Re: I'm just a soul whose intentions are good...
Date: July 20, 2020 09:17AM
Apologies for this long post (it's a cut and paste from pages 256-265 of my PhD), but - given the previous discussion about "trusting your gut" - I think that it's important to articulate the way that LGATs emphasise "experience" (your gut) and de-emphasise independent thinking or rationality:
Thought reform condition 5 of 8: Sacred Science
Sacred Science describes how the philosophy espoused in the environment is beyond question. Lifton (1961) explains how the environment’s doctrine transcends ordinary reason, claiming “airtight logic, of absolute ‘scientific’ precision” (p. 428). Whatever else Sacred Science achieves, its main function is to restrict individuality. Describing the veneration that the doctrine in a thought reform environment is treated with, and how it is expected to be accepted without questioning, Lifton says of this theme:
“This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the bearers of the Word, and the Word itself” (p. 427).
Consider, in light of Lifton’s description, how the est process was beyond question, the reverence demanded of trainers and, more specifically, the reverence demanded for the “originator of the Word”. Est proponent Rhinehart (2010) reveals how Erhard and his “science” were beyond question:
“You won’t get it because you’ve tried to get it, you won’t get it because you’re intelligent and bright and reasonable, you won’t get it because you’re a good person. You’ll get it for one simple reason: Werner has created the training so that you’ll get it” (p. 11).
LGAT leaders harass participants who question, tell participants that the training is beyond question, and assert that analysing, or trying to understand it, will prevent them from attaining the desired results. In this way, that the LGAT “technology” is presented as a Sacred Science. LGATs are also aware that the way a concept is framed affects the way that it is perceived and this understanding is evident in the description of their processes. The combination of lecturing, stress induction, sleep disruption, guided imagery, and other exercises employed by LGATs is grandiosely described as “technology”, suggesting a level of scientific precision that is, ironically, not supported by scientific evidence. Convincing participants that a philosophy, or “technology”, should not be questioned is an extension of the information control already discussed. In the case of participants, this restriction of thinking becomes self-imposed, however, and by undermining analytical thinking, LGATs subtly dismantle the ability of participants to question the processes, even after the training ends.
The four-step process of persuasion
“If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?” (Harris, 2011).
The power of LGATs to change participants’ attitudes is tied to four key steps. Implicit in these steps is the assertion that their “technology” is a sacred science. The first step is to convince participants that analysing is a bad idea and that the “technology” is beyond questioning; the second step is to mentally exhaust participants; the third step is to convince participants that personal experience is the only dependable way of knowing anything; and the final step involves triggering an emotional “experience”. If participants believe that critical thinking will stand in the way of transformation, are mentally exhausted, less likely to examine assertions critically, convinced that experience (or intuition) is the only valid way to judge the training, and have a profound experience at the end of the training, they will be more likely to form an uncritical positive association between the experience and the LGAT principles.
Additionally, it is asserted that beliefs which are formed without evidence (which are “beyond evidence”) are difficult to challenge using evidence. While research shows that intuition and emotion (“experience”) may be misleading (Kahneman, 2012), if LGATs can convince participants that logic should not be trusted they will be reluctant to consider logic which invalidates their experience. While the distortions in judgement associated with intuition will be covered later, psychologists Thomas Gilovich of Cornell and Lee Ross of Stanford précis the risks of “trusting your gut”:
“The field of judgment and decision making, meanwhile, has illuminated how and why people are quick to draw conclusions when they would be better served by stepping back and looking at things from a broader perspective. This field has undergone a revolution over the past forty years, a revolution that has made it clear that judgement and decision making have a lot in common with perception. Like perception, they are subject to illusions. Anyone aspiring to greater wisdom needs to know when to be on the lookout for these illusions and how to steer clear of them” (Gilovich & Ross, 2016, p. 5).
Convincing people not to think is such an overt feature of brainwashing that it was parodied in the British comedy series, Peep Show (season 5, episode 6). In this exchange, Jez starts to question some of the cult’s message and fellow cult member, Super Hans, cautions him of the dangers of thinking:
SUPER HANS: You’re right on schedule… according to the book. Hard-backed book, based on tablets brought by an asteroid… something you can rely on…
JEZ (uncertain): Yeah… what do you think about the… asteroids stuff?
SUPER HANS: What, are you having a few doubts?
JEZ: No… God no… more, sort of… thoughts…
SUPER HANS: Thoughts? You wanna give that shit a rest. You been going around thinking thoughts your whole life and look where that’s got yer… ay?
JEZ: True enough.
