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Political and Spiritual Cults: From Rapture to Complicity to Aftermath in the Shadow of 20th Century Yankeedom

“The party is always right, even when it’s wrong”

— Democratic Workers Party slogan

ORIENTATION

Everybody knows what cults are

People who join cults are mentally unstable before they join and less educated than the general population. True or false? Cult members also define themselves as lonely. True or false? Most people who join cults are from the poor and working class. True or false? People are physically intimidated into joining a cult against their will. True or false? No matter how much your vocabulary changes once inside a cult, you can still control what and how you think. True or false? Cults draw certain kinds of criminal elements, who in a sense get what they deserve. Good people would not be drawn into such extreme circumstances. True or false? This last statement is a version of the “just world hypothesis”. The implication being that you, a good person, could never fall into a cult.

If you answered “true” to any of these questions, you might have fallen for the social media propaganda against cults. In fact, the overwhelming number of members of cults come from middle and upper middle-class backgrounds, are well-educated and have no serious psychological problems previous to joining the cult. Furthermore, people join cults voluntarily and they are lured into them by various social and psychological techniques which offer immediate gratification. In her book Cults in Our Midst, Margaret Singer says people have an initial resistance to thinking they could be “taken in,” without force.

Lastly, many people mistakenly think that thoughts and language can be neatly separated. This is mistaken.  No one can think independently of language. If you force people to not use certain words, and insist on people substituting new words, you can control their thinking process. As Orwell pointed out, when the state controls the vocabulary and strikes words from its dictionary, it narrows the thinking range that is possible. If you use the word “freedom” to express autonomous thinking, but the word “freedom” has now been labelled by a leftist political movement as “bourgeois individualism” you have a problem in using it. You cannot coin new words by yourself. There has to be a movement of people who agree to create a new word and circulate it among themselves. Cult members are slowly socialized by their leaders and lieutenants to change their vocabulary as they coin and circulate new words through forums, meetings and media events. Slowly the members find their own vocabulary changes accordingly.

How many kinds of cult are there?

There are at least three kinds of cults: spiritual, psychological and political.

All three have left-wing and right-wing variants. Jim Jones’ People’s Temple; Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate; Rajneesh’s Tantric yoga, as well Charles Manson’s “the Family” are all examples of left-wing spiritual cults.  Right-wing cults are Reverend Moon’s Unification Church, Kurt Saxon’s Christian Identity, James Wickstrom’s Posse Comitatus and James Butler’s Aryan Nation.

Examples of left-wing psychological cults Harvey Jackins’ Re-Evaluation Counseling along with Saul B. Newton’s Sullivan Institute. Right-wing psychology cults include L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology and Charles Dederich’s Synanon. Political cults on the left include Gerry Healy in Britain and the Democratic Workers Party in San Francisco. A great example of a right-wing political cult was Lyndon LaRouche’s National Caucus of Labor Committees.

For most of this article I will be speaking of cults in general. But when I get more specific about mechanisms of control, I will sometimes refer to the left-wing Democratic Workers Party. I refer to them not only because they are especially monstrous compared to other cults. I do so more because my readers are most likely to be interested in political cults rather than spiritual or psychological cults. Secondly, my readers are more likely to identify as left-wing rather than right-wing political people. I think this article will “hit home”, especially among Leninists. I am not suggesting or implying that all Leninist parties are cults.

What is a totalistic institution?

Defining a cult has more to do with how the organization is run, not the political, psychological or spiritual beliefs of the organization. Cults can be characterized as a type of “total institution” (Goffman). Others include mental hospitals, jails, army barracks, orphanages and religious institutions such as monasteries, convents or abbeys. In modern capitalist societies, people enter and leave many social institutions during the course of a day. Examples include a son or daughter of a family at home, a student at school, an employee at work, a member of the choir at church, a fan for a sports team and a member of the national guard on the weekends.  While all these groups have a broad similarity in economic ideology (being pro-capitalism), within each group the power dynamics between the authority and the members differ. Different institutions are organized tightly or loosely with high, medium or low expectations. Most importantly the individual in a pluralistic society, with membership in all these groups can compare and contrast social expectations of each group, develop their own ideas and synthesize the results using critical thinking.

In totalistic institutions, sleeping, eating, working and playing all happen within a single organization, enacted within the same place, at the same time in the same way.  In pluralistic societies members enter into and leave a group of their own volition. In totalistic institutions members do not come and go as they please. Boundaries are strictly controlled.  Unlike in pluralistic societies, in totalistic institutions the authorities are a single centralized body, with very little feedback coming from the periphery to the core. In pluralistic societies, surveillance may be in place in certain settings, like in the military or in church, but there is no central setting from which family life, school life or work life is all watched from afar at the same time. In total institutions, besides centralized surveillance systems, there is a network of spying that goes on between members, breeding insecurity and paranoia. In totalistic institutions, everyone is treated bureaucratically in the same way, where sensitivity to the uniqueness of a person and situation is lost.

What is a cult?

Cults usually grow in a climate of political, economic or ecological instabilities in which the existing social order has been compromised. A cult is a spiritual, psychological or political institution which is hyper-critical of the existing spiritual, psychological and political institutions and wishes to overthrow them while often aspiring to create “heaven on earth”. Because cults are usually new and have not had years to socialize people the way organized religions have, they have to work quickly and use extreme measures to draw and hold people. Because a religious leader of a particular denomination is part of a large bureaucracy, that leader can be relatively dull while maintaining the following of his parishioners. But a cult cannot afford that.

Cults usually have at their head a charismatic leader with a grand philosophy who gives dramatic right and wrong answers to complex but deteriorating social situations. The leaders usually have lieutenants, ideologically committed members who have very good social psychological skills to keep the membership in line. Cults lack a democratic structure and the membership is kept passive and happy during the initial stages while being slowly terrified as membership continues into the later stages of the cult.

Characteristics of cults include:

  • Emerging out of a political, economic or ecological crisis;
  • Recruitment of young adults between 17 and 24 of middle-class and upper middle-class origins who are likely to be undergoing some developmental crisis in their personal lives;
  • An authoritarian, charismatic leader;
  • A revolutionary, dualistic ideology;
  • Possessing a social-psychological array of tools for luring in new members and sustaining their commitment;
  • A lack of mechanisms for critical feedback from the membership;
  • A small group of lieutenants to isolate and keep atomized the membership through spying so that no coherent opposition can form;
  • The development of rituals, myths and celebrations that allow the group to mark time;
  • Demonization of outside groups that are competition with the cult;
  • Rigid, terrorized boundaries that make it extremely difficult to leave.

STAGES OF CULTS

In their book, The Guru Papers, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad identify two stages of cults: the proselytizing stage and the apocalyptic paranoia stage.

In the proselytizing ascendant stage, the guru sees the possibility of realizing his ambitions. The group is touted as being at the cutting edge of new knowledge. Outsiders are welcomed although they are treated with a kind of benign superiority. In the ascendant phase, the guru rewards the enthusiasm of his followers and grants them positions which have opened up within the hierarchy. The tone of the community is celebratory. The guru is accessible to the public and is charming and playful. In terms of the recruitment this is the “honeymoon phase”. The focus is to expand the organization and the emphasis is on the present.

The apocalyptic, paranoiac, decadent phase is when the numbers of recruits have leveled off and explanations need to be found. The public is now seen as too stupid and blind to acknowledge the merits of the cult. In the declining stage the message becomes pessimistic, with a doomsday “I told you so” tone. Outsiders cease to be welcomed in a spirit of satisfying curiosity. Rather they are seen as enemies out to destroy the organization. Part of the descendent phase also involves the guru making more grandiose claims while promising to invoke occult power. The membership begins to have doubts.

Some find the courage to leave despite threats of violence, law suits, character destruction and loss of employment. Others hang on for fear of the costs of leaving. In the descendent phase recruits are expected to give far more than they receive in the way of time, energy and money. They are expected to work long hours recruiting, selling products and fundraising.  Because the organization is not growing, like most organizations this leads to squabbling for a diminishing set of resources. All too often the cult ends in scandal or tragedy.

PRE-CULT SOCIALIZATION

As we all know, when individuals are socialized within the first seventeen years of life, they are socialized by their families, their schools (including teachers and students), the various forms of media (tv, internet media), their religion, the state (propaganda to join the military) and their friends as well as by sports and music celebrities. All these forces are unified in presenting capitalism in a favorable light, but in other ways these socializing forces don’t agree. Broadly speaking, families, religion and the state appeal to the conservative forces of order and patriotism. Schools, mass media and entertainment celebrities are more liberal. As I said earlier, the diversity between these socializing influences allows the individual to develop thinking skills of comparing and contrasting which develops critical thinking.

But beginning in the teenage years, (and maybe even sooner) the individual begins to question these sources of influence. As early as ten or eleven, children are very aware that their parents are full of contradictions and are hardly infallible. By high school, some have developed Piaget’s formal operational thinking which helps them to critically evaluate religious claims about God and the afterlife. While in high school they may resent military recruiters in their schools. The problem with sports and music celebrities is that while they while they are held up as models, there is no feedback or dialogue which allows the individual to grow. By high school, one’s face-to-face friends may more likely to be the most solid socializing influence they have.

By the time the adolescent reaches seventeen, they have arrived at a developmental crisis. Do they continue on to college? Do they try to find full-time work? Do they join the military? Do they get married? It is here that cults might make their first appeal. Why now? Because developmentally, teenagers and young adults are in a fork in the roads of their lives. Additionally, the old forms of socialization have lost their stability and the teenager may be ripe for a new socialization process or a new group membership. If the individual decides to go to college, throughout the college years including graduation, they are suspectable to cult propaganda.

SOCIALIZATION INTO CULTS

The UC campus in Berkeley California stretches from south to north going from Bancroft Way at the south side to Hearst Ave. on the north side. There is a major walkway that begins at College and Bancroft and goes all the way to Hearst, cutting through the center of the campus. On both sides of the walkway there are tables with people stationed at them, inviting students to join clubs. Some of those clubs are front groups for cults. In addition, there are public bulletin boards advertising everything from movies, to offers for housing roommates, to free meditation classes.

The members of cults that are stationed at these tables are attractive, neatly dressed and extroverted. They are good social psychologists who can pick out a student that might be mildly depressed, lost or disorganized. These “hawkers” will call out to them, ask how they are doing and ask them if they’d like to hear a free talk and eat pizza afterwards. Once the person has come to the table, the hawkers will seize on anything the person says and respond in a very sympathetic way. They listen very carefully and keep the focus on the recruit. They are so engaging that they make an impression. Before the person leaves the table, they will be handed a flyer which appeals to nebulous conflicts like these:

  • Is it hard to make friends here at school?
  • Is college life harder than you thought it would be?
  • Is your romantic relationship lacking the things that you want?
  • If you have a job does it lack meaning?
  • Are you troubled about the state of the world, but feel powerless to do anything about it?

Then comes the pitch. “Come hear a talk by a celebrated expert in the field of psychology, religion or sociology on how to deal with all these problems in a meaningful way. Small group discussion afterward and free pizza. All are welcome.”

If the person attends the talk, there might be 50 people in the room, all of whom the recruit doesn’t know. What the recruit also doesn’t know is that 40 of those people are already in the cult. When any new people come into the room, the recruiters make sure they surround each new recruit and sit on either side of them and in back of them if possible. They engage the newbie, ask them questions about themselves before the talk even starts, and they make sure they compliment the newbie on their intelligence and insight. The leader giving the speech is usually an attractive, articulate, charming man with a sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic.

Once the leader makes their speech, the recruiters turn, and ask the newbie what they thought of the speech. They guide the newbie over to the table where there is pizza. The recruiters may hand them over to a new batch of recruiters who continue the discussion over pizza. Before the evening ends the recruits are told the time and place of the next meeting. Very causally they are asked for their email address “so we can keep you posted on up-and-coming events”.

At this point the recruit might feel like they just had an extraordinary date. They feel charged up and eroticized by some of the recruiters and might feel that they want to return to see one or more of the recruiters again. By comparison, these evenings are much more powerful than the times spent with family, friends and certainly religious services. After a couple of weeks the newbie returns again and the same thing happens. Now, the newbie is going to these talks three out of every four Sunday evenings. Their roommates, family and friends might inquire about where they have been. The newbie is not sure how to describe it. They might say this a “psychology group”. Both friends and family are not impressed and ask more probing questions. The newbie starts to feel defensive and stops talking about it, but continues to attend. This experience dovetails with a talk the leader gives the following Sunday on the nature of crisis.

The leader discusses how crisis involves the prospect of transformation and in that transformation, you meet new people while you have to let go of people that might be holding you back. This gently suggests that the newbie’s friends and family might not understand the nature of social change that the cult is part of and they are not among the enlightened ones (unlike the people in the cult). They also make a prediction that in the future they can expect their friends, families, church or state might not appreciate this cult and that is the price to pay for group enlightenment. But in the long-run, they may come to understand.

MECHANISMS OF CONTROL

Ascendant phase

The first, ascendant proselytizing phase of the cult is characterized by the following rewards. First – in terms of beliefs, a promise of the transformation of the world along with simplistic answers to complex questions. The cult then gives a sense of mission and purpose along with a sense of superiority over the ignorant and unenlightened masses. In terms of behavior, there is massive positive reinforcement which includes “love-bombing”: a great deal of attention to the recruit and their problems, along with an immediate, intense connection with many people. There is a promise (and deliverance in some cases) of erotic adventures. A regular dose of altered states of consciousness is achieved through chanting, hypnotic techniques of dissociation, group dancing, vertigo and hyperventilation. Along with this, a new identity is given which is often accomplished through changes in clothing or hair. At the climax in her recruitment just before she joined the DWP, author and sociologist Janja Lalich says: “Eleanor, leaned over, her face almost touching mine, she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for?’ That’s all it took. I asked for the application”.

Descendent phase

Geographical isolation and physical deterioration

For the most part cults begin in cities, but in some cases, for various reasons (cheap land, control of members) they move to more rural areas as in the case of Jim Jones and Rajneesh. Especially if they are isolated in a rural area, they may be cut off from alternative forms of media. At this point with or without the move, in the descendent phase, the honeymoon is over for cult members. They are expected to work long hours in various phases of organization and as a result, become sleep deprived. In the DWP militants signed into a log book for keeping track of time, as if they were punching in their time cards in a factory. The organization does not provide for medical or dental insurance and their body begins to feel the wear-and-tear. Cult members who are older and have established incomes are pressured to contribute financially on a regular basis.

Atomizing the individual

Within the organization, the lieutenants work especially hard to keep people atomized so members cannot compare notes or consider their problems in any kind of collective way. In fact, the Democratic Workers party had a rule called “no gossiping”. But what they really meant was no comparing notes between members. Notice how comparing notes, a natural thing that is done in groups, was demonized by associating it with something bad.

