Monday, February 24, 2014

Reflected in Ice: An Aspergers Review of Frozen

The following movie review contains mild spoilers. I try to tread lightly, but can't avoid addressing a few in-movie moments or thematic elements.

There are two measures of good art.

The first is anything that can make me feel strongly. The other is that which holds up a mirror to the viewers, in which, each sees herself.

Frozen accomplished both of these goals with resounding success.

Secret Wish - Tami Vaughn
I had this printed on a mousepad I used for years.
Good mirrors are composed of metaphors and character traits and plot in the right combination of vague and specific to reflect a broad range of life situations and personalities. Many types of people see themselves in Frozen: girls who are raised to be perfect, sisters who struggle in their relationships, women who are deceived by those they trust, those who have secrets, neurodiverse people, anyone who is misunderstood, and anyone who is rejected for all the wrong reasons. And like the second trial in The NeverEnding Story, a mirror which reveals the viewers "true self", Frozen's mirror can reflect the ugly parts of some people, like the blogger, "Well-Behaved Mormon Woman", who calls Frozen part of the "gay agenda to normalize homosexuality" and who says it's terrible we're letting kids get the message that rebellion is better than obedience.

Can you hold it down, please?
I'm trying to make history over here.
Whatever, lady. I have an entirely different view when I look at myself in art.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

RadCon 6b Schedule

If you're in the Tri-Cities, WA (my hometown), come see me at RadCon this weekend! Their tagline is "The big con with the little con feel", and that's true.

I'm on many panels this weekend and am also manning the NIWA book-selling booth in the Small Press room.

Here is my schedule:


2pm – Indie Professionalism in Self-Publishing
Do you have what it takes to be a successful indie? Selling your book to hundreds of readers requires more skill than selling it to a single editor (not less). Discussing professional behavior in networking, PR, and dealing with rejection.
With: Willich, Dameon      Thornbrugh, Kaye      Chinakos, Mike      Boop, David

4pm – Picture This!
Fan Suite
Everyone has a mental movie that plays as we read. Our writers bring bits of story to share for artists to sketch to.  Beginners and experts welcome!
With:  Jones, Peter     Sturgeon, Jeff     Townsend, S. Evan
          Tayler, Howard,    Gray III, John    Hall, Vandy      Leonhard, Herb

6:30pm – Reading "Touch of Tides" 2209

8pm – Polyamory Revival
Polyamory is returning to mainstream consciousness with hit shows like “Polyamory: Married and Dating” on Showtime and feature stories in major news outlets. There are several misconceptions about polyamory, the first being that it is a “new” type of relationship model.  Learn how polyamory is from times of old, how agriculture and property ownership changed family dynamics, and how certain polyamory models are especially empowering for women. Enjoy the discussion, and walk away with suggested readings to further your knowledge on this fascinating subject.
With: Jones, Peter     Goldstein, Ari     Baldwin, Amanda  Thomas, Johnathan   Lindsey, Roland

9:15 – 50 Shades of Consent
With the success of books like 50 Shades of Grey, more people than ever are reading about BDSM. But when writing about it, what are some misunderstandings or common errors to avoid? How can writers present it in ways that are safe, sane, and consensual?
With: Jones, Peter     Thomas, Johnathan     Baldwin, Amanda  Lindsey, Roland


11am-4pm – NIWA Booksales Booth - Small Press Room (2209?)
Emerald City Dreamer will be available for sale in print the whole weekend. Come during this time and get it signed!

8pm – Gender and Sexuality
Fan Suite
How do the gender roles society places on us affect our behavior and steer morality, self-esteem, even legal code? How about sexual preferences, gender identity and asexuality? Be prepared for a lively and open discussion!
With: Foster, Voss     Excell, Tamra     Lindsey, Roland   Louve, Rhiannon


11:15am – Getting into the mind of the Religious Fanatic
Uber villain or bit player, what are they like? Are there any useful generalizations? Are they likely to be suicidal and does that depend on the religion or the person?
With:  Louve, Rhiannon     Guizzetti, Elizabeth  Letourneau, Guy

12:30pm – Writing Neurodiversity
Creating neurodiverse characters with autism, Aspergers, ADHD, bipolar, OCD, and synesthesia, can give your writing new dimensions. Come learn the right way to represent these unique strengths and weaknesses.
With: Berry, DiAnne     Freeman-Daily, Janet     Townsend, S. Evan     Wacks, Peter

As you can see, it's a very busy con. Come see me!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Label Me, Illuminate Me

The label-debate rages on, and now that I know I have autism, I have firmly come down on one side: I am in favor of labels.

