Category Archives: Mechanisms of control

“THOSE people aren’t like me and mine.”

I found a statement on a blog which was such a perfect representation of bigotry that I couldn’t help but write a commentary on it. I won’t post any link to it, although you can find it easily by searching on Google. Here is the statement:

Those people aren’t like me and mine. They’re different. You can never tell what they’re up to, you have no idea what they’re thinking, what the world is like to them and what they think of you and your own. It doesn’t matter what they say, you can never tell when those people are telling the truth. So often it happens to be the case that one of them acts all nice in public, but then he turns around and blows something up. You just can’t trust them. When it comes to my own, I know what they’re thinking, because I’m one of them; I know what it’s like. When one of mine acts up, I know it’s just because he’s a bad person – but with those other people, you can never tell. Why are they so violent?

You can clearly tell it’s about Muslims, because of the “blows something up” part. But if you take that expression out and replace it with something more generic, say, “but then they turn around and do something that’s just plain wrong,” then you’d have a completely universal statement.

It’s easy to dismiss the spirit of this statement as pure ignorance or mindless hatred, but I think there’s a lot more to talk about here. It’s an eloquent demonstration of the things you need to do in order to incite hatred against people.

1. People we hate are unpredictable and inscrutable.

Dehumanization is a big part of bigotry, but dehumanizing people is not that easy. One way of doing this is to say that those people don’t think like humans do (i.e. like you do), that they can’t be understood, that they are so different that you just can’t trust them. They can’t be “good people” because “good people” are predictable: they’ll always do the right thing. But those people can’t be counted on to do the right thing.

So when he writes “You can never tell what they’re up to, you have no idea what they’re thinking, what the world is like to them and what they think of you and your own,” the intent there is to dehumanize. They don’t think like us at all, you can never have an idea what they think, because they’re not human. You can no more understand what their thoughts are like than you can know what being a bat or a cow is like. Women are “crazy” and “irrational,” POCs are “bestial,” children are “wild,” and all could explode in either verbal or physical violence without any justification.

2. People we hate are all the same.

As the writer explains, when a person on their side “acts up,” it’s because they’re a “bad person.” It’s their fault, not the fault of the group they belong to. This dovetails easily into the “bad apples” rhetoric: when people on our side “act up,” it’s because of a few “bad apples,” and all we need to do is cull those “bad apples” from the bunch, because we’re “good people.”

Women, POCs, and children, on the other hand, are said to be representative of their group. When they “act up,” it’s not because they’re a “bad person.” it’s because they are part of a subhuman group. Unlike us, they have no individuality: they are all inherently violent and none of them can be trusted. We know how people blame all women for the perceived shortcomings of one woman, all POCs for the perceived shortcomings of one POC, all children for the perceived shortcomings of one child. This is only an extension of that concept.

3. People we hate are innately violent.

Because there is no possible explanation or justification for their actions, because they do not think like us and are inscrutable, and they are all equally untrustworthy, the only conclusion one can come to is that they must be innately violent or immoral. It is rather hard to be a constructionist and maintain hatred against any group of people, because constructionism and the belief in some innate violence or immorality in an entire group of people simply do not mesh. Anyone who wants to propagate hate must therefore argue against constructionism and for a specifically racial, sexist or ageist view of human nature. It is not a coincidence that racists, sexists and childists either vigorously attack constructionist positions or substitute their own (such as what I’ve called the “no-subconscious model”).

So usually the question “why are they so violent” is answered with “because that’s how those people are.” Understanding of their thoughts (which is posited as impossible) is replaced by the position that they are thoughtless and moved by some biological imperative. Women are biologically made to be radically different from men because of their differing role in procreation and child-raising, and they are made to be caring, emotional, and irrational. POCs were thought to have different lines of descent from whites, and therefore impossible to understand from a “white” standpoint. Children are thought to be born evil, wild animals, who need to be pacified (like natives).

“You’re just trying to turn everyone into victims.”

For more than a century now, there has been a rising awareness of the need for universal human rights: first for the workers of the world, then for women and people of color, then for many other groups. This has led to many different waves of backlash, all tied to the specific movement they are going against.

In this era of continued growing awareness, it seems to some people that there’s no end to the complaints about subgroups being exploited or mistreated, which is why they use the term “political correctness” derisively. They are trying to reduce these movements to demands about words, when the use of words is only a symptom of the greater problems. Calling a black person a “nigger” is not the root of the problem. It is a symptom of the underlying racism that made that person say it. Wanting white people to stop saying “nigger” is an attempt to get white people to see black people in a more respectful light. People who object to such “correctness” only see the word, not the causes of the use of the word, or they are racists and simply don’t care if people use that word.

