Mythologising the “Christian” West — Book Review: ‘The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise’

March 29, 2023

This review is probably about 15 years late, but I’ll do it anyway.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (2006) by Dario Fernandez-Morera, was quite popular in the skeptic and atheist network some years ago. It was the one book to cite on comment forums if the topic of Muslim Spain ever came up. It was seen as a serious debunking of the notion that medieval Spain under Islamic rule was a ‘golden age of peace and tolerance’.

I had bought the audiobook but soon gave up on it, finding it ill-tempered and somehow unbalanced. Recently I returned to it, this time with a bit more background knowledge of the period in question. My initial impression is more than confirmed. I find the book dreadfully skewed, often factually wrong, and profoundly limited in its perspective. It is better seen as a crass and often laughable piece of propaganda. He is not concerned with the actual history at all, rather with promoting a particular view of “the West”, and defending the Catholic Church as a historical institution. The author also fails to debunk a strawman he himself set up.

As the background is not well known, I’ve tried to write this review as a kind of introduction to the history and the issues surrounding it.

Some Background

Is “the West” also inevitably “the Christian West”?

The fact that a part of western Europe was under Islamic rule for about 800 years (roughly from 711 to 1492) is easily overlooked. It’s not taught much in western schools, though most will have heard of the Inquisition and the reconquest. The mass expulsions of Muslims, Jews and even unwanted Christians, and the systematic attempts to obliterate all trace of the Muslim (and Jewish) presence in Spain, is seldom acknowledged. If it is, it’s usually only as background to the triumphs of the reconquest.

Occasionally, more sympathetic coverage attempts to redress this oversight. Unfortunately these often display a tendency to romanticise the Islamic period as exotic rather than as a distinctive European culture. It still fails to be seen as an integral part of European history. “The Moors”, as they are often pointlessly labeled, are presented as if they belonged to a single monolithic entity, which suddenly invaded, stayed a while, were very exotic, and then got conquered and disappeared.

The Controversy

What moved Dario Fernandez-Morera to write The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise was his perception that Spain’s Muslim history has come to be wrongly presented as a golden age of peace and tolerance.

The main culprit, according to Fernandez-Morera, is a book published in 2002: Maria Rosa Menocal’s Ornament of the World. This bestselling book is a celebration of the culture that arose under Islamic rule, (in particular the Umayyad period from the 8th to the 11th centuries).

Fernandez-Morera claims this book unleashed a tsunami of political correctness that swamped both academia and public discourse. Now no one dares to question this idyllic view of Muslim Spain for fear of being called a bigot. No one that is, except Fernandez-Morera, the lone outspoken dissenter.

Nearly 20 years later Fernandez-Morera’s fans can still be encountered on comment forums reflexively stating that “there was no Andalusian golden age!!!”, at the mere mention of Muslim rule in Spain — regardless of whether or not anyone had implied there had been.

Fernandez-Morera implies that Menocal credits the Umayyad rulers (and in effect the religion of Islam itself) with creating a peaceful and tolerant society more or less from the top down. He thinks therefore, that recounting violent actions and repression of Christians by Umayyad rulers counts as a rebuttal. But this portrayal of Menocal’s book is quite inaccurate. The hint is in her subtitle: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Menocal’s focus is largely on the culture that emerged slowly over several centuries through everyday contact among its diverse and often conflicting groups. The book is not without faults, but it vividly portrays the interactions amongst a diverse and politically volatile mix of people in Umayyad society.

Fernandez-Morera seems greatly concerned that its readers might draw an unrealistically positive impression of Islam from Menocal’s book. He starts off by criticising the writer of the Foreword, Harold Bloom, for asserting that Muslim rule in Andalusia offers a model for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. This of course is clearly a stupid idea and Bloom should be roundly criticised for it — if he had in fact said it. Which he didn’t. I don’t know where Fernandez-Morera got the idea that he did.

Bloom does however say that Menocal’s book “may to some degree present an idealization”, and faults her for blaming a pogrom in Granada “entirely on fundamentalist Berbers”. Bloom finds this “not entirely convincing”.

It is worth noting that Fernandez-Morera repeatedly claims that no one dares challenge Menocal’s narrative, yet that’s a direct challenge right there in the Foreword of her own book. Menocal herself was quite happy for her readers to encounter such criticism before they have even read a word she wrote. (Fernandez-Morera, incidentally, didn’t voice any opinion at all about the Granada pogrom, because he didn’t mention it — or any other persecution of Jews whatsoever. More on that later.)

The Whole of Western Civilisation Rescued

Anyone who thinks that something valuable was destroyed with the reconquest, should consider the alternative! Everything we hold dear in the West would never have even existed at all, had the Muslim armies prevailed at the Battle of Tours in 732.

Historians differ considerably in their estimation of the importance of this battle. Some agree it prevented the Muslim take over of Europe, others argue that the supply lines of the Muslim armies were already overstretched, and that there was no plan or desire by Muslim leaders to keep rolling through Europe anyway. But Fernandez-Morera sees no controversy. He knows exactly what would have happened. Civilisation itself would have been prevented from arising.

Such ahistorical scaremongering is ridiculous on many counts, but I’ll focus one of them. His long list of the unique joys of Western civilisation concludes with the assertion that had the Muslims won at Tours, there would have been no music —

“…no rock & roll, no jazz.”

But the Umayyads — whose armies were doing the fighting — never banned music. Music was so much a part of Muslim society under the Umayyads that a Christian priest visiting Malaga in the early 1000s is on record complaining bitterly about the rowdy music coming from his Muslim neighbours all night.

Moreover, the guitar is itself largely derived from the Arabian oud — which was itself introduced for the first time into Europe around 790, when a celebrated Arab musician, Ziryab, brought it to al-Andalus. It was highly popular in the Umayyad courts. One could just as easily say that without the oud, there would have been no electric guitar, and therefore no rock & roll and no jazz either. And incidentally, Ziryab, also introduced the first deodorants. Without him, Europe today would be engulfed in a fog of body odour.

Fernandez-Morera’s ignorance is telling here. For him, Muslim = anti-music. But Andalusi classical music originating from that time is still well known.

The “thoroughly Romanized” Visigoths

Each time Fernandez-Morera mentions those who inhabited the peninsula prior the Muslim invasion, he refers only to the Visigoths. He doesn’t say where they came from or how they got there. In fact, they more or less invaded and settled there, along with half a dozen other invader/settler groups. It was the Visigoths though who gained dominance and established a kingdom in the late 5th century. He treats them, however, as if they were the only group, and were the rightful owners in perpetuity.

He only gives one single piece of information about the. A single adjective, which he repeats and repeats and repeats, like a political slogan, every single time he mentions the Visigoths. They were “thoroughly Romanized”.

What he means by this is that they were Catholic.

The picture, it seems, that he wants to emerge is of a unified Catholic kingdom overrun by Muslims, but which ultimately managed to reclaim its stolen territory in the reconquest.

The “thoroughly Romanized” Visigoths were indeed Catholic — officially. Their king converted to Catholicism in 580, and ordered the entire kingdom to covert too. Until then the Visigoths had been mostly Arian Christians (rejecting the divinity of Christ). Rebellions by Arians were brutally put down. Anyone who did not become “thoroughly Romanized” during the intervening hundred years or so before the Muslim invasion is simply excluded from Fernandez-Morera’s narrative.

This odd and repeated insistence on “thorough Romanization” is necessary because it’s the Visigoths who put the “re” in reconquest. Their catholicism establishes the continuity between Spain’s pre- and post-Islamic periods. There was certainly historical continuity between the Visigoths and the reconquest, but an awful lot of history must be excluded to construct such a simplistic narrative as Fernandez-Morera does. Muslims on the other hand are thereby equated merely with foreign invading armies, rather than generation upon generation of citizens of their own country.

Cultural Cannibalism

This double standard gets worse. Having simply declared the entire population who lived under the Visigoths to have suddenly become “thoroughly Romanized”, Fernandez-Morera openly accuses the Muslims of failing to develop any unique native culture themselves — over eight centuries.

Instead, they merely “cannibalized” elements of Roman, Greek, and Visigoth culture. Again, he repeats the term “cannibalization” over and over again for any case at all where cultural influences or borrowings by Muslims are mentioned. The Visigoths of course didn’t cannibalise Roman culture, nor did the Romans cannibalise Christianity. But when Muslims do it, it’s cannibalisation.

His favourite example of cannibalisation is the Great Mosque of Cordoba, built in 785. He says it was built on the ruins of a Visigothic church, which it probably wasn’t.

It probably was, however, indeed built on the ruins of some kind of Christian building. And while this building was indeed demolished by the emir who built the mosque, the emir also bought the building from the Christians and paid them for it before demolishing it. Fernandez-Morera is too busy repeating the word “cannibalize” to acknowledge this fact.

The mosque is still standing, and is one of the most extraordinary buildings in Europe.

After the Christians conquered Cordoba, it was used as a church, with only minor alterations. But in 1523 Charles V agreed to allow the center of it to be demolished and a cathedral inserted into the middle of it. When Charles finally saw the building for the first time, he was reportedly horrified. “You have destroyed something unique to build something common place”, he supposedly said. Apocryphal or not, the judgement is indisputable.

I recall my first visit — walking through the prayer hall utterly gobsmacked and humbled, and then stumbling onto the cathedral jarringly stuck in there. I had to choke back tears. And still do on each yearly visit.

Fernandez-Morera otherwise never mentions any case of Christians destroying Muslim buildings, but he makes an exception here. This act of destruction was not “cannibalization”. Instead he gleefully calls it “poetic justice”.

According to him, the Muslims who built the Mosque “cannibalized” the Greek-style marble columns (which the Visigoths of course hadn’t cannibalized — in fact Fernandez-Morera baptises them “Greco-Roman” in this instance). And the Muslims “cannibalized” the Roman use of double arches (used in Roman aqueducts). Worst of all, they “cannibalized” the distinctive Visigothic horse-shoe arch. Fernandez-Morera accuses Menocal and her ilk of covering up this “cannibalzation” of the precious Visigothic horse-shoe arch and presenting it to the world as Islamic.

He is very excited about this horse-shoe arch. He thinks he’s discovered a major cover up and won’t shut up about it. He even seems to think he discovered the Visigothic origin of the arch himself.

He is right that Menocal doesn’t mention his beloved Visigothic horse-shoe arch — in her book on social history. But she does mention it in another book she wrote on Islamic, Christian and Jewish architecture in Spain. (It’s on page 18.) Tour guides in Cordoba routinely mention the Visigothic origin of the arch in passing. This random fellow on You Tube, (apparently a Muslim celebrating Muslim culture), mentions it in passing too, quite happily.

Not for the only time, Fernandez-Morera reveals how unfamiliar he is with the subject matter.

Academics Who Stand with Fernandez-Morera (according to Fernandez-Morera)

Fernandez-Morera objects to scholars using the term ‘Iberian Peninsula’, which he sees as an attempt to cover up the inherently Christian nature of Hispania, as the Roman colonisers called it (before they were Christian, incidentally, but what the hey).

He also objects to scholars using CE to refer to historical dates instead of AD. He sees this as a deliberate denial of Jesus Christ. Worse still, he says, are scholars who use the Muslim calendar (AH) to refer to historical events — not only denying Jesus, but referencing Muhammed. He oddly seems unaware that nearly all of the documents from that period were written in Arabic and use the Muslim calendar. Scholars are simply making cross-referencing easier and usually provide both CE and AH dates. It’s not an irruption of fanatical Islam into academia as he thinks it is.

Equally bizarre is at least one entry on his list of ‘brave historians’ who stand with him in not buying into the wave of pro-Muslim political correctness he thinks is engulfing academia. I confess I haven’t read especially widely on this period, but I did recognise one of the names, Maribel Fierro, whose work I have read closely.

Her inclusion on his list reveals how little research Fernandez-Morera did for his book. Fierro’s special field is not the Umayyads (the subject of Menocal’s book), but rather the Almohads. This fanatical and militaristic movement came to power more than 100 years after the Umayyads fell, and 200 after their cultural high point.

