Collective narcissism is a bad solution to modern anxiety

I’ve been reading Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and it’s synthesizing a few things together for me in new ways — prime among them the realization that collective narcissism is the shared root ideology of both Christian nationalism and Nazism. First off, I’d recommend it:

Next, I’d like to thank it for reminding me about the insidious dangers of Calvinism and the Protestant Work Ethic, as described in sociologist Max Weber‘s most cited work in the history of the field. Beyond the problematic authoritarianism of John Calvin as a person himself, the ideology of predestination coupled with a paradoxical obsessive compulsion with working yourself ragged is a noxious brew that fed the Protestant extrusion of American capitalism as well as the murderous violence of its Manifest Destiny.

Reformation Ideologies

Calvin — like Luther before him — was reacting to the social and economic upheavals of his day which, during the Reformation, were all about the middle class emerging from the security and certainty of feudalism into a far more dynamic world of competition, isolation, and aloneness. It held promise but also peril — hope along with, inescapably, fear.

During the Middle Ages, humankind had retreated from the aspirational virtuousness of the Greek and Roman civilizations and descended into almost 1000 years of darkness, as compared to the dazzling intellectual brilliance of the millennium before it. Those who would prefer cultish cowering in self-righteous ignorance over the humility of fallible science and critical thinking managed to topple a glittering civilization and scatter it to the wolves. It was a return to cruel and arbitrary happenstance, a horrifying Hobbesian world of pestilence and pathology.

And yet, it held a certain Stockholm Syndrome quality for the serfs and apprentices and artisans who did not have to struggle to find gainful employment or a ready-made place in the social milieu. If nothing else, a complete inability to ever fundamentally alter one’s station in life provided a kind of grim certainty, of a hum-drum life there for the taking if one only wished to fall into it — perhaps pockmarked by the occasional inexplicable trauma.

When Luther nailed those 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg churches in 1517, no one understood at the time that he would change the world. He merely leveraged the power of the printing press to propagate his idea of antipathy to the Catholic practice of selling indulgences, and in so doing managed to revolutionize both information and religion as well as society and politics.

Luther had advanced the concept of predestination first advocated by St. Augustine, and soon John Calvin would push it further still: “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death” he wrote in 1564. Calvin’s image of a callously inscrutable God torturing His creation by forcing them to run a meaningless gauntlet of life that bore no relation to the status of their salvation snuffed out the idea of a compassionate, loving creator altogether. As Max Weber would later say, Calvin had eliminated magic from the world.

Collective narcissism as soothing salve

After destroying any possibility of good vibes for humanity as Luther had before him, Calvin needed a way to quell the resulting anxiety and sense of depression at the thought of man’s utter hopelessness. If his theology were true, then all of life feels like a cruel joke played upon the powerless by a sadistic master. If Calvin is right, then nothing you can ever think, say, or do will ever matter to your salvation. So what’s the point?!

To solve the fundamental despair of the uncertainty of never being able to know if you will be saved, Calvin and his followers simply decided to cultivate conviction in themselves as having been Chosen. For no particular reason and without any offered evidence, the Calvinists just decided they deserved to be Chosen and would behave accordingly, to reflect their belief in their highest status. This initial act of collective narcissism sparked centuries of other ego-based groups both in and outside of religious circles.

Feeling better than everyone else is a kind of lying to oneself to take the edge off — a soothing psychological bedtime story that helps you sleep at night, but festers as doubt and hostility compressed into anger, lying just under the surface until it reacts with a catalyst. The ideology of “we’re the best and everyone else is worthless” cannot be sustained in a civil society, particularly a Constitutional republic that requires compromise and forbearance. It is an ideology with conflict and self-loathing at its core — a belief system that is self-evidently suspicious for the lack of peaceful bearing exhibited by its adherents.

Mindlessness is next to Godliness

Calvin differentiated himself from Luther with a stronger emphasis on a required behavioral trait for his followers: mindless unceasing activity. He taught that although human effort cannot change the outcome of one’s salvation, being able to demonstrate that one is capable of making this effort is a sign that one must belong to the elite group of Chosen. If it sounds like this prescription is merely a cheap distraction ploy, then you are in good company with Fromm, who called Calvin’s ideology of workaholism a “desperate escape from anxiety.”