But there is a more sophisticated strategy that they can take here. Instead of just objecting to the “correctness,” they sometimes say something like, “so you think [oppressed group] is so fragile that they can’t stand hearing the word [slur]? I think you need to start treating [oppressed group] like adults who can stand up to a simple word.” Here is a real life example of a misogynist commenting on the “ban bossy” campaign:

The biggest level of cognitive dissonance is – this is a campaign that is done in solidarity of young women and girls, yet it is making it sound like they are so fragile that they can’t handle being called a word. I mean, really? Are we really making that argument? Cause if we are, then you are tacitly admitting that they shouldn’t be holding positions of power. Reason – because they can’t take criticism.

This is an insidious tactic because it claims to be on the side of the oppressed, that the oppressed are not weak and can take the abuse, so it’s not really abusive. This particular example is even better because it creates a double bind: either women are too weak to be called “bossy,” in which case they don’t deserve power (as if men can take criticism any better), or they are strong enough to be called “bossy,” in which case we should continue to insult them. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Inevitably this tactic is framed in terms of “fragility” or “weakness.” The implication is that if members of an oppressed group are offended by a certain word, then they must be “fragile” or “weak,” and (at least in the case of the example I quoted) therefore unable to withstand serious human interactions. This is, of course, disingenuous and hypocritical: when people in power are offended, they don’t conclude that they are too “fragile” or “weak” to keep holding power. It is therefore purely a matter of self-interest, and the end goal of the maneuver is to shut people up.

I’m talking about tactics based on arguing that the person defending a given group is trying to turn the people of that group into victims. This particular argument is just a specific instance of that category, since it contends that the people trying to abolish slurs are implying that the oppressed people are weak. In general, though, the rationalization used is not that the oppressed people are “weak,” but rather that they have “agency” or “choice,” which is even more insidious because it seems to “empower” oppressed people with the ability to decide their destiny. The argument goes something like this:

1. You claim that a group of people P is oppressed.
2. But such a statement denies that people P have agency and (have chosen the life situation that you decry/need to choose a better life situation and “life themselves by their bootstraps.”)
3. Therefore you are denying people P agency, portraying them as victims when they actually (are/should be) empowered.

There are two branches to this argument, and they switch from one to the other depending on whether they find the oppression desirable or not. So for instance, homemaking, pornography or prostitution get the “they’ve chosen the life situation that you decry” branch, while poverty or police harassment get the “need to choose a better life situation” branch.

One major problem with this argument, however, is that it does not apply to bigotry, which is the foundation of the oppressions they are trying to rationalize. So for example the following argument makes sense to them:

Women in pornography and prostitution have agency and have chosen the life situation that you decry. Therefore you are denying women in pornography and prostitution their agency, portraying them as victims when they actually are empowered.

But once you start trying to address sexism itself, neither branch of the argument makes sense. While genderists do believe that various parts of sexism are empowering (such as the fuckability mandate or rigid gender roles), sexism itself is still not considered “empowering,” and it makes no sense to say that women who are victim of sexism need to choose a better life situation, since they can’t change being a woman (genderist blathering notwithstanding). The “agency” ploy only works on the oppressed’ reactions to bigotry. It doesn’t work on the bigotry itself.

That’s obvious if you understand what “agency” is really all about, and that’s victim-blaming, more specifically, defending evil institutions by claiming the victims’ participation is justified by “agency.” But obviously victims of bigotry do not participate in it, they only participate to their own reactions to the bigotry.

But this is a major flaw of the argument, as it doesn’t actually explain the oppression itself. Homemaking, pornography, prostitution, poverty and police harassment are effects of misogyny and racism, which are the root causes. The latter cannot be addressed without also addressing the former. Therefore any argument which justifies one without justifying the other is logically flawed. If the existence of those effects is justified by “agency,” then misogyny and racism must also be justified by “agency,” otherwise neither can be justified by “agency.”

Is identifying oppression the same as turning people into victims? Well, I think there is a problem with the question, insofar as a belief in “agency” seems to preclude any victimhood whatsoever. How can anyone be a victim if everyone has the “agency” to “choose” their oppression or to leave it? Take a very clear-cut example of oppression: a mother is beaten by her husband but does not want to leave him because of the children. According to the argument, the mother is not being oppressed because she has the “agency” to leave him, so the fact that she’s not leaving is actually “her choice” (they would never say that last part, but it is implied). Things like financial dependence or fear never factor in “agency” explanations (they never count against prostitution or pornography, for example), so we can’t let them factor in here either.

Such arguments reduce victimhood to a matter of subjectivity, whether a person feels “empowered” or not, whether they are said to have “chosen” where they ended up. This is generally not based on any facts or statistics. Every case is treated as a separate entity, and institutions are portrayed as being somewhat fluid, not quite real. Coercion and exploitation is obscured by the stories of the happy homemakers, the happy hookers, the happy actresses. Poverty and lower social status are portrayed as a sort of laziness, reserved for people who don’t work hard enough to get themselves free of it. There is a great deal of vagueness, of ambiguity, projected upon the whole thing, following the principle of inserting a “shadow of a doubt” in order to secure innocence. If some people aren’t victims, then none really are.