The Almohads were so fanatical that they even tried to forcibly convert other Muslims to their sect. They banned Islamic theology, and declared their predecessors, the equally fanatical and militaristic Almoravids, to be even greater enemies than Christians. No one, not even their greatest fans, have ever called their reign a golden age of tolerance!

Yet Fernandez-Morera thinks that Fierro’s steadfast scholarly account of the Almohad revolution debunks myths about the Umayyads.

Conflating the Umayyads with the Almohads is like conflating the Ottoman Empire with ISIS. This is the same guy who wanted to shrink the Muslim presence in Spain from eight centuries down to less than five. Yet here he doesn’t even realise he’s stretching the Umayyad rule by an extra century or two.

Furthermore, Fierro has in fact commented on Christian perceptions of the Almohads. She says that although Christian (and western) philosophers acknowledge that the great philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) was an Andalusian Muslim, they rarely admit that he was also a high ranking member of the Almohad elite.

Fernandez-Morera could have admitted that the great Catholic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, “cannibalized” Averroes’ great commentaries on Aristotle, which he kept open on his desk while writing the Summa Theologica. Instead, he says nothing about it. He could also have noted that the first translations of the Greeks from Arabic into Latin were carried out in Christian Toledo, by Jews and Christians who had been expelled by the Almohads. He chooses, however, to avoid the subject of expulsions altogether for some reason.

He does mention the transmission of Greek philosophy to Western Europe via translations from the Arabic, but only only to say the transmission was superfluous. The West later got hold of the Greek originals anyway, so the debt is expunged, he argues.

Maribel Fierro, incidentally, also once commented that she found the hype around the Andalusian convivencia a bit exaggerated. She suggested that Syria during the translation movement would be a better example of such living together of inter-religious harmony. Not really the kind of knock-down Fernandez-Morera would hope for.

(And, of course, she also uses both CE and AH, like all her colleagues.)

The Oppression of Christians — by other Christians

Fernandez-Morera goes to great lengths to recount the of oppression of Christians at the hands of Muslims. But he never acknowledges the oppression of Spanish Christians by numerous Popes and Christian leaders. Of course, that’s not the subject of his book, but he should have noted it at least in passing, given the amount of time he devoted to oppression by Muslims.

The Visigoths had, as already noted, long been Arians before their forced conversion. After the Umayyad invasion in 711, Christians were allowed to continue practicing their religion — Arian or Catholic. Christian soldiers, when fighting alongside Muslims in Umayyad armies, were allowed to practice their faith, even while on campaigns (usually against neighbouring Christian lands).

The unique Visigothic liturgy survived for centuries under Umayyad rule, but was declared heretical by the Church and ruthlessly suppressed.

The same thing happened to the theology of Adoptionism, the view that Jesus was not literally the son of God but rather the adopted son. No doubt it had its origins in Arianism, but close contact with Muslims is also likely to have played a role in inserting a bit of common sense into the bizarre theology enforced by the popes. Unsurprisingly Adoptionism was unpopular with Rome and was quickly snuffed out.

One case where Fernandez-Morera correctly identifies Muslims as the culprits for poor treatment of a Christian is the case of Ibn Hafsun. After his death, the corpse of this “Christian rebel” was disinterred by the Umayyads and mutilated, and crucified outside the gates of Cordoba. Fernandez-Morera mentions this grotesque treatment at least three times. What he doesn’t say though is why the Umayyads were angry with him. He implies it was because he converted to Christianity and “rebelled” in some minor fashion. In fact, Ibn Hafsun had raised a large army and fought a highly damaging war against the Umayyads over several decades.

A few centuries later during the expulsions, those who like Ibn Hafsun had converted from Islam to Christianity were deemed by the Catholic rulers to be of impure blood and expelled. Fernandez-Morera doesn’t acknowledge this, nor does he breathe a word about the expulsions. But he takes the time to repeatedly bring up a mutilated corpse.

The Jews (of course)

By some astonishing coincidence, each time Jews appear in Fernandez-Morera’s narrative, it’s as collaborators with the Muslims.

To be fair, the Jews do seem to have supported the invading Muslims in 711, exactly as Fernandez-Morera says. What he doesn’t say though is why they did. The Jews had lived happily enough under Visigothic rule as long as they remained Arians. When the king suddenly converted to Catholicism however, the severe persecution and oppression of Jews began. It need be no surprise that the invading Muslims were greeted as liberators, because for Jews (and for their allies, the remaining Arians) they were indeed liberators.

As elsewhere in Europe, Catholicism was used by the ruler as a way of enforcing unity on disparate groups and stamping out dissent. Certainly the Visigothic king used it as such. But it is also worth noting perhaps, that absolutely any “thoroughly Romanized” Christian group might also be rather keen to blame the death of Jesus on “the Jews”, rather than on those who did in fact execute him — namely the Romans.

Concluding Thoughts

The biggest problem I have with Fernandez-Morera’s work is his lack of discrimination.

He conflates the Umayyads with the Almohads, whom he more or less conflates with the Taliban, which he then conflates with the whole Muslim world. He presents all Christians historically in the Iberian Peninsula as Catholic. He presents any appreciation at all of the society under the Umayyads as a capitulation to radical Islam. And completely excludes from his narrative one of the most heinous crimes of the last 500 years in history, namely the expulsion of Muslims, Jews and unwanted Christians from Spain.

As for Maria Rosa Menocal’s book, I found it at times fawning and oddly partisan in some historical controversies (like who the “rightful” caliph might be, for example). She does seem a little too keen for some kind of vague lesson about religious tolerance to be learned from the example of al-Andalus. But that’s not the main purpose of her book, nor the most important and valuable thing to be drawn from it. To quote from a review by Christopher Hitchens:

“It is no exaggeration to say that what we presumptuously call ‘Western’ culture is owed in large measure to the Andalusian enlightenment… The book partly restores to us a world we have lost.”


Sam Harris Thinks He’s Going to Meet Aliens

March 5, 2023

I think we’ve all experienced this kind of thing at some time: You’re surrounded by people who believe that “X” is true, but you know that “X” is false. What do you do? Speak out and make enemies? Tactfully hint that you’ve noticed some difficulties with “X”? Or stay silent?

I’ve tried all three. Staying silent can be truly horrible. Being diplomatic is tricky. Speaking out can be scary, but it’s easier if there’s at least one other voice agreeing with you. And it’s great if that other voice is articulate and well informed.

It was in this kind of context that I viewed the so called new atheist movement in the early 2000s. I appreciated the fact that atheists were prepared to tackle religion despite the hatred and condemnation they would inevitably provoke. Likewise, I accepted that they might sometimes look like bigots or trolls, but if a culture has developed a wall of denial around a certain set of beliefs, it might be necessary to use harsh language to break through it and open up space for discussion.

I trusted, however, that although some prominent atheists occasionally made me wince, they were sincerely promoting science, reason, and human rights. I assumed they were not merely addicted to grabbing attention by finding a bunch of people who believe “X” and taunting them about being wrong.

I also assumed that once the new territory for discourse had been opened up, the discussion could move on to more tricky topics. How, for example, to maintain one’s culture and personal identity in the face of ever-advancing scientific knowledge? How to retain the value of ritual and mythology without losing touch with science?

Instead of that, unfortunately, it seems most of those who rose to prominence as atheists have simply moved on to different variations of the “X” is wrong and I am right scenario. Whatever the case, I think it would’ve been better for everyone if a few of those fellows had simply said their piece as atheists and just got off stage.

But maybe I’m wrong on this when it comes to Sam Harris. Maybe he’s really not just a professional concern troll who’s addicted to going up to a group of people who believe “X” and trying to needle them into submission with his supposedly rational takes. Maybe he is indeed just a particularly smart person whose freely roving mind will always make him uniquely right in a world of wrong people.

So tell us Dr Harris, who is the latest group of people who believe “X” and need to be righted?

It’s scientific skeptics.

They (or we, if I’m allowed to count myself in), will soon be faced with a humiliating climb down.

Why? Because….. Well…… Ummm….. “Someone” has reached out to Dr Harris and assured him that….

“I’m going to be on a Zoom call with former heads of the CIA and Office of Naval Research and people whose bona fides are very easy to track…”

Okay, so this must be big…. It is big… It’s

“…either the most alarming or the most interesting thing in the world…”

Okay, I apologise for the dramatics. The reader has already seen the title of this blogpost and probably didn’t believe it, but it’s true. It’s aliens.

Yes, aliens. Aliens.

Dr Sam Harris, well known atheist (though he has problems with the term atheist), former member of the atheist “Four Horsemen” group (though he saw himself as the outsider among them), New Atheist (though he rejected the term New Atheist), member of the Intellectual Dark Web (though he later withdrew his membership), is announcing the imminent arrival of aliens.

Hang on a minute, why the hell would the CIA want to share top secret information with a droob like Sam Harris? Well, it’s because…

“…they’re concerned about the messaging around all of this to the public…”

They want to “dampen down panic” by introducing this stunning truth slowly and sensitively to the world…. So they chose Sam Harris, a man famous for his communicative skills and ability to deftly weave a palatable narrative out of potentially divisive issues. Of course they did.

And that’s why Sam is suddenly getting in the face of skeptics. Because we have been laughing at people who claimed they’d been abducted by aliens. Well soon the abductees will be proven right so we’ll have to apologise for “laughing at them for the last 50 years”.

Never mind the fact that alien abductions were in fact investigated seriously, even rather sensitively at times, by skeptics. Carl Sagan for example wrote about it, and even wrote a book and film about possible contact with aliens. (The film Contact is well worth seeing.)

I also find it interesting that Harris leaps to the utterly illogical conclusion that if his particular aliens are real, then the abductions 50 years ago must have been real too. It’s also worth noting that Harris is only concerned with the embarrassment of having to admit being wrong about something.

“…It’s not a representation of the facts that will give scientific skeptics any comfort. We’re faced with the prospect of having to apologise to the people we’ve been laughing at for the last fifty years who have been alleging that they’ve been abducted or that cattle have been anally probed…”

Oh yeh, the probing of cattle posteriors by aliens will also be proven real.

And the technology!

“It sounds like the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Pentagon are very likely to say to Congress at some point in the not-too-distant future that we have evidence that there is technology flying around here that seems like it can’t possibly be of human origin.”

And while the Pentagon is trying to convince the government, Sam Harris will be tasked with breaking the news to the public.

“Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that kind of disclosure. That is such a powerfully strange circumstance to be in, right?”

Sam hasn’t actually spoken to anyone from the CIA or the Pentagon yet. What he does have though is a trusted source, a colleague, who has assured him that he will be contacted by them soon. According to Rebecca Watson, this colleague is probably Eric Weinstein, the right wing loon who founded the aforementioned Intellectual Dark Web. At least one other member of that group, Joe Rogan, also knows about it because Eric went on his show to tell him — and tens of millions of listeners — about the aliens.

Weinstein has apparently been waiting for three years — yes, three years — for the phone call inviting him to the secret location where the alien technology is sequestered. He keeps a bag packed for the great day. But for some reason they still haven’t called.

How will this end? Is an announcement from the US government imminent? Or maybe the announcement will have to wait until after the next election when a more suitably-minded president comes to power?

Or maybe poor Eric has been pranked, and then unwittingly pranked Sam, who, despite his vast intellect and personal integrity swallowed it whole and wants to get in early for the potential gloating rights.

Cleverly though, Dr Harris has covered both possibilities with the usual surreptitious disclaimer to cover his ass:

“This is probably premature to even talk about, but…”

To find out more about atheism and the value of reason and science, visit… oh hang on the link has gone dead…


The Emperor’s New Corpse: an odd tale of political intrigue from Medieval Spain

August 28, 2022

This is intended to be a fairly lighthearted blogpost about a sequence of historical events that vividly illustrate the stupidity of greed, the weakness of power, and the unpredictable course of history. It takes place in Medieval Spain during Muslim rule, and involves Muslims, Christians and Jews. It is not, however, intended to surreptitiously make any kind of general point about any of these particular religious groups or cultures. It is only written for historical interest, and maybe a few laughs about human nature.

