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For those of you following along at home, I’m going through Jehovah’s Witnesses apostate internet postings because if anyone is an expert on how thought reform and cult indoctrination works, it’s an ex-JW.  You don’t even need to have been baptized as one (I wasn’t), just growing up with that stuff and getting away from it makes you permanently sensitized to new bullshit techniques.  And given that we are coming up on an election year, it’s really important that we guard ourselves and learn to recognize when we’re being manipulated so we can avoid making another 2 to 4 year mistake.

Today I’m going to talk about something everyone does because it’s necessary component of human nature.  We categorize.  But because those of us who came of age or worked most of our lives in the internet age tend to broadcast our categories to the public, we make ourselves vulnerable to unscrupulous people who use blogs such as this one and places like DailyKos to data mine and focus group concepts that are later used to persuade us to do one thing or another.

To understand how categorization and trigger words work, check out this video by Cult Free Radio on Social Categorization Theory Part1:

and Part 2:

So, how has categorization been used by politicians in the recent past?  I have one personal example that I’ve shared before but it fits into this topic pretty well so I’m going to tell it again.

When I went to YearlyKos 2 in Chicago in 2007, all but one of the Democratic Party candidates for president attended a Candidates Forum, followed by individual breakout sessions.  Hillary’s breakout session was before the forum because the YearlyKos organizers had screwed with her schedule, “inadvertently”, I’m sure.  I had signed up for Hillary’s session because, even though I went to Chicago as an Edwards supporter, I felt that I should try to evaluate her fairly and she was the only female candidate and her session was open where Barack Obama’s was full and I had already decided to take a look at Obama in 2012 because he wasn’t seasoned enough to run for president.

Ok, so Hillary was pretty good in her breakout session.  She was prepared, overprepared, thorough, and had a command of policy that was impressive.  I am forced to sit through a lot of scientific presentations every year and you get the hang of knowing when someone has done their homework and understands what they are talking about and when they are baffling with bullshit.  I can say that based on my experience, Hillary knew her shit.  She was able to mentally walk around a concept and tell you everything about it.  Not only that but you could ask her any question and she had a policy for it organized in her head like an outline with topic, subtopic, points, codicils, subparagraphs, exceptions, and funding mechanisms.  She was that good, which is one of the reasons I am so pissed off that we got stuck with someone who was at best a beginner compared to her.  But I digress.

ANYWAY, after her breakout session, the Candidates Forum was held in the ballroom.  And that’s when the category shit hit the fan.  It became very clear to me, because I spent a lot of time on DailyKos, that some candidates had figured out how to push a Kossack’s buttons.  Much to my dismay, the worst offender was John Edwards.  I sat there stunned as he played that crowd like PT Barnum.  He knew every category and word that would trigger an emotional response from his audience and he used those words shamelessly.  But it wasn’t just that he used those words that made me realize what a phony he was.  It was the rest of this rhetoric was completely devoid of anything else.  At least Hillary tried to explain herself before she was booed.  Edwards didn’t have to do that.  All he needed to do was say the magic words and the Kossacks leapt to their feet cheering and screaming.  It was disgusting.  I decided right there I could never vote for the man.  What he was reminded me more of one of those charismatic sociopaths than a politician.  Ok, some of you are thinking that they’re mostly the same thing, right?  No, I think that a real politician has substance behind the words and Edwards, um, didn’t.

I’m sure that those of you who read the left blogosphere know what he concentrated on.  He used the words “corporate” and “lobbyist” a lot.  But there were others that I can’t remember right at the moment.  He could have used “nuclear”, “genetically modified {fill in the blank}”, “green”, “organic”, “standardized testing”, you know the drill.  You’ve been there.  You probably respond to that too.  We all do to some extent or another.  The problem is they are mental shortcuts and can be used to associate a person to that concept.  Edwards knew (and I’ll tell you how he knew in a sec based on another phenomenon) that if he said the magic words, the crowd would automatically identify him as one of them.  And they did.

Now, how did he know what words to use?  So here’s the other thing I observed.  The Forum happened in August 2007.  By that fall, Edwards was on the ropes.  I think rumors of his messy private life must have become common knowledge among the Democratic operatives.  So, his funding was drying up.  On DailyKos, his followers had been the first to commit the thing I call “The Rec List Hostage Crisis”.  That’s where a pro-Edwards diarist would immediately get a gazillion recommends and shoot to the top of the rec list.  I think Edwards had some regular folks who did an evening summary kinda thing that always made the rec list but more importantly, there were a shitload of conversion diaries.  They were all written the same way.  “Why I’ve decided to vote for Edwards” and then the body of the text was extolling his virtues {{cough, cough}} and a bunch of trigger words.  He doesn’t take corporate money, he’s pure when it comes to lobbyists, blah, blah, blah.  The more I read them, the more I realized that his campaign staff was checking out DailyKos for some time now and had probably used survey information to figure out what makes Kossacks tick and then applied that to the diaries.

