outlets do their bidding, that sort of stereotyping has an impact on creating a society of skittish people loath to treat others as human until they check in with Big Brother.  It’s an ancient dynamic that totalitarian regimes have always depended upon to keep themselves in power.

I think Alexis deTocqueville said in best in his work “Democracy in America” when he noted that the essence of tyranny is to divide people, to make sure they do not love one another. This is the purpose of political correctness, especially as applied by groups like the SPLC.

The truth is that people everywhere are starving for real friendship and freedom. They certainly don’t crave regimes of PC silencing that prevent them from getting to know one another.  There is a loneliness epidemic.  But friendship can’t happen without real conversation and civil society — both of which are shut down by SPLC-styled rhetoric. But friendship — which can only happen through free conversation — doesn’t serve the bottom line of organizations devoted to sowing seeds of discord. It’s all so sad and unnecessary. People of goodwill must confront and end this inhumane practice, which, ironically, is always pushed “in the name of humanity.”

Next Up for Stella’s Book Club: “Cults in our Midst”

In February I posted a fascinating chart from Margaret Thaler Singer’s book “Cults in our Midst.”  You can find it in my blog post entitled:  “Do you know the difference between real education versus coercive thought reform?”  The chart which Singer drew up is called “The Continuum of Influence and Persuasion.”  On one side of the continuum is true education that involves open and civil discourse with no intent to deceive.  On the other side is coercive thought reform, or brainwashing, which uses deceptive tactics to blunt independent thought and control the person.  In between are other, varying forms of influence: advertising, propaganda, indoctrination.  It’s very helpful to understand what’s going on in each of these forms of persuasion.

I believe that the study of cult methods is useful for resisting political correctness. And especially today.  First of all, few people are actually focusing today on the methods and processes of thought reform.  Certainly not the media or academia.  And as we are battered with floods of information from all quarters — the internet, news outlets, social media, TV, our education institutions, and so on — one thing should be clear:  there is a battle to push us into conformity of thought to the benefit of power elites and their power-consolidating agendas.  There’s nothing new there.  This has been the story in advertising and propaganda from time immemorial.  But what is most disconcerting is that few are investigating the actual guts of the propaganda machinery itself.  At some point we have to tune out the constant barrage of blather and start sniffing out the machinery that its coming from!

The study of cults offers a key to understanding how propagandists behave:  their methods, their features, their techniques for controlling how people think. It’s especially helpful in strengthening us to resist the temptation to self-censor in our culture of political correctness. And that’s critical because giving in to it creates a spiral of silence that makes it ever harder to express an independent thought.  Propagandists know this!  Anyone pushing a power-centralizing agenda tends to be hellbent on shutting off all other forms of influence in people’s lives. Driving you into this sort of isolation is exactly what political correctness is designed to do.  Did it ever occur to you that this is precisely how cult leaders operate as well?

So, please take a look at Singer’s book as soon as possible.  Find another person to do the same so you can talk about it.  Hopefully you can grow a book club like mine, dedicated to propaganda awareness and the fight for freedom of expression.  I hope soon to post some some study questions that go with the book.

Next up for Stella’s Book Club: Doris Lessing’s “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside”

My book club met the other day and we had a lively discussion of Denise Winn’s book The Manipulated Mind: Brainwashing, Conditioning, and Indoctrination.  Next we’ll be reading Doris Lessing’s book on this topic.  That little volume (77 pages) of five essays entitled Prisons We Choose to Live Inside (1986) is a gem that deserves a whole lot more attention.  Lessing (1919-2013) was an icon of feminism who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.   Youtube has posted excerpts from those speeches in which she talks about conformity and how group think operates on us.  You can listen here:

Over the years, especially as Lessing became more unsettled by the noxious influences of group think and mob psychology in Western society, she became a great champion of free speech.  I wrote about her in two previous blog entries:  “Acclaimed Author Doris Lessing: Our Future Depends on Resisting Group Think” and “Doris Lessing on Fighting Group Think.”