Controlling vocabulary

The cult member’s vocabulary is controlled by the leadership and any kind of criticism is pathologized with certain labels. For example, in the DWP, “bourgeois individualism,” “careerism”, “grandstanding”, “factionalism” and “liberal” were used as “curse words” to shut down articulation of problems. In spiritual circles “unenlightened” or “materialism” might serve similar purposes.

Attacking the self:

True confessions

There are a number of ways one’s identity can be broken down. One of the ways the DWP used that was a requirement to write one’s personal history from a class point of view. Then they would write all the privileges they gained as a result of their class location. Finally, the recruit would have to present this in front of the whole group, exposing weaknesses to all.

Criticism and self-criticism

Once the true confessions are in place the cult member is treated to endless rounds of criticism and self-criticism. Once individual vocabulary is controlled and they have confessed their past privileges it is relatively easy for members to monitor each other by pointing out how current mistakes might be connected to their “middle-class” past.

Internalization of the party voice

When neither the leader or their fellow members were available the individual was controlled by their internalized “party voice”. When by themselves and in need of making a decision, they were to ask themselves “what would your older member say?”

At this point, they are in so deeply that they have burned their bridges with their families, friends, workers and no longer have a perspective of what’s happening to them. At the same time, it begins to dawn on them that maybe they should consider getting out.

WHY DO PEOPLE STAY AND REMAIN COMPLICIT IN THEIR OWN OPPRESSION?

At this point, the reader might say what is wrong with these cult members? These were once hypercritical people who questioned everything? Where is that spirit now? Why don’t they just run away? There are at least nine very good reasons why people stay.

Attachment to the new belief

Cult members have worked very hard to desocialize themselves from previous beliefs. They have worked hard to acquire and internalize new beliefs and the prospect of having to give them up with no belief system to call their own is extremely painful.

Cognitive dissonance

Research has shown that once people commit to something publicly, through actions, speaking or writing about it, they are much more likely to stay with their commitment. Without understanding this, to an outsider, cult members’ behavior seems crazy. What cult members are doing is unconsciously changing their beliefs to justify the increasingly irrational behavior of the leader during the cult’s descendent phase. They don’t see their beliefs as having changed because there is no one in the community to point that out, including many people who don’t want to see it because they are in the same boat.

Entrapment

Just as in personal romances, once you put time, effort and resources into a relationship, you acquire a stake in it and are reluctant to give it up. Buying furniture together, a house, pooling finances, having children all become obstacles to throwing in the towel even if you are unhappy. So too in cults, the members have put in long hours of work, they have seen some success, they probably contributed financially, and they just don’t want to come up empty-handed. In addition, cult members then face the start-up costs of investing in a whole other institution and life. The thinking goes – “maybe it is better to wait it out. After all, things may change for the better.”

Peer pressure

Contrary to what most people think, peer pressure is far more powerful than even the commands of authority figures. Soldiers have reported having endured horrible times, not because they were obedient to the authorities, but out of loyalty to their comrades. Members of cults have gone through ordeals that might not be as intense as the ordeals soldiers go through in eight weeks of boot-camp, but the ordeal lasts much longer. In both cases feelings of extreme loyalty are produced in soldiers and cult members. They don’t want to let their comrades down.

In addition, because cults count doctors, lawyers, social workers with advanced degrees among their numbers their presence makes it more difficult to leave for the less professional cult member to leave. In order to do that those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy would have to consider that these highly trained professionals have been duped themselves. How could they all be wrong?

Exhaustion from overwork allows little time for self-reflection or objectivity

In the descendent phase of cults, rank-and-file members are working fourteen-hour days, sometimes more. After several weeks and months of sleep deprivation, medical and dental negligence, internal group meetings and public displays of solidarity for public consumption, cult members are exhausted.  There no vacations, no hobbies, no musical concerts nor ball games.  Who has the time to reflect on where you have been and where you are going?

Burned bridges separate the member from their past

When you join the military, you come back to a civilian life that is intact when your four years are up. If you join a convent and then realize after a few years later it is not for you, your family and friends are still there. Because cults are extremist groups, it became necessary to cut off family, friends, workmates and church in order to become a member. For a departing cult member, there is anger, confusion, hurt, revenge and shunning waiting for them on the outside. The prospect of making amends is daunting. In addition, you cannot so easily recover who you once were. You may always be a stranger to your former groups. Even so basic a thing as changing your name back or growing your hair out takes a great deal of courage. The prospect of having no friends on the outside is enough to keep you in.

Being ridiculed and called names by cult members is very painful

If you consider wanting to leave and state your reasons to others, you may receive a vicious reaction because you might be bringing up the self-doubts of other members they would rather not face. You can expect to be called a spy, traitor, materialist, bourgeois or less evolved. These are the very words used to denounce those outside the cult. Now you are one of the enemies, an infiltrator. You’ve watched this happen to others who tried to leave and now it is happening to you.

Fear for your life

The wealthier cults such as scientology or the Moonies play hardball. They will threaten you with lawsuits, loss of employment, character assassination and death. Members of the DWP “goon squads” would break into the homes of former members, beat them up put them on a plane with a one-way ticket and no money. Margaret Sanger, in her book Cults in Our Midst depicts some of the things done to her. They stuffed her mailbox with a dead rat every week while she was testifying in court against a cult. Rats were put in the ducts of her house, so she was treated to a house full of screaming rats upon returning home.  She needed an armed guard to be taken to and from the courthouse. She was kept on the witness stand for 12 ½ days by cult lawyers cross-examining her. Her office was broken into and files stolen. Her school lectures were disrupted regularly.

Guilt and embarrassment over having participated in the group to begin with

A cult member begins to have inklings that some of the things their cult did were pretty horrible and that they were complicit in it. it takes time to understand and be compassionate with yourself as to how you could be so naïve as to have joined and why you stayed. If you stay in the cult your complicity in what was enacted can be put off or rationalized.

CHARACTERISTICS OF PSYCHOPATHOLOGICAL LEADERS

There is a reason why I have held off describing to you the pathological characteristics of the leaders of cults. The reason is because of what I alluded to in my article Revolutionary Group Dynamics. In evaluating negative experiences in groups, people have a tendency to a) blame the leaders, or b) pathologize the intelligence or mental health of the followers. What I wanted to do here is draw attention to why the majority of cult members put up with the abuse, stayed in the cult and were complicit in what the cults did without thinking their intelligence or sanity has been insulted. My point is that these members would have been complicit regardless of the psychological health of the leaders. Now that we have gone through the reason why most members were complicit, we can turn to the leaders.

In their book Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Janja Lalich and Madeline Tobias claim that most cult leaders can be diagnosed as sociopaths, narcissists or borderline personalities. Here are fifteen of their characteristics:

Glibness and superficial charm

Cult leaders are captivating storytellers and exude self-confidence.

Conning and maneuvering

Cult leaders are good at psychological maneuvering and do this almost as second nature, and maybe even unconsciously. The leader divides the world into suckers, sinners and himself. He is very perceptive and good at sizing people up. Cult leaders have an innate ability to attract followers who have the skills and contacts that the leaders lack.

Grandiose sense of self

He enjoys tremendous feelings of entitlement. He must always be the center of attention and cannot tolerate yielding the spotlight.

Pathological lying

Sociopaths lie coolly and easily. It is almost impossible for them to be consistently truthful. Leaders tend to create a complex belief system often about their own powers and abilities which they themselves get caught up in believing. They are rarely original thinkers and are more likely to be plagiarists and seldom credit the true originators of their ideas. They are talented at passing lie detector tests.

Lack of remorse, shame or guilt

They do not have friends. They have accomplices and victims and accomplices frequently end up as victims. For sociopaths, the ends always justify the means. In fact, they might not even separate ends and means in their own minds.

Shallow emotions

While sociopaths may display outbursts of emotions, these are more often than not responses calculated to obtain a certain advantage. They rarely reveal a range of emotions or a depth of emotions over time. The cult leader can witness or order acts of utter brutality without experiencing a shred of emotion. They are callous and lack empathy.

Incapacity for love

Love requires revealing strengths and weaknesses and it means trusting another person over time. The sociopath does not have the attention span, the depth or the capacity to self-reflect on any of this.

Sensation Seeking

Temperamentally, the sociopath is drawn to dangerous, thrill seeking behavior. He takes foolish risks and expects others to do the same. Robberies and shoot-outs with the authorities are par for the course (Jim Jones, David Koresh).

Impulsivity and lack of behavioral control

The cult leader has temper tantrums and fits of rage which the lieutenants are in charge of stage-managing. This behavior is a well-kept secret. If leaked, the behavior of the leader is collectively rationalized away by the followers as the work of his enemies.

Early behavior problems with juvenile delinquency

As teenagers, sociopaths frequently have a history of behavioral problems and run-ins with juvenile authorities. They often get by academically, taking advantage of other students or even teachers. They often have a history or theft, arson, and cruelty to others.

Scapegoating

They rarely accept blame for their failures or mistakes. Scapegoating is common. The blaming may follow a ritualized procedure such as a trial, gestalt “hot seat denunciations”, or in the case of leftist cults, criticism and self-criticism.

Promiscuous sexual behavior and infidelity.

Multiple relationships and marriages, rape and sexual acting out are common. At the same time, they are stringent about the sexual behavior of followers, insisting on celibacy.

Erratic work history of fits and starts

The sociopathic cult leader tends to move around a lot, making countless efforts at starting over as they seek out fertile new ground to exploit. One day they may be a rock musician, the next a messiah; one day a door-to-door salesman the next the founder of a self-rejuvenation program.

A materialistic lifestyle

The leaders of cults often present their movement as opposed to the decadence, shallowness and preoccupation with commodities of the dominant order. But in practice, these leaders often justify having these same luxuries for themselves. The leaders of cults often have many cars, houses, boats, planes, properties while they thunder against their followers who have the least in the way of material comforts.

Criminal or entrepreneurial versatility

Cult leaders change their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution and litigation. They resurface later with a new name and a new front group, as Werner Erhard has done.

AFTERMATH FOR CULT MEMBERS

People who manage to make their way out of cults are a mess and are badly in need of social support. Deprograming, exit counseling and strategic interaction approach are three ways to help ex-cult members get on their feet.  According to Lalich and Tobias, there are five areas that are badly in need of attention.

  • Practical, everyday living
  • Emotional volatility
  • Cognitive inefficiencies
  • Lack of social networks and being socio-culturally out of touch
  • Theoretical instability

Practical, everyday living

Shell-shocked ex-cult members have lost their sense of how to manage everyday life. For example, people have to find work, while having to explain large gaps in their employment history which could span five to ten years or more. The work they did under the banner of the cult cannot be used as a reference. This would involve making up fake organizations to cover up their involvement, while claiming the skills they learned in the cult. Emotionally, the last thing ex-cult members need is more deception. If they are lucky enough to find a job, they have to learn to manage their money and set up a budget. If the ex-cult member is older this may mean relearning old skills. In the case of a young cult member this may involve learning new skills from scratch.

Something as simple as finding an apartment to live in can be overwhelming for someone who hasn’t done this in years. The rise in the cost of monthly rents over the last 15-20 years will come as a great shock. As mentioned earlier, cults typically do not provide medical and dental care. Since cult leaders rarely pay attention to such mundane things, the ex-cult member may badly need a physical check-up, blood tests and dental work at the same time they are trying to investigate a medical and dental plan while probably knowing nothing about how to proceed.  While cults often fetishize eating particular kinds of food (being vegetarian), the diet of cult members is often not well-balanced, especially during the later stages of cult work when the cult member is asked to work long hours. In addition, the times members eat is likely to be erratic because of the flurry of activity that is always going on. Lastly, matters of daily routines may be hard to set up as cults have their members constantly on the run and doing new things. DWP members were often asked to stop a project on a dime, and then throw themselves into a new one. Having a regular time and place to take walks, visit friends, and listen to music after dinner have to be established.

Emotional volatility

Ex-cult members may suffer from PTSD, insomnia, and frequent bouts of dissociation, including an inability to concentrate because of triggers or flashbacks. They are likely to feel depressed after a loss of group support and may feel a loss of self-confidence because their support systems are suddenly gone. There is real fear of cult retribution whether they have reason to be concerned or not. They also may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of taking legal action over child custody or conservatorship. It is no accident that members of cults lose their sense of humor. Humor tends to reveal the relativity of situations. It adds a comparative perspective that is dangerous in cults that want everyone to think in an absolute rather than a relative manor. Cults tend to be dead serious, and humor relieves that and gives members a break which is not to be encouraged.

Cognitive inefficiencies

While a great deal of critical thinking in relation to society is common among cult members when they first join, critical thinking is not rewarded or is tightly structured once inside the cult. Weighing the pros and cons of occupations, schools, choice of partner is not something that is practiced in cults. This results in ex-cult members being either indecisive when they get out or making rash decisions. Because they may have difficulty concentrating, they may not be able to think analytically about the causes or consequences of things. They may suffer from memory loss or they may have to overcome false memories they may have been propagandized to believe when inside the cult.

Often times, cults disrupt education and cult members are not likely to continue their education once inside the cult. Spiritual cults may tell the member they have a “natural way of knowing” which will not do much for them in searching for work or in being an active political person. A major challenge they must undertake is detoxifying their vocabulary from cult either-or thinking. As Orwell pointed out, if you control a person’s vocabulary you control their thinking. So, the ex-cult member needs to expand their vocabulary to re-introduce neutral language, use ambiguous terminology and to use metaphors. One of the major problems in cult thinking is taking everything literally.

Lack of social networks and being socio-culturally out of touch

One of the best things exit counseling or the strategic interaction approach can do is give ex-cult members an immediate support system, no questions asked. It is rare that an ex-cult member who has burned bridges with their families is going to have the welcome mat rolled out when they come knocking. It takes time to process hurt feelings, anger and confusion. These connections could take months to restore or even years, depending how long they have been away. The ex-cult member’s friends may have moved away, gotten married become sick and may be in no position to resume a relationship even if they wanted to.

Making new friends is extremely difficult. How do you account for being in a cult for eight years? Why would someone want to be friends with someone with such an intense background? Are ex-cult members dangerous people? In addition, ex-cult members have a mistrust of others as a result of being in a cult. They may be paranoid and afraid they are being watched by others, the “fishbowl effect”. Since cults usually blur boundaries between work and free time, friendship and sex, the ex-cult members are likely to have enmeshed boundaries when they try to make new friends.

Theoretical instability

Lastly, cults inspire people by claiming they are building a new world, and cult members have roles in that transformation. Compared to that, ex-cult members are likely to feel they have chosen an unenlightened, boring life. It is easy to understand why ex-cult members who have not had exit counseling might jump into a new cult.

