Liftons "Loaded Language" in JWs

by refiners fire 6 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • refiners fire
    refiners fire

    Thought Reform and the psychology of Totalism page 429.

    Regarding the criteria of Loaded Language, Lifton writes:

    ...."The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought terminating clich. The most far reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start an finish of any ideological analysis"..

    Lifton calls it ..."the language of non thought".

    To demonstrate what he means, Lifton uses the example of categorizing thought and ideas. A variety of human concerns, such as the expression of individual opinion, the exploring of alternate ideas, and the considering of both sides of the argument are labelled bourgeois mentality by Chinese Communists. Of course, every good Chinese Communist has already been programmed, thru endless repetition of slogans, that to have a bourgeois mentality is a very bad thing. In Jehovahs Witness terms a consideration that something is Satanic thinking or a humanistic idea produces a similar emotional response.

    So the tendancy of the loaded language is to shut down alternate considerations. Alternate ideas. Alternate feelings. Alternate wants. Alternate interests, by programming negative / positive reflex responses into the masses.

    This is achieved very simply, in language terms, by highly polarizing the categorization of everything. By constant repetition of simplified slogans and polarized concepts. And by continuous bombardment with orthodox propaganda.

    Next, Lifton says:

    .... "These clichs become ultimate terms. Either GOD terms, representative of ultimate good, or DEVIL terms, representative of ultimate evil.Totalist language then, is centred then on all encompassing jargon. Highly categorical, relentlessly judging"....

    Now as Lifton says, very many organizations or movements have a degree of loaded language in that they have specialist jargon. Comnputer jargon would be a good example, and your level of understanding of the jargon would categorize you on the scale of competency from computer illiterate to computer expert.

    The Watchtower itself has a heirachy categorization that every witness is familiar with. Everyone knows what it means to be on the governing body, or in the remnant. Or to be a publisher or ministerial servant. But such categorizations are nothing unusual.

    In the Totalism, this extreme categorization of things, and especially the polarization of things into simplified Black / White terms comes to include EVERYTHING. Relationships. Feelings. Employment. Education. Etc. No sphere of human interest or concern is left uncontrolled. That is why it is a totalism I guess, because it covers every sphere of life, it has every answer to every possible question, and every word it utters is a divine truth.

    Lifton concludes:

    .." For an individual person the effect of the language of ideological totalism can be summed up in one word- constriction, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed."....

    But does the Watchtower organization practise this Loading of Language? Do they polarize concepts into extreme black and white terms? Well , I think we all know they do, but I will demonstrate anyway. It seems a curious fact, as Erica Heftmann pointed out when talking about the Moonie cult, that cults have a tendancy to disparage popular culture. Being in opposition to those things held as symbolizing success, education, wealth, and status. This is a thing that is not generally pointed out much, so I thought I might demonstrate the JW loaded language regarding such things as Education, science, and social success..

    Watchtower. August 1, 1971. Article: Making known Gods Prophetic truths.


    13 For nearly a century Jehovah's witnesses have warned those seeking to obey God as ruler not to put their trust in material wealth but to be content with life's necessities, for that is what the Bible says. (Matt. 6:11, 33, 34) Repeatedly they pointed out the Bible's teaching that financial wealth was not truly satisfying or secure, and that it would go out of existence with this system of things. Yet, all during that time the world's economic experts were promoting one scheme after another promising financial security".....

    Surely every good Witness knows what the term materialism means, and knows how to respond emotionally to it. Materialism = Satan in the parlance of the simplified language. The term The World equals the same thing. this system of things, another negative. Notice the term promoting one scheme after another. Now, in and of itself this phrase might be ambivalent. However, In the context, this is a negative as well. So, if the word Scheme were used repetitively by the propaganda machine in a negative context, pretty soon the brainwashed masses would reflexively respond just at the sight of the word scheme and would equate it with Satan or nastiness/ undesirable traits.

    Heres another one, same article:


    16 During this century science has been hailed as a savior. It was claimed that it would provide the technology to subdue the earth and provide plenty and comfort for all. However, Jehovah's witnesses warned that, despite good intentions and some benefits , science was a false hope because it could not solve mankind's problems. Has this been so? Professor Commager states: "At the end of a generation of unparalleled advance in science and technology, mankind found hunger more widespread, violence more ruthless, and life more insecure than at any time in the century. Nor was this disappointment confined to the backward peoples of the globe: Even in America, which boasted almost limitless resources and the most advanced technology, poverty was familiar in millions of households, white as well as black; cities decayed, the countryside despoiled, air and streams polluted; lawlessness, official and private, was contagious; and war and the threat of war filled the minds of men with hatred and fear.".....

    One could almost believe that this passage seeks to lay the blame for these things at the feet of science. The Watchtower used this heavily loaded, doom laden language a lot in the 1970s. Probably because they deemed the times to be most urgent, and the necessity to protect the brothers from their own sinful tendancies an imperative, as the times were so short. I do wish to mention just one other thing in connection with the above passage. Regarding the line despite good intentions and some benefits . This is what I call a give. The Watchtower concedes a small point to the external milieu. some benefits. By saying this, they can tell themselves that their presentation of facts is unbiased. Hey! We didnt say science is ALL bad!. But the give is then followed by an extensive and very black take. Science equates with ruthless.pollution.poverty.decayed.despoiled. Etc.