I like to think of this as “eracism.” It’s become fashionable to deny the existence of racism, while hiding it behind codewords and dogwhistles. A racist candidate is now a “law and order” candidate. A racist policy against blacks is now targeting “welfare queens” or “urban crime.” One erases racism by turning victims into miscreants. It is a high priority of anyone who supports the status quo to deny that anyone is being victimized by the system, that it’s all fair and just part of the game.

Eracism is necessarily victim-blaming, and I would include the “you’re turning everyone into victims” argument in that category, because it seeks to cloak oppression with “empowerment.” When people treat victims of sexist or racist oppression as “empowered,” they are hiding the victimhood, and they are also hiding their own role in the process as social agents. By projecting blame on the victims, they exculpate themselves. This is a comforting thought, if you don’t care at all for truth or justice.

“You can’t tell me how to raise my child!”

There seems to be a pretty common response when people criticize the behavior of a parent, and that’s “you can’t tell me how to raise my child!” Although I try not to talk to breeders because they generally disgust me (although there are some exceptions), I have been treated to this line more than once. But besides the fact that it’s a stupid thing to say, I find it rather interesting to think about.

For one thing, it seems to imply that the way parents treat their children is not a fit topic of conversation. But I find that there are few things people love to talk about more than the way people treat each other, whether it’s good or bad, and the motives of the people involved. People are fascinated with stories about celebrities’ lives, reality shows, and all sorts of fictional narratives, because they want to talk about the way people treat each other.

So I find it rather disingenuous when someone says “you can’t tell me how to raise my child.” Actually, we talk about how people raise their children all the time. Who hasn’t complained about a child’s behavior and said something like “their parents must be terrible” or “they must be spoiled”? We operate under the (generally false) assumption that the way a person turns out is mostly due to their parents’ specific pedagogy or character. It seems to me that this implies pretty strongly that people believe they can “tell people how to raise their children.” In fact, from what I’ve heard from breeders, it seems that once you have a child everyone has an opinion about how you should raise it. And yet, even though they are probably annoyed about it, you don’t hear that they told family members or friends that they can’t tell them how to raise their children.

So, if I am correct in saying that, the “you can’t tell me how to raise my child” is not an honest response, but a tactic. It seems to me that they are trying to shut down discussion they find unpleasant. In one case, I was arguing with an atheist mother that she should not have let her own mother take her child to church. Her reply was a fury of indignation spearheaded by “you can’t tell me how to raise my child!” Yet there is nothing particularly strange about discussing people’s religion. We do that all the time, too, from coworkers to celebrities. The religious education of children is always a hot topic within families. Surely this mother has debated the issue many times before. So it seems rather disingenuous for her to tell me that.

I am not trying to tell people how to raise “their children.” What does concern me, however, is ethical principles: how human beings should treat each other, and where those conclusions come from. And since I consider children to be full human beings (a crackpot position for sure, but one that I hold nevertheless), I therefore think that the way some human beings (such as parents) treat other human beings (such as “their children”) is very much something we should argue about. I am not interested in discussing the property claim that parents make on “their children.” I think it is absolute nonsense and that no human being can be owned by definition. Human beings cannot logically be owned any more than any other product of nature. But I am not about to start arguing with the repugnant breeders who screech because we ever so slightly show disrespect towards their property claim. There are few things harder than to convince anyone that they have privilege, let alone to give it up! You might as well howl to the Moon.

I am interested in the principles regulating human relations in hierarchies, and the parent-child hierarchy is the most extreme of all. I do think we should all have a say in how hierarchies demean, mistreat and control human beings. I think that’s a vital topic of discussion. If we just let all parents say “you can’t tell me how to raise my child” and just outright deny dialogue, then there is no place left for that discussion to happen. We need to force that discussion. It is because that discussion was imposed on parents that laws against corporal punishment were passed, it is because that discussion was imposed on parents that the sexual abuse of children is no longer considered acceptable, and it is because that discussion was imposed on parents that we consider that a child being educated is an important thing (unfortunately, the education system itself is still shit). The progress done in the treatment of children in the past centuries would have never happened if we had just let parents continue to cloak themselves under “you can’t tell me how to raise my child.”

It is just as weird that this excuse does not seem to apply to other hierarchies, even though they are not nearly as strict. We would not think it is acceptable for a politician to say “you can’t tell me what laws to pass!” or for a CEO to answer accusations of breaking labor laws or providing dangerous products by saying “you can’t tell me how to run my business!” And people do talk endlessly about what laws are passed and not passed, and what businesses do. It is natural for us to do so. Because it involves a strict hierarchy used against the most powerless human beings in our society, parenting cannot be exempt from scrutiny. To say otherwise is just thought-stopping.

