Helen Pluckrose Explains Postmodernism’s Impact on the West

Postmodernism, Social Justice Ideology

We added another piece to what we are calling an “emerging canon” of works by thoughtful writers and thinkers who seek to bring us back to a more balanced and reality-based approach to social justice and human rights. Without a doubt, Helen Pluckrose of Areo Magazine has worked diligently and rigorously to educate people about the theoretical underpinnings of Social Justice Ideology (SJI).

Below is the description from the Social Justice Reformation home page.

How French Intellectuals Ruined the West: Postmodernism and Its Impact Explained

This piece is also from Areo Magazine, and it was written by Helen Pluckrose, the current editor. While both Pluckrose and James Lindsay gained wider recognition for a 2018 experiment in which they exposed the theoretical over-reach and support for abusive practices in postmodernist/social justice academic journals, they have been laying the groundwork for understanding SJI for several years.

Concept Creep: Expanding the definition of harm

Psychology
Over the past five years, a “new convert” mentality or an almost religious True Believer-ship by followers of Social Justice Ideology (SJI) who invest in models of political reality that purport to know the secret thoughts, beliefs and attitudes of individuals who belong to different population groups.
  
One of the fall-outs of the totalist mindset that stereotypes groups, is that unscrupulous people who belong to in-favor groups could easily manipulate the framework to dominate others in activist spaces and other environments in which this new caste system has been installed without mindfulness or safeguards against abuse.
 
Another aggravating factor is what Dr. Nicholas Haslan, a psychologist, has termed “concept creep” back in 2016. According to an Atlantic Magazine article, published in 2016, years of Haslan’s research had revealed a pattern where we have expanded the definitions of what constitutes “harm” so significantly that abuse, trauma, bigotry, mental illness, bullying, and other painful human experiences have become so greatly amplified that being regarded as a “perpetrator” has also become almost impossible to avoid in certain environments. 
 
Once we allow the very essence of the world to be characterized as essentially evil or conspiratorial, we begin to search for it everywhere and spend all of our time rooting it out. It is a dark, dark place indeed.
 
 

The Perils of Toxic Shame

Psychology, Social Justice Ideology

In recent years, collective guilt and internalized personal shame have become mainstream, particular among adherents of group identity-based ideologies that use Privilege Theory as a single defining framework for all of social reality.

For some people, the belief that they belong to an inherently bad demographic group fulfills an unconscious psychic function, where their sense of self feels more complete by identifying with a grand narrative that casts them in a role that requires continual self-doubt, self-blame, contemplation of their own flaws, and a never-ending search for a redemption that will never come.

For others, toxic shame is a weapon that can be used to inflict emotional or spiritual suffering onto other people to gain the psychic reward of sadistically hurting people or in the best of circumstances to gain a sense of moral domination and superiority.

Toxic shame, and the never-ending search for “wrongness” inside and outside is becoming the norm in our media, educational institutions, and even the workplace of companies that have taken on the programming of regressive ideologies that purport to be the only way to create a better society.

But, while it’s popularly accepted to inflict accusation, shame, self-hatred and generalized guilt onto ourselves and other people we consider “wrong-doers” or wrong-thinkers, it is a form of spiritual violence that will eventually need to be healed.

Mark Fisher’s Suicide and Social Justice Mobbing

Bullying & Mobbing, Suicide, Theory as Weapon

Here is a link to one of the best articles that examines the complexities around Mark Fisher’s life and death

Mark Fisher was a Marxist activist who worked all his life to advance the rights of working people from all backgrounds. But, after he dared to critique the emerging culture of weaponized victimhood and bullying in the social justice movement in his famous essay “Exit From the Vampire Castle“, he was viciously crucified by the social justice mobs. He committed suicide last year.
 

Early on, at the beginning of the rise of what Fisher called “Identitarianism” in leftist/social justice political movements and subcultures, he was one of the first publicly known activists to sound the alarm. And that his death was ridiculed, mocked and even celebrated by his critics should give us pause.

What Gaslighting isn’t

Postmodernism, Psychology, Social Justice Ideology
This article explores the details of gas lighting behaviors and warns the reader not to overuse the term to describe behaviors that are not in fact gas lighting.
 
 Victims of genuinely sociopathic behaviors and relentless bullying campaigns often develop hypervigilance later in life where they see bullying, gas lighting, abuse and evil everywhere. This hypervigilant style also occurs in those whose ideology trains them to seek out heresy and wrongness everywhere.
 
