Brainwashing should be illegal everywhere.

The United States is a breeding ground for cults. Restrictions there are about as low as they can possibly be, even granting tax-exempt status to some of them (like Scientology). “Religious protection” is a huge part of that, in that cults can easily masquerade as religions, and opposing anything that looks like a religion seems to elicit profound fear in American governments at all levels. There is also this irrational belief in a peculiar version of American “individualism,” which holds that people’s decisions about their personal lives are beyond criticism.

Whatever the reason, the United States is littered with people whose lives have been broken by cults, and the process continues unabated. But other countries take a more proactive approach. For example, France has made brainwashing illegal as part of the About-Picard Law passed in 2001. This law prohibits:

[F]raudulent abuse of a state of ignorance or weakness of a person, either a minor, a person with particular vulnerability due to their age, illness, handicap, physical or mental deficit, or pregnancy, visible and known by the abuser, in a state of physical or psychological subjection as a result of the exercise of heavy or repeated pressure or the use of techniques likely to alter a person’s judgement, to induce that person to act or refrain from acting in a way that is seriously harmful to themselves.
Translation of article 223-15-2 of the French penal code

This is a pretty complicated run-on legalese sentence, but basically it identifies brainwashing as getting a person to act against their interests through heavy or repeated pressure. The second paragraph, which I didn’t translate, gives provisions for organizations to be sued on this basis also.

The term “brainwashing” (or as it’s more commonly called by experts nowadays, “thought reform”) is controversial because people have a lot of misconceptions about it. Brainwashing is not connected to hypnotism (although there are certain similarities), it doesn’t turn people into zombies, and it’s not necessarily about manipulating vulnerable people (as this law seems to presume). Therefore they conclude that brainwashing does not exist.

But anyone who’s studied cults can tell you that brainwashing does exist. We have so many testimonies, not just of people who have been brainwashed, but of people who used to work in various cults who were in charge of setting up brainwashing conditions, like setting up rooms or directing “courses.” And brainwashing has existed for centuries, and its techniques have been refined since then.

Any study of brainwashing has to begin with a study of Christian revivalism in eighteenth century America. Apparently, Jonathan Edwards accidentally discovered the techniques during a religious crusade in 1735 in Northampton, Massachusetts. By inducing guilt and acute apprehension and by increasing the tension, the “sinners” attending his revival meetings would break down and completely submit. Technically, what Edwards was doing was creating conditions that wipe the brain slate clean so that the mind accepts new programming. The problem was that the new input was negative. He would tell them, “You’re a sinner! You’re destined for hell!”
Dick Sutphen, The Battle For Your Mind

The concept of using trance states in undermining people’s critical barriers and making them more suggestible is nothing new, but the techniques have been refined over time. More recently, Scientology upped the game on brainwashing, creating many techniques which have inspired LGATs (Large Group Awareness Training, a relatively new form of mass brainwashing especially popular in the United States) and other modern cults.

I only have one problem with this law, that it only applies to vulnerable people, when brainwashing actually potentially works on everyone. Even experts who know how trance states work can get dragged along with it! That’s because trance states and brainwashing are not consensual: they operate at a subconscious level and through mechanical means, and you could never tell the techniques being employed unless you already understood them.

Laws against brainwashing must be adopted in the United States in order to stem the tide of lives being destroyed by flourishing cult organizations like LGATs and MLMs. Every week people are being brainwashed into abandoning their values and serving the interests of big national and multinational corporations (just like being a capitalist, am I right?), alienating themselves from friends, family, and loved ones, giving away their money, working every day to meet a quota or recruit more people. And when the hypnotic euphoria goes away, the money doesn’t come in, or there’s nothing left in their lives to ruin, people sometimes kill themselves.

One obvious “tell” that someone has been brainwashed is that a person will hold a value and its diametrical opposite with ease. Cults condition people to have huge blind spots towards the organization itself, doctrinal contradictions, or contradictions between the doctrine and the real world. So for example you have fundamentalist Christians who both profess an abhorrence of slavery and support Biblical slavery, or the Scientologist who claims to be able to communicate with anyone on any subject but was forced to disconnected from his family and is so collapsed into himself that he can barely talk.

Cognitive dissonance is the main crack in brainwashing and usually provides the means to undo it (although unlike the popular idea of deprogramming, most people actually leave cults of their own impetus). Even under the most total brainwashing, the individual still retains their original values, as shown by the fact that those values come back after leaving. So the issue of one of mental suppression of the pre-brainwashing personality, and of subsequent doubts.

It is therefore no surprise that cults have adopted a variety of suppression methods. By far the most commonly used is thought-stopping; although this is a crude tool, it can be very effective if one desires passive followers. Cults also program their followers to not look at outside information, under a variety of pretenses. They also hype themselves up as the one solution to the world’s problems and motivate you to not want to look at outside information. Loading of the language also makes it harder for people in a brainwashed mindset to assimilate outside information. And when that doesn’t work, there’s always threats, physical isolation, and so on.

