Jun 26, 2014

America's Cult of Ignorance Is No Match for Asia's Cult of Intelligence

June 17, 2014
John W. Traphagan, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Texas, Austin

This article also currently appears in The Diplomat.

I have been traveling to East Asia (and many other parts of the world) for more than 25 years and over that time one of the things that has always struck me is how intelligent the general public in countries like Japan appear to be. It's not that there aren't dummies in East Asia, but it always seems that the average level of education and ability to think about the world intelligently and critically is impressively widespread. I've often thought about why this is the case and also why the same seems more difficult to say about the U.S. The answer, I think, can be found in a comment science fiction writer Isaac Asimov made about the U.S. while being interviewed in the 1980s: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Asimov is right on the mark, and this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such a major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.

Many Americans are aware that the U.S. does not score well on measure such as international student assessment tests when compared to other industrial countries. For example, the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) the top five societies for math were Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan-- the U.S. is not in the top ten. It is better by 8th grade, where the same societies are in the top five (although the order changes) and the U.S. makes number 9. Roughly the same pattern can be seen for science results. This doesn't seem too bad, but in a different testing organization's measure, the Programme for International Student Assessment, the U.S. does not fare quite so well, scoring 36th for math, 28th for science, and 24th for reading. With the exception of science, where Finland is ranked 5th, all of the top five countries in this measure are from East Asia.

American policy has generally worked from the assumption that the problem lies in basic weaknesses in the structure of our educational system with its inherent inequalities and the way in which our school curricula are constructed. These certainly have contributed to comparatively weak scores. I have long been convinced that one of the reasons Japan's educational system is better than the U.S.--at least in the sense that a very broad swath of the general public receives a good and equal education through high school--is related to funding. The U.S. system generates inherent inequalities in school funding by depending upon property taxes. Even in states where there is some (usually grudging) redistribution of wealth to support public schools in poor areas (in Texas it is called the Robin Hood law), it is obvious that children in wealthy areas receive a better education with far greater academic and other resources than those in poorer areas. In Japan, because there is a national curriculum and a significant portion of the funding for public schools comes from the national government, in addition to funding from prefectural and municipal governments, there is considerably less inequality in distribution of and access to quality education than in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the troubles with the U.S. education system are much deeper than distribution of funding or curriculum weaknesses, although these are both a byproduct of the cultural issue that Asimov observes. The troubles lie in the cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism that has been a long-standing part of American society and which has become increasingly evident and powerful in recent years through the propagandizing and proselytizing of groups like the Tea Party and the religious right.

The fundamental reason that countries in places like East Asia present such a significant challenge to the U.S. politically and economically is not because they have a lot of people or big militaries, or seem to be willing to grow their economic and political might without concern for issues like damage to the environment (China). The problem is that these countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. I have never run across the type of suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.

In addition, we do not see in Japan significant numbers of the types of religious schools that are designed to shield children from knowledge about basic tenets of science and accepted understandings of history--such as evolutionary theory or the religious views of the Founding Fathers, who were largely deists--which are essential to having a fundamental understanding of the world. The reason for this is because in general Japanese value education, value the work of intellectuals, and see a well-educated public with a basic common knowledge in areas of scientific fact, math, history, literature, etc. as being an essential foundation to a successful democracy.

Americans need to recognize that if the cult of ignorance continues, it will become increasingly difficult to compete politically and economically with countries that highly value intelligence and learning. Nowhere is this more problematic in the U.S. than among a growing number of elected officials who are products of that cult of ignorance and who, thus, are not equipped to compete with their international peers. Why is this a problem of national security? Because a population and its leadership need to have the knowledge and intellectual skills necessary to analyze world affairs in an intelligent and sophisticated way and to elect intelligent, capable representatives. The problem is not really with our educational system; it is with our educational culture. Americans need to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to Charles Yancey on January 6, 1816: "if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be."



Cover: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right
September 14, 2009
Jonathan Chait
The New Republic

Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right
By Jennifer Burns
(Oxford University Press, 459 pp., $27.95)

Cover Ayn Rand and the World She Made

Ayn Rand and the World She Made
By Anne C. Heller
(Doubleday, 559 pp., $35)


The current era of Democratic governance has provoked a florid response on the right, ranging from the prosaic (routine denunciations of big spending and debt) to the overheated (fears of socialism) to the lunatic (the belief that Democrats plan to put the elderly to death). Amid this cacophony of rage and dread, there has emerged one anxiety that is an actual idea, and not a mere slogan or factual misapprehension. The idea is that the United States is divided into two classes--the hard-working productive elite, and the indolent masses leeching off their labor by means of confiscatory taxes and transfer programs.

You can find iterations of this worldview and this moral judgment everywhere on the right. Consider a few samples of the rhetoric. In an op-ed piece last spring, Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, called for conservatives to wage a "culture war" over capitalism. "Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the ‘sharing economy,' " he wrote. "Advocates of free enterprise . . . have to declare that it is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can." Brooks identified the constituency for his beliefs as "the people who were doing the important things right--and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong." Senator Jim DeMint echoed this analysis when he lamented that "there are two Americas but not the kind John Edwards was talking about. It's not so much the haves and the have-nots. It's those who are paying for government and those who are getting government. "

Pat Toomey, the former president of the Club for Growth and a Republican candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, has recently expressed an allegorical version of this idea, in the form of an altered version of the tale of the Little Red Hen. In Toomey's rendering, the hen tries to persuade the other animals to help her plant some wheat seeds, and then reap the wheat, and then bake it into bread. The animals refuse each time. But when the bread is done, they demand a share. The government seizes the bread from the hen and distributes it to the "not productive" fellow animals. After that, the hen stops baking bread.

