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July 06, 2009

What I Mean by "Cultist"

I wrote this in response to someone objecting to use of the word "cultist."

Let me explain it. If you don't like the explanation, fine. But here it is.


What is a "cultist" in this context? What do I mean by it?

Well, what I mean is simple. I do not refer to everyone believing in Sarah Palin's presidential chances as a "cultist." Far from it.

I use the word "cultist" not to describe a belief but rather a T A C T I C.

The tactic is simple -- and it's really done in cults. So the term "cultist" is quite appropriate.

1) Repeat the same chant, over and over.

2) Give positive encouragement to those willing to repeat it.

3) Penalize those refusing to repeat it.

4) Especially penalize those who not only refuse to repeat it, but who actively seek to subvert it by casting doubt on the truth of the chanted mantra.


In addition, the purpose of this behavior is the same in politics as it is in a cult.

In a cult, there is an actual religious belief that if everyone says the right magic words, and prays hard enough, "god" will work magical benefits on their behalf, and their prayers will become reality.

In politics, there is rarely an explicit religious overtone to this, but the "chant with us" folks do believe that if the right words are said, and only those right words are said, they can shape reality.

Now, they don't believe in magic, by and large. What they believe in is the "Bandwagon Effect," the idea that if enough people proclaim their belief in something, a critical mass is reached at which point other people start agreeing just because so many other people seem to agree.

The Bandwagon Effect does exist, but I think its power is substantially weaker than those who push it the hardest believe. Oh, don't get me wrong: We all have herd tendencies and to some extent, the Bandwagon Effect Believers have a point: Certainly it can't hurt your cause to have everyone chanting from the same hymn-book.

Unless you creep everyone else out, of course, as the Ron Paul guys did last election cycle. They attempted the Bandwagon Effect like no one else in politics (well, except for Uhhbama), and did it win them converts? Or did it drive people away as seeming, what's the word I'm looking for?, friggin' insane?

See, while I do believe in a Bandwagon Effect, this is where I strongly depart from the Bandwagon Effect Band-Leaders: If you really hit a point at which your "message discipline" becomes powerfully uniform, you actually start to drive a lot of people away, because people naturally recoil from such creepy displays of group-think.

People don't want to be shunned from the herd. But they also don't want to have their acceptance in the herd predicated on strict conformity and social bullying, either.

Anyway:

I always object to what I term the "Magical Thinking Brigade" or the "HappyTalk Brigade." These are the sorts of people who sent me mean little emails every day last election cycle, calling me a "defeatist" for publishing poll information that the GOP was going to lose the White House and even more seats in Congress. They thought that pushing such "negative" information on people subverted our cause, and demanded I cease or be called out as a "defeatist" and a water-carrier for Obama.

Incidentally, the two most aggressive emailers in this regard apologized to me, after the election. Which I appreciated. But I wish they could have compreheneded that I had no bad or impure motives in sharing with people interesting (though alarming!) polling data, and that, furthermore, simply embargoing such information from my readers would not, in fact, have helped Palin win the Naval Observatory. (Where the Vice President lives.)

Another cause seized upon by the Positive Messaging Choir were, well, Fred Thompson fans. (Of which I was one, I said a thousand times, but no one believed me.) If only, they would write me, I had pushed Fred Thompson 24/7, and suppressed info that he wasn't doing well on the trail, and basically created a falsely positive picture of how he was taking the country by storm, and if only I could enlist Allah and then Michelle Malkin and Instapundit in this scheme, well then...

You see the reasoning. First comes the construction of a false reality. Then when enough people believe the false reality is in fact real, the false reality becomes true reality.

This is a potent fiction that has too strongly possessed the minds of too many people on the internet. So much of the Internet is obsessed with creating false realities with which to trick other people -- witness the phenomenon of "Freeping polls." Hey, let's freep this poll -- basically stuff the ballot-box -- so that people falsely conclude that our position is wildly popular and hence join us, just because they don't want to be outside the group consensus.

So much of this crap is smoke and mirrors, let's-con-everyone-else shenanigans. Well it doesn't work and even if it did -- is the internet good for anything else besides coordinated political advertising campaigns?

Like do we ever get to drop the bullshit let's-push-this-meme mentality and just honestly share with each other what we really think, and not what might be useful for other people to think we think?

Is that really all this is? All we are? Digital carnival barkers and hucksters trying to con a public into buying our tonics?

I don't think so.

These people -- some of whom I genuinely like, by the way -- do not realize that they are wildly overestimating the power of coordinated group-think and uniform messaging. They also don't realize they're driving people away, or would if people bought into their repeat-the-mantra tactic, because people find it creepy.

And worse, they do not understand or at least appreciate enough that the tactic is inherently dishonest because they propose we all express an utterly False uniformity of belief in order to con -- yes, con -- other people into believing this is the "only way to think."

They're shilling. You know the actual definition of a "shill"? Well, get ready to be blown away by my ability to tie this back into the main point: A shill is that part of a con team that poses as a disinterested, random member of an audience and who then claims to have used the tonic and have been impressed by it, or agrees to drink it and claims that it has mended his crippled leg, or etc.

That's what a shill is: A plant, a member of the con charged with posing as someone who has no investment in what is being sold who will then sing the praises of the product, and thus encourage others to do likewise.

And if you're proposing this sort of let's-get-everyone-to-say-the-same-thing-so-that-people-erroneously-believe-there-is-an-irrestistable-groundswell-for-it all day, all the time, you, sir, are shill.

I'm not above a little chicanery in politics. I think dishonesty is generally bad, but sure, this isn't greatly dishonest or immoral as far as lies or sins goes, and if it worked, you know what? I could do business with it. I could put aside my qualms about the honesty of it all if it worked.