At the beginning of the 11th century, the once resplendent and widely celebrated Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba suddenly descended into chaos. Chaos then turned into slapstick, with at one point, three caliphs, two of whom were fighting each other, and one who was pretending to be dead.

This is their story…..

After flourishing for a couple of centuries in southern Spain, and even outclassing Baghdad as a cultural center, things started to go downhill for the caliphate in 976. The last of the great caliphs, Hakam II, died, having named his only son, Hisham II, as successor. Unfortunately Hisham was only ten years old at the time.

The child’s mother was a former Christian slave who had been an inmate in the caliphal harem. She had built up considerable political power for herself and formed an alliance with the caliph’s chief advisor, Ibn Abi Amir (later known as Almansor). When a conspiracy to usurp the throne and hand it over to a favoured Umayyad prince was discovered, Hisham’s mother turned to Almansor to prevent it. He did this by simply having the prince assassinated.

Almansor then took over the rulership himself, while he educated the young Hisham. Under Almansor’s tutelage, the young caliph learned nothing but utter submission to Almansor, and otherwise to do nothing and bother no one. As one subsequent chronicler noted, “none feared the slightest evil from him, nor expected the slightest benefit.”

Almansor, on the other hand, proved to be a successful and skillful leader. Everything went well for the next twenty years or so until 1002, when Almansor died. He had named one of his sons as his own successor in the role of chief advisor to the useless Caliph. Again, things ran fairly smoothly until 1008 when this son died, apparently poisoned by his own younger brother.

At this point things start to get interesting.

This younger brother, known as Sanjul, lacked discretion and common sense. He disastrously overplayed his hand by convincing the ever pliant Hisham to name him as successor to the caliphal throne. He knew this was a dangerous move — Hisham of course belonged to the esteemed Umayyad lineage of the original caliphate in Damascus. Thus the centuries old Umayyad caliphate would simply be handed over to an undistinguished member of a rebellious Berber clan.

The Umayyad elites acted swiftly. They forced the weak-willed Hisham to abdicate, and the wannnabe-caliph was assassinated. His corpse was trampled by horses and then crucified, and his head was stuck on a spike outside the city gates. The disgraced Hisham was replaced with Muhammed II, (the son of the prince who 30 years earlier had been assassinated by Almansor).

Given the volatility of the situation and his poor political skills, the new caliph Muhammed began to feel uneasy in his new role. He was especially worried that people might start missing the useless but harmless Hisham.

Assassinating the former caliph would be risky, but fortune presented Muhammed with a safer, though highly unusual alternative. A man who closely resembled Hisham had just died. Muhammed acquired the corpse and displayed it to courtiers with the news that Hisham had sadly passed away.

No one believed him.

A solemn funeral was held and the corpse was interred in the caliphal tomb, (despite the fact that the deceased man was Jewish).

Still no one believed him.

Then things got even more complicated for Muhammed. His Berber enemies found another member of the Umayyad clan who was sympathetic to their cause, and simply declared that this person and not Muhammed was now the caliph.

So now there were two caliphs, plus one supposedly deceased ex-caliph who was probably hiding in a closet somewhere.

The neighbouring Christian states looked on with interest.

This newest caliph, named Sulayman, gained the support of a Christian leader with a powerful army in Castile.

Sensing imminent defeat, Muhammed tried to cut his losses with another of his unconventional solutions. He publicly announced that Hisham II was in fact still alive after all, and therefore he, and not Sulayman, must be the rightful caliph.

The resurrected Hisham’s second stint as caliph didn’t last long. Sulayman summoned the Christian army from Castile, which attacked Cordoba. Hisham was forced to abdicate for a second time. Muhammed fled, while marauding Christians sacked the city.

While on the run, Muhammed decided to try one of Sulayman’s tactics, and recruited Christian support. Two rivals of Sulayman’s Castilian allies, Count Borell I of Barcelona, and Count Armegnol of Urgel, were quite happy to try their hand at bringing down a ruling caliph. They also demanded the right to pillage Cordoba, as the Castilians had done. The desperate Muhammed promptly agreed. So attractive was this offer that numerous bishops and high ranking priests signed up for military service, as did even the finance minister of Barcelona. Even Count Armegnol himself joined in the fighting, but got himself killed before he could grab any loot.

The campaign was successful: Sulayman’s forces were defeated, and Muhammed was reinstated as caliph. And of course Cordoba was sacked by marauding Christians for a second time, at the invitation of a ruling caliph.

Muhammed’s second stint on the throne didn’t last long either. After two months he was assassinated, and the long-suffering and ever pliant Hisham became caliph again.

But ex-caliph Sulayman hadn’t given up that easily, and soon forced Hisham to abdicate yet again — his third abdication in as many years.

The caliphal revolving door continued in this manner, with six different caliphs in the next decade or so, until the Cordoban elites got so annoyed that they simply dissolved the caliphate. Muslim Spain devolved into a group of competing petty kingdoms.

The unfortunate Hisham died in prison in 1030.

But surprisingly, that wasn’t the end of his career.

Despite his own death and the absence of a caliphate, in 1031, Hisham II became caliph again for a fourth time. Given Hisham’s previous record as a resurrectee, it was widely believed that he wasn’t dead this time either. Rumours of his survival circulated until the ruler of Seville, (Abu l-Kasim ibn Abbad), spotted an opportunity. He discovered that there was a poor labourer in the city who closely resembled the deceased caliph. Seville’s status and power would be greatly enhanced if it could be declared the center of a new caliphate. All that it needed was a plausible caliph. And all that this labourer had to do to gain his spectacular promotion was wear the caliphal clothes and show himself to be passive and clueless about matters of state. It was a spectacular success. Abu l-Kasim managed to outflank his enemies and impress his allies with Seville’s new-found status, until his death in 1042. (The fate of the second Hisham II is unknown.)

Perhaps it’s worth noting a little of the subsequent history of al-Andalus, with a few more unexpected twists.

Increasing political fragmentation invited increasing attacks by neighbouring Christian states. Lacking the unity to organise an effective defense, the petty kings of al-Andalus recruited support from the newly arisen Almoravid regime in North Africa. This fanatical and militaristic clan swiftly drove back the Christian armies. While doing so, they also noticed that southern Spain is indeed quite nice, so they decided to stay on and claim it for themselves.

The Almoravids settled into their new home, but a few decades later they were themselves defeated by an even more fanatical and militaristic sect, the Almohads. These fellows were so convinced that they had the correct version of Islam that even the strictest theologians and legal scholars were persecuted for harbouring excessive diversity of opinion. However, while theology was barely tolerated, philosophy and reason were considered necessary tools for the personal quest for spiritual and worldly truth.

A golden age of philosophy ensued.


Groups, Cults, & the “8 Elements of Brainwashing”: Part 4 The Demand for Purity

November 10, 2021

The third characteristic of a cult is what Lifton called the demand for purity. As noted in the introduction, the summary by the anti-cult activist Rick Ross is the starting point for each of these posts:

The Demand for Purity– The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.

The demand for purity, and the inevitable ‘purity tests’ in their various forms are applied not only within a group, upon its own members, but also applied to the outside world. Subjecting certain “out-groups” to a purity test, is crucial to the ‘milieu control’ discussed earlier. It enables a cult or cult-like “in-group” to define itself positively in contrast to an ‘impure’ group. This serves to strengthen identity and community, as well as de-humanise that out-group. The out-group can be excluded, damned, or physically attacked, depending on the nature of the in-group. It also allows any criticism by the out-group to be dismissed out of hand.

Conspiracy Theories

Applying a purity test to an out-group is in fact one of the defining features of a conspiracy theory. Often, the whole of society is simply written off as unworthy– as fools, deviants, barbarians, or dupes of a cabal of parasitic power-seekers or manipulators who control “everything”.

Ultimately, subjecting outsiders to a purity test is not concerned so much with promoting certain ideas or values, but is rather an assertion of power.

This makes any kind of reasoned or critical response to the in-group’s ideology extremely difficult. The out-group has already been condemned as guilty according to criteria that are considered to be so obvious that there is no need for discussion. The judgment has fallen, and the punishment must be carried out. Trying to respond rationally to this completely misses the point. For the in-group this is not about fact checking or reasoned analysis. It’s a power struggle. This war was probably declared by the in-group long before any skeptic or critic had even heard of them.

This is why skeptics and critics nearly always fail to even make a dent in the propaganda of conspiracy theorists. They don’t realise their antagonists are playing a straight forward power game, not a logic game. The points they think they are scoring with their clever analyses of contradictions, logical fallacies and incorrect information count less than nothing for the in-group. Repeated failed attacks merely make the in-group feel and appear stronger.

Sooner or later the purity test that was applied to outsiders begins to be applied to insiders as well. Contradictions and conflicting interpretations within the ideology (inevitable in all conspiracy theories) turn minor squabbles into divisive conflicts. If one particular faction gains the upper hand, some kind of purge within the in-group is almost inevitable. This is especially the case if the group’s membership and influence expanded too swiftly for conflicting opinions to be resolved or filtered out.

In other words, finicky internal squabbles are often far more problematic for such a group than any encounter with factual reality or contradictory ideas from an out-group.

Groups that seek to gain political power over an out-group are a menace to society and a threat to democracy. Ultimately, unless they self-destruct, they can probably only be stopped with force.

Spiritual groups whose members are more focused on their own purity or personal success are more likely to be merely a menace to the group members themselves.

Spiritual Groups & Ideologies Based on Revelation

The apparent absence of purity tests is probably one of the main attractions of modern esoteric spirituality for many people. The absence, at least, of Christian notions of original sin, guilt around sexuality, and prescribed scriptures with the attendant priestly power structures can in many instances be counted as a plus for this broad tent of spiritual ideologies.

It might come as a surprise to some people therefore, that modern esoteric teachings always come with numerous built-in purity tests. Spiritual teachings usually involve some kind of “instructions for living”. Thus, the customer’s success or failure to achieve the desired reward inevitably becomes a form of purity test in itself. It can only be this way with such teachings. They are always presented in black and white language, which eventually drives followers into a corner.

If the customer’s life doesn’t improve, the customer will be accused of failing to follow the instructions properly. There is no other possible explanation within the ideology for the failure. The judgment falls with the full authority of the teacher or inventor of the revelation.

Criticism from outside inevitably faces the same fate. The critic will be dismissed as having failed the purity test and condemned to facing the consequences of their error. To live in misery, to die of cancer for their “negativity” (as one Louise Hay customer told me), or to otherwise go to hell.

The ability to refrain from criticising the teacher or teachings becomes a purity test in itself.

Red Flags & Consumer Protection

* Are group members placed under pressure by the ideology or prescribed activities to conform or perform? What options are available for non-conformity?

* What behaviours and ideas does the ideology explicitly condemn? Is it realistic or even sensible to expect people to refrain from them? What are the consequences for transgressions?

* What is implicitly excluded from the ideology? How do group leaders and members respond to the idea that the teachings might be incomplete or in need of improvement?

* Do members of the in-group reflexively judge critics or anyone who holds a conflicting view according to the groups internal standards or purity rules? (If so, normal reasoned communication with its members will be difficult and will require a good knowledge of the ideology and internal rules.)

* Likewise, do group members tend to respond to external criticism in an identical fashion? Ideologies that paint the world as black and white, (or positive and negative, in the case of law of attraction scams), offer believers only a very limited vocabulary which shuns critical thinking and often simple human honesty, and therefore leaves only very few options for responding to non-compliant ideas. Usually they will simply attack the critic in terms of the internal purity test.

* Does the teacher follow the rules and apply the teachings in their own life? If not, it’s a good sign that the rules and expectations are unrealistic. This is probably the quickest way to find out how cultish a group is! And it’s usually easy enough to find out simply by asking around or doing a quick search on the internet. Dirt has a way of spreading through a community — even group members often know the truth and choose to ignore it.)