Labels can be used to dehumanize, to misconstrue, to overgeneralize, and to blind us to a person's humanity and individuality. As Wayne said, "If you label me, you negate me".

Preach it, Wayne.
Then party on.
Actually, it was the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who originally said this. "Butterflygirl" on Yahoo Answers summarized Kierkegaard thusly:
Once you label someone you cancel out their own individuality and replace it within the boundaries of that label, so their individually has been restricted within that label and therefore, for all those who accept that label for that person they have no longer accepted that person for who they really are but understand them only to the limit of that label.
And I know all too well from my research into mind control that loaded language combined with us vs. them techniques can indeed leverage labels to negate an individual and render her selfless. It can be used to dismiss external points of view. Labels can make a group insider feel benevolent and normal while demonizing outsiders as inhuman and evil.

Many people fairly point out that labels, particularly psychological labels, can divide people. Labels can become truth. We are all individuals, but dumping thousands or millions of people into the same bucket removes some sense of self. Being labeled in school can make kids a target of bullying, not just from other kids but from teachers as well. It can impose expectations in education and in the workplace and among peers. Labeling can trigger tribalism and hostility. When people are unfairly labeled, they end up filling the role others expect of them.

I've met people in person and read blog posts from people who hate all labels. Here's a dude summing up this line of thought:

These are certainly valid drawbacks, but like The Spork of Truth, it has four tines. Hm, no I need something else... Like the Spoon of Truth, it has two edges. The same aspects that make labels problematic also give labels power. And when your label has power, you have power.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Persuade the Bystanders

This post has to do with social justice – you know, topics like privilege, racism, sexism, classism, ablism, and all the other ignorant and/or hatey "isms" worth railing against. I'll get to those in a second.

In the late 90s, while arguing politics on BBS message boards, I realized an important truth that I've carried with me always:

When people argue in public, they will almost never convince one another. But they do influence the lurkers. 

WWIV message boards
My view of the world when I
learned this important life lesson 
Sometimes the persuasion is instant. Now and then a lurker will timidly post and reveal that their minds have been changed. But most keep this fact to themselves. More often, the change is slow. These lurkers continue to follow similar arguments, until eventually, they are swayed by whichever side has collectively made the best case. I myself have drastically changed my mind on deeply held beliefs in this way, both by debating and merely watching debates. I've also seen it happen to other people. But it's rarely instant.

It's hard to know that these neutral and persuadable lurkers exist. They are, by their nature, quiet. Very often, though not always, the more vocal a person is, the less likely they are to be convinced. So we tend to think everyone who doesn't use a megaphone is just like everyone who does. This is not true.

I think about the topic of persuasion alot. I'm a writer. It's my job to persuade. I also love debate, a casual pastime since childhood. Roland makes a wonderful and challenging debate partner to help me better understand what works and what doesn't. On top of all that, I've studied mind control, otherwise known as "coercive persuasion" – the ability of manipulators to convince people against their will.

Monday, January 13, 2014

2013 Accomplishments - 2014 Goals

What a year. In reviewing my goals from last year, looks like I got way off track, but I'm very pleased with what I accomplished.

This year, I:
One reason I didn't accomplish all of my 2013 goals is because of that little sidetrack. It's a book I had thought about writing based on my mind control website in 2005, forgotten about, and then on a whim decided to crank it out "real quick". The effort took 7 months (with distractions in between). It is currently out to alpha readers.

Emerald City Iron made it through the writer's group, and is ready for the next round of edits, when I can get to it.

