Self-Knowledge, Self-Alienation, and the Curious Case of NXIVM

by Kevin Currie-Knight

___

“What does it mean to be afraid?” Sarah Edmonson recalls Lauren Salzman saying this to strengthen Sarah’s resolve right before Sarah was to be branded with a cauterizing gun. Sarah was understandably scared. Lauren asked her to think about what that fear meant. Sarah didn’t interpret it as most would; i.e. as a signal not to go through with the procedure. Thanks to years of indoctrination and practice, she interpreted her fear as a challenge to be overcome, an opportunity for growth. She would later come to regret that interpretation.

It is hard to know what would lead someone to voluntarily undergo being branded with a cauterizing gun. My wife and I are watching a television series, HBO’s The Vow, about just such people, members of a self-help group turned strange cult: NXIVM. Not all members agreed to be branded – that was a secret subgroup called “DOS.” However, all members did strange things despite – sometimes because of – nagging senses of doubt, reluctance and fear.

I think that groups like NXIVM illustrate a strange aspect of human experience: how malleable and up-for-reinterpretation our inner experience can be. When Lauren Salzman asked Sarah Edmonson what it means to be afraid, she likely knew that Sarah’s answer would mirror what NXIVM members had been taught for years: fear and discomfort are often indications of weakness and limitation that should be pushed past in the name of personal growth. If you feel pain, think challenge and growth, and act accordingly. Thus, while most people would interpret the fear they felt in Sarah’s situation as an indication to get away from a frightful situation, Sarah interpreted her fear in virtually the opposite way; the way NXIVM had taught her to interpret it.

Michel Foucault called this the “hermeneutics of the self,” the idea that the self may not be transparent to introspection as we often think. Most of us, of course, have a strong sense that we can successfully interpret our own inner experience. When I have a feeling, I can generally introspect quite readily what it is. When I have a thought, I know quite readily what it signifies. Of course, we also know that there are other events of inner experience that we can’t readily interpret ourselves. When I have a persistent ache in my side, at some point I see a doctor because I am not sure what it indicates. When I experience certain forms of mental distress, I may see a therapist to help me interpret what the stress signifies.

For Foucault, pastoral Christianity originated the idea that inner experience could be opaque to the experiencer and that enlightened others must aid in helping them interpret it. “In the Christian technologies of the self,” Foucault wrote, “the problem is to discover what is hidden inside the self; the self is like a text or like a book that we have to decipher, and not something which has to be constructed by the superposition, the superimposition, of the will and the truth. This organization, this Christian organization, so different from the pagan one, is something which is I think quite decisive for the genealogy of the modern self.”

It is beyond my scope to judge whether Foucault’s history here is right, but the idea is that one could, say, have a thought and not be able to tell whether Satan had influenced or implanted the thought. Was the thought your own, or did it indicate the presence of Satan? You, the experiencer, could not tell the answer by pure introspection (and if you think you can, you cannot be sure you aren’t deceived in that confidence, ad infinitum). You need the help of others – the Pastor – to help interpret what is going on in you.

As Foucault wrote above, this has been a profound shift in how we think of ourselves in the modern world, and it has had profound effects. Freud, Nietzsche, Marx and others since have argued versions of what Paul Ricoeur calls a “hermeneutics of suspicion”: the idea that individual subjects are often imperfectly or not at all aware of the true interpretation of their experience; our lives are profoundly shaped by drives that lie below (Freud, Nietzsche), or social structures that shape from above (Marx) human levels of awareness. While most of the time, we still trust ourselves to directly introspect on what our experience means, our modern understanding of the self also acknowledges that our introspection of subjective experience may be wrong or partial. (We see therapists to help us interpret our dissatisfaction, allow that judgment can be affected by unconscious cognitive biases, etc.)

There is nothing in itself wrong with this modern view of the self and the (potential) opaqueness of introspection. Evidence seems pretty decisive that much of our inner activity is not open to our conscious awareness, and it is entirely sensible to think that there are times when experts can help us interpret our experience in ways that we can’t. Nor did Foucault offer his theory of the hermeneutics of the self to criticize this modern understanding of the self. But this view of the self and the limits of introspection does open up interesting possibilities that can be used to arguably bad effect.

