Emotion

The concept of a “confirmation loop” in psychology is a critical element to understand in the contexts of media literacy, disinformation, and political ideologies. It operates on the basic human tendency to seek out, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, known as confirmation bias. This bias is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning that affects the decisions and judgments that people make.

Understanding the confirmation loop

A confirmation loop occurs when confirmation bias is reinforced in a cyclical manner, often exacerbated by the selective exposure to information that aligns with one’s existing beliefs. In the digital age, this is particularly prevalent due to the echo chambers created by online social networks and personalized content algorithms.

These technologies tend to present us with information that aligns with our existing views, thus creating a loop where our beliefs are constantly confirmed, and alternative viewpoints are rarely encountered. This can solidify and deepen convictions, making individuals more susceptible to disinformation and conspiracy theories, and less tolerant of opposing viewpoints.

Media literacy and disinformation

Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending. It’s crucial in breaking the confirmation loop as it involves critically evaluating sources of information, their purposes, and their impacts on our thoughts and beliefs.

With the rise of digital media, individuals are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information, making it challenging to distinguish between credible information and disinformation. It is paramount to find your own set of credible sources, and verify the ethics and integrity of new sources you come across.

Disinformation, or false information deliberately spread to deceive people, thrives in an environment where confirmation loops are strong. Individuals trapped in confirmation loops are more likely to accept information that aligns with their preexisting beliefs without scrutinizing its credibility. This makes disinformation a powerful tool in manipulating public opinion, especially in politically charged environments.

Political ideologies

The impact of confirmation loops on political ideologies cannot be overstated. Political beliefs are deeply held and can significantly influence how information is perceived and processed.

When individuals only consume media that aligns with their political beliefs, they’re in a confirmation loop that can reinforce partisan views and deepen divides. This is particularly concerning in democratic societies where informed and diverse opinions are essential for healthy political discourse.

Operation of the confirmation loop

The operation of the confirmation loop can be seen in various everyday situations. For instance, a person might exclusively watch news channels that reflect their political leanings, follow like-minded individuals on social media, and participate in online forums that share their viewpoints.

Algorithms on many platforms like Facebook and Twitter (X) detect these preferences and continue to feed similar content, thus reinforcing the loop. Over time, this can result in a narrowed perspective, where alternative viewpoints are not just ignored but may also be actively discredited or mocked.

Becoming more aware and breaking the loop

Becoming more aware of confirmation loops and working to break them is essential for fostering open-mindedness and reducing susceptibility to disinformation. Here are several strategies to achieve this:

  1. Diversify Information Sources: Actively seek out and engage with credible sources of information that offer differing viewpoints. This can help broaden your perspective and challenge your preconceived notions.
  2. Critical Thinking: Develop critical thinking skills to analyze and question the information you encounter. Look for evidence, check sources, and consider the purpose and potential biases behind the information.
  3. Media Literacy Education: Invest time in learning about media literacy. Understanding how media is created, its various forms, and its impact can help you navigate information more effectively.
  4. Reflect on Biases: Regularly reflect on your own biases and consider how they might be affecting your interpretation of information. Self-awareness is a crucial step in mitigating the impact of confirmation loops.
  5. Engage in Constructive Dialogue: Engage in respectful and constructive dialogues with individuals who hold different viewpoints. This can expose you to new perspectives and reduce the polarization exacerbated by confirmation loops.

The confirmation loop is a powerful psychological phenomenon that plays a significant role in shaping our beliefs and perceptions, especially in the context of media literacy, disinformation, and political ideologies. By understanding how it operates and actively working to mitigate its effects, individuals can become more informed, open-minded, and resilient against disinformation.

The path toward breaking the confirmation loop involves a conscious effort to engage with diverse information sources, practice critical thinking, and foster an environment of open and respectful discourse.

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The concept of ego defenses, also known simply as defense mechanisms, is fundamental in the field of psychology, particularly within the psychoanalytic framework established by Sigmund Freud and further developed by his daughter Anna Freud and other psychoanalysts. These mechanisms are subconscious safeguards that protect individuals from anxiety and the awareness of internal or external dangers or stressors.

Understanding ego defense mechanisms

Ego defenses operate at a psychological level to help manage the conflicts between internal impulses and external reality. They often work by distorting, transforming, or somehow denying reality. While these mechanisms can vary widely in terms of their sophistication and the level of distortion they involve, all serve the primary function of reducing emotional distress.

Some common defense mechanisms include:

  • Denial: Refusing to accept reality because it is too painful or difficult to face.
  • Repression: Unconsciously blocking unacceptable thoughts or desires from consciousness.
  • Projection: Attributing one’s own unacceptable thoughts or feelings to others.
  • Rationalization: Creating a seemingly logical reason for behavior that might otherwise be shameful.
  • Displacement: Redirecting emotions from a ‘dangerous’ object to a ‘safe’ one.
  • Regression: Reverting to behavior characteristic of an earlier stage of development when confronted with stress.

These mechanisms aren’t inherently bad; they can be essential for coping with stress and can be adaptive in many circumstances. However, when overused or used inappropriately, they can lead to unhealthy patterns and psychological distress.

Ego defense mechanisms and disinformation

When it comes to disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist ideologies, ego defenses play a crucial role in how individuals process and react to information that conflicts with their existing beliefs or worldviews. This intersection is particularly apparent in the phenomena of denial, projection, and rationalization.

  1. Denial comes into play when individuals refuse to accept verified facts because these facts are uncomfortable or threatening to their pre-existing views or sense of self. For example, someone might deny the impacts of climate change because acknowledging it would necessitate uncomfortable changes in their lifestyle or worldview.
  2. Projection is evident when individuals attribute malicious intent or undesirable traits to others rather than recognizing them in themselves. In the realm of conspiracy theories, this can manifest as accusing various groups or organizations of conspiring for control, thereby projecting one’s own feelings of vulnerability or distrust.
  3. Rationalization allows individuals to justify belief in disinformation or extremist ideologies by providing reasonable but false explanations for these beliefs. This can often involve elaborate justifications for why certain pieces of disinformation fit into their broader understanding of the world, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

The psychological appeal of extremist ideologies

Extremist ideologies often provide a sense of certainty, control, and identity, all of which are deeply appealing on a psychological level, particularly for individuals feeling disconnected or powerless. These ideologies can effectively reduce psychological discomfort by providing simple, albeit inaccurate, explanations for complex social or personal issues.

How ego defenses facilitate belief in extremist ideologies

Ego defenses facilitate adherence to extremist ideologies by allowing individuals to:

  • Avoid cognitive dissonance: Maintaining a consistent belief system, even if it’s flawed, helps avoid the discomfort of conflicting beliefs.
  • Feel part of a group: Aligning with a group that shares oneโ€™s defensive strategies can reinforce a sense of belonging and identity.
  • Displace emotions: Directing negative emotions towards ‘out-groups’ or perceived enemies rather than dealing with personal issues or societal complexities.

Ego defenses keep false beliefs “sticky”

Ego defenses are not only fundamental to personal psychological functioning but also play a significant role in how people interact with and are influenced by broader societal narratives. Understanding the role of these mechanisms in the context of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist ideologies is crucial for addressing these issues effectively. This understanding helps illuminate why such beliefs are appealing and resistant to change, highlighting the need for approaches that address underlying psychological needs and defenses.

Knowing the power of ego defenses helps explain why we shouldn’t expect people to part with their strongly-held false beliefs based on simple exposure to actual facts or corrective information — there is often something much deeper going on. In fact, confronting a conspiracy theorist or extremist with contradictory facts or information can often lead to a backfire effect, where the individual comes away more strongly committed to their false beliefs than they were before.

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Stochastic terrorism is a term that has emerged in the lexicon of political and social analysis to describe a method of inciting violence indirectly through the use of mass communication. This concept is predicated on the principle that while not everyone in an audience will act on violent rhetoric, a small percentage might.

The term “stochastic” refers to a process that is randomly determined; it implies that the specific outcomes are unpredictable, yet the overall distribution of these outcomes follows a pattern that can be statistically analyzed. In the context of stochastic terrorism, it means that while it is uncertain who will act on incendiary messages and violent political rhetoric, it is almost certain that someone will.

The nature of stochastic terrorism

Stochastic terrorism involves the dissemination of public statements, whether through speeches, social media, or traditional media, that incite violence. The individuals or entities spreading such rhetoric may not directly call for political violence. Instead, they create an atmosphere charged with tension and hostility, suggesting that action must be taken against a perceived threat or enemy. This indirect incitement provides plausible deniability, as those who broadcast the messages can claim they never explicitly advocated for violence.