This endlessly frantic activity was required to “outrun” the doubts that would naturally creep in from this spiritual strategy of self-deception and overinflation of one’s worth through the magic of magical thinking. It was clever in a diabolical Machiavellian way and, of course, would be powerful enough to resonate strongly all the way through to the American politics of today, in which we are still grappling with arguments over the basic fundament of society: shall we treat all men equally, or not?

It certainly resonated with Max Weber, widely known as the Prometheus of sociology, whose idea of the Protestant work ethic analyzed how Calvin’s deeply influential theology sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and extruded itself into American capitalism over the next ~500 years. The idea of the rat race comes from a Weberian root — it is the quintessence of that feeling of being in the capricious gauntlet whose terminus is unknowable to you and thus inspirational of much internal turmoil. It’s that nagging, creeping sense that the harder you struggle, the faster you’re getting fixed in the ointment.

Humanity needs hope

Calvin’s worldview of humankind as weak, wicked, and utterly unsalvageable except for the random grace of a sociopathic all-powerful being is a pessimistic one, to say the least. His ideology seems truly to turn the miracle of Jesus’ birth on its head, wiping away the compassionate messages of love, brotherhood, and peace. Calvinism seems to fixate on the very worst of the human spirit, thus deepening the emerging modern angst felt during the Reformation and replacing it with a sort of mindless scurrying around by which to forget about the sinking depression gnawing at your core.

These ideas have held sway for so long. They have helped animate the creation of what we think of as “Western civilization,” and certainly of American capitalism, which is largely global capitalism. I believe the pessimistic, dehumanizing ideology of predestined inequality and Christian nationalist supremacy is a poisonous doctrine which must be dethroned. It is long past time to overthrow dogma of all stripes in general — and the Calvinist form of collective narcissism is prime among them. So too the other well-known dehumanizing mythologies, including Nazism, Putinism, Christian nationalism, Evangelicism, white supremacy, misogyny, racism, and all other -isms and forms of bigotry: they are personae non gratae here. They do not belong.

How to detect fake

How to detect fake from real

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.

Go slow and look for mimics

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.

GOP Tactics

We need to know what our opponents are up to. There is much to learn.

Much more to come — stay tuned!