First, this hermeneutic view of experience potentially alienates us from the sense that we can directly understand ourselves or trust our senses of ourselves. Even if we accept – as we likely should – that cognitive biases show up in our thought, the question is what to realistically do with that information. If I am, say, susceptible to confirmation bias – the tendency to unknowingly privilege evidence that confirms rather than disputes my favored conclusions – what do I do the next time I believe that my favored conclusions are handily confirmed by evidence? I could be correct because my favored conclusions are just that sound, but it could also be that I am unknowingly in the throes of confirmation bias. And if the confirmation bias is truly an unconscious bias, could I know which it is?

Second, because of this potential for alienating ourselves from interpreting our own experience, it opens the possibility for a situation where others, what Adam Martin calls an epistocracy, are in a powerful position to interpret ourselves for us. To be sure, seeing therapists to help us interpret our inner experience can be a good thing, as we may not be sure if our melancholy or anxiety indicates a deeper problem they can help us understand and work through. Yet, it does give the therapist (or whoever we trust to help us interpret our experience) a good bit of power, power that can often go unchecked as long as we are convinced that our inner barometer is not as trustworthy as theirs.

This brings us back to NXIVM, the cult group that was able to convince Sarah Edmonson and others to undergo branding with a cauterizing gun. Group members learn that their own interpretation of things can’t be trusted (in this case, because members’ values are a product of societal inculcation that only NXIVM’s teachings can counteract). In her book Scarred, Edmonson recalls that from early on, members were taught that any reaction against NXIVM teachings should be interpreted as “just our internal indication that we were doing it right. Discomfort was an indication you were ‘hitting on an issue,’ so if you bolted, you would never work [through] that limiting belief.” Correctly interpreting one’s inner experience requires the guidance of NXIVM teachings and the judgment of high-ranking NXIVM members.

There is another belief system that I believe employs this Foucauldian hermeneutics of the self in potentially problematic ways: a modern variation of anti-racism popularized by Robin DiAngelo (White Fragility) and Ibram Kendi (How to be an Antiracist). By this doctrine, white people are taught not only that they are unavoidably and unconsciously racist, but that discomfort about the accuracy of this idea should be interpreted as evidence of one’s racism. DiAngelo tells her readers:

The dimensions of racism benefiting white people are usually invisible to whites. We are unaware of, or do not acknowledge, the meaning of race and its impact on our own lives… It follows that to name whiteness, much less suggest that it has meaning and grants unearned advantage, will be deeply disconcerting and destabilizing, thus triggering the protective responses of white fragility.

This puts (at least white) readers in a spot of alienation from their introspective abilities, at least in the sense that one must now entertain the idea that whether one is racist simply is not something that can be reliably introspected. (Even those who are convinced that their discomfort indicates that they are not racist cannot be sure that the thought is “pure” and not a rationalization born of racism.) From here, it is up to those bringing the antiracist message to aid people in correctly interpreting themselves, in a  relationship, pace Foucault, that resembles that between a Pastor and congregant.

To conclude, I should reiterate that it is not necessarily bad to recognize the limitations of our introspection or the opacity of our inner experience. Certainly, it is possible for people to be inculcated with counterproductive values that wrongly come to shape our introspection (as when we measure ourselves up to culturally prevalent but potentially unhealthy standards.) Certainly it is possible that racism can be wholly unconscious and that it is best to be reminded of that possibility, even if it is uncomfortable to entertain. Yet, the idea that our experience is often hermeneutic and may require others to aid us in its interpretation also comes with potential downsides. We can become too dependent on others, especially those who come to us as experts, to interpret ourselves for us (rather than with us).

Kevin Currie-Knight is a Teaching Associate Professor in East Carolina University’s College of Education. His research is in the philosophy and history of education as well as the role of agency and self-direction in education. He is the author of the book Education in the Marketplace (Springer 2019).

