Loaded Words

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Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The power of language, and what we commonly refer to as “loaded words”. What does that term mean? There are many definitions of the word “load”, incuding the most obvious one in this context: “To charge with additional meanings, implications, or emotional import”. This is what most people mean when they say a word or question is loaded. But when we look at the way we use language, another meaning becomes obvious. Words function as weapons, and they can certainly be loaded — in the ballistic sense of inserting an explosive charge.

Loaded words are words with explosive potential, or the potential to wound others. People often use loaded words or ask loaded questions as a way of waging verbal combat. In the world of blogs and comments, this is what “trolls” do. Loaded words and questions are a good way of provoking a desired reaction in others. Sexist, racist, or homophobic terms, polarizing political statements, religious judgements, personal insults, and so on. Words become ammunition, and slinging them accurately, to have the desired impact, is the point. Trolls do this as sport, with no concern for the power of language to inflict lasting damage. Think of it as a kind of target practice, aiming to provoke.

However, it is possible to use loaded words with a constructive intent. Sometimes it is even necessary. For example, in the course of waging an information war against a greedy and destructive organization. One that is doing grievous harm to people while manipulating language to hide their practices. As a scientology watcher, I find myself sometimes using loaded words in my comments and observations. When you enter the arena of belief, psychology, and the promise of spiritual growth, there is a lot of explosive potential. I try to choose my words very carefully, and there are a couple of loaded words that I use deliberately in discussions on scientology. I would like to talk a bit about those words: “cult”, and “evil”. As well as one other word I have come to recognize (thanks to Derek Bloch’s comments) as quite loaded for scientologists, “responsibility”. I am not aiming to establish definitive meanings for these words, but rather just to acknowledge their explosive potential and when it might be used for a positive purpose.

Let’s start with the word I use most often — “cult”. This is an important word for scientology watchers. One that some writers on the subject avoid using, for various reasons. I have heard many persuasive arguments against using this word. Including the simple fact that it is a loaded word, and thus can be a barrier to constructive conversation. The argument that resonates most for me is the idea that it simply reduces the victims of such groups to caricatures — robots or “kool-aid drinkers” who are too mindless to avoid their fate. When people hear that word “cult”, according to this argument, they just stop caring.

I get that. Some people will just turn away from the whole subject because it is so weird and foreign. It seems the natural human impulse is to turn away from what makes us uncomfortable. But I think it is a mistake to deal with this response by avoiding the word. A cult is a very specific type of group dynamic. There are varying definitions, but there is a point where these definitions converge — a cult is generally not a group that people want to join. No one signs up for a group that calls itself a cult. This makes the word itself a very valuable red flag. You can steer people away from a group that is doing harm by calling that group a “cult”. The word itself is ammunition in the battle against abuse by such groups. My primary objective in using the word is to indicate a danger in joining the group in question. If it feels like a bit of a slap, so much the better to get your attention.

Yes, some people are insulted when the term is applied to their group. It is true that it belittles an affinity group or belief system to call it a cult. That is the point. When I apply the word “cult” to a group, I want to reduce it’s value in the perception of others. When I use this word in reference to scientology, I intend to make sure the person I am speaking with does not seriously consider joining up as an option. When I say, “scientology is a cult and a scam”, I am saying “no matter how benign or appealing it seems, stay away”. Perhaps those who are offended by the word will be inspired to look more deeply at the reasons why some feel it is appropriate, or even necessary.

Moving on, let’s talk about a word that I use infrequently and usually with some caution: “evil”. I am generally reluctant to use the word because it is a strong word, but not clearly defined. So it tends to confuse matters more than it clarifies. But I have learned it is helpful to distinguish evil actions and evil intentions. I am reluctant to talk about evil in terms of intentions, or the internal character of a person or thing. I have no problem with talking about evil in terms of actions, or the impact someone has on others.

The word “evil” has certain religious and moral connotations. In religious discussions, the word is used as a statement on the essential nature of a person or thing. Evil things must be avoided or eradicated, because the very substance of them is corrupt or decayed, from a moralistic point of view. In the tribal sense, outsiders and their foreign aesthetics and values are often regarded as evil, because they evoke fear and confusion. In either case, labeling a thing as an evil makes it fair game for elimination, without remorse or hesitation.

So the word can be used to manipulate perception, and control group behavior. Many ugly examples of human behavior in history came to pass when someone sold people on a particular idea of evil, identified that evil in others, and then called for the elimination of that evil. Our sense of what qualifies as evil can be irrational, based in a visceral response to the unknown the identified “outsider”. It’s impact is atavistic, because in our modern conceit we feel we are beyond such simplistic dualities as good and evil. We don’t have practical criteria rooted in our modern lives. This only makes it that much more powerful as a trigger, as leverage in a manipulative process.