The family unit and brainwashing.

Brainwashing is a term which, if people think about it at all, is solely associated with cults. And people’s idea of cults is still vastly underdeveloped, but that’s another issue. In this, I want to concentrate on the topic of brainwashing as it relates to the family unit.

It may seem bizarre to people for me to associate brainwashing with families. Brainwashing involves taking a human being with their own values and beliefs, and replacing those with the cult’s values and beliefs. This cannot happen with children because, as childism tells us, children do not have thoughts of their own, and when they do, they are trivial and irrelevant.

So I understand if people who do not already agree with me about the harms of childism also do not agree with the premise of this entry. But from the anti-childism perspective, I think we can say that children can be brainwashed. After all, children do have their own values and beliefs, and they are not irrelevant. They may be irrelevant from the perspective of a parent who seeks to impose the alignment paradigm on their own children, but they are not irrelevant to the child, or to anyone who is on the side of the child. The brainwashing is most obvious in the case of religion, but I think we should seriously examine brainwashing from the framework of the family unit as a whole.

The most well-known model of brainwashing (or as it’s called academically, thought reform) is the BITE model by cult researcher Steve Hassan, which is composed of Behavior control, Information control, Thought control, and Emotional control.

Behavior control includes everything that can be done to regulate people’s behavior: control where and how people live, their finances, their sleep, their diet, their leisure time, instilling obedience to strict rules, demanding permission for any activity not directly relevant to the group, and so on. This is directly relevant to the extreme control that parents have over their children’s lives. Parents do decide on where and how children live, as well as everything they do, especially at an early age (the time where most child indoctrination takes place). They do so operating under the unspoken assumption that the child is their property and that therefore they have the right to make these decisions. This is not much different from the assumption that the cult leader knows what’s best for his followers because he is “enlightened,” especially since adults believe they have “intelligence” and children do not.

Information control includes deception, minimizing access to outside information, encouraging spying on other members, and extensive use of information generated within the group. Many of these don’t really apply to the family unit, as family units don’t generate media of their own, but parents do extensively control the information that their children are exposed to, under the pretense that “children can’t understand.” Parents will also try to minimize children’s access to information they judge to be counter to their objectives.

Thought control includes requiring members to internalize group doctrines, the use of loaded language, thought-stopping techniques, the rejection of critical thinking and questioning, and the labeling of alternative belief systems as evil. I think that, while parents do demand that the child internalize the parents’ beliefs, they generally are so confident in their ability to control the child that they will not usually care much for controlling its thoughts. The main exception would be parents who are fanatical about some particular ideology (religious, political, or whatever) and who cannot stand the idea of their children thinking differently.

Emotional control includes labeling certain emotions as evil or selfish, emotion-stopping, victim-blaming, promoting feelings of guilt and fear, and inducing phobias about disobedience or leaving. I’d say most of these are also things “normal” parents do to children, especially young children. While we think it’s wrong for adults to do this to each other, we see nothing wrong with making children feel guilt for not doing or believing what their parents want them to, making children fear punishment, blaming children for their own abuse, or trying to censor their emotions when they make us uncomfortable.

All in all, I would say that the family unit definitely fulfills the behavior control criterion, fulfills the information control and emotional control criteria to some extent, and do not universally fulfill the thought control criterion (although some family units do fulfill it as well). So, are family units also thought reform groups? Yes, insofar as their doctrine is the alignment paradigm (i.e. that children must be made to conform to the requirements of “success”). Families brainwash their children to follow the paradigm and believe in it unquestioningly, at the expense of their own values and desires. Of course, many other families brainwash their children in many other things, some of which are deemed necessary for the child to be “normal” and therefore more likely to be “successful” (e.g. gender, religion, nationalism, “intelligence,” to name only those)

Now, although brainwashing is perhaps the most salient attribute of cults, we cannot say that the family structure is itself a cult, simply because we evaluate cults by comparing them from their surrounding society. Since families are defined as “normal” by society, we therefore cannot evaluate them as cults or non-cults. The tests that we have simply don’t work. However they do share many attributes of cults. For example, Robert Jay Lifton frames the most important characteristics of cults as:

* A charismatic leader.
* Coercive persuasion or thought reform.
* Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

The family unit definitely fulfills at least two of these three requirements. Western families nowadays do not generally exploit their children economically or sexually, although many children are still being exploited in those ways (not to mention other forms of psychological, religious, or ego exploitation). Some kinds of families definitely qualify as cults (for instance, I don’t think any expert quibbles about calling the Quiverfull movement a cultish movement). Others, not as much. So I would prefer to shelve the issue of “are family units cults?” and keep the conclusion that “whatever else they are, family units are thought reform groups.”

