“Thought reform has a psychological momentum of its own, a self-perpetuating energy not always bound by the interests of the program’s directors. When we inquire into the sources of this momentum, we come upon a complex set of psychological themes, which may be grouped under the general heading of ideological totalism. By this ungainly phrase I mean to suggest the coming together of immoderate ideology with equally immoderate individual character traits—an extremist meeting ground between people and ideas.”
This post has been in the works for a long time. Covidism has become a Totalist cult. Anybody who has tried to clue in one of its adherents has likely encountered a stone wall of compulsive justifications for the lies he’s been told by hypocrites he inexplicably trusts. The experience, at least in California, has reached the surreal stage in which the government seized illegal levels of power YET DOESN’T EVEN BOTHER TO ENFORCE ITS ABUSES because the people were so eager to enact them. It is truly an Orwellian phenomenon; however, most people don’t take that thought to the logical conclusion that we are now dealing with a militant variant of atheism.
Not surprising, perhaps. The supernatural has disappeared entirely from the West. The average American, when he reads accounts of Moses’ staff turning into a serpent or Simon the Sorcerer being an actual sorcerer has no supporting context for that. Absence of the divine leaves a hole in the human soul.
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him. -Volatire
He came close. Once the atheist concludes that God does not exist, he gains the opportunity to invent Him.
All further quotations are from Chapter 22 of the book “Thought Reform And the Psychology Of Totalism” by Robert J. Lifton. I’ll be updating his concepts in light of Covidism and the fact that God is real. He had eight points but I can refine them to six.
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 depends upon an equally absolute philosophical assumption; and each mobilizes certain individual emotional tendencies, mostly of a polarizing nature. Psychological theme, philosophical rationale, and polarized individual tendencies are interdependent; they require, rather than directly cause, each other. In combination they create an atmosphere which may temporarily energize or exhilarate, but which at the same time poses the gravest of human threats…
1. 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 and 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; but with one important difference. Orwell, as a Westerner, envisioned milieu control accomplished by a mechanical device, the two-way “telescreen.” The Chinese, although they utilize whatever mechanical means they have at their disposal, achieve control of greater psychological depth through a human recording and transmitting apparatus. It is probably fair to say that the Chinese Communist prison and revolutionary university produce about as thoroughly controlled a group environment as has ever existed.
That last sentence didn’t age well. Social media has proven to be the Holy Grail of groupthink. Your beliefs compel you to seek out worldviews and personalities that support your beliefs, an obvious instance of circular reasoning. Perhaps we dissidents would fall prey to this as well, if only we had the chance to NOT hear what the Socialist tells us.
Furthermore, there are several other factors that built the Covidian Cult milieu into a perfect storm. Chief among these being the omnipresence of telecommunications, an absence of rational thought (especially by those who pride themselves on being scientists) and the power vacuum created by Churchianity. None of this is news to my readers but here’s on of Julian Assange’s last posts to drive the point home, of how centralized the Covidian milieu is:
I’m less interested in the specific parent organizations than the simple fact that all mainstream media outlets are a choir for the New Religious Order. One simply cannot centralize media this much without creating a Narrative, even if it be merely the owners’ personal worldviews.
2. 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 from within the environment. This element of planned spontaneity, directed as it is by an ostensibly omniscient group, must assume, for the manipulated, a near-mystical quality.
Did somebody say “mask mandate”?
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.
Hat tip to Spawneyspace on 12/20 for this perfect meme:
I had my first political conflict with a coworker just this month, when he began trying to control my off-duty behavior in a frantic attempt to survive flu season, oops, I mean Second Wave Mutated SARS. Local hospitals are overloaded to the point where parking lots have been converted into plague wards and every medical doctor in the state has been retasked to the Emergency Room in a futile effort to stem the tide. Nothing can save humanity now but total obedience to Big Brother represented by the sage and all-wise Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization.
None of that is hyperbole or my usual sarcasm. He really does believe that humanity has entered its 11th hour, that only drastic effort on MY part can keep him safe (never mind I haven’t dragged Coof into the office for ten months now) and my efforts to reassure him that the media is overblowing it because mass hysteria means huge profits fell on deaf ears. He doesn’t want to hear alternative viewpoints. He doesn’t want “conspiracy theories” that claim what’s plainly obvious on National Public Radio just ain’t so.
He doesn’t want to be told that he’ll be okay. Something about being terrified by the people he trusts is appealing to him. His is a typical, dare I say mild example of how I see other people behaving here in urban Commiefornia.
Mystical Manipulation is the sense that believers are part of something great and significant. Even if they feel great fear, the sense of belonging and identity that participation in Totalism provides is worth the price of emotional terrorism.
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.
One of the most consistent themes I’ve seen in the Totalist movements I’ve reviewed is the “11th Hour” conviction that the world is about to end unless drastic measures are taken. The Elites have tried to fearmonger us thusly with Climate Change, with poor results, but leveraging the Baby Boomer’s fear of mortality has done the trick.
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,” as Father Luca accurately perceived. 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.