Prominent stochastic terrorism examples

The following are just a few notable illustrative examples of stochastic terrorism:

  1. The Oklahoma City Bombing (1995): Timothy McVeigh, influenced by extremist anti-government rhetoric, the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff, and the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas, detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people. This act was fueled by ideologies that demonized the federal government, highlighting how extremism and extremist propaganda can inspire individuals to commit acts of terror.
  2. The Oslo and Utรธya Attacks (2011): Anders Behring Breivik, driven by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant beliefs, bombed government buildings in Oslo, Norway, then shot and killed 69 people at a youth camp on the island of Utรธya. Breivik’s manifesto cited many sources that painted Islam and multiculturalism as existential threats to Europe, showing the deadly impact of extremist online echo chambers and the pathology of right-wing ideologies such as Great Replacement Theory.
  3. The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting (2018): Robert Bowers, influenced by white supremacist ideologies and conspiracy theories about migrant caravans, killed 11 worshippers in a synagogue. His actions were preceded by social media posts that echoed hate speech and conspiracy theories rampant in certain online communities, demonstrating the lethal consequences of unmoderated hateful rhetoric.
  4. The El Paso Shooting (2019): Patrick Crusius targeted a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 people, motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric about a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. His manifesto mirrored language used in certain media and political discourse, underscoring the danger of using dehumanizing language against minority groups.
  5. Christchurch Mosque Shootings (2019): Brenton Tarrant live-streamed his attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people, influenced by white supremacist beliefs and online forums that amplified Islamophobic rhetoric. The attacker’s manifesto and online activity were steeped in extremist content, illustrating the role of internet subcultures in radicalizing individuals.

Stochastic terrorism in right-wing politics in the US

In the United States, the concept of stochastic terrorism has become increasingly relevant in analyzing the tactics employed by certain right-wing entities and individuals. While the phenomenon is not exclusive to any single political spectrum, recent years have seen notable instances where right-wing rhetoric has been linked to acts of violence.

The January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol serves as a stark example of stochastic terrorism. The event was preceded by months of unfounded claims of electoral fraud and calls to “stop the steal,” amplified by right-wing media outlets and figures — including then-President Trump who had extraordinary motivation to portray his 2020 election loss as a victory in order to stay in power. This rhetoric created a charged environment, leading some individuals to believe that violent action was a justified response to defend democracy.

The role of media and technology

Right-wing media platforms have played a significant role in amplifying messages that could potentially incite stochastic terrorism. Through the strategic use of incendiary language, disinformation, misinformation, and conspiracy theories, these platforms have the power to reach vast audiences and influence susceptible individuals to commit acts of violence.

The advent of social media has further complicated the landscape, enabling the rapid spread of extremist rhetoric. The decentralized nature of these platforms allows for the creation of echo chambers where inflammatory messages are not only amplified but also go unchallenged, increasing the risk of radicalization.

Challenges and implications

Stochastic terrorism presents significant legal and societal challenges. The indirect nature of incitement complicates efforts to hold individuals accountable for the violence that their rhetoric may inspire. Moreover, the phenomenon raises critical questions about the balance between free speech and the prevention of violence, challenging societies to find ways to protect democratic values while preventing harm.

Moving forward

Addressing stochastic terrorism requires a multifaceted approach. This includes promoting responsible speech among public figures, enhancing critical thinking and media literacy among the public, and developing legal and regulatory frameworks that can effectively address the unique challenges posed by this form of terrorism. Ultimately, combating stochastic terrorism is not just about preventing violence; it’s about preserving the integrity of democratic societies and ensuring that public discourse does not become a catalyst for harm.

Understanding and mitigating the effects of stochastic terrorism is crucial in today’s increasingly polarized world. By recognizing the patterns and mechanisms through which violence is indirectly incited, societies can work towards more cohesive and peaceful discourse, ensuring that democracy is protected from the forces that seek to undermine it through fear and division.

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Microtargeting is a marketing and political strategy that leverages data analytics to deliver customized messages to specific groups within a larger population. This approach has become increasingly prevalent in the realms of digital media and advertising, and its influence on political campaigns has grown significantly.

Understanding microtargeting

Microtargeting begins with the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data about individuals. This data can include demographics (age, gender, income), psychographics (interests, habits, values), and behaviors (purchase history, online activity). By analyzing this data, organizations can identify small, specific groups of people who share common characteristics or interests. The next step involves crafting tailored messages that resonate with these groups, significantly increasing the likelihood of engagement compared to broad, one-size-fits-all communications.

Microtargeting and digital media

Digital media platforms, with their treasure troves of user data, have become the primary arenas for microtargeting. Social media networks, search engines, and websites collect extensive information on user behavior, preferences, and interactions. This data enables advertisers and organizations to identify and segment their audiences with remarkable precision.

Microtargeting, by Midjourney

Digital platforms offer sophisticated tools that allow for the delivery of customized content directly to individuals or narrowly defined groups, ensuring that the message is relevant and appealing to each recipient. The interactive nature of digital media also provides immediate feedback, allowing for the refinement of targeting strategies in real time.

Application in advertising

In the advertising domain, microtargeting has revolutionized how brands connect with consumers. Rather than casting a wide net with generic advertisements, companies can now send personalized messages that speak directly to the needs and desires of their target audience. This approach can improve the effectiveness of advertising campaigns — but comes with a tradeoff in terms of user data privacy.

Microtargeted ads can appear on social media feeds, as search engine results, within mobile apps, or as personalized email campaigns, making them a versatile tool for marketers. Thanks to growing awareness of the data privacy implications — including the passage of regulations including the GDPR, CCPA, DMA and others — users are beginning to have more control over what data is collected about them and how it is used.

Expanding role in political campaigns

The impact of microtargeting reaches its zenith in the realm of political campaigns. Political parties and candidates use microtargeting to understand voter preferences, concerns, and motivations at an unprecedented level of detail. This intelligence allows campaigns to tailor their communications, focusing on issues that resonate with specific voter segments.

For example, a campaign might send messages about environmental policies to voters identified as being concerned about climate change, while emphasizing tax reform to those worried about economic issues. A campaign might target swing voters with characteristics that match their party’s more consistent voting base, hoping to influence their decision to vote for the “right” candidate.

Microtargeting in politics also extends to voter mobilization efforts. Campaigns can identify individuals who are supportive but historically less likely to vote and target them with messages designed to motivate them to get to the polls. Similarly, microtargeting can help in shaping campaign strategies, determining where to hold rallies, whom to engage for endorsements, and what issues to highlight in speeches.

Ethical considerations and challenges

The rise of microtargeting raises significant ethical and moral questions and challenges. Concerns about privacy, data protection, and the potential for manipulation are at the forefront. The use of personal information for targeting purposes has sparked debates on the need for stricter regulation and transparency. In politics, there’s apprehension that microtargeting might deepen societal divisions by enabling campaigns to exploit sensitive issues or disseminate misleading information — or even disinformation — to susceptible groups.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of microtargeting in influencing consumer behavior and voter decisions has led to calls for more responsible use of data analytics. Critics argue for the development of ethical guidelines that balance the benefits of personalized communication with the imperative to protect individual privacy and maintain democratic integrity.

Microtargeting represents a significant evolution in the way organizations communicate with individuals, driven by advances in data analytics and digital technology. Its application across advertising and, more notably, political campaigns, has demonstrated its power to influence behavior and decision-making.

However, as microtargeting continues to evolve, it will be crucial for society to address the ethical and regulatory challenges it presents. Ensuring transparency, protecting privacy, and promoting responsible use will be essential in harnessing the benefits of microtargeting while mitigating its potential risks. As we move forward, the dialogue between technology, ethics, and regulation will shape the future of microtargeting in our increasingly digital world.

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Fundamentalism starves the mind. It reduces and narrows a universe of dazzlingly fascinating complexity available for infinite exploration — and deprives millions of people throughout the ages of the limitless gifts of curiosity.

The faux finality of fundamentalism is a kind of death wish — a closing off of pathways to possibility that are lost to those human minds forever. It’s a closing of the doors of perception and a welding shut of the very openings that give life its deepest meaning.

It is tragic — a truly heartbreaking process of grooming and indoctrination into a poisonous worldview; the trapping of untold minds in airless, sunless rooms of inert stagnation for an eternity. What’s worse — those claustrophobic minds aim to drag others in with them — perhaps to ease the unbearable loneliness of being surrounded only by similitude.

They are threatened by the appearance of others outside the totalist system that entraps them — and cannot countenance the evidence of roiling change that everywhere acts as a foil to their mass-induced delusions of finality. It gnaws at the edges of the certainty that functions to prop them up against a miraculous yet sometimes terrifying world of ultimate unknowability.

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Project 2025 mind map of entities

Project 2025, led by Paul Dans and key conservative figures within The Heritage Foundation, sets forth an ambitious conservative vision aimed at fundamentally transforming the role of the federal government. Leonard Leo, a prominent conservative known for his influence on the U.S. Supreme Court‘s composition, is among the project’s leading fundraisers.

The initiative seeks to undo over a century of progressive reforms, tracing back to the establishment of a federal administrative framework by Woodrow Wilson, through the New Deal by Roosevelt, to Johnson’s Great Society. It proposes a significant reduction in the federal workforce, which stands at about 2.25 million people.

Essential measures include reducing funding for, or even abolishing, key agencies such as the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Departments of Education and Commerce. Additionally, Project 2025 intends to bring semi-independent agencies like the Federal Communications Commission under closer presidential control.

At its heart, Project 2025 aims to secure a durable conservative dominance within the federal government, aligning it closely with the principles of the MAGA movement and ensuring it operates under the direct oversight of the White House. The project is inspired by the “unitary executive theory” of the Constitution, which argues for sweeping presidential authority over the federal administrative apparatus — in direct contradiction with the delicate system of checks and balances architected by the Founders.

