The Iranian-American 'religious studies scholar,' Reza Aslan (b. 1972), has had a lot to say about Donald J. Trump.
Last year, Reza Aslan was fired from his influential job as a presenter on CNN, after he called Donald Trump, 'a piece of shit,' on Twitter, and then stated that:
he was 'underscoring the fact that the President of the United States is a racist, sexist, lying, lecherous, pathological liar, and narcissistic sociopath. That we are in an existential crisis; that our lives are in danger and that anyone who has a voice, needs to be screaming at the top of their lungs because all of history is watching us right now.'
Recently, I was sent a link to the above video and asked whether I agree with what Reza Aslan says in it?
After watching the video, it seems that Reza Aslan is merely offering his own version of the unoriginal observation that:
At times of mass-alienation (following: wars, natural disasters, economic crises, etc.), history proves that would-be demagogues steadfastly pretending absolute moral and intellectual authority, whilst pursuing hidden criminal objectives, who (at other times) would have been universally-recognised as narcissistic charlatans, have found it much easier to become widely-accepted as authentic Messiahs.
Indeed, for months, I've been regularly asked variations of the following question :
In 1961 (after years of field-research, including the interviewing of US servicemen and civilians held prisoner during the Korean War), Dr. Robert Jay Lifton (b. 1926) published, ‘Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.’ In this standard medical text-book, Dr. Lifton identified 8 ‘themes’ which, if present in any group, indicate that its members are being subjected to a mixture of social, psychological and physical pressures, designed to produce radical changes in their individual beliefs, attitudes and behaviour.
1). Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how attempts to psychologically condition him or her are directed in a step-by-step manner.
2). Control the person's social and/or physical environment; especially control the person's time.
The members serve as models of the attitudes and behaviors of the group and speak an in-group language.
Strip members of their main occupation (quit jobs, drop out of school) or source of income or have them turn over their income (or the majority of) to the group.
Once the target is stripped of their usual support network, their confidence in their own perception erodes.
As the target's sense of powerlessness increases, their good judgment and understanding of the world are diminished. (ordinary view of reality is destabilized)
As the group attacks the target's previous worldview, it causes the target distress and inner confusion; yet they are not allowed to speak about this confusion or object to it - leadership suppresses questions and counters resistance.
This process is sped up if the targeted individual or individuals are kept tired - the cult will take deliberate actions to keep the target constantly busy.
4). Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person's former social identity.
The target's old beliefs and patterns of behavior are defined as irrelevant or evil. Leadership wants these old patterns eliminated, so the member must suppress them.
Members get positive feedback for conforming to the group's beliefs and behaviors and negative feedback for old beliefs and behavior.
The only feedback members get is from the group; they become totally dependent upon the rewards given by those who control the environment.
Members must learn varying amounts of new information about the beliefs of the group and the behaviors expected by the group.
The more complicated and filled with contradictions the new system is and the more difficult it is to learn, the more effective the conversion process will be.
Esteem and affection from peers is very important to new recruits. Approval comes from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to inhibit any display of doubts—new recruits simply acquiesce, affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new ideology.
The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.
Members are not allowed to question, criticize or complain. If they do, the leaders allege the member is defective, not the organization or the beliefs.
The targeted individual is treated as always intellectually incorrect or unjust, while conversely the system, its leaders and its beliefs are always automatically, and by default, considered as absolutely just.
Conversion or remolding of the individual member happens in a closed system. As members learn to modify their behavior in order to be accepted in this closed system, they change—begin to speak the language—which serves to further isolate them from their prior beliefs and behaviors.
'The Universal Identifying Characteristics of a Cult'
Apart from its use in the sense of ‘a popular fashion especially followed by a specific section of society’ or ‘a person or thing popularised in this way,’ the traditional definition of the English noun, cult (Latin cultus worship), has been ‘a system of religious worship (Latin religiosus obligation, bondage) especially as expressed in ritual,’ or ‘devotion or homage to a person or thing.’ However, the word is now also used as shorthand for what is more-accurately described as a pernicious cult. This ongoing historic, and criminogenic, phenomenon can be briefly described as:
any self-perpetuating, non-rational/esoteric, ritual belief system established or perverted for the clandestine purpose of human exploitation.
Such groups are identified by the following characteristics:
- has a grandiose sense of self-importance.
- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, ideal love, etc.
- believes that he/she is special and unique and can only be understood by other special people.
- requires excessive admiration.
- strong sense of self-entitlement.
- takes advantage of others to achieve his/her own ends.
- lacks empathy.
- is often envious or believes that others are envious of him/her.
- arrogant disposition.
A COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO CULTISM
Cultism is a trap. Obviously, anyone who only examines the bait in a trap and who remains unaware of its true purpose, risks getting caught themselves. Just like a mousetrap, the basic design for the cultic trap has remained the same down the centuries even if the presentation of the bait has become evermore sophisticated. Sadly, many commentators have found it impossible - when faced with the apparently illogical results of cultism - to abandon their existing academic, and professional, disciplines, which are anchored in the logic of the traditional world. Consequently, their understanding has often been made impossible by misplaced objectivity. However, it must be remembered that a counterfeit banknote might be 99.9 % perfect, but the bit that is not makes all of it a fake. Similarly, in order to have any chance of understanding cultism, it must be approached from the apparently subjective point of view that its results are always the product of a contagious deception, the victims of which unconsciously accept fiction as fact. Only then, can the phenomenon be examined with genuine objectivity. Once this vital principle has been learned, the apparently authentic words and images reflected by persons under the influence of cultism - like those printed on counterfeit banknotes - are revealed as dangerous distractions. They should never be taken at face value and, therefore, I try to remind the reader of this at all times. Any commentator who repeats the reality-inverting shielding-terminology of any cultic group, but without detailed qualification (or heavy irony), demonstrates that he/she remains at a pitifully low-level of understanding.