While telling participants not to think might seem like a transparent indicator that manipulation is imminent, LGAT trainers do exactly this, framing the message “stop thinking” in a more intuitively appealing format. Participants are encouraged, with a range of positive-sounding phrases, to not question and to just “participate”. They are urged to be “open to the possibilities” (Fisher M., 1987); to be “coachable” (Hill, 2003; Mahoney, 1998; Prasad, 2012; Scioscia, 2000); to come from their hearts, not their heads (Haaken & Adams, 1983); and told that “understanding is the booby prize” (Brewer, 1975; Finkelstein, et al., 1982; Rhinehart, 2010). In est a rational person was said to be operating in the “Mind State” – the goal was to come from The Self:
“All this is meant to help trainees recognize the difference between ‘coming from the Mind State’ and ‘coming from The Self’. In the Mind State one is protected but deadened; in the state governed by Self one is spontaneous, alive, and creative (Emery 1973)” (Finkelstein, et al., 1982, pp. 535-536).
More directly, est trainers undermined rational thought, elevated experience as the sovereign way of knowing, and told participants that they were wasting their time if they were trying to figure the process out:
“Est also reminds trainees that they live in a world characterized by scientific abstraction; they ‘understand’ life but distrust subjective experience. The presentation ‘Anatomy of Experience’ emphasizes that ‘understanding is the booby prize,’ that understanding is far removed from the authentic experience of living” (Finkelstein, et al., 1982, p. 536).
“If you assholes think you understand what’s going on, you’re living your assholeness to its fullest. And you, Tom, have come into this training with a beautiful theory about what est is – namely, a Zenlike enlightenment program – and you’ve decided to pay no attention to anything that doesn’t fit your beautiful theory. Guess how much you’re going to get out of it, going through life that way?” (Rhinehart, 2010, p. 13).
Referring to Maxwell Maltz, an influence on Erhard, Pressman (1993) states:
“The key, he said, was to focus on ‘experience’ rather than on those things people have learned intellectually. Again, those same terms would later be mirrored in Erhard’s programs, in which trainers and later Forum leaders would harshly ridicule participants for using words such as ‘I think’ or ‘I feel’. Paramount to the est philosophy was the idea of direct experience” (p. 20).
Finkelstein, et al. (1982) confirm that this perspective applies to est:
“Large Group Awareness Trainings rest upon vitalistic or antipositivistic assumptions: a central place is accorded to subjective experience…” (p. 517).
“During the first training day, which will last – with only one meal break and two or three shorter toilet breaks – until the early hours of Sunday morning, several themes are emphasized: choice, agreements, beliefs, and resistance to experience” (p. 519).
“The trainees are told that they fail to truly experience events because of their beliefs, to which they cling obstinately and which are the enemies of direct experience. The trainer argues that belief systems, understanding, and reasonableness isolate the trainees from the direct experience of reality which alone could make their lives work” (p. 520).
“In lectures and dialogues lasting nearly half a day, the trainer argues that trainees’ belief in the reality of the material, consensual world causes them to depreciate as unreal the world of subjective experience. Yet, he argues, subjective experience, the reality of which does not rest on consensual agreement but on the individual’s act of witness, is the most real thing known to the trainees” (p. 521).
Psychology Today journalist, Mark Brewer (1975), who attended est in the early 1970s confirms this devaluing of critical thinking:
“Belief, reason, logic and understanding were shown to be nonexperiential, and these second-hand mental exercises had to be abandoned to get at the meat of life.”
“This rule stems from the est maxim that the training cannot be explained or understood, but only experienced.”
“… while Tony bombarded them hour after hour about how their lives and their thinking were all fucked up, the training would shake, confuse and finally, in a great majority of cases, dislodge the old ideas and behavior patterns. And then in would go the desired est perceptions, and ultimately the notion that you are perfect the way you are.”
“For hours on end, however, out of boredom or real doubt, the trainees poured their resistance to this unthink into the microphones, and each time Tony was on them like a SEAL commando.
‘But don't you have to believe in something to....’
‘Don't give me your goddamn belief system, you dumb motherfucker!’ he roared at one guy, charging off the dais. ‘That doesn't work! That's why your whole life doesn't work. Get rid of all that shit!’”
“And after each ‘sharing’ Tony thanked the offerer and the other 249 ‘assholes’ applauded briskly, as previously instructed, and the sharer generally sat down in confusion. Which was all right, Tony assured them all, because confusion was the first step toward ‘natural knowing,’ the very pinnacle of est-think.”
Pressman (1993) provides further evidence that est denigrated critical thinking:
“For the first several hours of the training, Erhard and his other trainers kept up a non-stop barrage of verbal insults, taunting the participants in the straight-backed chairs, insisting they were all useless human beings who clung to beliefs about themselves and their own lives that were rooted in ridiculous notions about reason, logic, and understanding” (p. 71).