Groups, Cults, & the “8 Elements of Brainwashing”: Part 3 – Mystical Manipulation

October 6, 2021

This is the third post in the series on manipulative persuasion, considering the eight aspects identified by psychologist Robert Lifton. As noted in the introduction, the second of these was summarised by the anti-cult activist Rick Ross:

Mystical Manipulation — The manipulation of experiences that appears spontaneous but is, in fact, planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or some exceptional talent or insight that sets the leader and/or group apart from humanity, and that allows reinterpretation of historical events, scripture, and other experiences. Coincidences and happenstance oddities are interpreted as omens or prophecies.

The performance of apparent miracles through deliberate and pre-planned deception is of course well known in religious and spiritual history. Such deceits, however, always involve a certain tawdriness as well as the risk of exposure.

More commonly today, mystical manipulation takes on the form referred to in the final sentence above– the interpretation of happenstance and coincidences in a manner that aggrandises the teachings, or the teacher.

Unlike deliberate deception and magic tricks, this form of manipulation entails little chance of exposure, and requires no set-up. “Everything happens for a reason”, or — more esoterically — “There are no coincidences.” Therefore, the Universe has guided you to join this group, to read this book, or to listen to this bloated goon promote his product.

There has never been an easier sales pitch. You can know that you need this product simply because you’ve seen it! …….At this portentous moment.

It even comes with a built-in escape clause: if the product fails, well, that also happens for a reason — the customer simply failed to follow the instructions properly, or gave up too soon. Bruce Lipton calls such people “spiritual drop-outs” (rather than victims).

There is of course a degree of truth in the idea that our thoughts and emotions affect the way we experience the world and influence events. Similar ideas appear in various traditions and religions, though usually not in such deterministic terms. However, what makes this modern version unique is that the idea has now been transformed into a product, often with a complete business plan attached to it.

In the 1950s Norman Vincent Peale developed his “Power of Positive Thinking” scam, which itself was derived from various early forms of the idea that prayer can be used as an earthly power for earthly gains. The subsequent New Age “law of attraction” is exactly the same thing, only using quantum physics instead of Jesus.

The highly successful film The Secret by Rhonda Byrne added further layers to it, including an entirely fabricated history. (The supposed “secret” was claimed to have been known and used by the likes of Plato, Newton, Emerson and Einstein, despite fact that it has either nothing to do with or directly contradicts neo-Platonism, Alchemy, and every aspect of classical and modern physics. Even the quote from Emerson that opens the film was simply made up.)

Byrne, according to the film, was deeply unhappy. Her life was going nowhere and her father had just died. Then her five year old daughter gave her a book with a note saying “This will help, Mama.” The film implies, with the use of subliminal images, that the child was mystically inspired by Byrne’s dead father to give her the book.

This is a smart move by the film makers. No one thinks of critically analysing a child’s gift, and the viewer watches Byrne’s reaction without realising that the film is modeling a sequence of behaviours that the viewer will soon find themselves replicating.

Byrne examines the book’s contents and begins to wonder if maybe she has created her own sadness, and maybe she can attract happiness into her life if she follows the instructions. She goes online to check the origins of the book and is awe struck when she (supposedly) discovers the book’s (utterly fabricated) history. She winds up lying on a bed having an erotic encounter with the idea of The Secret, represented by Albert Einstein’s image. Afterwards she goes online again to see if anyone else today knows the same Secret that Einstein and all the Great Men of History knew. And she finds them! (At this point, five minutes into the film, there is a grating shift to the mundane and bombastic presentations of the long list of law of attraction scammers who appear in the film.)

Mapped out here is the sequence of behaviours that the viewer will unwittingly find themselves replicating, only with a few of the roles switched. Instead of receiving The Secret as a gift from a child, they have got it as a gift from whoever told them about it and sent them the link — when the film was freely available for a period online, as gift “from the very rich people who have discovered how to use this secret and are sharing it freely with everyone” (to quote the person who sent the link to me!).

What kind of person critically evaluates a gift, for heavens sake? (As I was also asked by the same person!) Thus the viewer is drawn personally into the drama and storyline of the film. They don’t need to go online to research it because Byrne did all that for them and told them what is there. All they need to do is watch the rest of the film, or a bit of it, and send it — as a gift — to someone else. (To someone whose life could be spiritually improved by becoming extremely wealthy.)

There is an even deeper aspect to mystical manipulation being practiced here, though less deliberate.

This “law of attraction” ideology leads customers to see the world as nothing more than “a vast mail-order catalogue” (to quote the scammer Joe Vitale in the film)– no mystery, no ethics or morality. Just the belief that you are entitled to grab whatever comes within reach. If you can get your hands on it, it means you deserve it. If anyone gets hurt by the grabbing, it’s their own fault for not manifesting a better fate for themselves.

The mindset that this kind of thinking inevitably leads to is similar to that of a psychopath or sociopath. It purifies it however, by labeling it “spiritual”.

Same with all the various forms of charismatic miracle churches. the dominating behaviour of the leader is excused as being inspired by a higher source or purpose. In effect, however, this form of mystical manipulation merely opens a space for the leader to establish dominance, by switching off the normal psychological defenses and protection mechanisms.


  • If a teacher claims to be able to create their own reality using the law of attraction, it is a red flag if you see them get handcuffed and dragged off to prison.
Detective Ross Diskin & James Ray: not much attraction, plenty of law
  • Related to this, how does a law of attraction-style teacher deal with unfortunate events in their own life? Do they accept responsibility and try to alter their thoughts and actions, or do they ignore their own prior teachings? James Ray, for example, paid 5 million dollars for a team of lawyers to argue the whole thing was an accident over which he had no control.
  • Does the teacher merely look to outsiders like a dangerous psychopath because they are acting according to the higher laws of the spirit, or are they really genuinely dangerous? Their apparent arrogance, mania, and indifference to the suffering of others might actually genuine.
  • A sales pitch that appeals to pity and reveals private details that it would be impolite to question should be seen as a red flag. Watch especially for the hard sell to be linked to the emotional high point of the mystically manipulative story.
  • The ‘riches-to-rags-to-riches’ formula is so ubiquitous as a sales pitch among known scammers that it can be treated as a red flag. Where possible check the facts, and note any absence of evidence. Best of all, find earlier versions of the story and note the changes.
  • Does the author claim that God more or less wrote their book? Okay…. But what would you think of the same contents if they were simply presented without all the divine fanfare? The same holds of course for contents dictated by angels or aliens or ascended masters or spirit guides, etc.
  • Is the teacher really as rich as they present themselves to be, or are they merely driving a rented Limo, wearing a rented suit, and just winging it?

Groups, Cults, & the “8 Elements of Brainwashing”: Part 2 – Milieu Control

August 29, 2021

The first of Robert Lifton’s “elements of brain washing” to be considered is milieu control. To recount, here is the brief summary of the process from the introductory post.

Milieu Control — This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

Spiritual teachings offer an entire system– not only a mental world within which a person can live, but also a social network as well. Being in a group of like-minded people reinforces not only the ideas and values of the group, but also the group’s social hierarchy.

Likewise, such a system grants a person a sense of belonging, possibly a new sense of identity, and perhaps most importantly some kind of special status that may have been absent for them in the outside world. All this can be an immense relief for someone whose life previously lacked the various structures necessary for a healthy life. Where a group turns cultish is when the leaders start intervening in the social interactions of its members, both inside and outside the group.

Full blown cults like Scientology control the social contacts of cult members by intervening physically in the lives of its members and preventing contact to those deemed unclean. This is done quite overtly, and is only possible when a member is deeply engaged with, or somehow indebted to the group.

A far more subtle or indirect form of milieu control however, occurs far more commonly than may be suspected. The effects here can be just as damaging as with more overt forms of control, but the processes are much harder to recognise. It may even take place without any deliberate intention to do so on the part of the teacher or group.

It’s worth looking more deeply at this aspect.

Milieu Control as a Built-In Feature of Spiritual Teachings

All scams or swindles start off looking relatively ‘normal’ and then draw the subject step by step deeper and deeper into the net. Spiritual teachings are by their nature well suited to this process. As with a normal pedagogical course, the easier steps come first, which build upon the client’s previous knowledge and expectations. Then new information (and perhaps new behavioural habits as well) are slowly introduced.

First comes Step A, which looks more or less normal. Nothing unexpected. Step B follows naturally from Step A, and likewise is still within a person’s expectations. Step C follows logically from Step B, but it is probably a bit less familiar. Step D follows logically from C, but had it been introduced before A, it would probably have struck the client as odd.

With a confidence trick, the client realises at some point that their money is gone, along with the scammer. With spiritual teachings, unfortunately, such a rude awakening is unlikely to be so sudden or so clear. (Many spiritual ideologies are already prepared to deal with dissatisfaction, routinely instructing customers to “take that which resonates”, and ignore the red flags.)

A common — and easy — scam to fall for is network marketing (or multi-level marketing). These are very popular among spiritual marketeers. People are instructed to sell the product to their friends and often get to attend “free” courses in (manipulative) marketing, specifically dealing with how to pitch a sale to friends, family, and colleagues. This of course interrupts and disturbs the client’s social life — first their closest associates, and finally people they used to know in previous decades receive a call out of the blue inviting them for a coffee and a chat about a “great opportunity”.

Soon enough, the scam burns out, (as it requires, of course, the market population grow exponentially to the point of becoming infinite), which leaves the top one or two percent with a handsome profit and the rest with their former friends crossing the road when they see them.

A more dangerous scam involves “positive thinking” and “motivational speaking”. Here the product is a set of prescribed ideas and behaviours, promising to transform the life of the practitioner. As the client progresses through the graded steps (often in the form of courses or events that are graded by price as well — from the “free introductory seminar”, through to extravagantly expensive “advanced” courses) they become increasingly committed. Accordingly, they begin to limit or eliminate friendships and social contacts with those who don’t measure up to the new behavioural requirements. They begin to implement their own form of milieu control themselves.

Work colleagues, perhaps, notice that the person’s language has altered slightly. For example a person who has taken on board belief in the “Law of Attraction” or “Positive Thinking”, might start insisting that their colleagues “focus on the positive”. Initially it sounds like something anyone might say, but there is an odd tone to it. The ideology behind it is the profoundly manipulative idea that “thoughts become things” — leading people to believe they can magically “attract” the objects and events they focus upon. Embedded in this puerile and egotistical ideology is the impulse to avoid people who are “negative”, and eventually to exclude such people from one’s life, for fear of becoming infected by their “negativity”. Criticism of the ideology itself is explicitly deemed “negative”.

Their former friends find their behaviour suddenly irritating, and attempts to talk to them on points of disagreement simply run into a wall. The member of the in-group has taken so many steps, that any simple point of disagreement strikes against a dozen hidden beliefs all at once. (The member is at Step F or G, while their friends are still trying to talk them out of Step A.)

The swiftly escalating disagreements that result from someone unwittingly blundering into such an ideological cliff-face, function effectively as a form of milieu control.

Friends must decide either to avoid discussing such issues, or to distance themselves from each other. Either way the conflict is not resolved, and the (more or less) cult-ish belief remains intact.

This is one of the most important consequences of milieu control: exclusion of criticism — criticism which could have helped a client retrace their steps and find their way back to their initial “Step A” and figure out from there exactly where things got weird. But with criticism and critics excluded or rendered “negative”, the client is blocked from retracing their steps and reconsidering their current position according to different standards from the ones insisted upon by their in-group leader.

This kind of milieu control is not necessarily deliberate, but it is an inevitable result of ideas that are developed in isolation without reference to an out-group.

Furthermore, spiritual groups often maintain constant attacks on aspects of the out-group, for example against science, or morals, or ethnicities. While not overtly preventing contact between in- and out-group, this nevertheless places limits on the amount and nature of any such contacts. It limits exposure to critical perspectives, and effectively divides believers from non-believers.

Moreover, members of the out-group who find the ideas irritating simply exclude themselves.

Milieu Control Protects a Hierarchy

A cult is not merely a milieu, but above all, a hierarchy. Status inside the in-group is measured differently to outside. Indeed, this is one of the great attractions a cultish group holds. (In political movements of course, this attraction is especially powerful.)