Whether the ex-cult member has been involved in a spiritual, psychological or political cult, the ex-member needs to find a new grounding within that field. If a member has been in a spiritual cult of transcendental meditation does this mean they must give up Hindu or Buddhist religion completely? Can you practice these religions in a non-cult like way? If you have been in a psychological cult based on the work of social psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan, does that mean you no longer can study his work? Lastly if you have been in Leninist political cult, does that mean you have to renounce Lenin completely? Probably the answer to these questions depends on how badly you’ve been burned. The worse you’ve been burned the more extreme your reaction will be. If you haven’t been burned too badly, you might be able to be more dialectical and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

CONCLUSION

Cults arose in Yankeedom beginning in the 1970s and I’ve covered their continuance into the late 1990s under conditions of ecological, economic and political decline. Cults find their audience among educated, idealistic middle-class and upper-middle class people who are rightfully hypercritical of the existing order and who are attracted to a vision of a radical transformation based on greater equality, justice, peace and love. They do not know they are members of a cult until they are at least partially integrated into the organization and then they are caught between the world they once knew and the world they hope to create. They are initially lured into the organization through the implementation of sophisticated social-psychological techniques and they then become complicit in the cult’s reproduction of these techniques over time if they remain. If members leave, they face a great number of the psychological problems as I’ve described in the last section. Fortunately, there are now well-organized institutions that are specifically designed to help ex-cult members reintegrate back into the existing order.

  • First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism.
  • The post Political and Spiritual Cults: From Rapture to Complicity to Aftermath in the Shadow of 20th Century Yankeedom first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    P is for Predator State: The Building Blocks of Tyranny from A to Z

    When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.

    — Professor Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business

    While America continues to fixate on the drama-filled reality show scripted by the powers-that-be, directed from the nation’s capital, and played out in high definition across the country, the American Police State has moved steadily forward.

    Nothing has changed.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has been a convenient, traumatic, devastating distraction.

    The American people, the permanent underclass in America, have allowed themselves to be so distracted and divided that they have failed to notice the building blocks of tyranny being laid down right under their noses by the architects of the Deep State.

    Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton: they have all been complicit in carrying out the Deep State’s agenda. Unless something changes to restore the balance of power, the next president—the new boss—will be the same as the old boss.

    Frankly, it really doesn’t matter what you call the old/new boss—the Deep State, the Controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the corporate elite, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex—so long as you understand that no matter who occupies the White House, it is a profit-driven, an unelected bureaucracy that is actually calling the shots.

    If our losses are mounting with every passing day—and they are—it is a calculated siege intended to ensure our defeat at the hands of a totalitarian regime.

    Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, media, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more are casualties in the government’s war on the American people.

    Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized federal police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, and the like—all of which have been sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—our constitutional freedoms are being steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded.

    As a result, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

    None of these dangers have dissipated in any way.

    They have merely disappeared from our televised news streams.

    It’s time to get educated on what’s really going on. Thus, in the interest of liberty and truth, here’s an A-to-Z primer that spells out the grim realities of life in the American Police State that no one seems to be talking about anymore.

    A is for the AMERICAN POLICE STATE. A police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

    B is for our battered BILL OF RIGHTS. In the militarized police culture that is America today, where you can be kicked, punched, tasered, shot, intimidated, harassed, stripped, searched, brutalized, terrorized, wrongfully arrested, and even killed by a police officer, and that officer is rarely held accountable for violating your rights, the Bill of Rights doesn’t amount to much.

    C is for CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE. This governmental scheme to deprive Americans of their liberties—namely, the right to property—is being carried out under the guise of civil asset forfeiture, a government practice wherein government agents (usually the police and now TSA agents) seize private property they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then, whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property and it’s virtually impossible to get it back.

    D is for DRONES. It was estimated that at least 30,000 drones would be airborne in American airspace by 2020, part of an $80 billion industry. Although some drones will be used for benevolent purposes, many will also be equipped with lasers, tasers and scanning devices, among other weapons—all aimed at “we the people.”

    E is for EMERGENCY STATE. From 9/11 to COVID-19, we have been the subjected to an “emergency state” that justifies all manner of government tyranny and power grabs in the so-called name of national security. The government’s ongoing attempts to declare so-called national emergencies in order to circumvent the Constitution’s system of checks and balances constitutes yet another expansion of presidential power that exposes the nation to further constitutional peril.

    F is for FASCISM. A study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern University concluded that the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens. Instead, the study found that the government is ruled by the rich and powerful, or the so-called “economic elite.” Moreover, the researchers concluded that policies enacted by this governmental elite nearly always favor special interests and lobbying groups. In other words, we are being ruled by an oligarchy disguised as a democracy, and arguably on our way towards fascism—a form of government where private corporate interests rule, money calls the shots, and the people are seen as mere economic units or databits.

    G is for GRENADE LAUNCHERS and GLOBAL POLICE. The federal government has distributed more than $18 billion worth of battlefield-appropriate military weapons, vehicles and equipment such as drones, tanks, and grenade launchers to domestic police departments across the country. As a result, most small-town police forces now have enough firepower to render any citizen resistance futile. Now take those small-town police forces, train them to look and act like the military, and then enlist them to be part of the United Nations’ Strong Cities Network program, and you not only have a standing army that operates beyond the reach of the Constitution but one that is part of a global police force.

    H is for HOLLOW-POINT BULLETS. The government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration stockpiling millions of lethal hollow-point bullets, which violate international law. Ironically, while the government continues to push for stricter gun laws for the general populace, the U.S. military’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

    I is for the INTERNET OF THINGS, in which internet-connected “things” monitor your home, your health and your habits in order to keep your pantry stocked, your utilities regulated and your life under control and relatively worry-free. The key word here, however, is control. This “connected” industry propels us closer to a future where police agencies apprehend virtually anyone if the government “thinks” they may commit a crime, driverless cars populate the highways, and a person’s biometrics are constantly scanned and used to track their movements, target them for advertising, and keep them under perpetual surveillance.

    J is for JAILING FOR PROFIT. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by private corporations, this profit-driven form of mass punishment has given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep their privately run prisons full by jailing large numbers of Americans for petty crimes.

    K is for KENTUCKY V. KING. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers can break into homes, without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home as long as they think they may have a reason to do so. Despite the fact that the police in question ended up pursuing the wrong suspect, invaded the wrong apartment and violated just about every tenet that stands between the citizenry and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by law enforcement officials.

    L is for LICENSE PLATE READERS, which enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country. This data collected on tens of thousands of innocent people is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with government fusion centers and private companies. This puts Big Brother in the driver’s seat.

    M is for MAIN CORE. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. As Salon reports, this database, reportedly dubbed “Main Core,” is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. There are at least 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

    N is for NO-KNOCK RAIDS. Owing to the militarization of the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for routine police matters. In fact, more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually possession of some small amount of drugs.

    O is for OVERCRIMINALIZATION and OVERREGULATION. Thanks to an overabundance of 4500-plus federal crimes and 400,000 plus rules and regulations, it’s estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. As a result of this overcriminalization, we’re seeing an uptick in Americans being arrested and jailed for such absurd “violations” as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room.

    P is for PATHOCRACY and PRECRIME. When our own government treats us as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police and other government agents, mistreated, and then jailed in profit-driven private prisons if we dare step out of line, we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic. Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which “operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups.” Couple that with the government’s burgeoning precrime programs, which will use fusion centers, data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics in order to identify and deter so-called potential “extremists,” dissidents or rabble-rousers. Bear in mind that anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—is now viewed as an extremist.

    Q is for QUALIFIED IMMUNITY. Qualified immunity allows police officers to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing. Conveniently, those deciding whether a cop should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

    R is for ROADSIDE STRIP SEARCHES and BLOOD DRAWS. The courts have increasingly erred on the side of giving government officials—especially the police—vast discretion in carrying out strip searches, blood draws and even anal and vaginal probes for a broad range of violations, no matter how minor the offense. In the past, strip searches were resorted to only in exceptional circumstances where police were confident that a serious crime was in progress. In recent years, however, strip searches have become routine operating procedures in which everyone is rendered a suspect and, as such, is subjected to treatment once reserved for only the most serious of criminals.

    S is for the SURVEILLANCE STATE. On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of the electronic concentration camp in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

    T is for TASERS. Nonlethal weapons such as tasers, stun guns, rubber pellets and the like have been used by police as weapons of compliance more often and with less restraint—even against women and children—and in some instances, even causing death. These “nonlethal” weapons also enable police to aggress with the push of a button, making the potential for overblown confrontations over minor incidents that much more likely. A Taser Shockwave, for instance, can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button.

    U is for UNARMED CITIZENS SHOT BY POLICE. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, often attributed to a fear for their safety. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection.

    V is for VIRUSES AND FORCED VACCINATIONS. What started out as an apparent effort to prevent a novel coronavirus from sickening the nation (and the world) has become yet another means by which world governments (including the U.S.) can expand their powers, abuse their authority, and further oppress their constituents. With millions of dollars in stimulus funds being directed towards policing agencies across the country, the federal government plans to fight this COVID-19 virus with riot gear, gas masks, ballistic helmets, drones, and hi-tech surveillance technology. The road we are traveling is paved with lockdowns, SWAT team raids, mass surveillance and forced vaccinations. Now there’s talk of mobilizing the military to deliver forced vaccinations, mass surveillance in order to carry out contact tracing, and heavy fines and jail time for those who dare to venture out without a mask, congregate in worship without the government’s blessing, or re-open their  businesses without the government’s say-so.

    W is for WHOLE-BODY SCANNERS. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves, scanning devices and government mobile units are being used not only to “see” through your clothes but to spy on you within the privacy of your home. While these mobile scanners are being sold to the American public as necessary security and safety measures, we can ill afford to forget that such systems are rife with the potential for abuse, not only by government bureaucrats but by the technicians employed to operate them.

    X is for X-KEYSCORE, one of the many spying programs carried out by the National Security Agency that targets every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. This top-secret program “allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

    Y is for YOU-NESS. Using your face, mannerisms, social media and “you-ness” against you, you are now be tracked based on what you buy, where you go, what you do in public, and how you do what you do. Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country.

    Z is for ZERO TOLERANCE. We have moved into a new paradigm in which young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, often for engaging in little more than childish behavior or for saying the “wrong” word. In some jurisdictions, students have also been penalized under school zero tolerance policies for such inane “crimes” as carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick, bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. The lesson being taught to our youngest—and most impressionable—citizens is this: in the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (politician, police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.).

    As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the post-9/11 America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

    We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age.

    You can call it the age of authoritarianism. Or fascism. Or oligarchy. Or the American police state.

    Whatever label you want to put on it, the end result is the same: tyranny.

    Racism, Sexism, Classism: The Necessary Incoherence of “Mainstream” Ethical Debate

    What does it mean when journalists who spent the last two decades promoting wars of aggression on brown- and black-skinned people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen take a knee?

    The Observer commented:

    ‘There is a dreadful familiarity about the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by white police officers in Minneapolis last Monday….

    ‘The fact that the US has been here before, countless times, does not lessen the horror of this crime nor mitigate brutal police actions.’

    There was a dreadful familiarity about the West’s toppling of Gaddafi in 2011, but the Observer didn’t notice. Instead, the editors insisted that, ‘The west can’t let Gaddafi destroy his people’, ‘this particular tyranny will not be allowed to stand’.

    Not ‘allowed to stand’, that is, by the destroyers of Iraq eight years earlier; by governments with zero credibility as moral agents. The fact that the US-UK alliance had been ‘here’ before, countless times, did not lessen the horror of the crime nor mitigate brutal military actions.

    When the dirty deed was done and Libyan oil was safely back in Western hands, an Observer editorial applauded, ‘An honourable intervention. A hopeful future’, as the country fell apart and black people were ethnically cleansed from towns like Tawergha without any UK journalists taking a knee or giving a damn.

    When a white policeman crushes a black man’s neck with his knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, journalists see structural racism. When the West places its boot on the throats of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen for decades and centuries, journalists see ‘rogue states’, an ‘axis of evil’, a ‘clear and present threat’ to the West that can be averted only by force.

    Journalists see racism in the disproportionate violence habitually visited on US black people by police, but find nothing racist in the ultra-violence habitually inflicted by the US-UK alliance blitzing famine-stricken Afghanistan in 2001, in sanctions that killed 500,000 children under five in Iraq, in war that killed one million people in Iraq, in war that destroyed Libya, Syria, Yemen, and many others.

    The links between domestic and international racism are hard to miss. Theodore Roosevelt (US president 1901-1909), noted that ‘the most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages,’ establishing the rule of ‘the dominant world races’.1

    In 1919, Winston Churchill defended the use of poison gas against ‘uncivilised tribes’ as a means of spreading ‘a lively terror’. Churchill wrote of the ‘satisfied nations’ whose power places them ‘above the rest,’ the ‘rich men dwelling at peace within their habitations’ to whom ‘the government of the world must be entrusted’.2

    In 1932, at the World Disarmament Conference, David Lloyd George (British prime minister, 1916-1922), insisted that the British government would continue to inflict violence for ‘police purposes in outlying places’. He later recounted: ‘We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers.’

    In 1947, renowned British Field Marshall, Bernard Montgomery, noted the ‘immense possibilities that exist in British Africa for development’ and ‘the use to which such development could be put to enable Great Britain to maintain her standard of living, and to survive’. ‘These lands contain everything we need’, said Montgomery, fresh from combatting the Nazi’s efforts to achieve ‘Lebensraum’. It was Britain’s task to ‘develop’ the continent since the African ‘is a complete savage and is quite incapable of the developing the country [sic] himself’.

    In his book, A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, wrote that during ‘phase V’ of the Oil-For-Food programme, from November 1998 to May 1999, each Iraqi citizen received a food allocation worth $49, or 27 cents per day. Von Sponeck noted that, ‘the UN was more humane with its dogs than with the Iraqi people’: each UN dog was allocated $160 for food over the same period.3

    If the killing of George Floyd was racism, how shall we describe US- and UK-led UN policy that ‘was more humane with its dogs’? How to describe corporate media that rail against domestic racism while perennially cheerleading the infinitely more violent international version? Why are we not taking a knee for Iraqis and Libyans? Why are they not even mentioned in the context of institutionalised racism? Why is no-one toppling Orwellian monuments to a ‘free press’ supporting global oppression, like the statue of George Orwell outside BBC Broadcasting House?

    The Guardian opined:

    ‘It is the United States’ great misfortune at such a time to be led by a president who sows division as a matter of political strategy. Bunkered down, now literally, in the White House, the president tweeted last week: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”’

    In 2011, after the shooting had started, the Guardian quietly celebrated the work of an earlier president who also sowed division without the editors perceiving any great ‘misfortune’. A Guardian leader commented on Libya:

    ‘But it can now reasonably be said that in narrow military terms it worked, and that politically there was some retrospective justification for its advocates as the crowds poured into the streets of Tripoli to welcome the rebel convoys earlier this week.’