 It’s a tricky thing. We don’t want to be caught off guard by those who are truly sociopathy and wish to play with us for their own amusement. Yet, we also want to make sure we’re not throwing around words like “bullying”, “gaslighting”, “hate”, and “abuse” when we are having disagreements with people. These words not only cast unfair aspersions upon innocent people.
 
 They also lose their value when we do this because people begin to roll their eyes when the real thing finally comes along.
 

Robert Jay Lifton’s “Psychology of Totalism”

Theory as Weapon

Robert Jay Lifton’s “Psychology of Totalism” is an important study of political cultism. Ideological conditioning often involves academic-sounding words and phrases that can lead even intelligent, well-meaning people to despise entire groups of people and to stereotype individuals who belong to those groups. It is often caused by the excessive repetition of narratives about these groups -even historical narratives that are verifiably accurate.

We are seeing these patterns emerge in both the Trump movement and the Social Justice Ideology (SJI) movement, particularly on elite college campuses that focus on social justice. This is why it’s becoming increasingly vital for people to understand and recognize the patterns of what Lifton has called ideological totalism.

These helpful tips by political cult expert Robert jay Lifton can help us to recognize how this hatred gains its staying power. For a useful introduction to how political cultism (or ideological totalism) manifests on college campuses, the #ExposeEvergreen video series is highly recommended.

Below is a copy of the text from this introductory website on cultism:

Chapter 22: Ideological Totalism

A discussion of what is most central in the thought reform environment can lead us to a more general consideration of the psychology of human zealotry. For in identifying, on the basis of this study of thought reform, features common to all expressions of ideological totalism, I wish to suggest a set of criteria against which any environment may be judged – a basis for answering the ever-recurring question: “Isn’t this just like ‘brainwashing’?”

These criteria consist of eight psychological themes which are predominant within the social field of the thought reform milieu. Each has a totalistic quality; each depend upon an equally absolute philosophical assumption; and each mobilizes certain individual emotional tendencies, mostly of a polarizing nature. In combination they create an atmosphere which may temporarily energize or exhilarate, but which at the same time poses the gravest of human threats.

Milieu Control

The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual’s communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also – in its penetration of his inner life – over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984.

Such milieu control never succeeds in becoming absolute, and its own human apparatus can – when permeated by outside information – become subject to discordant “noise” beyond that of any mechanical apparatus. To totalist administrators, however, such occurrences are no more than evidences of “incorrect” use of the apparatus. For they look upon milieu control as a just and necessary policy, one which need not be kept secret: thought reform participants may be in doubt as to who is telling what to whom, but the fact that extensive information about everyone is being conveyed to the authorities is always known. At the center of this self-justification is their assumption of omniscience, their conviction that reality is their exclusive possession. Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth (and having the need to dispel any possible inner doubts of their own), they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this “truth.” In order to be the engineers of the human soul, they must first bring it under full observational control.

Mystical Manipulation

The inevitable next step after milieu control is extensive personal manipulation. This manipulation assumes a no-holds-barred character, and uses every possible device at the milieu’s command, no matter how bizarre or painful. Initiated from above, it seeks to provoke specific patterns of behavior and emotion in such a way that these will appear to have arisen spontaneously, directed as it is by an ostensibly omniscient group, must assume, for the manipulated, a near-mystical quality.

Ideological totalists do not pursue this approach solely for the purpose of maintaining a sense of power over others. Rather they are impelled by a special kind of mystique which not only justifies such manipulations, but makes them mandatory. Included in this mystique is a sense of “higher purpose,” of having “directly perceived some imminent law of social development,” and of being themselves the vanguard of this development. By thus becoming the instruments of their own mystique, they create a mystical aura around the manipulating institutions – the Party, the Government, the Organization. They are the agents “chosen” (by history, by God, or by some other supernatural force) to carry out the “mystical imperative,” the pursuit of which must supersede all considerations of decency or of immediate human welfare. Similarly, any thought or action which questions the higher purpose is considered to be stimulated by a lower purpose, to be backward, selfish, and petty in the face of the great, overriding mission. This same mystical imperative produces the apparent extremes of idealism and cynicism which occur in connection with the manipulations of any totalist environment: even those actions which seem cynical in the extreme can be seen as having ultimate relationship to the “higher purpose.”

