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{Originally published in December 2008, without attribution but with permission to an associate for use on his Newsvine account}

With a propagandist, an oppressive regime, a mind-controlling cult, a or even the mind games of a sociopath, the rule is the same:  The party line will sound idyllic, but have a hidden meaning to open the door to totalitarian manipulation and control. In true Orwellian style, you will find such phrases as “The People’s Republic” or the “Democratic Socialist Party” and unless you know, you would not see the night-and-day euphemism of it all.

The perfect example: In China, we find the following “restrictions” on registering domain names …

What kind of Chinese Domain Names are not allowed to be registered?

1. Contents that are opposed to the basic principles formulated in the Constitution;

2. Contents that disclose the State secrets, aim to jeopardize the security of the State and overthrow the State power, and attempt to destroy the unification of the country;

3. Contents that are designed to harm the glory and interests of the State;

4. Contents that instigate national animosity, national discrimination, and destroy national unity;

5. Contents that do damage to religious policies of the State and propaganda heresy and feudal superstition;

6. Contents that disseminate rumors, disturb social order, and destroy social stability;

7. Contents that disseminate obscenity, eroticism, gambling, violence, murder, terror or induce crimes;

8. Contents that insult or calumniate other people, and infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of other people;

9. Contents that are forbidden by laws, rules and regulations.

This ends up meaning anyone can get in trouble at any time for any free speech the powers that be don’t like, with a long list of “crimes” that include anything and everything that could threaten total control. The structure is in place to criminalize (and morally condemn) anyone who dissents in any way as an enemy of the state. How? By setting the tone with such carefully chosen negatively-charged words. Mixing them with sensible rules people wont argue about makes it even more potent.

This attitude against dissenting opinion or even fact can be found in the extreme among some coercive cults. Critics of such groups are not merely labelled “intolerant” or “uninformed”, but treated as mentally ill miscreants of society, beyond help, even worthy of extermination in some cases, and even listening to them is deemed as risking some kind of “spiritual suicide”, instilling fear within and without to limit people’s free will to know.

Which brings us to the nature of freedom itself, and how it is used to control in a sleight-of-hand twist of beliefs. Governments can all say their people are totally free unless they break the law. It shouldn’t take long to chew on that and understand what I’m getting at. But in a relatively free society such as the United States — all metaphorical angst aside — the threat of totalitarian thinking comes from other quarters, including those (over)protected under “Freedom of Religion”. How does this happen?

An emblematic example is the RE-definition of “freedom” by New Age guru Harry Palmer, who runs Star’s Edge (the “[[Avatar Course]]”):

Freedom is a measure of the number of decisions a person makes.

One can assume this intention or that of such a statement, but something is glaringly missing, intentional or not. What is avoided completely is the most basic nature of free will. To freely make a decision — meaning without undue influence — they must know the options and consequences and not be misled or “channeled” into some “right” decision by another or indoctrination. This is even a simple matter of law, as one’s decisions are most often judged based on prior knowledge (being informed) and intention at the time. In other words, they can only freely decide if they know the score. By controlling apparent choices and their respective values limits free will, the ability to decide FREELY, not the ability to merely DECIDE.

This distinction is paramount to understanding free will by anyone’s standards. But the rest of the quote following this false starting point is the most misleading belief on the subject I have ever seen. Again, it’s one more thing that sounds reasonable if you take it as face value without actually being aware of its implications.

As long as there is more pleasure than pain connected with making decisions, a person desires more freedom and less indoctrination. When it is reversed, and there is more pain than pleasure connected with making decisions, a person desires less freedom and welcomes indoctrination.

It brings up the reasonable half-truth that people can be and are often indoctrinated by discouraging making decisions — negative reinforcement. However, it contradicts and excludes a less considered yet very important truth:

People are more easily controlled by being made to believe they are making their own decisions, and are encouraged (or rather coerced) to make decisions certain ways through positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement of one’s decisions is known to be more effective in children, and in society, where penal consequences rarely “reform” behaviors while bread and circuses keep the taxpayer meek. And such methods are easier for the individual to swallow without even being aware.

It is how people are taught HOW to think, believe, and perceive concepts of “integrity”, “justice”, and even “freedom” that limit their ability to reason in very specific ways, access conflicting information, and even apply naturally and freely what otherwise would be common-sense moral judgment. That is why modern cults are seemingly obsessed with what they redefine as “ethics”, “responsibility” and many use such tools as belief management* to get there. Sounds great; hugely oppressive implications in practice.

It’s called brainwashing, and it’s far superior to mere indoctrination for eliminating free will because it uses a person’s decision-making “freedom” against them. They don’t even need to be watched — and will eagerly confess their “transgressions” in deed and even thought that are not acceptable to the group. Why? Because their awareness is chained to the belief they can make all the decisions they want, which makes them shout to the world how they feel like a new person, far more free than they were before, and among those who are more free than the rest of the world.**

The indoctrination is internalized through “never-feeling-so-good” association that makes them desire to absorb the whole culture and extremely specific personality of the group, including its lofty goals, insider language, and especially it’s phobias and taboos about criticism and doubt.

At great denial they were ever indoctrinated (if done properly), every decision the guru has already made for them*** seems freely to be their own. They are not allowed to know or consider inconvenient facts that would give them the opportunity to make informed, and therefore truly freely made, responsible decisions. L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology and arguably the father of modern cult coercion, always harped on about how among mankind, only people in his flock were truly free — and each believed it with every fiber of their “thetan”.

But in selling the “Bridge to Total Freedom” (Scientology TM), he also admitted a bit too much in a lesser known quote …

If you want to enslave people, offer them total freedom.


* This technique was perhaps spearheaded by JZ Night of “Ramtha”. However, it must be noted that belief management can be powerfully positive, and is most safe when done without guided agendas. In contrast, Harry Palmer’s courses have formal exercises where participants “create” a list of specific positive beliefs about the group they are supposed to have and in another exercise/list get rid of any and all negative ones, similar to wording used in “Security Checking” (“Sec Checks”) in Scientology.

** This should be familiar to many people. The list is quite long of such groups that manufacture that experience, and the knowing and unknowing victims are estimated in the millions in America alone. Of course they rewire people’s views about what “victim” means so few are mentally free enough to seek the help they need or pursue legal action. This is just another method of control using perceived freedom, even after the disillusioned leave a group.

*** This does not imply all cultists are drones in every day life. Modern “open” cults, such as many LGATs and some MLMs, make the freedom equation even harder to recognize because they do not require allegiance in religious affiliation, dress code, housing, or even constant meetings. Most of the follower’s decisions they truly made on their own, uninfluenced, as they have nothing to do with the purpose of the cult.
Sadly, this is used by cultists to discredit the “cult” designation as applying to their group, as is certainly not “old school” (closed / captive) brainwashing like the Hare Krishnas, Moonies, Jim Jones, et alia. The common thread is redefining “freedom” in a way that makes the follower suspicious of other groups motives and indoctrination, with a subsequent blind spot created in relation to themselves.
In particular, these cults target total allegiance (lack of doubt and abhorrence to criticism) in regards to only those things that are the real goals of the group, ie. revenue stream. You can “believe whatever you want” — they swear it — so long as it isn’t anything negative about the group’s leadership, motives, or the fallibility of their product, no matter how much cognitive dissonance is required to flee from contradicting facts.