This view of society and social justice appeared also in the bitter commentary on the economic crisis offered up by various Wall Street types, and recorded by Gabriel Sherman in New York magazine last April. One hedge-fund analyst thundered that "the government wants me to be a slave!" Another fantasized, "JP Morgan and all these guys should go on strike--see what happens to the country without Wall Street." And the most attention-getting manifestation of this line of thought certainly belonged to the CNBC reporter Rick Santelli, whose rant against government intervention transformed him into a cult hero. In a burst of angry verbiage, Santelli exclaimed: "Why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages, or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water!"

Most recently the worldview that I am describing has colored much of the conservative outrage at the prospect of health care reform, which some have called a "redistribution of health" from those wise enough to have secured health insurance to those who have not. "President Obama says he will cover thirty to forty to fifty million people who are not covered now--without it costing any money," fumed Rudolph Giuliani. "They will have to cut other services, cut programs. They will have to be making decisions about people who are elderly." At a health care town hall in Kokomo, Indiana, one protester framed the case against health care reform positively, as an open defense of the virtues of selfishness. "I'm responsible for myself and I'm not responsible for other people," he explained in his turn at the microphone, to applause. "I should get the fruits of my labor and I shouldn't have to divvy it up with other people." (The speaker turned out to be unemployed, but still determined to keep for himself the fruits of his currently non-existent labors.)

In these disparate comments we can see the outlines of a coherent view of society. It expresses its opposition to redistribution not in practical terms--that taking from the rich harms the economy--but in moral absolutes, that taking from the rich is wrong. It likewise glorifies selfishness as a virtue. It denies any basis, other than raw force, for using government to reduce economic inequality. It holds people completely responsible for their own success or failure, and thus concludes that when government helps the disadvantaged, it consequently punishes virtue and rewards sloth. And it indulges the hopeful prospect that the rich will revolt against their ill treatment by going on strike, simultaneously punishing the inferiors who have exploited them while teaching them the folly of their ways.

There is another way to describe this conservative idea. It is the ideology of Ayn Rand. Some, though not all, of the conservatives protesting against redistribution and conferring the highest moral prestige upon material success explicitly identify themselves as acolytes of Rand. (As Santelli later explained, "I know this may not sound very humanitarian, but at the end of the day I'm an Ayn Rand-er.") Rand is everywhere in this right-wing mood. Her novels are enjoying a huge boost in sales. Popular conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have touted her vision as a prophetic analysis of the present crisis. "Many of us who know Rand's work," wrote Stephen Moore in the Wall Street Journal last January, "have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that Atlas Shrugged parodied in 1957."

Christopher Hayes of The Nation recently recalled one of his first days in high school, when he met a tall, geeky kid named Phil Kerpen, who asked him, "Have you ever read Ayn Rand?" Kerpen is now the director of policy for the conservative lobby Americans for Prosperity and an occasional right-wing talking head on cable television. He represents a now-familiar type. The young, especially young men, thrill to Rand's black-and-white ethics and her veneration of the alienated outsider, shunned by a world that does not understand his gifts. (It is one of the ironies, and the attractions, of Rand's capitalists that they are depicted as heroes of alienation.) Her novels tend to strike their readers with the power of revelation, and they are read less like fiction and more like self-help literature, like spiritual guidance. Again and again, readers would write Rand to tell her that their encounter with her work felt like having their eyes open for the first time in their lives. "For over half a century," writes Jennifer Burns in her new biography of this strange and rather sinister figure, "Rand has been the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right."

The likes of Gale Norton, George Gilder, Charles Murray, and many others have cited Rand as an influence. Rand acolytes such as Alan Greenspan and Martin Anderson have held important positions in Republican politics. "What she did--through long discussions and lots of arguments into the night--was to make me think why capitalism is not only efficient and practical, but also moral," attested Greenspan. In 1987, The New York Times called Rand the "novelist laureate" of the Reagan administration. Reagan's nominee for commerce secretary, C. William Verity Jr., kept a passage from Atlas Shrugged on his desk, including the line "How well you do your work . . . [is] the only measure of human value."

Today numerous CEOs swear by Rand. One of them is John Allison, the outspoken head of BB&T, who has made large grants to several universities contingent upon their making Atlas Shrugged mandatory reading for their students. In 1991, the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club polled readers on what book had influenced them the most. Atlas Shrugged finished second, behind only the Bible. There is now talk of filming the book again, possibly as a miniseries, possibly with Charlize Theron. Rand's books still sell more than half a million copies a year. Her ideas have swirled below the surface of conservative thought for half a century, but now the particulars of our moment--the economic predicament, the Democratic control of government--have drawn them suddenly to the foreground.


Rand's early life mirrored the experience of her most devoted readers. A bright but socially awkward woman, she harbored the suspicion early on that her intellectual gifts caused classmates to shun her. She was born Alissa Rosenbaum in 1905 in St. Petersburg. Her Russian-Jewish family faced severe state discrimination, first for being Jewish under the czars, and then for being wealthy merchants under the Bolsheviks, who stole her family's home and business for the alleged benefit of the people.