The issue of cult is as pressing as ever, but I can’t help thinking that brainwashing laws could be applied to a much wider scope of activities and institutions. Parenting is one obvious example. Plenty of parents use repeated pressure to alter children’s judgment in ways that are harmful to themselves, although most people would call those ways perfectly normal and not directly harmful to the child.

Still, most brainwashing done in cults is not directly harmful, either. The point is not to harm, but to exploit. In that sense, parents are just as guilty of it as cults. In fact, that seems to be a good definition of pedagogy: repeatedly using pressure on children so they “come out right.” While they disagree on the nature of the pressure, whether pressuring children to be “free,” to study hard, to be more “normal,” or to be obedient, the result is the same.

Category Valuable

The Pornography Fact Sheet.

It’s available here. Includes statistics, ex-porn star testimonies, studies, links and videos, and more.

On sexual coercion.

If someone makes you feel obligated or forced to do something you don’t want to, you may be experiencing coercion. By definition, sexual coercion is “the act of using pressure, alcohol or drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will” and includes “persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused.”

Think of sexual coercion as a spectrum or a range. It can vary from someone verbally egging you on to someone actually forcing you to have contact with them. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, your partner might:

* Make you feel like you owe them — ex. Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift, because you go home with them
* Give you compliments that sound extreme or insincere as an attempt to get you to agree to something
* Badger you, yell at you or hold you down
* Give you drugs and alcohol to loosen up your inhibitions
* Play on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me” or “If I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
* React negatively (with sadness, anger or resentment) if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
* Continue to pressure you after you say no
* Make you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
* Try to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a guy.”

Excellent additional comment by queeravenger:

I never see posts like this mention an abuse of power. If a person in a position of power (teacher, professor, boss, internship director, etc.) has sex with a subordinate, even if it seems consensual in every other way, it’s coercion and rape.

And, as Amy in the comments points out, don’t forget therapists, doctors, and so on.

Why couldn’t a forest own itself?

I’ve talked a great deal about the incoherence of the concept of self-ownership and how it’s a self-serving belief used to further capitalist aims. Here I would like to talk about how self-ownership rhetoric can unwittingly be used to attack capitalism.

My line of reasoning began when I learned about a very special tree. There is a tree in Athens, Georgia, the only one in the world as far as I know, which is a “self-owner.” Not only that, but it also owns the piece of land it lives on. Since it is the son of the original “self-owning” tree, people call it “The Son of the Tree that Owns Itself.” For the sake of clarity, let’s call them both SOTs (self-owning trees).

The Wikipedia page opines:

This does not confirm that the tree owns itself, but suggests, rather, that it is considered to be within the right-of-way along Finley Street. Athens-Clarke County confirms that the tree is in the right-of-way, and is thus “accepted for care” by municipal authorities… Regarding Jackson’s deed, one writer noted at the beginning of the 20th century, “However defective this title may be in law, the public recognized it.” In that spirit, it is the stated position of the Athens-Clarke County unified government that the tree, in spite of the law, does indeed own itself.

This may just be a “cute” footnote to local Georgia folklore, but seen from a political perspective it does present some interesting questions.

“Property” is really two relations: a relation between two sides, owner and owned, which we could call a claim, and a relation between the owner and the other individuals in that society where the latter agree to respect and uphold the claim. Without either of these two relations, property cannot exist.

According to self-ownership rhetoric, however, we can just forget about the first relation because “owner” and “owned” can be equated. If this is true, then, from this perspective, “property” can only be a relation between that person or thing and the rest of society. If other people recognize and respect a property claim, then that claim is valid. And in reverse, if the property claim is not recognized, then the claim is invalid.

If this is true (and I am not saying it is, obviously, since I don’t believe in self-ownership), then the SOT in question is actually self-owning, because its claim is recognized by the individuals in its society. The law is, as in all things, an indication but not a definitive answer: an unenforced law has no relevance due to that lack of enforcement, and a belief enforced without or against law (as in this case) gains relevance from that enforcement.

One may answer that this recognition is facetious and could be withdrawn at any time, but I fail to see how this does not equally apply to human beings. After all, we withdraw our belief in other people’s self-ownership constantly (for example, when we throw them in prison, force them to go to school, kill them in wars, etc), and most people praise these events. If this does not nullify self-ownership in humans, why should it nullify self-ownership in trees?

On what other basis should we disqualify trees from “self-ownership”? That we need to cut them down, and therefore cannot afford such tenderness of heart? But there are plenty of people who defend human sacrifice, and who would accuse egalitarians of being namby-pamby. So again, no significant difference there.

Is it that trees do not have a “self”? I have yet to hear any account of the “self” in “self-ownership” that doesn’t either degenerate into “the body owns the body” or veers into metaphysical nonsense. If advocates of the concept can point to a “self,” and can explain why their particular conception has any relevance to the discussion, then we shall see.

But suppose that non-human organisms, such as trees, can indeed own themselves, as I think the SOTs has demonstrated. Then the link between self-ownership and rampant capitalism is cast in even further doubt than previously.