But then, Edwards started to fade away.  His campaign was tanking and even Kos said it was a lost cause.  When he finally threw in the towel, the Rec List Hostage Crisis was taken over by Obama people. Same tactics, same fricking buzzwords and trigger words.  The change was so obvious to those of us who were paying attention that there were only a couple of possibilities: A different set of operatives were using the same Edwards’ campaign’s focus group/data mining tools and applying them to the Obama campaign,  or they were the same people.  Actually, I’m betting that it was both.  The Edwards team (and by this I mean a “paid internet campaign staff”) moved over to Obama without missing a beat.  Up went the conversion diaries and all of the love bombing, and the categories and buzzwords and trigger words were beaten to a pulp.  Oddly enough, Hillary’s people didn’t do this.  Maybe we were just not as politically ruthless or we were not interested in platitiudes and categories or Hillary’s campaign wasn’t as active on DailyKos and wasn’t into button pushing or Kos himself had already been bought and paid for by the anti-Hillary elements of the DNC, whoever those people were, and he wasn’t going to let Hillary supporters gain too much of a foothold at DailyKos. Since many Hillary people started to lose TU status at about that time and our diaries didn’t make the rec list in spite of them reaching the recommendation threshold that put diaries on that list, I suspect Kos and his frontpagers made a conscious decision to put the thumb on the scales for Obama and decremented Hillary diaries.  Hope that baby grand piano was worth all of the suffering the country has gone through by defeating Clinton, Markos.

But let’s not be bitter.  DailyKos will not be playing the role it did in 2008.  It shot its wad on the historic election of Barack Obama and you can’t do that one twice.  Besides, the damage has already been done.  The rest of the blogosphere has been analyzed carefully and you can bet your sweet ass that whoever the campaign operatives are this election season have already categorized all of us and have in turn figured out what categories and words we respond to.  They know that Creative Class ninnies respond to Whole Foods and West Elm and financial products and the value of their 401ks and tenure and stuff like that.  They like the idea of social and economic justice but try not to get too cold at a rally.  They like green as long as it can be bought in a store that features renewable bamboo sheets and towels and flooring.  They know lefties hate the words corporation but fail to distinguish between financial service corporations and other corporations, executives and rank and file.

There is some light in all of this.  I’ve noticed that during Virtually Speaking’s A-Z with Jay Ackroyd and Stuart Zechman, there is a genuine attempt to avoid using buzzwords.  (Anything Virtually Speaking with Dahlia Lithwick is worth listening to as well.  She’s very articulate and tends to avoid buzzwords) Jay and Stuart make a conscious effort to break down words, concept by concept, so that we all know exactly what we’re talking about and the mental shortcuts we use to categorize ourselves are minimized.  Stuart still has some problems with centrists and the DLC which I tend to tune out because he’s still thinking that those organizations are important and I don’t think he’s breaking that down carefully enough or has looked longitudinally to see how the original goals of those entities have changed over time.  Besides, the Democrats don’t need the DLC anymore.  They can tap their funding sources more directly these days without having to pretend they have an ideology.  But I have hope for Stuart.  I feel like a light has clicked on for him and he has a clearer picture of the political landscape than he did even a year ago.  He realizes now that the party is in the grip of a high control group of bad actors.  Whether those actors are just political opportunists or sent in from the finance industry’s central casting, they have turned the party into something unrecognizable to the voter who votes based on core Democratic principles.  And those people have to be opposed and not rewarded or we will not get our party back and that could be a serious blow to our democracy as we know it.

Am I right, Stuart?  Yep. You finally reached the point where we were almost 4 years ago.  Welcome to the club.

Bottom line: there are operatives watching every site.  Wave “Hi!” to them.  They are both Republicans and Democrats.  They are trying to sort through the categories and words that they can use to short circuit your thinking  process.  They know that you will make very quick judgements about what you hear because you have categorized a word and either chosen to add it to your identity or assign that word to another identity.  And they know that you do this unconsciously at a super fast speed and don’t even know you’re doing it.

So, make sure that you use your words carefully.  Avoid jargon as much as possible.  When someone uses the words “green” or “energy” or “pro-choice” or “nuclear” or “triangulate” or “corporation” or “capitalism” or “socialism” or “communism” or “muslim” or “fascist” that you stop and ask yourself, what does this word actually mean in this context?  Is someone trying to bamboozle and hoodwink me?  Can the person who is using this word explain what it means to me in a way that makes sense?

The right is good at using categories.  One recent, particularly egregious example of the use of categories and words was from our good buddy, Glenn Beck, who warned his audience to avoid churches who use the words “social justice”.  It’s hard to understand how anyone could oppose social justice.  It would be like trying to make STDs sound cool.  How do you do that??  If we break down what social justice actually means, it’s equal access to the court system, unbiased treatment in employment, starting life on a level playing field (see Finnish baby boxes), access to a good education regardless of your race, gender, national origin, etc and stuff like that.  And who in their right mind, even in the Fox News audience, has a problem with any of that?  Well, Glenn and his backers do and they wanted to put “social justice” in a category where Glenn Beck viewers will fear to tread.  So, if an Occupier holds up a sign that says “Social Justice for all”, the Glenn Beck viewer now knows to avoid OWS and stop any good thoughts about them.  Maybe Occupiers should try to be more specific on their signs but there’s only so much cardboard you can carry around.

While I’m not going to insist that you should restrict your access to any source of information, consider that radio and television have the advantage of sound, which is very fast.  It is much harder to shortcut the brain using the written word.  Yes, you can back up radio and TV now and replay what you’ve heard but one of the reasons we use radio and audible and TV is so that we can multitask.  So the words go in without careful scrutiny.  When you read, you have to slow down and figure out the word in context.  That’s why I don’t watch or listen to TV and radio news programs anymore.  During the 2008 election year, I had become so sensitized to listening for the trigger words that I found the messaging was driving me crazy.  I felt like I had propaganda autism.  You can’t get away from it in a sound format.  So, I just shut it off.  Maybe you’re stronger people than I am and if you are, load up on as much broadcast information as possible.  You should never cut yourself off from information sources.  Just question EVERYTHING.