At the level of the individual person, the psychological responses to this manipulative approach revolve about the basic polarity of trust and mistrust. One is asked to accept these manipulations on a basis of ultimate trust (or faith): “like a child in the arms of its mother.” He who trusts in this degree can experience the manipulations within the idiom of the mystique behind them: that is, he may welcome their mysteriousness, find pleasure in their pain, and feel them to be necessary for the fulfillment of the “higher purpose” which he endorses as his own. But such elemental trust is difficult to maintain; and even the strongest can be dissipated by constant manipulation.

When trust gives way to mistrust (or when trust has never existed) the higher purpose cannot serve as adequate emotional sustenance. The individual then responds to the manipulations through developing what I shall call the psychology of the pawn. Feeling himself unable to escape from forces more powerful than himself, he subordinates everything to adapting himself to them. He becomes sensitive to all kinds of cues, expert at anticipating environmental pressures, and skillful in riding them in such a way that his psychological energies merge with the tide rather than turn painfully against himself. This requires that he participate actively in the manipulation of others, as well as in the endless round of betrayals and self-betrayals which are required.

But whatever his response – whether he is cheerful in the face of being manipulated, deeply resentful, or feels a combination of both – he has been deprived of the opportunity to exercise his capacities for self-expression and independent action.

The Demand for Purity

In the thought reform milieu, as in all situations of ideological totalism, the experiential world is sharply divided into the pure and the impure, into the absolutely good and the absolutely evil. The good and the pure are of course those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure. Nothing human is immune from the flood of stern moral judgments. All “taints” and “poisons” which contribute to the existing state of impurity must be searched out and eliminated.

The philosophical assumption underlying this demand is that absolute purity is attainable, and that anything done to anyone in the name of this purity is ultimately moral. In actual practice, however, no one is really expected to achieve such perfection. Nor can this paradox be dismissed as merely a means of establishing a high standard to which all can aspire. Thought reform bears witness to its more malignant consequences: for by defining and manipulating the criteria of purity, and then by conducting an all-out war upon impurity, the ideological totalists create a narrow world of guilt and shame. This is perpetuated by an ethos of continuous reform, a demand that one strive permanently and painfully for something which not only does not exist but is in fact alien to the human condition.

At the level of the relationship between individual and environment, the demand for purity creates what we may term a guilty milieuand a shaming milieu. Since each man’s impurities are deemed sinful and potentially harmful to himself and to others, he is, so to speak, expected to expect punishment – which results in a relationship of guilt and his environment. Similarly, when he fails to meet the prevailing standards in casting out such impurities, he is expected to expect humiliation and ostracism – thus establishing a relationship of shame with his milieu. Moreover, the sense of guilt and the sense of shame become highly-valued: they are preferred forms of communication, objects of public competition, and the basis for eventual bonds between the individual and his totalist accusers. One may attempt to simulate them for a while, but the subterfuge is likely to be detected, and it is safer to experience them genuinely.

People vary greatly in their susceptibilities to guilt and shame, depending upon patterns developed early in life. But since guilt and shame are basic to human existence, this variation can be no more than a matter of degree. Each person is made vulnerable through his profound inner sensitivities to his own limitations and to his unfulfilled potential; in other words, each is made vulnerable through his existential guilt. Since ideological totalists become the ultimate judges of good and evil within their world, they are able to use these universal tendencies toward guilt and shame as emotional levers for their controlling and manipulative influences. They become the arbiters of existential guilt, authorities without limit in dealing with others’ limitations. And their power is nowhere more evident than in their capacity to “forgive.”

The individual thus comes to apply the same totalist polarization of good and evil to his judgments of his own character: he tends to imbue certain aspects of himself with excessive virtue, and condemn even more excessively other personal qualities – all according to their ideological standing. He must also look upon his impurities as originating from outside influences – that is, from the ever-threatening world beyond the closed, totalist ken. Therefore, one of his best way to relieve himself of some of his burden of guilt is to denounce, continuously and hostilely, these same outside influences. The more guilty he feels, the greater his hatred, and the more threatening they seem. In this manner, the universal psychological tendency toward “projection” is nourished and institutionalized, leading to mass hatreds, purges of heretics, and to political and religious holy wars. Moreover, once an individual person has experienced the totalist polarization of good and evil, he has great difficulty in regaining a more balanced inner sensitivity to the complexities of human morality. For these is no emotional bondage greater than that of the man whose entire guilt potential – neurotic and existential – has become the property of ideological totalists.

The Cult of Confession

Closely related to the demand for absolute purity is an obsession with personal confession. Confession is carried beyond its ordinary religious, legal, and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself. There is the demand that one confess to crimes one has not committed, to sinfulness that is artificially induced, in the name of a cure that is arbitrarily imposed. Such demands are made possible not only by the ubiquitous human tendencies toward guilt and shame but also by the need to give expression to these tendencies. In totalist hands, confession becomes a means of exploiting, rather than offering solace for, these vulnerabilities.