30 comments

  1. One of the things most striking about The Vow is how unremarkable the people in that film series are. They had the affect, feel, and sensibility of employees in a very dull or low level marketing or tech company, even nondescript. This is very confusing because at least some of them were very high status people with stellar educations. And yet there was so much passion, suffering and rank exploitation and oppression at work in such a (banal) setting. It was not news to me that people are, as the current vogue word expresses, gaslit. And i have long had an intense interest in cults more generally. I think the major fascination with The Vow is the disconnect between the dull aesthetic and language of the people we are seeing and the horrors beneath the surface. These are not the colorful people of Wild Wild Country and Rajneesh.
    You present a nagging question; is everything mediated by interpretation or is it possible to check in with one’s immediate and more truthful responses to which such interpretations and the authority conditioning the interpretation is an impediment? But I wonder if that question is at the heart of that cult. Foucault is someone I really admire because he put freedom at the center (one reason he is hated for his alleged neoliberalism by the current Left, though he was no neoliberal). I have to confess that i am really skeptical that the issue is the same as that which Foucauil discusses. I think cults in general are unique and bear little if no resemblance to the strict religious or secular orders of other eras or earlier societies. I think t is a relatively new thing. Maybe Foucault has some insight that can be marshaled to understand it nor maybe not. the fact that “Power” a Foucault theme is involved is not sufficient to warrant reference to Foucault.
    Commentators will know that i am a split the difference kind of guy. Thus with White Fragility I will say that D’angelo is both right and wrong. Things are as bad as she says and yet at the same time not. as bad. She starts from a sensible beginning and premise but extrapolates in ways that seem to be untrue. So it is with Foucault. He got some things right and other things terribly wrong (Iran, some ideas about sexuality, though not all, etc.) This is the reason I generally refuse to be either anti-woke or woke. I agree as much as I disagree.

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  2. There is a huge difference between being called out for racist or mysogynistic attitudes and being criticized for not being a “good” cult member. In one situation, one is on the receiving end of a critique in a society where discourse is freely engaged in, and one has the chance to listen to opposing viewpoints, weigh those viewpoints, and freely answer them with one’s own thoughts. As a member of a cult, you have surrendered your autonomy and unquestionably accepted the word and opinions of the cult leader. In a sense there is no comparison because in the former case you ought to be free to disagree, but in the case of the cult you forfeit your membership if you insist on disagreeing with the cult leader. Society holds a lot of people and perspectives – argument and disagreement are a necessary part of living in it. Cults, by their very nature choke off free discourse and require unanimity as the price of membership. In contrast, when someone tells me I am unconsciously racist, I can disagree, or say, “Let me think about that”, maybe do some reading, and talk to others about it. And if the response is that disagreement is further evidence of unconscious racism, then all I can say is, that’s a bad argument, because no evidence can ever disprove it; it seems to me more of an attempt at intimidation and a power grab then a form of valid argument. Being in a cult is completely different, because there are no boundaries between each member and the group, no individual autonomy, the whole process is a way of stripping away one’s psychological defences. After Wittgenstein we know better than to think that introspection is some kind of privileged process. Our thoughts and feelings freely come to us, but we have to interpret them by thinking, discussing, describing, and arguing. A lot depends on where we live, how we were brought up, and who we know and interact with. We discover who we are by living in society, and that means constantly correcting our own self-assessments.

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  3. Mr. Curry-Knight:

    Yes, among other things, the bind is that “Am I being honest with myself?” is a question one may always ask one more time.

    Mr. Justice:

    Your comments seem to be making an ironic case for the view that “woke” culture has many cult-like aspects:

    “As a member of a cult, you have surrendered your autonomy and unquestionably accepted the word and opinions of the cult leader.”

    Isn’t that precisely what Di Angelo and Kendi ask one to do—accept, on the basis of their closed framework, that one is a priori racist? And the more one disputes the charge, the greater one’s racism.

    “Cults, by their very nature choke off free discourse and require unanimity as the price of membership.”

    This is an apt description of how the “woke” left and the larger cancel culture operate. Not just by encouraging social obloquy online, but through efforts to destroy employment, publication opportunities, professional reputation, and beneficial relationships. Free discourse itself is regarded as racist.

    “Being in a cult is completely different, because there are no boundaries between each member and the group, no individual autonomy, the whole process is a way of stripping away one’s psychological defences.”