The Project 2025 Playbook

To realize their extremist, authoritarian goal, Dans is actively recruiting what he terms “conservative warriors” from legal and government networks, including bar associations and offices of state attorneys general. The aim is to embed these individuals in key legal roles throughout the government, thereby embedding the conservative vision deeply within the federal bureaucracy to shape policy and governance for the foreseeable future.

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The adrenochrome conspiracy theory is a complex and widely debunked claim that has its roots in various strands of mythology, pseudoscience, disinformation, and misinformation. It’s important to approach this topic with a critical thinking perspective, understanding that these claims are not supported by credible evidence or scientific understanding.

Origin and evolution of the adrenochrome theory

The origin of the adrenochrome theory can be traced back to the mid-20th century, but it gained notable prominence in the context of internet culture and conspiracy circles in the 21st century. Initially, adrenochrome was simply a scientific term referring to a chemical compound produced by the oxidation of adrenaline. However, over time, it became entangled in a web of conspiracy theories.

In fiction, the first notable reference to adrenochrome appears in Aldous Huxley’s 1954 work “The Doors of Perception,” where it’s mentioned in passing as a psychotropic substance. Its more infamous portrayal came with Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” where adrenochrome is depicted as a powerful hallucinogen. These fictional representations played a significant role in shaping the later conspiracy narratives around the substance.

The conspiracy theory, explained

The modern adrenochrome conspiracy theory posits that a global elite, often linked to high-profile figures in politics, entertainment, and finance, harvests adrenochrome from human victims, particularly children. According to the theory, this substance is used for its supposed anti-aging properties or as a psychedelic drug.

This theory often intertwines with other conspiracy theories, such as those related to satanic ritual abuse and global cabal elites. It gained significant traction on internet forums and through social media, particularly among groups inclined towards conspiratorial thinking. Adrenochrome theory fundamentally contains antisemitic undertones, given its tight similarity with the ancient blood libel trope — used most famously by the Nazi regime to indoctrinate ordinary Germans into hating the Jews.

Lack of scientific evidence

From a scientific perspective, adrenochrome is a real compound, but its properties are vastly different from what the conspiracy theory claims. It does not have hallucinogenic effects, nor is there any credible evidence to suggest it possesses anti-aging capabilities. The scientific community recognizes adrenochrome as a byproduct of adrenaline oxidation with limited physiological impact on the human body.

Impact and criticism

The adrenochrome conspiracy theory has been widely criticized for its baseless claims and potential to incite violence and harassment. Experts in psychology, sociology, and information science have pointed out the dangers of such unfounded theories, especially in how they can fuel real-world hostility and targeting of individuals or groups.

Furthermore, the theory diverts attention from legitimate issues related to child welfare and exploitation, creating a sensationalist and unfounded narrative that undermines genuine efforts to address these serious problems.

Psychological and social dynamics

Psychologists have explored why people believe in such conspiracy theories. Factors like a desire for understanding in a complex world, a need for control, and a sense of belonging to a group can drive individuals towards these narratives. Social media algorithms and echo chambers further reinforce these beliefs, creating a self-sustaining cycle of misinformation.

Various legal and social actions have been taken to combat the spread of the adrenochrome conspiracy and similar misinformation. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have implemented policies to reduce the spread of conspiracy theories, including adrenochrome-related content. Additionally, educational initiatives aim to improve media literacy and critical thinking skills among the public to better discern fact from fiction.

Ultimately, the adrenochrome conspiracy theory is a baseless narrative that has evolved from obscure references in literature and pseudoscience to a complex web of unfounded claims, intertwined with other conspiracy theories. It lacks any credible scientific support and has been debunked by experts across various fields.

The theory’s prevalence serves as a case study in the dynamics of misinformation and the psychological underpinnings of conspiracy belief systems. Efforts to combat its spread are crucial in maintaining a well-informed and rational public discourse.

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“Source amnesia” is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when an individual can remember information but cannot recall where the information came from. In the context of media and disinformation, source amnesia plays a crucial role in how misinformation spreads and becomes entrenched in people’s beliefs. This overview will delve into the nature of source amnesia, its implications for media consumption, and strategies for addressing it.

Understanding source amnesia

Source amnesia is part of the broader category of memory errors where the content of a memory is dissociated from its source. This dissociation can lead to a situation where individuals accept information as true without remembering or critically evaluating where they learned it. The human brain tends to remember facts or narratives more readily than it does the context or source of those facts, especially if the information aligns with pre-existing beliefs or emotions. This bias can lead to the uncritical acceptance of misinformation if the original source was unreliable but the content is memorable.

Source amnesia in the media landscape

The role of source amnesia in media consumption has become increasingly significant in the digital age. The vast amount of information available online and the speed at which it spreads mean that individuals are often exposed to news, facts, and narratives from myriad sources, many of which might be dubious or outright false. Social media platforms, in particular, exacerbate this problem by presenting information in a context where source credibility is often obscured or secondary to engagement.

Disinformation campaigns deliberately exploit source amnesia. They spread misleading or false information, knowing that once the information is detached from its dubious origins, it is more likely to be believed and shared. This effect is amplified by confirmation bias, where individuals are more likely to remember and agree with information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, regardless of the source’s credibility.

Implications of source amnesia

The implications of source amnesia in the context of media and disinformation are profound. It can lead to the widespread acceptance of false narratives, undermining public discourse and trust in legitimate information sources. Elections, public health initiatives, and social cohesion can be adversely affected when disinformation is accepted as truth due to source amnesia.

The phenomenon also poses challenges for fact-checkers and educators, as debunking misinformation requires not just presenting the facts but also overcoming the emotional resonance and simplicity of the original, misleading narratives.

Addressing source amnesia

Combating source amnesia and its implications for disinformation requires a multi-pronged approach, focusing on education, media literacy, and critical thinking. Here are some strategies:

  1. Media Literacy Education: Teaching people to critically evaluate sources and the context of the information they consume can help mitigate source amnesia. This includes understanding the bias and reliability of different media outlets, recognizing the hallmarks of credible journalism, and checking multiple sources before accepting information as true.
  2. Critical Thinking Skills: Encouraging critical thinking can help individuals question the information they encounter, making them less likely to accept it uncritically. This involves skepticism about information that aligns too neatly with pre-existing beliefs or seems designed to elicit an emotional response.
  3. Source Citing: Encouraging the practice of citing sources in media reports and social media posts can help readers trace the origin of information. This practice can aid in evaluating the credibility of the information and combat the spread of disinformation.
  4. Digital Platforms’ Responsibility: Social media platforms and search engines play a crucial role in addressing source amnesia by improving algorithms to prioritize reliable sources and by providing clear indicators of source credibility. These platforms can also implement features that encourage users to evaluate the source before sharing information.
  5. Public Awareness Campaigns: Governments and NGOs can run public awareness campaigns highlighting the importance of source evaluation. These campaigns can include guidelines for identifying credible sources and the risks of spreading unverified information.

Source amnesia is a significant challenge in the fight against disinformation, making it easy for false narratives to spread unchecked. By understanding this phenomenon and implementing strategies to address it, society can better safeguard against the corrosive effects of misinformation.

It requires a concerted effort from individuals, educators, media outlets, and digital platforms to ensure that the public remains informed and critical in their consumption of information. This collective action can foster a more informed public, resilient against the pitfalls of source amnesia and the spread of disinformation.

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Psychological splitting, also known as black and white thinking, is a defense mechanism used by individuals to cope with their emotional conflicts and to manage their sense of self. It involves dividing the world and people into two distinct categories of good and bad, with little to no room for nuance or complexity. Splitting can be seen as a way to simplify a complex reality, but it can lead to distorted perceptions and negative outcomes in personal relationships and social interactions.

Splitting occurs when a person experiences a strong internal conflict, such as anxiety, guilt, shame, or anger, and attempts to resolve the cognitive dissonance by simplifying their perception of reality. This can involve idealizing certain individuals or situations as “all good” and devaluing or demonizing others as “all bad”. For example, a person who is experiencing difficulty in a romantic relationship may idealize their partner as perfect and loving one day, but then see them as cruel and hurtful the next. This can result in an unstable sense of self and difficulty with emotional regulation.

The roots of splitting can be traced back to childhood experiences and relationships. Children who have experienced inconsistent parenting or have had difficult relationships with their caregivers may learn to split in order to cope with their emotions. For example, a child who experiences frequent punishment or criticism may learn to see themselves as “all bad” while seeing their parent as “all good”. This helps them to preserve a positive view of their parent while avoiding feelings of guilt, anger or shame.

Negative outcomes of splitting

Splitting can lead to several negative outcomes, including impaired social relationships, increased stress, and difficulty with decision-making. In interpersonal relationships, splitting can cause individuals to view others in rigid and unrealistic ways, leading to conflicts and misunderstandings. For example, a person who sees themselves as “all good” may have difficulty acknowledging their own flaws and taking responsibility for their actions, leading to strained relationships. Similarly, a person who sees others as “all bad” may struggle to trust or form positive relationships.

Splitting can also cause distress and anxiety, as individuals may feel overwhelmed by their emotions and struggle to make sense of their experiences. This can result in negative self-talk, where individuals may engage in self-blame or self-criticism, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Additionally, splitting can interfere with decision-making, as individuals may struggle to see the complexity of situations and make well-informed choices.