Anne C. Heller, in her skillful life of Rand, traces the roots of Rand's philosophy to an even earlier age. (Heller paints a more detailed and engaging portrait of Rand's interior life, while Burns more thoroughly analyzes her ideas.) Around the age of five, Alissa Rosenbaum's mother instructed her to put away some of her toys for a year. She offered up her favorite possessions, thinking of the joy that she would feel when she got them back after a long wait. When the year had passed, she asked her mother for the toys, only to be told she had given them away to an orphanage. Heller remarks that "this may have been Rand's first encounter with injustice masquerading as what she would later acidly call ‘altruism.’ " (The anti-government activist Grover Norquist has told a similar story from childhood, in which his father would steal bites of his ice cream cone, labelling each bite "sales tax" or "income tax." The psychological link between a certain form of childhood deprivation and extreme libertarianism awaits serious study.)

Rosenbaum dreamed of fame as a novelist and a scriptwriter, and fled to the United States in 1926, at the age of twenty-one. There she adopted her new name, for reasons that remain unclear. Rand found relatives to support her temporarily in Chicago, before making her way to Hollywood. Her timing was perfect: the industry was booming, and she happened to have a chance encounter with the director Cecil B. DeMille--who, amazingly, gave a script-reading job to the young immigrant who had not yet quite mastered the English language. Rand used her perch as a launching pad for a career as a writer for the stage and the screen.

Rand’s political philosophy remained amorphous in her early years. Aside from a revulsion at communism, her primary influence was Nietzsche, whose exaltation of the superior individual spoke to her personally. She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that "he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people"; and she meant this as praise. Her political worldview began to crystallize during the New Deal, which she immediately interpreted as a straight imitation of Bolshevism. Rand threw herself into advocacy for Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, and after Wilkie’s defeat she bitterly predicted "a Totalitarian America, a world of slavery, of starvation, of concentration camps and of firing squads." Her campaign work brought her into closer contact with conservative intellectuals and pro-business organizations, and helped to refine her generalized anti-communist and crudely Nietzschean worldview into a moral defense of the individual will and unrestrained capitalism.

Cover: Atlas Shrugged
Rand expressed her philosophy primarily through two massive novels: The Fountainhead, which appeared in 1943, and Atlas Shrugged, which appeared in 1957. Both tomes, each a runaway best-seller, portrayed the struggle of a brilliant and ferociously individualistic man punished for his virtues by the weak-minded masses. It was Atlas Shrugged that Rand deemed the apogee of her life’s work and the definitive statement of her philosophy. She believed that the principle of trade governed all human relationships--that in a free market one earned money only by creating value for others. Hence, one’s value to society could be measured by his income. History largely consisted of "looters and moochers" stealing from society’s productive elements.

In essence, Rand advocated an inverted Marxism. In the Marxist analysis, workers produce all value, and capitalists merely leech off their labor. Rand posited the opposite. In Atlas Shrugged, her hero, John Galt, leads a capitalist strike, in which the brilliant business leaders who drive all progress decide that they will no longer tolerate the parasitic workers exploiting their talent, and so they withdraw from society to create their own capitalistic paradise free of the ungrateful, incompetent masses. Galt articulates Rand’s philosophy:

The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the "competition" between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of "exploitation" for which you have damned the strong.

The bifurcated class analysis did not end the similarities between Rand’s worldview and Marxism. Rand’s Russian youth imprinted upon her a belief in the polemical influence of fiction. She once wrote to a friend that "it’s time we realize--as the Reds do--that spreading our ideas in the form of fiction is a great weapon, because it arouses the public to an emotional, as well as intellectual response to our cause." She worked both to propagate her own views and to eliminate opposing views. In 1947 she testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, arguing that the film Song of Russia, a paean to the Soviet Union made in 1944, represented communist propaganda rather than propaganda for World War II, which is what it really supported. (Rand, like most rightists of her day, opposed American entry into the war.)

In 1950, Rand wrote the influential Screen Guide for Americans, the Motion Picture Alliance’s industry guidebook for avoiding subtle communist influence in its films. The directives, which neatly summarize Rand’s worldview, included such categories as "Don’t Smear The Free Enterprise System," "Don’t Smear Industrialists" ("it is they who created the opportunities for achieving the unprecedented material wealth of the industrial age"), "Don’t Smear Wealth," and "Don’t Deify ‘The Common Man’ " ("if anyone is classified as ‘common’--he can be called ‘common’ only in regard to his personal qualities. It then means that he has no outstanding abilities, no outstanding virtues, no outstanding intelligence. Is that an object of glorification?"). Like her old idol Nietzsche, she denounced a transvaluation of values according to which the strong had been made weak and the weak were praised as the strong.

Rand’s hotly pro-capitalist novels oddly mirrored the Socialist Realist style, with two-dimensional characters serving as ideological props. Burns notes some of the horrifying implications of Atlas Shrugged. "In one scene," she reports, "[Rand] describes in careful detail the characteristics of passengers doomed to perish in a violent railroad clash, making it clear their deaths are warranted by their ideological errors." The subculture that formed around her--a cult of the personality if ever there was one--likewise came to resemble a Soviet state in miniature. Beginning with the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand began to attract worshipful followers. She cultivated these (mostly) young people interested in her work, and as her fame grew she spent less time engaged in any way with the outside world, and increasingly surrounded herself with her acolytes, who communicated in concepts and terms that the outside world could not comprehend.