The other thing I avoid is too much of the social networking tools.  I have a facebook account but I rarely use it.  I get facebook invitations from people I don’t know and I don’t accept them.  If I don’t know who these people are, why should I invite them into my house?  There is no question that political campaigns are going to use social networking tools like twitter and facebook to promote propaganda and shape election narratives in 2012.  That’s how the vast, unwashed masses are going to get the information that will affect their election decisions in the future.  They will get messages from their friends  who were targetted with a well designed, data mined youtube ad campaign that went viral on Facebook.  You know it’s going to happen.  Again, be very careful and question everything.

So, you think, no where is safe, how am I going to get the information I need to make a decision?  Well, I can’t emphasize this enough but there is no better way to evaluate a candidate than to see that person in person.  (The same thing applies to movements.  Don’t take anyone’s word for it.  Go and check it out yourself) If you have a chance to see a candidate in person, and not in the atmosphere of a debate where they need to more carefully construct their sentences, then go.  Your impression of that candidate will be clearer when there is less of a filter between you and that candidate.  You will be able to tell whether they are comfortable with the material, how often they are pinging you with trigger words to get an emotional response, whether they can field questions on any subject to your satisfaction and whether they project confidence on a physical and mental level.  I can tell you that Obama did not project comfort or confidence at the candidates forum, in my humble opinion.  He looked out of place in a physical sense, as if he was wondering, “what the hell am I doing here up on stage??”   I really felt he needed more seasoning.  But you would only know that if you saw him in person.  Why were the other Kossacks not sensitive to this?  I think they were overwhelmed with carefully constructed messaging from Edwards and they were whipped into a mob frenzy and were drunk with their own power.  A year before, they were just dirty, hippy bloggers.  A year later, presidential candidates were kissing their asses.  That kind of thing tends to go to your head.  And candidates know that and the more ruthless ones will play you like a two bit fiddle.

Ok, I’m going to get some coffee now.  Categorize away.

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Phobias

A followup to yesterday’s post on Love Bombing: On our side of the aisle, one of the sites using cult indoctrination and thought reform techniques most effectively has to be DailyKos.  Of course they will tell you I am saying this because I am a disgruntled former Kossack.  That’s to be expected.  They have to say that.  They’ll also tell you that I was a racist when I was writing on that site.  That is *also* predictable since they needed to associate negative personality traits to me because I wouldn’t go along with the program.  Nevertheless, it’s about as close to a cult as you’re likely to find on the left.  Yep.  Noooo doubt about it.  Read my comment here to find out how it works.

On to phobias.

Did you ever wonder why Mormon missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize living forever when they come to your door?  It just hit me that the reason they do it is because their potential hits have some things in common that distinguish them from the general population.  They are vulnerable in some way.  They may have undergone some recent trauma and sometimes that involves a death in the family.  Or it could be that they just have an irrational fear of death.

Most people go through a stage in their adolescence when they come to understand their own mortality.  And it’s extremely frightening.  But at some point soon after this realization, you come to understand that if you don’t take that thought and push it to the back of your mind where it can lurk with all of the other childhood boogiemen, you will be constantly paralyzed with fear and will always be looking for someone to alleviate that fear.  What amazes me about the rapture addicts is they swear they are Christians that believe in resurrection but they refuse to take the prerequisite step.

And cults like the JWs and other fundamentalist religious groups know that thing is lurking and play upon it.  They nourish that phobia by recognizing it, promising to alleviate it and then, threatening you with it if you step out of line.   You will get everlasting life if you do everything they expect of you.  If you don’t, the everlasting life will be withheld from you.  For a person who is scared to death of death, it’s a fantastic way of getting compliance.  In retrospect, it would have been so much easier on everyone if the person affected had just learned to master their fear and tucked it away into the back of the mind where it belongs. You can’t do a damn thing about dying, it happens to everyone.  Why worry about it? Failure to master it has broken up families and subjected the person to a lifelong pursuit of unattainable perfection and personal sacrifices.  It also enriches the people who run the cults and the fundamentalist organizations that promote this crap while depriving the person of a full, rich life.

Here are a couple of videos from CSTheApostate about how JWs use phobias.  And yes, they really do this.  Let’s just say that I grew up with imaginary demons {{eyes rolling}}:

and

You’ll notice that CSTheApostate also mentions an apostate phobia. You do not want to have dissenters hanging around harshing your mellow so it’s to the benefit of the high control group to make being an apostate as unpleasant an experience as possible.  Your reputation is ruined, you are permanently ostracized and you are made a shining example of what will happen if you buck the system.  Note that this keeps apostates from seeking each other out.  In the eyes of an apostate, other apostates are bad people. See my remarks above about DailyKos to see how this works.  One of the reasons why the left is having such a problem getting the band back together is because it purged all of the apostates in 2008.  The ones who want to move forward don’t trust the apostates. (Kudos to people like Lambert at Correntewire who seems to have conquered this fear) I’m happy to be an apostate former Democrat because the party went seriously off the rails in 2008 and is now in the grip of unscrupulous people who will continue to use thought reform techniques to control the party.  Yes, the other party does it too but that didn’t make it right.

It’s not the only phobia high control groups play on.  Withdrawal of love and affection and disassociation from your family is also a powerful one.  Also, playing on the supernatural to alienate you from the world is sometimes used.  If the world outside the group is in the grip of Satan, why would you ever want to stray?  It’s both funny and admirable that CS went so far as to try to conjure up a demon so he could face his fear of demons.  JWs are scared silly of demons and truly believe they are real spirit creatures, so doing this is about as brave a move as he could make.  (I’m betting alcohol was involved) Of course, there are no demons and once he’d proven it to himself, he could cross that phobia off his list and resume his growth towards maturity.

