It is going to become increasingly more difficult to discern from fact from fiction, here in this world that seemingly quickly flipped from a world of The Enlightenment to a world of dark disinformation. From AI to vast propaganda machines, from deep fakes to fake lives — it’s going to require more from us to be able to detect what’s real.
Already we can’t rely on old cues, signposts, and tropes anymore. We’re less credulous about credentials, and trust isn’t automatic based on caste, title, or familiar status markers.
Here’s one key to more accurate reality detection: take more time. Don’t judge too quickly, because it can take time to weed out the fakesters and the hucksters — some are decent mimics and can fool people who are in a hurry, not paying much attention, or attracted to some irrelevant other quality about the ersatz knockoff and thus forms an affinity with them based on something else entirely. Some drink the Kool-Aid for various reasons.
Clues of fraud
Those who cling absurdly to abstract symbols are often fakes. And in general, any folks who feel like they are just trying a little bit too hard. Then, of course, there are the full-on zealots and religious nutbags.
Motivated reasoning is a common daily phenomenon for all of us, assuming we’re human and/or interact with other humans. It’s a cognitive science term that refers to a type of emotional bias in which we have a tendency to prefer decisions or justifications based on their personal desirability vs. an unbiased examination of the facts.
Thinking and feeling aren’t anywhere near as “separate” in the brain as is commonly believed — they are very intertwined, and it’s also incredibly difficult for us to understand or detect from moment to moment which parts of our stream of consciousness are “thinking” and which are “feeling.”
What’s worse, we have other biases that exacerbate the motivated reasoning bias — like the “Lake Wobegon Effect” wherein we tend to overestimate our own abilities vs. others. So, we’re overconfident — at the same that we are less rational than we think we are. That can be a volatile combination — especially when found in individuals who hold a lot of power, and make decisions that affect people’s lives.
For we know not what we do
It can be infuriating to deal with people who are using motivated reasoning to make decisions instead of critical thinking: they tend to work backwards from the conclusion they wish to reach, and ignore evidence that contradicts their pre-existing beliefs. The way they deal with the cognitive dissonance of conflicting information is simply to toss the new information out, instead of evaluating it. Generally, though, they are unaware that their brain is in the habit of making that easier choice, and tend to get angry when this is pointed out.
We glibly believed it could never happen here even though we’ve been warned again and again. And in some sense, even though it’s been here all along — hiding in plain sight. It could happen here, and it did, because it’s happened here before. This authoritarianism dictionary collects various “flavors of fascism definitions” and charts the rise of language, ideology, tactics, and historical movements over the modern political period, to arm us with the knowledge we need to understand the tricks of the trade.
For a long time it was convenient to think of authoritarian personality as primarily a European problem, or in any case, a phenomenon that happened elsewhere. We are still waking up (…again) to the scope and depth of the problem, while anti-government groups organize relatively openly and we have yet to see justice for the January 6 attack on our capital. There is much work to be done, and in the meantime we can always continue to educate ourselves about our nation’s history — and the role of slavery, white supremacy, and racism in the shaping of the country and the future class structure of today’s America.
The myth of white innocence is toxic to this understanding. Those who say they “don’t see” race or “don’t want to talk about” race put their white privilege on full display in demanding their right to opt-out of the discussion on race. They’re not interested in having a discussion on race — they’re interested in silencing events like the Tulsa Race Massacre and ensuring we lack the language even to describe the horrors being visited upon human beings by the silencers. The only “discussion” they want to have about the matter is spoken in the words of Smith & Wesson, Chapter AR-15.
White supremacy, in fact, in part inspired Hitler and the Nazis. In turn, the Nazis inspired the original America First movement at the hands of Charles Lindbergh, a notoriously avowed anti-Semite who vociferously opposed America’s involvement in World War II. Lindbergh and the other early movement conservative extremists lost the battle, but the Allies won the war — and — fascism as an ideology was defeated in the popular mind for a goodly while.
But prejudice is a beast that never sleeps — only fitfully slumbers and simmers beneath the surface. It has been rebuilding covertly for years and decades, if it can even be said to have gone away.
I’ll be adding to this authoritarianism dictionary over time, as I can chip away at it and as new words get added to the lexicon. It’s highly encouraging that the American people were able to throw off the would-be dictator Trump, but the Republican party continues to press their seditious aims in his name. They continue to trade on the Confederate ideals long defeated, discredited, and dishonored in this nation. Let’s educate each other on the techniques being used against us by the powerful to limit our frames, and to inhibit our awareness, our choices, and our awareness of our choices.