I have a bunch of stories to submit, and one in particular is totally publishable. It's been rejected twice, both with a personal note from the editor, so I know it will sell. I just have to get it, and the others, out there. I set the bar pretty high for myself. I currently only submit stories to pro-paying markets until those venues are exhausted, and then I might send it to semi-pro markets. My time and splines are fairly limited, so I'd rather spend time aiming at high targets, being a perfectionist, and working on totally unplanned projects. ;)

So my goals for this year:
  • Publish Recovering Agency in print and ebook.
  • Market Recovering Agency, including launching a new website and giving interviews.
  • Be a panelist at Radcon again.
  • Be invited as a visiting pro at another con for 2015. Norwescon would be nice.
  • Speak at Defcon.
  • Speak elsewhere, either a seminar, or Exmormon Foundation, or some convention related to cults or religion, on the topic of mind control.
  • Write a whole bunch of blog posts on autism and mind control.
  • Release Emerald City Iron.
  • Complete a major step in a novel: Either write the first draft of the next Dreams by Streetlight book or the second draft of The Sun Never Rises.
  • Sell two stories to pro-paying markets. I'd really love to sell to an anthology.
If that seems like alot, it's because it is. So we'll see. :) There's a significant chance I will be caught up in marketing Recovering Agency for many months. It's already generated plenty of interest. I need to be okay with dropping many of the above goals in trade for promoting a book that could really help people. And maybe pay some bills in the process.

So here's to 2014. May it be a very good year for all of us.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Autism and Shame

At the end of the week when I literally wrote the chapter on shame (in my book Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control), I found myself curled up on my bed, sobbing, in the throes of a meltdown, feeling like the worst person on earth -- feeling vitally broken in all the ways that count -- feeling like the unresolvable source of pain for everyone around me. 

And I was helpless to watch from somewhere within, knowing I was suffering from shame, but unable to think my way out of its cage.

What is shame?

The concepts of guilt and shame are frequently confused with one another. They both seem triggered by the same stimuli. Yet they are two distinct feelings with quite different implications and outcomes. 

I've seen two definitions of the differences that ring true to me.

The first is that shame is related to your social position, while guilt is a personal feeling. That is, shame requires your sense of relation to others -- you have done something and others are exerting pressure on you to stop. OR, if they don't know what you've done, you are afraid they will find out because if they did, they would exert pressure on you. Whereas guilt is the knowledge that you've done something wrong, and you feel remorse and a desire to correct the behavior regardless of whether anyone else knows about it.

The second difference is perhaps the most enlightening. Guilt is about what you have done; shame is about who you are. Guilt is, "I have done something bad". Shame is "I am bad".

Brené Brown gave two powerful TED talks on the concept of vulnerability that both focus heavily on the concept of shame. I cannot overstate this concept enough, so I will repeat it in her words: "Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is I am bad, guilt is I did something bad."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Splines Theory: A Spoons Metaphor for Autism

An incident occurred last week where my child unexpectedly needed a ride to school in the middle of my writing session. And it ruined my whole day. Why?

I knew it had to do with Aspergers, but I wanted to know more. Puzzling over this question, I went in search for the perfect metaphor to describe the experience.

I love the spoons metaphor for invisible disabilities. It describes a portion of my world, and it goes something like this: Every morning, most typical people wake up with infinite spoons. They don't even think of spoons as a resource because they almost never run out. They can easily choose to do this or that without risking much other than time consumption. Sure, they get tired by the end of a full day, but generally they have enough spoons to do all the normal things. It's a gift they take for granted.

Those with chronic pain or serious illness or certain types of mental illness, like depression, only get twelve or twenty spoons a day. Each activity, even small things like getting dressed or making breakfast, takes a spoon. Careful choices must be made about how the spoons are spent; otherwise, they will be gone before the day is through. Or worse. A bad spoon-management choice might leave them without spoons for several days.

There is no spoon. It's just a theory.
Which states aren't enough spoons.
The word "spoon" is actually quite weird, when you think about it.
Why is it called a spoon?
Oh, that's why.
It's still weird.
I'm already out of spoons. I wonder why?
Oh look, a butterfly!
For the origin of Spoon Theory, and why spoons and not some other eating utinsil, see Christine Miserandino's account on her blog, But You Don't Look Sick.

I relate to this analogy somewhat, but it fails to describe the intricate resource-management I must do as an aspie. I wake up with a random number of spoons. Why? Why do I mysteriously get a bunch of new spoons at unpredictable times? The process of getting ready for a new task seems to cost me "spoons", but that model doesn't reflect the intricacies of the gathering process itself. What about the frustration I feel when I fail to gather or get interrupted? How do I describe the sense that a dozen little things need doing before I can start a big thing, each costing a fractional "spoon"?