BehaviorTypeDefinition
ad baculumrhetoricalAppeal to violence
ad hominemrhetoricalAttack the person instead of their ideas.
aggressiontacticalIssue threats and/or violate boundaries.
argumentum ad passiones"I feel it (or I feel *strongly* about it), therefore it must be true."
assaulttactical
Assert the opposite of realityrhetoricalSimply state the opposite of what is true
banning bookslegislative
Black & white thinkingcognitiveA pattern of thought characterized by polar extremes, sometimes flip-flopping very rapidly from one extreme view to its opposite. A symptom of many personality disorders.
Blame Democratsrhetorical"I'm not responsible for my bad behaviors: DEMOCRATS ARE!"
bullying
charismaCloying, often superficial or fake charm
charm
closed mindcognitivenot open to an argument from facts
Cognitive dissonancecognitiveHaving an incongruent value system, or believing mutually exclusive things -- as well as behaving without consistent ethical principles; a sense of randomness to one's approach to life.
cognitive distortion
confusion
Consistent inconsistency
conspiracy theories
contempt
counterattack
Creating unnecessary chaosemotionalCreate conflict to get attention and get a chance to get what you want.
Crocodile tearsemotional
DARVOtactical
Deception
Denying plain facts
Diverting attention
emotional abuse
Emotional manipulationemotional
extortion
fears changeweakness
fears differenceweakness
flying monkeys
fraud
frivolous lawsuits
GaslightingCause you to question your own sanity -- very dangerous to do this to people. The effects are long-lasting and difficult to do; it can take many years to heal from this kind of insidious abuse.
grandiosity
grooming
high need for closurePrefers to resolve situations quickly and reduce uncertainty as immediately as possible
hypocrisyConsistently fail to live up to their own stated ideals, and the things they demand of others.
idealize, devalue, discardThe narcissistic abuse cycle
irrational anger
lawsuits
Love to play victim and heroemotionalThey want your emotions oscillating all over the place, because it gives them more opportunities to swoop in and capture you at a vulnerable moment and earn your trust -- so they can violate it.
Lying
Malignant envy
Masters of deceptive and misleading storiesrhetorical
Mind gamesemotional
Motivated ReasoningcognitiveThey start with the premise they want and work from there -- they are bad scientists, but good lawyers.
Moving the goalpoststactical
narcissistic rage
narcissistic supply
One-way streetExpect loyalty from you while offering none in return
oppression
panem et circuses
ParanoiaemotionalNurturing and maintaining enemies
Passive-aggressionemotional
PerjurylegalLying under oath, in court or in a deposition
PhobicemotionalTheir main aspect is fear, from bouts of phobia indoctrination
Play the victimemotional
ProjectioncognitiveAccusing your opponent of doing the thing that you yourself are doing.
repression
retconning
rewriting history
rigidity
sadismemotional
scapegoatingtacticalJust blame Democrats, no matter how absurd
Selective Exposure
self-aggrandizementemotional
secrecyCovert actions; lack of transparency
shameemotional
SplittingcognitiveSee the world as with them or against them (splitting)
stonewalling
stubbornness
supremacyemotional
Take a thing and turn it into its moral oppositeLabel a good thing bad so you can smear it, or a bad thing good so you can support it
tergiversateto evade; speak circularly
threats
tyranny
verbal defensiveness
weasel wordsleveraged ambiguity
whataboutism
whitewashing
Word gamestacticalWords are used primarily as weapons
Word saladcognitive
Communication is difficult or impossiblebehavior
Provoking angerbehavior
Communicate by emotional contagionbehavior
Do not perform emotional workbehavior
Hard to give to; reject efforts to give helpbehavior
Resist repairing relationshipsbehavior
Demand mirroring of their emotionsbehavior
Their self-esteem relies on your compliancebehavior
See roles as sacred and inviolablebehavior
Seek enmeshment, not emotional intimacybehavior
Grandiose sense of self-importancepathological
Believes oneself to be superior and requiring of association with high-status peoplepathological
Exaggerating one's achievements and talentspathological
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudespathological
Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectationspathological
Sense of entitlement; expects others to make unreasonable sacrificespathological
Lacks empathy; unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of otherspathological
Interpsonally exploitative; takes advantage of otherspathological
Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited successpathological
Requires excessive admirationpathological
Envious of others and believes others are enviouspathological

Motivated Reasoning

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.

Examples of motivated reasoning:

  • Bigotry and prejudice
  • Belief that you can “reduce covid cases” by not testing
  • Belief that you can get Republicans elected by refusing to count Democratic votes either outright or via procedural means

Related concepts:

  • Emperor’s New Clothes
  • Potemkin Village
  • tautology
  • foregone conclusion
  • Catch-22
  • ouroborous
  • self-fulfilling prophecy
  • revealed wisdom
  • divine right of rule
  • teleological thinking
  • self-interest bias

Originalism

Originalism is received wisdom by another name.

It is a way of pseudo-argument privileging one narrow type of political view (conservatism) over all others — a view that we must try to divine the “original” intentions of the Founders in our creation and interpretation of the law.

A view that, by the way, the Founders did not share.

Originalism is an excuse framework for denying people the right to self-govern unless approved of by the white aristocratic elite who fancy themselves the Real Americans, over and above everyone else.

It is based on a kind of paternalism over the Founders, whose “perceived shock” at modernity itself would allegedly disallow almost anything the 340 million modern inhabitants of the United States want to do versus what would have been acceptable to the 2.5 million individuals who declared independence almost 250 years ago.

Originalism is a way of allowing conservative judges to play God. It takes the radical ideas of the Enlightenment in our self-governance and twists them back into a form of “received wisdom” delivered by conservative judges’ religious views — in violation of the First Amendment.

Fundamentalist lawyers, judges, and legal operatives often want to drag “original” back even further — to Biblical law. In both cases, the power grab lies in religious nationalists inserting themselves into the picture as the only interpreters of “God’s will” or “the textualist view” (how convenient!), in which they believe the founding documents were theocratic when they clearly were the opposite of that — the Founders talked about it a lot! And many of them were Deists, famously so.

TL;DR: Originalism is bunk.

Repression causes authoritarianism

Research has shown that emotional repression is causative of authoritarianism (Altemeyer, Adorno, Stenner et al). Fundamentalist religious groups favor the most repression, culturally — ergo, fundamentalist groups are at the highest risk for nurturing authoritarian traits.