Treatment for splitting involves helping individuals to develop a higher resolution picture and balanced view of themselves and others. This can involve exploring past experiences and relationships to identify the roots of the splitting pattern and learning new coping strategies for managing emotions. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can be effective in helping individuals to identify and challenge their negative thought patterns and develop more adaptive coping skills. Mindfulness practices and self-compassion can also help individuals to regulate their emotions and increase their sense of self-awareness.

In conclusion, psychological splitting is a defense mechanism used by individuals to cope with emotional conflicts and manage their sense of self. It involves dividing the world and people into two distinct categories of good and bad, and can result in distorted perceptions and negative outcomes in personal relationships and social interactions. Treatment for splitting involves exploring past experiences, developing coping strategies, and learning to view oneself and others in a more balanced and nuanced way. With proper treatment and support, individuals can develop more adaptive coping skills and improve their emotional well-being.

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The backfire effect is a cognitive phenomenon that occurs when individuals are presented with information that contradicts their existing beliefs, leading them not only to reject the challenging information but also to further entrench themselves in their original beliefs.

This effect is counterintuitive, as one might expect that presenting factual information would correct misconceptions. However, due to various psychological mechanisms, the opposite can occur, complicating efforts to counter misinformation, disinformation, and the spread of conspiracy theories.

Origin and mechanism

The term “backfire effect” was popularized by researchers Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, who in 2010 conducted studies demonstrating that corrections to false political information could actually deepen an individual’s commitment to their initial misconception. This effect is thought to stem from a combination of cognitive dissonance (the discomfort experienced when holding two conflicting beliefs) and identity-protective cognition (wherein individuals process information in a way that protects their sense of identity and group belonging).

Relation to media, disinformation, echo chambers, and media bubbles

In the context of media and disinformation, the backfire effect is particularly relevant. The proliferation of digital media platforms has made it easier than ever for individuals to encounter information that contradicts their beliefs — but paradoxically, it has also made it easier for them to insulate themselves in echo chambers and media bubblesโ€”environments where their existing beliefs are constantly reinforced and rarely challenged.

Echo chambers refer to situations where individuals are exposed only to opinions and information that reinforce their existing beliefs, limiting their exposure to diverse perspectives. Media bubbles are similar, often facilitated by algorithms on social media platforms that curate content to match users’ interests and past behaviors, inadvertently reinforcing their existing beliefs and psychological biases.

Disinformation campaigns can exploit these dynamics by deliberately spreading misleading or false information, knowing that it is likely to be uncritically accepted and amplified within certain echo chambers or media bubbles. This can exacerbate the backfire effect, as attempts to correct the misinformation can lead to individuals further entrenching themselves in the false beliefs, especially if those beliefs are tied to their identity or worldview.

How the backfire effect happens

The backfire effect happens through a few key psychological processes:

  1. Cognitive Dissonance: When confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs, individuals experience discomfort. To alleviate this discomfort, they often reject the new information in favor of their pre-existing beliefs.
  2. Confirmation Bias: Individuals tend to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs and disregard information that contradicts them. This tendency towards bias can lead them to misinterpret or dismiss corrective information.
  3. Identity Defense: For many, beliefs are tied to their identity and social groups. Challenging these beliefs can feel like a personal attack, leading individuals to double down on their beliefs as a form of identity defense.

Prevention and mitigation

Preventing the backfire effect and its impact on public discourse and belief systems requires a multifaceted approach:

  1. Promote Media Literacy: Educating the public on how to critically evaluate sources and understand the mechanisms behind the spread of misinformation can empower individuals to think critically and assess the information they encounter.
  2. Encourage Exposure to Diverse Viewpoints: Breaking out of media bubbles and echo chambers by intentionally seeking out and engaging with a variety of perspectives can reduce the likelihood of the backfire effect by making conflicting information less threatening and more normal.
  3. Emphasize Shared Values: Framing challenging information in the context of shared values or goals can make it less threatening to an individual’s identity, reducing the defensive reaction.
  4. Use Fact-Checking and Corrections Carefully: Presenting corrections in a way that is non-confrontational and, when possible, aligns with the individual’s worldview or values can make the correction more acceptable. Visual aids and narratives that resonate with the individual’s experiences or beliefs can also be more effective than plain factual corrections.
  5. Foster Open Dialogue: Encouraging open, respectful conversations about contentious issues can help to humanize opposing viewpoints and reduce the instinctive defensive reactions to conflicting information.

The backfire effect presents a significant challenge in the fight against misinformation and disinformation, particularly in the context of digital media. Understanding the psychological underpinnings of this effect is crucial for developing strategies to promote a more informed and less polarized public discourse. By fostering critical thinking, encouraging exposure to diverse viewpoints, and promoting respectful dialogue, it may be possible to mitigate the impact of the backfire effect and create a healthier information ecosystem.

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In half a decade weโ€™ve gone from Jeb Bush making a serious run for president to Marjorie Taylor Greene running unopposed and winning a House seat in Georgia. QAnon came seemingly out of nowhere, but taps into a much deeper and older series of conspiracy theories that have surfaced, resurfaced, and been remixed throughout time.

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? In an increasingly complex world of information bombarding us as blinding speed and high volume, the cognitive appeal of easy answers and turnkey “community” may be much stronger than ever before.

List of conspiracy theory books

It’s a deep topic so we’d best get started. If you’ve got an urgent issue with a friend or loved one, start here:

Best for deprogramming a friend:

Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect — Mick West

More conspiracy theory books:

Order on bookshop.org and thumb your nose at Amazon

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A Cult Dictionary of Mind Control, and the Language of Abuse

Cultism has a long history here in the United States — but what is a cult, exactly? One could argue the Confederacy was a kind of cult, and the KKK after it. America gave rise to cult leaders Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Sun Myung Moon, among many many others who led cults big and small (Charles Koch, perhaps?! Certainly Donald Trump.).

Christianity itself was considered a cult by some during its humble beginnings after the turn of the millennia and then some. It’s no accident that religious revivalism and many types of faith fervor colored the nation for decades and centuries. It’s the blind worship of a singular ideology or individual, in the case of a cult of personality, that is often the signature trait of both cult leaders and cult followers, who will do anything they’re told — even unto the grave.

A cult leader tripped out byy his loyal followers, by Midjourney

Some might call the patriarchal nuclear family the Original Cult. Many if not most Evangelical sects revere it, among numerous others who believe in God the Father quite literally. Others still seek to exploit that zeal, by offering up a series of “flawed saviors” who dangled the prospect of a more theocratic state governed by Law and Order. Their money buys them much more than just the puppets who rule, and the citizens struggle to pierce the veils of illusion.

Mind control and emotional manipulation

Known by many names, from mind control to brainwashing to undue influence techniques, the use of methods to knowingly manipulate a target’s sense of reality is a devious and unethical way to achieve one’s aims with increased plausible deniability. Having obedient servants do your dirty work, bury your secrets, and protect your property perhaps is an archetypal dream of an America gone by… or current.

From schoolyard bullies and repressive religious upbringing to sexual predators and organized crime, the toolkit is eerily similar — it makes you wonder if they all get pamphlets in the mail from Head Evil, or if they instinctually all arrive at these methods on their own. Their goal is to get inside your head, destabilize you and keep you off balance, and gain some sort of advantage over you both currently and in ensuing negotiations, conflicts, or other events.

A cult leader manipulating his followers with charisma and disinformation. by Midjourney

Today we are seeing it on a large scale in the digital domain, from Facebook radicalization and QAnon to right-wing backchannels and encrypted messaging. We had better get familiar with the lexicon and vocabulary of the coming era, so we can fight the creeping scourge of thought control roiling the land.