Rand called her doctrine "Objectivism," and it eventually expanded well beyond politics and economics to psychology, culture, science (she considered the entire field of physics "corrupt"), and sundry other fields. Objectivism was premised on the absolute centrality of logic to all human endeavors. Emotion and taste had no place. When Rand condemned a piece of literature, art, or music (she favored Romantic Russian melodies from her youth and detested Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms), her followers adopted the judgment. Since Rand disliked facial hair, her admirers went clean-shaven. When she bought a new dining room table, several of them rushed to find the same model for themselves.

Rand’s most important acolyte was Nathan Blumenthal, who first met her as a student infatuated with The Fountainhead. Blumenthal was born in Canada in 1930. In 1949 he wrote to Rand, and began to visit her extensively, and fell under her spell. He eventually changed his name to Nathaniel Branden, signifying in the ancient manner of all converts that he had repudiated his old self and was reborn in the image of Rand, from whom he adapted his new surname. She designated Branden as her intellectual heir.

She allowed him to run the Nathaniel Branden Institute, a small society dedicated to promoting Objectivism through lectures, therapy sessions, and social activities. The courses, he later wrote, began with the premises that "Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived" and "Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world." Rand also presided over a more select circle of followers in meetings every Saturday night, invitations to which were highly coveted among the Objectivist faithful. These meetings themselves were frequently ruthless cult-like exercises, with Rand singling out members one at a time for various personality failings, subjecting them to therapy by herself or Branden, or expelling them from the charmed circle altogether.

So strong was the organization’s hold on its members that even those completely excommunicated often maintained their faith. In 1967, for example, the journalist Edith Efron was, in Heller’s account, "tried in absentia and purged, for gossiping, or lying, or refusing to lie, or flirting; surviving witnesses couldn’t agree on exactly what she did." Upon her expulsion, Efron wrote to Rand that "I fully and profoundly agree with the moral judgment you have made of me, and with the action you have taken to end social relations." One of the Institute’s therapists counseled Efron’s eighteen-year-old son, also an Objectivist, to cut all ties with his mother, and made him feel unwelcome in the group when he refused to do so. (Efron’s brother, another Objectivist, did temporarily disown her.)

Sex and romance loomed unusually large in Rand’s worldview. Objectivism taught that intellectual parity is the sole legitimate basis for romantic or sexual attraction. Coincidentally enough, this doctrine cleared the way for Rand--a woman possessed of looks that could be charitably described as unusual, along with abysmal personal hygiene and grooming habits--to seduce young men in her orbit. Rand not only persuaded Branden, who was twenty-five years her junior, to undertake a long-term sexual relationship with her, she also persuaded both her husband and Branden’s wife to consent to this arrangement. (They had no rational basis on which to object, she argued.) But she prudently instructed them to keep the affair secret from the other members of the Objectivist inner circle.

At some point, inevitably, the arrangement began to go very badly. Branden’s wife began to break down--Rand diagnosed her with "emotionalism," never imagining that her sexual adventures might have contributed to the young woman’s distraught state. Branden himself found the affair ever more burdensome and grew emotionally and sexually withdrawn from Rand. At one point Branden suggested to Rand that a second affair with another woman closer to his age might revive his lust. Alas, Rand--whose intellectual adjudications once again eerily tracked her self-interest--determined that doing so would "destroy his mind." He would have to remain with her. Eventually Branden confessed to Rand that he could no longer muster any sexual attraction for her, and later that he actually had undertaken an affair with another woman despite Rand’s denying him permission. After raging at Branden, Rand excommunicated him fully. The two agreed not to divulge their affair. Branden told his followers only that he had "betrayed the principles of Objectivism" in an "unforgiveable" manner and renounced his role within the organization.

Rand’s inner circle turned quickly and viciously on their former superior. Alan Greenspan, a cherished Rand confidant, signed a letter eschewing any future contact with Branden or his wife. Objectivist students were forced to sign loyalty oaths, which included the promise never to contact Branden, or to buy his forthcoming book or any future books that he might write. Rand’s loyalists expelled those who refused these orders, and also expelled anyone who complained about the tactics used against dissidents. Some of the expelled students, desperate to retain their lifeline to their guru, used pseudonyms to re-enroll in the courses or re-subscribe to her newsletter. But many just drifted away, and over time the Rand cult dwindled to a hardened few.


Ultimately the Objectivist movement failed for the same reason that communism failed: it tried to make its people live by the dictates of a totalizing ideology that failed to honor the realities of human existence. Rand’s movement devolved into a corrupt and cruel parody of itself. She herself never won sustained personal influence within mainstream conservatism or the Republican Party. Her ideological purity and her unstable personality prevented her from forming lasting coalitions with anybody who disagreed with any element of her catechism.

Moreover, her fierce attacks on religion--she derided Christianity, again in a Nietzschean manner, as a religion celebrating victimhood--made her politically radioactive on the right. The Goldwater campaign in 1964 echoed distinctly Randian themes--"profits," the candidate proclaimed, "are the surest sign of responsible behavior"--but he ignored Rand’s overtures to serve as his intellectual guru. He was troubled by her atheism. In an essay in National Review ten years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, M. Stanton Evans summarized the conservative view on Rand. She "has an excellent grasp of the way capitalism is supposed to work, the efficiencies of free enterprise, the central role of private property and the profit motive, the social and political costs of welfare schemes which seek to compel a false benevolence," he wrote, but unfortunately she rejects "the Christian culture which has given birth to all our freedoms."

