Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry

by Robert Jay Lifton

Hardcover, 2019


The New Press (2019), 240 pages


"A definitive account of the psychology of zealotry, from a National Book Award winner and a leading authority on the nature of cults, political absolutism, and mind control"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member pivic
This book is an acquired taste.

Also, I'm saddened that it's painted with such broad strokes that paragraphs like the following can turn up in it:

One other important factor in the Chinese heritage also played a part in the evolution of reform techniques: human-centered psychological skills. No other
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civilization has paid so much attention to the conduct of human relationships. The Chinese family, with its characteristically complicated inner maneuvering, has been an excellent psychological training ground: in order to be “proper,” Chinese children have had to learn to be aware of the emotional currents in their milieu. And this personal emphasis has extended from the family into the rest of Chinese life: whether performing official duties or seeking personal objectives, the Chinese people have always put great stress on exerting influence upon the people involved—and there is only a fine line between influence and manipulation. These human-centered skills have been carefully nurtured over centuries, and emphasized at the expense of technical achievements. In this sense, thought reform is the modern totalitarian expression of a national genius.

There are far too few references and sources provided to give way to these kinds of statements; I mean "the Chinese people"...

That kind of writing, along with the author's preference to create terms that should be avoided a lot of the time, is drab and turned me right off this book, which is a shame as its subjects—e.g. Donald Trump (and the alt-right that follows him), Aum Shinrikyō, and "the Chinese".

In recent work I have referred to “malignant normality,” by which I mean the imposition of a norm of destructive or violent behavior, so that such behavior is expected or required of people. I came to this idea through my study of Nazi doctors. The physicians arriving at Auschwitz were expected to carry out selections of Jews for the gas chambers. That was their job. Whatever conflicts they experienced, the great majority adapted to that malignant normality.

This could have been a triumphant book, but instead, it fell into a heap of piffles, for me.
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