    The same paper insists it did not support the 2003 Bush-Blair war on Iraq. The truth is that it promoted every last government ruse in pursuit of war: Saddam Hussein was a threat to the West, he was certainly hiding WMD, US-UK were focused on disarming him, were trying to find diplomatic solutions, were fighting for freedom (not oil, a possibility so far-fetched and insulting it was dismissed out of hand), and so on.

    The Guardian has never seen the US-UK devastation of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen as manifestations of the same structural racism it sees so plainly in US police violence:

    ‘Racism is structural, and state neglect can be as deadly as state abuse. It does not always take a knee on the neck to kill someone. Poverty, overcrowding, and unequal access to healthcare can be fatal.’

    True enough. So can corporate greed for profits, for control of oil. Any rational person can join the dots: corporate power subordinates human welfare at home and abroad. Bombing, sanctions, invasion are symptoms of the same profit-driven brutality that forces people to suffer poverty, overcrowding and poor healthcare.

    The Times wrote nobly:

    ‘The challenge is to harness this moment so that it leads to positive changes.’

    And:

    ‘Of course not all of the legitimate aspirations of those protesting can be achieved overnight. But progress can be made with determined action.’

    This from the newspaper that supports every war going, aided by Perpetual War propagandists like David Aaronovitch, who wrote an article for The Times entitled: ‘Go for a no-fly zone over Libya or regret it.’ (See our book, Propaganda Blitz, pp.129-131, for numerous other examples of Aaronovitch’s warmongering.)

    If, as John Dewey said, ‘politics is the shadow cast on society by big business’, then liberal media discussions of morality are a grim part of that darkness, shedding no light.

    The Human Ego – ‘I’ Matter More

    The corporate system gives the impression that anti-semites, white supremacists, sexists and the like are victims of a primitive mind virus reducing them to the status of moral Neanderthals. With sufficient social distancing, track-and-trace, isolation, the remnants of this historic pandemic can finally be eradicated. The focus is always on establishment ‘cancel culture’: erasing, banning, firing, censorship and criminalisation.

    The BBC, for example, prefers to erase the language of racism. A recent news report was titled:

    ‘A gravestone honouring the Dambusters’ dog – whose name is a racial slur – has been replaced.’

    The report noted that the slur was one ‘which the BBC is not naming’. The dog’s name, ‘Nigger’, appears instantly, of course, to the mind of anyone who has seen the film, or to anyone who has access to Google. Curiously, although the ‘N-word’ appears nowhere in the report, the racial slur, ‘Redskin’, appears 12 times in a BBC report that appeared just three days earlier and that was actually titled:

    ‘Washington Redskins to drop controversial team name following review’

    ‘Nigger’ and ‘Redskin’ are both colour-related racial slurs with horrendous histories – both are used to imply racial inferiority. Why can one be mentioned and the other not? Censoring the Dambuster dog’s name achieved little and is not attempted by broadcasters showing films like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’, in which the slur is repeated numerous times.

    Like other media casting Dewey’s corporate ‘shadow’, the BBC cannot make sense of racism and other forms of prejudice because moral coherence would risk extending the debate to the structural prejudice of the deeply classist, racist, war-fighting, state-corporate establishment.

    Racists and sexists start to look a little different when we make the following observation:

    Racism and sexism are manifestations of the ego’s attempt to make itself ‘higher’ by making others ‘lower’.

    Viewing brown- and black-skinned people as ‘inferior’ is obviously all about white and other racists asserting their ‘superiority’. This is literally, of course, a microscopically superficial basis for ‘superiority’. Differences establishing sexist ‘superiority’ at least involve whole organs rather than a layer of cells! But despite what the necessarily incoherent corporate shadow culture would have us believe, racists and sexists who view other people as ‘inferior’ are not exotic anomalies.

    The human ego does not view others as equal; it places itself and its loved ones at the centre of the universe – ‘I’ matter more, ‘my’ happiness and the happiness of those ‘I’ love come first. The happiness of everyone else is very much a peripheral concern. The ego latches on to almost any excuse to reinforce this prejudice – viewing itself as ‘special’, ‘higher’, and others as ‘ordinary’, ‘lower’ – on the basis of almost any superficial differences, many of them even more trivial and transient than racial and gender differences. (See here for further discussion on the striving to be ‘special’.)

    This tendency is massively promoted by our culture from the earliest age and manifests in numerous forms other than racism and sexism. We are taught to compete with our peers, to rise to the ‘upper stream’, to come first in exams, to be ‘top of the class’, to go to the ‘best’ schools, the ‘best’ colleges, to get the ‘best’ jobs. We are taught to define ourselves as more or less ‘bright’, ‘academic’, ‘gifted’ (selected for receipt of an actual ‘God-given talent’!). As children, we do not all display the arrogance of young Winston Churchill visible in this photograph, but we are all trained to be ‘winners’ over ‘losers’.

    The Art of Pronouncing ‘Hegemony’

    Racism and sexism have caused immense harm, of course, but so has the classism visible in young Winston’s face. Humans feel ‘above’ others, ‘special’, when they come from wealthy, aristocratic families; when they attend a celebrated school, an elite university; when they gain a first class degree (or any degree), or a Masters, or a PhD; when they buy a ‘top of the range’ car, or luxury property in a desirable postcode; when they work in high-prestige jobs; when they achieve fame and fortune; when Howard Jacobson writes in The Independent:

    ‘When Russell Brand uses the word “hegemony” something dies in my soul.’

    It is agony for people like Jacobson – who was educated at Stand Grammar School and Downing College, Cambridge (before lecturing at the University of Sydney and Selwyn College, Cambridge) – to hear Brand – educated at Grays School Media Arts College, Essex, a coeducational secondary school – chatting to Ricky Gervais, both of working class origin, without cringing at the way they glottal stop the ‘t’ in words like ‘civili’y’, ‘carnali’y’, ‘universi’y’ and ‘beau’iful’.

    The reaction of middle and upper class people to Brand preaching philosophy and ‘poli’ics’ is exactly that described by Samuel Johnson who made himself ‘higher’ by making women ‘lower’:

    ‘Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’

    Because elite interests run the mass media, we have all been trained to perceive elite accents as cultured and authoritative, and working class accents as uncultured, uneducated. When we at Media Lens grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, BBC newsreaders and continuity announcers sounded like Etonian masters and Oxbridge dons. Even now, journalists like Fiona Bruce and Nicholas Witchell deliver the royal pronunciation of the word ‘years’ as ‘yers’.

    The above may sound comical and absurd – it is! – but the fact is that, as Jacobson’s comment suggests, millions of people have been trained to perceive the accents of working class people appearing on political programmes like Question Time, Newsnight and The Marr Show as ‘lower’. When we react this way to skin colour, rather than to accent and class, we call it racism.

    In an article titled, ‘Leather jackets, flat caps and tracksuits: how to dress if you’re a leftwing politician’, Hadley Freeman wrote in the Guardian in 2016:

    ‘Now, personally, some of us think that Corbyn could consider updating his ideas as much as his wardrobe… He must spend veritable hours cultivating that look, unless there’s a store on Holloway Road that I’ve missed called 1970s Polytechnic Lecturer 4 U. Honestly, where can you even buy tracksuits like the ones he sports?’

    This wasn’t racism, but it was classism. Much of the focus on Corbyn being insufficiently ‘prime ministerial’ was establishment prejudice targeting a working class threat. Corbyn didn’t dress like the elite he was challenging – he wore ‘embarrassing’ sandals rather than ‘statesmanlike’ black leather shoes; an ’embarrassing’ jacket rather than the traditional long, black ‘presidential’ overcoat – just as Brand didn’t know the ‘correct’ way to say ‘hegemony’. Corbyn was second-rate, Polytechnic material; not first-class, Oxford material, like Freeman. The BBC’s Mark Mardell commented on Corbyn:

    ‘One cynic told me expectations are so low, if Corbyn turns up and doesn’t soil himself, it’s a success.’4

    If this was not gross, classist prejudice, can we conceive of Mardell repeating a comparable slur about establishment politicians like George Bush, Tony Blair, Theresa May and Sir Keir Starmer shitting themselves in public?

    Racism and sexism have monstrous consequences, of course, but so does classism and speciesism, so does every kind of faux-elevation of the self.

    Beyond Censorship

    The banning and even criminalisation of words and opinions associated with ego inflation come at a cost. The problem is that powerful interests are constantly attempting to extend censorship to words and opinions they are keen to suppress. For example, the banning of Holocaust denial prompted establishment propagandists pushing their own version of ‘cancel culture’ to damn us at Media Lens for something called ‘Srebrenica denial’. As political analyst Theodore Sayeed noted of the smearing of Noam Chomsky:

    ‘In the art of controversy, slapping the label “denier” on someone is meant to evoke the Holocaust. Chomsky, the furtive charge proceeds, is a kind of Nazi.’

    Although we had never written about Srebrenica, repeated attempts were made to link us to Holocaust denial in this way, so that we might also be branded as virtual Nazis that no self-respecting media outlet would ever quote or mention, much less interview or publish.

    In both our case and Chomsky’s, this was not the work of well-intentioned individuals, but of organised groups promoting the interests of the war-fighting state. It was actually part of a much wider attempt by state-corporate interests to ‘cancel’ opponents of US-UK wars of aggression. Terms like ‘genocide denial’ and ‘apologist’ are increasingly thrown at leftist critics of Western crimes in Rwanda, Syria, Libya and Venezuela. For example, critics of Western policy in Syria are relentlessly accused of ‘Assadist genocide denial’, which is declared ‘identical’ to Srebrenica denial and Holocaust denial.

    The ongoing campaign to associate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is an effort to extend the ban on Holocaust denial to Labour Party politicians and other members promoting socialism and Palestinian rights. This establishment ‘cancel culture’ played a major role in the dismantling of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Again, the goal is to anchor the need for censorship in a fixed ethical point on which everyone can agree. On the basis that Holocaust denial is prohibited, attempts are made to extend that prohibition to other subjects that powerful interests dislike. The goal is the elimination and even criminalisation of dissident free speech.

    Promotions of violence, including state violence, aside, the focus of anyone who cares about freedom of speech and democracy should not be on banning words and opinions relating to racism and sexism. Both are functions of the ego’s wide-ranging efforts to elevate itself, and these efforts cannot simply be banned. Instead, we need to understand and dissolve the delusions of ego through self-awareness.

    Noam Chomsky was absolutely right to sign a letter in Harper’s magazine opposing the growing momentum of ‘swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought’, even though many other signatories were hypocrites. As Chomsky has said:

    ‘If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise you’re not in favour of freedom of speech.’

    The 8th Century mystic, Shantideva, asked:

    ‘Since I and other beings both, in wanting happiness, are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should strive to have my bliss alone?’5

    Are ‘my’ suffering and happiness more important than ‘your’ suffering and happiness simply because they’re ‘mine’? Obviously not – the idea is baseless, irrational and cruel. This awareness certainly provides the rational, intellectual foundation for treating the happiness of others as ‘equal and alike’ to our own, but not the motivation.

    However, Shantideva examined, with meticulous attention, his own reactions on occasions when he did and did not treat the happiness of others as ‘equal and alike’, and he reached this startling conclusion:

    ‘The intention, ocean of great good, that seeks to place all beings in the state of bliss, and every action for the benefit of all: such is my delight and all my joy.’6

    Shantideva’s point is that, if we pay close attention to our feelings, we will notice that caring for others – treating their suffering and happiness as equal to our own – is a source of tremendous and growing ‘delight’ and, in fact, ‘all my joy’. It is also an ‘ocean of great good’ for society. This is a subtle awareness that is blocked by the kind of overthinking that predominates in our culture (it requires meditation, an acute focus on feeling), but Jean-Jacques Rousseau saw the truth of the assertion with great clarity:

    ‘I could sometimes gladden another heart, and I owe it to my own honour to declare that whenever I could enjoy this pleasure, I found it sweeter than any other. This was a strong, pure and genuine instinct, and nothing in my heart of hearts has ever belied it.7  (our emphasis)

    The fact that a loving, inclusive heart is the basis of individual and social happiness, and a hate-filled, prejudiced heart is the basis of individual and social unhappiness, is the most powerful rationale for dropping racism, sexism, classism and speciesism. It is a response rooted in the warm truth of being and lived experience, not in bloodless ideas of ‘moral obligation’ and ‘political correctness’, not in the violent suppression of free speech.

    It is not our ‘duty’ or ‘moral obligation’ to be respectful and tolerant of people and animals different from us; it is in our own best interests to care for them.

    Enlightened self-interest, not banning and censorship, has always been the most effective antidote to prejudice. In fact, anger, punishment, blame and guilt-making may lead us away from the truth that we are not being ‘selfish’ by denigrating others, we are harming ourselves.

    1. Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Year 501 – The Conquest Continues, Verso, 1993, p. 23.
    2. Ibid., p. 33.
    3. Hans von Sponeck, A Different Kind of War, Bergahn Books, 2006, p. 38.
    4. Mardell, BBC Radio 4, ‘The World This Weekend’, 21 May 2017.
    5. Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala, 1997, p. 123.
    6. Ibid., p. 49.
    7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of A Solitary Walker, Penguin Classics, 1979, p. 94

    Has the left been gulled into believing its small right to speech is already too much?

    My post earlier this month on the so-called “cancel culture” letter proved to be the most polarising I have written – matched only by another recent post on the pulling down of a statue in the UK to a slave trader. The ferocity of the reactions to both, I believe, is related. It derives from a similar refusal, even on the left, to factor in power – and how it is best confronted – when assessing issues of speech and oppression.But first, I want to briefly address the concerns of those who think that my and others’ focus on the open letter, published this month in Harper’s magazine and signed by 150 prominent writers and thinkers, has been excessive, and that there are more important things going on in the world that need highlighting instead.The discussion on the left about the letter is not simple navel-gazing. Speech rights and how they are exercised are the arena in which our thoughts, narratives and ideologies are shaped. Nothing is more important than how we talk to each other, and what we are allowed to say and think. That is why I am revisiting the issue.

    The illiberal climate identified in the letter is a real thing, but the discussion promoted by the letter has been ahistorical, lacked proper political context, and the purpose it is being put to, in my view, is dangerously antithetical to improved free speech. The problem with the letter is not what it says – which few of us would disagree with – but what it doesn’t.

    Refusal to sign

    What is missing is highlighted by two revelations about the letter’s provenance that have emerged since I wrote my post. They help to shed light on my original concerns.

    In a column on the letter in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg, one of the more progressive voices among the signatories, reported that she refused to sign the initial draft because it was explicitly about the threat to free speech posed by “cancel culture”.

