Wokeness, Wuhan, and the Weaponry of Social Isolation

Tyranny and isolation always go together.  Let’s always remember that. Political philosopher Hannah Arendt made the connection in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism. She wrote:  “Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other. . . . Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about.”

Recent Cover of Hannah Arendt’s classic The Origins of Totalitarianism, first published 1951 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Pubishing Company)

Below is an excerpt from from my (relatively) recent Federalist piece about the connection between tyranny and isolation and today’s dystopian atmosphere:

“How much of the hype about this flu is really about public safety? How much is it about cultivating the social isolation that breeds distrust, division, and malaise, all to be exploited for political purposes? Should we really believe that blue city mayors and blue state governors, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, et al., are pushing the cataclysmic view of this flu only for our own safety?

“Blatant double standards clarify that their hype is meant to continue our isolation, and is not for our own good. As far-left mayors and governors enforce social distancing for law-abiding citizens, they have pretty much smiled upon Antifa rioters as “peaceful protesters,” especially those who gather en masse for more than 60 [now 100] nights in a row to provoke and attack federal officials protecting a federal court house in Portland.”

You can read the whole essay here: https://thefederalist.com/2020/08/11/how-forced-isolation-makes-huge-power-grabs-possible/

Once you think about it, you’ll see evidence everywhere that every tyrant’s first order of business is to isolate those they’re trying to control.  This is as true for the school yard bully as it is for the world class dictator.  Let’s go down a little list of them. Consider the queen bee diva. Recall how in the 2004 movie Mean Girls, the school’s cool clique made a point of controlling the relationships of all of their peers? Recall their Pelosi-esque line “The rules aren’t real.” What about the gas lighting partner?  Maybe his realm is just to control one person, but he makes sure she is isolated from all other influences. She can’t have any friends or be around anyone he doesn’t control.

And cult leaders? They control recruits primarily by some form of isolation. People’s Temple leader Jim Jones even moved his thousand or so followers into literal isolation – to a jungle in Guyana – to make sure all were isolated and under his strict control. And of course all fascist/communist/totalitarian dictators are invested in human isolation.  Mao Zedong had his Red Guard zealots (very similar in behavior to today’s BLM and Antifa agitators) force struggle sessions on people wherein they mobbed, isolated, and publicly humiliated anyone suspected of wrong think. (BTW, the toll was in the tens of millions killed during China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s.)

And what does political correctness do to us? Induce self-censorship that results in self-isolation. What about identity politics? It divides us so that we are more isolated from one another.

So what should we make of the enforced isolation of today? And what about the Covid shutdowns that did not end on April 1 – and then May 1 — like they were supposed to?   Do they serve a political purpose. Of course they do. The point is to stretch out the misery, stretch out the economic devastation, stretch out the isolation in order to demoralize the population into doing the bidding of our would-be controllers. We have to call this out for what it is. And, hopefully I can offer a morale-booster next time!

Theory: At some level street agitators know how ignorant they are

Ignorance is a prime culprit for a lot of what ails us today. Ignorance is very isolating. It feeds mobs and mob behavior. Can you make sense of the video below in which street agitators in Portland charged through a residential neighborhood at 1:00 in the morning to harass residents with their loud and threatening chanting?

We have the schools and the culture to thank for this insanity. Much of the street theater and violent mob behavior in cities like Portland would not be happening were it not for the cultivation of ignorance in our system of public “education.” Educrats have spoon fed students with grievance studies instead of imparting the knowledge and stability one gets from learning about history, government, and the blessings of liberty. The resulting chaos and ignorance primes kids to be alienated, atomized individuals who seek a sense of belonging in mobs. They’re clueless, no matter the slogans they spew. They’ve been programmed into politically correct conformity and compliance with identity politics.

Why do they — and the Antifa rioters — do what they do? Because they don’t know how to do anything else. They were never taught to think for themselves or understand anything on a deep level. They’ve been trained to behave this way, afflicted with ignorance. At some level they must sense this loss — this intellectual grand theft perpetrated on them by venal educrats. To the extent they suffer from it, we should pity them and try to figure out ways to turn it around, if possible.

Ignorance is extremely isolating. A lack of common knowledge isolates us from a sense of our common humanity. I believe that it is from this sense of isolation that mob members thrash about looking for a sense of purpose which they think they can find in groups like cults and gangs and mobs. I explore this theory in a recent Federalist piece you can read here: https://thefederalist.com/2020/08/10/deep-inside-rioters-are-angry-that-they-never-learned-anything-but-lies/

Here’s an excerpt:

Imagine being trained to “think” only with your emotions. The consequence is unbridled passions and confusion, like that of someone who can’t read but pretends to. The resulting impulse undergirds the perverse toppling of a statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, or the burning and vandalizing of a beloved elk statue in Portland while “protesting” for justice. Could the angst behind such senseless acts amount to the deep frustration of knowing so little about so much?

Weaponization of Loneliness is a Specialty of Cults. Does BLM employ it?

Struggle session - Wikipedia
The photo above reflects what people are afraid of, and why they submit to false narratives. This photo is of a “struggle session” in Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution. The victim is accused of ideological impurity. In today’s BLM parlance, the shaming and social isolation would be for perceived racism. It is not based on reality, but only on identity politics. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In this post I will continue to refer to the item I posted the other day on the suburban mass confession of “white guilt” that took place in Bethesda, Maryland. It was a creepy incident of initiation in which you can see four truths revealed about cults and cult activity. We owe it to ourselves to ask first if the participants are behaving like cult recruits. And then we have to ask if the organization to which they are pledging is behaving like a cult. Below I note four hard similarities.