Spoon Theory didn't fit the all data for my experience, so I went in search of a Grand Unified Theory of Resources or Law of Conservation of Aspergers Energy that I could use to think about and describe my universe.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Year I Survived Suicide

[Trigger Warning: Uncensored exploration of self-harm, suicide, and extreme exposure to the vulnerable side of Luna's brain. May contain trace amounts of navel-gazing.]

This year, I survived suicide. At least three times. The incidents have started to blur together,  so let's go with three. It's a nice round number.

I've only recently stabilized enough to process what that means. Last week a friend attempted, and the strong emotions that bubbled up showed just how much I needed to process my own recent encounters with death. I'm not here to tell her story. It's not mine to tell. But I've decided to finally tell my own. 

There are far more reasons to not talk about it. Those of us who suffer from suicidal thoughts also suffer shame for thinking them. The illnesses that lead to anguish and despair are themselves shameful, without the added "sin" and "crime" of killing oneself. I didn't want to talk about it then, not on Twitter, not to friends or family, not to therapists, and not even to crisis lines. I didn't want to be drama. I didn't want anyone to think I was manipulating them. When I felt better, I lied and told myself I was fine. When I felt terrible, I wanted everyone to think I was fine. I'm strong, independent, smart, rational. All the time. I wanted to pretend my weak times weren't really me.

Even well after the fact, I've hesitated and procrastinated writing this post. I've debated the merits and drawbacks. And then, along came Suicide Prevention Week. The Bloggess wrote a timely post on it, so I figured...

It's time. I am throwing aside my shame. I will use my aspy powers of unorthodox bluntness, and unwise social decisions, and a general blindness for knowing what's appropriate, and a pinch of impulsivity to tell everyone exactly how close I came to killing myself this year.

Because the stigma needs to end. Because those in pain need to feel okay reaching out. And those who suffer need to realize they're not the only ones who suffer. Anyone who finds themselves grasping the sheets in despair on those long, dark nights need to know that successful, talented, beautiful people also have dark nights, or weeks, or years when we hate ourselves. If someone like me can hate myself*, then maybe, just maybe, those other beautiful, talented, worthwhile souls will realize they, too, have something to be admired for. Something to contribute. Just one more little excuse to hang on a little longer. Because on those dark nights, every little excuse is a lifeline.

* Yes, I just called myself successful, talented, and beautiful. I'm also impulsive, blunt, socially unwise, and yeah we already covered that.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mind Control 101: Cogs of Dissonance

Your brain is full of machines. Each machine is made of thousands of cogs spinning in tandem with one another, and all the machines are more or less connected and dependent upon each other. When a cog starts to break down, other parts of the machine pitch in to repair it, replace it, or bypass it. This is because your survival is dependent upon the smooth functioning of each and every cog.

Or so the machines want you to think. Because they control you.

This is your brain on cogs.
Any questions?
This is, of course, an analogy which I'm using to illustrate a complicated idea -- the theory of cognitive dissonance. A cognition (or cog) is any single thought, feeling, idea, concept, perception, behavior, social feedback, memory, attitude, goal, value, or commitment. When you put them together with other cognitions, they build all the belief systems that make up you. Earth is round, tacos are delicious, love feels nice, kittens are fuzzy, corporations are evil, God is great, and Republicans all suck and should go hide in a cave until they come up with some way to not look like a bunch of clowns.

Or whatever it is you believe. I happen to have a moderate opinion on the flavor of tacos, and I've never met God so I'm not sure how neat He is.

Each of these cogs, and the belief systems they build, have varying levels of importance. There are people who would die to save their favorite taco, and other people who don't really care that much about food. How strongly you feel when your precious (or not-so-precious) cog is threatened will inform your reaction to various kinds of incoming cogs that other people throw at you. By the way... you might want to duck.