Emotional repression is the keystone of fundamentalist parenting. The strict application of “Biblical law” as cherry-picked by extremists is inherently contradictory & hypocritical, stunting emotional and psychological growth through corporal punishment and capricious applications of anger for sometimes opaque reasons.

When trusted caregivers apply physical violence to a developing mind, seeds of deep distrust and paranoia are planted. Children learn to “obey” by repressing negative parts of themselves so deeply they fall out of conscious awareness altogether & rule the personality “from below.”

The abused child learns “splitting” as a psychological defense mechanism, which later in adulthood is considered a “superpower” — they present a saccharine but False Self in their outer aspect to the tribe, and sequester negative id impulses deep down into an “inner sociopath.”

Repression creates divided minds

Never being given the required emotional support to transcend the paradoxical human project of reconciling the positive & negative aspects inherent in all people, they become “arrested” at a moment of obsession with punishment as the only solution to every problem. They see the world in very black and white terms — the classic “you’re either with us or against us” zero-sum worldview in which everybody who doesn’t agree with you must be delegitimized and eradicated completely.

To borrow from an apt phrase of common wisdom: all they have is a hammer. Or even more pointedly, all they ARE is a hammer: a paranoid, psychologically dissociated fragile shell of a self — easily set off by observations of non-familiar things & behaviors in their environment.

To again paraphrase Bob Altemeyer’s research on authoritarians: they are like little bubbling volcanos walking around ready to blow at the slightest inconvenience. They are fundamentally creatures of war walking around in search of excuses to unleash the deep primal pains inside.

The political organization of authoritarian footsoldiers

The right-wing political technology machine targets these groups of “pre-made” authoritarians both directly (CNP, ALEC) & indirectly (ML/AI).

The largest bloc of fundamentalist political strength in America are the Evangelicals (~75 million), w/Southern Baptists still the majority within that group. Ironically Baptists were the sect that first DEMANDED the separation of church & state: having been persecuted in Europe.

Now it’s the Baptists slavering & champing at the bit to install their version of theocracy as a replacement for secular government — demanding the right to wield religious persecution against others. Full circle.

Confederates too are running a “payback” program for Civil War.

The global rise of authoritarianism

On the other side of the globe, Putin is running a revanchist playbook to rebuild the Russian empire — reflecting psychological arrested development since 1989/91. Meanwhile, the ousted demagogue Trump praises Viktor Orban, in a way eerily similar to William Randolph Hearst’s transatlantic flirtation with Hitler in the 1930s.

What if history is just the long cyclical looping of revenge grudges on the part of groups who can’t get over it?

What if our failure to advance emotionally and developmentally beyond the adolescent stage is our undoing?

Christian Nationalists

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:

  • 700 Club
  • Howard Ahmanson Jr.
  • Awake 88
  • Alexander Acosta
  • Alex Azar
  • Alliance Defending Freedom
  • American College of Pediatricians
  • American Enterprise Institute
  • American Family Association
  • American Family Radio Network
  • American Heritage Girls
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • Americans of Faith
  • America Wake Up
  • Robert Arnakis
  • Arlington Group
  • Edward Atsinger III
  • Marcus Bachmann
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Jim Bakker
  • Steven Bannon
  • Baptist Press
  • George Barna
  • David Barton
  • Gary Bauer
  • Glenn Beck
  • David Benham
  • Jason Benham
  • Philip “Flip” Benham
  • Robert J. Billings
  • Dr. Henry Blackaby
  • Sen Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
  • Morton Blackwell
  • Bob Jones University
  • Bolthouse Foundation
  • Dick Bott
  • Bott Radio Network
  • Lt. Gen. William Boykin (ret.)
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
  • Bob Branch
  • Lincoln Brewster
  • Jim Bridenstine
  • Harold O. J. Brown
  • Brown v. Board of Education
  • Pat Buchanan
  • Building a Nation
  • Jonathan Cain
  • Capitol Ministries
  • Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation
  • Ben Carson
  • CBN University
  • A Choice Not an Echo
  • Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)
  • Christian Coalition
  • Christian homeschooling movement
  • Christian Satellite Network
  • J. C. Church
  • Church United
  • Church Voter Lookup
  • Tom Coburn
  • Mary Colbert
  • Concerned Women for America
  • Conscience and Religious Freedom Division
  • Conservative Caucus
  • Kellyanne Conway
  • Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation
  • Council for National Policy
  • Culture Impact Teams (CITs)
  • Jan Crouch
  • Paul Crouch
  • Ted Cruz
  • Dr. Kenyn M. Cureton
  • Robert Lewis Dabney
  • The Daily Signal
  • Marjorie Dannenfelser
  • Jeff Denham
  • Betsy DeVos
  • Richard DeVos
  • Richard DeVos, Sr.
  • James Dobson
  • Mark Drever
  • Karen Rudolph Drollinger
  • Ralph Drollinger
  • Dinesh D’Souza
  • Alan P. Dye
  • Eagle Forum
  • Stuart Epperson
  • Equal Rights Amendment
  • Frank Erb
  • Tony Evans
  • Jerry Falwell
  • Faith & Freedom Coalition
  • The Family
  • Family Christian Academy (FCA)
  • Family Life Radio
  • Family Policy Alliance
  • Family Policy Councils
  • Family Research Council (FRC)
  • Family Worship Center
  • Fellowship Foundation
  • Reverend Wilber Fisk
  • Tami Fitzgerald
  • Florida Family Action
  • Florida Family Action PAC
  • Florida Family Policy Council
  • Focus on the Family
  • Foster Friess
  • Free Congress Foundation
  • Lynn Friess
  • Jim Garlow
  • Rosemary Schindler Garlow
  • W. Barry Garrett
  • Godspeak Calvary Chapel
  • Barry Goldwater
  • Peggy Goldwater
  • Grace Community Church, Sun Valley
  • Billy Graham
  • The Green family
  • Ken Ham
  • 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
  • Mark Harris
  • Kristan Hawkins
  • Carl F. H. Henry
  • Heritage Academy
  • Heritage Action
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Eric Heubeck
  • Rob Hilarides
  • The Hillsdale Collegian
  • Kay Hiramine
  • A. A. Hodge
  • John Henry Hopkins
  • Humanitarian International Services Group (HISG)
  • Nelson Bunker Hunt
  • Institute on Religion and Democracy
  • Larry Jackson
  • David Jeremiah
  • Bob Jones Sr.
  • Bob Jones Univeristy
  • Kingdom Warriors
  • KMMJ
  • C. Everett Koop
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Beverly LaHaye
  • Tim LaHaye
  • Wayne LaPierre
  • Leonard Leo
  • Liberty University
  • LifeWay Research
  • Elias Loera
  • Nathan Lord
  • Dave Louden
  • Barry Loudermilk
  • John MacArthur
  • Rachel MacNair
  • Danielle Madison
  • March for Life
  • Ed McAteer
  • The Moral Majority
  • Jeanne Mancini
  • Manhattan Declaration
  • Rob McCoy
  • Janet Mefferd
  • Roy Moore
  • Museum of the Bible
  • The Naked Communist
  • Penny Young Nance
  • National Center for Constitutional Studies
  • National Christian Foundation
  • National Conservative Student Conference
  • National Federation of Republican Women
  • National Right to Life Committee
  • Richard John Neuhaus
  • New Christian Right
  • Gary North
  • North Carolina Family Policy Council
  • Michael Novak
  • Old Time Gospel Hour
  • John M. Olin
  • Organicgirl
  • Joel Osteen
  • Sarah Palin
  • “Pastors Briefings”
  • Mike Pence
  • Pentecostals
  • Sonny Perdue
  • Tony Perkins
  • Rick Perry
  • Howard Phillips
  • Buddy Pilgrim
  • Mike Pompeo
  • Art Pope
  • Reverend J. C. Postell
  • POTUS Shield
  • The Power of the Positive Woman
  • Praise Network
  • Tom Price
  • Erik Prince
  • Scott Pruitt
  • Quiverfull movement
  • Oleg Rachkovski
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Ralph Reed
  • Carolyn Richards
  • Road to Majority Conference
  • Pat Robertson
  • Jim Robison
  • Roe v. Wade
  • Rousas Rushdoony
  • Karl Rove
  • John Rustin
  • SAGE Cons
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders
  • Salem Radio
  • Richard Scaife
  • Jeff Sessions
  • Francis Schaeffer
  • Phyllis Schlafly
  • Alan Sears
  • Jay Sekulow
  • Ben Shapiro
  • W. Cleon Skousen
  • SonLife Broadcasting Network (SBN)
  • SonLife Radio Network
  • Springs Community Church
  • Horatio Robinson Storer
  • R.J. Rushdoony
  • Southern Presbyterian Church
  • Southern Strategy
  • Darla St. Martin
  • Stop ERA
  • Students for Life of America
  • Susan B. Anthony List
  • Donnie Swaggart
  • Gabriel Swaggart
  • Jimmy Swaggart
  • Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (JSBC)
  • Jimmy Swaggart Telecast
  • Bruce Taylor
  • Jeff Taylor
  • Steve Taylor
  • Taylor Farms
  • Thomas Road Baptist Church
  • James Henley Thornwell
  • Robert Tilton
  • “Values Bus”
  • Values Voters Summit
  • Richard Viguerie
  • Young America’s Foundation
  • C. Peter Wagner
  • Chester Ward
  • Washington Watch
  • The Watchmen
  • Doug Wead
  • Well Versed
  • Paul Weyrich
  • Paula White
  • Donald Wildmon
  • Farris Wilks
  • Dan Wilks
  • World Ag Expo
  • World Congress of Families