But I don't think it does.

Bear in mind, the liberals have been doing exactly this for 50 years; how's it working for them? Some of you will point to their successes in 2006 and 2008 and take that as a sign this tactic, as stupid and dishonest as it is, really does work, so we should put aside qualms about intellectual integrity and full honesty and simply lie our asses into office.

But remember 2006 and 2008 are not the only elections in the last 50 years. Yes, the liberal campaign of deception -- astroturfing, the media pushing memes like never before -- helped Obama and Pelosi win. But remember that for 50 years before, liberalism was weakening while conservativism was growing. Liberalism was sick and decaying while conservativism was vigorous and dynamic.

Why?

Well, this isn't all of it, of course -- there are things like "facts" and Ronald Reagan that contributed. But part of the reason for liberalism's atrophy was that they were entirely unwilling to confront and openly discuss problems with liberalism; they enforced a code of conformity on all of their coreligionists and drove out everyone expressing a contrary opinion. As they say, you can't solve a problem until you admit you have one, and for fifty years running liberals have denied they had one at all, with serious social penalties, including possible excommunication and loss of livelihood, for anyone daring to speak against the coerced uniformity of message.

That's the reason that liberals went from being 70% (guesstimating) of the population under FDR to 25% under Barack Obama. And why did conservativism grow in the meantime, from a fringe movement in the fifties and sixties to the dominant mode of political ideology today?

Well, successful policies had a lot to do with it. But let us not forget an important factor: Conservativism was the no-bullshit party. If you were a liberal, there's a whole list of pieties you were required to loudly proclaim your belief in, even if you didn't believe them at all.

Red meat bad, green power good, everyone on welfare is a deserving soul who is out of work through no fault whatsoever of his own, and, in fact, it's really the productive members of society who are to blame for their ills, when you think of it.

You know the litany.

Conservatives, on the other hand, had -- for a while -- a fairly open and dynamic and vigorous exchange of ideas, in which some ideas might be wrong, some ideas might be crazy, but few ideas were actually forbidden.

And it's not just that it's more fun that way, though it is.

It's not just that it's more lively that way, and allows the brain to grow in new and unexpected ways, not forced to bend in only one direction like a sapling tied to a stick. Though it is.

And it's not just that such a system tends to produce better ideas. Though it does.

It's also that being forced to parrot one socially-coerced, establishment-approved line of thought is fundamentally anti-human and anti-intellectual and anti-freedom and anti, well, life, for that matter. It's repellent.

Any independent-spirited soul recoils from it. Anyone stubbornly determined to be his own man or own woman can only say two words when fealty to a thought is demanded: And those words, as profane as they might be, as crudely Anglo-Saxon in obscenity as they might be, are singularly appropriate for, and especially suited for, the task.

And those words are not "I submit."


At any rate. If you've ever wondered, or cared, about why I get so angry over the "magical thinking" and "happy talk" and "party-line" enforcers, there is your explanation. I departed from an early attraction to liberalism over this sort of thing, finding the ideology that supposedly championed freedom of thought was actually the most draconian sort of conformity-enforcement.

And I'm really not thrilled to see much of the Liberal Plan to Control Your Mind and Bind Your Tongue so in vogue among some parts of the right, either.

Parting thought: If you are attempting to shape the thoughts of others through the deliberate intimidation of contrary thought, you are acting in an anti-conservative and anti-freedom fashion, by definition. That is what liberals and the enemies of freedom do.

And if you seek to enforce group conformity by demanding the same matra be repeated endlessly and "subversive" expressions be discouraged through a system of social harassments and punishments, you are employing cult tactics. By definition. That is what cults do. That is how they get people to say kooky things, and, eventually, even believe them.

I will say this again: I do not intend to demean those I disagree with. Unless they're Andrew Sullivan or David Frum or something. I do not intend to demean my readers or anyone actually on our side.

But I do not consider mere disagreement itself -- disagreement as disagreement -- to be a form of insult or diminution or provocation. Well, possibly it's provocative, as all debate is intended to be. But not provocative as in "emotionally, personally, insultingly provocative."

A disagreement is just a disagreement. It is not only accepted in a healthy politics. It is required in a healthy politics.

I don't like attempts to shut down reasonable -- even if wrong -- debate through unprovoked insult and group coercion (even if that group coercion is of the accidental nature). To some extent, I will resist, in posts like this in the last one.

To some extent -- not necessarily cowed by these group pressures, but wiling to defer to them -- I'll keep my unwanted, unpopular, unprivileged opinion to myself, and keep it out of the main posts (as I have through the weekend, preferring to conceal my thoughts in comments, so as to not provoke those in mourning over Pain's resignation).

But this Palin issue will pass. Either she will run or she won't an that's the end of the issue.

What is far more important is that conservatives, both in real life and especially on-line, where this behavior seems now epidemic, in a darkly ironic rush to emulate the tactics of the despised thought-controlling conformity-enforcing liberals, have abandoned the ethic of free debate and in favor of Forbidden Thoughts and Coordinated Messaging.

Put aside, for one moment, any thoughts about the instant dispute, any consideration of Sarah Palin herself.

Does anyone really like the idea of constantly shilling by repeating the same approved messages ad nauseum? Does anyone else object to the decay and dessication to which such a project must ultimately tend? Does anyone else pine for the days were we can drop the bullshit and simply tell each other what the hell we think, without having to worry about how "The Media" and liberals will exploit our divisions of opinion?

I do. Everytime this tendency takes over the dextrosphere -- ever six months or so, on average -- I'm kind of repelled by it and kind of start wondering why I left an ideology that championed Coerced Conformity and Responsibiity-Free Sex for one that champions only the former.

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posted by Ace at 06:18 PM

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