You see, living in the world means we constantly encounter new cognitions every day. The Flat Earth Society distributes pamphlets, paleovangelists push their anti-taco propaganda, love breaks your heart, kittens are proven to cause cancer, corporations run ads about saving lives, atheists say God is not great, and you've got friends who are Republican. Everyone has a different message to push, and if we really believed everything we heard, we'd change our minds everyday about everything. More frighteningly, we'd never know what brand of breakfast cereal to buy. (I'm a paleovangelist, so I don't buy cereal brands. None of them are true.) Our brains need some sort of mechanism to hold all our cogs together or they'd roll bouncing our of our heads and people would trip on them and fall down.

That mechanism is an emotional reward and punishment system known as Cognitive Consonance and Dissonance. Consonance is a good feeling. When we see a beautiful taco on TV, spinning in a glorious light, with beautiful green lettuce hand-picked for its photogenic properties, sticking out from the crunchy shell at aesthetically pleasing angles, and the announcer shouts, "Recommended by four out of five dentists who chew gum for people who like mouthwatering, savory tacos!", we think "Yes! I knew it! I knew I loved tacos. And now they're healthy, too! Sweet Jesus I was right all along! Baptize me in Fire sauce!"

Thursday, August 8, 2013

DEFCON 21: L33tism Yields to Unrestricted Access

Projector Art in the
Chillout Cafe at DEFCON 21
The hacker community is many things. We are curious, smart, knowledgable, subversive, rebellious, libertarian-leaning, technical, opinionated, unorthodox, and l33t.

But most of all l33t. Historically, we felt special, like our merits had won us the right to gloat in glory. We dabbled in technoarts and arcane secrets of circuits and mystical crypto that put us above everyone else. We were the best of the best, we pwned every test, earned the right to beat our chest.

Well, I didn't. Only "real" hackers did, and I wasn't a real hacker. In the DEFCON recap I wrote in 2009, I called myself a "Hacker Groupie". That was bullshit. Because I am every inch a hacker, and always have been, since second grade when I solved the weekly brainteaser without fail. When I begged my parents for a chemistry set. When I used university lasers to run the Michelson-Morely experiment. I'm less technical these days than I ever have been, with my shift away from a thirteen-year IT career in 2010, yet I am still a hacker.

Hax0rz Wild!
From the DEFCON 21 Playing Card Deck
L33tist hacker culture is changing, and it's about damn time. L33tism comes with problems. L33t = elite = elitism, and the price for that is exclusion of alot of really smart people who belong, but are too humble or shy to think of themselves as hackers. For too many wasted years, I was one of those people on the outside looking in, wishing to be part of an exclusive club that I actually had every right to belong to. It took meeting someone who never asks for permission and didn't think I should either. Roland taught me that to belong, I had to shove my way into the circle and simply be who I am. I had to have the rights granted to me by a boyfriend before I could enter.

No, this is not going to be a rant against sexism, though I will address that topic at some point. My exclusion wasn't due to my gender, though that was a factor. I self-excluded because I bought into the chest-thumping and was unwilling to call bullshit and be who I wanted to be. Too many men and women have done the same. I met several of them at DEFCON this year, and I tried to talk them into realizing their potential.

In 2009, at my second DEFCON, I somehow considered myself an outsider, a groupie, a tagalong. This year was my sixth DEFCON. Why did it take so many years to finally stop feeling like a poser? Like any topic worth talking about, it is complex and there are many reasons, but I want to focus on culture here, since I've been around to observe it since 1992.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Touch of Tides - Crossed Genres

I am exceptionally excited to announce that my story, Touch of Tides, was just published in Crossed Genres magazine. Please check it out, and while you're there, read the other two stories by DeAnna Knippling and Michael Ben Silva III.

In Touch of Tides, a xenobiologist explores the oceans of Europa. Mara has synesthesia, meaning her senses are crossed -- what she feels on her skin she also sees with her eyes. Her passion is studying Europan life, hands-on. Until she finds something dangerous.

Here are the opening paragraphs:
I swim with no light, artificial or natural. A solid ice shell, seven kilometers thick, floats above me in this single ocean that covers the entire moon of Europa. All I can hear is liquid gurgling in my ears and I taste residual salt that leaks in around my gill breather.
My name is Mara. I am naked except for my equipment belt and a molecule-thin coating of nanoscale to protect me from the chill. The other biologists at my barnacle wear full wetsuits when they dive, relying on augmented reality. My gill could report water conditions, geolocation data, and radar sight, if I let it distract me.
I prefer to let the touch-colors lead...
- See more at Crossed Genres.
Crossed Genres also gave me the spotlight interview, in which I answer questions about Touch of Tides, synesthesia, autism, and more.