See also: Christian nationalism terms

Is America a Christian nation? No.

The Founders knew acutely the pains of centuries of religious warfare in modern Europe and resoundingly did not want that for their new nation. Many of them moreover knew religious persecution intimately — some whose families fled the Church of England for fear of being imprisoned, burned at the stake, or worse. Is America a Christian nation? In a historical sense, this may arguably be true — but in a legal and political sense, it is not.

In fact, the people who founded the United States explicitly saw religious zealotry as one of the primary dangers to a democratic republic. They feared demagoguery and the abuse of power that tilts public apparatus towards corrupt private interest. The Founders knew that religion could be a source of strife for the fledgling nation as easily as it could be a strength, and they took great pains to carefully balance the needs of religious expression and non-religious interests in architecting the country.

Here are a few of the ways we know that the nation’s founders were against the ideas of theocracy and Christian Reconstructionism in America:

  • The founding fathers made a conscious break from the European tradition of a national state church.
  • The handful of states who who supported “established churches” abandoned the practice by the mid-19th century.
  • Thomas Jefferson wrote that his Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom was written on behalf of “the Jew and the gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu and the infidel of every denomination.”
  • The Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for holding foreign office.
  • The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
  • There is a right-wing conspiracy theory aiming to discredit the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” by saying that those exact words aren’t found in the Constitution. The phrase comes from Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, wherein he is describing the thinking of the Founders about the meaning of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which Jefferson contemplates “with sovereign reverence.”
  • The 1796 Treaty of Tripoli states in Article 11: “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” — President George Washington first ordered the negotiation of a treaty in 1795, and President John Adams sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification in 1797, with this article widely interpreted to mean a reiteration of the purpose of the Establishment Clause to create a secular state, i.e. one that would not ever be going to holy war with Tripoli.

The Founders were Deists

For the most part, the prominent Founders were Deists — they recognized the long tradition of Judeo-Christian order in society, and consciously broke from it in their creation of the legal entity of the United States, via the Establishment Clause and numerous other devices. They were creatures of The Enlightenment, and were very much influenced by the latest developments of their day including statistics, empiricism, numerous scientific advancements, and the pursuit of knowledge and logical decision-making.

  • They distrusted the concept of divine right of rule that existed in Europe under monarchies. We fought a revolution to leave that behind for good reason.
  • They disliked the idea of a national church
  • In 1822, Thomas Jefferson predicted that all Americans would soon convert to Unitarianism.
  • Thomas Paine pushed the envelop even further, asserting that the people would abandon all traditional religions in favor of the “religion” of nature and reason.

Property vs. People, all the way down

Or capital vs. labor, oligarchs vs. plebes, plutocrats vs. proles, rich vs. poor — however you want to narrate it, the property vs. people struggle continues on in new and old ways, each and ere day.