    In addition to my previous paragraph, consider the many liberal/left wing on-air or online personalities whose left-wing bona fides has been attacked merely on the basis of their having conducted interviews with figures regarded by the wokerati as “fascist” or “white supremacist,” tainting such figures as fascist or white supremacist by association. Consider also the numerous reports of abandonment by one’s friends on the sole basis of one’s deviation on a single point of woke doctrine. Genuine “Scarlet Letter” treatment.

    Admittedly, this is a problem that is almost exclusive to those on the left, because their political positions tend to be one aspect of a larger world view and corresponding life-style choices that subsume virtually all aspects of existence. Reservations about the pace or extent of anthropogenic climate change, for example, can lead to ex communication by one’s friends, romantic partner, work group, etc., The threat of being outcast by one’s entire social circle is well-suited to “stripping away one’s psychological defenses,” or at least one’s resistance. As you put it, unanimity is the price of membership. And ostracism is the cost of free discourse.

    “If the response is that disagreement is further evidence of unconscious racism, then all I can say is, that’s a bad argument, because no evidence can ever disprove it; it seems to me more of an attempt at intimidation and a power grab then a form of valid argument.”

    Agreed.

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    1. “this is a problem that is almost exclusive to those on the left” – nonsense; I can only assume that you are entirely unaware of what has been going on in American politics the past 4 years, and of the cult of personality surrounding our conspiracy-theorist-in-chief in the White House.

      The general argument of the essay has no necessary political bias. It concerns a larger problem that politics only surfaces in different ways in different contexts.

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    2. A bad argument is a bad argument. Hardly a reason to fear the left. We live in a society with many different viewpoints. No one needs to be afraid of the crowd. “Woke” culture is just the latest fashions, and some extreme versions can be over-the-top in their exaggeration of certain forms of reasoning. Still, the main thrust of “political correctness” is fundamentally right – that is the focus on low status groups and systematic injustices against them. Remember Jesus? That seemed to be one of his main themes: care about and look out for the “least among you”. It’s a fact that in the vast majority of societies there are systematic injustices. You can care about them or not, but I think it’s a good thing to care about them. One can ignore the over-the-top people, they are desperate for attention, so ignoring them is the best weapon. But ignoring injustices? If we do that, then why bother pretending to be principled? Then it’s just about bragging about winning and laughing at ”the losers”. I believe in something more than “might makes right”.

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          1. I don’t believe most of those claiming to have been “harmed” by allegedly politically incorrect speech, so we don’t share a common notion of what the supposed problem is. I am much more concerned with the effects of social censorship of the kind Mill worries about in On Liberty than I am about the mesmeric “harms” caused by salty or otherwise unkind speech.

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      1. No one advised “ignoring injustices.” Ignoring what you call the “over-the-top people” invites further injustices. Think of the injustices done to well-intentioned members of the left whose reputations and careers have been impaired by charges of misdemeanors they did not commit.

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        1. I don’t believe a lot of what modern Christians say, and I find some of them to be obnoxious in their prudishness and hypocrisy, but I still think that the message of their founder, that we ought to care especially for people in low status groups, is fundamentally right. Basically, “political correctness” is a modern continuation of that message. That some people go overboard with it, doesn’t mean we have to accept their particular version. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Where I really disagree with both of you is in seeing PC as some kind of systemic existential danger. The pressures of conformity will always be with us. Sometimes you can go with the flow, and other times you need to make a stand. You decide. In our society no one is forcing you to believe anything.
          PC, in its present form is just a fashion, but it’s underlying force comes from the real problem of political and social oppression. It might be easier to see this by looking at it’s ideological opposite – Fascism. Fascism is all about targeting low status groups, and basically using them as a simplistic scapegoat for all our problems. Fascists love rallies where they can broadcast conspiracy theories and misinformation about low status groups, and their followers get to participate in the emotional thrill of focusing all their frustration and hatred on a despised group. PC is about defending these scapegoated groups from this sort of onslaught. It’s a reaction to the second world war and to segregation and jim crow in the U.S. Unfortunately PC has been influenced too much by Post-Modern Philosophy, but this too will pass.

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          1. Basically, “political correctness” is a modern continuation of that message.

            = = = =

            No, it isn’t.

            = = = =

            “In our society no one is forcing you to believe anything.”