If you look at families as social units that serve the purpose of molding children to the purposes of society, then you could argue that being a thought reform group is actually the main purpose of the family unit. It certainly seems uniquely suited for that purpose. And it seems uniquely unsuited for its theoretical purpose of helping children grow up and mature in a healthy manner. And as I’ve said before, if the way an institution is organized doesn’t seem to fit its theoretical purpose, then look for what it seems to be fit for.

The tendency towards nounism.

This is perhaps not a complete idea, but a number of observations revolving around one topic: the tendency towards “nounism,” that is, of turning verbs (actions) into nouns (identity).

One may reasonably argue that this transformation of actions into identities guides much of anti-feminist thought nowadays. I think the reason behind that is that it gives them the moral high ground: actions can be reasonably opposed, but opposing other people’s identities is usually seen as bigotry. A similar reasoning, I think, underlies the pathologisation of minorities: if they can’t help being “defective,” then they should be pitied, not oppressed.

So from that we get nounism. And sure, there’s a degree to which this is natural, albeit unfortunate. We are not people who have sex, or don’t have sex, with other people, we are heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals. We are not people who happen to fall within a certain class at a certain time, we are the rich, the poor, the middle-class. We are not people with a certain personal cluster of political opinions, we are right-wingers or left-wingers, radicals, reactionaries, and so on. And there is a certain degree to which, yes, it would make language more ponderous to always say “a person who holds right-wing positions” or “a person who has sex with people of their gender.”

But the problem with nounism is that it erases our common humanity, and it helps us objectify each other. Is a woman who engages in prostitution a “prostitute” or a “prostituted women”? Radical feminists write the latter so we remember that the woman in question is, still, a human being, not a sexual object, and that she deserves rights. We may not be in danger of objectifying bisexuals or middle-class people, but in other cases the danger may be too great to “noun.” It may not be a good idea to “noun” people who are poor or prostituted women, if we want to keep thinking of them as human beings with rights. Otherwise people who are already prejudiced may be encouraged into imagining these people as a monolithic block that is not “like us.”

Talking about us versus them, I think nounism relates to the manichean worldview as well. While it’s not exactly nounism, when we think in that mode we do think of people, ideas and things as “good” or “bad” divorced from context. Nounism is also used in religions and cults to create the dichotomies they rely upon to divide and conquer (the saved/the unsaved, believers/doubters, suppressive people, angels/angelic/demons/demonic, and so on).

Nounism makes our reality tidy and neat. We don’t have to think about dissociating people from their actions: people become their actions. It’s a way to simplify social realities that are really complicated.

This can be used like a cudgel, like Ray Comfort’s “have you ever lied in your life? then you are a liar” ploy. This is a clumsy attempt at nounism, and it fails because we are very well aware that doing something once does not justify nouning someone: lying once in your life, or even a dozen times, does not make you a liar. We do have the concept that in order to be justified nouning, the nouning must refer to something habitual, ongoing, or innate in the person. A heterosexual is not a person who had sexual desire for someone of the opposite gender once or a few times: it’s someone who always has sexual desire for people of the opposite gender, and no one else. A right-winger is not a person who once believed that immigrants are scum: it’s someone who holds to the main positions we call “right-wing” and has done so for a while or as a result of strong personal beliefs.

This entry by Independent Radical talks about the political aspect of nounism, especially as related to liberal self-identification. It’s all about nouning people:

Identity politics consists of turning either superficial traits (such as sexual preferences and unhealthy lifestyle choices) or hierarchical social categories (especially race, sex and class) into “identities”, which are then meant to form a basis for political movements…

The term “smokers” is used in a similar way to defend tobacco consumption. Those who create policies aimed at discouraging smoking may be denounced for discriminating against “smokers”. By replacing the verb, “smoking”, with the noun “smoker”, one can obscure the fact that a bad habit is being targeted rather than a set of people. Nobody is inherently a “smoker” (or a “gamer” for that matter, let alone a player of violent games), nor is anyone destined to remain one (however difficult quitting may be). Those who smoke are not in the same position as those born with female genitalia or dark skin. The former have the option of giving up their dangerous habit (which is, after all, the objective of the policies) and escaping any perceived discrimination. The latter do not.

We need critical thinking, not positive thinking.

Proponents of positive thinking have set up this false dichotomy wherein you are either a “positive person” or a “negative person.” “Negative people” are a disease, must be cut off from your life, and the thoughts they put into your head must be exterminated. This blackwhite thinking reinforces their proto-fascist mindset: you’re either for ME or against ME, and anyone who’s not positive with me is against me.