To avoid such abuse, a pragmatic approach is very important in confronting evil. A focus on actions and impact, as opposed to intentions or essential nature. It is very easy to make that distinction between intentions and actions as a scientology watcher, when you see accounts from the victims or witnesses of their worst practices. There are really too many horrors to enumerate in the history of scientology, but here’s a story, from Jesse Prince on a.r.s., that can stand for all:

“It was the summer of 1992 and I was desperately trying to leave the Int base any way I could. I was living with others who were also trying to leave. We were all kept in an old house known as the Old Gilman House, or OGH, which also served as the ‘isolation house’ for physically ill Sea Org members.

“A Sea Org member of ten years plus, Diane Morrison, who was approximately 30 years old, had been diagnosed with cancer. Scientology is paranoid about X-rays and gamma rays, and they refused to let Diane get chemotherapy. The two Scientology doctors, one was LRH’s personal physician, prescribed a course of vitamin therapy and auditing to cure Diane’s cancer.

“Finally, one of the doctors told her to let go so she could just die. Diane stopped eating and drinking after that, and she turned into a walking skeleton. She was in constant pain and would moan and scream day and night. Her husband, Shawn Morrison, drove her, screaming and moaning, to his mother’s house where she was laid under an air conditioner. Diane died within two days. She did not die of cancer. She died of starvation. Shawn was upset because he had to miss post time to drive Diane to his mother’s house.” {-source here}

Reading that, it becomes clear that what matters is not the beliefs or group identity of the people involved, but rather their actions. No one would argue that this is a tale of good deeds done by a good group of people. Most people would agree that the doctor, especially, did an evil thing. Believing in scientology and embracing the “tech” of LRH is not evil. But encouraging someone to kill themselves because they can’t be cured with vitamins, in order to preserve your beliefs; that is evil. A woman with potentially treatable cancer dying of starvation because she was told it was her only salvation — that is evil.

Whatever you believe, if you are inflicting suffering on others, depriving them of their well-being, sowing the seeds of this behavior in others and/or providing the means for them to do it, that is the cause for concern. These are the concrete elements of evil. The word is useful, for the purpose of designating as a society when one has crossed the boundary from narcissism to actively harming others. Be selfish or foolish in any way you must, but not at the expense of the life and liberty of others. If you cross that line, we as a society have a responsibility to stop you.

Which brings me to the final word I want to discuss today: responsibility. If you are not familiar with Derek Bloch’s story, you should be. He is an ex-sea org member, abandoned to the cult by his parents when he was a child. Shunned by most everyone he knew and loved in the cult when he told the truth about himself and his experience. If you have any doubt that the COS deserves the label of an evil cult, Derek’s story will convince you. But he got out, and has become an eloquent and powerful voice testifying to the impact of LRH’s tech on the mind and heart of a human being.

I have learned a lot from him, and in particular, I have learned that for scientologists, “responsibility” is a very loaded word. It is a word that is often used as a weapon, as a way to push your buttons attached to being a “good scientologist”, or the idealism that lead you to embrace the cult in the first place. Ethics correction often involves being verbally harangued about your responsibility, in a way that is designed to lead you to capitulate to the demands being made on you. Admit your crimes! Report on your loved ones! Give us the money! Once you recognize that you are responsible for your own problems, and for suppressing others, and for not clearing the planet, you have lost your sense of self and it is very easy for others to drive you to do things you otherwise would not.

Of course, it is not only scientologists that are vulnerable to this word. Responsibility is a confusing subject for most people, and another easy lever for manipulation. Madison avenue understands this, and many advertisements targeting parents will play on this weakness: “responsible parents use our product/service, why don’t you?” Politicians often exploit our desire to evade responsibility, by offering scapegoats or volunteering to run things for us. An effective tactic, because the word can be a heavy weight on the psyche, one we would rather not be reminded of.

Again, a pragmatic approach, as opposed to a moralistic one, is helpful. When responsibility is a moral burden, one that reveals the flaws in your character or judgement that you must answer for, it is an uncomfortable thing to be avoided. People will go a long way to avoid answering for actions of which they feel ashamed. But when responsibility is literally about the ability to respond, to make a difference or mitigate suffering or harm, it is empowering and desirable. Confronting others or ourselves on matters of responsibility should be about what we have done, and can do about a situation. This approach is the one most likely to motivate others to act in ways that make a positive difference. Isn’t that the point?

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Interesting sources:

on cults

Excellent panel discussion on BBC Big Question: Religion or Cult?