Here in America, the plutocrats have devised many clever methods of hiding the class struggle behind a race war smokescreen, that is both real and manufactured — instigated, exacerbated, agitated by the likes of schlubby wife abusers like Sloppy Steve Bannon, wrinkly old Palpatines like Rupert Murdoch, and shady kleptocrats like Trump and Putin.

The United States has nursed an underground Confederacy slow burning for centuries, for sociopathic demagogues to tap into and rekindle for cheap and dangerous political power. Like The Terminator, racist and supremacist troglodytes seem always to reconstitute themselves into strange and twisted new forms, from slavery to the Black Codes to sharecropping to convict leasing to Jim Crow to Jim Crow 2.0 — the psychopaths want their homeland.

The political left loves people, and our extremists for the most part destroy capital or property that insurance companies will pay to make shiny and new again — unlike the right wing extremists who bomb federal buildings, killing hundreds of people and costing taxpayers’ money to replace.

Meanwhile, the right wing claims to be the righteous party for its extreme fixation on life before birth, yet its regulation-allergic capitalists destroy people and the natural world more broadly, from factory farming to deforestation, the destruction of habitats, strip-mining and other toxic extraction practices, and on into climate change itself. Being in fact the chief architects of manmade atmospheric devastation, they have managed to make themselves invisible from the deed by simply (wink wink!) denying it exists.

WWJD?!

Certainly, not anything the Republican Party is up to. Jesus would be sad.

Fascists became conservatives in the 1920s and 30s

(notes / draft) Who were the early conservatives? Former fascists and Nazi sympathizers in the US.

1930s opposition to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal

3 main right-wing factions then:

  1. libertarians — right-wing economics faction led by Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, & Friedrich Hayek
  2. traditionalists — William F. Buckley, National Review (1955), Barry Goldwater
  3. anti-communists and Nazi sympathizers — John Birch Society, Robert Welch, Fred Koch, William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, McCarthyites

After the Allies won World War II, a number of the early Hitler sympathizers “hid out” in anti-communist circles, allowing them to cloak their underlying fascism inside of the American Cold War project and give it a semi-presentable face in conservatism.

In the 1970s, 2 more conservative groups emerged for a total of 5 main sects:

4. neoconservatives — Ronald Reagan

5. the religious right — the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell Sr. & Jr., Jimmy Swaggart, Jim & Tammy Fae Baker, Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Paul Weyrich, Paul Regnery, William Rusher, prosperity gospel

Conservatives became fascists again in 2016

The ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States gave permission to all the closet fascists practicing ketman as conservatives to come right on out and let their freak bigotry flags fly.

All the little white power sleeper cells and now networked anti-government militia groups were let off the chain and invited to take a swing at our national sovereignty and see if they could steal the American government for him. Thanks to the strength and integrity of numerous civil servants and others they did not succeed — however, the festering mass of fascism isn’t going anywhere much just yet.

Other topics

will be fleshing out further:

  • neoliberals & theocons — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and others who led us into forever wars in the Middle East
  • MAGA
  • white supremacists & Lost Cause religion
  • right-wing anti-government violence
    • domestic violent extremism
  • conservative ideology
    • a form of totalism

Dunning-Kruger Effect

A strong and prevalent cognitive bias that causes a large majority of people to rate themselves more highly and more skilled than statistically possible. Lack of self-awareness can cause us to overestimate our knowledge or ability in a given area, and this phenomenon is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Posited in 1999 by two Cornell psychologists, Professors Dunning and Kruger also found that low-skilled people often have a double bind: they think of themselves as very skilled, but the lack even the basic level of skill that would allow them to detect and learn from their mistakes to get better. It’s very difficult for them to get out of the “trap” of perceiving themselves as superior, thus obviating any need to continue effort at improvements.

They also found that individuals of high skill levels also suffer from a sort of “lensing effect” (now dubbed the Dunning-Kruger Effect accordingly) in terms of their own self-assessment, but in the other direction — they are not generally aware of the rarity of their gifts. They assume most other people have the same kinds of knowledge and critical thinking skills that they do. In other words, careful study of our images of ourselves found us all to be living in a bubble of inaccurate self-perception, on both ends.

How to counteract the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

  • Ask for feedback from other people, and listen to it honestly.
  • Keep learning and gather knowledge and improving your skills.