    Goldberg was rightly wary of adding her name because “cancel culture”, as I explained in my first post, is a term that has been increasingly appropriated by the right to attack the speech rights of the left. It is meant to skew public discourse in the same way as “fake news”, “Bernie Bros”, “antisemitism” and “Russian trolls”. Like cancel culture, these things exist but they have been malevolently repurposed by the right as a stick with which to beat the left. Donald Trump recently equated “cancel culture” with “far-left fascism”, for example.

    After her initial reluctance, Goldberg signed a second draft chiefly, it seems, because the phrase “cancel culture” was removed – even though the letter’s original intent was barely concealed. Those sentiments were so obvious that everyone immediately dubbed it the “cancel culture letter”. That was also, of course, the reason why a bunch of warmongers, Israel fanatics and left-baiters were so eager to sign the letter.

    Greenwald ‘cancelled’

    A second revelation came from Thomas Chatterton Williams, one of the main drafters of the letter. In an interview last week, he noted that the original intention was have it signed by Glenn Greenwald, the civil rights lawyer turned journalist who is a well-known champion of free speech. But ultimately Greenwald was not approached because others behind the letter objected. In other words, free speech advocate Greenwald was cancelled from signing a letter about the threat posed by cancel culture.

    This admission about Greenwald underscores the main point I made in my original post. One can be a free speech absolutist – as indeed I am – and still recognise that the issues around free speech are complex, and that pretending they are not is actually harmful to free speech. It is not as simple as being for or against free speech. After all, the vast majority of us are for free speech in the abstract.

    “Free speech” is rather like “equality of opportunity”. It’s hard to disagree with the principle, but very few are actually committed to achieving it in practice – and for similar reasons.

    In the case of “equality of opportunity”, no meaningful efforts have ever been made to achieve it. None of the main parties in the US or UK are pushing to end all inheritance entitlements, for example, which would require everyone to start their adult lives with a cleaner slate. But even with an end to inheritance rights, more fundamental change would still be needed, otherwise children raised in wealthy, privileged homes would still have a big head-start over those from deprived backgrounds.

    Part of the reason most of us accept inequality of opportunity as inevitable is because we struggle to imagine how such inequality could ever be redressed without making structural changes to our societies along socialist lines. But the corporate elite – which is deeply opposed to making those kinds of changes – has persuaded us through its media that structural reform would be Stalinist and unfair.

    Speech rights in conflict

    There are similar problems with the idea of free speech, as Greenwald’s “cancelling” highlights. Rather than use the term “free speech”, we would be better off talking in terms of speech rights. Because then it would be clear that, as with other rights, there can sometimes be conflicts between my speech rights and your speech rights. Once this point is conceded, things begin to look a whole lot messier.

    The “cancel culture” letter is not just in favour of free speech. It prioritises certain speech rights over other speech rights. It promotes the speech rights of prominent writers and thinkers who dominate the public square against the speech rights of a supposed “Twitter mob” – those who had no significant speech rights until they were able to amass them through force of numbers and force of will on social media.

    Again, that is not to say cancel culture is not a problem. Mobs who try to impose their speech rights on others always were, and still are, a threat to free speech. It is simply to point out that the letter and similar initiatives are not about defending some pure, untainted idea of free speech. Rather, they assume that the existing power structures should continue unreformed, even though those structures are designed to ensure some people enjoy privileged speech rights – including the right to define who belongs to the “mob” and who constitutes a threat to speech.

    Who is the real ‘mob’?

    The reason we are talking about cancel culture in the first place is that social media has given ordinary, politically and socially invested individuals, who until recently had no voice, the chance to exercise their speech rights more aggressively (and sometimes irresponsibly) by uniting with other like-minded individuals. Their collective voice can partially challenge and disrupt the narratives crafted by those who have long dominated public discourse – and done it from platforms, let’s remember, paid for and controlled by billionaires or the state.

    As a result of social media, public discourse has grown more complex and treacherous.

    But the cancel culture letter does not help us to navigate through this discursive minefield. It is intended to waylay us. That should be obvious if we pause and consider who is characterised by the letter as a “threat” and as the “mob”. In fact, the “Twitter mob” is overshadowed by a far bigger, more powerful, more insidious mob represented by most of the 150 signatories. They act as little more than media stenographers for a corporate elite who have amassed enormous wealth and power in our societies and who are almost never held to account.

    The letter ignores the full spectrum of threats to free speech – including the biggest – because it does not recognise that its own signatories constitute a mob too, and a far more dangerous mob than the Twitter one.

    Evil Russian mastermind

    It may help if we again compare “free speech” with “equality of opportunity”. Most conservatives and liberals support equality of opportunity in principle even as they defend society being organised in ways designed to uphold the privileges of their class. It is not just that they are hypocrites. It is that the discourse they promote is meant to deceive and disempower.

    What is needed to guarantee equality of opportunity is the reorganisation of our societies in ways that threaten elite power. For this reason alone, such restructuring is something the elite could never countenance. So their strategy has been to espouse equality of opportunity while actually doing everything they can to undermine those who try either to challenge their power or to bring about a little more equality.

    The most effective route to blocking equality of opportunity has been to develop a dominant discourse that presents true egalitarians as secret authoritarians. So democratic socialists – whether Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, or Bernie Sanders in the US – are condemned by the corporate media for supposedly advancing the interests, not of the publics they represent, but of an evil Russian mastermind. The equality they seek is more specifically recast – exploiting the fashion for identity politics – as racism (antisemitism in Corbyn’s case) and as bullying misogyny (sexism in Sanders’ case).

    Social media power

    Similarly, the majority of the letter’s signatories pay lip service to the principle of free speech but wish to avoid any of the structural changes needed to ensure that free speech is meaningful for everyone, not just for themselves. They want to maintain speech relations that prioritise their speech rights by characterising those who challenge their speech privileges as a “mob” intent on “cancelling” them and those like them.

    True, a cancel culture exists, but it is not just to be found on the left, as the letter implies. It exists everywhere, as interest and identity groups find new ways to become empowered through social media. Social and political actors on the right, such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, have proved particularly adept at harnessing this power for their own ends.

    But, of course, cancel culture on the left has the potential – and at this stage, only the potential – to impel a discussion about how our societies might need to be reorganised to make them more equal, including by improving access to speech rights for all. That is why left speech is viewed as an especial threat and why the left’s version of cancel culture is being vilified.

    Making one’s voice heard

    In fact, we can probe deeper still into the nature of cancel culture. It has always been a feature of societies that are unequally structured. Cancel culture existed long before social media. It was exercised chiefly through the dominant, corporate media and was one of the main ways power protected and veiled itself.

    The greater visibility of cancel culture today is not because there is more of it. It is because the public space is more contested, and acts of cancelling noisier. That visibility of cancel culture is the inevitable outcome of offering speech rights – through the anarchic platform of social media – to those who were formerly voiceless. Cancel culture is a feature of speech, made more visible by the greater democratisation of speech rights through social media. It is not a peculiar feature either of social media or of left discourse.

    To make one’s voice heard above the general and often trivial drone of social media, the best strategy is to make alliances with the like-minded, forging a strong collective identity, and then act aggressively. The alternative is a return to powerlessness and irrelevance, even at the symbolic level.

    The “mob” is an in-built feature of speech relations that are unequal and designed to be that way. The problem isn’t really the “mob” or “cancel culture”, it is a society where one set of values and interests are given pre-eminence – those that uphold the power of a wealth elite. When state-corporate platforms – the New York Times, CNN, the BBC, the Guardian – dominate the public square, the only way to be heard is to join a mob and shout as loudly as one can.

    Bread and circuses

    Social media is not designed to channel the frustrations and anger of the voiceless into useful, constructive debate that could effect real change – change that might truly threaten the plutocratic class that runs our societies. It is designed to create gladiatorial contests that keep us weak because all we can do is shout. It is the new bread and circuses.

    The solution is not to erase popular “cancel culture” so that the dominant, corporate “cancel culture” can once again rule supreme. It is to meaningfully address the inequality of speech rights and, more generally, the way power is structured in our societies. It is to democratise the media, taking it and our politics out of the hands of plutocrats and making both genuinely pluralistic.

    That means guarding the rights of everyone to have a say, even those who are noisy and vulgar, by ensuring that corporate-owned social media doesn’t gradually disappear dissenters and trouble-makers either through the skewing of algorithms or by allowing them to be dismissively labelled as “fake news”, “Russian trolls”, “amtisemites” or Bernie Bros”.

    A fairer, more honest, less captured media environment would lead to a calmer, more reasonable, more considered public discourse.

    None of this will be easy. Speech is tricky terrain because it is tied to the way power is expressed. In our profit-driven societies, money buys speech, as it does everything else. It is time to recognise that and the urgent need for fundamental change, not get gulled into a debate whose premises are that the small speech rights we enjoy are already too much.

    Masked, Homeless, and Desolate

    Personality is persona, a mask…The mask is magic…Larva means mask; or ghost…it also means mad, a case of demoniacal possession.

    – Norman O. Brown, Love’s Body, 1966

    Walk the streets in the United States and many countries these days and you will see streaming crowds of people possessed by demons, masked and anonymous, whose eyes look like vacuums, staring into space or out of empty sockets like the dead, afraid of their own ghosts.  Fear and obedience oozes from them.  Death walks the streets with people on leashes in lockstep.

    That they have been the victims of a long-planned propaganda campaign to use an invisible virus to cower them into submission and shut down the world’s economy for the global elites is beyond their ken.  This is so even when the facts are there to prove otherwise.  It is a clear case, as Peter Koenig tells Michel Chossudovsky in this must-see interview, that is not a conspiracy theory but a blatant factual plan spelled out in the 2010 Rockefeller Report, the October 18, 2019 Event 201, and Agenda 21, among other places.

    Who can wake the sleepwalkers up in this cowardly new world where culture and politics collude to create and exploit ignorance?

    Fifty-five years ago on this date, August 20, 1965, Bob Dylan released his song “Like a Rolling Stone.” It arrived like a rocking jolt into the placid pop musical culture of the day. It was not about wanting to hold someone’s hand or cry in the chapel. It wasn’t mumbo-jumbo like “Wooly Bully,” the number one hit. It wasn’t like the pop pap that dominates today’s music scene.  It wasn’t Woody Guthrie in slow time.

    It beat you up.  It attacked.  It confronted you. Maybe, if you were alive then, you thought Dylan was kidding you. You thought wrong.  Bitching about his going electric was a dodge.  He was addressing all of us, including himself.

    Still is. But who wants to hear his recent “Murder Most Foul” and read Dylan’s scathing lyrics about the assassination of JFK, the killing that started the slow decay that has resulted in such masked madness.  “And please, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” he tells us in capital letters for emphasis.  Exactly what all the mainstream media have done, of course, and not by accident.

    There are no alibis.  “How does it feel/To be on your own/with no direction home/A complete unknown/Like a rolling stone?”

    It was in the mid-1960s when confidence in knowing where home was and how to get there disappeared into thin air.  If you left mommy and daddy, could you ever get back from where you were going?  Who had the directions?  Absolutes were melting and relativity was widespread.  Life was wild and the CIA was planning to make it wilder and more confusing with the introduction of LSD on a vast scale. MKUltra was expanding its scope. Operation Mockingbird was singing so many tunes that heads were spinning, as planned. The national security state killers were in the saddle, having already murdered President Kennedy and Malcolm X as they sharpened their knives for many more to come.  The peace candidate, Lyndon Baines Johnson, had been elected nine months earlier with 61.1% of the popular vote and went immediately to work secretly expanding the war against Vietnam.  War as an invisible virus.  Who knew?  Who, but a small anti-war contingent, wanted to know?  War takes different forms, and the will to ignorance and historical amnesia endure. War is a disease.  In 1968 Richard Nixon was elected on a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War and then ramped it up to monstrous proportions, only to be reelected in 1972 by carrying 49 out of 50 states.

    Who wants to know now?  The historian Howard Zinn once said correctly that this country’s greatest problem wasn’t disobedience but obedience.

    What’s behind the masks?  The lockstep?

    On the same day that Dylan released “Like a Rolling Stone,” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, just back from a “fact-finding” trip to Vietnam, recommended to LBJ that U.S. troop levels in Vietnam be increased to 175,000 and that the U.S. should increase its bombing of North Vietnam dramatically.  This was the same McNamara who, in October 1963, had agreed with JFK when he signed NSAM 263 calling for the withdrawal of 1,000 military personnel from Vietnam by the end of 1963 and the remainder by the end of 1965.  One of the moves that got Kennedy’s head blown open.

    Poor McNamara, the fog of war must have clouded his conscience, confused the poor boy, just like Secretary of State Colin Powell holding up that vile vial of “anthrax” at the United Nations on February 5, 2003 and lying to the world about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

    Powell recently said, “I knew I didn’t have any choice.  He’s the President.”  How “painful,” to use his word,  it must have been for the poor guy, lying so that so many Iraqis could be slaughtered.  Of course, he had no choice.  These war criminals all wear masks. And have no choice.

    Masks, or demonic possession, or both.  You?

    It’s tough being on your own.  It hurts to think too much.  Or think for yourself, at least.  To obey an authority higher than your bosses.  “I was tricked” is some sort of mantra, is it not?

    You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns

    When they all did tricks for you

    Dylan was lost and disgusted when he wrote the song. His own music sickened him, which, for an artist, means he sickened himself. He had just returned from a tour of England and was sick of people telling him how much they loved his music when he didn’t.  He needed to change.

    What else is the point of art but change?  If you’re dead, or afraid of getting dead, you aren’t going to change.  You’re stuck.  Stuck is dead.  Why wear a mask if you know who you are?

    Knowledge, or more accurately, pseudo-knowledge or mainstream media lies, is a tomb “the mystery tramp” sold to us, a place to hide to avoid pain and guilt.

    I have read more books than anyone I know.  It sickens me.

    I know too much.  That sickens me.

    I sicken myself. All the news sickens me.

    I know so much no one believes me.

    As Francesco Serpico once told me: “It’s all lies.”

    Of course.  Dylan and Serpico are blood brothers.

    Only art tells the truth.  Real art.

    Not bullshit pop art.  Some say “Like a Rolling Stone” is about Edie Sedgwick, “the girl of the year” in 1965 and one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. Perhaps to a degree it is, but it’s far more than that.  It’s about us.

    Poor Edie was poisoned by her wealthy family at a young age and barely had a chance.  She was an extreme example of a rather common American story. People poisoned in the cradle.  Thinking of her got me thinking of Andy Warhol, the death obsessed hoarder, the guy who called his studio “The Factory” in a conscious or unconscious revelation of his art and persona, his wigs and masks and the hold he has had on American culture all these years.  Isn’t he the ultimate celebrity?

