A Dictionary of Cults, Mind Control, and the Language of Abuse
Cultism has a long history here in the United States — but what is a cult, exactly? One could argue the Confederacy was a kind of cult, and the KKK after it. America gave rise to cult leaders Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Sun Myung Moon, among many many others who led cults big and small (Charles Koch, perhaps?! Certainly Donald Trump.).
Christianity itself was considered a cult by some during its humble beginnings after the turn of the millennia and then some. It’s no accident that religious revivalism and many types of faith fervor colored the nation for decades and centuries. It’s the blind worship of a singular ideology or individual, in the case of a cult of personality, that is often the signature trait of both cult leaders and cult followers, who will do anything they’re told — even unto the grave.
Some might call the patriarchal nuclear family the Original Cult. Many if not most Evangelical sects revere it, among numerous others who believe in God the Father quite literally. Others still seek to exploit that zeal, by offering up a series of “flawed saviors” who dangled the prospect of a more theocratic state governed by Law and Order. Their money buys them much more than just the puppets who rule, and the citizens struggle to pierce the veils of illusion.
Mind control and emotional manipulation
Known by many names, from mind control to brainwashing to undue influence, the use of techniques to knowingly manipulate a target’s sense of reality is a devious and unethical way to achieve one’s aims with increased plausible deniability. Having obedient servants do your dirty work, bury your secrets, and protect your property perhaps is an archetypal dream of an America gone by… or current.
From schoolyard bullies and repressive religious upbringing to sexual predators and organized crime, the toolkit is eerily similar — it makes you wonder if they all get pamphlets in the mail from Head Evil, or if they instinctually all arrive at these methods on their own. Their goal is to get inside your head, destabilize you and keep you off balance, and gain some sort of advantage over you both currently and in ensuing negotiations, conflicts, or other events.
Today we are seeing it on a large scale in the digital domain, from Facebook radicalization and QAnon to right-wing backchannels and encrypted messaging. We had better get familiar with the lexicon and vocabulary of the coming era, so we can fight the creeping scourge of thought control roiling the land.
|abuse||Using one's position of authority unfairly and/or deceptively for personal gain.|
|anti-Semitism||Referred to as "the oldest hate," anti-Semitism is also inherently anti-feminist, because Jewish societies were once matrilineal.|
|apocalypticism||Preoccupation with the imminent end of the world.||see also: millenarianism|
|Armageddon||The apocalypse; the End Times; the end of the world as we know it (...and we feel fiiiiiiiine!)||also a movie with Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, & Ben Affleck -- from back in 1998 when our apocalypsi seemed somehow more quaint|
|beliefs||Beliefs are more like a kind of stock we own than a calculation we do on the fly. We spend time building them and deriving value from them.They're not simply tools for making good decisions, though, but are treasured in their own right and new information that challenges them is unwelcome. We often try to avoid it, in order to protect our beliefs.|
|bias||see also: motivated reasoning, bigotry, prejudice, revealed wisdom|
|brainwashing||see also: mind control, thought control, undue influence|
|C-PTSD||Complex post-traumatic stress disorder -- a psychological condition occurring after exposure to trauma whether physical, emotional, or otherwise.||see also: PTSD|
|CSAM||Child sexual abuse material|
|cult leaders||People who wield an alternating current of fear and "love" -- they swing a blunt instrument because they cannot manage the complexity of human relationships and real love.|
|denying plain facts|
|dogma||A rigid ideology or belief system||A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable. -- Carl Sagan|
|extremism||Now that sensible moderate conservatives have sensibly gone elsewhere, all that's left of the GOP is the terrifying extremism.|
|false memory implantation|
|father figures||Some people think of "freedom" as "freedom from" -- freedom from having to take responsibility for oneself, because one can take orders from a crusty old white dude who promises protection|
|front groups||Public-facing groups with innocuous and virtual-sounding names that exist only to recruit new members into the next circle of the organization, where the process of wearing down the independence of the target begins.|
|ideology||Has it slain coherence?!|
|intermittent reinforcement||The same psychology behind casinos, intermittent reinforcement rewards the subject according to an irregular payout schedule that does not correspond to any of the actions of the subject. It is cognitively a very "sticky" mechanism -- one that has another common ancestor: addiction.|
|mental predators||People who assume they have the right to abuse and manipulate others and use them for their own personal gain -- and behave accordingly.||see also: cult leaders, narcissism, sexual predators|
|mind control||see also: brainwashing, undue influence, mental predation|
|misogyny||Hatred of women|
|moving the goalposts|
|narcissism||Excessive grandiosity and sense of self-importance|
|organized crime||The mob and mob-like structures|
|paranoia||Extreme constant fear; conviction that others are "out to get you"|
|playing the victim|
|police brutality||a murdery version of the circle jerk|
|post-truth||post-truth scandals: Trump, Iran-Contra, Benghazi, Whitewater, Hillary's emails|
|prejudice||see also: bigotry, motivated reasoning|
|PTSD||Post-traumatic stress disorder -- a psychological condition occurring after exposure to trauma whether physical, emotional, or otherwise.|
|racism||Hatred of a person because of their race.|
|re-education||Period of indoctrination when the recruit is taught the ideology of the cult as the One Truth.|
|sadism||Taking pleasure in the harming of others.|
|sociopaths||People with little to no empathy -- they can be very cold and cruel, yet also warm and charming.|
|spare the rod|
|torture||Using physical violence during interrogation or to achieve compliance with a subject or recruit.|
|toxic positivity||An inability to fully acknowledge negative emotions in others or oneself, especially anger or sadness.|
|verbal abuse||Pervasive and chronic denigration of the recruit or target, with the goal of diminishing her self-esteem and building up a dependence on the cult leader.|
|whitewashing||Trying to clean up the reputation of someone or something after the fact -- attempts to rehabilitate a famous person following crime, for example.|