I am particularly proud of this one, because it is my first hard science fiction story. I spent a lot of time researching, asking experts, sketching, and even doing math, to make sure the details of the story were realistic. Science is very central to the plot, and all of this could actually happen. (Meaning all my other stories are completely impossible, I guess.) It also marks my first pro-rate sale.

I wrote it for you. Please enjoy reading it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mind Control 101: The Basics

Remember this? Youre still doing it wrong.
Keep trying, buddy.
We have explored what thought reform is not in Mind Control 101: Myths of Brainwashing. But what is it? What force can shut down people's minds and get them to do things they otherwise would never consent to?

Cult Conversion Walkthrough (Storytime!)

No one is immune from mind control. And contrariwise, mind control doesn't always work. It takes the right combination of factors; specifically trust, common ideals, and receptivity.

Cults are a good place to study mind control because the changes they effect on people's lives are extremely obvious.

Pretend for a moment you are having a difficult time in your life: a recent tragedy or major transition. Maybe you've just gone through divorce, lost a loved one, you've moved to a new town, or have recently been fired. You're feeling alone, scared, depressed, ashamed, or desperate.

One day you encounter someone who is nice to you. Either it's a friend or associate, or even a complete stranger. Maybe it is someone handing out pamphlets, or speaking to a crowd. Who ever it is, he has kind eyes, and you feel a little better when you're around him. He also seems to share your values. Maybe he wants to help the poor, or he talks about the power of love, or God, or protecting animals. Imagine your greatest value, and he also shares that value with a level of passion you admire.

He invites you to a meeting or a party. Once there, you find a room full of people who say nice things to you, lifting your spirits. They are involved in a cause you wholeheartedly endorse. They take care of the sick or collect food for the poor, or educate kids about capitalism, or share the message of God to the world.

Being around these people makes you feel good. You feel as if you belong. You quickly forget your personal problems and begin spending more time with this group, working towards making the world a better place.

They have won your trust.

Now you are fairly receptive to what the leader may tell you. He will use this time to win more of your trust and make you more receptive. If you've had niggling doubts about your new friends or their beliefs, they are easily explained away.

Slowly, you are introduced to new ideas you may not have accepted at first. Over time, more is required of you. More money, more time, more sacrifices. Your behavior is slowly restricted. Maybe you are required to dress a special way, eat or not eat certain foods, show up at a certain number of meetings, be so busy you don't get proper sleep or nutrition.

Now the grip tightens. The leader teaches you doctrines to instill phobias about the outside world. You learn that your group has many enemies to fear. Those enemies are not to be listened to because you will be unable to resist when they try to lead you away from the love of the group. You are given thought-terminating cliches, phrases or words that help you easily dismiss criticism. You are elite, one of the chosen to help save the world from political error, or one of the blessed of God. Your very language is altered, as your words become "loaded". This prevents you from properly thinking about certain concepts, and from properly communicating with people outside the group. You have become dependent upon the group for your emotional well-being, and you are possibly even physically or financially dependent. You are isolated, if not physically, then mentally, because there are many sources of information you are taught to distrust.

When you think about the group and its teachings, you are filled with a sense of euphoria. Thinking about outsiders or criticisms makes you feel anger or confusion. The thought of leaving the group or "switching sides" makes you feel guilty, ashamed, or afraid. If something is not going as promised, you blame yourself, not the group. There are no gray areas left in your world view -- things are either good or evil, left or right, pure or tainted, full of life or death.

You now automatically reject any criticism, no matter how valid it is. You reject any fact that goes contrary to your beliefs, because your beliefs have become more important than reality. Certain words are now triggers that cause you to reject specific ideas before you even have a chance to hear them out.

You feel yourself to be perfectly rational, far more enlightened or intelligent than those with opposing views. Yet instead, your brain has been crippled from the mind viruses you voluntarily made part of you.

What Just Happened?

Here is the process:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Iceland Fire: A Week With No Night: Part Two

Please read Part 1 of my Icelandic adventure.