The idiosyncracies of Objectivism never extended beyond the Rand cult, though it was a large cult with influential members--and yet her central contribution to right-wing thought has retained enormous influence. That contribution was to express the opposition to economic redistribution in moral terms, as a moral depravity. A long and deep strand of classical liberal thought, stretching back to Locke, placed the individual in sole possession of his own economic destiny. The political scientist C. B. MacPherson called this idea "possessive individualism," or "making the individual the sole proprietor of his own person and capacities, owing nothing to society for them." The theory of possessive individualism came under attack in the Marxist tradition, but until the era of the New Deal it was generally accepted as a more or less accurate depiction of the actual social and economic order. But beginning in the mid-1930s, and continuing into the postwar years, American society saw widespread transfers of wealth from the rich to the poor and the middle class. In this context, the theory of possessive individualism could easily evolve into a complaint against the exploitation of the rich. Rand pioneered this leap of logic--the ideological pity of the rich for the oppression that they suffer as a class.

There was more to Rand’s appeal. In the wake of a depression that undermined the prestige of business, and then a postwar economy that was characterized by the impersonal corporation, her revival of the capitalist as a romantic hero, even a superhuman figure, naturally flattered the business elite. Here was a woman saying what so many of them understood instinctively. "For twenty-five years," gushed a steel executive to Rand, "I have been yelling my head off about the little-realized fact that eggheads, socialists, communists, professors, and so-called liberals do not understand how goods are produced. Even the men who work at the machines do not understand it." Rand, finally, restored the boss to his rightful mythic place.

On top of all these philosophical compliments to success and business, Rand tapped into a latent elitism that had fallen into political disrepute but never disappeared from the economic right. Ludwig von Mises once enthused to Rand, "You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you." Rand articulated the terror that conservatives felt at the rapid leveling of incomes in that era--their sense of being singled out by a raging mob. She depicted the world in apocalyptic terms. Even slow encroachments of the welfare state, such as the minimum wage or public housing, struck her as totalitarian. She lashed out at John Kennedy in a polemical nonfiction tome entitled The Fascist New Frontier, anticipating by several decades Jonah Goldberg’s equally wild Liberal Fascism.

Rand’s most enduring accomplishment was to infuse laissez-faire economics with the sort of moralistic passion that had once been found only on the left. Prior to Rand’s time, two theories undergirded economic conservatism. The first was Social Darwinism, the notion that the advancement of the human race, like other natural species, relied on the propagation of successful traits from one generation to the next, and that the free market served as the equivalent of natural selection, in which government interference would retard progress. The second was neoclassical economics, which, in its most simplistic form, described the marketplace as a perfectly self-correcting
instrument. These two theories had in common a practical quality. They described a laissez-faire system that worked to the benefit of all, and warned that intervention would bring harmful consequences. But Rand, by contrast, argued for laissez-faire capitalism as an ethical system. She did believe that the rich pulled forward society for the benefit of one and all, but beyond that, she portrayed the act of taxing the rich to aid the poor as a moral offense.

Countless conservatives and libertarians have adopted this premise as an ideological foundation for the promotion of their own interests. They may believe the consequentialist arguments against redistribution--that Bill Clinton’s move to render the tax code slightly more progressive would induce economic calamity, or that George W. Bush’s making the tax code somewhat less progressive would usher in a boom; but the utter failure of those predictions to come to pass provoked no re-thinking whatever on the economic right. For it harbored a deeper belief in the immorality of redistribution, a righteous sense that the federal tax code and budget represent a form of organized looting aimed at society’s most virtuous--and this sense, which remains unshakeable, was owed in good measure to Ayn Rand.

The economic right may believe religiously in their moral view of wealth, but we do not have to respect it as we might respect religious faith. For it does not transcend--perhaps no religion should transcend--empirical scrutiny. On the contrary, this conservative view, the Randian inversion of the Marxist worldview, rests upon a series of propositions that can be falsified by data.

Let us begin with the premise that wealth represents a sign of personal virtue--thrift, hard work, and the rest--and poverty the lack thereof. Many Republicans consider the link between income and the work ethic so self-evident that they use the terms "rich" and "hard-working" interchangeably, and likewise "poor" and "lazy." The conservative pundit Dick Morris accuses Obama of "rewarding failure and penalizing hard work" through his tax plan. His comrade Bill O’Reilly complains that progressive taxation benefits "folks who dropped out of school, who are too lazy to hold a job, who smoke reefers 24/7."

A related complaint against redistribution holds that the rich earn their higher pay because of their nonstop devotion to office work--a grueling marathon of meetings and emails that makes the working life of the typical nine-to-five middle-class drone a vacation by comparison. "People just don’t get it. I’m attached to my BlackBerry," complained one Wall Streeter to Sherman. "I get calls at two in the morning, when the market moves. That costs money.”

Now, it is certainly true that working hard can increase one’s chances of growing rich. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the rich work harder than the poor. Indeed, there are many ways in which the poor work harder than the rich. As the economist Daniel Hamermesh discovered, low-income workers are more likely to work the night shift and more prone to suffering workplace injuries than high-income workers. White-collar workers put in those longer hours because their jobs are not physically exhausting. Few titans of finance would care to trade their fifteen-hour day sitting in a mesh chair working out complex problems behind a computer for an eight-hour day on their feet behind a sales counter.

For conservatives, the causal connection between virtue and success is not merely ideological, it is also deeply personal. It forms the basis of their admiration of themselves. If you ask a rich person whether he ascribes his success to good fortune or his own merit, the answer will probably tell you whether that person inhabits the economic left or the economic right. Rand held up her own meteoric rise from penniless immigrant to wealthy author as a case study of the individualist ethos. "No one helped me," she wrote, "nor did I think at any time that it was anyone’s duty to help me."