The totalist confession takes on a number of special meanings. It is first a vehicle for the kind of personal purification which we have just discussed, a means of maintaining a perpetual inner emptying or psychological purge of impurity; this purging milieu enhances the totalists’ hold upon existential guilt. Second, it is an act of symbolic self-surrender, the expression of the merging of individual and environment. Third, it is a means of maintaining an ethos of total exposure – a policy of making public (or at least known to the Organization) everything possible about the life experiences, thoughts, and passions of each individual, and especially those elements which might be regarded as derogatory.

The assumption underlying total exposure (besides those which relate to the demand for purity) is the environment’s claim to total ownership of each individual self within it. Private ownership of the mind and its products – of imagination or of memory – becomes highly immoral. The accompanying rationale (or rationalization) is familiar, the milieu has attained such a perfect state of enlightenment that any individual retention of ideas or emotions has become anachronistic.

The cult of confession can offer the individual person meaningful psychological satisfactions in the continuing opportunity for emotional catharsis and for relief of suppressed guilt feelings, especially insofar as these are associated with self-punitive tendencies to get pleasure from personal degradation. More than this, the sharing of confession enthusiasms can create an orgiastic sense of “oneness,” of the most intense intimacy with fellow confessors and of the dissolution of self into the great flow of the Movement. And there is also, at least initially, the possibility of genuine self-revelation and of self-betterment through the recognition that “the thing that has been exposed is what I am.”

But as totalist pressures turn confession into recurrent command performances, the element of histrionic public display takes precedence over genuine inner experience. Each man becomes concerned with the effectiveness of his personal performance, and this performance sometimes comes to serve the function of evading the very emotions and ideas about which one feels most guilty – confirming the statement by one of Camus’ characters that “authors of confessions write especially to avoid confessing, to tell nothing of what they know.” The difficulty, of course, lies in the inevitable confusion which takes place between the actor’s method and his separate personal reality, between the performer and the “real me.”

In this sense, the cult of confession has effects quite the reverse of its ideal of total exposure: rather than eliminating personal secrets, it increases and intensifies them. In any situation the personal secret has two important elements: first, guilty and shameful ideas which one wishes to suppress in order to prevent their becoming known by others or their becoming too prominent in one’s own awareness; and second, representations of parts of oneself too precious to be expressed except when alone or when involved in special loving relationships formed around this shared secret world. Personal secrets are always maintained in opposition to inner pressures toward self-exposure. The totalist milieu makes contact with these inner pressures through its own obsession with the expose and the unmasking process. As a result old secrets are revived and new ones proliferate; the latter frequently consist of resentments toward or doubts about the Movement, or else are related to aspects of identity still existing outside of the prescribed ideological sphere. Each person becomes caught up in a continuous conflict over which secrets to preserve and which to surrender, over ways to reveal lesser secrets in order to protect more important ones; his own boundaries between the secret and the known, between the public and the private, become blurred. And around one secret, or a complex of secrets, there may revolve an ultimate inner struggle between resistance and self-surrender.

Finally, the cult of confession makes it virtually impossible to attain a reasonable balance between worth and humility. The enthusiastic and aggressive confessor becomes like Camus’ character whose perpetual confession is his means of judging others: “[I]…practice the profession of penitent to be able to end up as a judge…the more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you.” The identity of the “judge-penitent” thus becomes a vehicle for taking on some of the environment’s arrogance and sense of omnipotence. Yet even this shared omnipotence cannot protect him from the opposite (but not unrelated) feelings of humiliation and weakness, feelings especially prevalent among those who remain more the enforced penitent than the all-powerful judge.

The “Sacred Science”

The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself. While thus transcending ordinary concerns of logic, however, the milieu at the same time makes an exaggerated claim of airtight logic, of absolute “scientific” precision. Thus the ultimate moral vision becomes an ultimate science; and the man who dares to criticize it, or to harbor even unspoken alternative ideas, becomes not only immoral and irreverent, but also “unscientific.” In this way, the philosopher kings of modern ideological totalism reinforce their authority by claiming to share in the rich and respected heritage of natural science.