Translation, Totalism is an atheistic religion that fills the human need to worship. That it does so with lies and manipulations is irrelevant; Totalism relies upon power the way Christianity relies upon truth. Nobody respects Bill Gates because he wants to inject gunk into your corpse; everybody respects that he has the power to do it regardless. Behold the face of a true god!
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.
Not everybody is a True Believer.
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.
Those who are not True Believers, obey the mask mandates of Covidism because that’s the thing to do. Everybody’s doing it and the powerful government said to do it, so in the absence of a theistic religion there’s no reason not to comply.
This entraps them, however, in validating the Totalist beliefs of the True Believers. The more the Believers see Normies sharing their beliefs, the more energized they become because their prophets are visibly more powerful than expected. Many people say that they don’t really think it works but why rock the boat? Here’s why: that’s the same kind of stupid as “I personally don’t choose to be Muslim but that’s no reason I can’t coexist with all these new Muslim immigrants.”
3. 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.
We know this principle as Binary Thinking. If you defend Trump’s behavior today then you must be a loyalist!
4. 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 author isn’t quite wrong here but he dances around the concepts of “guilt and shame” too much. Having the benefit of faith in Christ, I’ll provide this alternative:
4. Innocence is unacceptable
Dissidents and outsiders must not be allowed to have valid yet opposing points of view. That strikes at the heart of atheist legitimacy: total power over society. In my personal case, my coworker did not want reassurance that the media were wrong because it would mean that the people he worships were weaker than me. If he believed me over the Appropriate Authorities then I would have more power over him than the CDC.
Similarly, practitioners of Totalism must prove that they personally are wrong whenever they disagree with the Appropriate Authorities. It is an act of worship. It also explains the compulsion of so many people, even ones not fully indoctrinated in Totalism, to apologize when they’ve done nothing wrong. Claiming innocence is open defiance of all the worldly powers.
Remember that Innocence is why those worldly powers hate Christ in the first place.
5. 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.
Again, I find modern Covidism has broken from the author’s Communist Chinese experience. The behavior here is Skin Suit. Naked exercises of power do not survive well because they’re too honest. Traitors can’t betray you when you see them coming with knives drawn.
This gets at the heart of the devil’s rebellion against Christ. We mortals fight using our respective god’s tools. Christ directs us to be honest and honorable; Satan wants his people to betray and rebel. This is why you rarely see college commissars making up lists of Bad People to be crushed even though it would be quite the time-saver. Instead, they set up kangaroo courts and wait for false accusations to be made, which are then investigated and *gasp!* discovered to be true. It’s not enough simply to win; the legitimacy of a show trial must be made.
I claim that Satan’s servants cannot tolerate the truth even when they have total control of a society for the exact same reason that we Christians do not tolerate treachery even when the consequences are mild. It is a challenge to who we are, what we revere, the source of our strength. Imagine a politician campaigning for office decides to gloat in front of a crowd about all the bribes he’ll take as soon as the people he paid to rig the voting machines declare him the winner. It would be torches and pitchforks for him even if the crowd was the very lobbyists who bought him off because his honesty exposed them, too.
Thus, even when Totalism is dominant it must cloak itself in stolen legitimacy. It’s tragicomic that the people claiming “the science is settled!” tend to be actively engaged in silencing a doubter.
6. Loading the Language
The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliche. 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 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 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.
The thought-ending cliche! If you don’t take anything else from this post, take the concept “thought-ending cliche”.
The science is settled.
It’s a New Normal.
You Only Live Once!
George Orwell beat Lifton to this concept, of course: the idea that language’s purpose in a Totalist culture is to control behavior rather than communicate information.
7. Doctrine Over Person
This sterile language reflects another 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 a totalist environment seems, at least to the outsider, to possess…
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 has 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.
This is the goal of Totalism more than an element of it: the reduction of human souls to human cattle. The prophets wish to feed upon the people and the people seek oblivion in service to a higher cause. Imagine a man being fed into a meat grinder with a serene expression on his face, knowing that his sacrifice (being processed into sausage for literal consumption) will prevent Hell from freezing over.
Or as Orwell put it, Big Brother loves you.
8. 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. In thought reform, as in Chinese Communist practice generally, the world is divided into the “people” (defined as “the working class, the peasant class, the petite bourgeoisie, and the national bourgeoisie”), and the “reactionaries” or “lackeys of imperialism” (defined as “the landlord class, the bureaucratic capitalist class, and the KMT reactionaries and their henchmen”).
Hello, Emanuel Goldstein. Just as the Totalist leader must cloak his intentions in skin suits, he must also provide an Approved Enemy for the people to attack because they sure aren’t going to like what he does. He must show himself to be the lesser of two evils!
Typically, such designated enemies are simultaneously lethal threats and clownish incompetents. The bourgeois have unstoppable armies but will sell you the rope you need to hang them!
For ease of recall, compatibility with modern language and an upcoming post on tactics against Totalism/Covidism, I summarize by paring the list down to Six Principles of Totalism:
- Social Control
- Mystical Manipulation
- Binary Thinking
- Nobody Can Be Innocent
- Skin Suit Legitimacy
- Designated Enemies