The hour is late, and we must act with all haste.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
The Amendment that put an end to slavery. It was passed by Congress and ratified by 2/3 of the states in 1865.
The second Constitutional Amendment passed following the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to freed African American former slaves, along with equal civil and legal rights as specified in the Constitution.
Third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments, the Fifteenth gave African Americans the right to vote -- and prohibited any type of voter discrimination on the basis of race.
The woman's Suffrage Amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States.
A notorious internet message board with an unruly culture capable of trolling, pranks, and crimes.
If 4chan wasn't raw and lawless enough for you, you could try the even more right-wing "free speech"-haven 8chan while it still stood (now 8kun). Described by its founder Frederick Bennan as "if 4chan and reddit had a baby," the site is notorious for incubating Gamergate, which morphed into PizzaGate, which morphed into QAnon -- and for generally being a cesspool of humanity's worst stuff.
The rebranded incarnation of 8chan after being booted offline and haggling with its founder, Frederick Brennan.
The safe medical procedure for ending a pregnancy.
A style of political warfare originating in the Soviet Union in the 1920s incorporating spycraft, disinformation, propaganda, sabotage, and destabilization, among other offensive programs targeting the USSR's geopolitical foes including the United States.
Rhetorical fallacy that assumes an opinion shared by the majority is correct -- without consideration of the credentials of the group.
A term coined by sociologist Michael Kimmel, who documents the perceived emasculation of America's white male uneducated class and their reactionary rage against social justice and marginal groups getting the spotlight.
America's "original sin"
A reference to the institution of slavery.
abuse & control
Without morality; without empathy or compassion.
Political movement formed in the 1970s to overturn Roe v. Wade, that has become a major pillar of the Republican Party
The Cold War Red Scare was promulgated by Senator Eugene McCarthy with help from lawyer Roy Cohn -- who later famously weaned Donald Trump in his image. The John Birch Society and movement conservatives seethed about ehe enemies within, as middle America set about booming with the Boomers for an entire generation of widely shared prosperity.
Psychologist Theodor Adorno's term for individuals who resist self-reflection and exhibit the absence of looking inward.
Grover Norquist is a little piggie
Holding someone or something up at gunpoint.
abuse & control
antisocial personality disorder
The killing of a head of state or other important figure for political or ideological reasons, as opposed to murder as a crime of passion.
Pretending a well organized and financed operation is a grassroots groundswell
banality of evil
politically unstable countries whose economies are monocultures controlled by an oligarchy; puppet states
The Big Lie
The original cryptocurrency represents an entirely new form of money; a way to store value digitally usig the blockchain.
Black Lives Matter
Bureau of Land Management
Digital ledger of events and transactions that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
Reference to Twitter's "verified" feature for certain members, who have satisfied the company that they are who they say they are. Originally the feature was meant to identify the official accounts of news sites and reporters, so it has both an association with -- and a legitimate lineage from -- the media industry.
A type of retreat or refuge for those in the survivalist subculture, to be absconded to in case of disaster or apocalypse.
Brooks Brothers Riot
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of schools. Resistance to the ruling took the form of "states' rights" advocates, among much else.
bug-out location (BOL)
Another name for a bolt hole or survivalist refuge location.
Movement to split the state of Californnia into East and West states
capital gains tax
more significant for private equity than for hedge fundsa subset of capital gains taxationWarren Buffett’s famous complaint that he is taxed at a lower rate than his secretary: “It offends our values as a nation when an investment manager making fifty million dollars can pay a lower tax rate on her earned income than a teacher making fifty thousand dollars pays on her income.”
A kind of fusion the people of a nation may claim to feel with the fascist leader.
climate change denialism
A company that protects websites from cyberattacks, it dropped support for 8chan after the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso. The shooter had posted his anti-immigrant manifesto on 8chan before the event, another in a series of eerily similar patterned shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand and a San Diego synagogue.
abuse & control
abuse & control
Critical Race Theory
abuse & control
Networks of opposition within governments who undermine the official regime
abuse & control
abuse & control
Researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual
Drain the Swamp
Campaign slogan of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential contest.