Political groups also use phobias.  Democrats are particularly good at dangling Roe v Wade at young women. If you don’t vote D, poof!  There goes your bodily autonomy.  They don’t actually have to protect anything because they know that Republicans will never get rid of Roe.  It’s the one tried and true motivation to go to the polls for their voters.  In the last couple of years, Democrats have introduced a new phobia.  *They’re* the only ones that stand between your social security benefits and the Republicans who want to destroy social security.  Back in 2000, I would have believed this.  I think Al Gore was genuinely concerned about keeping those benefits safe in a “lock box”.  But now, the Democrats have got the hang of manipulating their base, having done such a masterful job in 2008, that they have no qualms about dangling social security in front of the snapping Republican alligator to get its base to comply.  Social Security will be allowed to be eroded bit by bit by the Democrats.  It will be under constant threat and we’ll all be scared to death that there won’t be anything left for us to retire on unless we vote for the only party that will prevent the elimination of Social Security.  Someday, it will become as meaningless as Roe but the Democratic party will have been rewarded, over and over again, for keeping it around even if few people can benefit from it.  This is how it works.

On the Republican side of the aisle, the phobia is about chaos, terrorism, violence and theft.  Lots of elderly widows who missed out on the feminist era depended on their missing spouses to take care of them.  Now that they’re on their own, they may feel vulnerable.  Fox News ups the ante with stories about abductions, pedophiles, random acts of cruelty and murder.  The world looks like it’s disintegrating. And since the right wing has the bigger megaphone these days, these phobias are fanned constantly.  If you ever wonder why the Republican base acts as crazy as it does, it’s because the phobias are hyped every single day.  Adherence to fundamentalist principles, authority, obedience and purity is touted as the remedy to keeping the bad stuff at bay.  Consequently, if you’re experiencing a rough patch of unemployment, foreclosure, sickness and poverty, it’s YOUR fault for not following the rules.  People are supposed to feel guilt and shame.  That makes the lucky feel like luck had nothing to do with it.  It’s personal virtue so they don’t need to do anything for the suffering of others.  They brought their own misfortune upon themselves.  It’s not the Republican voter’s responsibility to rescue you.

David Brooks is the country club version of the phobia promoter.  Here’s an example of the way he caters to the phobia crowd.  This is from one of his recent columns, Midlife Crisis Economics:

In the progressive era, there was an understanding that men who impregnated women should marry them. It didn’t always work in practice, but that was the strong social norm. Today, that norm has dissolved. Forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock. This sentences the U.S. to another generation of widening inequality and slower human capital development.

One hundred years ago, we had libertarian economics but conservative values. Today we have oligarchic economics and libertarian moral values — a bad combination.

In sum, in the progressive era, the country was young and vibrant. The job was to impose economic order. Today, the country is middle-aged but self-indulgent. Bad habits have accumulated. Interest groups have emerged to protect the status quo. The job is to restore old disciplines, strip away decaying structures and reform the welfare state. The country needs a productive midlife crisis.

There’s bad stuff out there.  Follow the rules, obey your masters and no one gets hurt.  If you are hurt, it’s because you’re immoral, depraved, derelict and irresponsible.  It couldn’t possibly be the case that you are one of millions of people whose careers and lives were derailed by some really depraved and irresponsible people on Wall Street.  I don’t know if Brooks really believes this crap or just gets paid to spout it.  If we assume that only fairly intelligent people either merit or finagle their way onto the pages of their New York Times, we might also reasonably assume that Brooks knows that what he writes isn’t true but he does it because there is an audience out there that revels in denigrating people in the classes beneath them and inculcating a sense of learned helplessness.  Yep, I loathe David Brooks.

Neat, huh?

You’ve been love bombed

Love bombing- It’s not just for religions anymore.  It’s a very powerful propaganda technique.  Feel like you’ve lost one too many elections lately?  Unloved?  Ignored?

Be very, very careful:

Does OWS love bomb?  From what I can tell, no.  OWS is completely passive about who joins them.  They do not recruit and they won’t flatter you or make you feel loved.  If you ever feel that way at a OWS rally, leave.  The only exception was the batsignal.  But note that the batsignal was directed outwards to the world.  It said “Occupy Earth” because the point is not to exclude anyone.  The point of love bombing is to exclude everyone who does not belong to the group.  You derive your self-worth and self-esteem from the group and seeing the world as your enemy, not potential friends.

Here’s another, more detailed explanation of love bombing from a former JW.  CSTapostate takes you step by step through the process.

Note that the initial love bombing is not the thing that keeps people in the group.  Love bombing becomes an effective cult retention technique when a new recruit begins to have doubts.  Once you have identified with the group and have taken on the new personality because you have been praised and loved, the last thing you want is to lose that shiny new you and all of the love and acceptance that comes with it.  You don’t want to become like the less special people, the less spiritual, less intelligent, less enlightened, less beautiful.

The point is not that you are or are not any of those things.  The point is that if you feel that someone can deprive you of your self -worth because that someone gave you that personality in the first place, if you feel like that someone could deprive you of that specialness by deciding to exclude you from the group when you raise questions or express doubts, then you have been manipulated through love bombing.

If you have doubts about the movement or group you are in, one of the ways to discover whether you have been love bombed is to ask yourself if you are allowed to dissent or question and still remain in the group.  If you can answer yes, then the group is low control and you’re safe.  If your doubts are followed by accusations that you are no longer quite as shiny, creative and intelligent as they thought and that maybe you are secretly a bigot or something equally reprehensible, then you are in a high control group and you should do research about the group before you get in any further.

