Today I’m going to talk about the power of knowledge, of knowing things, and how those who can manipulate the information you have can manipulate you in ways you wouldn’t believe possible. We seem to live now in an era where knowledge has never been so abundantly available and yet it seems fewer and fewer people are taking advantage of that. It’s almost as if some people are choosing to remain ignorant. Is that true? I don’t really think so, but I do think people can appear to be purposefully ignorant because of where they choose to get thier facts from and how they are manipulated to believe they know everything they need to.
Critical thinking and reason are not only built on a foundation of knowledge but on the principle that a person needs to continually ask questions and be able to look for more, so let’s see how important this really is.
Knowing Stuff is Important
There is an old adage that “knowledge is power”. This may be true, but there are plenty of exceptions that show it’s not a universal truth. I can think of examples of very ignorant people who have lots of power and don’t have a problem using it to keep other people just as ignorant as they are or worse. I’m sure you woudn’t have any problem finding examples of your own. History shows us more often that “Might is Right” and that knowledge alone is not security against a dangerous and violent world.
I think I’d add something to this old saying to make it more true. I’d say that knowledge is power when you are proactive about using it. For me, I found that knowledge is the one thing that has set me free from the path of ignorance I was on as a Scientologist for nearly three decades. It was through acquiring knowledge that I wasn’t supposed to have that I started to become aware of the fact that I was living in a world of half-truths, deceit and outright lies.
But it was only when I acted on that knowledge that I broke free of the psychological chains that had been holding me down all that time. I didn’t have to act. I could have engaged in more rationalizations and justifications for sticking with the cult and not rocking the boat or not taking any risks because it might upset the careful balance of my life. Had I done that, all that new understanding I had wouldn’t have meant much of anything. When I acted, it not only put me on a path of finding out more, but it set me truly free.
It was only then that I really appreciated the power of learning and conversely, the incredible power that can come from keeping people ignorant.
Why Dangerous Cults are Dangerous
What is it that differentiates a religious practice from a dangerous or destructive cult? There are many, especially those in the atheist community, who argue that all religions are cults. And according to certain definitions of “religion” and “cult” they are absolutely right.
But dangerous cults are dangerous for specific reasons. My original breakdown on this was based on a paper called “Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups” by Janja Lalich and Michael Langone. You can find a link to that article in the notes section below and a link to my video “Is Scientology a Cult?”
More recently, I read Steve Hassan’s enlightening book, “Combatting Cult Mind Control” which describes what is called the BITE model of control, which he developed from psychologist Leon Festinger’s work on cognitive dissonance and mind control.
Throughout all of my studies on dangerous cults, one thing that has stayed consistent throughout is that one of the worst things that every dangerous cult does is control the flow of information to its members. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
“If you control the information someone receives, you restrict his ability to think for himself.” – Steve Hassan
In the BITE model, Hassan has described a way that people are controlled through Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotion. Destructive cults work on all four of these areas to one degree or another and they do it without the consent of the person they are controlling. There’s nothing wrong with being controlled so long as you know what you are getting into and agree to the terms and can take back control when you want.
People who get into dangerous cults unwittingly have their freedom of thought and freedom of action eroded away through purposeful manipulation of their emotions and thoughts. By then censoring what they can read or listen to, cult leaders then ensure that their members never hear anything critical of the cult leader or find out about arguments that are in opposition to what the cult leader says is fact.
This model does not just apply to religious cults, but also is used by political and social leaders and can reach as far afield as sports teams or academic circles. I invite you to read Hassan’s book, Combatting Cult Mind Control, where he explains this model in detail and shows how cult leaders of all types use it to manipulate their members against thier own bests interests. And no, this isn’t product placement and Steve is not paying me to say any of this. At least not yet (smile)
It’s Not Just Cults
No matter who you are, where you are from or what culture you were raised in, we all think the same way, based entirely on the information we have. We can’t know things when we are denied access to them, or even worse, are given perverted or twisted information instead. And this affects our decision making process, the way we choose to live our life and, in many cases, how we think others should be living theirs.
If you think this sort of thing only goes on in closed groups that meet in dark rooms or that you aren’t affected by this every day, I’d invite you to think again. All of us are subject to informational manipulation. This is most readily seen in the news media, who slant stories with an editorial bias for various reasons, giving us only some of the facts or only those which support their version of events. But what about educators or politicians? And what about ourselves? Aren’t we all party to this when we contribute to pushing agendas that align with our own beliefs and attitudes and don’t give the actual truth a fair shake in the court of public opinion?
For example, I’ve recently come across an all-too-common misconception that the phrase “In God We Trust” was the slogan the United States was founded on. Do you know how much trouble that one piece of false information causes? There are far too many politicians, including presidential candidates who aspire to what is arguably the most powerful political office in the entire world, who don’t know their own country’s history well enough to realize that America is not and never was founded on Christian principles. In fact, exactly the opposite is true.
I actually doubt that very many of the politicians, preachers or Christians who push this agenda have actually read the United States Constitution and certainly haven’t gone anywhere near the Federalist Papers or other writings of those who authored our country’s founding documents. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others from their time period have noted in their own diaries and journals as well as in their speeches and public writings that they went way out of their way to NOT make this a Christian nation because they didn’t want exactly what is going on now: religious influence shaping the direction of government-run institutions to such an extent that it allows for discrimination against those who don’t follow the herd mentality and fall in line with those who so callously believe that God is on their side.
The freedom to practice one’s religion includes the freedom to not practice any religion at all. This was what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they penned our nation’s documents and its laws.
Up until 1956, this country’s national slogan was “E pluribus unum” which is Latin for “”Out of Many, One”. That is the principle this country was founded on. A brotherhood of many beliefs, many ideas, many cultures and many backgrounds but united under one banner: that of the United States of America. That’s where the concept of this country being a melting pot comes from, something so many Americans seem to have forgotten in this day of outright hatred towards immigrants or anyone who doesn’t fit some kind of 1950s Leave It To Beaver conservative image.
It wasn’t until 1956, in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, that the US Congress decided that our slogan of unity was somehow inadequate to counter the perceived atheism of our Russian enemy, and in a fit of insanity they changed the national slogan to “In God We Trust”. They seemed to be unaware of the fact that the Germans in both World Wars and Imperial Russia before the time of the Soviet Union also had “God with us” emblazoned on their helmets and military insignia. Envoking God as somehow being on your side is a symbol of the hubris of governments and religious fanatics much more so than a statement of any kind of truth.
It seems to escape the logic of such people that God might just love all of his creation equally and not really be interested in taking sides. He certainly didn’t side with the Imperialists during the Communist Revolution of 1917 nor the Germans in both World Wars, no matter how many of their belt buckles and helmets said otherwise.
If you are in a position to shape what is taught or what information people are allowed to be exposed to, you are quite literally in a position of near ultimate control over those individuals.
It should be obvious that what I’m talking about applies to a lot more than just recovering from cult mind control. Taking the time to learn and be educated is a never-ending process which we all should proactively be doing every single day, no matter what else is going on in our lives. Having all the data is what allows you to proceed sensibly and rationally on any issue.
The question you should be asking yourself now is this: who is controlling what information you have and where you can get it from? Are there any areas in your life that you are not allowed to question? Are there any authority figures you have to listen to and if so, how can you be so sure they are always right?
Critical thinking is not possible in a mind which cannot question anything and everything. It only works when you can find your own answers and come to your own conclusions. That is what true freedom of thought and freedom of belief mean.
Thank you for watching.