El Paso Walmart shooting
Ideology positing Russia as a geopolitical bulwark of conservatism against a weak-kneed West (part of Alexander Dugin's reformulation of Eurasianism theory)
The removal or copying of data from one server to another without the knowledge of the owner
1949 FCC policy requiring broadcast networks to present controversial issues important to the public in a non-partisan way, that was repealed under Reagan in 1987.
covert operations designed to deceive by appearing as though they are carried out by other entities, groups, or nations than those who actually executed them
fifth world war
non-linear war; the war of all against all
Financial Crimes Enforcement NEtwork (FinCEN)
Department within the Treasury that handles and maiontains FBAR filings from US persons holding in excess of $10,000 in foreign banks.
Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)
Legal statute requiring those persons lobbying on behalf of a foreign government or other entity to register such with the U.S. government.
foreign bank account report (FBAR)
Required disclosure to the US treasury by persons holding in excess of $10,000 in funds in foreign banks.
The Frankfurt School
Conservative evangelical event annually in Las Vegas
Part of the brain associated with empathy, along with the anterior insula
euphemism in far-right Russian discourse to refer to a perceived "Jewish conspiracy" behind the international order of institutions like NATO and the EU
16 to 23 people impaneled to hear evidence from a legal prosecution, and decide if said prosecution has a caseworthy set of evidence to bring charges.
"involuntary celibate" -- a male individual who believes society owes him sex
Dubious theory underpinning the idea of states' rights, which is that individual states have veto power over any laws passed by the federal government
A conspiracy between organized criminals, corrupt government officials, and business leaders to turn the state into a kleptocracy -- or "rule by thieves"
Jim Crow South
Allowed televangelists to funnel tax-free riches into luxury goods and political advocacy
Literally, "rule by thieves" -- a system of government in which the people at the top steal wealth from the nation and its people for themselves and their cronies.
Term for the sprawling political machinery of the Kansas-based billionaire Koch Industries inheritees, Charles and David.
compromising material on a head of state or other important figure; typically used for blackmail purposes
Political and ethical framework based on individual liberty via human rights and equal protection
"Lock her up!"
Lost Cause religion
After the Civil War, the Confederates never accepted defeat. Instead, they wove a noble victim mythology into white southern Christianity, in an attempt to memory hole the terrorism they'd wrought -- and wished to continue practicing without scrutiny or accountability, thank you very much.
A systematic corruption of government by organized crime syndicates.
"Make America Great Again" -- one of Donald Trump's campaign slogans.
abuse & control
abuse & control
The “micro-propaganda machine” (MPM) — an influence network that can tailor people’s opinions, emotional reactions, and create “viral” sharing episodes around what should be serious or contemplative issues
Reportedly a CIA program in the 50s that conducted research into mind control and brainwashing -- its findings were apparently so shocking that the program was shut down and never heard from again.
abuse & control
abuse & control
Hannah Arendt's term, and her most hopefuly theory for the future of humankind -- that it will continually be renewed by the literal birth of new generations of humans to reinterpret the human condition and our existence in the world.
abuse & control
obsession with the new -- a hallmark of American culture
New Jim Crow
military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia and used in the poisoning of former FSB agent turned Putin critic Andrei Skripal and his daughter in Lonson in March, 2018
Oklahoma City bombing
open source intelligence
short form of opposition research
A rhetorical device in which the speaker feigns ignorance of the thing he or she is saying; "Saying / not saying" -- it offers a thin veneer of plausible deniability in a naked attempt to escape accountabilitty for saying exactly that.
Extreme fear to the point of (or beyond) psychological pathology.
Plessy v. Ferguson
Political rule by the rich.
The study of evil
Any structure or facade built expressly for the purpose of making the situation appear more favorable than it really is
Lewis Powell's 1970s memo to the wealthy white male elite, in anger over the crackdown against tobacco companies, as a call to arms to organize politically against "anti-capitalist" forces
abuse & control
previous question rule
A parliamentary rule present in the initial decades of the Senate, borrowed from British law, that allowed the majority proponents of a bill or measure to call an end to debate about the provision with a short warning period of usually about 5 minutes.