The assumption here is not so much that man can be God, but rather that man’s ideas can be God: that an absolute science of ideas (and implicitly, an absolute science of man) exists, or is at least very close to being attained; that this science can be combined with an equally absolute body of moral principles; and that the resulting doctrine is true for all men at all times. Although no ideology goes quite this far in overt statement, such assumptions are implicit in totalist practice.

At the level of the individual, the totalist sacred science can offer much comfort and security. Its appeal lies in its seeming unification of the mystical and the logical modes of experience (in psychoanalytic terms, of the primary and secondary thought processes). For within the framework of the sacred science, and sweeping, non-rational “insights.” Since the distinction between the logical and the mystical is, to begin with, artificial and man-made, an opportunity for transcending it can create an extremely intense feeling of truth. But the posture of unquestioning faith – both rationally and non-rationally derived – is not easy to sustain, especially if one discovers that the world of experience is not nearly as absolute as the sacred science claims it to be.

Yet so strong a hold can the sacred science achieve over his mental processes that if one begins to feel himself attracted to ideas which either contradict or ignore it, he may become guilty and afraid. His quest for knowledge is consequently hampered, since in the name of science he is prevented from engaging in the receptive search for truth which characterizes the genuinely scientific approach. And his position is made more difficult by the absence, in a totalist environment, of any distinction between the sacred and the profane: there is no thought or action which cannot be related to the sacred science. To be sure, one can usually find areas of experience outside its immediate authority; but during periods of maximum totalist activity (like thought reform) any such areas are cut off, and there is virtually no escape from the milieu’s ever-pressing edicts and demands. Whatever combination of continued adherence, inner resistance, or compromise co-existence the individual person adopts toward this blend of counterfeit science and back-door religion, it represents another continuous pressure toward personal closure, toward avoiding, rather than grappling with, the kinds of knowledge and experience necessary for genuine self-expression and for creative development.

Loading the Language

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis. In [Chinese Communist] thought reform, for instance, the phrase “bourgeois mentality” is used to encompass and critically dismiss ordinarily troublesome concerns like the quest for individual expression, the exploration of alternative ideas, and the search for perspective and balance in political judgments. And in addition to their function as interpretive shortcuts, these cliches become what Richard Weaver has called “ultimate terms” : either “god terms,” representative of ultimate good; or “devil terms,” representative of ultimate evil. In [Chinese Communist] thought reform, “progress,” “progressive,” “liberation,” “proletarian standpoints” and “the dialectic of history” fall into the former category; “capitalist,” “imperialist,” “exploiting classes,” and “bourgeois” (mentality, liberalism, morality, superstition, greed) of course fall into the latter. Totalist language then, is repetitiously centered on all-encompassing jargon, prematurely abstract, highly categorical, relentlessly judging, and to anyone but its most devoted advocate, deadly dull: in Lionel Trilling’s phrase, “the language of nonthought.”

To be sure, this kind of language exists to some degree within any cultural or organizational group, and all systems of belief depend upon it. It is in part an expression of unity and exclusiveness: as Edward Sapir put it, “‘He talks like us’ is equivalent to saying ‘He is one of us.'” The loading is much more extreme in ideological totalism, however, since the jargon expresses the claimed certitudes of the sacred science. Also involved is an underlying assumption that language – like all other human products – can be owned and operated by the Movement. No compunctions are felt about manipulating or loading it in any fashion; the only consideration is its usefulness to the cause.

For an individual person, the effect of the language of ideological totalism can be summed up in one word: constriction. He is, so to speak, linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed. This is what Hu meant when he said, “using the same pattern of words for so long…you feel chained.” Actually, not everyone exposed feels chained, but in effect everyone is profoundly confined by these verbal fetters. As in other aspects of totalism, this loading may provide an initial sense of insight and security, eventually followed by uneasiness. This uneasiness may result in a retreat into a rigid orthodoxy in which an individual shouts the ideological jargon all the louder in order to demonstrate his conformity, hide his own dilemma and his despair, and protect himself from the fear and guilt he would feel should he attempt to use words and phrases other than the correct ones. Or else he may adapt a complex pattern of inner division, and dutifully produce the expected cliché’s in public performances while in his private moments he searches for more meaningful avenues of expression. Either way, his imagination becomes increasingly dissociated from his actual life experiences and may tend to atrophy from disuse.

Doctrine Over Person

This sterile language reflects characteristic feature of ideological totalism: the subordination of human experience to the claims of doctrine. This primacy of doctrine over person is evident in the continual shift between experience itself and the highly abstract interpretation of such experience – between genuine feelings and spurious cataloguing of feelings. It has much to do with the peculiar aura of half-reality which totalist environment seems, at least to the outsider, to possess.