The danger here of abuse of underlings by superiors under the protection of isolation is clear and extreme. Humans, like all other mammals, have a reflexive submissive response to any perceived authority figure. If access to all comparative authority figures has been removed, an authority figure can become seen as a god. The dangers for abuse and exploitation, for public shaming and unnecessary suffering, do not need to be spelled out here.

Less immediately obvious is the likelihood that the in-group will come to see itself as superior to certain out-groups. Sadly, this likelihood increases according to the grandiosity of the in-group’s claims about itself. As noted elsewhere on this website, followers of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, for example, consider the “white race” superior to all others, and see themselves as the best of the best.

Likewise, for a great many promoters of “alternative medicine”, modern science is openly demeaned as an inferior out-group. Information from scientists is disregarded due to its “materialism” (or more bizarrely, a supposed failure to include a nonsense version of quantum physics). So too is it common for fanatical religious groups to see the whole of society as inferior, leading to anything from hectoring non-believers in the street, to terrorism.

To sum up, milieu control can be achieved without explicit regulations and without necessarily being intended. The important factor is that an in-group member is in some sense isolated from information or activities that would dis-confirm the in-group’s ideology and power structures.

Red Flags & Consumer Protection

* As noted earlier, joining a spiritual (or political) group can affect one’s perception of one’s own identity and social status. A red flag would be if such changes make membership of other groups more difficult.

* Spiritual groups frequently emphasise a break with the past. This may be done in a manner that is more or less symbolic, but it can also be a pretext can be a pretext for intervening in the social life of members or hindering social connections with the out-group. Any measure that hinders or restricts social contacts should be consciously noted.

* Any special interest group can easily look a bit odd from the outside, with its specialist jargon and various rituals and customs. A warning sign for members of the in-group is when they lose the ability to see their in-group through the eyes of an outsider. Losing the ability to orient one’s self to the values and the out-group — even if those values are questionable — can indicate that the in-group member is now completely dependent on the value system and internal authority figures of the in-group. Normal defense mechanisms and perceptions of personal boundaries and safety may have been breached, leaving the member vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

* Does the in-group perceive the rest of the world as an out-group? This holds the same dangers noted in the previous point, and is especially true in cultish groups dealing with alternative medicine. In this case, the whole of modern science, especially medical and biological sciences, are treated as an ideological enemy. Along with losing the benefits of modern medicine, all standards for critical judgment and consumer protection are also excluded.

* The mere concept of consumer protection is foreign to any cult or cult-like group. For the reasons noted earlier, its members see themselves (and group leaders) as special — and not as customers. Protecting their own special status is no doubt a strong motivation in protecting an authority figure from criticism.

Part 3 will be posted soon.


Groups, Cults, & the “8 Elements of Brainwashing”: Part 1- Introduction, advantages and disadvantages of the terminology

August 15, 2021

The term brainwashing became popular in the 1950s following the work of psychologist Robert Lifton. US prisoners of war in Korea had undergone a forced ‘re-education’ program which appeared to have altered not only their behaviour, but also their thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes.

In trying to figure out how such dramatic effects were achieved, Lifton identified eight different processes by which the Koreans appeared to have been using. These processes have been subsequently re-formulated to apply to other forms of manipulation, such as religious cults and other cult-like organisations. I will be considering them especially in the light of various spiritual groups and teachings, but these considerations are clearly relevant to the suddenly emergence of radical political groups in mainstream politics.

The anti-cult activist, Rick Ross gives a useful summary of how each of these eight processes functions in a cult-like setting. Here is a link to the 8 minute video, but a summary of the relevant points appears below. Each of these processes will be considered in a series of blogposts.

Before starting however, it is worth noting a few difficulties with Ross’s approach.

First, these eight processes are not exclusive to cults. In fact many are present in some form in all social groupings, for better or worse– including the family, among friends, sports clubs, businesses. This is because these processes also have advantages and can in many ways be essential to human interaction and psychological health. Similarly, their presence in cults is not necessarily always negative. A cult — even a very cultish one — may well be better for some people than a coercive or manipulative family or institution. (Rick Ross has a tendency to disregard this possibility.)

Second, it is all too easy to write off members of a supposed cult as dupes. The whole idea of a confidence trick is that it is difficult to perceive, especially early on. It is very often simply a matter of chance, rather than gullibility that determines whether or not one gets drawn into a cultish group. Skeptics tend to assume that falling for a con is merely due to a failure to apply the list of logical fallacies. They forget that if people are under stress or in a situation where they feel powerless or helpless, they are more likely to trust a stranger, or hope for a sudden radical improvement in their lives. Skeptics also tend to forget that not everyone trusts science to the same degree that they claim to, and also forget that in many crises, a rational scientific or statistics based approach is not always useful.

Similarly, a skilled con-artist is one who can mimic all the signals that indicate trustworthiness. Anyone can fall for one.

Third, it is wrong to assume that all cult-like groups are deliberately and consciously running a scam, and that all cult-like leaders and teachers are some kind of evil genius. This in turn can affect the way victims are seen — as gullible freaks who were already outsiders and ‘losers’ anyway, and therefore deserve to have been scammed, or who can be ridiculed if they don’t submit to being ‘rescued’ and giving up their cultish beliefs and becoming ‘normal’ again.

That said, these ‘eight elements of brainwashing’ can deepen an understanding of how cults work, figure out at what point a group, teaching or teacher becomes dangerous, and help one get an insight into how relatively normal forms of social interaction can be so manipulated to dismantle psychological defenses.

Each post will include a section on how to recognise red flags and detect at what point a group stops being in one’s own best interests.

Summary — The Eight Elements of Brainwashing

1. Milieu Control — This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

2. Mystical Manipulation — The manipulation of experiences that appears spontaneous but is, in fact, planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or some exceptional talent or insight that sets the leader and/or group apart from humanity, and that allows reinterpretation of historical events, scripture, and other experiences. Coincidences and happenstance oddities are interpreted as omens or prophecies.

3. Demand for Purity — The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.

4. Confession — Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members’ “sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the leaders.

5. Sacred Science — The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.

6. Loading the Language — The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.

7. Doctrine over person — Members’ personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.

8. Dispensing of existence — The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.

The second post, Milieu Control can be found here.

Posted by Yakaru


Sam Harris Doesn’t Understand Meditation

July 8, 2021

This is certainly one of the oddest products I’ve covered here. Sam Harris is selling a meditation app that he claims will help you erase your racial identity. The result is a bizarre form of New Age political quackery.

Why anyone should even be instructed to renounce their race is a valid question, but it is outside the scope of this blog. (For coverage of the implications for racial politics, see the footnotes.) The focus here will be purely on Harris’s claims about meditation.

For someone who has been a practicing Buddhist for three decades, Harris displays an extraordinary degree of ignorance about what meditation is and how it works. He also displays a most hilarious lack of self-awareness, and confuses meditation with something that is simply an egoistic attachment to certain ideas.

In short, Harris makes three fundamental errors.

1. He thinks you can simply force yourself to meditate;

2. he assumes that insights gained from meditation can be directly carried over into everyday mental life; and

3. instead of helping you dis-identify from their race, he is really coaxing people into identifying even more strongly with a set of (utterly fatuous) ideas.

These are beginner’s mistakes, though they also tend to be replicated by meditation teachers who exaggerate the efficacy of their product.

I’ve previously praised Harris for the way he dealt with Deepak Chopra’s spiritual bluster (see the footnotes), but here we will see Harris making exactly the same errors that he criticised Chopra for, as well as pulling all the standard New Age promotional tricks. Here is the classical 5 Step approach to promoting spiritual quackery that we are about to watch Harris implement:

1. Find a problem (and if there isn’t one, invent one or exaggerate an existing minor one)

2. Find a single simple “cause” for that problem

3. Find a single simple “cure” for that cause

4. Exaggerate, oversell, or even fabricate the effectiveness of that “cure”

5. Treat all criticism of the product as a personal and unjustified attack on the teacher themselves

Sam Harris is best known as a “New Atheist” and a member of a right wing thinkers’ club, the hilariously pompous “Intellectual Dark Web”. A light touch, a practical approach, and a gently self-ironic attitude to his own foibles are not part of Harris’s character.

In his 5 minute ad for his app, Harris compares himself to Jesus; calls religion a perversion — a perversion of his own “true” meditative experience; claims that he himself possesses “genuine compassion”; and claims that the real reason why he is often accused of bigotry is because people don’t understand meditation. Ninety-nine percent of people, Harris complains, misunderstand the role that meditation plays in his political and philosophical thinking…. That’s 99% of the people in his own audience! Obviously, it’s them who need to change, not him. They need to start meditating so that poor Sam can have his ideas understood by people in the manner he wishes.

This is clearly a rather demanding child……

Oh yeh, and he claims his meditation app will grant you “meditation on demand”. Dis-identifying yourself from your racial identity has never been easier.

It is true that meditation, especially the Buddhist type that Harris likes, can be said to involve a kind of “dis-identification” with one’s idea of “self”. But the way Harris talks about it is completely mad. Despite thirty odd years of Buddhist practice, he doesn’t seem to know the most basic aspects of meditation and it effects.

Here is Harris’s version of the 5 Step sales pitch:

1. The problem is hypersensitivity to racial discrimination on “the Left”

2. The cause is over-identification with racial identity

3. The cure is Dr Sam’s meditation app

4. The exaggerated sales pitch is “meditation on demand”

5. Any criticism is treated as a personal attack on Harris himself

It’s all laid out in his short podcast titled A Few Points of Confusion.

As always in his podcasts, Harris opens by expressing his shock and bafflement that he has yet again been misunderstood by a great many people. As always, he will he have to correct everyone. The “points of confusion” that people have been suffering from concern the role that meditation plays in Harris’s life.

Sam Harris’s subjective experience of his own consciousness is of course very important to “people”, but sadly, they get confused, so that needs to be cleared up pronto. Harris explains:

—> Unless you’re deeply into it, the term meditation almost certainly conjures the wrong ideas in your mind.

Luckily for me, I am deeply into meditation. In fact I’ve been meditating about as long as Harris has. I was even in India in the 1990s at the same time as him, and in a similar milieu. I’ve also read his book Waking Up and had thought that I was in broad agreement with his approach. But it turns out that I’ve been “confused” all along.

—> Meditation is just a bad word for the recognition of specific truths about the mind.

Hang on — what??? So meditation doesn’t mean awareness, but rather a “recognition” of certain “truths”??? That’s insane! That’s not meditation by any normal definition. That will only lead to being egotistically identified with a set of ideas, only now with the added mistake of taking them to be “truths” instead of just ideas. That’s not even what his own book says!

I’m stunned. I can’t believe he said that. But yes, that is indeed a direct transcription of what he said.

According to the Buddhist/Vedanta style I thought he advocated, meditation is, more or less, simply awareness. Or if you want to get technical, awareness of awareness. Meditation is not centered around conceptual thought like that — recognition, specific truths, etc. That’s stupid.

What Harris just said is like saying that swimming is just a bad word for conceptually understanding what it feels like to get wet.

He continues:

—> It’s a process of discovering what is already true of your mind.

Which “mind” is he talking about here? The mind with a lower-case m, or the capital-M Mind that some translators use for various Buddhist terms for consciousness? He seems to be conflating both these meanings in an odd way. This will become clearer below.

—> People can’t understand positions I take on this podcast without understanding your mind.

Harris is really pissed off that communication involves an awareness of other people’s existing knowledge and perspective, rather than just being able to blab out whatever is going through his mind at the current moment. I thought meditation makes you less egocentric, not more!

—> And these are positions which, on their surface have nothing to do with mediation. My experience here [he means his own experience with meditation] is often the key to understanding my criticism of specific scientific and philosophical ideas….

No wonder 99% of his audience gets confused.

Harris then uses the examples of free will and the illusion of “self”, as insights that can be gained through meditation. And this is where he really goes off the rails.

He thinks that you can not only discover these “facts” through meditation, but then also simply ram this awareness into your everyday non-meditative consciousness. In fact he demands that people do this. And he calls resulting dogma, born of the interpretation of a memory, “knowledge”.