abuse & control
abuse & control
"Pick Up Artist" -- a self-styled lothario who helps train other would-be casanovas in his ways of manipulative charm
Pulse Nightclub shooting
When a Twitter user amplifies the tweet of another, by "retweeting" it out to her or his network
Right anterior insular cortex
Part of the brain associated with empathy; psychopaths have a deficit here
Roe v. Wade
running out the clock
Right-wing Death Squads -- an acronym used by Proud Boys and worn as patches by some members and branches
abuse & control
Sandy Hook school shooting
abuse & control
Second Wave Feminism
Data that Facebook collects on people who are not members of Facebook, via association with their friends who are
abuse & control
encrypted messaging app
Social Justice Warriors -- used as a pejorative by the alt-Right
abuse & control
Fake social media accounts used by trolls for deceptive and covert actions, avoiding culpability for abuse, aggression, death threats, doxxing, and other criminal acts against targets.
special interest groups
An email designed to appear as if from a trusted source, to solicit information that allows the sender to gain access to an account or network, or installs malware that later enables the sender to gain access to an account or network
stand your ground
The right to vote, sometimes referred to as "the franchise."
abuse & control
hoaxed reports to emergency services intended to provoke a SWAT team response at the target's home; a form of Internet-based attack used by Gamergate, the alt-Right, and other groups and individuals
Third Wave Feminism
Information put out or leaked to the media to gauge public reaction.
The Turner Diaries
Tulsa Race Massacre
A mob of murderous whites descended on the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, dubbed Black Wall Street, and razed it to the ground. They dropped homemade bombs in the first ever domestic aerial attack on American soil. Over three hundred Blacks were murdered and hastily buried or burned. Police and other state officials were complicit; no one was ever charged for the crimes and insurance companies refused to honor Black business owner's claims from the destruction of their livelihood and senseless slaughter of their friends, families, and community.
Intelligence protocol redacting American identities from transcripts of foreign intercepts
vast right-wing conspiracy
Voting Rights Act
wag the dog
abuse & control
hacker attacks that infect entire websites
Classic debate tactic of old Soviet apologists to deflect criticism of Soviet policy; whenever an American would levy a critique, the response would be, "What about the bad things America does?"
white collar crime
World War I
WWI gave job opportunities to blacks in the North, causing a great migration -- as well as a backlash and resistance from Southern law enforcement.
World War II
Movement to secede from the US entirely, run by Marcus Ruiz Evans, Louis J. Marinelli
The term Christian nationalists brings together a number of radical religious sects seeking to overthrow the democratic republic of the United States and installing a strict theocracy, from dominionists to orthodox Catholics to Evangelicals and many more.
Here are some of the people and groups involved in the modern day movement to establish a Christian theocratic government in America:
Abraham Hamilton III — host of American Family Radio’s “Hamilton Corner” who described the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas as “Satan’s work” that was “immune to legislation.” He went on to claim that the Democrats were “exploiting” the victims by calling for hearings on gun control
Many people around the world were shocked in the aftermath of World War II. How could “polite” society break down so utterly, so swiftly, and so zealously? Why did authoritarian personalities come to dominate human affairs, seemingly out of nowhere? How thin is this veneer of civilization, really?
A braintrust of scholars, public servants, authors, psychologists, and others have been analyzing these questions ever since. Some of the most prominent thinkers on the subject of authoritarianism were either themselves affected by the Nazi regime, or lived through the war in some capacity. Other more recent contributions have built on those original foundations, refining and extending them as more new history continues to unfold with right-wing behavior to observe.
Top research on authoritarian personalities
Theodor Adorno — Forced into exile by the Nazi regime, the German philosopher was a member of the Frankfurt School who tried to make sense of the evils of Hitler’s rule. He developed the F-scale in 1947, a personality test designed to identify authoritarian personalities through a set of signature traits like conventionalism, aggression, superstition, cynicism, stereotypy, projectivity, and preoccupation with sex. His studies on antisemitism and propaganda would lay the groundwork for sociological studies at the Institute for Social Research at Columbia University, the Frankfurt School’s intellectual and literal home in New York City during WWII.
Bob Altemeyer — Canadian psychology professor who built upon Adorno’s work to create the Right-wing Authoritarianism Scale in 1981, the now standard diagnostic tool for identifying authoritarian personalities. Altemeyer’s research on authoritarian followers added new dimensions to the field of study, often focused previously on the psychology and behavior of authoritarian leaders of the day such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. His most recent book, The Authoritarians, compiles the essential insights from his forty years of research on authoritarianism and is available for free at the link above.