Before I left, I raved about how excited I was to attend Elf School.

Álfaskólinn, 2nd floor.
The school was located in a mixed-zone industrial/commercial park, but it also seemed like an apartment. The place was piled high with books and troll figures and gnome statues. A small reception desk remained unmanned, and I called out until his wife appeared, and then summoned Magnús from the maze. He looked to be out of a fairy lore himself, a giant of a man, tall and round, with a white beard and a bright red shirt.

With regrets and several hugs, he informed me that since I was the only attendee, he would not be holding elf school that day. If I could wait until Tuesday when a big group was scheduled to come through? But no, I would be back in the states by Tuesday.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about missing elf school. I was in a fair amount of pain due to a minor operation I had just undergone at the hospital (more on that later), so was a bit nervous about trying to make it through four hours of lessons without passing out. He gave me the text book for free, and promised to send an electronic copy of the new edition when it comes out. So I got another rare folklore book to add to my collection, which made me happy enough. Half of it is in German, the other half in English, and I get the sense that the German stories are not the same as the English ones.

I've got a couple of random pictures I'd like to go through. First, viking hats. They were everywhere.

On a backpack...

Iceland Fire: A Week With No Night: Part One

Roland and I met at a party five years ago, and that encounter changed my life.

Reenactment of Luna meeting Roland.
(Photo by Audrey Harwick.)
To celebrate our fifth anniversary, Roland took us to Iceland. When I suggested it to him, I had prepared persuasive arguments, but it turns out he was thinking the same thing. We'd both heard good things about it from regular world-travelers, as the kind of place worth going back to. I've been to Belize, which also falls into this category, and that's exactly the kind of place we wanted to go.

Now remember from grade school that Iceland is green, and Greenland is ice. This is a very important fact. There are lots of important facts about Iceland, which have been exhaustively recorded on Wikipedia. The primary fact I hope to convey is that Iceland is awesome.

This is me in a bar at JFK seriously explaining something very silly.
And Roland of course. He didn't get silly till the last day.
We left the house at about 9am PDT and with two long flights, a layover, and the time change to GMT, we got there at around 9am the next day. And they say time travel is impossible. (Why do time travel stories never talk about the jet lag??)

Our plane flew over a blurry world map in a wide arc.
Look, there's Greenland, being not very green.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mind Control 101: Myths of Brainwashing

Mind catrol - ur doing it rong akshully

I've studied a lot about mind control over the years. My interest piqued shortly after I left a rigorous and restrictive religion (Mormonism). I wanted to better understand how I had willingly allowed myself to be controlled, all the while believing and protesting loudly that I was free.
These methods are deceptive and unethical, tricking the mind rather than persuading through honesty and reason. Knowing this, I now have a very unique perspective on American politics. I can see these techniques used all the time, by politicians, media, and regular people.

This is not owing to a vast conspiracy. It doesn't take an evil mastermind to notice certain approaches work better to persuade. These methods have always worked and will always continue to work, and so they perpetuate through society. Some who study memetics might even say these approaches are living things that self-replicate and spread though human minds.

This post begins a series called "Mind Control 101", which precedes its non-evil step-twin, "Logical Fallacies 101".

Please do not use this as a How To! I address this topic not with the intent that you try to take over the world. I instead wish to make you better able to defend yourself when your mind comes under assault. I think of it as a defense against the dark arts course.

Let's begin with the myths. The entire subject of brainwashing is "loaded". Loading Language is itself a mind control technique that limits thought by giving you preconceived and highly incorrect notions. I'll start "deprogramming" you by showing where your existing understanding of the topic is far from reality.

When I say these words, "Thought Control" or "Brainwashing", you no doubt envision a wild-haired hypnotist swinging a silver watch, while a stern doctor injects your arm with a strange serum. In the background, hooded figures chant, and soon your eyes begin to glaze over. All the while you are helpless to resist because you are strapped to a chair.

This is all complete fantasy. Here's the great secret: while being brainwashed, you feel in complete control of yourself. You are cooperating. A much more accurate term is "coercive persuasion", because you are persuaded to want the same thing the manipulator wants, to believe as he wants you to believe.

Those who have been thusly persuaded never know they have been brainwashed. Conversely if you're sure you've been brainwashed, you probably haven't been.