But this was false. Rand spent her first months in this country subsisting on loans from relatives in Chicago, which she promised to repay lavishly when she struck it rich. (She reneged, never speaking to her Chicago family again.) She also enjoyed the great fortune of breaking into Hollywood at the moment it was exploding in size, and of bumping into DeMille. Many writers equal to her in their talents never got the chance to develop their abilities. That was not because they were bad or delinquent people. They were merely the victims of the commonplace phenomenon that Bernard Williams described as "moral luck."

Not surprisingly, the argument that getting rich often entails a great deal of luck tends to drive conservatives to apoplexy. This spring the Cornell economist Robert Frank, writing in The New York Times, made the seemingly banal point that luck, in addition to talent and hard work, usually plays a role in an individual’s success. Frank’s blasphemy earned him an invitation on Fox News, where he would play the role of the loony liberal spitting in the face of middle-class values. The interview offers a remarkable testament to the belligerence with which conservatives cling to the mythology of heroic capitalist individualism. As the Fox host, Stuart Varney, restated Frank’s outrageous claims, a voice in the studio can actually be heard laughing off-camera. Varney treated Frank’s argument with total incredulity, offering up ripostes such as "That’s outrageous! That is outrageous!" and "That’s nonsense! That is nonsense!" Turning the topic to his own inspiring rags-to-riches tale, Varney asked: "Do you know what risk is involved in trying to work for a major American network with a British accent?"

There seems to be something almost inherent in the right-wing psychology that drives its rich adherents to dismiss the role of luck--all the circumstances that must break right for even the most inspired entrepreneur--in their own success. They would rather be vain than grateful. So seductive do they find this mythology that they omit major episodes of their own life, or furnish themselves with preposterous explanations (such as the supposed handicap of making it in American television with a British accent--are there any Brits in this country who have not been invited to appear on television?) to tailor reality to fit the requirements of the fantasy.

The association of wealth with virtue necessarily requires the free marketer to play down the role of class. Arthur Brooks, in his book Gross National Happiness, concedes that "the gap between the richest and poorest members of society is far wider than in many other developed countries. But there is also far more opportunity . . . there is in fact an amazing amount of economic mobility in America." In reality, as a study earlier this year by the Brookings Institution and Pew Charitable Trusts reported, the United States ranks near the bottom of advanced countries in its economic mobility. The study found that family background exerts a stronger influence on a person’s income than even his education level. And its most striking finding revealed that you are more likely to make your way into the highest-earning one-fifth of the population if you were born into the top fifth and did not attain a college degree than if you were born into the bottom fifth and did. In other words, if you regard a college degree as a rough proxy for intelligence or hard work, then you are economically better off to be born rich, dumb, and lazy than poor, smart, and industrious.

In addition to describing the rich as "hard-working," conservatives also have the regular habit of describing them as "productive." Gregory Mankiw describes Obama’s plan to make the tax code more progressive as allowing a person to "lay claim to the wealth of his more productive neighbor." In the same vein, George Will laments that progressive taxes "reduce the role of merit in the allocation of social rewards--merit as markets measure it, in terms of value added to the economy." The assumption here is that one’s income level reflects one’s productivity or contribution to the economy.

Is income really a measure of productivity? Of course not. Consider your own profession. Do your colleagues who demonstrate the greatest skill unfailingly earn the most money, and those with the most meager skill the least money? I certainly cannot say that of my profession. Nor do I know anybody who would say that of his own line of work. Most of us perceive a world with its share of overpaid incompetents and underpaid talents. Which is to say, we rightly reject the notion of the market as the perfect gauge of social value.

Now assume that this principle were to apply not only within a profession--that a dentist earning $200,000 a year must be contributing exactly twice as much to society as a dentist earning $100,000 a year--but also between professions. Then you are left with the assertion that Donald Trump contributes more to society than a thousand teachers, nurses, or police officers. It is Wall Street, of course, that offers the ultimate rebuttal of the assumption that the market determines social value. An enormous proportion of upper-income growth over the last twenty-five years accrued to an industry that created massive negative social value--enriching itself through the creation of a massive bubble, the deflation of which has brought about worldwide suffering.

If one’s income reflects one’s contribution to society, then why has the distribution of income changed so radically over the last three decades? While we ponder that question, consider a defense of inequality from the perspective of three decades ago. In 1972, Irving Kristol wrote that

Human talents and abilities, as measured, do tend to distribute themselves along a bell-shaped curve, with most people clustered around the middle, and with much smaller percentages at the lower and higher ends. . . . This explains one of the most extraordinary (and little-noticed) features of 20th-century societies: how relatively invulnerable the distribution of income is to the efforts of politicians and ideologues to manipulate it. In all the Western nations--the United States, Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, Germany--despite the varieties of social and economic policies of their governments, the distribution of
income is strikingly similar.

So Kristol thought the bell-shaped distribution of income in the United States, and the similarly shaped distributions among our economic peers, proved that income inequality merely followed the natural inequality of human talent. As it happens, Kristol wrote that passage shortly before a boom in inequality, one that drove the income share of the highest-earning 1 percent of the population from around 8 percent (when he was writing) to 24 percent today, and which stretched the bell curve of the income distribution into a distended sloping curve with a lengthy right tail. At the same time, America has also grown vastly more unequal in comparison with the European countries cited by Kristol.

