Vanessa Glavac has a psychology degree from the University of Guelph. This is the final article in a series on how the social justice movement uses the same manipulation strategies as cults. Read all the articles here.
There is a trope in pop culture of an insecure overachiever who just wants to earn his father’s love. He will jump through hoops to please his father, but no matter what he does, nothing is ever enough. This is a good analogy for the cult manipulation strategy of Demand for Purity.
Demand for Purity means that cult members are required to achieve the impossible task of perfection. The assumption is that absolute purity is attainable–however, in reality, the cult knows that no one will ever be able to meet their impossible standards. This demand for purity isn’t about striving for an ideal, or continual self-improvement. This is about being set up for failure, being required to meet an impossible ideal and enduring endless guilt and shame when members inevitably cannot meet the expectations.
The result is a feeling of perpetual inadequacy. Cult members internalize their shame at being unable to meet the demand for purity.
In the social justice movement, one of the things that taints a member’s purity is the concept of “privilege”. People with higher levels of privilege due to their race/sex/sexuality are perpetually impure. In social justice, straight white men are the embodiment of privilege, and to hold privilege is to be morally tainted. The demand for purity is strongest for this group; these men are shamed not only for what they do, but for the very essence of who they are.
We can see this in the woke demands made on men. Men are shamed for everything from how they sit to wanting to talk a woman they find attractive.
Men who are competitive or stoic are told that they are toxic (“toxic masculinity”).
A man who wants to date a woman who is, well–a woman–is shamed for it. Doubly so if he’s seeking a woman who isn’t a prostitute. I sound hyperbolic, but the tweet below received 1,400 likes on twitter.
Sitting comfortably? Being competitive? Dating women? These things must be renounced, because the demand for purity is about making impossible demands that go against natural human desires. This limits the range of acceptable behaviours to a minimum, and instills in people a permanent sense of shame and inadequacy.
Psychiatrist Robert Lifton has studied these strategies in cults and totalitarian regimes such as China. In his book on brainwashing in China, he raises an additional point about the Demand for Purity, “The sense of guilt and the sense of shame become highly-valued: they are preferred forms of communication, objects of public competition, and the basis for eventual bonds between the individual and his totalist accusers.”
In the social justice movement, we can see this in the more and more extreme ways people try to renounce their privilege. Slate just published an article in their advice column with the title, “I’m a Heterosexual Woman Who’s Politically Opposed to Heterosexuality“. She wrote in to ask “Who do I date?”
If you’re straight, you’re privileged. And if you’re privileged, you’re impure. So what else to do other than publically renounce your sins?
Lifton explains that the cult member needs to see his impurities as coming from outside influences–the world outside of the cult. The cult member can then get some relief from his internal guilt by denouncing these outside influences. Lifton continues in his book, “The more guilty he feels, the greater his hatred, and the more threatening they seem. In this manner, the universal psychological tendency toward ‘projection’ is nourished and institutionalized, leading to mass hatreds, purges of heretics, and to political and religious holy wars.”
This brings us back to cancel culture, where cult members can gain love and respect by mobbing or doxxing anyone who steps out of line.
In sum–social justice demands total perfection from their members, but this is an impossible, overly restrictive task. This deep shame is internalized, but also publically broadcast in a sort of competition for who can express shame the best. Finally, this shame can be partially relieved by projecting it onto the enemies of the cult, and attacking them online.
This strategy works together with the other cult manipulation strategies. Social justice first asks you to imagine your life through the lens of the doctrine, while ignoring your perceptions. Then social justice tells you to speak their language, while controlling all information you consume. If you find a flaw in the movement’s logic, you’ll be told that you’re the problem, not social justice. If you step out of line, you’ll be shunned and blacklisted, and you’ll be deprived of all love and relief from your shame unless you too, join the mob and shame anyone who criticizes the movement.
As for deprogramming? Deprogrammers often say that the best way to get people out is to explain to cult members that they’ve been brainwashed. I hope this series helps.