For example, if you are in the left wing media or blogosphere, do you feel obligated to bash Bill Clinton whenever you’re writing a column or doing an interview thinking that if you *don’t* immediately distance yourself from any sympathies to the Clinton administration you might not be invited back? Did you ever ask yourself why you feel that way?  Go on, ask yourself.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions and exercising independent thought.  If you feel uncomfortable making independent decisions in a group because you fear you will lose the love, get out.

Postscript: I watched that CSTapostate video again and something hit me that I hadn’t noticed before.  He used the example of holidays.  JWs separate new JWs from their families by forbidding holidays.  CST goes on to describe the messiness of holidays.  Families gather in one house and they end up sleeping on floors and everything is kind of messy but that’s Ok because the whole experience is bonding.  It brings everyone together.  One of the first things JWs tell new recruits is that there can be no family holidays anymore.  If you as the new JW recruit can’t give up holiday gatherings, then maybe you weren’t the beautiful, highly spiritual, good association they thought you were.  Maybe younger, more vulnerable members of the congregation should limit their contact with you until you’re ready to fulfill your obligations.  The WBTS breaks up families and bonding experiences when they love bomb because the WBTS is a high control group.

If you don’t see the similarity to the violent evictions of OWS occupation sites, you haven’t been paying attention.  The last thing a high control group wants is for us to get together in one big holiday sleepover where we can find common ground and bond.  That’s why Occupiers are made to look dirty, crazy-radical, lazy, disgruntled, sexually promiscuous and indiscreet, and indiscriminate about where they poop.  If you start to sympathize with the Occupiers, you will take on those characteristics and you will no longer be part of the group of clean, upstanding American citizens.  The most important task that the media had to do during the fall was to make the occupiers as reprehensible as possible in order to discourage the average American who has doubts about the direction that the country is going in to actually go down to an occupation site and meet some occupiers.  The high control elements in our society  did not want any of us bonding over a campfire song.

If anything, OWS is underlining  the seriousness of the situation we are in.  The country is in the grip of a high control authoritarian cult.

Witnesses

I’ve been spending the last couple of days looking back on my years of association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  There are several sites where ex-JW’s try to get over their PTSD.  I wasn’t even baptized and only one of my parents was a JW.  Unfortunately for me, the other parent was at sea for most of my childhood so in many respects, I got the full JDub treatment including the no holidays routine and all of the crazy forbidden activities at school.  I did sing in chorus and was in a few plays but being brought up a JW even if you aren’t one, is a pretty austere existence with superstrict rules on just about every topic.  For example, did you know that JW teenagers are discouraged from getting a higher education?  Yep, don’t waste your time on college.  The world is going to end soon!

Those of you who are interested in this kind of thing, and there might be people out there who  are voyeurs for religious experiences that are not their own, might want to download Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk by Tony Dushane to see what the full JDub experience was like.  Religion and horny adolescence has never been so funny.  Dushane describes a culture that will sound so bizarre to most “worldly” people that you would swear it was a cult.  Um, it is.  The most hillarious part of his story involves eavesdropping on the distress call of a  married couple to his elder father.  The couple had “accidentally” done something in bed that was on the forbidden list.  Ok, maybe hillarious isn’t the word for this.  Maybe creepy comes a bit closer.  What adult couple confesses the most intimate aspects of their lives because they are afraid that Jehovah will blink them out of existence over one transgression?  And how much detail are you entitled to if you’re an elder?

Dushane’s style feels like an open chord.  His narrative is spare.  There’s not a lot of descriptive detail and the plot jumps ahead years without warning.  I would have liked to have learned a bit more about some of the characters but there’s enough there for the reader to fill in the backstory with his or her imagination.  It’s a good thing Dushane can look back on his life as a JW and not see it as a total loss.  I guess therapy helps.  Or maybe it’s that so many JW children don’t know any other life and what they’ve been told about the lives of worldly children makes everyone outside the Kingdom Hall seem depraved.  What comes as a shock for so many who eventually leave is that they can no longer turn their consciences off to the depravity of what goes on within it.

There is a much darker aspect of the religion that they don’t tell converts at first.  The reason why so many people stay in it long after they’ve seen the light is because you can lose your entire family if you step out of line.  JW’s practice extreme shunning and they are particularly hard on apostates and those members of their community that make the organization look bad.  Such is the case of Barbara Anderson, who is a hero to many JW’s who survived childhood in the cult.  She was once one of the highly esteemed JW’s who worked at Bethel, the name of the American headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract society.  I didn’t realize this until last month but you can see their building from the Brooklyn Bridge, which means they saw the OWS batsignal because it was pointed right at them.  Oh, the symbolism is so thick you could cut it with a knife.  Betcha there was a lot of praying about Armageddon that night.

Anyway, Barbara and her husband joyfully submitted themselves to 10+ years of slave labor for WBTS in Brooklyn when their JW 19 year old son decided to dedicate his life to Bethel.  Barbara’s husband was a plumber and he helped Bethel with their many building projects, for $114/month stipend.  Did you know that the WBTS owns a hefty chunk of tax exempt property in Brooklyn in the same way that Trinity Church owns much of the land in lower Manhattan?  Yep, the JW’s are as rich as Croesus.  Barbara worked at several jobs.  She was good at administration and accounting.  Then she got assigned to the writing deparment where she wrote some of the Awake! magazine articles.  That sometimes required her to go back to the stacks to do research and while her untapped gifted and talented mind was rummaging through the old documents, she stumbled upon a wealth of evidence of documented physical and sexual abuse of children from various Kingdom Halls.  The JW’s had a Catholic priest problem.  She tried going through normal channels to get the governing body to take action on these cases but they just wanted to settle out of court and make the problem go away.  Eventually, she went back to regular JW life outside of Bethel and her husband became an elder.  But she started to hear from other JWs that the congregation she was in had some well known pedophiles.  After years of being a submissive women and getting nowhere with the patriarchy of the WBTS, she decided enough was enough and gave an interview to NBC news.