Steve Hassan mind control info site

Cult definition on Wikipedia

on evil:

Wikipedia definition of evil

General thoughts on the subject

From a criminal-case perspective

On the power of language:

Korzybski on language and perception

Bob Wilson on language and hypnosis

A very old Bob Wilson on language and liberation

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7 thoughts on “Loaded Words

  1. You are a luscious writer.

    A cult is a group that uses social coercion to get you to work against your own self-interests.

    Evil does not exist outside of our own minds. It is a mental construct, based on emotion, that has a corrosive effect on an individual when he assigns it to too many things in his experience, and/or when what he assigns this construct to dominates too much of his thought.

    I use loaded words because I want people to feel something when they read what I write. I am very manipulative in that way.

    Did I tell you that you are a luscious writer?

    Alanzo

    • Aww thanks, Alanzo! I’m a big fan of your writing too.

      You make some good points. I agree that evil is a mental construct, and it is not helpful to think in those terms much. I think either/or polarities, in general, function more as blinders than anything else. It’s the subtleties in between that interest me…

  2. You know that I always enjoy your posts, and mentioning our cutie Derek Bloch is sure to garner the attention of all of us who love him dearly.

    As you know, Scientologists try to dilute the word “cult” by claiming that all religions are cults, but if you ask most people in the real world, they have a very clear definition of the term and don’t associate Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc. with being cult members, but do indeed consider Scientologists to be part of a cult, not a church.

    Do you know if anyone at the Rodeo site has initiated doing something for Derek for Christmas? He is still in need of things for his apartment, as well as new clothing essentials, non-perishable food, cookware, etc. and I am hoping we can contribute to making his Christmas a merry one this year.

    This wonderful young man has had such a difficult journey and I would love for him to have a happy Christmas. Do you know of anything being organized or perhaps know how to forward gift cards, items, etc. to him?

    I keep him in my prayers, as well as his family, every day, but I know that God has granted us loving hearts to share the joy of Christmas
    with others, too and Derek is certainly someone who deserves some Christmas joy and love from his extended underground bunker family!

    Hopefully someone will know how to forward things to him. I’ll wait to hear suggestions on how to accomplish this in the best way, since the Rodeo might already have something in the works.

    I hope you and your family have a lovely Thanksgiving!

    Cheers!

    MWM

    • Hi Midwest Mom. Thanks for your good wishes for the holiday, I sincerely wish you and your family a full and happy Thanksgiving too!

      Your idea for Derek is a good one. I don’t know what’s up at the Rodeo group, but I’ll look into it. Perhaps a gift registry at Target or something similar could be set up that folks could pitch in to. Derek definitely deserves some holiday blessings, and if his mom isn’t there, then we Underground moms will gladly help any way we can, yes?

      • I agree, C.V.. The Underground Moms, Dads, Aunties and Uncles, Grandma’s and Grandpa’s can surely provide some Christmas blessings for our Derek!

        I hope there is someone who lives close by to him who can visit him and can help him figure out what would work best in the space he has. (For instance, does he have a dresser for clothes? Does he have enough lamps? Towels, sheets, etc

        If I lived near him, I would be scouting out furniture and other items from thrift stores which are in great condition. I bought my eldest son a chrome based Steelcase couch (very “Mad Men” mid-century modern bachelor style) for his dorm room for $12.50 + tax at Goodwill and I found the same couch (different color) online for $1, 495 + tax and shipping cost!
        http://shahdeepinternational.com/metroretro/index.php/seating/vintage-mid-century-modern-steelcase-sofa-with-brushed-chrome-mr10683.html

        Hopefully someone in the L.A. area can meet with him and get the ball rolling!

        🙂 MWM

  3. Hello CV,

    The whole loaded words issue is certainly a hot one. Whether you use words such as “cult” and “evil” rather depends on the audience you want to reach. If you are trying to engage people who don’t know much about organisations such as “Scientology”, then I think you risk switching them off.

    The trouble with words such as “cult” and “evil” is they generate more heat than light: they prejudge the issue. Surely better to describe what an organisation does and let people draw their own conclusions. (I try to avoid the word “cult” in direct reference to Scientology, though I do refer to “anti-cult groups” for example, as a kind of useful shorthand.)

    I take your point about the beliefs of a group not mattering so much as their actions: when prosecutors are looking at what charges to bring against an organisation, they would be well advised to take that approach.

    On the other hand, deed and creed cannot be completely separated. Johannes Aagard, the Danish theologian and founder of the Dialog Center, argued this forcefully. The following is from the home page of Dialog Center International:

    “DCI believes you cannot really understand the “implications” of involvement with a particular NRM – “deeds” without looking at the “creeds.” The creeds are the key that help us unlock and understand the effects that flow from the world views and belief systems which are spawned by them.”

    http://www.dc-international.org/

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