Est advocate Rhinehart (2010) similarly states:
“‘Understanding’ and ‘beliefs,’ I had effectively learned from both Zen and est, are barriers to liberation. ‘Knowledge’ about est would in many cases prove to be a barrier to people’s choosing to experience the est training […] But understanding and information have nothing to do with the essence of est. One can read about the training, just as one can read about LSD, but one shouldn’t then expect to have a dramatic awakening” (p. xiv).
“‘Your lives don’t work,’ he goes on firmly. ‘You have great theories about life, impressive ideas, intelligent belief systems. You are all – every one of you – very reasonable in the way you handle life, and your lives don’t work. You’re assholes. No more, no less. And a world of assholes doesn’t work’” (p. 8).
“BULLSHIT! Your correct, intelligent, reasonable belief systems are directly related to your not getting any cheese. You’d rather be right than be happy…” (p. 18).
“’But we have to have beliefs,’ Jack is saying half an hour later.
‘Who says so?’ replies the trainer.
‘I do, for one.’
‘Well, that’s just one of your beliefs, Jack, and that’s one of the reasons you’re all fucked up’” (p. 22).
“But you’re telling me I’ve got to destroy my belief system and my whole life is based on my intellectual and moral beliefs and on my feeling that I should achieve the most intelligent beliefs. You’ll never get me to give them up. If that’s what the training is about, I’ll never get it” (p. 23).
Rhinehart (2010) repeatedly reveals est’s denigration of reason, and elevation of experience as the ultimate source of knowing:
“‘REASONABLENESS! Yes, REASONABLENESS!’ The trainer is shouting in response to a trainee. He strides now to a blackboard and draws a horizontal line across the middle of the board. At the bottom he writes in big capital letters the word REASONABLENESS.
‘That’s one of the lowest forms of nonexperience,’ he says and writes the word NONEXPERIENCE just under the horizontal line and at the far right of the board.
'And you have been living most of your lives being reasonable and thus you’ve been living in the realm of nonexperience’” (p. 24).
“Above the line is an experienced experience, and the first step above that line, the real first form of experience, involves simply accepting. If you want to get out of the realm of nonexperienced experience, you’ve got to stop being reasonable, stop making decisions, stop hoping, and just accept what is. No more, no less. Accept what is” (p. 24).
LGAT participants are urged to avoid thinking and to instead trust their “natural knowing”. LGATs generate an “experience” (Mystical Manipulation), which participants then interpret as “natural knowing”. Rhinehart (2010) reveals how trainers discourage thinking, and elevate experience:
“Look, when you really know something, with complete certainty and reliability, then beliefs about it, or thinking about it, or feelings about it, are all irrelevant: you just know, so thoroughly, that beliefs and thoughts and feelings are not necessary and words are inadequate…
… In terms of certainty, we only cross the line into something really reliable when we get out of our beliefs and feelings and simply observe. When you go beyond the level of observing, you get to the level of what we call realization – that’s when you have an ‘ah-ha!’ experience…” (p. 30).
“When we reach the highest level of certainty we’re at something we call ‘natural knowing’” (p. 31).
“NO, you asshole! All belief is the least reliable form of knowing. Belief represents uncertainty” (p. 31).
“The highest form of certainty is something you know so thoroughly and so naturally that it’s impossible to put it into words” (pp. 31-32).
“If you would like to live the rest of your life in the mind, go ahead, but if you’d like to experience something I suggest you begin by following instructions. Thank you. [Applause]” (p. 36).
“FUCK YOUR SEMANTICAL DIFFERENCES. I’M talking about REAL differences and it’s only your asshole reasonableness that keeps you from experiencing them” (p. 39).
“I just don’t understand” (p. 42)
“That’s because you’re in your asshole mind. I don’t want you to understand it. Understanding gets the booby prize” (p. 42).
Marc Fisher of the Washington Post (Fisher M., 1987) indicates that Lifespring employed a similar perspective, encouraging participants to suspend judgement and just participate:
“The changes – our breakthrough – will not come through understanding or psychological insight, but through ‘action’ and ‘taking responsibility for your life’.”
“‘You’re analysing,’ Jim reprimands. ‘That doesn’t help anything. If you get a traffic ticket and you understand why, that doesn’t change the fact that you have a ticket. You have to do, not understand’.”
Haaken and Adams (1983), explain that Lifespring frames the message, “stop thinking” as “getting in touch with your feelings” and “getting out of your head”. Additionally, they comment:
“Reasoning and intellectual processes were minimized while affective states were intensified” (p. 273).
By the device of identifying resistances as ‘ways of avoiding,’ participants’ questions, doubts and concerns were labelled as obstacles to personal growth” (p. 274).