This suggests one of two possibilities. The first is that the inherent human talent of America’s economic elite has massively increased over the last generation, relative to that of the American middle class and that of the European economic elite. The second is that bargaining power, political power, and other circumstances can effect the distribution of income--which is to say, again, that one’s income level is not a good indicator of a person’s ability, let alone of a person’s social value.

The final feature of Randian thought that has come to dominate the right is its apocalyptic thinking about redistribution. Rand taught hysteria. The expressions of terror at the "confiscation" and "looting" of wealth, and the loose talk of the rich going on strike, stands in sharp contrast to the decidedly non-Bolshevik measures that they claim to describe. The reality of the contemporary United States is that, even as income inequality has exploded, the average tax rate paid by the top 1 percent has fallen by about one-third over the last twenty-five years. Again: it has fallen. The rich have gotten unimaginably richer, and at the same time their tax burden has dropped significantly. And yet conservatives routinely describe this state of affairs as intolerably oppressive to the rich. Since the share of the national income accruing to the rich has grown faster than their average tax rate has shrunk, they have paid an ever-rising share of the federal tax burden. This is the fact that so vexes the right.

Most of the right-wing commentary purporting to prove that the rich bear the overwhelming burden of government relies upon the simple trick of citing only the income tax, which is progressive, while ignoring more regressive levies. A brief overview of the facts lends some perspective to the fears of a new Red Terror. Our government divides its functions between the federal, state, and local levels. State and local governments tend to raise revenue in ways that tax the poor at higher rates than the rich. (It is difficult for a state or a locality to maintain higher rates on the rich, who can easily move to another town or state that offers lower rates.) The federal government raises some of its revenue from progressive sources, such as the income tax, but also healthy chunks from regressive levies, such as the payroll tax.

The sum total of these taxes levies a slightly higher rate on the rich. The bottom 99 percent of taxpayers pay 29.4 percent of their income in local, state, and federal taxes. The top 1 percent pay an average total tax rate of 30.9 percent--slightly higher, but hardly the sort of punishment that ought to prompt thoughts of withdrawing from society to create a secret realm of capitalistic übermenschen. These numbers tend to bounce back and forth, depending upon which party controls the government at any given time. If Obama succeeds in enacting his tax policies, the tax burden on the rich will bump up slightly, just as it bumped down under George W. Bush.

What is so striking, and serves as the clearest mark of Rand’s lasting influence, is the language of moral absolutism applied by the right to these questions. Conservatives define the see-sawing of the federal tax-and-transfer system between slightly redistributive and very slightly redistributive as a culture war over capitalism, or a final battle to save the free enterprise system from the hoard of free-riders. And Obama certainly is expanding the role of the federal government, though probably less than George W. Bush did. (The Democratic health care bills would add considerably less net expenditure to the federal budget than Bush’s prescription drug benefit.) The hysteria lies in the realization that Obama would make the government more redistributive--that he would steal from the virtuous (them) and give to the undeserving.

Like many other followers of Rand, John Allison of BB&T has taken to claiming vindication in the convulsive events of the past year. "Rand predicted what would happen fifty years ago,” he told The New York Times. "It’s a nightmare for anyone who supports individual rights." If Rand was truly right, of course, then Allison will flee his home and join his fellow supermen in some distant capitalist nirvana. So perhaps the economic crisis may bring some good after all.

Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at The New Republic.


Jun 25, 2014

Jailed for rape, he is ‘sham’ to his accusers, ‘celibate’ to his followers

Express News Service
January 10, 2014

It has been a habit with Girish Chandra Varma to ring in the new year by observing maun vrat for the first three days, apparently to purify himself and enhance spiritual awareness. This New Year’s Eve, too, he was preparing to retreat to his sprawling ashram-cum-residence on the outskirts of Bhopal with his family and attendants. He did not, however, get to keep his annual tryst with spirituality and silence there. The police took him away on the charge of repeatedly raping a teacher in his employ.

Girish Chandra Varma's ashram-cum-home on the outskirts of Bhopal.
Varma, 53, who sports a flowing beard and white robes, is a nephew of late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, controls an empire, and commands a large following. He heads a chain of 145 schools called Maharishi Vidya Mandir, management and IT colleges and a Vedic university each in Jabalpur and Bilaspur. This is part of the legacy of the maharishi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation programme. After the maharishi’s death in 2008, his vast empire of educational and other institutions in India and abroad was shared among various members of the family.

Tom Olsen describes life as a Neo-Nazi thug and how he was ‘de-radicalised’

April 08, 2014
TOM Olsen was just 16 years old when he joined an ultra-right Neo-Nazi group.The young Norwegian teenager had a fascination with world war history and began to sympathise with the Nazi cause.He immersed himself in Neo-Nazi literature, further fuelling his extreme views before eventually becoming the leader of a white supremacist group in the 1990s.But it didn’t stop there: He was soon involved in acts of violence, twice spent time in jail and he even plotted to kill non-sympathisers.His hatred spiralled out of control and he joined the KKK in the US and went to South Africa in 1998 to join the AWB, another white supremacy movement.

“We enjoyed the respect and fear we got from people, it became quite violent,” he told news.com.au from Norway.  “It went from fun and exciting to quite stressful and challenging. But we had ourselves, we were brothers and did not see other friends and extended family slip away.”

He was so convinced his views were right, that he never questioned them or those of the white supremacists around him.

 “I felt like a born-again Christian,” he said.  “I saw the truth that most people did not. I felt like I had been living a life in a tiny box and now I could see the world for what it really was. I did not question things at all.”

But it took a lot of pain, suffering, jail time and ultimately learning about what it meant to be human to finally change his ways.