TermDefinitionNotes
abuseUsing one's position of authority unfairly and/or deceptively for personal gain.https://doctorparadox.net/tag/emotional-abuse/Includes many forms, from emotional and psychological to financial, physical, narcissistic, and more.
aggressionBehavior intended to harm, injure, or assert dominance over another, either physically or psychologically. It's often characterized by hostility and, in some contexts, can be provoked or unprovoked.https://doctorparadox.net/the-authoritarian-personality-craves-power/
anarchyA political philosophy and social movement that rejects all forms of involuntary, coercive hierarchy and authority, advocating for a society organized without a government or governing body.
anti-governmentAn attitude or stance that opposes or is critical of the existing governmental structure, policies, or officials, often advocating for limited government intervention or reforms to current governance systems.https://foundations.doctorparadox.net/Ideologies/anti-governmentExamples: the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and other militia groups; the Sovereign Citizens Movement
anti-SemitismAntisemitism is a form of discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, or hostility directed against Jewish people with a history dating back thousands of years.https://foundations.doctorparadox.net/Dictionaries/Politics/antisemitismReferred to as "the oldest hate," anti-Semitism is also inherently anti-feminist, because Jewish societies wereย once matrilineal.
apocalypticismPreoccupation with the imminent end of the world.https://doctorparadox.net/proteanism-vs-cultism-open-closed/see also: millenarianism
ArmageddonThe apocalypse; the End Times; the end of the world as we know it (...and we feel fiiiiiiiine!)https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/authoritarianism/end-times/also a movie with Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, & Ben Affleck -- from back in 1998 when our apocalypsi seemed somehow more quaint
authoritarianA personality type characterized by conventionalism, aggression, anti-intellectualism, superstition, paranoia, cynicism, destructiveness, projectivity, and a profound lack of imagination.https://doctorparadox.net/essential-thinkers-on-authoritarian-personalities/
authorityAuthority refers to the legitimate power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. It is typically associated with individuals or institutions that hold a recognized position within a social, political, or organizational structure.
beliefsBeliefs are more like a kind of stock we own than a calculation we do on the fly. We spend time building them and deriving value from them.They're not simply tools for making good decisions, though, but are treasured in their own right and new information that challenges them is unwelcome. We often try to avoid it, in order to protect our beliefs.https://doctorparadox.net/category/psychology/beliefs/
biasBias is a predisposition or inclination, often unreasoned, that leads to a subjective perspective or judgment in favor of or against a person, group, or thing. It can manifest in various forms, such as racial bias, gender bias, or confirmation bias.https://doctorparadox.net/data-sets/psychological-biases-list/see also: motivated reasoning, bigotry, prejudice, revealed wisdom
bigotryAn unreasonable or irrational attachment to negative stereotypes and prejudices against a particular group, often manifesting in intolerance or hatred towards those of different races, religions, or sexual orientations.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/bigotry-is-bad-thinking/see also: hate crimes, genocide
boundary violationsBoundary violations occur when someone oversteps personal or professional limits, disrupting the expected or agreed-upon boundaries in a relationship or interaction. These can range from minor infractions to serious breaches, like in cases of harassment or abuse.
brainwashingA process of forcibly and systematically altering an individual's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors through psychological pressure, often in a controlled environment, stripping away previous identities and beliefs.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/hybrid-warfare/brainwashing/see also: mind control, thought control, undue influence
briberyBribery involves offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting something of value as a means to influence the actions of an individual in a position of power or authority, typically in a way that is illegal or unethical.
bullyingA form of aggressive behavior where an individual or group repeatedly and intentionally causes harm or discomfort to another person, often involving an imbalance of power.https://doctorparadox.net/mental-self-defense/how-to-deal-with-bullies/
charisma schoolCharisma schools are institutions or training programs that aim to teach individuals how to enhance their personal appeal and persuasive power, often focusing on communication skills, self-confidence, and leadership qualities.Popular in PUA and "men's rights" communities
child abuseAny physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child by an adult, resulting in potential harm or risk to the child's health, survival, dignity, and development.
child bridesYoung girls, typically under the age of 18, who are married off, often in cultures where early marriage is practiced, leading to issues like loss of education, health complications, and abuse.
child pornographyThe creation, distribution, or possession of visual depictions of minors engaged in sexual acts or in sexually explicit poses, which is illegal and considered a severe form of child exploitation.
child traffickingThe illegal practice of procuring or trading children for various forms of exploitation, such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, or illegal adoptions.
cognitive dissonanceCognitive dissonance occurs when an individual experiences mental discomfort or psychological stress due to holding contradictory beliefs, values, or attitudes, often leading to rationalization or attitude change.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/cognitive-dissonance/
con artistA con artist is an individual who deceives others for personal gain, often through manipulation, fraud, or confidence tricks, typically involving financial or emotional exploitation.Synonyms: swindler, scammer, trickster, deceiver, fraudster, charlatan, impostor, grifter, hoaxer, hustler
conditional loveConditional love is an affection or emotional attachment that is dependent on specific conditions being met, contrasting with unconditional love, which is given freely regardless of circumstances.
conspiracy theoriesExplanations for events or situations that invoke a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often politically motivated, when other explanations are more probable. They typically involve the belief that certain events or situations are the result of a secret plot by usually unseen and influential forces. https://doctorparadox.net/why-do-people-believe-conspiracy-theories/
corruptionThe abuse of entrusted power for private gain, often involving practices like bribery, embezzlement, or nepotism, and can occur in both public and private sectors.https://doctorparadox.net/category/politics/corruption/
C-PTSDComplex post-traumatic stress disorder -- a psychological condition occurring after exposure to trauma whether physical, emotional, or otherwise.see also: PTSD
CSAMChild sexual abuse material
cult leadersPeople who wield an alternating current of fear andย "love" -- they swing a blunt instrument because they cannot manage the complexity of human relationships and real love.https://doctorparadox.net/are-all-cult-leaders-narcissists/Many cult leaders are on the narcissism spectrum.
cult of personalityA cult of personality arises when a country's regime โ€“ or, more rarely, an individual โ€“ uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is created specifically for living leaders and not usually maintained after their death.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/american-fascism/cult/
dark moneyPolitical spending by organizations that are not required to disclose their donors. Common in U.S. politics, it allows for significant financial influence while maintaining anonymity, often impacting elections and policy-making.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/authoritarianism/dark-money/
DARVODARVO stands for "Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender." It's a reaction pattern by perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly in cases of sexual misconduct, where they deny the behavior, attack the accuser, and present themselves as the victim.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/what-is-darvo/
deep fakesHighly realistic and convincing digital manipulations of audio or video, often using artificial intelligence to alter or create content where someone appears to say or do something they did not.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/disinformation-dictionary/deep-fakes/
defense mechanismAn unconscious psychological strategy used to protect oneself from anxiety or distress, often by denying, distorting, or repressing reality. Common examples include denial, repression, and rationalization.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/defense-mechanism/
demagogueryA political strategy where a leader appeals to popular desires, prejudices, and emotions rather than using rational argument, often through rhetoric and propaganda, to gain power or manipulate the public.https://doctorparadox.net/people-data/demagogues/
denialismDenialism involves the refusal to accept well-established facts, theories, or evidence, often in the context of historical events, science, or social issues. It's characterized by the rejection of expert consensus and the use of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of legitimate debate.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/american-fascism/denial/
denying plain factsDenying plain facts refers to the outright rejection or dismissal of clear, indisputable evidence or truths. This behavior is often rooted in cognitive biases, ideological beliefs, or a deliberate intention to mislead or deceive.
dissociationPsychological dissociation is a mental process involving a disconnection from one's thoughts, identity, consciousness, or memory. It can occur as a coping mechanism during trauma, leading to a sense of detachment from the self or the external world, like a protective psychological escape from reality or intense stress.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/what-is-dissociation/
dogmaA rigid ideology or belief systemhttps://doctorparadox.net/mental-self-defense/freedom-from-dogma/A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable. -- Carl Sagan
domestic violenceDomestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. It can include physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats.
emotional abuseA form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, such as anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It often involves manipulation, belittling, and controlling behavior.https://doctorparadox.net/tag/emotional-abuse/
emotional blackmailEmotional blackmail is a form of manipulation that uses guilt, fear, and obligation to control someone. It often involves threats and punishments, either directly or implied, to coerce the other person into doing what the manipulator wants.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/emotional-blackmail/
entitlementEntitlement refers to the belief that one inherently deserves privileges or special treatment. It's a mindset in which an individual feels that they are owed something by society, life, or others, often without corresponding responsibility.
extortionExtortion is the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. It's a criminal offense which involves coercing a person or institution to hand over assets, services, or property.
extremismExtremism involves holding extreme political or religious views and often advocating for radical or violent measures to support those views. Extremists often reject or undermine the norms and values of society in pursuit of their ideology.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/extremism/Now that sensible moderate conservatives have sensibly gone elsewhere, all that's left of the GOP is the terrifying extremism.
false memory implantationFalse memory implantation refers to the psychological phenomenon where a person recalls memories that are factually incorrect but believed to be true. These memories can be implanted through suggestion or therapy techniques.
father figuresMen who provide guidance, support, and mentorship to someone, often in the absence of a biological father. They play a significant role in personal development, offering emotional, moral, and practical support.Some people think of "freedom" as "freedom from" -- freedom from having to take responsibility for oneself, because one can take orders from a crusty old white dude who promises protection
financial abuseFinancial abuse involves controlling a person's ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources. Often seen in domestic relationships, the abuser may withhold resources, hide information, or limit the victim's access to money, severely restricting their autonomy.
flying monkeysA term derived from 'The Wizard of Oz', used in psychology to describe people who act on behalf of a narcissist to a third party, usually for an abusive purpose. They may spread lies, gossip, and carry out abuse by proxy.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/flying-monkeys/
front groupsPublic-facing groups with innocuous and virtual-sounding names that exist only to recruit new members into the next circle of the organization, where the process of wearing down the independence of the target begins.
fundamentalismA strict adherence to specific theological doctrines typically in a reaction against modernist theories, leading to a literal interpretation and strict adherence to basic principles of a religion or a religious branch.https://doctorparadox.net/diptychs/the-artist-vs-the-fundamentalist/
gaslightingGaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem.https://doctorparadox.net/mental-self-defense/gaslighting/
God complexA God complex is an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility. A person with a God complex may refuse to admit the possibility of their error or failure, even in the face of complex or intractable problems.
grandiosityAn unrealistic sense of superiority, characterized by a sustained view of oneself as better than others that is often expressed as disdain or disregard for others' feelings. It is typically associated with narcissistic behavior, where an individual may exhibit exaggerated self-importance, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/grandiosity/
griftGrift refers to the act of engaging in petty or small-scale swindling or fraud. It usually involves trickery or deception for personal gain, often in a charming or persuasive manner.see also: con artist
groomingThe process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. The grooming process is often very deliberate and involves manipulating the victimโ€™s trust and isolating them.see also: child abuse, child trafficking, human trafficking, sex trafficking
groupthinkGroupthink occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints.https://doctorparadox.net/models/bad-models/groupthink/
guiltA cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizesโ€”accurately or notโ€”that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated a universal moral standard and bear significant responsibility for that violation.
guruA spiritual teacher, particularly in the Indian religions. In broader use, it's an expert or authority in a particular field, who seeks to guide others based on knowledge or wisdom they possess.
high demand groupsOrganizations that often require extreme commitment and loyalty from their members. These groups can be religious, political, or social, and they typically demand a significant amount of time and energy from their members, often at the expense of personal relationships and independence.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/high-demand-groups/
human traffickingHuman trafficking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. It is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights.
hypnosisA trance-like state in which a person has heightened focus and concentration. It is commonly used for therapy to recall memories or modify behaviors, often induced by a hypnotist using verbal repetition and mental images.see also: Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP)
ideologyA set of beliefs, values, and ideals that form the basis of a social, economic, or political philosophy or program. It can be a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things, or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society.https://foundations.doctorparadox.net/Ideologies/%E2%9C%B3%EF%B8%8F+Ideologies+HomeHas it slain coherence?!
influence techniquesInfluence techniques are methods used to try to persuade or influence others' thinking, behavior, or perceptions. These can range from simple persuasion and negotiation tactics to more complex psychological strategies like manipulation and coercion.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/influence-techniques/
intermittent reinforcementThe same psychology behind casinos, intermittent reinforcement rewards the subject according to an irregular payout schedule that does not correspond to any of the actions of the subject. It is cognitively a very "sticky" mechanism -- one that has another common ancestor: addiction.
isolationIsolation is the process or fact of isolating or being isolated, which can be physical, social, or emotional. It involves keeping a person away from others or limiting their access to external sources of information or interaction, often used as a tool for control in various contexts.
Kool-AidThe phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" is a colloquialism that has come to refer to a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination. It originally referred to the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, where followers of Jim Jones drank a cyanide-laced drink as an act of revolutionary suicide.
labor exploitationA situation where workers are not fairly compensated for their work, often involving poor working conditions, low wages, and long hours. It can include violations of labor laws and is often linked to practices like forced labor and child labor.
