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DailyKos: Conversion and Conformity

ccv3h71w8aasjtlPeter Daou wrote about Markos Moulitsos, founder of DailyKos, and his announcement that he will be shifting his support to Hillary as soon as the nomination is wrapped up. Sorry, Bernie fans, time to get in line.

Atrios yesterday wrote that he doubted that one person’s “Why I am Voting for So&So diary” is worth anything. I was happy to see Atrios embrace the idea that your vote is your own but I think he’s dead wrong about the value of the conversion diary. Maybe they’re not as powerful as they used to be but I saw DailyKos lose its collective mind and then get in line twice in 2007-2008. First, it went bat s^&* crazy over John Edwards, then when Edwards became non-viable, it became moonstruck over Obama.

During the infamous Rec List Hostage Crisis of 2008, the pivot from Edwards to Obama was incredibly smooth. I could almost swear that the same people were writing those diaries.

The value of the testimonial can not be underestimated. Maybe we should get John Dehlin, psychologist, former Mormon and host of Mormon Stories to come and explain how it works. The conversion or testimonial is particularly effective in groups that are also exercising other high control tactics, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

A typical conversion story relates how a person is transformed by a moment of revelation. They become “born again” in some important way. People who study high control groups might say the convert’s  behavior has been unduly influenced by informational, emotional and thought control. Go ahead, read about the BITE model and you’ll never see DailyKos in the same way again.

That’s why I think Markos’s conversion story looks like it might not be important to those of us who have figured out how he operates even if it eventually does. His life is only going to change if his revelation leads to more advertising revenue from the Clinton campaign. Deep down inside, I doubt that Markos is wed to any one particular candidate. If anything, he seems to swing Libertarian and attracts the same guys who are stuck in adolescence who aren’t going to let any woman be the boss of them. It’s his business model.

Also, the conversion story does not work in the absence of other features. There has to be praise of the convert. In many religions and high control groups, this would include love bombing. At DailyKos, love bombing is accomplished through the use of recommendations. If a diarist gets enough recommends, their diary can make it to the recommended diary list where its prominence will influence other Kossacks.

The more you toe the founder’s line, the more mojo you get. That is, your level of  authority, at DailyKos increases and you can achieve Trusted User status. A trusted user has very few privileges and while Kossacks are told they don’t mean much, they actually do. A Trusted user can demote recommendations. They are enforcers. A mob of enforcers can deplete a Kossack’s mojo completely. If you don’t stay with the herd, you can be excommunicated and banned from the site.

This is what happened to me in January 2008 when I used the word “jihad” to explain how Obama supporters were mobbing other candidate’s supporters on DailyKos in order to get them banned. In the span of a couple hours, I went from being a trusted user to an exile. I was on to them by the time I posted that diary and while my diary was not meant to get me banned, I watched in fascination how efficiently and quickly the process worked.  I guess to someone who likes to be one of a crowd, that might have been devastating and I saw other Kossacks try very hard to not it happen to them. But for me? It was no big deal. What I learned at DailyKos was that I could write well enough to make the rec list fairly frequently. So, I left and started The Confluence. I didn’t get the fame or the ad money but I’ve enjoyed it anyway.

Those of you who still visit DailyKos can correct me if I’m wrong on any of this. Some of the rules of the game have changed since I was there last. The parameters of the model can be tweaked to keep everyone in line. But Markos knows what he’s doing and he set up his site to enforce conformity and a single message. Yes, there is a bit of wiggle room there. It’s like the difference between being a Methodist and a Presbyterian but it’s still Christianity. And when Markos signs the contract or gives the nod of the head, the machine works of his site will kick into gear and everyone will fall in line, write conversion diaries and disfellowship the apostates.

It’s conformity on a grand blog scale.

Maybe it doesn’t mean as much as it did 8 years ago. But Markos still attracts a lot of the same kind of people. They talk amongst themselves, reminisce about when they had their revelation and swallow their disappointments on queue when their leader gets “new light”.  And when it came time to throw away rules, disenfranchise voters and abbreviate roll call votes in Denver, the Kossacks were enthusiastic supporters of all things not very Democratic. We ended up with an establishment president who is more conservative than just about anyone on DailyKos but by golly, they won, didn’t they? So what if they ripped their party in two in the meantime?

They have a lot in common with Trump supporters.

Yes, conversion diaries, especially many of them, written with the blessing and encouragement and sometimes the coding skills and public megaphone of the founder, can and do make a difference. It simply is what it is, regardless of what Atrios says.

 

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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?