So let's dispel some myths, shall we?

Thought reform does not require physical restraint.

Scientists used to think this, back in the 1950s, when American POWs returned from Korea singing the praises of their captors. But coercive persuasion in our free society requires a little more finesse. No force is required. All it takes is listening to someone who is talking. It also requires that you trust them and like them, at least a little bit. If they do their job right, you will go willingly.

This picture is totally photoshopped.

It does not involve hypnotic disks.

Hypnosis is a broad word that means any varying state of consciousness other than the one you're probably experiencing now. Various levels of hypnosis, trance, and meditation are sometimes used by cult groups, but this is never, ever a requirement.

No drugs, truth serums, elixirs, or magical incantations are used in brainwashing.

Other than a few 60's cults that were using drugs anyway, I've never come across any thought reform involving chemicals. Nor does it have anything to do with Satan. No demonic possession, summoning of evil spirits, or worshiping pagan gods is required. Brainwashing is not about the content of the doctrine, but about the methods used to make you believe it, and never want to leave it.

Brainwashed people are not glassy-eyed, drooling zombies.

Most actually appear quite normal. In fact, I would venture to say everyone ends up brainwashed to one degree or another, at some point in their lives. Our brains seem wired to accept manipulation and deception. It seems logical that humankind would have better survived those very dangerous first 100,000 years of pre-history by following a leader without question. Thought control merely capitalizes on those built-in survival skills we are all born with.

There is absolutely no way to know that you've been brainwashed.

That's exactly the point. If you knew you were being controlled, you wouldn't like it very much, and you wouldn't stand for it. The manipulated fully believe they are making their own choices, that they are completely free to act in any way they choose.

A good deal of brainwashing involves setting up trigger thoughts, little tricks and traps that help you deflect any incoming facts, beliefs, thoughts, or feelings that would make you suddenly stop believing the lies you've been duped into. Part of this series is going to be identifying those traps, so you can avoid them in the first place.

(I could say "...and so you can escape if you're already brainwashed." But you see, if I were to accuse you of being controlled, you would immediately become defensive and protest, thinking, "There is no possible way!" That is exactly what I'm talking about.)

There is no "one size fits all" method of mind control.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can control some of the people all of the time, or all the people some of the time, but you can't control all the people all the time. Manipulators throw out a line with some bait to see what bites. Sometimes it's you, but usually you will laugh at their crazy ideas. Everyone is ripe for being manipulated at some point in their lives. Someone has something to say that will appeal specifically to you. You will always be able to see how other people are being brainwashed, but you won't necessarily notice when it's happening to you, because you will like it.

There are a lot of mind control tricks, but not all are required.

There isn't a checklist that says, "Must meet all 50 requirements to be considered mind control". To control, you only need to do what works.

Brainwashing is not total.

It is possible to be partly brainwashed. You can be brainwashed about certain topics but not others. You can be brainwashed to the point of doing or believing almost everything the leader wants, but not quite. Victims of mind control can eventually be freed.

This image is actually pretty accurate.  NOT!
A completely staged, totally unrealistic depiction of a typical brainwasher.
(Note the evil eyebrows.)
Brainwashers are not creepy, bizarre, crazy, mean-spirited men who ooze evil and darkness from every pore.

Images of cackling, sneering, British-accent-wielding villains were created for the drama of movie fiction, not to reflect reality.

If you're going to be good at manipulation, you've got to be likable. To persuade, you must be charismatic. To convince, you must be, well... convincing. I listened to old recordings of Jim Jones taped just before the infamous Jonestown kool-aid mass-suicides and he sounded sincere, kind, loving, and wise.

Furthermore, controlling groups or ideologies work best when believers are taught to use brainwashing techniques themselves. That's right. In almost every case, the controlled end up controlling.

No one is immune from mind control.

Not even me, not even after all I've learned about it. I can build up defenses, but even then I will be susceptible to it at some point.


Now you know what mind control is not, which gives you an advantage over most people. In the next post I will, in the most basic of terms, describe what it is. Later on, I will delve into the details each technique so you can learn to recognize these methods in the wild.

NEXT: Mind Control 101: The Basics

Mind Control 101: The Basics
Mind Control 101: The Cogs of Dissonance