The opposite of “positive thinking” is not “negative thinking.” Both are the unhealthy signs of a person who’s collapsed into themselves. Neither of them are places you wanna be in. The opposite of “positive thinking” is “critical thinking.” Critical thinking is outer-directed, an active process, and it’s not based on repressing yourself. It’s the exact opposite of the positive thinking process, which is inner-directed, mostly passive (apart from censoring yourself), and based on repressing one’s thoughts and feelings.

Positive thinking is useless because it proposes working on oneself (which really means: repressing oneself) as a solution to problems like unhappiness, unemployment, poverty, loneliness, and so on. But these problems are, by and large, social. Thinking positive about them may change your outlook, but your outlook is not the source of your happiness or unhappiness (our happiness levels are actually pretty stable throughout life, regardless of what you think about it). Jobs, money and love will not appear out of nowhere because you’ve decided to “attract” them in your life. By and large these things are controlled by institutions in our society which are impervious to your thoughts, which are wholly contained within your cranium. All it does is make you more hopeful for changes in your life, which may or may not come, but neither outcome happens because of thought-magic.

I’m sure thought-magic believers would object that positive thinking is still useful, even if it’s not literally magic, because it makes the user more capable of seizing the opportunities they run across. After all, no one wants to hire or date a gloomy “negative” person (because “negative” people are icky). I don’t dispute that this sort of self-censorship may be beneficial to a few people out there who were perhaps too obsessed in a “negative” direction, but in general I can’t see how it would help people. I think a lot of people believe they’ve been helped by it, but as for any other quack treatment or superstition, they really cannot know if the help came from the treatment, or if it was simple happenstance, or something else they did.

I have nothing against bourgeois assholes, like Oprah Winfrey or Deepak Chopra, who believe that they’ve helped themselves with it. Again, I think they are deluded, but that’s their business. What I am opposed to is the fact that these assholes try to spread it to the rest of us as a panacea. It’s easy for some rich assholes to believe that their material success was entirely their doing; people routinely do this, and tell each other stories based on this fallacy, even though it’s rarely true.

But to then turn around and tell normal people who are struggling that they are struggling because of a personal defect is just disgusting. It’s preying on the public. People are taken in by the credibility of these charlatans, by their success, and assume that they must know something. So they buy into the program, self-censor themselves, collapse into themselves, and become incapable of examining the real reasons for their position in life or their unhappiness.

One of the marks of a positive thinking believer is that they are forbidden from asking questions about anything outside of themselves. Their doubts are directed wholly at themselves, not at the outside world. Critical thinkers, on the other hand, concentrate their attention and questions on the outside world. They also doubt themselves insofar as they never take the truth of their own reasoning for granted, but that’s only so they can then look at the outside world more accurately.

In critical thinking, you gotta ask questions, but you also have to try to find answers. Asking questions alone does not make you a critical thinker; using your rationality to analyze the evidence and possible answers, however, does. Here are some questions a critical thinker might think about and try to work out:

* Why is there a stigma on unemployment and poverty? Who tends to be more affected by it? Who benefits from it?
* Why is there a stigma on being single or alone? Why do people feel like they have to be paired off in order to be worthwhile people?
* Doesn’t positive thinking rely on acceptance of these stigmas to get people to try it?
* How can positive thinking make me a better person or a more worthwhile person? Are there better ways of doing this?
* Is it my fault if I get sick, get mugged or raped? If the answer is no, then where are the limits of personal responsibility? Is it my fault if I am poor, get laid off, don’t find someone I “click” with, or am not happy?

I will not give my own answers, as I think people should figure them out for themselves, but if you read my blog you should already have a good idea of what I think.

“How you feel is your choice!”

I’ve talked about the “your feelings are your own choice” tactic before, but not in depth. In this entry, I mentioned it as one thought-stopper amongst many, because it’s used to invalidate people’s feelings and thereby silencing whatever gave rise to those feelings.

I mean, yes, in theory it sounds all empowerment-y and self-help-like, but in practice it’s used to manipulate others. I believe it’s actually a standard trick they teach in management school: they learn to deflect a worker’s unwanted expressions of emotions (anger, boredom, resentment, what have you) by making it the worker’s responsibility, that if they wanted they could be “positive.”

Another area where this principle is used, although implicitly, is when a person is incriminated by the fact that they don’t express feelings, or express the “wrong” feelings. In general, we view people who don’t express the “correct” feelings in response to an event as inherently suspicious, as if they either have some mental issue or are hiding something.

I hope I don’t have to actually explain this to anyone, but feelings do not arise from conscious thought. Feelings are an automatic response to stimuli. The concept that we consciously modulate our emotions based on some criterion does not describe normal human beings: however, it does describe sociopaths pretty well, so it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the two places where this principle is most applied, cults and businesses, are places where sociopaths excel.

One can apply this principle to fool others, in which case it means manipulating others through one’s reactions, or one can try to fool oneself, in which case it means lying to oneself. The latter, I think, is especially damaging because of its lack of integrity: at least when you lie to others you still retain your own personality and your own truth, but when one is thought-stopping, one is actively trying to erase one’s own truth.