Sure, I can remember that while I was meditating my self or my feeling of free will disappeared, and I can intellectually believe that they must be illusions. But in normal everyday consciousness, I can’t keep on experiencing that absence of self or free will. The actual experience in the moment it is happening is one thing; the memory of that experience is something completely different. And the interpretation of the memory is yet another step removed. But Harris sees none of these distinctions. In fact he thinks it’s merely a lack of courage that prevents people from dragging their meditative experience into their everyday consciousness.

He thinks that people–

—> ….don’t really have the courage of their convictions, because they still feel like selves that enjoy free will.

Nope. You can’t simply decide to stop “feeling like a self” or “feeling like you have free will”. Note the use of the verb. And the pronoun.

There is no escaping this, with or without a meditation app. As soon as you start doing, meditation ends. Nor can you force yourself to stay in a meditative state. Ask any Buddhist for the last 3000 years. The mere attempt to do so instantly destroys meditation. There are no verbs inside the Gates of Eden, (as Dylan might have sung).

What you can do, however, is convince yourself that you believe that you don’t have a self or free will.

That will make you a very special meditator indeed. Instead of getting out of the mind, you can simply inflate the mind so that it includes all the great ideas like “I have the consciousness of Jesus”, “I have no self”, “I have no free will”, and then you can walk around smugly all day babbling about how non-egotistical you are.

—> I can say this because there’s nothing hypothetical to me about the kinds of experiences that people like Jesus were rattling on about to anyone who would listen. And if you’ve had these experiences, and can have them on demand…

And there it is folks — Meditation on demand!

Seriously, has this guy EVER meditated?

I recall hearing a talk by one of Joseph Goldstein’s rather smug followers (maybe Stephen Levine), who was laughing about people thinking Goldstein’s institute was called “Instant Meditation” instead of “Insight Meditation”. Well, Harris isn’t an innocent newbie. He is an experienced meditation teacher with some rather grand claims about his own degree of spiritual development. Yet here he is making exactly the same mistake.

We could really just stop this right here and save this fellow from further embarrassment. But, as Harris thinks he’s really onto a great new product that will save civilisation from “the Left”, it’s worth plowing on.

Harris continues:

—> When it’s absolutely obvious to you that the conventional sense of self is an illusion…

Um, Dr Harris– “absolutely obvious” to WHOM exactly? Has he even realised that his own illusory self is currently addressing your and my illusory self?

Sam Harris thinks his grand godly capital-M Mind of Buddhism has comprehended the illusory nature of his lower-case-m mind. The bad news for Harris is that he has merely convinced himself that he is in a permanent state of Jesus-consciousness.

This is exactly the same mistake that every channeler, conversationalist with God, Angelic Healer, every Pope, priest, faith healer, and snake-handling speaker-in-tongues makes. The promised land of the Higher Self gets colonised by the lower self and proudly proclaimed and blabbed about in public.

Harris continues, saying that if you can get these experiences on demand, then you won’t get dependent on a religion. And now that he’s cleared up that “point of confusion” in 99% of his audience, he moves on to politics.

….. Racial politics…… What could go wrong?

—> How can I be so sure that the explosion of identity politics that we see all around us isn’t a sign of progress. How can I know that it’s an ethical and psychological dead end to be deeply identified with one’s race?

Before asking “how can I know” it would be better to demonstrate that it is really the case, rather than just assuming it.

Whoops, that sentence is still going. He’s shoehorned a few more assumptions into it–

—> …and that all the people who are saying that there’s no way to get past race in our politics are just confused?

Hang on, what is he talking about? This is the “problem” his app will fix, but who exactly is it who says you “can’t get past race in politics”? What does that even mean?

—> Well it’s because I know that a person need not identify with the face he sees in the mirror each day.

Howwwleeee shit.

Well that was stupid.

Yep, stare at yourself in mirror each morning and repeat the affirmation “I don’t know who the hell I am.” That will improve your mental health no end.

—> How unnecessary is it to identify with millions of strangers who just happen to look like you in that they have the same skin colour. In light of what’s possible, psychologically and inter-personally, in light of what is actually required to get over yourself…

Does anyone know what he means by this?

—> ….and to experience genuine compassion for other human beings…

The Grand Master of Meditative Compassion speaketh.

—> It is a form of mental illness to go through life identified, really identified, with one’s race.

Yes, your racial identity is a mental illness….. Now please don’t tell Sam that he’s barking up the wrong tree. Or that he’s climbed up the wrong tree and is sitting there happily, blowing on a dog whistle.

—> Of course to say that as a white guy…

And here it comes. Point five on the standard model for the promotion of quackery — to treat all criticism as a personal attack.

—> Of course, to say that as a white guy, in the current environment, is to stand convicted of racial insensitivity, and even seeming indifference to the problem of racism in our society.

Poor Sam — all he said was that racial identity is a form of mental illness and is selling a product to cure you of it, and now people are calling him insensitive. …So let’s all talk about his victimhood now, rather than any of the problems with his ideas about race or the product he is selling.

He continues, saying that “most well intentioned people” have been “successfully bullied” into dismissing his ideas on race because he’s white.

Then he adds that the white people who criticise him — like me for example — are only doing so because there are “massive incentives” on offer. This shoehorning of assumption upon assumption, each with an implicit accusation of bad motivation in his critics, is really just about the only thing that Sam Harris’s statements ever consist of.

—> But to insist on the primacy of race is to be obscenely confused.

Who, exactly, insists on the “primacy of race”? Does he mean me?

Whoops– the sentence was still going.

—> …obscenely confused about human potential…

Hang on — what? Human potential? The Golden Age, the Promised Land awaits if we only fulfill our potential. This is seriously weird. I really didn’t know Harris thinks like this.

—> …and society’s potential. And I’m not going to pretend to be unaware of that.

The accusation here is of course that everyone else is just pretending “not to be aware” of human and societal potential, despite it being so obvious, whatever it is.

—> …So when I’m talking about racial politics I am also talking about meditation.

We got there finally. All that was just to explain why he sees a connection between meditation and politics. It’s all so simple– all the confused people think Sam Harris is talking about racial politics, but really he’s just talking about meditation. The undeniable FACTS of meditation that you would know are facts if only you would use his app. Really, I don’t know why 99% of people find this so hard to follow…

Harris continues with his usual lucidity.

—> There are certain things that I actually understand about my own mind, and about the mind in general [he means your mind]. And the idea that racial identity is something that we can’t get past is total bullshit.

Get with the program people! Stop this obscene confusion about your own identity, and listen to Dr Sam. Force yourself to understand him. He is right. He knows the facts, the scientific and meditational facts. He is offering you meditation on demand. Use the app and force yourself to dis-identify with your race and get identified instead with the fact that you have no self and no free will.

And if you believe — if you truly believe — a Golden Age will dawn. And the people shall rise up and attain the peak of human and societal potential– namely, they shall correctly interpret the role that meditation plays in Sam Harris’s political and philosophical thinking. And their confusion about this shall be no more. And they will stop calling him a bigot, a fool, a klutz, an ignoramus, an enabler of white supremacy. A racist. A white guy.

Footnote & Links: I used to follow Sam Harris and have praised him in the past–

see this article

–until I got bored with his habit of making long-winded complicated arguments and then whining about being misinterpreted, and making the whole issue about himself. Then, when he took up with a–

right wing pseudo-intellectual Christian scammer

–I started ignoring him as completely as possible. A recent series of podcasts called Woking Up alerted me not only to this ridiculous meditation scam, but also to Harris’s constant and completely hysterical attacks on “the Left” and his inexcusable support for white nationalists. Links to the series (which bullied me into writing this blogpost and benefiting from the massive incentives from doing so) can be found here

Part 1 — Some of my best friends are…. (and intro to Harris’s worst takes disgracefully ignorant conception of racism)

Part 2 — Steal-manning Champion

Part 3 — Election Aftermath (this deals especially with Harris’s claim that “White supremacy is the fringe of the fringe” and that “Wokism” is a far greater threat to civilisation)

Part 4 — Nothing to do with racism

Part 5 — Sam Harris loves identity politics

Eiynah’s ‘Polite Conversations’ podcast can be found here

UPDATE: Excellent article on this topic that goes into far more detail than mine can be found here–

Sam Harris is Right About Things Because He Likes To Meditate

Posted by Yakaru


“It took me years to understand that that belief system is actually the foundation of abuse and toxic shame” —A Comment on Louise Hay

January 21, 2021

A comment was left recently on my post Speaking Ill of a Dead Cancer Quack, recounting experiences with numerous health professionals inspired by the teachings of Louise Hay. It is not easy for anyone to penetrate through the smoke screen of apparent sympathy and spiritual wisdom, and promises of healing that envelope these teachings. Those who are already in a precarious situation are especially vulnerable to the harm these teachings inevitably cause, especially if exposed to these ideas by a qualified medical practitioner. The dangers, traps, and implicit victim-blaming are built directly into Hay’s system. As the commenter notes, “Every symptom I had became a reason as to why what I was doing was wrong.”

With permission, I reproduce the entire comment here.


I had a mental health councillor/General practitioner who claimed to be trauma-informed who believed these things.

I also met a nurse advocate in a hospital who gave me her book and told me to write down her details. I had just been abused at the time and was given it…

The second time I was under the above mentioned General Practitioner. I was homeless, being stalked, currently in the judicial system following up on convictions and was told, ‘The outside is a mirror for our insides. There must be some past issues that need to be resolved’. Sounds logical..Kinda.. Except I was then handed a bible verse and was denied medical treatment because my rashes from yeast infection, and reoccurring pain were due to, you guessed it- repressed anger! I was already vulnerable. This lady wasn’t advertised as anything other than a GP. And she was the first medical practitioner I disclosed abuse to. I told her I was exploring spirituality but wanted healthy spirituality and that was what I was told. She also gave me 3 separate reasons as to why my feet were hurting. I had been diagnosed with allergies previously and was told that my grief was causing them and to go into psychotherapy because it would make them disappear. I was given a new diet plan that consisted of what this doctor then wanted me to eat. When I got sicker and gained 15 kilos I was congratulated for looking healthy despite it being chronic inflammation > Which again, was put back on repressed anger.

I’ve had to have 3 years of gold standard trauma-informed therapy because of her reaction to the abuse. The therapy I had, proved her to be medically neglectful and abusive.

The shock trauma from my initial abuse left in 5 EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing -ed.] sessions. The pain of what she has said left with me with Medical PTSD and it was aptly named spiritual abuse. It has not gone away because what she did was destroy my meaning making systems. Every symptom I had became a reason as to why what I was doing was wrong. Its also important to note this doesn’t just pertain to one aspect of health, people whom believe these things generally have similar justifications for other lifestyle choices too. What this belief system did was make me blame myself for my own homelessness, my own abuse and in all seriousness, it broke down my identity and self confidence to the point that I was then abused again. Not just once, but multiple times whilst I was under the care of this physician/qualified mental health practitioner. I had proof and recordings of my abuse that occurred whilst under her care, and not once was a proper protocol followed in following that up.

Instead, I was invited to ‘let it go with love and peace’ and told to read a book called People of the Lie because it was going to teach me that quote ‘people are monsters. They do exist out there’. I didn’t ever call my initial abuser a monster. I didn’t think it was justified because I saw what made them do what they do directly. However, to then have that person labelled as a monster was a seriously delusional thing to do. My social worker had to intervene and did when I couldn’t shut up about this horrific experience. 2 years of increased suicidality. I nearly ended up dead. Was abused twice more and forensics linked that to this belief system. It left me defenceless. I left her care showing the same symptoms one would have after being involved in a domestically abusive relationship.

I now can’t leave my house because I am terrified someone will call me sick. I went to a new therapist and was completely flooded with flashbacks of experiences with this doctor. It took me years to understand that that belief system is actually the foundation of abuse and toxic shame.

You can’t take what you need and leave it when it comes to vulnerable communities. There are specific protocols that need to be confirmed to restore justice and power to those with illnesses of any kind so that they aren’t exposed to crap like the above.