The inspiriting force of such myths cannot be denied; nor can one ignore their capacity for mischief. For when the myth becomes fused with the totalist sacred science, the resulting “logic” can be so compelling and coercive that it simply replaces the realities of individual experience. Consequently, past historical events are retrospectively altered, wholly rewritten, or ignored, to make them consistent with the doctrinal logic. This alteration becomes especially malignant when its distortions are imposed upon individual memory as occurred in the false confession extracted during thought reform.

The same doctrinal primacy prevails in the totalist approach to changing people: the demand that character and identity be reshaped, not in accordance with one’s special nature or potentialities, but rather to fit the rigid contours of the doctrinal mold. The human is thus subjected to the ahuman. And in this manner, the totalists, as Camus phrases it, “put an abstract idea above human life, even if they call it history, to which they themselves have submitted in advance and to which they will decide arbitrarily, to submit everyone else as well.”

The underlying assumption is that the doctrine – including its mythological elements – is ultimately more valid, true, and real than is any aspect of actual human character or human experience. Thus, even when circumstances require that a totalist movement follow a course of action in conflict with or outside of the doctrine, there exists what Benjamin Schwartz described as a “will to orthodoxy” which requires an elaborate facade of new rationalizations designed to demonstrate the unerring consistency of the doctrine and the unfailing foresight which it provides. But its greater importance lies in more hidden manifestations, particularly the totalists’ pattern of imposing their doctrine-dominated remolding upon people in order to seek confirmation of (and again, dispel their own doubts about) this same doctrine. Rather than modify the myth in accordance with experience, the will to orthodoxy requires instead that men be modified in order to reaffirm the myth.

The individual person who finds himself under such doctrine-dominated pressure to change is thrust into an intense struggle with his own sense of integrity, a struggle which takes place in relation to polarized feelings of sincerity and insincerity. In a totalist environment, absolute “sincerity” is demanded; and the major criterion for sincerity is likely to be one’s degree of doctrinal compliance – both in regard to belief and to direction of personal change. Yet there is always the possibility of retaining an alternative version of sincerity (and of reality), the capacity to imagine a different kind of existence and another form of sincere commitment. These alternative visions depend upon such things as the strength of previous identity, the penetration of the milieu by outside ideas, and the retained capacity for eventual individual renewal. The totalist environment, however, counters such “deviant” tendencies with the accusation that they stem entirely from personal “problems” (“thought problems” or “ideological problems”) derived from untoward earlier influences. The outcome will depend largely upon how much genuine relevance the doctrine has for the individual emotional predicament. And even for those to whom it seems totally appealing, the exuberant sense of well-being it temporarily affords may be more a “delusion of wholeness” than an expression of true and lasting inner harmony.

The Dispensing of Existence

The totalist environment draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right.

Are not men presumtuous to appoint themselves the dispensers of human existence? Surely this is a flagrant expression of what the Greeks called hubris, of arrogant man making himself God. Yet one underlying assumption makes this arrogance mandatory: the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false. Totalists thus feel themselves compelled to destroy all possibilities of false existence as a means of furthering the great plan of true existence to which they are committed.

For the individual, the polar emotional conflict is the ultimate existential one of “being versus nothingness.” He is likely to be drawn to a conversion experience, which he sees as the only means of attaining a path of existence for the future. The totalist environment – even when it does not resort to physical abuse – thus stimulates in everyone a fear of extinction or annihilation. A person can overcome this fear and find (in martin Buber’s term) “confirmation,” not in his individual relationships, but only from the fount of all existence, the totalist Organization. Existence comes to depend upon creed (I believe, therefore I am), upon submission (I obey, therefore I am) and beyond these, upon a sense of total merger with the ideological movement. Ultimately of course one compromises and combines the totalist “confirmation” with independent elements of personal identity; but one is ever made aware that, should he stray too far along this “erroneous path,” his right to existence may be withdrawn.

The more clearly an environment expresses these eight psychological themes, the greater its resemblance to ideological totalism; and the more it utilizes such totalist devices to change people, the greater its resemblance to thought reform. But facile comparisons can be misleading. No milieu ever achieves complete totalism, and many relatively moderate environments show some signs of it. Moreover, totalism tends to be recurrent rather than continuous. But if totalism has at any time been prominent in the movement, there is always the possibility of its reappearance, even after long periods of relative moderation.