love bombingA manipulative strategy used by individuals, often in the context of romantic or personal relationships as well as in cults, where excessive affection, attention, and flattery are used to influence or control another person. It is typically characterized by overwhelming displays of attention and affection, often early in the relationship, to gain trust and dependency.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/love-bombing/
magical thinkingThe belief that one's thoughts, words, or actions can influence the course of events in the physical world in a manner not governed by the laws of physics or biology. This type of thinking is often characteristic of childhood development, but in adults, it can be a feature of various psychological conditions or a cultural belief system.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/magical-thinking/
malignant envyA deep-seated resentment and anger towards another personโ€™s possessions, qualities, or luck, often leading to a desire to harm or undermine the envied person. It's a destructive and pathological form of envy.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/authoritarianism/malignant-narcissism/see also: narcissism, NPD, malignant narcissism, Cluster B
manipulationA skill or art of influencing or controlling someone to your advantage, often without their awareness. It involves using tactics like deception, misdirection, psychological tricks, and exploiting weaknesses to gain control or achieve a desired outcome.
mental predatorsPeople who assume they have the right to abuse and manipulate others and use them for their own personal gain -- and behave accordingly.https://doctorparadox.net/tactics-of-emotional-predators/see also: cult leaders, narcissism, sexual predators
mind controlA process in which an individual's thoughts, feelings, or actions are manipulated by another person or group. It often involves techniques that decrease the victim's ability to critically analyze or make independent decisions, leading them to adopt certain behaviors or beliefs.see also: brainwashing, undue influence, mental predation
minimizingMinimizing is a psychological defense mechanism where a person downplays the significance of an event or emotion. It's often a way of reducing the impact of an action or thought that is perceived as threatening or harmful.
misogynyMisogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women. It manifests in various ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, patriarchy, male privilege, belittlement of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification.https://foundations.doctorparadox.net/Dictionaries/Politics/misogyny
mob ruleMob rule refers to control by a mass of people, where decisions are made through the exertion of group dynamics rather than established legal procedures or democratic processes. It often suggests a chaotic, lawless situation controlled by a volatile, aggressive crowd.
moving the goalpostsA logical fallacy in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded. It's a way of changing the criteria of a debate or argument to exclude evidence that may oppose one's stance.
naive realismThe belief that we see reality as it really is โ€“ objective and without bias; that the facts are plain for all to see; that rational people will agree with us; and that those who don't are either uninformed, lazy, irrational, or biased.
narcissismNarcissism is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. It's often centered around a person's inflated self-image and deep need for admiration.https://doctorparadox.net/mental-self-defense/narcissism-and-cluster-b-personality-disorders/
narcissistic rageIntense anger, aggression, or passive-aggression when a narcissist experiences a setback or disappointment, which threatens their sense of superiority and self-esteem. It's often disproportionate to the event that triggered it.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/narcissistic-rage/
narcissistic supplyNarcissistic supply refers to the attention, admiration, emotional energy, or other forms of "supply" that narcissists require and seek. It's a form of psychological dependence on others to fulfill their self-esteem needs.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/npd-narcissistic-personality-disorder/
neggingA manipulative behavior where a person makes a deliberate backhanded compliment or otherwise flirtatious remark to another person to undermine their confidence and increase their need for the manipulator's approval.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/negging/Often used in PUA and "men's rights" groups.
nihilismThe philosophical belief that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not exist naturally, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived.
organized crimeThe mob and mob-like structures
paddlingA type of physical punishment, often delivered to children by strict or fundamentalist parents, in which a paddle is used to psychically strike the child -- often on the backside.see: spanking
paranoiaExtreme constant fear; conviction that others are "out to get you"https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/paranoia/
patriarchyA social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property. It often leads to the marginalization of women within these structures.https://foundations.doctorparadox.net/Dictionaries/Politics/patriarchy
phobia indoctrinationThe process of teaching and ingraining irrational fears or hatreds towards certain groups, concepts, or ideologies. This often involves reinforcing negative stereotypes and fostering discriminatory attitudes.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/american-fascism/phobia-indoctrination/see also: bigotry, prejudice, racism, sexism, hate crimes, genocide
plausible deniabilityA situation where a person can deny knowledge of or responsibility for any damnable actions committed by others in an organizational hierarchy because there is no clear evidence to prove involvement. It is often used in situations where it is beneficial to avoid direct blame or legal liability.
playing the victimA manipulative behavior where a person portrays themselves as a victim of circumstances or the actions of others, typically to gain sympathy, justify their own behavior, or evade responsibility. It often involves exaggeration or fabrication of troubles.
police brutalityThe use of excessive and/or unnecessary force by police officers against civilians. This can include physical violence, verbal attacks, psychological intimidation, and abuse of police powers.a murdery version of the circle jerk
post-truthA political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. It denotes situations where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.post-truth scandals: Trump, Iran-Contra, Benghazi, Whitewater, Hillary's emails
prejudiceA preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. This bias, often negative, is directed towards people, groups, or concepts, and is typically founded on stereotypes.https://foundations.doctorparadox.net/Dictionaries/Politics/prejudicesee also: bigotry, motivated reasoning
"proactive" violenceViolence committed as a deliberate strategy, often preemptive or anticipatory, rather than as a response to an immediate threat. It is used to achieve an agenda or exert control before any actual aggression has occurred.
projectionA psychological defense mechanism wherein individuals attribute their own unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or motives to another person. It is often a way of denying one's own negative traits by ascribing them to the external world.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/projection/
propagandaInformation, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view. It is often characterized by its persuasive intent, aiming to influence the audience's beliefs or actions.https://doctorparadox.net/dictionaries/authoritarianism/propaganda/see also: disinformation, fake news
prophecyA prediction of future events, often based on divine or supernatural revelation. Prophecies are typically found in religious contexts and are seen as authoritative declarations of what will happen.
Prosperity GospelA religious belief among some Christian denominations that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations will increase one's material wealth. It is often criticized for prioritizing material gain over spiritual values.
psychological abuseA form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It includes emotional manipulation, intimidation, and persistent criticism.
psychological apocalypticismThe belief in an impending collapse of society or a cataclysmic event that will lead to drastic changes in the world order, often based on fear and anxiety. This mindset can drive extreme behaviors and ideologies, based on the perception of an imminent existential threat.see also: phobia indoctrination, Armageddon, End Times, paranoia
psychological warfareThe use of propaganda, threats, and other psychological techniques during war or conflict to influence an opponent's state of mind, undermine morale, and manipulate or deceive them. It aims to weaken the enemy's will to fight and resistance, without direct physical confrontation.https://doctorparadox.net/category/politics/psychological-warfare/Employed heavily and optimized for the modern era by the Soviet KGB
psychopathsIndividuals who exhibit a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others. This is often associated with an absence of empathy and remorse, bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/psychopaths/
PTSDPost-traumatic stress disorder -- a psychological condition occurring after exposure to trauma whether physical, emotional, or otherwise.
purityA concept often associated with an absence of contamination, pollution, or imperfection. In various contexts, it can refer to physical cleanliness, moral or ethical standards, or cultural or religious ideals of innocence and virtue.
racismThe belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. It also refers to prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief in racial superiority.https://doctorparadox.net/category/psychology/racism/
radicalismThe beliefs or actions of individuals, groups, or organizations who advocate for thorough or complete political or social reform. It often involves the desire to transform or replace existing structures with new systems that are fundamentally different.
rapeA type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person's consent. It is a serious crime and a grave violation of the victim's rights and dignity.The second most serious violent crime after murder.
rape cultureA sociological concept describing a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. Practices that contribute to rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.see also: misogyny, patriarchy, bigotry, prejudice, strict father morality
re-educationPeriod of indoctrination when the recruit is taught the ideology of the cult as the One Truth; a process by which individuals are forced to abandon their previous beliefs or ways of thinking, often in a controlled environment, and to adopt new attitudes, often aligning with specific political or ideological agendas
religious abuseThe maltreatment of a person, often a child, in a religious context. This can include psychological manipulation, exploiting religious beliefs to exert control, and sometimes physical or sexual abuse under the guise of religious practice.example: the notorious child sex abuse scandals of the Catholic church, the Mormon church, and the Evangelical church
retconShort for "retroactive continuity," it's a literary device in which new information is introduced to a fictional narrative that alters the interpretation of previous events. It is commonly used in serial storytelling, like comics or television series -- as well as in disinformation campaigns and propaganda.
revealed wisdomKnowledge or understanding considered to be divinely disclosed, often through sacred texts or spiritual experiences. This type of wisdom is often foundational to religious beliefs and practices.
sadismThe tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others. It can also refer more broadly to cruel behavior or attitudes.
scapegoatingThe practice of unfairly blaming an individual or group for problems or negative occurrences, often as a way of distracting attention from the real causes or to satisfy the need to assign blame. It's a common tool in politics and social dynamics.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/scapegoating/
selective exposureThe tendency to favor information or media sources that confirm oneโ€™s beliefs and to avoid information that contradicts them. This behavior often leads to biased decision-making and a polarized understanding of issues.
sexual assaultAny type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. This includes rape, but also encompasses a range of non-consensual sexual activities.
sexual predatorsIndividuals who seek out or engage in sexual activity with another person in a predatory and exploitative manner. They often use manipulative tactics or force to coerce their victims into sexual situations.
shameA painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. Unlike guilt, which is a feeling of distress about one's actions, shame is often related to the self-perception of being seen negatively by others.
social dominanceA socio-political theory which suggests that societies are structured in hierarchical group systems, where one group has dominance over others. This dominance is maintained through a combination of power, social norms, and ideologies.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/social-dominance/
sociopathsPeople with little to no empathy -- they can be very cold and cruel, yet also warm and charming.
sophistryA method of argument that is seemingly plausible but actually fallacious and misleading. It involves using clever but unsound reasoning, often to deceive or persuade others.
spankingA form of physical punishment involving the act of striking the buttocks of another person to cause physical pain, generally with an open hand. It is often used as a disciplinary measure for children.Popular in a number of religious circles, usually fundamentalist sects.
spare the rodA phrase often interpreted as a justification for physical discipline in child-rearing. It suggests that failing to discipline children physically will lead to poor behavior and character development.
Special MissionIn a general sense, this term refers to a specific task or duty assigned to a person or group, often implying that it has a unique, important, or secretive nature. It's commonly used in military, diplomatic, or corporate contexts.
stonewallingA refusal to communicate or cooperate, such as in a conversation or negotiation. This behavior involves shutting down dialogue, often as a power move or to avoid dealing with an issue.
supremacyThe state or condition of being superior to all others in authority, power, or status. It can refer to the dominance of one group, ideology, or social system over others.https://doctorparadox.net/psychology/supremacy/
tax fraudThe illegal practice of deliberately falsifying information on a tax return to avoid paying the full tax obligation. Examples include underreporting income, inflating deductions or expenses, or hiding money in offshore accounts.
televangelistA preacher who uses television broadcasts to spread their religious or moral messages, often appealing for financial support from viewers. Televangelists are typically associated with Christian evangelical movements.
thought reformAlso known as "brainwashing," it's the process of forcibly and systematically changing an individual's beliefs and attitudes, usually in a controlled environment. It often involves the breakdown of the individual's identity and beliefs, followed by the introduction of new beliefs.see also: re-education, influence techniques, undue influence, brainwashing
thought stoppersTechniques or phrases used to halt or disrupt an individualโ€™s critical thinking or analysis. These are often simplistic sayings or mantras designed to end an uncomfortable conversation or silence dissenting thoughts.
tortureUsing physical violence during interrogation or to achieve compliance with a subject or recruit.
totalismA practice or expression of a totalitarian system, which demands complete subservience to an authority or ideology. In a totalist system, individual needs and opinions are often suppressed for the perceived good of the group or the authority's agenda.https://foundations.doctorparadox.net/Dictionaries/Politics/totalitarianism
toxic positivityThe overgeneralization of a positive mindset, dismissing or invalidating genuine emotional experience. It involves the rejection of negative emotions and the insistence that individuals should maintain a positive attitude in all circumstances.
trauma bondingThe development of a strong emotional connection between a victim and an abuser, formed through a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement. It's often seen in abusive relationships and can make it difficult for victims to leave the situation.
undue influenceExcessive pressure or influence exerted by one person over another, which disrupts the victim's ability to make independent decisions. This can occur in various relationships, including legal, financial, and personal contexts.
verbal abusePervasive and chronic denigration of the recruit or target, with the goal of diminishing her self-esteem and building up a dependence on the cult leader.The use of words to cause harm to the person being spoken to. It involves the use of derogatory remarks, criticism, threats, and yelling, with the intent to intimidate, control, or demean the victim.
victim blamingThe tendency to hold the victim of a crime or wrongdoing responsible for the harm that befell them. It involves suggesting that the victim's own actions or behaviors were the cause of their victimization.see also: DARVO; Mudsill Theory
white nationalismWhite nationalists argue for policies that would establish or maintain a white majority in the country, often opposing immigration from non-European countries and advocating for policies that they believe would preserve white culture.https://doctorparadox.net/save-democracy/right-wing-ideologies/white-nationalist-beliefs/
whitewashingTrying to clean up the reputation of someone or something after the fact -- attempts to rehabilitate a famous person following crime, for example.
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A cult is a social group, usually insular, defined by unorthodox beliefs and/or practices. The cult usually shares religious, philosophical, or ideological values and goals. The cult definition of “values” may be greatly outside of mainstream norms.