We need to call this woman and these people what they are if they deny or promote these services as all someone needs or if they discourage medical attention. Worse, this person was involved in the medical community.

They are abusers. It’s creating a dependency on a system for healing that has now been proved wrong by modern neuroscience AND trauma-informed therapies.

I think spirituality matters, but not this. This is not okay. I was introduced to this belief system at my worst and I quite legitimately lost my career, my health, my mind and now have a therapy bill of upwards of 10,000 and no trust in treating professionals or my own abilities because I was undermined and shamed for two years.



Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated With Facts: Part 78: (About that man who drank cholera in 1880 and was “completely unaffected”)

May 31, 2020

Yes, it’s still going. If you have been following this series, I advise you to wash your hands before reading any further. Your palm is likely to land with some impact on your forehead in the course of reading this.

One of the major, and frequently repeated pieces of evidence that Lipton cites for his ideas was the case of a man who, in the 1880s, drank cholera-infected water and lived. I covered it rather dismissively and, it turns out, all too briefly.

A new review of Lipton’s book by Jakub Micko deals in more detail with this important aspect of Lipton’s claims and, as those who are familiar with Lipton will already be suspecting, it completely demolishes Lipton’s argument.

First, we can recall Lipton’s account:

One of [Robert] Koch’s critics was so convinced that the Germ Theory was wrong that he brazenly wolfed down a glass of water laced with vibrio cholerae, the bacteria Koch believed caused cholera. To everyone’s astonishment, the man was completely unaffected by the virulent pathogen. (p. 125)

Lipton continues to claim that science has dogmatically accepted Koch’s (and Pasteur’s) germ theory, and failed to research why this man was “completely unaffected”.

If it is claimed that this bacterium is the cause of cholera and the man demonstrates that he is unaffected by the germs. . .how can he be “incorrect?” Instead of trying to figure out how the man avoided the dreaded disease, scientists blithely dismiss this and other embarrassing “messy” exceptions that spoil their theories. Remember the “dogma” that genes control biology?

Lipton returns to this incident repeatedly throughout the book.

And now, Jakub Micko’s account of what happened to this man, whom Jakub has identified as one Max von Pettenkofer. (Lipton failed to identify him.)

If he [Lipton] had done more research he would have learnt Pettenkofer did get violent diarrhea and likely didn’t die because he had cholera as a child thereby having protection…

Be still my face-palming hand…

….So Pettenkofer “avoided the dreaded disease” because he was immune. And he was “completely unaffected” as long as you don’t consider “violent diarrhea” to be a noteworthy symptom.

Jakub very kindly shared the source for this information in a comment on one of my reviews. The article (from a Munich university’s history of science archive) states:

[Pettenkofer] stubbornly refused to accept that the bacterium Vibrio cholerae – identified in 1884 by his rival Robert Koch – was the sole cause of cholera. In his own work, he placed far greater emphasis on non-biological factors, such as soil type and the nature of the groundwater reservoir. This is the context in which, some years after Koch’s discovery of the real culprit, Pettenkofer drank the draught mentioned above. Fortunately, it resulted only in a violent bout of diarrhea. Most probably, he escaped more serious damage because he had been infected with V. cholerae as a child and retained sufficient immunity to the bacterium.

Clearly Pettenkofer was being dogmatic, and immediately got violent diarrhea because of it and maybe learned his lesson. But 140 years later, Lipton is still babbling dogmatically about it, though noticeably without drinking cholera to prove it.

Lipton claims that:

(a) scientists accept germ theory merely out of dogmatism
(b) scientists refuse to research this incident
(c) if scientists did research it, they would find that Pettenkofer’s case supports Lipton’s claim that the mind can somehow — he never says exactly how — overcome cholera; and
(d) that this supports his more general claim that thoughts can somehow — he never says exactly how — heal many other illnesses too.

As shown above, scientists did in fact research it, and Lipton didn’t. And their research showed that Lipton’s hero merely demonstrated immunity in accordance with modern virology, and got a fully deserved bout of violent diarrhoea while doing it. Well done yet again Dr Bruce.

Koch’s brilliant work has since been easing suffering, preventing illness and saving millions of lives. Here in Germany the Robert Koch Institute has been advising the government on how to deal with the coronavirus and has been, by all reasonable standards, highly effective. Dr Bruce Lipton, however, with his Ph.D in cell biology, still thinks Robert Koch was wrong and is still using this 140 year old case of diarrhoea to support his claims.

Lipton’s deadly and insanely stupid quackery is far more dangerous for people hoping to avoid illness with COVID-19 than is his cancer quackery. Cancer sufferers at least have a chance of protecting themselves if they can read the book critically or do some research. The friends, family and neighbours of Lipton fans however, have no such protection.

…..”I had coronavirus and I was completely unaffected. I could travel on buses and trains, eat in restaurants and visit friends for a week or so, and then I decided to lie down on my stomach and gulp for air for a few days, but I had no symptoms at all. Sadly my weak neighbours must have believed in the virus because so many of them are now sick or dead.”


Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: the final summing up

April 13, 2020

I have noticed an up-tick in people looking for information on Bruce Lipton and I assume this must have something to do with the Coronavirus and COVID-19. A brief check and I see that he is indeed contributing his ideas to the discussion. Clearly many people are trying to figure out if there is any merit to his claim that you can use thoughts to “control your biology”, so I will offer a brief summing up of my exhaustive 77 post review of his book The Biology of Belief.

Sadly, Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief fails entirely, and in the most ridiculous manner, to provide any support for his claims. It is baffling that someone with a Ph.D in biology can get so much basic factual information in his chosen field so wrong. Worse, the argument that he constructs doesn’t even connect up with the case he is trying to make. Unsurprisingly, the result is so incoherent, contradictory, and confusing that even Lipton frequently confuses himself and forgets what his own teachings are, and more than once winds up demolishing the case he was trying to make.

In order to make the summary that follows a little clearer, I will start with an analogy.

Lipton — a cell biologist who once co-authored a highly technical research paper — is like someone with a detailed knowledge of a particular New York subway station. He knows all the exits, all the stairways and passages, the dimensions of the platforms, and even has a detailed knowledge of the door-opening mechanism on the trains. After talking about all this, authoritatively and in exhaustive detail, he suddenly claims that you can take the Number 27 line and travel directly to a particular station in Paris….. Or Mars…. It’s all possible, thanks to quantum physics and epigenetics.

Our subway expert has gotten horribly confused as soon as he tries to switch from one level to another, and steps outside his narrow field of expertise.

That may sound like I’m exaggerating, but Lipton’s errors are indeed of such orders of magnitude. He proposes that cells, (the subway station in the analogy), are each individually controlled by the brain and can be ordered to start, stop, do this, do that, simply by thinking about it. This is because each cell has its own brain, which is somehow — he never says how — connected directly to the brain in your head.

So you can drink typhoid-infected water, and if you don’t believe you’ll contract typhoid you won’t. As proof, he repeatedly tells of a man in 1880 who drank typhoid and was “completely unaffected”, as he did not believe in the existence of the germs. Lipton uses this case to attack biologists:

Instead of trying to figure out how the man avoided the dreaded disease, scientists blithely dismiss this and other embarrassing “messy” exceptions that spoil their theories.

But Lipton does not identify the man or provide any references. In fact, the man was a certain Max von Pettenkofer, and although he really did consume typhoid bacteria, Lipton gets every other detail about it wrong. Scientists did not “blithely dismiss” this incident, but rather studied it more thoroughly than Lipton himself did. And Pettenkofer was not “entirely unaffected”, but became severely ill, suffered from what medical historians report as “violent diarrhoea”. And it wasn’t “mind over matter” that stopped him dying, but rather, the fact that he had already had typhoid as a child and was probably still partially immune.

This kind of mistake happens to Lipton several times in the book– he cites a case, gets the details completely wrong, and correcting the mistakes shows the case to demolish the claims he was trying to support. But his audience won’t know, unless they research the whole thing themselves. A complete failure for Lipton, and a deadly mistake for those who don’t realise he is often lying to them and concealing the checkable details, or simply too stupid and ignorant to realise how far out of his depth he is.

And yes, Lipton really does claim that each cell in your body literally has its own brain. His proof of it is the spectacular centre-piece of his book. It’s one of many places where he, the self-proclaimed founder of a New Science, “over-turns mainstream biology”.

Mainstream biology, Lipton explains, believes that the brain of the cell is the nucleus. You see, the cell is a tiny image of a human being, with its own nutritive system, waste-removal system, and all the other things that an individual person has. Biologists of course, do not believe anything of the sort. Biologists do not think the cell has a brain. It is embarrassing even to have to point this out. The human brain of course has about 86 billion cells, with about 300 trillion connections, making it the most complex thing in the known universe. A single cell is indeed complex. Nevertheless, it is still at least 300 trillion times less complex than your brain. Isn’t it….

And of course, no structure in the cell is functionally similar to the brain. What’s more, just because you draw analogies between certain parts of the cell and certain parts of the body as Lipton does, it does not mean that all parts of the cell must therefore have all the characteristics that a human being has — as Lipton idiotically assumes. (Here Lipton gets a basic biological concept, homology, completely wrong by confusing it with “analogy”.)

But okay, let’s give the guy a chance. We will follow him as he attempts what he hopes is the spectacular central argument of his book.

What would happen, Lipton asks, if someone were to have their brain removed? Of course, they would immediately die. Therefore, according to modern biology, if you remove a cell’s brain, the cell will die too.


In retrospect, scientists should have known that genes couldn’t provide the control of our lives. By definition, the brain is the organ responsible for controlling and coordinating the physiology and behavior of an organism. But is the nucleus truly the cell’s brain? If our assumption that the nucleus and its DNA-containing material is the “brain” of the cell, then removing the cell’s nucleus, a procedure called enucleation, should result in the immediate death of the cell.

And now, for the big experiment… (Maestro, a drum roll if you please).

The scientist drags our unwilling cell into the microscopic operating arena and straps it down. Using a micromanipulator, the scientist guides a needle-like micropipette into position above the cell. With a deft thrust of the manipulator, our investigator plunges the pipette deep into the cell’s cytoplasmic interior. By applying a little suction, the nucleus is drawn up into the pipette and the pipette is withdrawn from the cell. Below the nucleus-engorged pipette lies our sacrificial cell – its “brain” tom out.

But wait! It’s still moving! My God… the cell is still alive!

(Biology of Belief, p.64)

There are a large number of problems here.

As Lipton correctly points out, the nucleus is full of DNA. What biology would predict — and would have predicted since the late 1800s — is that if you remove the nucleus, the cell will fail to replicate. No biologist since that time would be in the least surprised by Lipton’s demonstration. There is even biological term, enucleated, for such cells.

This is a central argument for Lipton, and it has already failed. Biologists don’t think cells have a brain, not the nucleus, nor anything else. Therefore removing it and not killing a cell does not overturn biology. And far from being a revolutionary new discovery thanks to the brilliant Doctor Lipton, it is a procedure that is carried out routinely and even has its own wikipedia page.

But Lipton is so excited about all this that he wants to push it even further, and “solve” the next (completely non-existent) problem: what, then is the brain of the cell?

Let’s put the membrane to the same “brain” test to which we put the nucleus. When you destroy its membrane, the cell dies just as you would if your brain were removed.


….Which is not only pointless but wrong as well.

The above footage is of membrane-less cells extracted from a fruit fly embryo.

Let’s put this clearly. Lipton fabricated the idea that biologists think cells have brains. He then fabricated the idea that they think the cell’s brain is the nucleus. Wrong on both counts. Then he staged a demonstration to “disprove” the latter non-existent claim, according to his own entirely fabricated standards. And he failed.

He failed even by his own entirely bogus standards to disprove a claim he fabricated himself and attributed to his opponents.

And then he made it even worse, with another demonstration to “prove” his own entirely specious claim that “the membrane is the brain of the cell” and failed again — even according to his own self-defined and entirely fabricated standards.

For someone who thinks he’s knows so much more about biology than his colleagues, and that he is revolutionising their field and exposing them as dumb frauds, that is a spectacular degree of both ignorance and incompetence.