Erich Fromm — A German Jewish psychologist and sociologist, Erich Fromm fled the Nazis and worked with the Frankfurt School of exiles on issues of social change, socioeconomics, and a broad range of interdisciplinary studies across the social, political, and economic sciences. His first book, Escape From Freedom (1941), is considered one of the founding tomes of political psychology. In 1964 he coined the term malignant narcissism to describe the depths of ultimate evil he lived through during Hitler’s rise to power, a phrase clinically synonymous with psychopathy — the quintessential cold-blooded killers who show no remorse for their murderous zeal. His concept of group narcissism (1973) extended Freud’s theory of collective narcissism to describe the phenomenon where members of an ingroup hold inflated views of their group that require external validation from others to continuously reaffirm their supremacy.
Hannah Arendt — Born Jewish in Germany in 1906, Hannah Arendt got her doctorate in philosophy in 1929 but was unable to find footing in her academic career due to the sharp rise of hostility towards the Jews. Arendt fled the country in 1933 after Hitler came to power and she was arrested for her “illegal” research into antisemitism. Forced to flee again from her exile in France in 1940, she escaped to New York and became an American citizen in 1950. Her first book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), is considered one of the seminal works on the subject. Among her many other titles, The Human Condition (1958) may be the most influential — it establishes her core philosophy of “natality,” the idea of human affairs naturally renewing itself through the literal process of birth, with new individuals arriving continuously to reinterpret both the present and the past as well as re-imagine the future.
Karen Stenner — An Australian political scientist, Stenner is known for her cross-cultural research findings that show about a third (approximately 33%) of whites in a given population will tend to have authoritarian predispositions. Her work also shows the difference between authoritarian personalities, who have a great distaste for difference and diversity, and conservative mentalities, who have a significant aversion to change. Stenner posits authoritarianism as the result of a low tolerance for ambiguity, complexity, and — as a consequence — sociocultural diversity: “freedom feeds fear which undermines freedom, and democracy is its own undoing” (from her 2005 work The Authoritarian Dynamic).
More foundational thinkers
Czeslaw Milosz — Author of The Captive Mind (1953), the Lithuanian-born poet, writer, and activist grew up in Poland and lived through the German invasion and Soviet occupation there during and after World War II. In the book, he describes the psychological and social effects of living under Communism, with emphasis on the surprising complicity of many members of the Polish intellectual and creative class.
Vaclav Havel — A Czech playwright who became more politically active as a dissident after the Soviet invasion of Warsaw in 1968, Havel wrote The Power of the Powerless (1978) about his experiences living in the lies of a communist regime. He was a political prisoner under the anti-intellectualism of Soviet rule multiple times, once for as long as 4 years.
Viktor Frankl — Holocaust survivor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher who chronicled his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, his observations about his fellow prisoners, the guards, and the psychology of Hitler’s murderous antisemitic regime more broadly. After being liberated from Auschwitz, having lost the rest of his family to the camps, he returned to Vienna to head a hospital neurological department and wrote Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) over the course of only 9 days. He went on to develop logotherapy, a branch of psychotherapy that places the search for life’s meaning at the center of human motivation, and laid the groundwork for the development of positive psychology.
Herbert Marcuse — Another refugee intellectual with the Franklin School, Marcuse worked with the pre-CIA OSS to research and counteract Nazi propaganda.
George Orwell — The British author most synonymous with portraying the evils of totalitarianism through his two classic fiction works Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949). To this day we use the term Orwellian to describe the creeping dread of a dystopian, all-powerful government pumping out lies and thought control.
Robert O. Paxton — Seminal work on the nature of fascism
Timothy Snyder — Yale professor and scholar of autocratic regimes
George Lakoff — Linguist who analyzes political messaging and writes about the strict father vs. nurturing parent Manichaean struggle between conservative/authoritarian and liberal value systems. Lakoff stresses the counterintuitive finding that approximately 98% of our thinking is done unconsciously, and that we are driven by these unconscious thoughts and beliefs to a much larger extent than we are generally aware of.
Alice Miller — Swiss psychologist whose career uncovered that the consequences of child corporal punishment tend to be authoritarian personalities later in life. Her work shows that child abuse perpetuates emotional blindness later in life and a number of vicious cycles in society from generation to generation, from aggression and paranoia to corruption, crime, and violence.
Jerrold Post — One of the foremost researchers on political paranoia and a founder of the field of political psychology, the professor spent 2 decades as a CIA agent prior to teaching and writing about the political behavior of malignant personality types. His last book, Dangerous Charisma: The Political Psychology of Donald Trump and His Followers (2019), was published one year before the 2020 election.