I am more convinced than ever that awareness of how propaganda works on us is KEY to helping our society regain sanity and reason.  As more and more students at campuses around the country shout down politically incorrect speakers — even to the point of rioting — it is clearer than ever that our very individuality is under attack.

Freedom of conscience, of speech, of association is all under attack.  Radical education reforms continue to sow ignorance. They continue to intellectually kneecap students so that they are not even capable of listening to diverse points of view.  Instead, students seem to have been programmed to respond reflexively and emotionally against free speech, as they did the other day at Indiana University at Bloomington when scholar Charles Murray spoke there.  Watch here:   https://twitter.com/idsnews/status/851924596769128448   The act is so self-destructive, it’s as though these students have been virtually programmed to shoot themselves in the head.

Let me provide an insightful quote from Lessing’s book.  Whether or not you read the book, please keep this particular quote in mind:

“. . . it is always the individual, in the long run, who will set the tone, provide the real development in a society.

Looking back, I see what a great influence an individual may have, even an apparently obscure person, living a small, quiet life.  It is individuals who change societies, give birth to ideas, who, standing out against tides of opinion, and change them. This is as true in open societies as it is in oppressive societies, but of course the casualty rate in the closed societies is higher.  Everything that has ever happened to me has taught me to value the individual, the person who cultivates and preserves her or his own ways of thinking, who stands out against group thinking, group pressures.  Or who, conforming no more than is necessary to group pressures, quietly preserves individual thinking and development. . . .

“It is my belief that an intelligent and forward-looking society would do everything possible to produce such individuals, instead of, as happens very often, suppressing them.  But if governments, if cultures, don’t encourage their production, then individuals and groups can and should.”

Isn’t it interesting that political correctness is all about suppressing the voice of the individual?  To force self-censorship on us? I suspect that is because the small minority of power elites have always wished to control the masses.  But they realize — better than we do — that there is great power in the individual voice. So, as always, they employ group think-tactics in order to mobilize mobs to shut down conversation and friendship.  We’ve no choice but to go against that hostile tide.  So start your book club to help disable the propaganda machine! Even if it’s only with one other person.  It’ll grow.

An Ides of March Reminder about the Coercive Nature of Socialism

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) Soviet dissident and author of The Gulag Archipelago.

As polls report higher numbers of millennials claiming to be socialist (they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about) and spiking membership for Democratic Socialists of America, let’s try to absorb these words of the late Russian human rights advocate and gulag survivor Alexander Solshenitsyn:

 “In different places over the years I have had to prove that socialism, which to many Western thinkers is a sort of kingdom of justice, was in fact full of coercion, of bureaucratic greed and corruption and avarice, and consistent within itself that socialism cannot be implemented without the aid of coercion.”

Refugees from socialism – Russians, Cubans, Vietnamese – all tell the same story.  Socialism is not what romantics in the West think it is.  The system is coercive, by its very nature.  Give it enough time and enough crises, and socialist states always morph into even more coercive communist states.

College campuses are infested today with a political correctness – and a tragic ignorance of history – that has students singing the praises of socialism, a system that promises free stuff and delivers scarcity.

A year ago — on the Ides of March — I published an essay in the Federalist that explored this phenomenon:  “Socialism’s Bloody History Shows Millennials Should Think Twice Before Supporting It.”  I zeroed in on the case of communist hero Nikolai Bukharin, who was executed in 1937, after the show trials of Soviet strongman Josef Stalin.  It’s a natural progression when a “vanguard” of the people is blindly entrusted with too much power. That’s socialism in a nutshell:  too much power in the hands of too few people.  If you mention this to any pro-Socialist millennial, they are sure to pull out the talking point that theirs is a different brand of socialism, akin to the sort we see in Scandinavian countries.  To them it means social harmony through things like bike-share programs, recycling, free education, and easy housing. I understand, I understand.  The problem is that such freebies are the bait of socialism which cannot help but invite the switch to coercive Borg government.  Which, in the end, means punishment of any dissent and the death of free expression. Forget “resistance” of any sort without Hell to pay.