The main claim of Lipton’s book is that the mind, especially affirmations (mentally repeating “positive” words) can cure cancer. People who buy the book, including cancer sufferers hoping to cure themselves, assume he is presenting scientific evidence that supports this claim. But despite all the technical jargon, complicated babbling about cell biology and vicious accusations about “materialistic science” being nothing more than a blindly dogmatic ideology, he never in fact even attempts to back up that central idea. Instead he blandly mentions the idea in passing, and assumes that his readers already agree.

Even more bafflingly, he declares that negative beliefs held in the subconscious need to be consciously overruled or they will cause cancer. Here is the passage, on page 127.

You can repeat the positive affirmation that you are lovable over and over or that your cancer tumor will shrink. But if, as a child, you heard over and over that you are worthless and sickly, those messages programmed in your subconscious mind will undermine your best conscious efforts to change your life.

This is difficult to achieve as the subconscious is, he declares, “millions of times more powerful than the conscious mind”. He promises to outline a solution for this terrifying weakness:

We’ll learn more about the origins of self-sabotaging subconscious programming in Chapter 7, Conscious Parenting, and how to quickly rewrite them.

Sadly, he has talked himself into such a hysterical state of incoherent blithering, that by the time he gets to Chapter 7, he forgets to say anything about it. Luckily for him though, absolutely none of his readers have noticed this.

If you think I am exaggerating all this, go ahead and read the book! It’s all in there, albeit it in a form that is so incoherent and jargon-filled that nearly all its readers give up after a couple of pages and simply assume it says whatever they want it to say.

Or check what I’m saying by reading some of the 77 blogposts I wrote, going through the book page by page. He frequently tries to impress his readers by including lengthy blocks of highly complex lecture notes that seem to have been copy-and-pasted into the text. Readers glance at these and assume they must be the complicated scientific justification for his assertions — muscle reflexes in cloned endothelial cells, the evolutionary history of slugs, and the like — but they don’t link up at all with his arguments.

Here is a very brief run down of a mere half a dozen of Lipton’s stupidest errors.

1. He claims that modern biology is an ideological dogma, blinded by an adherence to Darwinism. But modern medicine has little if anything to do with Darwinian evolution (with the obvious and spectacularly successful exception of immunology). He sides instead with Lamarck, in a controversy which flared up briefly in the 1870s and was decisively cleared up in favour of Darwin in the 1890s and confirmed by every single relevant finding ever since. And Lipton gets Lamarck’s ideas wrong, ascribing natural selection to Lamarck instead of Darwin.

2. He claims that something known jokingly in genetics as The Central Dogma is wrong. It is true that there are two versions of this: a good one, and an slightly simplified one which leads to some confusion as it doesn’t account for retro-viruses. Geneticists who are unaware of the better version sometimes get excited about “over-turning the central dogma!”, when really they’ve only shown the simple model to be outdated. Initially I thought Lipton was making this error in his book, and devoted two complicated blogposts to it. Given that quite a few geneticists have fallen into this trap, I was prepared to cut Lipton some slack on it,  but then I realised he doesn’t know what the Central Dogma is! He thinks it’s genetic determinism. But this idea, associated with eugenics, was exposed as pseudo-science in 1930s. Later versions of it which accompanied the discovery of the structure of DNA were swiftly dispatched by zoologists who pointed out that even Aristotle’s biology 2500 years ago had a more complex understanding of the biology of behaviour!

…So that is what Lipton is referring to each of the dozens of times he complains about “genetic determinism”. (Even more stupidly, he commits exactly this error himself when he advises parents to toss their baby into a swimming pool and watch it instinctively “swim like a dolphin”. Don’t that! Your baby might instinctively perform the brachiating motion that looks like swimming, but it hasn’t developed the necessary musculature and will drown.)

3. He claims that it is due to fractals that the cell is a miniature replicate of a human being, with all the same attributes and skills. Fractals — repetitions of a form at various scales — does apply in the odd case, (for example one part of the lung is structured partly in such a manner), but it does not apply to whole humans, and doesn’t occur throughout the entire body through every scale! In the Middle Ages some theologians believed that male semen contains tiny little human-seeds that simply expand when planted in a womb, but there is nothing like this idea anywhere in modern biology, apart from Lipton’s weird notion that “the cell” is also such a case.

4. Lipton claims that modern medicine has refused to utilise advances in physics. I will simply invite the reader to recall any medical intervention they’ve experienced which involved some kind of a machine. (Lipton realises the absurdity of this claim himself when he includes a scan of a cancer tumour, but dismisses it as a “rare case” of medicine using modern technology.) Lipton himself mentions the discovery of X-rays in 1895, but fails to realise that where physicists swiftly lost interest in that particular phenomenon, medical science immediately began using it for diagnosis.

5. Lipton claims that the reason modern medicine rejects modern physics is because biology is ideologically committed to “Newtonian physics”. Baffling as this claim is in itself — the inverse square law of gravitation is rarely if ever invoked by medical practitioners — Lipton gets Newtonian physics wrong. He thinks it is “linear thinking”

Figure from Biology of Belief, p.104

…and is incapable of dealing with any occurrence that is not sequential. By this measure, a map of the New York subway lines would have been too complex for humans to construct until the advent of quantum physics. (Yes, Lipton’s argument really is that simplistic.) Moreover, Lipton clearly never heard of Newton’s invention of calculus.

6. Even more stupidly — and this is really gobsmacking — Lipton thinks that this…

Figure from Biology of Belief, p.105

…is quantum physics.

Yes, that is really what he thinks quantum physics is! I am not joking!

And modern medicine’s rejection of it makes anything more complex than A->B->C is incomprehensible to a modern medical doctor.

And he pushes this stupidity even further of course, with an absolutely hilarious attempt at explaining the equation E=mc2. He fails completely, despite taking five runs at it, wherein he devises five different and completely wrong versions of it. Even that is too hard for him, and he is too stupid to realise — despite having dedicated the book to Einstein.

I am only scratching the surface of this man’s spectacular and hilariously stupid mistakes. But horrifyingly, the book is aimed at cancer sufferers who are often scared or desperate, and it is way too complicated for even his most loyal fans to penetrate beyond a page or two, so they take it on trust that cancer or any other illness can be healed via “mind over matter” as he promises.

Anyone who recommends this book has not read it. Any such person deserves to lose all credibility and never be trusted again on any matter pertaining to science, health, or reality. Nor should they even be trusted on information about alternative medicine, as Lipton’s descriptions of treatments like homeopathy, acupuncture, and all the other modalities he name-checks are just as inaccurate as his everything else!

I say to anyone who claims to have read this book and wants to defend it, go right ahead — comments are open. Otherwise stop recommending this deadly dangerous book.

Posted by Yakaru


Two more comments trying to defend Louise Hay’s deadly quackery

January 19, 2020

On an earlier post titled Speaking ill of a dead cancer quack, two commenters have repeated the usual lies that all the other people defend Louise Hay’s fraud use. I will consider them here in a separate post so that next time people leave exactly the same comment I can just send them here.

Commenter “River” said this:

The person who wrote this article not even read her books and is saying lies. She never said that you don’t need to go to the doctor or take medicines. When she was sick she had chemotherapy and healed with that and her beliefs. She doesn’t talk about a “methafisical” healing, all she talk is about changing the way we think about ourselves and how that can help to heal us, sadness and guilt in fact can create illnesses and we all know that, because our inmune system goes down. This article is just for to divert the attention from the inner knowledge and make people buy more to pharmaceuticals and be addicted to it and continue being anxious and unhappy because that’s what the system needs.

Ok. First two sentences:

The person who wrote this article not even read her books and is saying lies. She never said that you don’t need to go to the doctor or take medicines.

“River” is lying. I didn’t claim that Hay said that. She didn’t read the article.

When she was sick she had chemotherapy and healed with that and her beliefs.

What she claimed is that affirmations healed her where the doctors failed. That’s why the doctors were so baffled (she says) when the cancer she claimed she had was gone. That was the whole point of the story, and that’s why I emphasised that she “couldn’t remember” the doctors’ names or what stage her “cancer” was at, and that she did not bother to keep any record of it, even though she had already published a book which claims that affirmations can heal cancer and every other disease, (You Can Heal Your Life).

Se doesn’t talk about a “methafisical” healing, all she talk is about changing the way we think about ourselves and how that can help to heal us…

Flat wrong. Look at You Can Heal Your Life. Three columns appear on each page: Illness; Metaphysical Cause; Healing Affirmation.

…sadness and guilt in fact can create illnesses and we all know that, because our inmune system goes down.

Stress can weaken the immune system and exacerbate already existing problems, leading to illness. This is well researched, well understood, but in my opinion, under-emphasised in medicine. Louise Hay has contributed nothing but confusion and lies to this field.

This article is just for to divert the attention from the inner knowledge and make people buy more to pharmaceuticals and be addicted to it and continue being anxious and unhappy because that’s what the system needs.

Like every other commenter who has ever tried to defend Louise Hay here, “River” has not addressed the problem I raised about people dying because they thought Louise Hay is offering a cancer cure. They don’t care about their fellow customers who have died because they thought that “Healing Affirmation” means “affirmation that heals”, or that her “Healing Cancer” cd is concerned with healing cancer.

They don’t care about any of the cases I mentioned in the article, nor do they bother reading the earlier post (Louise Hay is a dangerous quack) I linked to where I list some of the hundreds of google searches from my site stats, revealing people googling “Louise Hay cancer cure” Louise Hay breast cancer” and the like.

“River”, I agree with you that Louise Hay does not have a cure for cancer. You don’t need to tell me that. You need to get on the Louise Hay forums and tell people there. They might believe you before they believe me. You might save a few lives.

And also, River, where did Louise Hay say she had chemotherapy? I never read that anywhere or heard it. But go ahead and tell people she did though — that lie at least might help convince someone to do it.

I’ll go through the she second comment, from Carla, line by line.

I really recommend you to read “You Can Heal your Life”, this is not about “methapysics”, it’s about being in peace with yourself and your past, is about forgiving the people who hurt you in the past and that’s what will change you.

Then why does it claim that all diseases have a “Metaphysical Cause”?

My friend healed from cancer thanks to this books and the chemotherapy.

This assertion is potentially deadly. Maybe some will read it and think “Louise Hay’s products will help heal me get through chemotherapy.” Fine, as long as they really do undergo chemo. If Louise Hay’s mushy words help anyone at all who has to go through that, I wish them all the best. Really.

But other people, like the people I mentioned in the article and whom Carla and River ignore, will read Louise Hay saying that affirmations healed her where the doctors failed.

I healed from other illnesses too.

Again, asserting that Louise Hay’s products “heal” illnesses. They don’t. In fact, affirmations are a very poor form of stress management. Simplistic and unreliable, and are often attached to the false and psychologically unhealthy idea that thoughts and events can be divided into “positive” and “negative”.

I became less hateful.

Well you are certainly less hateful so far than many other Louise Hay fans, like the earlier commenter on this thread telling me I would get cancer because of my “negativity”.

Many lifes had changed with her help. She never said to not going to the doctor or not taking medicines.

Just like “River”, Carla accuses of saying I said she did. Why do Louise Hay fans ALL repeat the same lies here about me? And never address any of the serious criticisms I make of Hay?

It’s clear that the person who wrote this article never read her books.

It’s clear Carla, just like River, didn’t bother reading the article, because I discuss the content of her books in some detail.

EVERYBODY who read this book love it and feel better.

Great advertising from Carla, but it’s obviously not true. Human psychology is not as simple as Carla thinks, and physiology is more complex than Hay claims. Hay talks as if we know as much about human physiology today as we did in the time of Jesus. Thus leprosy has a metaphysical cause, and a prayer can heal it. Thus, everything that goes on under the skin is a mystery that we can only gawp at in wonder or horror.

Thus, the body is both mysterious — somehow affirmations will help and we can’t know how — but also so simple that EVERYBODY will react exactly the same way to the affirmations that Louise Hay claims will heal, as inevitably as an aspirin will thin the blood.

Posted by Yakaru