Richard Hofstadter — studies the “paranoid style” in American politics
Or, DADA vs. MAGA. Defense Against the Dark Arts was like the women’s self-defense class of Hogwarts — it taught you how to prepare yourself for the evil that was out there lurking and waiting for you out there. This course of DADA will follow suit, aiming to offer ways to detect, defend, and defeat the cultism rising in America and beyond.
It will be a work in progress over time, so please bear with me as I assemble learnings from a number of sources.
Red Flags: Traits to watch out for
can’t be pinned down
won’t answer straightforward questions
black and white thinking
“my way or the highway”
rigid and inflexible, even when obviously off the mark
all or nothing framing
narrow range of observations
almost anything seems to trigger them
Attention: Take Back Control of Our Minds
The internet, social media, seemingly infinite channels of entertainment and franchises in gaming are but tips of the giant iceberg that now competes for our time and attention. The number of options to choose from has scaled exponentially over the past several decades — but our amount of time to spend has not increased whatsoever. If anything, it’s decreased
proteanism is Robert Jay Lifton’s idea of a model for the self that could serve as an aspirational escape hatch from the clutches of cultism, which is otherwise always happening
cultism (i.e. “losing reality“) is what happens “by default” if effort is not made to form and maintain healthy cultures
cultism is what most individuals devolve to or maintain throughout their lives, if they lack proteanism
I believe professor Lifton is onto something real in this particular interpretation of our Manichaean struggle — in which the political left and the right have self-sorted into separate clusters with wildly disparate interpretations of reality
the cultists are dying (quite literally) for the words of a delusional sociopath who swept them out of power with his spew of thinly veiled white supremacy and gold veneer charm
they want the apocalypse to come
The oil preachers have brainwashed the masses into believing climate change is The Rapture — they want climate change. They think it’s God’s plan.
Cultism as a kind of collective personality disorder
we all get stuck in our own mental loops sometimes. Some people are exclusively stuck in their own mental loops — most are disregarded, but some achieve wide notoriety, wealth, and sometimes political power.
Some nefarious mental predators thrive on getting other people stuck in *their* loops — everyone from garden variety abusers to cult leaders take this general approach to convincing others to abandon their own ways of thinking and spend all their time consumed with thoughts of The Authority’s Philosophy. Some individuals with an authoritarian worldview willingly submit to a strongman and abdicate decision-making to untrustworthy others.
Charismatic leaders have ruled over human groups since the dawn of humanity itself, but only in the past century with the invention of mass media technologies and techniques have demagogues been able to achieve a kind of totalist saturation of the common space and common understanding — giving them an ability to spin the entire agenda in their favor, and in turn, effectively “own reality”
When a leader with a personality disorder achieves power, he draws the other antisocial sleeper cells out of hiding for the coming feast.
The leader installs his cronies into positions of power and corrupts the institutions that are meant to safeguard democracy. Instead of acting as a bulwark against nefarious intent, these agencies begin to look the other way against crimes committed by the leader and his buddies — and later, will directly participate and optimize their contributions.
The enemy at the gates is us
Cultism can be induced very simply, by stressing a population. That’s it — that’s all it takes, for people to turn inward, become suspicious, and react with excessive fear in the face of gnawing uncertainty.
It takes strong character to resist the siren songs of disinformation and spoon-fed flattery
Building strong character is hard work. Much much harder than most people are interested in putting in — or even capable of
Consequently, many people of weak character are easily taken in by con men, grifters, and slick talkers of all stripes.
However, these con artists are very good at one thing: convincing people of weak character that specific enemies are to blame for all their troubles, and getting them to give money or take action against these Satanic Democratic pedophiles who want to ruin the world with their Leftist Apocalypse, instead of ruining the world with the proper Rightist Apocalypse and Rapturing all the evil elites away!
These pawns, peons, and proles will dutifully go looking over hill and dale, under Pelosi’s chair for the violent Antifa socialists who want to take over the government
They want to build a physical border wall to keep out poor, bedraggled refugees while allowing foreign bidders to pay pennies on the dollar to buy political influence through Facebook, Google, and other unregulated new media platforms
It’s McCarthyism turned on its head — but since we’ve already cried wolf once, no one will really believe that Russians pulled off the greatest psyops campaign of all time
seeks expansion of event horizon
radical reduction of the "size of the universe" and human potential
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. They know, either instinctively or through training (or both), that people can be induced into a prolonged state of confusion easily, and that many people in states of confusion act quite irrationally. Abusers, cult leaders, and other controllers use demagoguery and other tricks to hide in plain sight and continue to accrue power while passing themselves off as harmless or extremely patriotic.