Prisoners at work in a Soviet gulag camp in the 1930’s.

Here’s an excerpt from my piece, which I hope you’ll read in full:

Socialism and communism both involve ceding to the state control over the distribution of goods and services for the masses. This involves giving up individual rights, and giving the state a good measure of control over our personal lives. This road always leads to tyranny, no matter what you pave it with, and no matter what you name it.

Socialism requires a power clique—or, as Lenin put it, an elite “vanguard”—in order to pretend to function. This means going heavy on executive power and rubber-stamp light on the legislative. Socialism demands that we place blind trust in whoever takes the reins of power to distribute society’s goods and services. This tiny elite, by the way, typically enjoys enormous privileges and a much higher standard of living than the hoi polloi, simply by being a part of the elite “nomenklatura.”

Sure, this oligarchy claims to distribute in the name of “equality.” That’s typically the cover story. The historical fact is that the vanguard, the power clique, eventually takes control of everything that’s produced—medicine, education, housing, food, transportation, etc. Its members then bureaucratically ration out—as they see fit—the means of human survival. In the end, you’ve basically got an elite corps of mobsters with the power to decide which folks are more equal than others.

March 8 as a Day of PC Reminds me of My Little Gig at the UN Conference on the Status of Women

The “International Year of the Woman” was 1975.

March 8 was introduced as the “Day of the Women” early in the 20th century when it was called International Working Women’s Day.  The first observance in the US was in 1908 and was organized by the Socialist Party of America. The communist government of the Soviet Union made it an official holiday soon after the Bolshevik revolution.  This seems logical as the mother-child bond at home was never something celebrated among communists.  Instead, a woman’s place was in the communist workforce, honored to do Drudgery for the State.

We’re hearing a lot more about the Day of the Woman this year than in previous years combined, at least in the United States.  For example, there are calls for women to take part in a general strike on March 8.  Schools around Washington, DC are engaging in political closures  for it this year.  The idea behind the strike is supposedly to help people see what it’s like to have “a day without women.”  I’m not sure how working mothers feel about the last minute political closures that will keep their kids home. Maybe they’ll stay home with the kids? That would seem ironic.  But, I suppose a day without K12 education these days should be welcomed as a day without brainwashing.

In any case, it all reminds me of a talk I gave around this time last year at the United National Conference on the Status of Women in New York.   I was honored to speak on a panel about “Political Correctness and Gender Ideology” along with Michael Walsh, author of The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, and Austin Ruse, president of C-FAM.  C-FAM wrote the event up here:  “UN Panel on Political Correctness Startles Young Social Justice Warriors.”

One of the great ironies today is that those who purport to support women are actively involved in the legal abolition of women.  Think about it.  Acceptance of gender ideology, specifically transgenderism, among feminists results in the erasure of women. Because if one’s biological sex is meaningless and interchangeable with something called “gender identity” then nobody is either male or female in the eyes of the law.  It means, for example, that I am only a woman because I think I’m a woman.  We should be challenging these folks to tell us exactly what a woman is. And why merely thinking about being male or female makes it so.

The central point in my presentation at the UN Conference was that censorship – and especially government sponsored censorship – is central to pushing through the agenda of gender ideology.  The gender identity anti-discrimination laws require us all to reject the physical reality of  our sex, and legally replace it with something called “gender identity.”  This means that being male or female can only exist in our minds. So once that notion is enshrined in law you end up with severe limits on what you express not only about your perception of reality, but about yourself.  Gender ideology does not tolerate physical sex distinctions.  It is a universal requirement based in the premise of every one of its laws passed so far – that our sex is merely “assigned at birth.” So this restricts what you may express about your own physical reality, your own personal identity, and your own relationships.

