Monday, November 26, 2007

Demand for Purity (Lifton 101)



Within a manipulative group, the demand for purity describes the “black and white” or the “all or nothing” thought that pervades the ideology and leadership of the group. This follows naturally from the rigid standards of perfection that the group ideology establishes and often develops out of necessity due to milieu control. 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 the extreme perfection. Dissidents or competing ideologies are labeled as entirely untrustworthy and are given the connotation of near-heresy. (In psychology, this ego defense is termed "splitting" and is a normal, temporary function of early childhood.) As a support to the milieu control, the demand for purity enhances the group norm and ideals of focus.



The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here. Systems of positive reinforcement of acceptable behavior and negative reinforcement of unwanted behavior are employed to promote compliance with the group norm through both connotative language and through other means. Favored individuals are often used to model behavior and are rewarded very publicly to promote group compliance. Those who do not meet the pure standard do not receive benefits or the same degree of benefit from the group as a means of incentive to conform to the desired norm.


Steven Martin's book, "The Heresy of Mind Control, also describes the Demand for Purity. Please visit his site and consider purchasing the e-book that is made available without cost but asks readers to pay an amount conmensurate with a 160 page work. (Steven is brother of Dr. Paul Martin of the Wellspring Center, the only inpatient recovery facility for those who have survived spiritual abuse, cults and manipulative relationships.) Here is his excellent summary of Lifton's Thought Reform Dynamic of the "Demand for Purity":

Getting Nowhere Fast (Pg 36)

This is a demand which goes to the extreme of labeling certain thoughts, feelings and actions as “sins” which really are not sins at all. Even human limitations, weaknesses, and imperfections are categorized as “sin,” and perhaps looked upon with condemnation. In other words, it is a demand for perfection. It is a kind of purity that is not reachable. It is a standard of purity, of rightness and wrongness, as defined by the leader (the ideological totalist). Every human being has a certain amount of guilt and shame that can be tapped into. At totalist leader can then exploit this guilt and shame:
  • To remind the subject of his limitations and weaknesses.
  • As a manipulative appeal to the subject to strive for the ultimate standard of good as the authoritative leader so defines it.
The result is a burden of man-made rules that come to be accepted as necessary for purity or perfection. But the rules are hard to bear and the goal is unattainable, resulting in undue guilt and shame. Hence, it is a system of legalism. The guilt and shame are used as emotional levers, and serve to prod the member toward continuous reform. The subject keeps on striving painfully to meet the prevailing standard. But it is like being on a treadmill, or pursuing the carrot on a stick. If the subject does not measure up to the standard or keep the rules, he is expected to expect (or willingly accept) punishment, humiliation, and ostracism.

-Summary & paraphrase of Dr. Lifton on Demand for Purity.