Posted by: Damon Whitsell | March 5, 2009

Thought-Stopping Language. Thought-terminating clichés and slogans.

Thought-Stopping Language. Thought-terminating clichés and slogans.

The cult has lots of slogans and thought-stopping clichés, and the cult has its own language with plenty of redefined words. This is one of Robert J. Lifton’s eight criteria for a “thought reform”, or “brainwashing” program.

Slogans are handy because they can condense whole pages of dogma into snappy one-liners which are easy to remember and easy to repeat.

Slogans are effective tools for stopping thought. When a simplistic slogan is the answer, there just isn’t much more to be said on the subject. Alcoholics Anonymous uses slogans like

  • “Utilize, don’t analyze”,
  • “Stop Your Stinkin’ Thinkin'”,
  • “You have a thinking problem, not a drinking problem”, and
  • “Your best thinking got you here”

to stop people from thinking. Those kinds of slogans are also known as “thought-stopping clichés.”

Robert J. Lifton, the author of the classic study of Chinese Communist brainwashing, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in China, said that thought-terminating clichés constrict, rather than expand, human understanding. When the cult controls language, it also controls what people can think, because words are the tools we use for thought. And such jargon has the advantage (to the cult) that non-members simply cannot comprehend what cult members are really talking about. This further isolates the cult members, and makes them feel that nobody but another cult member really understands.

Slogans can also codify ideas which don’t work well in other formats: For example, Hitler’s “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer!” sound bite (translation: “One people, one empire, one leader!”) wouldn’t have the same zing if it were a long essay, especially because it is actually an irrational emotional appeal to the people to abandon democracy and embrace a fascist dictatorship. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that the average voter could not handle any idea that took more than two sentences to express, and for best results, the idea should be expressed in six words or less. Hence all of his short slogans.


      All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be. But if, as in propaganda for sticking out a war, the aim is to influence a whole people, we must avoid excessive intellectual demands on our public, and too much caution cannot be exerted in this direction.
      The more modest its intellectual ballast, the more exclusively it takes into consideration the emotions of the masses, the more effective it will be.

      It is a mistake to make propaganda many-sided, like scientific instruction, for instance.
      The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.
Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler, pages 180-181.



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