These chaos agents use emotional manipulation as a tool of control. They whip followers up into a fear frenzy frequently enough to instill a set of phobia-like instinctual reactions to chosen stimuli. In addition to stoking fears of the enemies at the gates, they also inculcate irrational fears of the consequences of questioning their authority. Any doubts expressed about the leadership or its doctrine are subject to terrifying negative results. Cults use this formula to wield undue influence over followers, and prevent them from questioning or leaving the group.
Phobia indoctrination is a tool of cults
As part of a larger overall program of brainwashing or mind control, cults and destructive organizations use imaginary extremes (going to hell, being possessed by demons, failing miserably at life, race war, Leftist apocalypse, etc.) to shock followers into refusing to examine any evidence whatsoever. A form of unethical hypnosis, phobia indoctrination can now be carried out on a mass scale thanks to the internet and our massive media apparatus.
Sociopaths and other types of emotional predators are taking ample advantage of their advantage in time and distance over the slow pace of justice. The wielding of fear as a cudgel in America politics has reached a fever pitch, with anti-CRT hysteria, anti-vaxxers, anti-government, anti-science, Lost Cause-revival zombie MAGA footsoldiers screeching about the “freedom!!!” they wish the government to provide them for persecuting their enemies, and other social horrors are merely the tip of the climate changing iceberg.
A technique of torture and compliance, brainwashing is used in many contexts to control victims. From personal relationships and marriage to cults, all the way up to the scale of nation-states, removing or reducing independent thinking and action in a person or population gives the brainwasher enormous power and advantage.
The word’s origin is from a Chinese term meaning “forcible indoctrination to induce somebody to give up basic religious, social, or political beliefs and attitudes in favor of a belief system imposed by the brainwasher.” It’s also been referred to as mind control, thought reform, undue influence, or coercive persuasion — and is a form of highly unethical emotional and psychological manipulation.
Brainwashing is essentially a method of inducing a false personality into a target, after breaking them down psychologically. There are many different methods and techniques employed, from disinformation and sleep deprivation to hypnosis to emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The goal of this “thought reform” project is to remove the individual’s agency and train them to follow the orders of the cult or high-demand group.
Seemingly normal, totally “average” people can fall under the sway of brainwashing techniques in use by cults much more easily than one might think. Cults and abusive organizations prey on people at vulnerable times in their lives, when they are most suggestible and least likely to mount an opposition. People who have gone through a loss, or a major life change, or are feeling particularly adrift may be lured by the sway of a deceptive organization. It can be very exhilarating to feel plugged in to an intense community after going through a period of grief or anxiety — almost irresistable, to some.
7 brainwashing tactics
isolation — separating you from family and friends, or any kind of support network who may provide alternative and negative views of the abuser
monopolization of attention — they seek to have the target orient their entire world around the abuser, leaving them little time to think about anything else
weaken your resistance — wearing down your defenses over time, so their messages take firmer hold
give occasional indulgences — providing temporary relief or even pleasure contributes to the overall program of intermittent reinforcement, to induce dependency on the abuser for stimulation of any kind
demonstrates “all-knowingness” — becomes an absurd moral authority on your entire life, presenting the truth about your inner self and past history with more omniscience than you yourself possess. They know you better than you know yourself — and you believe them!
destroy all sources of joy — the brainwasher needs to ensure that they are the sole source of pleasure and pain, for complete operant conditioning control over the target. All other pleasures in life are eradicated or eroded.
degradation and humiliation — if the target gets close to figuring out the truth about the power imbalance and impropriety of the abuser’s behavior, the abuser will immediately begin a scathing shame campaign to punish the temerity of daring to stand meekly on one’s own
Brainwashing in politics and religion
Use of brainwashing by communist officials in China, Korea, and Vietnam gained attention in the U.S. in the mid-20th century. The brainwashing technique is also used by gangs, cults, and organized crime networks to control both members and outgroups.
Perhaps most commonly it is associated with fringe religious groups like the Peoples Temple, Unification Church (or Moonies), Children of God, Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, Aum Shinrikyo, The Manson Family, and thousands of other cults less well known. Sometimes the brainwashing is intended to limit the followers’ access to the outside world, and sometimes it is about grooming them to perform criminal acts from financial crimes to murder to starting a race war.