    Warhol once took my photo on a deserted street.  His and my secret but this is the truth.  West 47th Street on an early Sunday morning, 1980.  I guess he thought he was doing art or collecting images for his museum of dead heads.  When I asked him why, he said I had an interesting face.  I told him he did too, rather transparent and creepy, but I didn’t want to capture him.  He was a ghost with a camera, a face like a death mask, trying to capture a bit of life.  I told him I didn’t give him permission to shoot me, but he turned and walked away into the morning mist.  The shooters always just walk away in pseudo-innocence.

    I then went down the street to the Gotham Book Mart that was my destination and asked James Joyce why he had written “The Dead,” and Joyce, secretive as ever, quoted himself, “Ed,” he said, “Think you’re escaping and run into yourself.  Longest way round is the shortest way home.”  Now that was direction.

    Only those who know how to play and be guided by intuition are able to escape the living tomb of so-called knowledge; what Dylan called, lifelessness.  But that was from “Desolation Row,” released as the closing track of Highway 61 Revisited on August 30, 1965.  The only acoustic song on the album.  Slow it down to make the point another way.  “Like a Rolling Stone” was the opening track.

    Do you feel all alone or part of a masked gang roaming the streets incognito? Miss and Mr. Lonely, does that mask help?  How do you feel?

    Desolation means very lonely. From Latin, de, completely, solare, lonely.

    Does that mask help?  Do you feel alone together now, one of the crowd?

    Do you really want to know about desolation row?  It’s here. It was here in 1965, too.  Only the true lonely know how it feels to really be all alone.

    The Umbrella People, those who some call the deep state or secret government under whose protection all the politicians work, say they want to protect us all from death and disease.  They are lying bastards who’ve gotten so many to imitate their masked ways.  They can only sing a mockingbird’s song.

    Listen to real singers. Dylan has arched the years, as true artists do. Who has paid close attention to what he said this year about the assassination of President Kennedy in his song, “Murder Most Foul”?  Or were many caught up in the propaganda surrounding corona virus, and rather than contemplating his indictment of the U.S. government and its media accomplices, were they contemplating their navels to see if a virus had secreted itself in there. Viruses lurk everywhere, they say, and the corporate media made certain to circulate a vaccine about the truth in Dylan’s song.  This is normal operating procedure.

    We are on still on Desolation Row.

    “Take Off the Masks.”  That was the title of a book by Rev. Malcolm Boyd that I reviewed long ago.  He was a gay priest who decided that his mask was a lie.  He came out into the light of truth.  He had guts.

    It is time for everyone to take off the masks.  Escape from Desolation Row.

    Listen to Dylan, long ago – today:

    At midnight all the agents
    And the superhuman crew
    Come out and round up everyone
    That knows more than they do

    And they bring them to the factory
    Where their heart attack machine
    Is strapped across their shoulders
    And then the kerosene

    Is brought down from the castles
    By insurance men who go
    Check to see that nobody is escaping
    To Desolation Row

    Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
    The Titanic sails at dawn
    Everybody’s shouting
    “Which side are you on?”

    Revolutionary Group Dynamics: How Minorities Influence Majorities, from Group Complicity to Collective Creativity

    Orientation

    From the macro to the micro

    When it comes to stereotypes of the masses of revolutionary people, the masses have built barricades that look like forts which they hide behind, armed with guns. But if we trace the behavior of masses back far enough to pre-revolutionary situations, masses become groups. In order to understand how masses of people become a revolutionary force, we first need to understand how groups, small groups of ten to twenty people, become revolutionary. By revolutionary I don’t mean that groups consciously advocate for revolutions. By revolutionary I mean that people in the group understand the science of how minorities in groups can influence majorities to change, no matter what the contents.

    Who is to blame when groups go wrong?

    The most typical responses people give when groups fail to meet their expectations are to:

    • blame the leaders;
    • blame stigmatized, obnoxious individuals.

    For example, at a staff meeting, staff members will say to each other “the leader should have done this or they should have done that”. Psychological analysis of the leaders is in no short supply. The leader is a narcissist, a control freak, an alcoholic or a dictator. Another common strategy is to target members of the group that are stigmatized in some way. They are deemed as recalcitrant, needy, talk too much, talk too little, don’t listen, are unrealistic, are cynical, depressed or inarticulate. Usually people will say to each other, “if only the stigmatized people would get fired, transferred, get sick or find another job, everything would be fine”. But everything wouldn’t be fine. Most groups will unconsciously produce the following to do the work for the majority of people:

    • more bad leaders;
    • more stigmatized individuals.

    From by-standing to complicity

    However, there is a third possibility. Let us assume a group has sixteen people. It has two leaders and two particularly obnoxious members, leaving twelve other members. How is it that two leaders and two stigmatized individuals can control twelve other people? Why don’t those twelve other people take control of the situation, challenge the leaders’ faults publicly and shut up the obnoxious individuals? After all, its twelve against four. Why don’t those who appear as bystanders jump into the fray? Why are they putting up with a miserable situation? That is one of the subjects of this article.

    Groups of human beings are not machines. They are composed of individuals with free will who can coordinate, cooperate, obey or leave a group. Because groups become “alive” as they function over time, the truth is that in groups, there are no neutral bystanders. Every member of the group is either actively or passively producing expansion or contraction of the group’s power. Those twelve people are complicit in whatever happens in the group, for better or for worse.

    My experiences in groups:

    Blaming leaders and stigmatized individuals

    I have been in groups most of my life. From the age of seven to the age of twenty I played in pick-up baseball and football games. During the same window of time, I endured 12 years of Catholic education in grammar and high school where I was taught by nuns and brothers. For the first 13 years of my life I blamed leaders and obnoxious individuals for group problems. My understanding of groups changed when I became involved with radical political groups.

    Awakening to complicity

    In my twenties I participated in Men’s Liberation Collective, a radical psychiatry group, community and in a council communist political group. In those groups I learned about Wilhelm Reich and his theory of mass complicity.  In my early 40’s I worked as a group counselor for an organization called Men Overcoming Violence. This was a 40-week program which met once a week to help men gain communication skills so as to not resort to battering their partner. I worked in group settings in two half-way houses in San Francisco.  I spent about eight months in what I would now call a cult, a left-wing political psychology group. Beginning in 1989 and for the next 27 years, I taught psychology courses at universities and community colleges, including classes in group dynamics and mass psychology. These classes ranged from eight to 40 students. Throughout those years my appreciation of group complicity was a key to understanding why rebellions in groups don’t occur more often. It was both revealing and frightening.

    Theories of groups

    Reactionary theories

    The earliest years of social psychology in the 2nd half of the 19th century were dominated by political reactionaries who hated groups. Taine, Le Bon and Sighele had never forgotten what the masses did during the French Revolution. For them the whole (the group) was less than the sum of the parts (the individual). In other words, something degenerative happened to individuals when they joined a group. Without any empirical research they characterized groups as childish, criminal, beastly, savage, irrational, impulsive, blood thirsty, primitive, cruel and fickle. Despite the lack of scientific research behind these pronouncements, this stereotype is a staple of mass media today, with the “looting” mantra splashed across the headlines, whenever a natural disaster or a social uprising appears. For them Lord of the Flies depicts what happens in groups without strong leaders.

    Leftist theories

    At the other extreme on the left, whether they are anarchists, communists or social democrats, they all believed that the working-class in masses was heroic. All workers had to do is was overthrow the capitalists and their kind, gregarious and cooperative tendencies would come to the fore. For them the whole (the group) is more than the sum of its parts (the individuals). Major social change only comes about through mass action. The challenge is to awaken in the masses confidence they have the numbers to take over the world. The problem these leftists were unwilling to face is that workers are conflicted about what to do in a revolutionary situation and they can be turned into fascists with the right kind of political manipulation such as used by Goebbels and Hitler.

    Mass complicity theory of Wilhelm Reich

    When I was first starting out in the early 1970s on my radical political journey, Wilhelm Reich was required reading for being a situationist communist. I read every book of his that was translated into English. Reich was the only psychologist whose theories were more sexual than Freud’s. He had a theory of character armor which explained that working class people didn’t rebel more because they had character armor in their bodies that prevented them from having good orgasms. For Reich, good revolutionaries were bodily unarmored and had good orgasms. I never had a problem with orgasms, but I investigated Reichian therapy to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I spent three years in Reichian therapy.

    Typically, either leftists don’t know about Reich or if they do know about him, they refer to the Mass Psychology of Fascism and then say he went crazy. It’s fair to say that the last fifteen years or so of his life Reich did go around the bend, but he never lost his insight into the mass complicity of the masses in the situations we were in. Reich once said that there never could have been a Hitler if there wasn’t a little bit of Hitler in a whole lot of people.

    Reich was at his best at criticizing the masses from a left-wing point of view. He argued the fascist rulers were much smarter than communists because they knew mass psychology. He demonstrated how mass complicity works in his books “Listen Little Man” and “the Murder of Christ“.

    How Minorities influence majorities—from complicity to power

    Let us return to our group of sixteen people: two leaders, two stigmatized individuals and twelve members who are complicit. In our Men Overcoming Violence group, we taught men communication skills so that they don’t batter their partners. In our group we gave our members an opportunity to shape the direction of the group in terms of when we met and how consecutive the meetings were. Since part of the mission of Men Overcoming Violence was to communicate in a non-violent way, we were open to the men practicing this as group members in our program, not just on their partner.

    On one occasion, a group member – I’ll call him Antonio – complained that 40 weeks in a row with no break was too much. Men needed a Saturday off now and then where there was no meeting. For the rest of this article, I will use this example to show how group members moved from passive members who were complicit, to members assuming some power as to what the direction of our group would be.

    At the end of our two-hour Saturday meeting we allowed 15 minutes of time for members to meta-communicate about how the meeting went and how the program was going for them. It was here that Antonio first brought up the problem of meeting every single Saturday.  The following italicized headings are the steps necessary by which a minority in a group can impact a majority. When minorities impact and change majorities the group has gone through a revolutionary process.

    Perseverance

    Antonio made a proposal both to all members of the group and to the group counselors that we should have some breaks between meetings. He made his pitch to a dead silent reception. Mistakenly, Antonio interpreted this as a sign that no one liked his idea. Dejected, he didn’t say any more. But what Antonio didn’t realize was that group silence can mean many things besides rejection. It can mean some members were not paying attention. It can mean they were paying attention but were apathetic and don’t care. It can mean that some members want to think about it. It could also mean they agree with Antonio’s proposal but are afraid to speak about it publicly because they are afraid to speak publicly about anything. They might agree but withhold saying anything about it because that would violate subgroup norms, whether they be race or class customs.

    So, the first skill Antonio needed to cultivate in moving the group from complicity to power was perseverance. Antonio had to bring up his proposal more than once. People needed time to get used to it and those who didn’t agree would have time to think about how they could rebut it. If Antonio brought his claim up repeatedly, he gave the message that he was determined, and he was not giving up easily. In private, we counselors encouraged Antonio not to give up and to try to pitch it again, which he did.

    Rhetorically compelling

    It was not enough that Antonio repeats himself. He had to make his position rhetorically compelling. Aristotle argued that there were four considerations in being rhetorically successful. The claim has to be logical, meaning the person had to have their facts straight and there must be a tight relationship between the facts or the reasons and the claim. The argument also has to come from a reliable source, whether as a primary or secondary source. The third consideration is that the argument was not just rational. It had to have heart and it had to show imagination. In Antonio’s case part of his evidence needs to be something like – he can go to a ballgame with his son on the Saturdays he has off. The last ingredient in being rhetorically compelling is that the claim has to be timely. There has to be a necessity to the claim. There has to be an urgency such that if something is not done now it may be too late. Why is it now or never?

    Then the counselors and the rest of the group criticized Antonio’s claim. We told him that the claim had to be specific about how often and in what sequence he expected these breaks to occur. It wouldn’t do to simply say “let’s take a break when the group feels like it”. The breaks needed to be built into our institutional setting. His claim had a pathological (emotional appeal) because he talked about all the places he would go with the time off. His source was good since he was a respected group member who did his work and participated in the program. The timing of the argument was not good. We had only held three meetings, so members had not been ground down by the wear-and-tear of the group in order to make his appeal compelling. Had he brought it up after 10 or 12 meetings in a row, he might have had a better reception.

    The rest of the group members and the counselors discussed Antonio’s claim and we decided if we went along with Antonio’s pitch the best time for breaks would be every eight weeks, because that was when we allowed new members to come in. We told the group that if they agreed to take a break it would need to be every eight weeks. However, it wasn’t just the counselors’ decision. It was still up to the group.

    Find allies and get them to commit to a public agreement

    Even if you persevere and repeat yourself and even if Antonio had followed all four of Aristotle’s criteria of logos, ethos, pathos and kairos, he is only one person in a group of 16. His claim can be dismissed by the group members, whether to themselves privately or to other group members on personal grounds such as these. Antonio is:

    1. heroic but unrealistic;
    2. a rebel and a troublemaker;
    3. a victim of a psychological disorder and has a need for attention; and,
    4. just an extroverted personality.

    Antonio needed to find allies. How did he do this? He got the phone numbers of the members whom he senses might be sympathetic to his claim because of what he knows about them and talks to them between the meetings. It is not enough to get them to be sympathetic over the phone or privately in person. It has to be public. I remember as an adjunct faculty member, I would bring things up at faculty meetings. Other teachers would listen politely, but nothing would be said or done. Then after the meeting, a couple of adjuncts would come up to me and say how much they appreciated what I said. I thought to myself “why in the world didn’t you say anything when I was making an appeal in the meeting”? Finding allies to change the direction of a group means asking them to make a commitment to speaking in public before and after you make your pitch. It means verbalizing their own reasons at the time.

    How many allies do you need? It is a mistake to think you have to convince all or even half the members. You just need to have enough to make an impression that you are a political force within the group to be reckoned with. What that means is that the majority will be affected by your presence and your views will be taken into consideration even if they are not discussed. In a group of sixteen, three or four people is enough. In other words, about 20-25% of the group.

    Anticipate the objections of the majority and rebut them

    Between meetings, Antonio drew up on paper three columns. In the first column he put the names of the people he thought would be opposed to his proposal. In the middle column, in bullet form, he listed their objections. In the last column he rebutted their objections, as much as he could, and committed his arguments to memory. When he made his proposal at the next meeting, he said something like, “I know there are significant objections to my proposal. Some of you may feel that it drags the program out even longer than it already is. Others may feel like having two weeks off with no group structure might cause a relapse to being violent. Well, I thought about that and here is my answer”.

    He didn’t name the people who might object, he simply named the objections. That kept those members from being put on the spot and less likely to be defensive. He didn’t pull out the paper and read it. That would be perceived as being too lawyer-like and might be a turn-off. He also didn’t name every possible objective because that would be overkill. He could save those objections if he needed them for another round of group discussion. Anticipating objections and rebutting them like this will build up his credibility: “Wow, Antonio has really thought about this. He’s done his homework. He’s serious” these members might think to themselves.