Gender ideology absolutely requires a regime of political correctness – or political conditioning – that manipulates the fears of social isolation in people in order to get them to self-censor.  Once self-censorship like this takes hold, a society can be induced to conform to any agenda at all. It takes on a life of its own.

I discussed the four main ways gender ideology serves as a vehicle for consolidating the power of the state.  I also wrote up my experience at the event in the Fall 2016 issue of The Human Life Review in an article entitled, “Transgenderism: A Creature of Political Correctness.”

Do you Know the Difference Between Real Education versus Coercive Thought Reform?

Margaret Thaler Singer (1921-2003)

Every college student should get acquainted with the chart below. In fact, all thoughtful citizens watching the spectacle of the zombification of college students – as they protest against what they don’t understand and shout trendy slogans to promote what they don’t understand – should be familiar with the chart.

Margaret Thaler Singer, the 20th century’s preeminent expert on cults, put together this excellent table called the “Continuum of Influence and Persuasion.” It shows how various forms of persuasion stack up against one another.  She lists five forms of influence, starting with the most open, true education, and ending with the most tyrannical, “thought reform” (also known as brainwashing or coercive persuasion.  You can also find this chart in Singer’s excellent book “Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace.”)  Take a look:

As you can see, Singer identifies five major methods by which people can be influenced.  The most open and honest of them all is true education.  Education exposes us to many bodies of knowledge and allows for civil discourse in which students feel free to ask questions openly.  They are therefore able to develop their ability to think clearly and independently.  In an environment of real education, students are respected as individuals with minds of their own.  The aim is to transfer knowledge about our common reality.  There is no deception in true education.

Thought reform or brainwashing, on the other hand, is the most deceptive and authoritarian form of persuasion. The subject is unaware of being manipulated to promote a hidden agenda.  The main purpose of thought reform is to turn the subject into a deployable agent to recruit others to agitate for that agenda.  As you watch today’s student protests, there can be little doubt that they are acting as agents for elites pushing various agendas. When interviewers ask them basic questions about the meaning of their protests, they tend to hem and haw, exposing their ignorance of the subject at hand. Their collectivist mindset tells you that they have had little in the way of meaningful education.

There are various other methods of persuasion that differ in their structure, level of deception, and other factors.  Singer identifies them on this continuum as advertising, propaganda, and indoctrination.  But the main takeaway from this chart should be a clearer understanding of the difference between education and thought reform.

Congress will soon take up reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  Let’s hope that Congress overhauls it.  If education can not get back on the road to its true meaning, its institutions will only continue to be centers of coercive persuasion, not learning.

Connection Between Riot-Prone Mobs and Cult-like Education

One of many mobs of agitators, angry about the US election results. (Wikipedia)

My article in The Federalist this morning — “Today’s Riot-Prone Mobs are a Product of Today’s Cult-Like Education System” — examines the growth of mindless group think that is fueling so much of the street theater we’re seeing these days.  I believe public education has developed a lot of the hallmarks of cult-like indoctrination, including coercive thought reform, the cultivation of emotional reflexes, and relational aggression against anyone who expresses an unauthorized thought.  Sadly, the agitators have been deployed as cannon fodder to serve the agendas of power elites who are hostile to any truly civil society in which real public discourse can take place.  And the radical education reforms of the past 50 or so years have played a huge role in bringing us to this moment.

Here’s an excerpt from my piece:

“Let’s face it. Today’s street theater is the culmination of decades of radical education revision. The radical Left’s systematic attack on the study of Western Civilization has essentially been an attack against the study of any and all civil societies. It is an attack on the features that make a society civil and free. Those features include freedom of expression, civil discourse, the Socratic method of figuring out truth, value of the individual, and a common knowledge of the classics of history and literature that help us understand what’s universal in the human experience. All of that had to go.

“Now, as we see students marching to demonize as “fascists” proponents of free speech, their ignorance is in full view. This is really a full frontal attack on the rule of law, the Constitution, and a system of checks and balances that guards against the consolidation of centralized power.