  1. Cult operations always cover up an appetite for raw power with a cover story that sounds very uncontroversial.  Deception is always cover for a power grab. Is that the case with the organization that calls itself “Black Live Matter?” Well, just go to its website and you’ll soon figure out that hardcore socialism, or Marxism, is its actual, avowed agenda. Ultimately, socialism is about one thing: too much power in the hands of too few people. Marxists in America have made no secret of their determination to undermine the individual rights inherent in the Constitution. So when you see huge agendas on the BLM website that are traditionally communist — like “sustainable transformation” and defunding the police and even its goal of replacing the family with collectivist forms of childrearing — well, its veil gets a lot thinner.
  2. Cult  mechanics always involve psychological manipulation. Coercive thought reform is at work in the Bethesda video. It uses a hypnotic chant, as well as guilt and shaming and the weaponization of loneliness to conjure up the illusion of majority support. The recruits have set themselves up for ostracism by the movement if they dare to re-think anything. There is no respect for the principle of free thought or any exchange of ideas.  The movement is highly manipulative and emotionally coercive.
  3. The recruit is ordered to become a deployable agent for the cult by promising to bring others in to it. When the Bethesdans took their pledge, part of it was “to do everything in my power to educate my community.” That’s a pledge to proselytize. This assignment is essential to cults. It grows the mass/mob and empowers the cult’s totalitarian leaders. It always happens under the guise of something that sounds reasonable. Their behavior also brings to mind one of Saul Alinsky’s callous “Rules for Radicals:” to use people’s goodwill against them.
  4. We see the cultic practice of predatory alienation: forcing people to disavow loved ones. The New York Times recently published an op-ed telling white “allies” of BLM that they must prove their loyalty by texting “relatives and loved ones telling them you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives either through protest or financial contributions.”  This is emotional blackmail, meant to isolate people and meddle in personal relationships. That’s a common pattern in socialism as well.

Margaret Thaler Singer on Cults and How Easily People Obey Them

The other day I posted a video of a “struggle session” – the gathering in Bethesda, Maryland – in which people recited a pledge claiming collective guilt because they were born “white.” As I mentioned, the agitators got a huge number of participants to pledge to submit themselves to a new, totalitarian regime, under the guise of something else. This is how cult indoctrination begins. Cults erase your individual identity and replace it with an assigned collective identity. People succumb largely because they think they’ll be safe from criticism and viewed as “enlightened.” But it’s an old trap.

If you have the time and interest, here’s a video from more than 15 years ago of the late cult expert Margaret Thaler Singer discussing the way cults work, particularly how they use deception and how easy it is to get people to obey.  In those days most people understood cults to be led by one charismatic individual. But once they go global as movements (like communism or even the BLM movement) their leaders are often hidden, organizing behind the scenes. At a certain tipping point, though, a central charismatic figure usually emerges as the leader.

Mass Conformity and the Weaponization of Loneliness

Most people succumb to blind conformity because they are fearful of being socially rejected. And they crave social acceptance. We all know this instinctively. But it’s tragic that we don’t seem to know it consciously. Because social isolation — the threat of it being imposed on us — is actually a primal human terror. And this terror can put some dangerous dynamics into play if we are unaware of its power over our speech and our actions. We then become very susceptible to being manipulated and controlled by bad actors who use the fear against us.

The weaponization of loneliness is probably the most powerful force wielded by tyrants throughout history. And the most commonly used. Consider the video below — of a mass of people participating in a ritual proclaiming their collective guilt:

What you see there (if it has not yet been censored by our tech overlords) is a cult ritual, reminiscent of the Jonestown cult that ended badly in 1978. It also calls to mind the struggle sessions during Communist China’s Cultural Revolution, which were meant to enforce monolithic thought. In the latter case, millions who were tagged as enemies for not submitting — or who were simply perceived to be non-compliant — were exterminated.

We see masses of so-called white people in the affluent Washington, D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland reciting a mass confession of guilt for being “white.” Though it is happening in America, the pattern is clear and recognizable: the weaponization of loneliness in action. The participants are actually pledging to commit themselves – and submit themselves – to a new, totalitarian regime, under the guise of something else. This is how cult indoctrination begins. These people are in the process of rejecting themselves — and others — as individual human beings who have individual responsibilities, experiences, personality traits, thoughts, feelings, and souls. It’s like they’re being absorbed by the Borg’s hive mind. 

They sense their compliance will get them some safety. Being part of the herd probably also gives them a fuzzy feeling of being accepted. Most of all, they hope that submitting to this obvious brainwashing exercise will help them avoid being shunned and turned into social pariahs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Must Read: The Devil’s Pleasure Palace

I have a review of Michael Walsh’s book (now out in paperback) “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West” over at Acton Institute’s Transatlantic blog.  If you haven’t yet read Walsh’s book, it’s a must read for understanding the Left’s war on reality, and how it spawned political correctness and multiculturalism to divide and control us all.  Here’s the link for purchasing the book on Amazon:  The Devil’s Pleasure Palace

My review is here:  Book Review: “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” by Michael Walsh.

We can trace critical theory back about a hundred years, to a group of Marxists in Germany:

The neo-Marxist thinkers who invented critical theory coalesced at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt after World War I. The core idea was to foment radical social change and undermine “repressive” Western culture by advancing roughly the premise that all ideas – except theirs, of course – should be criticized and challenged. The attacks on the institutions that make freedom possible – family, religion, classical education, the arts, free markets, free speech – can be traced to critical theory. Critical theory operates under the guise of “equality” and “social justice,” but suppresses all competing influences.

Walsh’s book is rich with allusions from literature and opera.  The title is based on the Schubert opera “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace,” a metaphor for the nihilism of critical theory which is all built on illusion — and crumbles into nothing when it is confronted head on.

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?


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.

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.