“TRAINER: Your problem is that you’re stuck on the level of analysing and beliefs. You’re hung up on having to analyse everything” (p. 276).
“He started with ‘belief,’ stating that this was a low level of human awareness: he then discussed ‘analyzing’ and ‘experimenting.’ He distinguished these low levels of awareness, which presumably maintain the ‘illusion of certainty,’ from ‘experiencing and observing,’ which are unfettered by belief and lead to ‘natural knowing’” (p. 276).
“The trainer could not be questioned nor the content of the training challenged” (p. 279).
“In the Lifespring milieu any evidence of observation became evidence of the need for further ‘growth,’ for getting away from analysis or ‘intellectual trips’” (p. 280).
Reflecting on encounter groups, considered a major influence on LGATs, Haaken and Adams state:
“Many of the encounter groups of the human potential movement have been described as regressive because of their disinhibitive effects and their tendency to stress abandonment to strong emotions while disparaging reasoning and intellect” (Back 1972, p. 79; Schur 1976, pp. 48-53, as cited in Haaken & Adams, 1983, p. 271).
Haaken and Adams (1983) also noted that participants in their Lifespring Basic Training quickly bought into this anti-analytical (“experiential”) philosophy and pressured other participants to do the same. One of the researchers, sociologist Richard Adams, who questioned the trainer’s perspectives, was treated with hostility by participants, who felt that he was undermining their experience:
“This participant, one of the researchers, had been a symbol of resistance throughout the training by asking questions and at times disagreeing with the trainer. During one group exercise, he had been selected by half of the participants as the ‘least attractive’ person in the group. He was offensive to many participants for being ‘too analytical,’ ‘rigid,’ and ‘not feeling enough…’
… When Dick explained his reactions to the events of the morning , various participants shouted out angrily, ‘You're coming from your head, stop analyzing, come from your heart…’” (p. 279).
In addition to devaluing questioning, Lifespring also advocated groundless trust. Participants were urged to suspend judgement and trust the process (and trainer):
“However, what we found particularly troublesome in the various trust exercises presented in Lifespring was the implied indiscriminate nature of trust” (Haaken & Adams, 1983, p. 277).
LGAT participants are also encouraged – using positive terminology – to be brave, take risks, and become “players in the game of life”. Of course, it is often necessary to step out of your comfort zone to achieve something new and exciting, but by encouraging participants to “get involved”, trainers subtly discourage caution and reflection. If there is an agenda to manipulate then it will be more impactful on individuals who are less cautious. Marc Fisher of the Washington Post comments:
“‘You know,’ Jim says – he says ‘y’know’ a lot – ‘we’re all scared of life, scared of taking risks. So we play it safe. We do what’s easy’” (Fisher M. , 1987).
“Lifespring will teach us to be players in the game of life, spectators no more” (Fisher M. , 1987).
Landmark, like LGATs before it, does not explicitly state, “Do not think, and do not challenge what is being said, because it is difficult to manipulate you when you do this”, although these ideas are implicit in the communication between trainers and participants:
“He tells us that we analyze too much, and that ‘it kills the growth process.’ We should stop trying to find reasons for everything, he says” (Martin, 1998).
“Her soothing ribbon of a voice waves in front of me, promising peace if I would just stop trying to analyse” (Martin, 1998).
“She suggests that we think less and act more” (Mahoney, 1998).
“He looked me in the eye and said I had a lot going on. I was trying to interpret too much” (Sagan, n.d.).
“Early on, she basically told people who wanted to figure out what they were going to get from the Forum, how it worked, etc. (like me!), to just stop it… if you try to analyse it, you’ll hamper your success” (Drew, 2010).
“Even if you ask any questions about your particular problem or forum content, it’s most likely that you are yelled at (after inviting you to the mic near the stage) and called ‘you ordinary idiot leading an ordinary sham life’, ‘you jerk you have the courage to think so’, ‘you are disgusting’, ‘it’s your pathetic analytical mind that’s talking’, ‘you arrogant jerk’ etc. Be prepared to hear that and much more than that” (Prasad, 2012).
Describing how those questioning the recruitment emphasis were dealt with, Sarah Fazeli explains:
“In a roller coaster two minutes, Chris lauded the man for his honesty, encouraging others who felt this way to show themselves. Then she went in for the kill, spinning it around so anyone who questioned the program or its tactics was ‘resisting’” (Fazeli, 2012).
Fazeli (2012) explains that when she questioned the processes, she too was attacked:
“I’ve done self-help work. I’m an actor for Christ’s sake! Introspection and being alone on stage is what we do! So I asked questions in response to ‘the work’ and was struck down, humiliated and branded ‘uncoachable’.”