            This is demonstrably false, at least if it is meant to suggest that people are not being heavily coerced with respect to their livelihoods and social standing, for having the “wrong” views.

            = = = =

            There is no contrast between PC and fascism. Indeed, the first thing fascists and totalitarians attempt to do is control the language.

            I’m sorry, but I think you’ve got pretty much every aspect of this issue wrong.

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          2. PC is a continuation of the original Christian message…. “No it isn’t.” Fascism and PC are ideological opposites…..”There is no contrast between PC and Fascism.” In our society no one is being forced to believe anything…..”people are…being heavily coerced with respect to their livelihoods.” If the latter is true that’s a problem with the incestuous atmosphere in academia, but it is not really coercion. You can always go teach at another college or University where your views are more tolerated or welcome. Try Florida, Texas, Georgia, or Alabama, I’m sure there are plenty of institutions of higher learning that would love to hire more politically incorrect professors. In Germany in the thirties, Jewish academics, and progressives were kicked out of the Universities and had to emigrate to survive. In today’s America, there are plenty of academics leaving the country, but they are not conservatives, they are progressives. PC has gotten obnoxious and overbearing just like evangelical Christianity has become obnoxious and overbearing. It doesn’t negate Christianity as a whole. And PC and Fascism are ideological opposites, because one targets the downtrodden and the other “lifts them up.”

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          3. it is not really coercion. You can always go teach at another college or University where your views are more tolerated or welcome. Try Florida, Texas, Georgia, or Alabama, I’m sure there are plenty of institutions of higher learning that would love to hire more politically incorrect professors.

            = = = = =

            You clearly have no understanding of what a liberal society is. And that you think the logic you describe here is acceptable suggests that you are quite morally confused as well. But I am not going to try and convince you further.

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          4. You seem to be arguing that being subject to the pressures of conformity is some horrible burden. Well then, show me a society where there are no such pressures. It’s everywhere and pervasive – the only way to completely get away from it is to become a hermit.

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          5. Nah, what I am arguing is perfectly clear. And quite easily understood by anyone who has the slightest understanding of what a liberal society is. Hence, my invocation of JS Mill. Fortunately, people have begun to seriously tire of this exercise in soft totalitarianism and are pushing back against it.

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          6. Dan K.,

            This isn’t “soft totalitarianism”. It’s puritan moralism with a new target. In 1940 Bertrand Russell was prohibited from teaching at City College in New York because he was “morally unfit” due to his views on sexual morality. When I was growing up, the puritanical moralism was rightwing: Henry Miller was banned, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned, Jean Genet was banned, “Howl” by Allan Ginsberg was banned, etc. Since the 60’s for reasons that are worth investigating, that puritanism has become leftwing as well as rightwing, but that puritanism, whether leftwing or rightwing, seems a constant in U.S. culture. It’s the scarlet letter, but now it’s no longer an “A” for adultery, but an “R” for racist or an “S” for sexist.

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  4. (1) John McWhorter has been publicly thinking through the ways in which the Black Lives Matter movement is taking on characteristics of a religion. A google search will turn up videos and think-pieces you might find interesting.

    (2) “We can become too dependent on others, especially those who come to us as experts, to interpret ourselves for us (rather than with us).” That parenthetical is so important, as Kant recognized. He expressly endeavors to save the Enlightenment motto, “Think for yourself,” from lapsing into parody. He does so by showing how thinking for yourself does not at all imply thinking *by* yourself (repudiating tradition, authority, expertise, and so forth). In fact, he shows how you can’t learn to think for yourself without learning to think with others (extant or not) and can’t learn to think with others without learning to think for yourself. (Indeed, the categorical imperative, or the widespread recognition thereof, is meant in part to institute the conditions for possibility of this interdependence.) His lesson accords with yours: seeing the reasonableness of an interpretation, whether it originates from you or from some manner of expert, is something only you can do for yourself, but it’s also something you cannot do by yourself.

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    1. Some of the best discussions of McWhorter’s Anti-Racism-as-Religion thesis can be found in his conversations with Glenn Loury on “The Glen Show,” on Bloggingheads TV. McWhorter is also completing a book on the subject.