She was promptly disfellowshipped.  That meant that no one in her congregation or her family was allowed to associate with her, including her son, daughter in law and grandson.  They cut themselves off from her.  Her husband tried to defend her at a judicial committee hearing within the congregation, pointing out that she couldn’t let the abuse go on any longer and they disfellowshipped him too.

In the meantime, Barbara has gotten hold of court documents of cases between abuse victims and the members of the WBTS and has published them online.  Now, Barbara gets emails every day from abused former JW children from around the world.  I’ve heard a couple of interviews with her. (Once you get over her somewhat floopy voice, you find that she’s an excellent storyteller.  Her recall, detail and narrative skills are riveting.)  In fact, it sounds like she’s heard and read more than anyone should read in a lifetime.  The details are really heartbreaking.  Unfortunately, the WBTS is still covering up for pedophiles and hasn’t required their elders to promptly report such cases to the police in every state.  Surprisingly, there are states that don’t require clergy to do this.

One other thing I’ve found out from the Jehovah’s Witness Recovery site is that the JW’s are really good at creating atheists.  When kids finally do leave after a whole lifetime of regimentation and the terror that accompanies the feeling of not being good enough to survive Armageddon and constant fear of public reprimands for the tiniest infractions, the LAST thing that they seem to want to do is worship a god.  They’ve done enough worship for a lifetime, thank you very much.  Many of them describe feeling free once they let go of god.   As in emancipated.  As in slavery to the thought of having to work your way into a paradise where you would have to spend eternity without sex and surrounded by other Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The JW’s don’t believe in Hell but that right there has always sounded pretty Hellish to me.  I made up my mind when I was about seven that there was no frickin’ way were they ever going to dunk me.

They also seem to be a lot savvier about how cult manipulation works.  Check them out if you’re ever feeling bad about your Catholic upbringing.  After a few threads, you’ll realize how lucky you were.

And you’ll never respect any politician who says you need religion in your life.

The fate of civilization is in the hands of air traffic controllers

There are some pretty good posts this morning that really should be read.

Avedon Carol writes about the wealthy and well connected and the centrists who deceive for them.  In “Did I say ‘overlords’?, I mean ‘protectors’ (Avedon is a Chiron Beta Prime fan), she writes :

The arch-conservatives believe that the rich – the aristocracy – should run everything, and the rest of us should be “losers” who are poor and miserable and have to live a hard-scrabble existence in which we literally have to beg them for jobs, alms, and mercy. They recognize that the world can be ordered differently, that there can be democracy and freedom and a decent living for everyone, they just think it shouldn’t be that way, it should be their way, because they are morally better than us and should be able to lord it over us. They have worked tirelessly (and effectively) for more than 30 years to undo democracy, and they knew just what they were doing.

The Centrists, by their statements and position papers, believe this choice no longer exists – that the “new rules” of “globalization” mean that democracy and a better life, decent wages, worker safety and all that jazz are just no longer possible. We will have to live according to the desires of the arch-conservatives – not because it is morally right, but because there is simply no other option. We are no longer in an aberrant situation where democracy can be a realistic hope and workers can be treated like human beings. We “have to” “compete” with China, and that’s that. Somehow, these centrists have all managed not to notice more than two centuries of American and European history and thousands of years of world history, not to mention many changes in their own lifetimes. They have failed to read any economic charts or to make any coherent conclusions about the direct and visible results of policy choices.

Avedon goes on to suggest that the Centrists in charge are being deliberately deceptive or they wouldn’t be doing this because it’s stupid.  I’m not so sure about that.  I think the problem is that the nation became stratified when we weren’t paying attention.  I noticed it when I visited the executive office building half a mile away from the labs.  The suits aren’t like you and me.  They have no idea what we do and how much they depend on us.  Well, they might get a clue if they are ever diagnosed with a cancer whose program was disrupted by multiple mergers and layoffs and stupid pet MBA tricks, but I digress.

There is a class system in the US.  It started with the financial overlords and is now filtering its way down to everyone.  I blame Jack Welch.  He started the ridiculous “rank and yank” performance system that major corporations and Enron have taken such a shine to.  That system supposedly rewards competitiveness and drive but what it really rewards is loyalty.  The more you suck up to the person who ranks you, the better the chances that you will keep your job.  And the people who rank you are more likely to reward people like themselves.  It’s human nature.  So, the corporate aristocracy tends to make corporate aristocrats.  When it gets to the labs, it gets really ugly because then people start to hoard resources.  Stabbing colleagues in the back to make them look bad so you can look good to the people who can reward you becomes a real art form in the lab.  The problem is that all this politicking doesn’t lead to any real work.  When your livelihood depends on where you went to school and what your pedigree is, it doesn’t matter so much what you do once you get a job.  It’s a self perpetuating caste system.  America did not become a great nation by using a caste system.  It became great by breaking it.  Some of our best innovators weren’t even college graduates.  Think Edison and Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  Today, those guys couldn’t even get an entry level position in their own companies.