“That’s the whole point of the education these students have been fed. In fact, a lot of 1960s agitators, including domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, decided to place their bets on radical education revision. For at least 40 years, Ayers has been devoted to transforming schools from places of actual education to places of coercive thought reform. As Andrew McCarthy recently pointed out in National Review: “It was a comfy fit for him and many of his confederates, once it dawned on them that indoctrination inside the schoolhouse was more effective than blowing up the schoolhouse.”

“If you review the history of radical education reform, it’s clear these agitators have been committing mind arson on the children, undermining their ability to think independently and clearly.”

When you Suspect Propaganda, Here are 10 Questions to Ask Yourself

Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin, agitated the masses and spread propaganda, basically to get people to disempower themselves.

Yesterday I was interviewed about an essay I wrote for the Intercollegiate Review, called “Truth or Propaganda?” and you can click here to read it.  (I’ll post a link to the podcast when I get it.) I wrote the piece in order to help people — particularly college students — understand some of the hallmarks of being propagandized. What does it feel like? How to detect it?

Quite often you can discern propaganda — or political correctness — simply by the shut-in feeling you get when being confronted with it.  So, I came up with a list of ten questions to ask yourself whenever you feel pushed to censor yourself. The first step to overcoming this oppressive state of affairs is to recognize it.  If more people got in the habit of recognizing and then confronting propaganda, we can begin to rebuild a civil and free society.

So, here are 10 questions you might ask yourself when you’re trying to determine if you’re having a real discussion with people or if you’re being propagandized:

  1. Is your natural curiosity being suppressed?
  2. Are you being threatened with slurs or labels?
  3. Do you feel you will be ostracized if you ask a question or express a politically incorrect view?
  4. Do you notice a “herd effect” as people shift their opinions to adapt to a politically correct opinion?
  5. Are you being pigeonholed as a result of your question or opinion?
  6. Do you sense that if you express ideas freely, you will be labeled a nutcase?Do you sense relational aggression at play?
  7. Will others be “triggered” by your opinion?
  8. Are you expected to trade in reality to prop up somebody’s illusion?
  9. Are you tempted to self-censor to avoid social punishment?Or are you tempted to falsify what you believe to gain social rewards?
  10. Do you feel like you’re stuck in a cult?

 

About Blog Dormancy

Asleep at the keyboard. (“Sheila the PC Cat” @ Wikimedia Commons)

My lulls in social media use and posting to my blog come down to two things: aversion and fracturing.

First, I’ve built up quite an aversion to social media. Have you? The sad fact is that we live in an increasingly uncivil society, and the trend line only shows that the vulgarity and hostility fueled by political correctness is getting worse.  That’s not constructive for getting anything done.

The second issue is that extensive internet use — and social media in particular — is disruptive to the process of deep thinking. Constant mental gear shifting has a fracturing effect on the mind. You can read about this phenomenon in Nicholas Carr’s excellent book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I’ve been trying to avoid the constant browsing that the internet and social media require, because so much of what I am trying to explore in my writing requires a very deep focus.

Our age is distracting enough, especially with the growing attacks on civil discourse.  The recent rioting intended to shut down speech at UC Berkeley and NYU have shown beyond a doubt that we’re in a bad way in that department.  So it’s more important than ever to nurture one’s ability to think clearly and deeply. And independently. Then we should try to spread that habit to others so that they and all of society can flourish in an atmosphere of civility.

I thank all who sent me messages through the contact form.  I very much appreciate your thoughts and support.  If I missed getting back to you about a question you had, I regret that. (Correspondence has become a bit more unwieldy too.)

Going forward, I hope to intensify my efforts on the subject of propaganda awareness.  Propaganda — along with its latter day spawn, political correctness —  is anathema to independent thinking, which means it is hostile to human conversation and friendship.

In the future I hope to post regularly at least twice a month.  Please subscribe if you’re interested!