To make a person responsible for their own feelings is a form of false responsibility. Now, while I say this, I don’t mean to say that all feelings are valid and should be passively accepted; if you have a wildly disproportionate emotional response to a situation, then you might want to change something about your life. But you are still not responsible for the existence of that emotional response (your physical response, on the other hand, is a totally different story).

We can observe the collapse into oneself that this causes with the following quote I once saw hanging at my workplace:

The remarkable thing we have is a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.
Charles Swindoll

The message, I think, is clear: the outside world is out of your control, so it’s useless to even think about change. Instead, you have to turn inward and work on your “attitude.” In the case of Swindoll, an evangelical Christian pastor and the author of such books as “The Mystery Of God’s Will: What Does He Want For Me?”, the “attitude” in question is presumably “blind faith and a naive trust in authority.” But what do I know. I’m just a raging atheist.

In its usual context, it’s really another form of blaming the victim, because it’s used to deflect the feelings of people who have been victimized. I showed one example of this in my entry on David Wasserman’s pathetic arguments in Debating Procreation, where he trots out the testimony of one paraplegic to “prove” that even the worse harms are really not so bad if you have the right feelings about them.

This is an incredibly disgusting and despicable way of arguing. But more importantly, it reflects how the very concept of victimhood itself is being erased: according to liberal rhetoric, we can’t plainly state that someone is a victim any more because it “erases people’s agency” in “empowering” themselves, which really means an artificial feeling of power but no actual power. Essentially, they are negating facts of reality with subjective feelings. Usually we call that a delusion.

I know I often come back to the concept of “agency” to the point of obsession, but it’s such a fundamental issue that we have to come back to it. It’s the chewy center of all anti-radical rhetoric, the code-word used to hammer against egalitarianism and for hatred, the number one thought-stopper used in “social justice.” It is difficult for people to even consider “agency” as a false concept because of the widespread belief in free will.

So here are what I think are the two parts to this whole erasure of victimhood:

Step 1- Acceptance of the belief that victimhood is not a statement of fact but a feeling. Anyone who does not feel victimized cannot be a victim.
I’ve already pointed out how this is used generally. We also see this strategy used to support the rape culture (e.g. “if a woman doesn’t feel like she was raped, then it wasn’t rape”). We also see it in the attempt to separate “good” oppressed from “bad” oppressed (i.e. “Some of those *minority group* complain all the time, but other *minority group* work hard and get along in society”).

Step 2- We can change our own feelings simply by wishing it so.
Assuming that victimhood is a feeling does not nullify its existence, if you are still rational enough to understand that feelings are not under our control. It is only once you believe that feelings are part of our “agency” that victimhood disappears.

We’re told that if we point out that someone was victimized, that we are the ones actually victimizing them. Understand what that means: if a rapist molests a little girl and we point out that the little girl was victimized, we’re the ones who victimized her, not the rapist. What the rapist did can be interpreted in many different ways, and if the little girl decides that it was a good thing, then we should shut up about it. Isn’t that a pretty good definition for collective insanity?

Liberals and conservatives: setting the limits of “rational” discourse.


From Sidewalk Bubblegum.

It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of the margins of discourse (also called the Overton Window, a term which is unfortunately associated with a terrible book by Glenn Beck) set by the elite to the political dialogue that takes place in our societies. The margins of discourse not only determine what issues are seen as “important” and which are not, but they also determine how we talk about those issues, which positions are “reasonable” and which are not, and the limits of what is possible.

In most Western societies we have a “right-wing” and a “left-wing” which delimit the scope of possible positions and are usually distinguished by their stance on economics. Usually the right-wing is either ultra-capitalist or close enough to it that it can be said to be the extreme end of right-wing thought, but the left-wing is usually, in absolute terms, centrist at best, and nowhere close to the extreme end of left-wing thought. Most left-wing parties have more in common with their right-wing counterparts than with the vast majority of left-wingers.

This is the expected result of living in a culture where capitalism is dominant. But the end result is that left-wing authorities end up being gatekeepers towards anyone who disagrees with the status quo. The role of a gatekeeper is to keep their ideology “protected” from all those who’d radicalize it and thereby make it “unsellable.”

The net effect is that we have severe limitations on the kind of political discussions that we have in the Western world. Many social issues are reduced to property issues (abortion, gun control, minimum wage, corporate power) or work issues (immigration, education, sexism and racism), which is not surprising given that we think and discuss within a capitalist framework.

In the US, the people setting the media agendas (such as journalists, editors, and political commentators) are all capitalists, which magnifies the effect greatly.

Take the example of gun control, which I’ve already discussed. The right-wing position is that anyone should be free to own firearms, while the left-wing position is that there should be severe restrictions on who is allowed to own firearms, as well as on the kind of firearms that can be owned.