Our “normal” perspective on “self-ownership” is that only humans can be “self-owners.” That’s because “self-ownership” is a self-serving construct meant to reinforce the notion that humans are at the apex and “nature,” that which is outside of us, is inherently inferior and should serve our needs. As God stated to Noah and his family, all green plants are their property and everything that moves is for eating: the only difference now is that we’ve replaced the religious Bible with a secular “Humans’ Burden.”

In capitalism, the natural world only gains any sort of value at all through an alchemic transmutation called “mixing one’s labor,” or “transformation.” The message here is clear: nature itself is only valuable insofar as it serves human values. This is the same rationale of exploitation that the elite uses against women, workers, children, POC, and so on: you are valuable only as long as you serve our interests.

The concept that a tree could be an owner is ridiculous to us because we’ve been raised with the elitist Western notion that humans are separate from the rest of nature, that humans (especially white adult males) are “intelligent” in a way that no other part of nature can be, that trees, like all other “natural resources,” exist solely for our benefit.

I was driving through the English countryside with my daughter Juliet, then aged six, and she pointed out some flowers by the wayside. I asked her what she thought wildflowers were for. She gave a rather thoughtful answer: “Two things,” she said. “To make the world pretty, and to help the bees make honey for us.” I was touched by this and sorry I had to tell her that it wasn’t true.
Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable

Sure it’s easy to laugh it off as childish ignorance, but she’s just regurgitating what she’s been taught. That’s the worldview we’ve all been indoctrinated with, and it’s the worldview that’s leading to the squandering of the resources of this planet and the extermination of hundreds of species every year.

Yvonne: An Oklahoma City street prostitute’s journey

Are the Teletubbies utopian fiction?

Simon engages in an entertaining speculation, but taken very seriously: are the Teletubbies utopian science-fiction?

The Teletubbies, I’d suggest, are contemporary versions of Wells’s Eloi, those indolent foppish creatures from The Time Machine. Indeed, they are a more thoroughly-worked through rendering of the Eloi mode of life. Where Wells saw his Eloi as adults, still capable despite their degeneracy of adult pastimes (so that Wells’s time traveller is for instance able to have sex with the Eloi Weena), the Teletubbies inhabit a more self-consistent vision of complete degeneracy.

Let’s put it this way: imagine a culture that develops such sophisticated technical prostheses that its inhabitants no longer need to work, to worry, to strive in any way. Imagine those inhabitants, through choice or through evolutionary pressure, losing all stress-related functions of adult consciousness: work-ethic, conscience, guilt, lust, anger, avarice. Imagine them, in other words, regressing back wholly to a toddler’s existence, finding in that simplicity a maximum fit between existence and stress-free-satisfaction, like those German 40-something businessmen who like dressing in nappies and rolling around on the carpets of speciality brothels. Or, in fact, not like those men, because (unlike the Eloi) the Teletubbies have discarded the sex impulse as well, abandoning with it the dangerously fretful anxiety-gratification ratio of adult sexual life.

The machines in Teletubbyland, in other words, are the devices necessary to free mankind from its attachment to the adult world of necessity, provision and work. And once freed from those constraints, the show suggests, evolution or choice leads life back into the calm, bright satisfactions of toddlerdom. The Teletubbies are purer Eloi than the Eloi, a more complete rendering of the old SF convention about degeneration. Wells characterised his Eloi as child-like in some respect, but adult-like in others (physical appearance, sexual appetite). Huxley’s Brave New World also posited human global happiness upon an infantilisation of the human animal, although his future humans are also adult in appearance and physical appetite.

Benatar defending the right to die.

I don’t agree with everything David Benatar writes, but I do think he’s right about antinatalism and issues related to it, such as the right to die. In this article, he defends the right to die and euthanasia against common objections.

With that scenario in mind, we can see the hidden assumption in the slippery slope argument against legalizing euthanasia: It is the assumption that the instances of euthanasia that the Netherlands now permits are morally wrong. But the problem is that very many defenders of a legal right to die would deny that those instances of euthanasia are wrong. Some of us think that the suffering that a person endures need not be the product of a terminal disease in order for it to be intolerable. We also recognize that some mental suffering is intractable and as unbearable as physical suffering. And we recognize that it is not only competent patients, but also incompetent ones who can suffer from conditions that make their lives not worth living. Accordingly, we would like to see euthanasia and assisted suicide permitted in such a wider range of cases. If, however, we cannot effect that legal change in one step, we recommend, in the first instance, a more limited liberalization of the law. Once that change has been made, people might realize that the next step and then the next are also acceptable, even if they cannot see it now.

And thanks to Michael in the comments for posting this quote from another article:

The decision about whether to continue living in such conditions is among the most important that can be made. Just as people value having control over where to live, which occupation to pursue, whom to marry, and whether to have children, so people value having control over whether to continue living when quality of life deteriorates. That is why the right to life and the right to die are not two rights, but two aspects or descriptions of the same right. The right to life is the right to decide whether one will OR WILL NOT continue living. The right to die is the right to decide whether one will die (when one could continue living). If the right to life were only a right to decide to continue living and did not also include a right to decide not to continue living, then it would be a DUTY to live rather than a RIGHT to life. The idea that there is a duty to continue living, regardless of how bad life has become, is an implausible one indeed.

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