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  5. I see American politics these days as atavistic – there’s a Hunter Gatherer and his extended family (all their hands are out). We already have a Smoking Man, now we need Woodward and Bernstein.

    With cults you can always tell – money, sex, power: from you, of you, over you. How are we to inoculate ourselves against their cozening. By telling the truth ourselves we gain the nose for “the powerful and obnoxious odour of mendacity”.

    “A thousand horse sacrifices and truth are weighed in a balance; and one truth outweighs a thousand horse sacrifices”. (Visnu Smriti, 8)

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  6. Wow. Great discussion, all. Thanks for it.

    To Charles Justus, I should say that i agree with most of what you have have written. I certainly don’t mean, with this piece, to argue that antiracism in the DiAngelo variety is identical or symmetrical with NXIVM except on the one specific subject of the piece: the use of the hermeneutics of the self to have readers/members reinterpret their experience in a way that reminds them that introspection is suspect. It is a powerful tool whether used deliberately (as likely in the case of NXIVM) or not.

    And certainly, antiracism of the DiAngelo variety is not able to cloister itself in any type of bubble like NXIVM members could. They are entirely free to entertain other ideas and criticsims of antiracism. But I wouldn’t exaggerate the power of that freedom either. When you are told (as DiAngelo tells them) that resistance to antiracism should be interpreted as evidence of racism, that will at very least undermine, for at least some, attempts to seek out counter-views. Also, in certain woke spaces, voicing of any reservation about the specific antiracism program will earn you some pretty nasty words and pressures coming at you. Not to the degree of members of NXIVM, sure, but to some degree.

    And I should also clarify what some folks have said above: nothing I wrote in the article is meant politically in a sense of pointing fingers at left or right. If I had gone on, I actually think a strong case can be made that the right’s “fake news” stuff employs a similar hermeneutics of self. (“You think that news is legit because you are thoroughly indoctrinated in the prevalent culture’s values. But it isn’t. You can’t rely on your own judgment about the news media. Trust ours.”)

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  7. Kevin,
    You have written a great piece.

    she interpreted her fear as a challenge to be overcome, an opportunity for growth.

    Remember though that challenges and fear are ordinarily opportunities for growth. By surmounting them we build resilience and hardiness. The endurance runner lives in his own private world of suffering as he stresses his body ever more, thus building bodily strength and fitness. The experience of doing this at the same time builds mental resilience and hardiness. Over stressing the body and mind is central to this process.

    I understand that you are talking about a toxic, manipulated environment that has altered the subject’s perception of reality and this does not resemble the world of running with its marvellous supportive, whimsical sense of camaraderie.

    This environment resembles that of gaslighting. Dan Tippens has written an excellent article about gaslighting. See https://therelatedpublic.com/2020/09/17/freedom-for-the-power-to-be-believed-on-gaslighting/

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  8. I think that groups like NXIVM illustrate a strange aspect of human experience: how malleable and up-for-reinterpretation our inner experience can be.

    Yes, and no. Immerse the person in a closed environment cut off from the normal corrective feedback of society and supply powerful overriding interpretations from charismatic authority figures and this will happen. But place the person in an open society with many influences and he will automatically correct and align his interpretations under the influence of social reality. Not perfectly of course but there usually is a certain degree of correspondence between internal interpretations and external reality. Only psychopaths and hermits with anti-social personality disorder can escape the corrective feedback we all receive from society.

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  9. but the idea is that one could, say, have a thought and not be able to tell whether Satan had influenced or implanted the thought.

    CS Lewis wrote a really marvellous little book along these lines – The Screwtape Letters. Letters from a Senior Devil to a Junior Deveil – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Screwtape_Letters. And then of course we have the incomparable Don Camillo talking to God at the altar in The Little World of Don Camillo – https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Little-World-Don-Camillo/dp/1900064073

    Central to Christian life is the idea that, when properly attuned to God through prayer, meditation, Scripture reading and sacramental practices, one becomes open to the prompting of God.

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    1. James Kirkup is director of the Social Market Foundation and a former political editor of the Scotsman and the Daily Telegraph.

      With opinions like that it is little wonder that the author is a former political editor. Perhaps he should be given the Cambridge porter’s job, serving self-important little student pricks so that he can acquire a proper sense of humility.