    Here is one final passage in conclusion, it is pertaining, mainly, to youth and education, and is from one of the great Watchtower articles of all times if you are interested in studying black propaganda:

    Watchtower. September 15, 1971. Article. Set apart from the World:

    ......"16 Impressionable youths are often the target of greedy materialists. Parents, fortify your children. See that they avoid the bad influences at school-dances, parties, dating. This glamorous, sensual age is reaping its bumper harvest of youth immorality, horrible sex diseases, thievery, dope addiction and rebellion against society. With wise foresight, Jehovah commanded Israel: "You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends." (Ex. 23:2) This applies also to our young people today. The mob, with its degraded thinking, will only lead them away from Jehovah's fine principles. When a mob gets on the loose, it is often the novice or the curious bystander that gets hurt. For mental, moral and physical well-being, it is wise to keep well away from "the crowd."

    17 All worldly careers are soon to come to an end. So, why should today's youth get interested in 'higher education' for a future that will never eventuate? The colleges are falling into chaos, anyway."....

    I love the term higher education presented in parenthesis. Every brainwashed dub knows that such perenthesis about a term equals a slur term. The black / evil prospect of "worldly education" is offset by the white prospect of TRUE education:

    ....." The essentials of education for a useful life can be obtained by studying well at high school, and beyond that there is also the 'highest education' that Jehovah provides through his organization, preparing for a satisfying career of full-time service that goes on forever".....

    Highest education....Jehovah.....organization.....satisfying career....door knocking....forever and ever

    MMMMMM. "Double plus good" Brothers and Sisters.

    Edited by - refiners fire on 2 January 2003 20:58:15

  • Earnest

    Thanks for sharing this, rf. Interesting (to me) that the examples you chose were from August/September 1971. I finished my schooling in November 1971. Ripe for the plucking.

    Like you I have taken an interest in word triggers...cross, evolution, trinity...which create an automatic response without consideration that they mean different things to different people. But what was a real eye-opener to me was reading the book 'Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China' by Jung Chang, which is a semi-biographical account of life in the Republic of China this past century. The similarities in the methods used to propagate doctrine and life-style were unnervingly identical. While I do still hover on the fringe I make a point of skipping emotive buzzwords which makes for some disjointed singing as you can imagine.


    Edited by - Earnest on 2 January 2003 21:15:41

  • Prisca

    Interesting essay on loaded and emotive language used in the WT publications.

  • A Paduan
    A Paduan

    So every jw is drilled and battered about how materialism is bad, but they don't give their things to the poor - talk about haunted in demons - it's no wonder at all that they are willing to believe bizarre doctrines to keep that supressed.

  • Gareth2003

    Hi Refiner,

    I was very interested to read your essay, although Im a little confused. ; According to Steven Hassan, brain washing by his explanation (and many other brainwashing experts) always includes some type of physical deprivation or physical confinement and possible inclusion of torture.

    Could you please explain to me how a JDub can be brainwashed if they are not physically tortured, confined, deprived etc??

    I would also like see your thoughts on how the use of this "loaded language" brainwashes a person.

    All of us have our own "loaded language" to some extent I imagine. There are those words and phrases that we use almost every day of our lives, eg Honey, Sweetheart, ;going to the salt mines, thank God its Friday, ;KFC, MacDonalds, Pizza,..............Vacation, Good Morning, Sweetdreams, I love you..........etc etc.

    Does my regular use of repetitive words and phrases mean that I'm brainwashed?

    I thought that an organization or a person had to meet a whole range of conditions including use of physically abusive punishment before they could be accused of having brain washed someone else.?

    If that is correct (what the experts say), then the JW's do not "brainwash" anybody.
    Perhaps you could explain to me in more depth how you have concluded the Jw's are brainwashed simply because they have their own words and phrases.?

    I guess we all must be brainwashed if your explanation is correct?.

    Didn't this Lifton guy include physical punishment as part of his conditions for having been brainwashed?

    Could you please provide me with some reference stuff on the name of his book and other page numbers, chapter;etc where I can find this information?

    My Regards and Happy New Year,


  • link

    Hi Gareth,

    May I make a comment on your post?

    rf is not talking about brain washing but about thought control techniques and this is something very different. You will note that he has used a term related to brain washing (in a very oblique way) only once and you have done it (very specifically) nine times.

    You are using a thought guidance technique closely related to the very point that rf is making.


  • refiners fire
    refiners fire


    Im not aware that Lifton used the term 'brainwashing" much. Im not aware he talked much about physical confinement and torture either. That sounds more Edgar Scheins thinking in "Coercive Persuasion" not sure. Havent read Schein in a while, so dont hold me to that.

    With regard to seperation/ physical confinement, It is my opinion that segregation, control of activities, threat of punishment and psychological pressure techniques are things that occur in every day life as does the use of "loaded language". The only difference between say, a work situation and a cult situation is the extremity of the segregation and control. JWs is a big cult, you cant put 6 million people into a sealed barbed wire compound, if they could, Im sure the GB would. Course, they could always establish their own state, like the Mormons have. Adventists tend to seperate into enclaves, taking over whole towns, so the tendancy to seperation / Isolation is always there within a Totalit situation (IMO) but the dubs settle for psychological isolation thru endless terrorization of the members with black propaganda about the "Outside world".

    Hope youre not disappointed with my response brother, Im not a world expert in Lifton, or anything else. Everything presented is purely my own interpretation of having read Lifton in conjunction with having read Watchtower magazines. If you want an extensive understanding of "brainwashing" (something beyond my capacity to provide you with) Id suggest asking an "expert".

    Many thanks to all who responded.

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