What is omitted from both positions is firearms ownership by the State and, by extension, the violence committed by the State. From a capitalist standpoint, the police and military functions of the government are part of the implicit infrastructure of property rights and must remain unquestioned.

The left-wing position, that firearms sold to the general population should be restricted, is understood as the limits of discussion on the subject, and left-wingers know that in order to protect the credibility of their “gun control” policy (i.e. certain specific kinds of guns and certain specific kinds of control) they must suppress more “radical” positions such as questioning the use of firearms by the State.

The further irony is that the individualistic framework through which we analyze political issues also hides the control over our discourse as “free speech.” We are told that we are “free to hold any opinion without interference,” even though this control represents major interference with our ability to hold opinions.

The more vigorous the debate, the more effectively the basic doctrines of the propaganda system, tacitly assumed on all sides, are instilled. Hence the elaborate pretense that the press is a critical dissenting force — maybe even too critical for the health of democracy — when in fact it is almost entirely subservient to the basic principles of the ideological system…
Noam Chomsky

The more vigorous the debate, the more people believe that right-wing positions and left-wing positions are distinct and opposite frameworks, and the more their commonalities remain obscured. These commonalities form the core of what we call “rational” and “pragmatic” political discourse. Furthermore, these positions can be referred to in a rapid manner, while positions outside the margins must be explained and defended, making them unsuited for media exposure, which also means that breaking the margins of discourse is particularly difficult even for sympathetic actors.

There is this bizarre, abstract belief that the “middle ground” is where the truth is, that searching for the middle of two positions is “reasonable” and a “compromise,” and so on. Logically, this is a fallacy called argument to moderation.

Politically, I think this way of thinking results from the fact that we are constantly confronted with two general positions which are opposed in “vigorous debate,” and that people are seen as “reasonable” when they are not “argumentative.” If both positions are “argumentative” and these two positions delimit what is “rational,” then the truth must be somewhere in the middle. There’s nowhere else to look!

The “middle ground” depends on two extremes to define it. But how are these extremes chosen? In the political arena, these extremes are chosen by left-wing gatekeepers and the right-wing mainstream. Why should we believe that the democratic process is any better at fixing these extremes than anything else? Few people even believe that the democratic process is good at what it’s supposed to be actually doing, which is choosing the best person to rule over a nation. So why should we think the democratic process is good at fixing the margins of discourse?

Both mainstream positions are pro-hierarchies, because they both vie for power within a hierarchical system. If you believe, like I do, that hierarchies are a fundamental problem, then the idea that the truth must be somewhere “in the middle” can’t possibly work. A gradient between two positions can only encompass all the possibilities if they take opposite sides on every single possible variable, which is just not going to happen.

In most cases, if we delimit the issue properly, the truth is actually one of the two extremes. Between slavery and no slavery, the truth is obviously on the no slavery position. Between genocide and no genocide, the truth is obviously on the no genocide position. No “middle ground” is necessary here.

But my point is that the “middle ground” is never necessary. It is imbecilic to believe a position to be true just because it’s in the “middle” of some arbitrary brackets. That ain’t reason, just superstition.

Muddling the issue even more is the concept that you have to be an expert to speak authoritatively about political issues. So a lot of people think that they are entitled to hold to ignorant beliefs or opinions on the basis that rational political discourse should be left to experts (i.e. people who are not themselves). But it also leads to the belief that the experts, even those at the pay of corporations or governments, must know what is rational and what is not.

As Chomsky says, this seems to be particular to areas like politics:

No one has ever asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on [mathematics]; the mathematicians couldn’t care less. What they want to know is what I have to say…

In mathematics, in physics, people are concerned with what you say, not with your certification. But in order to speak about social reality, you must have the proper credentials, particularly if you depart from the accepted framework of thinking. Generally speaking, it seems fair to say that the richer the intellectual substance of a field, the less there is a concern for credentials, and the greater is the concern for content.

Theoretical political concepts are actually not that complicated. Any individual, willing to spend some time to read about these issues, can have a reasonable grasp of things like power, freedom, law, hierarchy, rights, and so on. They are not intuitive concepts, but they’re not exactly rocket science. Most of this stuff is meant to look more complicated than necessary by intellectuals who want you to believe they’re complicated.

What everyone needs to understand these things is information. But relevant information, information that helps you understand politics, is not given to you by the education system or the media. You do have to seek it out on your own. And most people have no clear reason to do this. They are content to keep to partisan media and “experts.” But that won’t expand your understanding of social reality.

Non-fiction is not the only thing that’s worth reading. Fictional stories are equally powerful, and the imaginary provides a counter-weight to the crushing impositions on our concept of what is possible. If you’re interested, I’ve made a list of recommendations.