So, the stratification and castification of American culture has been happening right in front of us but we haven’t seen it, mostly because we don’t come in contact with the classes very often.  I didn’t know that the executive building cafeteria served gourmet entrees and had a registered dietician on staff to customize your lunch.  I didn’t know that they could still send packages internationally at vastly reduced costs through the company mail system but that the lab rats couldn’t.  And I didn’t know how snippy and insulting the purchasing department could be until one of its members humiliated a PhD biologist for having the temerity to ask what SAP stood for during a presentation of the kludgy application during a NEW, new purchasing procedures rollout.

Those people up the road don’t know who you are.  You work with your hands or you deal with customers or you’re in a smelly lab with gross ecoli thingies, whatever those are, and they don’t see you, especially if they don’t have to.  And the centrists come from this class of people.  Things get done and chickens get shrinkwrapped into neat, sterile packages and drugs get synthesized but those people up the road have compartmentalized the process and do not associate *people* with the outcomes.  I recently met a former pharma advertising person working in an apple store.  He can’t find a job after his layoff (but I’ll bet his severance package was much more generous than mine) so he works at apple part time.  He says he was laid off because there was nothing in the company pipeline.  I will venture that he had never until that day ever met someone who had worked on that pipeline.  I was that person.  So, I asked him if maybe there was nothing in that pipeline because of all of the mergers and re-orgs and laying off people like me meant that research was broken?  Did he even know that 100,000 of us scientists were laid off right now, NOT working on the pipeline?  He got a funny look on his face.  I think he finally got it.  But it takes a guy losing his cube in the executive office building and who now works at an apple store for the classes to finally get to know one another.

The other two posts are by Matt Taibbi who I think might even come from the 1% but has a conscience in spite of it.  Well, he seems to have grown a conscience since 2008, for which we can be grateful but we are still stuck with Obama.  Anyway, he comes down hard on Obama and Tim Geithner in Government-Enron Style where he writes:

In other words, Geithner and Obama are behaving like Lehman executives before the crash of Lehman, not disclosing the full extent of the internal problem in order to keep investors from fleeing and creditors from calling in their chits. It’s worth noting that this kind of behavior – knowingly hiding the derogatory truth from the outside world in order to prevent a run on the bank – is, itself, fraud!

This is exactly the mindset that led Lehman to the abuses of the “Repo 105” accounting trick, in which loans were disguised as revenues in order to prevent the outside world from knowing the dire state of the bank’s balance sheet.

Now Obama and Geithner are engaged in the same sort of activity, only they’re trying to prevent a run not on an individual bank, but the entire American financial services sector. Geithner seems really to believe that if fraud were aggressively policed, and the world made aware of the incredible extent of the illegality in our markets, that international confidence in the American financial sector would plummet and our economy would suffer – and suffer, incidentally, on Barack Obama’s watch.

Better, apparently, the Band-Aid the problem now, and let the real mess happen later on, on someone else’s watch, or at least in a second term, when there’s no need to worry about re-election.

I’m particularly worried about this since so much of my savings is tied up in my 401K and as far as I can tell, the 401K system is a racket.  It’s the way middle class people can get a tax break, now, in exchange for putting their life savings, and all of the extra money they have, in the hands of sociopaths with a pathological gambling addiction.  Remember, they don’t know us because they never bother to meet us so all that money has no real meaning to them.  It’s just like the instant $200 Monopoly money given to them through our paycheck withdrawals.  It’s an automatic “Pass Go and Collect”.  It just shows up in the accounts.  The brokers don’t wonder how it got there.  They don’t think about what workers had to give up in real time to put away those hundreds of dollars a month for the future.  The future happens to other people.  Finance people live in the present.  They deny themselves nothing.

The other Matt Taibbi post is about the clueless plutocrats in A Christmas Message from America’s rich.  Some of these insults from the 1% have appeared elsewhere but Taibbi drills down to the real message the rich are sending us:

People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Yes, that’s the problem.  The rich have stopped being citizens.  They see themselves as citizens of the world.  They can move their pawns around a global chessboard and so far, the nations of the world have been unable or unwilling to stop them.

That got me thinking about a proposal I have floated before.  If they’re not going to act like citizens, do we really have to let them live here?  I wouldn’t want to propose violent actions, because that would be wrong and no one wants another round of the French Terror.  Ok, some people do but not me.  No, in fact killin’s too good for some of them.  What I would prefer is if they had an extended vacation to some tropical destination, like, oh, I don’t know, the Cayman Islands, perhaps?  In fact, why don’t we let the union first screwed by the 1% and their bought and paid for president have the first crack at this?  When ever a 1%’ers private jet checks in for a landing, divert the plane to the Cayman Islands.  Let’s let the rich hobnob with their own class.  They can spend more time with their money.  And they don’t really need satellite or underwater cables to carry their internet traffic.  Just cut them off.  Let the predators play a game of real-life Survivor on Grand Cayman where they can fight each other for the best views and snorkel sites.  in fact, why not relocate the support staff?  It’s not their fault the rich have to go somewhere.  Then the bankers and brokers and investment class can clean their own toilets and administer their own antibiotics and mow their own golf courses and maintain the water treatment plants.

Well, it’s a start.  We still have to figure out a solution for the yachts, though those yachts ain’t going nowhere without a crew.  If I were a crew member, I would revel in my new found power.  While the rich dudes are asleep in their sleek, mahogany paneled staterooms, just cut the engines and abandon ship.  Yeah, take the only lifeboats with you and the keys to the helicopter.  Pull the fuses out of the electrical panels and consign them to the watery deep. Disable the GPS devices.  After you take the best wines and delicacies, dump all of the food overboard.  Let them float for a few days.