    Be Flexible

    None of these group members will want to follow the proposal of someone who seems rigid or fanatical. Even if Antonio is right about everything, it is better to intentionally give ground on the little issues. People are far more willing to work with you, if they feel that you are dialectical and can go back and forth on an issue and concede points. Antonio did do this and we think this is one reason he was able to keep his allies.

    Present your message so that it appeals to the whole of the group

    As much as possible, try to make the claim as an appeal to the interests of the group as a whole. In Antonio’s case, he suggested to one of the counselors that his proposal would be welcomed by counselors so they would get a break too. He also argued that this would be better for the men who enrolled in the problem long after Antonio’s cohort graduated. Of course, there is Antonio’s self-interest involved. However, as much as possible, if there is some part of the proposal that appeals to wider interests, it might have a better chance of passing.

    Seize spatial seating advantages on the day of the meeting

    It is very important that if there is any flexibility in the seating arrangements that Antonio take full advantage of them. If the tradition of the group is for everyone to be seated (including the counselors) it will be too much for Antonio to stand to make his proposal. But if it is possible to stand without it seeming weird as the act of standing commands more authority than sitting.  In addition, Antonio had three allies. On the day of his presentation he made sure that each of his allies were evenly spread out so that they could see each other and interpret others’ body language. Also, if they were spread out, they appear to be independent voices rather than as part of a clique. One ally spoke before Antonio, and one spoke after Antonio. They all gave different reasons for wanting the break every eight weeks.

    Present your message so that is part of a plan

    Since the counselors already suggested that they would go along with Antonio if the breaks were every eight weeks, the structure was set. However, he still had to convince the rest of the group. Would the eight-week break proposal go into effect immediately or would it be gradual? Since some group members were not convinced that extending their program an extra five weeks was a good idea, Antonio suggested that they try two breaks in the next 16 weeks and then revisit the proposal.

    Having a plan also means having an articulated division of labor as to who will do the work, a timeline for each step to be taken as well as some measurable indicator of whether the proposal was a success or not. Antonio and his allies agreed to write up a questionnaire at the end of the 40-week program and ask members on a scale of one to ten how successful the proposal was. The questionnaire also included essay questions, asking what group members did with their time off, and whether they had any violent incidents during that time.

    Meta-communicate: reveal the steps you took to move the majority to other group members

    Antonio’s methods should not be kept secret by Antonio and his allies. Antonio should reveal all the steps in this article to his fellow group members so they too could try to influence the majority of the group on other issues. In this way, the twelve formerly complicit members of the group move to become active minorities so that the group maximizes its collective creativity by making all members capable of transforming the group. In this way, leaders would be reduced in stature because the seat of creativity will be the group rather than the leaders.

    Conclusion

    All members of a group are always co-responsible for what happens to it, whether we like it or not. Most of the time most members in groups are dragged along in the galleys of groups unaware of what is happening, stupidly blaming leadership or annoying individuals for what happens in the group while doing nothing about it. But it doesn’t have to be this, as this article tries to demonstrate. Complicit members can become active minorities who demand that majorities come to life and maximize their resource basis through collective creativity of the group. To do that is to revolutionize group dynamics.

    • First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

    Zoological Lexicon

    biden (n.)– an Aristotelian zoon politikon, subsisting exclusively on the decaying remnants of political “spoils”

    blair (n.)– a small parasite, which rides on, and feeds off of, the posteriors of its hosts

    bush (n.)– a vicious bird-of-prey, especially dangerous for its sudden attacks and wanton cruelty

    cheney (n.)– a secretive, subterranean creature which burrows into, and gradually destroys, all living things

    clintonb (n.)– a spineless invertebrate: has wide-ranging nocturnal habits; classified as an “opportunistic omnivore”

    obama (n.)– a species of “cyborg,” characterized by a human larynx connected to speech-writing machine

    pence (n.)– a newly discovered creature: apparently lacks any distinctive characteristics or intelligent behaviors

    trump (n.)– in Freudian/Haeckelian evolutionary theory, an archaic “survival” of indeterminate anthropoid origin; exclusively motivated by a conspicuously “primitive” and undifferentiated Id

    Writers’ Open Letter Against “Cancel Culture” is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It

    Updated below

    An open letter published by Harper’s magazine, and signed by dozens of prominent writers and public figures, has focused attention on the apparent dangers of what has been termed a new “cancel culture”.

    The letter brings together an unlikely alliance of genuine leftists, such as Noam Chomsky and Matt Karp, centrists such as J K Rowling and Ian Buruma, and neoconservatives such as David Frum and Bari Weiss, all speaking out in defence of free speech.

    Although the letter doesn’t explicitly use the term “cancel culture”, it is clearly what is meant in the complaint about a “stifling” cultural climate that is resulting in “ideological conformity” and weakening “norms of open debate and toleration of differences”.

    It is easy to agree with the letter’s generalised argument for tolerance and free and fair debate, but the reality is that many of those who signed are utter hypocrites, who have shown precisely zero commitment to free speech, either in their words or in their deeds.

    Further, the intent of many of them in signing the letter is the very reverse of their professed goal: they want to stifle free speech, not protect it.

    To understand what is really going on with this letter, we first need to scrutinise the motives, rather than the substance, of the letter.

    A new ‘illiberalism’

    “Cancel culture” started as the shaming, often on social media, of people who were seen to have said offensive things. But of late, cancel culture has on occasion become more tangible, as the letter notes, with individuals fired or denied the chance to speak at a public venue or to publish their work.

    The letter denounces this supposedly new type of “illiberalism”:

    We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. …

    Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; … The result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

    Tricky identity politics

    The array of signatures is actually more troubling than reassuring. If we lived in a more just world, some of those signing – like Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W Bush, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former US State Department official – would be facing a reckoning before a Hague war crimes tribunal for their roles in promoting “interventions” in Iraq and Libya respectively, not being held up as champions of free speech.

    That is one clue that these various individuals have signed the letter for very different reasons.

    Chomsky signed because he has been a lifelong and consistent defender of the right to free speech, even for those with appalling opinions such as Holocaust denial.

    Frum, who coined the term “axis of evil” that rationalised the invasion of Iraq, and Weiss, a New York Times columnist, signed because they have found their lives getting tougher. True, it is easy for them to dominate platforms in the corporate media while advocating for criminal wars abroad, and they have paid no career price when their analyses and predictions have turned out to be so much dangerous hokum. But they are now feeling the backlash on university campuses and social media.

    Meanwhile, centrists like Buruma and Rowling have discovered that it is getting ever harder to navigate the tricky terrain of identity politics without tripping up. The reputational damage can have serious consequences.

    Buruma famously lost his job as editor of the New York Review of Books two years ago after he published and defended an article that violated the new spirit of the #MeToo movement. And Rowling made the mistake of thinking her followers would be as fascinated by her traditional views on transgender issues as they are by her Harry Potter books.

    ‘Fake news, Russian trolls’

    But the fact that all of these writers and intellectuals agree that there is a price to be paid in the new, more culturally sensitive climate does not mean that they are all equally interested in protecting the right to be controversial or outspoken.

    Chomsky, importantly, is defending free speech for all, because he correctly understands that the powerful are only too keen to find justifications to silence those who challenge their power. Elites protect free speech only in so far as it serves their interests in dominating the public space.

    If those on the progressive left do not defend the speech rights of everyone, even their political opponents, then any restrictions will soon be turned against them. The establishment will always tolerate the hate speech of a Trump or a Bolsonaro over the justice speech of a Sanders or a Corbyn.

    By contrast, most of the rest of those who signed – the rightwingers and the centrists – are interested in free speech for themselves and those like them. They care about protecting free speech only in so far as it allows them to continue dominating the public space with their views – something they were only too used to until a few years ago, before social media started to level the playing field a little.

    The centre and the right have been fighting back ever since with claims that anyone who seriously challenges the neoliberal status quo at home and the neoconservative one abroad is promoting “fake news” or is a “Russian troll”. This updating of the charge of being “un-American” embodies cancel culture at its very worst.

    Social media accountability

    In other words, apart from in the case of a few progressives, the letter is simply special pleading – for a return to the status quo. And for that reason, as we shall see, Chomsky might have been better advised not to add his name, however much he agrees with the letter’s vague, ostensibly pro-free speech sentiments.

    What is striking about a significant proportion of those who signed is their self-identification as ardent supporters of Israel. And as Israel’s critics know only too well, advocates for Israel have been at the forefront of the cancel culture – from long before the term was even coined.

    For decades, pro-Israel activists have sought to silence anyone seen to be seriously critiquing this small, highly militarised state, sponsored by the colonial powers, that was implanted in a region rich with a natural resource, oil, needed to lubricate the global economy, and at a terrible cost to its native, Palestinian population.

    Nothing should encourage us to believe that zealous defenders of Israel among those signing the letter have now seen the error of their ways. Their newfound concern for free speech is simply evidence that they have begun to suffer from the very same cancel culture they have always promoted in relation to Israel.

    They have lost control of the “cancel culture” because of two recent developments: a rapid growth in identity politics among liberals and leftists, and a new popular demand for “accountability” spawned by the rise of social media.

    Cancelling Israel’s critics

    In fact, despite their professions of concern, the evidence suggests that some of those signing the letter have been intensifying their own contribution to cancel culture in relation to Israel, rather than contesting it.

    That is hardly surprising. The need to counter criticism of Israel has grown more pressing as Israel has more obviously become a pariah state. Israel has refused to countenance peace talks with the Palestinians and it has intensified its efforts to realise long-harboured plans to annex swaths of the West Bank in violation of international law.

    Rather than allow “robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters” on Israel, Israel’s supporters have preferred the tactics of those identified in the letter as enemies of free speech: “swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought”.

    Just ask Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the Labour party who was reviled, along with his supporters, as an antisemite – one of the worst smears imaginable – by several people on the Harper’s list, including Rowling and Weiss. Such claims were promoted even though his critics could produce no actual evidence of an antisemitism problem in the Labour party.

    Similarly, think of the treatment of Palestinian solidarity activists who support a boycott of Israel (BDS), modelled on the one that helped push South Africa’s leaders into renouncing apartheid. BDS activists too have been smeared as antisemites – and Weiss again has been a prime offender.

    The incidents highlighted in the Harper’s letter in which individuals have supposedly been cancelled is trivial compared to the cancelling of a major political party and of a movement that stands in solidarity with a people who have been oppressed for decades.

    And yet how many of these free speech warriors have come forward to denounce the fact that leftists – including many Jewish anti-Zionists – have been pilloried as antisemites to prevent them from engaging in debates about Israel’s behaviour and its abuses of Palestinian rights?

    How many of them have decried the imposition of a new definition of antisemitism, by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, that has been rapidly gaining ground in western countries?

    That definition is designed to silence a large section of the left by prioritising the safety of Israel from being criticised before the safety of Jews from being vilified and attacked – something that even the lawyer who authored the definition has come to regret.

    Why has none of this “cancel culture” provoked an open letter to Harper’s from these champions of free speech?

    Double-edge sword

    The truth is that many of those who signed the letter are defending not free speech but their right to continue dominating the public square – and their right to do so without being held accountable.

    Bari Weiss, before she landed a job at the Wall Street Journal and then the New York Times, spent her student years trying to get Muslim professors fired from her university – cancelling them – because of their criticism of Israel. And she explicitly did so under the banner of “academic freedom”, claiming pro-Israel students felt intimidated in the classroom.

    The New York Civil Liberties Union concluded that it was Weiss, not the professors, who was the real threat to academic freedom. This was not some youthful indiscretion. In a book last year Weiss cited her efforts to rid Columbia university of these professors as a formative experience on which she still draws.

    Weiss and many of the others listed under the letter are angry that the rhetorical tools they used for so long to stifle the free speech of others have now been turned against them. Those who lived for so long by the sword of identity politics – on Israel, for example – are worried that their reputations may die by that very same sword – on issues of race, sex and gender.

    Narcissistic concern

    To understand how the cancel culture is central to the worldview of many of these writers and intellectuals, and how blind they are to their own complicity in that culture, consider the case of Jonathan Freedland, a columnist with the supposedly liberal-left British newspaper the Guardian. Although Freedland is not among those signing the letter, he is very much aligned with the centrists among them.

    Freedland, we should note, led the cancel culture against the Labour party referenced above. He was one of the key figures in Britain’s Jewish community who breathed life into the antisemitism smears against Corbyn and his supporters.

    But note the brief clip below. In it, Freedland’s voice can be heard cracking as he explains how he has been a victim of the cancel culture himself: he confesses that he has suffered verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of Israel’s most extreme apologists – those who are even more unapologetically pro-Israel than he is.

    He reports that he has been called a “kapo”, the term for Jewish collaborators in the Nazi concentration camps, and a “sonderkommando”, the Jews who disposed of the bodies of fellow Jews killed in the gas chambers. He admits such abuse “burrows under your skin” and “hurts tremendously”.

    And yet, despite the personal pain he has experienced of being unfairly accused, of being cancelled by a section of his own community, Freedland has been at the forefront of the campaign to tar critics of Israel, including anti-Zionist Jews, as antisemites on the flimsiest of evidence.

    He is entirely oblivious to the ugly nature of the cancel culture – unless it applies to himself. His concern is purely narcissistic. And so it is with the majority of those who signed the letter.

    Conducting a monologue

    The letter’s main conceit is the pretence that “illiberalism” is a new phenomenon, that free speech is under threat, and that the cancel culture only arrived at the moment it was given a name.

    That is simply nonsense. Anyone over the age of 35 can easily remember a time when newspapers and websites did not have a talk-back section, when blogs were few in number and rarely read, and when there was no social media on which to challenge or hold to account “the great and the good”.

    Writers and columnists like those who signed the letter were then able to conduct a monologue in which they revealed their opinions to the rest of us as if they were Moses bringing down the tablets from the mountaintop.

    In those days, no one noticed the cancel culture – or was allowed to remark on it. And that was because only those who held approved opinions were ever given a media platform from which to present those opinions.

    Before the digital revolution, if you dissented from the narrow consensus imposed by the billionaire owners of the corporate media, all you could do was print your own primitive newsletter and send it by post to the handful of people who had heard of you.

    That was the real cancel culture. And the proof is in the fact that many of those formerly obscure writers quickly found they could amass tens of thousands of followers – with no help from the traditional corporate media – when they had access to blogs and social media.

    Silencing the left

    Which brings us to the most troubling aspect of the open letter in Harper’s. Under cover of calls for tolerance, given credibility by Chomsky’s name, a proportion of those signing actually want to restrict the free speech of one section of the population – the part influenced by Chomsky.