Trump is driving Evangelicals from the flock

It’s been said that the devilish ways of pedophiliac liberal Democrats are killing Christianity in America, but the numbers tell a different story. Following the 2016 Armistice in the War on Christmas, Donald Trump yet managed to drive 1 in 7 Evangelicals from the fold, according to data from Pew and PRRI.

Far from the surge in True Believers prophesied by the right wing, the religious right’s deal with the proverbial and/or literal devil seems to have driven members away. Trump is losing Evangelicals, and really — should we be so shocked? If it doesn’t matter (to some) whether our leaders are serial philanderers and lifelong business cheats, or earnestly striving public servants spreading compassion — what use is their moral code, then? None. It is bankrupt.

ShrΓΆdinger’s Moral Leadership

The religious right can’t have it both ways — either moral leadership is important, or it isn’t. It can’t selectively be important *only* when a Democrat is in power. Evangelicals also need to make a choice between God and Caesar. Prosperity gospel is the latter and not the former, but many pretend otherwise or are fooled — after all, fool’s gold can still fool.

Cognitive dissonance upon dissonance continues to fall in the totally unraked forest of right-wing values. I’m aiming to continue pulling on a few threads connecting the religious right, and Evangelicals in particular, to the rise of political extremism in the Republican Party:

  • The pitch that winning the culture war is more important than God’s law is thin at best
  • Donald Trump is not a Christian
  • The “imperfect vessel” fails as moral justification
  • Jesus didn’t care about tax cuts
  • Christian leaders’ claims that politics is amoral ground beyond the reach of God’s teachings is self-evident nonsense
  • Christians are leaving their own moral house unguarded. No one is showing the living proof of Jesus’ teachings anymore — and it’s not the fault of the people on the left who weren’t doing it before.

Essential thinkers on authoritarian personalities

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
  • Masha Gessen — Russian-American journalist, author, and queer activist whose definitive biography of Vladimir Putin, The Man Without a Face (2013), is one of several must reads on the rise of Russia’s revanchism with the West.
  • 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
  • Jonathan Haidt — Author of The Righteous Mind
          

Lost Cause religion

The whitewashing of the Civil War to assuage white Southern guilt, Lost Cause refers to the historical gaslighting of the former Confederates. New mythology reinvented our nation’s greatest internal conflict as if it had been more of a technocratic war over states’ rights and the limits of federal power, instead of the truth — which is that the seditionists first seceded, then started a war against the northern states, to preserve their right to own human beings as slaves.

When they lost the war, they never accepted defeat, or put down their conviction that white people (conveniently, them) ought to “naturally” rule over the dark people (conveniently, not them) because, you know, God said so. It is known. Many people are saying.

The Ghost Confederacy

Nevertheless, the South did have to put up with the ignomy of federal occupation for several years before they were able to expel the godless globalists and return to their safe, secure, sadistic ways of slavering. It sent the Confederates’ sense of wounded pride soaring when they could finally recreate slavery under other names, after the short-lived era of Reconstruction gave way to the terrifying age of southern “Redemption.”

Peonage, convict leasing, sharecropping, and other forms of neoslavery persisted all the way through at least 1954, when the Sumter slavery case was one of the last judicial prosecutions of involuntary servitude in the United States.

1954.

The Confederacy, and with it the idea of Black servitude, stayed alive in the hearts and minds of the former Confederates — many of whom were pardoned and later went on to sit in Congress making decisions about the direction of the “union,” all the while harboring seditious views, biding their time, and awaiting the next opportunity to viciously strike. This sort of “fantasy football” fanfic version of a hallucinatory alternate history where the South won the Civil War is not just alarming, but very very dangerous.

That the Confederates were given only light slaps on the wrist before being allowed to reassume the mantle of legitimate power is bad enough. But worse — they lashed white supremacy to the mast of white southern Christianity in efforts to shore them both up, forever interweaving and corrupting a certain strain of red state Evangelical zealotry into something consciously or unconsciously celebrating white supremacy and harboring fever dreams of a white theocracy in America.

How to deal with bullies

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

  • evasiveness
    • vagueness
    • slipperiness
    • can’t be pinned down
    • won’t answer straightforward questions
  • denialism
  • cognitive dissonance
    • doublespeak
    • paleologic
    • word salad
    • contradictions
    • nonsense
  • 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
  • motivated reasoning
  • deceptiveness
  • easily angered
    • 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