Many interdisciplinary minds across multiple fields have studied the topic of brainwashing and undue influence, or have contributed significantly to our understanding of behavioral influence. Here are some highly consequential thinkers, researchers, and experiments on the subject:
The vast majority of billionaires in the world got richer during the year of the pandemic — fantastically richer. And they still demand more!
Inequality grows and grows, warping both capitalism and government, and yet still the plutocrats press their advantage further while whining about their invented delusional oppression.
Certainly not all rich people are gigantic assholes, but a depressing many of them are. We can hang onto the good ones while tossing the others out of the Titanic lifeboats where their rugged masculinity can carry them to shore.
There are many things in life you don’t want to rush through; many experiences you wish to linger. The American cult of efficiency is a kind of over-optimization, and over-fitting of a line that delusionally demands up and to the right every single day, every single quarter, every single time.
The benefits of stopping to smell the flowers have been extolled by sages and philosophers throughout the ages. In all of recorded human history lies some form of the mantra, “haste unto death” — for it is true. We rush headlong off the cliff after all the lemmings ahead of us. We can’t help ourselves — eternal moths to eternal flames.
The slow life
From the cuisine to jurisprudence, from behavior economics to psychological well-being, moving more slowly has numerous well-established benefits. Efficiency should never be the only goal, in any domain or at all times. As Madison strongly agreed with, “moderation in all things” is the mathematically optimal way to approach life, justice, and governing. Influenced by the Marquis du Condorcet, the invention of statistics, and a distaste for extremism in all forms, The Founders were prescient regarding the later theory of the wisdom of the crowds. They sought to temper the passions of the crowds via checks and balances in our system of governance.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. That the veracity of the quote remains unsettled is unsettling, like strange fruit swinging in the southern breeze. Yet the “quick justice” barbaric efficiency of slavery, the Confederacy, Jim Crow, superpredators, and mowing down unarmed Black men for traffic violations to name a few, are no examples of fairness. Faster isn’t always better, especially when it comes to justice. It takes time to gather facts, talk to witnesses, piece together the crimes and document them in an airtight way, brokering no doubt in the mind of a single jurist.
More efficiency topics
Areas I’ll be further exploring:
Slow thinking — Daniel Kahneman’s behavioral economics and cognition theory about slow and fast thinking systems in the brain, how they physiologically arose, and their implications for bias, decision making, geopolitics, and more.
Journey vs. Destination — It’s not just about getting to the same restaurant and eating the same thing. The end doesn’t always justify the means. Traveler vs. Tourist. Go with the flow. Roll with it, baby.
An ounce of caution — A stitch of time. He who makes haste makes waste. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Be careful!
Only 7 out of 50 among them are patriots — the rest, cowards and knaves who continue to seek destruction of this republic out of self-interest and an authoritarian’s need to dominate others. Today’s impeachment vote of acquittal for Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection was brutal but of course, not surprising. It highlighted once again something that’s been hiding in plain sight for some time — that the Republican Party is a criminal organization.
Unfortunately the spineless toothless Republican Senators defanged the Constitution today, by casting into doubt its power to achieve healthy checks and balances between the branches of government. They gleefully gave up the role of Congress in moderating the chief executive — to the probable detriment of us all.
As usual, they performed a series of timeline hacks, rhetorical games, and parliamentary tricks that resulting in the “logical” impossibility of ever successfully impeaching a US president. They are masters at avoiding responsibility for their actions, and fiercely protect their own, even despite heinous crimes.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his merry band of “institutionalists” have managed to do more damage to our institutions than any other Republican administration, and that’s truly saying something.
In addition to sowing doubt about our elections, throwing SCOTUS and the courts under the bus despite having packed them with conservative judges and loyalists for years, damaging our sovereignty and our national security, and impugning our reputation with nations around the world, they’ve managed to turn the United States into a kleptocracy. It’s official: the Republican Party is a criminal organization.
Let the DOJ do its work
Even Trump’s own lawyer advocated for it, along with McConnell. Though he can’t be trusted and will surely have tricks up his sleeve, it would be cathartic to see Attorney General Merrick Garland and the much-maligned Department of Justice bring down the largest RICO case in the history of history. I hope that karma brings justice to all of them, regardless of the actual outcome here and now.