Then, too, some environments come perilously close to totalism but at the same time keep alternative paths open; this combination can offer unusual opportunities for achieving intellectual and emotional depth. And even the most full-blown totalist milieu can provide (more or less despite itself) a valuable and enlarging life experience – if the man exposed has both the opportunity to leave the extreme environment and the inner capacity to absorb and make inner use of the totalist pressures.

Also, ideological totalism itself may offer a man an intense peak experience: a sense of transcending all that is ordinary and prosaic, of freeing himself from the encumbrances of human ambivalence, of entering a sphere of truth, reality, and sincerity beyond any he had ever known or even imagined. But these peak experiences, carry a great potential for rebound, and for equally intense opposition to the very things which initially seem so liberating. Such imposed peak experiences – as contrasted with those more freely and privately arrived at by great religious leaders and mystics – are essentially experiences of personal closure. Rather than stimulating greater receptivity and “openness to the world,” they encourage a backward step into some form of “embeddedness” – a retreat into doctrinal patterns more characteristic (at least at this stage of human history) of the child than of the individuated adult.

And if no peak experience occurs, ideological totalism does even greater violence to the human potential: it evokes destructive emotions, produces intellectual and psychological constrictions, and deprives men of all that is most subtle and imaginative – under the false promise of eliminating those very imperfections and ambivalences which help to define the human condition. This combination of personal closure, self-destructiveness, and hostility toward outsiders leads to the dangerous group excesses so characteristic of ideological totalism in any form. It also mobilizes extremist tendencies in those outsiders under attack, thus creating a vicious circle of totalism.

What is the source of ideological totalism? How do these extremist emotional patterns originate? These questions raise the most crucial and the most difficult of human problems. Behind ideological totalism lies the ever-present human quest for the omnipotent guide – for the supernatural force, political party, philosophical ideas, great leader, or precise science – that will bring ultimate solidarity to all men and eliminate the terror of death and nothingness. This quest is evident in the mythologies, religions, and histories of all nations, as well as in every individual life. The degree of individual totalism involved depends greatly upon factors in one’s personal history: early lack of trust, extreme environmental chaos, total domination by a parent or parent-representative, intolerable burdens of guilt, and severe crises of identity. Thus an early sense of confusion and dislocation, or an early experience of unusually intense family milieu control, can produce later a complete intolerance for confusion and dislocation, and a longing for the reinstatement of milieu control. But these things are in some measure part of every childhood experience; and therefore the potential for totalism is a continuum from which no one entirely escapes, and in relationship to which no two people are exactly the same.

It may be that the capacity for totalism is most fundamentally a product of human childhood itself, of the prolonged period of helplessness and dependency through which each of us must pass. Limited as he is, the infant has no choice but to imbue his first nurturing authorities – his parents – with an exaggerated omnipotence, until the time he is himself capable of some degree of independent action and judgment. And even as he develops into the child and the adolescent, he continues to require many of the all-or-none polarities of totalism as terms with which to define his intellectual, emotional, and moral worlds. Under favorable circumstances (that is, when family and culture encourage individuation) these requirements can be replaced by more flexible and moderate tendencies; but they never entirely disappear.

During adult life, individual totalism takes on new contours as it becomes associated with new ideological interests. It may become part of the configuration of personal emotions, messianic ideas, and organized mass movement which I have described as ideological totalism. When it does, we cannot speak of it as simply as ideological regression. It is partly this, but it is also something more: a new form of adult embeddedness, originating in patterns of security-seeking carried over from childhood, but with qualities of ideas and aspirations that are specifically adult. During periods of cultural crisis and of rapid historical change, the totalist quest for the omnipotent guide leads men to seek to become that guide.

Totalism, then, is a widespread phenomenon, but it is not the only approach to re-education. We can best use our knowledge of it by applying its criteria to familiar processes in our own cultural tradition and in our own country.

Areo Magazine: Fear in Academia

Theory as Weapon

*Submitted by an anonymous contributor

This is an essay that calls us to action to stand up to the incursions of Social Justice Ideology (SJI) on human rights and intellectual integrity. The essay was written by James Lindsay, who was the leader of the recent “Grievance Studies” hoax study.

That study involved nearly a year of submitting hoax academic papers written by Lindsay and two other academics, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian to highly influential academic journals that championed the perspective of Social Justice ideology.

It’s important to understand that some of these hoax papers explicitly recommended the commission of Social Justice Abuse upon innocent people who belonged to “privileged” or “oppressor” demographic groups as part of what was termed an “intersectional praxis” in the college classroom. One of the practices included the intentional infliction of frustration in white students during class discussions by not allowing them to speak or by intentionally ignoring them. Another offered practice was to force white students to sit down on the classroom floor with chains so that they can be more aware of their “privilege”.

