Understanding “coalitions of clay” will help you understand and oppose cultic mind-control, from Trump to NXIVM to neo-Confederate politics in general

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If you want to understand US politics today, you need to understand cults and their mind-control methods. Here, I’ll use the idea of “coalitions of clay” to describe the way some groups are held together by an unstable combination of psychological denial and plausible deniability.

By psychological denial, I mean the “authentically inauthentic” process by which a person becomes genuinely unaware of some reality (at least at points and to some degree) by suppressing it. It happens a lot in abusive relationships, on the side of both the abuser and the abused. It sometimes happens automatically and non-consciously, but it can also be consciously cultivated. Denial is widely trained in the United States as more than a coping mechanism, but as a super-power. Whether we’re talking about its New Agey variants (The Secret) or its business-y variants (power of positive thinking) or its supposedly Christian variants (name it and claim it/“faith” healing/mind-cure), there is no shortage of people who actively coach people in denial as a first principle and ultimate source of power. I imagine the message especially appeals to people who have suffered abuse and who have grown familiar with it as a coping mechanism, which is understandable. There are times and places where some measure of denial helps us survive. But if it is elevated beyond this status, denial quickly becomes a standard tool of cult mind control. NXIVM is in the news lately, and is a fantastic illustration of how the bussiness-y variant of denial, elevated to the level of a first principle, was used to create a truly abusive sex cult. It isn’t difficult to do and it doesn’t require particularly deep insight into human nature, even if non-psychopaths find it hard to believe that psychopaths are able and willing to wield it so destructively and ruthlessly against people. So that’s denial, a deeply held first principle in much of American life, and a very simple tool of cult mind control when it occupies that position.

The other side of these coalitions of clay are the people who wield denial: cult leaders and other abusive leaders. These figures, men like Donald Trump and NXIVM-founder Keith Raniere, understand how to manipulate people’s denial in their own interest. A crucial factor is the maintenance of “plausible deniability.” Plausible to whom? When it comes to manipulating the denial-disempowered in-group, it really only matters that it is plausible to the captured in-group. And almost any bold and confident lie is plausible to them, precisely because their denial prevents them from investigating further. It is always painful to face a truth like this, and almost impossible to do so if you have elevated denial to the status of first principle. Aside from all of the normal human difficulty and pain associated with seeing the truth that you’ve been conned, communities trained in denial have a host of additional personal and social impulses pushing them away from looking at the truth. Abandoning denial will “manifest the bad” or “be bad for business” or “make them a negative/suppressive person” or “represent a lack of faith” or “be them giving in to fear” etc. And in these groups, these personal fears are also social fears: the coalition of clay will surround them with these words of denial, which have been actively trained into them all, reinforcing the internalized first principle of denial in their own mind.

Neo-confederate politics in the US, the set of traditions and impulses at the core of Donald Trump’s current attempts to bigly disenfranchize black-caste voters and their “race traitor” allies, is also a coalition of clay. I think it goes back to a deeply rooted coalition of clay in American politics, the coalition between satanic enslavers and white caste people who didn’t have slaves, but who were assigned a somewhat privileged position in the hierarchy. This social form has roots in British feudalism, but evolved into an especially vicious form once English serfs were replaced with black-caste slaves. An enormous system of the most horrific abuse imaginable, it is an environment that cultivates denial as a first principle and plausible deniability as a way of maintaining control over the denial-trained.

These coalitions of clay can remain powerful over generations, as the habits of denial (for followers and sometimes leaders) and plausible deniability (for leaders) are trained from one generation to the next. The reason I call them “coalitions of clay” is that they are ultimately based on a lie, which creates an alliance of con men and suckers who have long been primed to be conned. Their suckers aren’t necessarily dumb, by the way, and often they’re extremely intelligent and successful people within our society. Denial really can, for a limited time and in certain high stress situations, be kind of like a super-power. Additionally, it is cultivated and rewarded by coalitions of clay in all kinds of ways: as loyalty, as “getting it”, as “having faith”, as “being able to manifest”, as “positive thinking” and more. But ultimately, it carries all kinds of heavy and terrible prices when elevated to a first principle: disconnection from reality, ignorance, hubristic errors, division (disconnection from truth-tellers), in-fighting. And even when relatively few people escape the clutches of the coalition, those who escape are often animated for the rest of their life by a just anger at the profound violation and depth of betrayal they’ve suffered. Even when few escape, those who escape often become highly motivated and powerful organizers against the coalition of clay.

Coalitions of clay don’t fall apart in a day. Often, they splinter and fracture and kill and destroy and maim for generations. But they always contain the seeds of their own destruction. And although they promise winning, and can sometimes deliver it for a few within the magical circle, they ultimately deliver loss.

Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.

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