The term cult is usually taken as a pejorative, for its connotation of excessive devotion to a charismatic leader with a shady past, or blind devotion to questionable practices and unusual precepts. Believers might say they are following a spiritual quest, while their estranged family and friends would say that are being exploited by unscrupulous conmen and con artists.

Cults employ various recruitment techniques to grow membership as well as to cement the new belief system into their minds over time. Brainwashing, phobia indoctrination, and other influence techniques, along with isolation, sleep and food deprivation, emotional blackmail (and actual blackmail) and other tactics help erode the resolve and individuality of recruits until they fully adopt the new way of being the cult leader would prefer for them. Be aware of the cult warning signs, and don’t get sucked in by warm promises from strangers that seem too good to be true.

The destructive cult

There have been hundreds and even thousands of relatively innocuous cults throughout human history, but the most famous by far are the destructive cults. A cult of this type involves members physically harming or killing themselves, other members of the group, or other people.

A subset of the destructive cult, a Doomsday cult commits violence inwardly or outwardly due to adoption of an apocalyptic or millenarian belief system whose rules require anything from murder to mass suicide. These groups foretell disaster and catastrophe preceding a massive transformation, or potentially the destruction of the entire world. In the case of millenarian conspiracy theories, their cataclysmic predictions include a period of utopia following the upheaval.

Destructive cults are almost always run by cult leaders who are narcissists. They lack empathy for people, and do not care if they harm them — especially if they get something they want in the process.

A religious cult leader preaching to his followers with a projection of a god in the distance, by Midjourney

Millenarianism

Common themes among millenarian beliefs include claims that contemporary society and its leaders are corrupt, and will soon be destroyed by a more powerful force. The inherent evil of the status quo cannot be purged without this dramatic upheaval of society.

Within millenarianism there are finer groups still, including the easily linguistically confused Millennialism. Millennial movements are a type of Christian millenarianism in which the period of utopia following the apocalypse is expect to last 1000 years.

The Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler believed in a Millenial ideology, and that the Third Reich would rule for the next 1000 years after conquering the globe. Luckily, they were dead wrong.

Why do people join cults?

Cults often attract individuals through a gradual and subtle process, making it difficult for someone to realize they’re being drawn into a potentially harmful environment.