      But yes, it is a shameful, cringe-worthy example of society’s race to the bottom(pun intended).

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    2. Messrs. Curry-Knight, Justice, et al.

      By tolerating the doctrine and methods of the wokerati, the left is making a rod for its own back. Those most at risk from the woke left’s threats to reputation, livelihood, and professional standing are not from the right wing, but liberals and other members of the American left. Most members of the right are expressly “anti-Anti-Racist” with respect to Kendi, Di Angelo, et al., and have nothing to fear from them. In espousing MLK’s “content-of-our-character” view, they are seen as infra dignitatem by the wokerati.

      In addition to defenseless figures such as the janitor in Dan’s article, however, the woke are attempting to topple liberal journalists and podcasters. Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, Bret Weinstein, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, and others, have been the objects of sustained and coordinated attacks for challenging woke doctrine, upholding the principle of free expression, even for interviewing centrists or conservatives. Other liberals such as James Bennet and Bari Weiss were both hounded from their jobs at the NYT for principled positions regarded as anathema by Dean Baquet’s management. Dan has written and spoke elsewhere about the situation in the universities—look up his pieces on the EA and Bloggingheads—Sofia. This is a threat to free expression itself, and its the left that owes the most to free expression.

      In intimidating people into turning on friends and family for thought crimes, the woke left is reviving practices from some of the worst periods in history, and not just from Leninist-Stalinist USSR or post-Vichy Germany. Read about the Red Scare during the 1950’s. It was not only through the actions of HUAC and Senator McCarthy that alleged members or former members of CPUSA were subjected to character assassination and loss of livelihood. The blacklists that led to firing and public disgrace of innocent Americans were largely produced by private companies and individuals, who, like FB and Twitter, were under no obligation to produce evidence, afford due process, or even offer the accused an opportunity to respond. It was a committee of studio executives that summarily fired or blacklisted the Hollywood Ten. The repeatedly updated blacklist booklet “Red Channels” was published, not by HUAC, but by a private company for private employers, who drove those listed from their jobs.

      Those on the left who believe the “woke” movement is benign or a fad are those who are most at risk since the humane goals they espouse are held in contempt by the “wokeists.”

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  10. If I am, say, susceptible to confirmation bias – the tendency to unknowingly privilege evidence that confirms rather than disputes my favored conclusions – what do I do the next time I believe that my favored conclusions are handily confirmed by evidence? I could be correct because my favored conclusions are just that sound

    This is an even bigger problem if one lives in a deeply racist, unequal society, as I do. Everyday experience tends to confirm one’s biases. I have been attacked and mugged many times, in all cases by Black people. I have learnt through some very hard experiences that it is prudent for me to avoid groups of two or more young black men while on my walks and runs. If there is a woman or some older men in the group then it is usually safe. So, as a matter of survival, I practise profiling . But is this racist or prudence? It depends on the interpretation one attaches to the action. The correct interpretation is that this is a deeply unequal society plagued by huge want. People in the deprived group see someone in a wealthy group as a handy target with some useful goods that can be readily repossesed. This is not racist but an understanding of reality, even though it looks racist. On the other hand, a friend, when hearing of my recent unpleasant experience, remarked that we are so lucky in this country because the criminals are colour coded. Now that is out and out racism. But I laughed at his comment and so became just as guilty of racism. When you have a target painted on your back it is easy to make that mistake but I remember the incident with shame..

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  11. “You think that news is legit because you are thoroughly indoctrinated in the prevalent culture’s values. But it isn’t. You can’t rely on your own judgment about the news media. Trust ours.”

    No news is also fake news. The Biden affair (Bigmangate) is being studiously ignored or dismissed by all main stream media on the principal that our enemy’s enemy is our friend. You have to go to Sky News Australia to discover any discussion. They seem to enjoy Americans playing ‘silly buggers’.

    P.C. used to be a term for the coercion of opinion that was a feature of tiny political groups hyper-alert to heresy. In our time reasoned objection marks you down as a contrarian and a harmless nut unless you are in a position which can attacked. One would imagine that a porter in a college as a person of no importance would be left alone. P.C. is too mild for the vindictiveness of moral imbeciles.

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