Ideological totalism is a phenomenon about which every Leftist should be informed, so that we can guard against it.
In 1961, Psychologist Robert Jay Lifton published Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Based on in-depth interviews with survivors of Chinese re-education camps, Lifton identified eight psychological themes involved in ideological totalism:
1) Milieu control. True believers long to create an environment “containing no more and no less” than their “truth.”
2) Mystical manipulation. The ideology is a higher purpose in itself, and its leaders chosen by History to lead the way towards Truth. All must trust in and obey the ideology and its leaders.
3) Demand for purity. All “taints” must be removed and “anything done to anyone” in the name of attaining purity is excusable, even moral - including the continual denouncement of the impure. The ideology creates a narrow, suffocating world of guilt and shame, in which one must perpetually strive for perfection and expect humiliation for failing to achieve it.
4) Cult of confession. Confession is an act of self-surrender to the group; individuals must retain no intellectual/emotional/social privacy. Confession could be an opportunity for catharsis, but through repetition becomes a performance, often a “histrionic public display.” It becomes impossible to maintain a healthy balance between self-worth and humility. Furthermore, the perpetual confession becomes a means of judging others (“the more I accuse myself, the more I have the right to judge you.”)
5) Sacred science. The ideology simultaneously “transcends ordinary concerns of logic” and claims scientific truth. (Thus any criticism becomes “unscientific," backward as well as selfish and morally wrong.) Such a worldview can provide comfort via the excuse to avoid more rigorous kinds of knowledge-seeking.
6) Loading the language. Thought-terminating clichés reduce large, complex issues to brief, simple, definitive-sounding phrases that are easy to remember and repeat. Totalist language is repetitious, jargony, and relentlessly judgmental. Linguistic deprivation stifles critical thought.
7) Doctrine over person. Reality is constructed as a morality play with stock characters of good and evil experiencing abstract emotions. This myth replaces individual experience. Any individual’s unique nature/potential must be molded to fit the ideology. The past must be re-written. The ideology is what is valid and therefore true.
8) Dispensing of existence. The ideology is clear about who has the right to exist and who does not. Outsiders are less than human. Insiders can also become less than human if “contaminated” by affiliation with outsiders. Thus, individuals must fear ideological annihilation. “I believe/obey, therefore I am.”
Ideological totalism is not confined to communist China, of course. Based on his observations of the Soviet police, German Nazis and Japanese Kempeitai, George Orwell wrote of the same tendencies in his novel 1984, constructing a chilling dystopia of Thought Police, Newspeak and Doublethink. We saw a lesser strain of Leftist totalism in the Political Correctness of the 1990s, and we are seeing it again in the natural outgrowth of hyper-individualist, power-blind approaches to “diversity”: identity politics.
In this blog you will have seen many examples of transgender identity politickers striving for a political environment wherein no dissent is tolerated. "Female penis" is "the right side of history." In-group members are expected to engage in endless performative privilege-checking, “calling out” and public renunciations. Brainsex is the sacred science. Once a male person claims femaleness, his male history is erased and replaced with a stock “always female” narrative; meanwhile actual female people are no longer oppressed via sexism. Deniers of this narrative are evil sub-humans (TERFs) against whom every retaliatory tactic is justified.
Furthermore, the language of transgender identity politics is scarily effective in its aim of preventing critical thought. Countless articles exploit the multiple meanings of the word “gender” – using it to denote sex category, sex stereotype, and brainsex interchangeably in order to confuse the issue and present feminist gender analysis as backwards/conservative. Thought-terminating clichés such as “transwomen are women” are used as conversation-ending sledgehammers. Words once used to denote sex categories are emptied of any shared meaning, so that male people are no longer excluded from female spaces because they are male, but because they are “trans.” And people who demand everyone around them must lie to them about their biological sex are presented as “accepting and celebrating their true selves.”
Back to Lifton: He makes the important point that individuals with personal histories of abuse and/or neglect and those who suffer from "extreme crises of identity" are most susceptible to ideological totalism, because the sense of total belonging that comes from surrendering all doubt and (existentially terrifying) freedom to the "sacred science" can make them feel safe and even powerful, often for the very first time. On the Left, we care about the abused and excluded, so it can feel cruel to question an ideology that provides them comfort. Unfortunately, an all-or-nothing, hyper-emotional obedience to extremist ideology necessarily leads to active hostility toward non-believers, who must then respond to totalists - often with totalist tendencies of their own. Nothing good comes from this.
Here's the thing, though: if most Leftists didn't believe in brainsex, this nonsense wouldn't get past them. Transgender identity politics give Leftists the excuse -pity for transsexual people- to indulge in misogyny and call it progressive. (And yes it is pity. It is not respectful to insist that the reality of someone's life and body must be papered over with magical thinking.)
Next page: The misogyny of the Left.