Initially, cults often present themselves in an appealing manner, targeting individuals during vulnerable times in their lives, such as after a personal loss, during a period of life transition, or when someone feels isolated or dissatisfied with their current life situation. They offer a sense of belonging, understanding, and purpose that might be missing from the individual’s life.

This sense of community and shared purpose is a powerful draw. Cults frequently use tactics like love bombing, where new recruits are showered with attention and praise, to create an instant connection and sense of belonging. They may also exploit personal crises, offering support and solutions that seem tailor-made for the individual’s problems.

Once involved, individuals may not recognize the incremental shifts in behavior and belief that are often demanded by the group. This process, known as indoctrination or brainwashing, can involve controlling aspects of a person’s life such as their relationships, information access, and even daily habits. Cults often encourage or enforce a separation from previous social support networks, making it harder for members to maintain perspective. Critical thinking is discouraged, and questioning or dissent is often met with punitive measures, reinforcing a cycle of compliance and dependence on the group.

Cult leader preaching to his flock in the garden, by Midjourney

How do people leave cults? (…or do they?!)

Exiting a cult is challenging, as it often requires individuals to recognize the manipulative and controlling nature of the organization, which can be a significant psychological hurdle. The process usually involves reconnecting with family and friends outside the cult, seeking support from former members, or getting help from professionals experienced in dealing with cults.

Recovery often involves deprogramming, counseling, and rebuilding one’s independence and critical thinking skills. Support networks play a crucial role in providing the emotional support and resources needed to rebuild a life outside of the cult’s influence.

Famous cults in history

  • The Peoples Temple — Jim Jones and the Jonestown mass suicide
  • The Manson Family
  • The Unification Church (aka The Moonies)
  • The LaRouche Movement
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Sullivanians
  • Branch Davidians — aka the cult made infamous by the Waco Siege in 1993
  • Children of God — committed mass suicide during the approach of the Hale-Bopp comet
  • Heaven’s Gate Cult
  • Al-Qaida
  • Aum Shinrikyo
  • ISIL
  • Dominionists — a religious cult here in the U.S. that believes the nation must “get back” to a delusionally invented time when America was a Christian nation
  • Nxivm

More about cults:

Cult Warning Signs: How to recognize cultish groups โ†—

Recognizing cult warning signs can be vital in identifying and understanding the risk before getting involved with a group who may not have your best interests in mind.

A Cult Dictionary of Mind Control, and the Language of Abuse โ†—

One could argue the Confederacy was a kind of cult, and the KKK after it. America gave rise to cult leaders Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Sun Myung Moon, among many many others who led cults big and small (Charles Koch, perhaps?! Certainly Donald Trump.).

Phobia indoctrination โ†—

Phobia indoctrination is one of the principle ways a charismatic leader will lull potential followers into his thrall, by putting them into a state of perpetual fear and anxiety.

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High demand groups and cults are terms often used interchangeably, but they do have nuanced differences. Both are social organizations that exert a high level of control over their members, but the degree and nature of that control can vary.

High-Demand Groups vs. Cults

High-Demand Groups

These are organizations that require a significant commitment of time, resources, or emotional investment from their members. They can be religious, political, or even corporate in nature.

The key characteristic is the level of demand they place on members, which can sometimes be excessive but not necessarily harmful. One thing to watch for is if the commitment seems to steadily (or even quickly) increase over time — that’s a definite red flag.

Cults

A cult is a more extreme form of a high-demand group. Cults often have charismatic leaders who claim exclusive knowledge or power. They employ manipulative tactics to control members, isolating them from friends and family, and exploiting them emotionally, financially, or physically.

Often these cult leaders are narcissists, sociopaths, or even psychopaths. They feel no empathy and no shame, and get a cheap thrill from deceiving and manipulating others for their personal benefit.

A cult leader of a high demand group mesmerizing his look-alike followers, by Midjourney

The Relationship Between the Two

All cults are high-demand groups, but not all high-demand groups are cults. The line between the two can be blurry. A high-demand group becomes a cult when it starts to harm its members through manipulation, exploitation, or abuse.

Both cults and high demand groups often feature narcissists at all ranks, but especially in the leadership. Look for signs and behaviors like projection, emotional blackmail, black and white thinking, magical thinking, and word salad.

Recognizing high-demand groups and cults

  1. Charismatic Leadership: A single, charismatic leader who is the ultimate authority is a red flag.
  2. Isolation: Efforts to cut you off from friends and family should be taken as a warning sign.
  3. High Time Commitment: If the group demands an inordinate amount of your time, be cautious.
  4. Financial Exploitation: Be wary if you’re asked for large sums of money or to give up your financial independence.
  5. Exclusive Beliefs: Claims that the group has exclusive access to truth, salvation, or power are concerning.
  6. Fear and Guilt: Manipulation through fear, guilt, or threats is a classic control tactic.
  7. Lack of Transparency: If the group is secretive about its activities, goals, or finances, that’s a red flag.

How to avoid them

  1. Research: Always do your homework before joining any group. Look for testimonials or reports from ex-members.
  2. Consult Trusted Sources: Talk to friends, family, or professionals about the group.
  3. Take Your Time: Don’t rush into commitment. High-demand groups often pressure new recruits to make quick decisions in order to get you on the back foot.
  4. Set Boundaries: Make it clear what you are and are not willing to do.
  5. Trust Your Instincts: If something feels off, it probably is. Your gut knows!
Schlocky cult leader of a high-demand group, looking like a fake guru

High-demand groups and cults can have a profound impact on individual lives, often in detrimental ways. While high-demand groups may offer a sense of community and purpose, they can cross into harmful territory when they become exploitative or abusive, turning into cults. Recognizing the signs and knowing how to avoid them is crucial for safeguarding your emotional and financial well-being.

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Climate Change Denial: From Big Tobacco Tactics to Today’s Global Challenge

In the complex narrative of global climate change, one pervasive thread is the phenomenon of climate change denial. This denial isn’t just a refusal to accept the scientific findings around climate change; it is a systematic effort to discredit and cast doubt on environmental realities and the need for urgent action.

Remarkably, the roots of this denial can be traced back to the strategies used by the tobacco industry in the mid-20th century to obfuscate the link between smoking and lung cancer. This companies conspired to create a disinformation campaign against the growing scientific consensus on the manmade nature of climate change, to cast doubt about the link between the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural ecosystems — and they succeeded, for over half a century, beginning in 1953.

climate change and its denial, by Midjourney

Origins in big tobacco’s playbook

The origins of climate change denial lie in a well-oiled, public relations machine initially designed by the tobacco industry. When scientific studies began linking smoking to lung cancer in the 1950s, tobacco companies launched an extensive campaign to challenge these findings. Their strategy was not to disprove the science outright but to sow seeds of doubt, suggesting that the research was not conclusive and that more studies were needed. This strategy of manufacturing doubt proved effective in delaying regulatory and public action against tobacco products, for more than 5 decades.

Adoption by climate change deniers

This playbook was later adopted by those seeking to undermine climate science. In the late 20th century, as scientific consensus grew around the human impact on global warming, industries and political groups with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo began to employ similar tactics around lying at scale. They funded research to challenge or undermine climate science, supported think tanks and lobbyists to influence public opinion and policy, and used media outlets to spread a narrative of uncertainty and skepticism.

Political consequences

The political consequences of climate change denial have been profound. In the United States and other countries, it has polarized the political debate over environmental policy, turning what is fundamentally a scientific issue into a partisan one. This politicization has hindered comprehensive national and global policies to combat climate change, as legislative efforts are often stalled by ideological conflicts.

a burning forest of climate change, by Midjourney

Denial campaigns have also influenced public opinion, creating a significant segment of the population that is skeptical of climate science years after overwhelming scientific consensus has been reached, which further complicates efforts to implement wide-ranging environmental reforms.

Current stakes and global impact

Today, the stakes of climate change denial could not be higher. As the world faces increasingly severe consequences of global warming โ€” including extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and disruptions to ecosystems โ€” the need for decisive action becomes more urgent. Yet, climate change denial continues to impede progress. By casting doubt on scientific consensus, it hampers efforts to build the broad public support necessary for bold environmental policies that may help thwart or mitigate some of the worst disasters.

Moreover, climate change denial poses a significant risk to developing countries, which are often the most vulnerable to climate impacts but the least equipped to adapt. Denialism in wealthier nations can lead to a lack of global cooperation and support needed to address these challenges comprehensively.

Moving forward: acknowledging the science and embracing action

To effectively combat climate change, it is crucial to recognize the roots and ramifications of climate change denial. Understanding its origins in the Big Tobacco disinformation strategy helps demystify the tactics used to undermine environmental science. It’s equally important to acknowledge the role of political and economic interests in perpetuating this denial — oil tycoon Charles Koch alone spends almost $1 billion per election cycle, heavily to climate deniers.

A climate change desert, by Midjourney

However, there is a growing global movement acknowledging the reality of climate change and the need for urgent action. From international agreements like the Paris Accord to grassroots activism pushing for change, there is a mounting push against the tide of denial.

Climate change denial, with its roots in the Big Tobacco playbook, poses a significant obstacle to global efforts to address environmental challenges. Its political ramifications have stalled critical policy initiatives, and its ongoing impact threatens global cooperation. As we face the increasing urgency of climate change, acknowledging and countering this denial is crucial for paving the way towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

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