    They are not against the big cancel culture from which they have benefited for so long. They are against the small cancel culture – the new more chaotic, and more democratic, media environment we currently enjoy – in which they are for the first time being held to account for their views, on a range of issues including Israel.

    Just as Weiss tried to get professors fired under the claim of academic freedom, many of these writers and public figures are using the banner of free speech to discredit speech they don’t like, speech that exposes the hollowness of their own positions.

    Their criticisms of “cancel culture” are really about prioritising “responsible” speech, defined as speech shared by centrists and the right that shores up the status quo. They want a return to a time when the progressive left – those who seek to disrupt a manufactured consensus, who challenge the presumed verities of neoliberal and neoconservative orthodoxy – had no real voice.

    The new attacks on “cancel culture” echo the attacks on Bernie Sanders’ supporters, who were framed as “Bernie Bros” – the evidence-free implication that he attracted a rabble of aggressive, women-hating men who tried to bully others into silence on social media.

    Just as this claim was used to discredit Sanders’ policies, so the centre and the right now want to discredit the left more generally by implying that, without curbs, they too will bully everyone else into silence and submission through their “cancel culture”.

    If this conclusion sounds unconvincing, consider that President Donald Trump could easily have added his name to the letter alongside Chomsky’s. Trump used his recent Independence Day speech at Mount Rushmore to make similar points to the Harper’s letter. He at least was explicit in equating “cancel culture” with what he called “far-left fascism”:

    One of [the left’s] political weapons is “Cancel Culture” — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism … This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly.

    Trump, in all his vulgarity, makes plain what the Harper’s letter, in all its cultural finery, obscures. That attacks on the new “cancel culture” are simply another front – alongside supposed concerns about “fake news” and “Russian trolls” – in the establishment’s efforts to limit speech by the left.

    Attention redirected

    This is not to deny that there is fake news on social media or that there are trolls, some of them even Russian. Rather, it is to point out that our attention is being redirected, and our concerns manipulated by a political agenda.

    Despite the way it has been presented in the corporate media, fake news on social media has been mostly a problem of the right. And the worst examples of fake news – and the most influential – are found not on social media at all, but on the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

    What genuinely fake news on Facebook has ever rivalled the lies justifying the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that were knowingly peddled by a political elite and their stenographers in the corporate media. Those lies led directly to more than a million Iraqi deaths, turned millions more into refugees, destroyed an entire country, and fuelled a new type of nihilistic Islamic extremism whose effects we are still feeling.

    Most of the worst lies from the current period – those that have obscured or justified US interference in Syria and Venezuela, or rationalised war crimes against Iran, or approved the continuing imprisonment of Julian Assange for exposing war crimes – can only be understood by turning our backs on the corporate media and looking to experts who can rarely find a platform outside of social media.

    I say this as someone who has concerns about the fashionable focus on identity politics rather than class politics. I say it also as someone who rejects all forms of cancel culture – whether it is the old-style, “liberal” cancel culture that imposes on us a narrow “consensus” politics (the Overton window), or the new “leftwing” cancel culture that too often prefers to focus on easy cultural targets like Rowling than the structural corruption of western political systems.

    But those who are impressed by the letter simply because Chomsky’s name is attached should beware. Just as “fake news” has provided the pretext for Google and social media platforms to change their algorithms to vanish leftwingers from searches and threads, just as “antisemitism” has been redefined to demonise the left, so too the supposed threat of “cancel culture” will be exploited to silence the left.

    Protecting Bari Weiss and J K Rowling from a baying leftwing “mob” – a mob that that claims a right to challenge their views on Israel or trans issues – will become the new rallying cry from the establishment for action against “irresponsible” or “intimidating” speech.

    Progressive leftists who join these calls out of irritation with the current focus on identity politics, or because they fear being labelled an antisemite, or because they mistakenly assume that the issue really is about free speech, will quickly find that they are the main targets.

    In defending free speech, they will end up being the very ones who are silenced.

    UPDATE:

    You don’t criticise Chomsky however respectfully – at least not from a left perspective – without expecting a whirlwind of opposition from those who believe he can never do any wrong.

    But one issue that keeps being raised on my social media feeds in his defence is just plain wrong-headed, so I want to quickly address it. Here’s one of my followers expressing the point succinctly:

    The sentiments in the letter stand or fall on their own merits, not on the characters or histories of some of the signatories, nor their future plans.

    The problem, as I’m sure Chomsky would explain in any other context, is that this letter fails not just because of the other people who signed it but on its merit too. And that’s because, as I explain above, it ignores the most oppressive and most established forms of cancel culture, as Chomsky should have been the first to notice.

    Highlighting the small cancel culture, while ignoring the much larger, establishment-backed cancel culture, distorts our understanding of what is at stake and who wields power.

    Chomsky unwittingly just helped a group of mostly establishment stooges skew our perceptions of the problem so that we side with them against ourselves. There’s no way that can be a good thing.

    Substance Matters More Than Symbols

    The current wake-up call being experienced by more Americans about historic racism is leading to hopeful actions but if all that results is removal of symbolic remnants of a wretched past these may lead to very little substantial change of the present and future. The rush to remove statues, change street names, remove written distortions of history and denounce past individuals wont mean much if we don’t confront the debased political economic system that is the substance on which those symbols rest and which creates present reality that still only profits a small minority at increasingly dangerous cost to the great majority.

    Building a monument to Martin Luther King or Malcolm X to replace those previously honoring slave owners among the original 1% might be wonderful but will only mean new places for birds to leave their droppings unless we make far more substantial changes in the system that makes good use of symbols, even profiting from their creation and service, while maintaining the social and environmental destruction of private profit capitalism.

    Changing the name of Wall Street to Open Border Boulevard wont mean much if we maintain it as a citadel of billions for minority capital that comes from the backs, minds and pocketbooks of majority workers.

    Renaming the Pentagon the Emma Goldman building won’t make a dime’s bit of difference if we continue using it as headquarters for spending more than 700 billion dollars a year on war and mass murder while raping language in calling that defense.


    Tearing down a statue of Columbus might make a minority among us feel good but the majority of us need to understand that his voyage was not financed by mythological royalty but by early capital in its desire for spreading commerce to new markets. Those 15th century economic powers were on their way to becoming global and have grown tremendously since then, now ruling the planet with massive power and control in the 21st century. They will not be contested by tumbling a monument or burning a flag or taking a knee before it in more polite protest.

    We need to learn real history in order to change the present and future, not simply destroy or rename symbols like statues and buildings and streets. The system that must be confronted and radically changed for the good of all people is the one that profited from slavery in the past, and massive bloody violence before and since slavery which continues up to the minute with more threatened as idiot servants of wealth claim villainy all around us with distractions that make their lies inaudible and our dangerous reality all but invisible. We may be helped inspirationally by destroying some symbols and even creating new ones, but the major work must be done on the substance of reality and not its representations and cosmetically false history lessons.

    Symbols can play a vital role in many of our lives, whether national, religious or even more personal, but no one can pay the rent or mortgage by giving the landlord a flag or the bank a Koran, Menorah or four-leaf clover, nor feed a family by leaving a statue of Jesus at the CVS, Costco or Trader Joe’s checkout line. Until we change the political economic foundation of the society from a private profit first focus which approaches moral fanaticism to a humane placing of the public good as primary before any private gain, updating the books at a library or the art at a museum will only benefit those able to attend libraries and museums now, but we need to make a difference in the housing and feeding and health care of a population so that all can attend and benefit from libraries and museums in the future.

    The anti-democratic political economics of war and injustice that are the foundation of capitalism must be radically changed from its roots, and confronting its history is not only important but critical to really changing the future in substance and not simply in its symbols. At the present moment of more glaring breakdowns in the economy reflected in a health care system that makes primitive societies look at least morally superior, and with national leadership idiotically lashing out at Russia, China and a growing global population finding the USA the most dangerous power in the world, a desire to confront historical lies is important. But of far greater consequence is the creation of a material truth that is a complete, and not only in specific but all circumstances, break with the inhuman aspects of reality that are leading to serious crises not only in health and markets but in planetary survival itself.

    And attacks on speech and the labeling of too many things as “hate crimes” are hardly a healthy reaction to past disgraceful language and especially brutal treatment of humanity. In fact, such actions are in perfect keeping with the worst aspects of a society and culture the anti-speech crowds are supposedly against. Treating some nose-picking intellectuals as brilliant creators of self-lobotomies and some market hustlers as revolutionaries for gaining lucrative incomes by indulging in establishment acceptable speech and teaching are not just symbolic but substantial efforts to smother the demand for real change under a blanket of reactionary practice using language of the present to strengthen systems of the past.

    What’s most important for sincere advocates of change to understand is the fact that during the current capitalist pandemic-economic crisis, more than 45 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance and at the same time 29 Americans have become members of the billionaire brigade which now numbers nearly 700 people. That’s in a nation of nearly 350 million people. If that describes a democratic republic, then everyone having cancer describes a healthy public.

    Those who find such incredible economic disparities tolerable will probably find the new markets for symbols to replace old ones lucrative forms of advancing their own class privileges. The rest of us need to join together in transforming every aspect of our political economy to one that works for peace, justice and humanity, and choose our symbols later, after we’ve seen to everyone’s right to food, clothing, shelter, and an environment assuring a healthy future for all and not just some. Chains, whether enclosing our bodies or our minds, need to be broken, in substance.

    Listening to What Isn’t Being Said


    The chasm between what is often uttered on a corporate level and what is actually meant is as cavernous as the stale air which has moved in and taken up permanent residence between the ears of most District Managers. The words you actually hear pursing your employer’s chapped lips are little more than the white noise acting as a Klingon cloaking device camouflaging the between-the-lines code you’re assumed to be too daft to crack. But not unlike most mediocrity masquerading as authenticity, what isn’t said is usually louder than most of the syllabic muck through which you’re required to wade during any given eight hour shift.

    Here are a few of my favorites.

    We Want To Know What You Think

    Translation: We want you to tell us what we want to hear. If you want to be classified as a troublemaker and instantaneously rise to the top of the corporate shitlist, tell your bosses your actual opinion of your workplace environment when asked. Though the average employer will try to convince you that your opinion carries as much weight as Kim Kardashian’s panties, your boss wants to know what you really think about as much as you want to walk in on your parents having wild, greased-up animal sex. Being asked your opinion by your employer is mostly little more than an obligatory yardstick used by many mediocre middle managers to measure the degree to which you’re buying into the company crapline. The workplace minefield is littered with the corpses of unsuspecting minimum wage warriors who self-destructed on their own honesty, mistaking we value your opinion with we value your opinion. So if eating and paying your bills have any sort of priority in your life, the next time you’re asked what you think of your job tell your boss that the mere thought of going to work makes you fire orgasms out of your eye sockets. Then quietly go back to imagining yourself introducing a taser to his shriveled gonads. Or her wrinkled labia.

    Our Employees Are Our Greatest Asset

    Translation: We appreciate your letting us use you to make ourselves wealthier. Though you often treat me otherwise, I’m not another one of your commodities, you lice-encrusted odorburglar. We both know that your most valuable asset in the store is the overpriced drivel gathering dust on the shelves and that my value to you is contingent on how good I am at conning the suckers you refer to as customers into buying it. Without the merchandise to define us, I seriously doubt that you’d one day wake up with a sudden case of philanthropic fervor and decide the one thing missing in your life is paying me to stand around and jack myself off in the middle of an empty shopping mall cubicle. And if I’m such an invaluable piece in your lifestyle puzzle, why am I barely able to afford a steady diet of cardboard and paste on the pittance you call a wage? Shit, your dog eats better than I do, and probably more often. And you better hope this treasured asset of yours doesn’t get seriously sick any time soon, because that porous bandaid you call health insurance covers about as much as the missing g-strings on Larry Flynt’s latest centerfold skank parade.

    Service Is Our Number One Priority

    Translation: We’re paying you to sell shit. Period. Service is a necessary evil in the retail world, because the greedy fucks haven’t yet figured out a way to persuade customers to automatically choose the stuff with the best built-in profit margins on their own. Without the not-so-gentle nudging of their mostly underpaid army of coercion specialists, most retailers would wither and die on the vine of I wasn’t able to screw you enough to stay in business. Your boss has the same kind of relationship with you that the unlucky slob who contracted crabs has with his pharmacist…They both need to pay someone they’d rather not for fucking someone they probably shouldn’t have. The corporate tit is seemingly swollen with just enough excess profit to allow you the luxury of a suck every couple of weeks to keep you nourished, but the taste it leaves in your mouth is pretty damn close to the unexpected olfactory greeting you get when walking into an unflushed public crapper. It may taste like you’re eating shit, but for some reason you keep reaching for the ketchup to convince yourself it ain’t so bad after all.

    You Have Unlimited Opportunity For Advancement

    Translation: Your success will be proportionate to your willingness and ability to kiss ass. The service industry in general is one big asskissapalooza, with a lot of unlucky ticket holders competing for the chance to smooch the mosh pit of corporate butt for the dubious opportunity to climb another rung on the way to the front row of subservience. There is never a shortage of ass that is craving the purse of career-climbing lips in the retail world. Customers want it. Bosses need it. Coworkers are appreciative of it. There’s always a line for a surgically-enhanced derriere collagen pucker, and you perpetually seem to be at the tail end of it. So reach for the stars. Be all you can be. Don’t settle for less. Climb the highest mountain. On your winning drive to the end zone, though, don’t forget to periodically high-five the poverty-wage warriors whose shoulders you’re riding on as you circle the corporate arena on your I’m just doing what I have to do to survive and don’t hold it against me victory lap.

    Our Letting You Go Is Just Business, It Isn’t Personal

    Translation: We’re transitioning you from a full-time employee to a full-time customer. Several years ago, I actually had some semi-significant snot-bloated cockface use this line on me as he was kicking me to the curb. What used to be his conscience had been replaced by a vibrating strap-on he used to fuck everyone else and eventually himself with after his rechargeable batteries wore out their overused welcome. But what he unintentionally taught me on my – and his – way out the door is this…If you ever think that you matter to your corporate employer as being more than a statistic to maintain profit margins, then you probably deserve the fucking you may not see coming. Your worth to your employer is relative to your ability to generate revenue. Your kid has a learning disability? Fuck you. Your wife has some kind of unidentifiable tumor? Blow me. You have the audacity to request two days off in a row to be with your family? Tickle my taint. Look here, boss – Your “letting me go” is nothing but personal, you genetically-challenged jizz machine. I happen to be in possession of this silly thing called a life, and it actually requires my attention outside of your periodic kindergarten-laden tantrums. So every now and then I may need a day off other than the one you required me to request six weeks in advance, and I apologize for any workplace inconvenience the unscheduled part of my existence may contribute. After all, my kid may get unexpectedly sick every now and then. My wife may get a breast tumor we hadn’t scheduled. And my grandmother may die. For the third time this year.