In the essay linked below, Lindsay puts out a call for action for teachers, academics, writers, and people with a conscience to speak out en masse against the abuses, cruelties and absurdities of those who abuse Social Justice Ideology (SJI) for purposes having little to do with creating a just world that provides opportunity and freedom for all.

Are Academics Cowards? The Grip of Grievance Studies and the Sunk Costs of Academic Pursuit

KAFKA TRAPS and how to avoid them

Theory as Weapon

An increasing number of people are being trained to believe that rituals of shame, confession and psychological breakdown sessions are effective tools for rooting out the secret evils of this or that “sin”, “ism” or “phobia” that are said to be in our hearts and minds. Religious cults use this technique and so do political cults.

In such an atmosphere, one is always subject to the ever-watchful eye of those who hunt feverishly for your secret immoral thoughts. And when you look inside and find nothing of the kind, you are accused of “projecting”, of “being defensive” or of having sinful thoughts or biases and hatreds that are “unconscious” to you, but claimed to be fully on display to the “clairvoyant” ever watchful eye of the probing inquisitioners.

Regardless of your level of personal development and wisdom, the good you have done in your life without an audience, or the self-awareness that has evolved in your consciousness, the mind reader who studies you, the workshop facilitator who shames you, and the educator who grades you… the ever watchful eye who beholds you… knows who you REALLY are.

Except, they don’t.

This assault on your dignity, and invasion of your sense of self is a form of emotional abuse. Because the nature of this kind of probing is a kind of non-consensual  mind rape, it will be difficult for you to resist, especially if the probing inquisitor has authority over you in some way. But resistance is necessary for your well-being. When people try to tell you that you hate when you know deeply in your heart that you do not hate, they are imposing a non-consensual belief system onto you, and you have the right to resist.

When people tell you that your resistance or intellectual arguments are a smokescreen to hide your “discomfort” with hearing the truth about your supposed “sin”, you are the target of what is called a Kafka trap, a game of psychological “capture the flag” that can be resisted if you know what to do.

As in Kafka’s book “The Trial”, the Kafka Trap is a game that is played by power-seekers (or in the best of circumstances just a True Believer who blindly follows a dogmatic moral paradigm) where you are always “guilty” of some crime or sin that you cannot locate but that others who stand to gain moral power over you insist are inside you. And the more you deny it, the more it is “proven” that you are guilty.

Let me repeat that. The more you deny your hatred, your desire to protect some form of status or privilege, or the belief that others have the right to put their thoughts into you, you are “proving” that you are guilty by the very act of your resisting.

The Kafka Trap and similar rituals are the primary weapons used by religious cults that want to control adherents by shaming them for their selfish drives or sexual feelings.

More insidiously because of the difficulty in detecting it, this trap is also used followers various anti-oppression ideologies who believe they can solve racism and other forms of bigotry with blanket accusations, categorization schemes, rankism, cult mind control tactics and emotional abuse.

It is not necessary to take on this stuff to make the world a more fair and equitable place. There are other ways to promote love and fairness that do not rely on mental beatings, head games and power plays, so it’s important to resist this recruitment style ghost-hunting technique to avoid getting pulled into world views that create hardened categories of “us” and “them”, force us to think thoughts we didn’t think before, and distract us from doing real work.

When this happens, the best way to handle it is to name it.

Because of the cult-like style of the attack, the best mode to use in your communication is the leveling mode. In the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Work, linguist Dr. Suzette Elgin suggests leveler mode when you are in a mentally abusive situation. Level with your abuser by straight out saying, “this is emotional abuse, and you’re not going to succeed in putting thoughts in my head.”

If the person persists, just say, “you repeating that you think I [fill in the blank] doesn’t make it true and is just a manipulative power play to win moral superiority over a ghost that isn’t there. I’m not standing for it, so let’s move on to another topic.”

There are other gentler methods, and these sentences can be altered to suit your style and unique situation. But, the key is to deliver the following three messages:

1) You are engaging in emotional abuse

2) It is a play for moral power over others based on nothing real, and

3) I won’t stand for it.

Stay true to your path towards wholeness, practice the life of compassion and fairness, and do what you can to protect yourself from individuals and groups who try to brainwash you into believing that your nature or essence is intrinsically evil in some way and that you do not have the capacity to treat others with respect and love.

You know who you are.