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Vanessa Glavac holds a degree in psychology from the University of Guelph. This is the first installment in a weekly series of articles looking at the psychological techniques that both the social justice movement and cults employ.
The social justice movement has long been mocked as a “cult” by its opponents—but there’s truth to the joke. In fact, the movement uses the same regimen of manipulation techniques that cults use to control their followers.
Cults use a variety of strategies to instill extreme change in members’ attitudes and behaviours, without members’ voluntary approval. These “thought reform” strategies have been studied and documented by clinical psychologist Margaret Thaler Singer and psychiatrist Robert Lifton. They have each identified a series of conditions and strategies for thought reform—most of which are used in the ideology of social justice.
Not everyone who believes in the ideas of the social justice movement are under the control of these thought reform strategies. But you can tell those who have been indoctrinated into the cult by the way they respond to unfamiliar arguments—they yell insults, they shut down the conversation, they ignore your points, and they create nonsensical, circular arguments. These people are under the spell of the cult.
Conversely, there are other people on the left, even self-proclaimed “social justice warriors” who do not act in this way—they’re willing to debate their perspective. They might concede a point, or adjust their position, or even change their mind when presented with new evidence or arguments. And even where you completely disagree, it’s not hard to follow their line of reasoning. The people in this second group have come to hold their ideas voluntarily, through thoughtful analysis.
Meanwhile, the people in the first group have been indoctrinated and forced to defend these ideas through a host of psychological and social manipulation strategies.
Most of us are aware of some of these strategies—such as the social rewards gained through virtue signaling, or the social and professional blacklisting that’s inflicted on anyone who steps out of line (i.e. cancel culture). In actuality, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
For example, consider Robert Lifton’s strategy of “Doctrine Over Person”. Cult members are told to reflect and review their past, through the lens of the group doctrine. They are then taught to rewrite and reinterpret their personal histories accordingly.
Going forward, members are also taught to interpret the world as a whole through the cult doctrine. They’re also taught to ignore their own experiences and feelings, and use critical thinking and contradictory evidence to revise their beliefs.
If you’ve had any experience with the ideas of social justice, feminism, or racial-sensitivity training, you have likely done this. This process of viewing one’s life through the ideology is listed right in the course syllabus for the Women’s Studies course at MIT.
This becomes even more apparent when you think of the language commonly used in social justice ideology:
Let’s look at this from a feminist perspective…
Society views this as normal, but when examined through the lens of social justice…
If we take an intersectional approach to these events…
In her book, Cults in Our Midst, Singer explains, “in many groups… you will be told to stop paying attention to your own perceptions, since you are ‘uninstructed’, and simply to go along with and accept the ‘instructed’ view, the party line.”
In the ideology of social justice, “uninstructed” corresponds to “unoppressed”. For example, men, holding the status of “unoppressed”, are never allowed to vocalize their perceptions of sexism (or lack thereof). They’re also taught to ignore any perceptions of sexism or sexual harassment that they, themselves, may experience (for example, ‘stupid dad’ stereotypes in sitcoms). The same goes for heterosexuals vs LGBT members, Whites vs racial minorities, or cis vs trans.
You can see this in the language embodied by intersectional feminist Lara Witt: “I am not Muslim, so I will stay in my lane… As an able-bodied woman, again, I will stay in my lane…”
She recognizes that she is “uninstructed” in each of these realms, and so she is careful not to put too much stock in her own perceptions or opinions. (Her response also illustrates the cult’s strategy of language manipulation, which I will cover in another installment in this series).
Now, not all of these practices are harmful, in and of themselves. Viewing the world through different perspectives is a good way to expand one’s horizons. So is the recognition that other people may have different experiences than you. However, I can’t say the same for being taught to ignore your own perceptions.
More importantly—this strategy of “Doctrine Over Person” is just one in nearly a dozen manipulation strategies used by both cults and social justice. Seeing one or two similarities is not surprising, but seeing the full toolkit laid bare is quite disturbing. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be analyzing each manipulation strategy in a series of pieces.
In my next piece, I’ll lay out how the social justice movement exercises complete control over the environment of recruits, in much the same way cults physically isolate members in secluded communes.
You’ll be disturbed to see just how completely social justice has taken over members’ daily environments (and your own)—no commune necessary.