If they’re really as smart and successful and productive as they claim to be, they’ll figure out a way to get out their predicament.  But while they’re working on that, we’ll have time to blockade their way off the islands and bar their entrance to any port.

If they’re not going to be good citizens, they can’t have a country.  We’ll lease the Caymans to them for $500,000,000,000/year.  After a few years, they should be reduced to the economic status of Haitians.

Choices, clarified

The Hillary2012 robocalls have spread to swing states and while we’re not really sure who is doing them or for what purpose (it could be that they just want Hillary in 2012), there’s something that the Obama contingent should keep in mind.

We have heard over and over again that Hillary has no plans to run in 2012.  Plans can change but we’ll take her at her word, for now.  However, just because the person most likely to succeed in capturing the White House for the Democrats is staying out of the race (for now), that doesn’t automatically mean that we have to vote for Obama.  All it means is that the Democratic party persists in offering me a lousy choice of a presidential candidate who does not meet my standards of executive leadership, performance or ethics.  That’s all it means.  My position has not changed.

If Bill Clinton wants to lower his standards and vote for Obama, that’s his choice.  He is a loyal Democrat and his opinion is still of value to the Democratic party.  But I don’t have to follow his advice.  My vote is my own and I am no longer a member of the Democratic party.  After 2008, I feel no sense of obligation or loyalty to the party.  The party hasn’t scored any points with me and I’m fairly moderate in my liberalism.  I’m not a tree hugging, vegan, anti-nuke, anti-genetically modified corn crunchy granola type.  That doesn’t make me an independent by choice.  I only mean to say that I don’t accept a lot of left dogma as part of my tribal identity.  I find Chris Hedges types to be pompous, pseudosincere, impractical bores who I would not want to chat with at a cocktail party.  I might want to sit in a dark corner and watch him do his thing but I’m not going to submissively approach and touch him like he’s the alpha male chimp of my unit group.

Here’s the bottom line, if Hillary jumps in the race, I’ll vote for her.  I’m not so pure that I blame her single vote out of 99 for the Iraq War Resolution (because that would be stupid, illogical and hypocritical especially if I had planned to vote for John Edwards in 2008 before he dropped out).  I also don’t blame her for the fact that the wars didn’t end on January 20, 2009.  That was never going to happen even if Gandhi had been elected because the Bushies intentionally destabilized central asia before they left.  I also don’t think she is the only person in the world who has accepted money from lobbyists but I do give her credit for not allowing that money to cloud her judgment or mess with her principles.  So, yeah, I’d vote for her if she got in.

I’d also vote for other Democrats should they decide to run.  Like Sherrod Brown.  Or Ed Rendell.  Or even Al Franken, though most Americans don’t understand how serious and committed he is and he’d have an uphill battle there.  But still, if he decided to run, I’d vote for him and campaign for him and walk the streets for him- gladly and with much enthusiasm.  Same with Bernie Sanders.

But if the DNC thinks I will just fall into line behind Obama after his poor performance, then they can kiss my ass.  Putting him out there for a second run is easy for the Democrats but I’m not accepting easy from them this year and neither should anyone else. If Obama had run for president on some obscure party ticket and ended up on the ballot in 2008, no one would have voted for him. Go on and do a thought experiment on this.  Imagine Barack Obama running for president as the nominee of the Green party in 2008.  The Green party has had African American candidates before.  Some of them might have been pretty good candidates.  But have you ever seen the media go nuts over a Green party candidate?  Of course not.  If Hillary ran for the Green party in 2008, that would be news. Obama running as a Green in 2008?  Snore. The Green party hasn’t reached the threshold of electoral numbers and victories that would give it the proper gravitas.  Neither has any other obscure established party.   It was only the fact that Obama scored the Democratic party nomination that made him seem like a legitimate and serious candidate.

Come to think of it, the “third party test” will now become a part of my criteria for evaluating major party candidates for office during the primaries and general election.  I will now ask myself, if this candidate was running for office on an obscure third party instead of a major party, would I still vote for him or her based on their level of experience, positions on issues and voting record?  If more people had asked themselves this question back in 2008, Hillary would be president right now.  For incumbents, I might apply the Jack Welch “rank and yank” criteria.  On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best, how does this incumbent stack up against the past 5 presidents?  If he scores a 2 or below, he’s outta there.

So, next year, I expect Democrats to raise their standards and work hard to win me back.  Obama ain’t going to cut it for me because I already know that commodity and his attitude towards hard working middle class STEM workers (he believes the garbage that the executives tell him) and women (he doesn’t seem to think they have quite the moral authority of men) and I’m just not interested.  But if they offer me someone else, I might take a good hard look.  Otherwise, I might as well take a chance on some third party candidate.  Those third parties can’t be offering anything *worse* than Barack Obama or the Republican nominee, and there’s a good possibility that they have someone who is better, or at least able to do his or her own thinking.

I expect the Democrats will come back screaming about how we’re slitting our own throats but what they are really objecting to is the loss of their own power.  From where I sit, I don’t benefit by giving my vote to either one of the current major parties at the presidential level.  I *might* benefit if I give my vote to another party.  I have nothing to lose, but possibly everything to gain.  I feel no sense of obligation to help Democrats retain power if they have no sense of obligation to help me keep my job, health care or my house.  This is not a game.

So, while I don’t know what the robocallers are up to, I encourage Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats to make a little mischief.  Color outside the lines.  Push the envelope.  Subvert the dominant paradigm.  If you don’t want Obama either, do us all a favor and pick someone who isn’t on the ballot yet.  Occupy the primaries.  You know what to do.

Season’s Greetings…

…to the servants of the Flame Imperishable.

Occupy Everywhere.