Mr Olsen’s story tonight features on Changing A Mindset on SBS Insight program. The documentary explores de-radicalisation and changing extreme beliefs.  He said it was while in South Africa that he began to see his extreme views for what they were, even if he wasn’t ready to leave them just yet.

Jun 14, 2014

Cults masquerading as political parties

June 10, 2014

I read about the way Americans came up with a law on corporate governance called the Sarbanese-Oxley Act and wished if something like that could happen in Africa.
I am not interested in the law itself, but in the way in which two individuals from two different political persuasions introduced Bills that eventually led to the landmark eponymous law.
Sox-online.com writes: “In 2002, Paul Sarbanes, a Democratic Senator from Maryland, and Michael Garver Oxley, a Republican Congressman from Ohio serving in the House of Representatives, each introduced Bills in their respective bodies that would result in legislation that would later bear their name. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 passed both houses by overwhelming margins; 423 to 3 in the House and 99 to 0 in the Senate.”
What struck me is the difference between this approach and the polarization in most African countries. The problem in most African nations is that instead of political parties, we have political cults. And these political cults are both from the ruling and opposition parties. Normally, the ruling and opposition cults are just two sides of the same coin.

Jun 13, 2014

Family sues teachers over cult allegations

Dave Collins, AP May 24, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut couple alleges in a federal lawsuit that their three daughters were "indoctrinated" into a cult by public high school staff and suffered severe personality changes, including becoming "flat and distant."

The parents, known only as Jane and John Doe in court documents, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Monday against three current and former Spanish teachers and a guidance counselor at Avon High School, the Avon school system and Wellesley College in Massachusetts, which two of their daughters now attend.
Officials with the school district in Avon, a wealthy Hartford suburb, did not comment on the allegations but said in a statement that they hadn't heard any similar complaints in the past.

The parents allege deprivation of civil rights and constitutional violations including failure to separate church and state, among other claims. Their daughters, ages 22, 19 and 16, also aren't named.
One of the parent's lawyers, Paul Grosswald, of Summit, New Jersey, declined to comment Friday, saying "the family has decided not to pursue any publicity at this time."

"All three girls experienced sudden and severe personality changes," the lawsuit says. "They became flat and distant, reclusive, secretive, and non-communicative. They lost their humor and their empathy."

The couple says their two older daughters were "indoctrinated into a religious cult that promotes martyrdom and celebrates death," and that has caused them to experience "fantasies of suicide ideation and martyrdom." They didn't name the cult.

Messages were left for the three teachers and guidance counselor Friday.

Steven Hassan, a mental health counselor who has written books on cults and mind control, said there have been cases where teachers exert undue influence on students, but it typically does not last long because the parents go to school administrators. He said he could not comment specifically about the Connecticut case.
The Avon school district's statement said officials "will continue to review the content of the complaint and have turned the matter over to our school district legal counsel."

The Associated Press left a message with Avon police for comment on whether it had received any related criminal complaints.

The lawsuit says one teacher "taught her students to believe in superstition, magic, and a non-scientific, anti-intellectual worldview. She would discuss spirituality, numerology, astrology, dreams, mysticism, looking for 'signs,' angels, symbols, 'synchronicity,' 'negativity,' 'seeking the truth,' and death."

The parents say Wellesley College, near Boston, contributed to the indoctrination by allowing the two older daughters to stay in summer housing to which they weren't entitled. The arrangement allowed the teachers to continue to have access to the two, allowing the indoctrination to continue, the parents allege.
A spokeswoman for Wellesley declined to comment Friday.

Tuvalu Rejects Proposal For Vatican City State

FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (July 4, 2001 – Radio Australia)---The government has rejected a proposal from the Maharishi Spiritual Movement to establish a Vatican City-type sovereign state within Tuvalu on land next to the country's international airport.

Radio Australia correspondent Sean Dorney reports that Tuvalu found the offer tempting.

"The Maharishi Spiritual Movement had offered Tuvalu -- which has a population of about ten thousand -- more than two million dollars a year for the right to set up its own country within Tuvalu.

"That's equivalent to about ten percent of the Tuvalu government's annual revenue.

"Tuvalu's high commissioner to Fiji, Taukilina Finikaso, has told the regional news service, Pacnews, that the movement -- which was established by the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi -- had wanted to have its own constitution, its own currency and run its own mini-state along the lines of Vatican City in Rome, Italy.

"He said he believed their aim was to gain United Nations recognition as a sovereign state.

"The high commissioner said that although the offer was tempting it was rejected because Tuvalu was unsure what the consequencesmight be.

"Sean Dorney, Radio Australia."


Tuvalu rejected an offer of $2 million per year from the Maharishi Spiritual Movement

Freedom in the World 2002 - Tuvalu
18 December 2001

In December 2000, Prime Minister Ionatana Ionatana suffered a heart attack and died immediately after a speech at a public function. In February 2001, Faimalaga Luka was elected as his successor by the parliament after a period of official mourning. Tuvalu, along with several other Pacific Island nations, received a request in November from Australia to shelter asylum seekers from the Middle East whom Australia refused to accept. In early December, the government collapsed after four members of parliament turned against the prime minister and voted in support of a no-confidence motion. Koloa Talake, one of the floor-crossers, was elected as prime minister by a slim majority on December 13.

Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a small, predominantly Polynesian country, consisting of nine atolls stretching over 500,000 miles of the western Pacific Ocean. The islands were proclaimed a British protectorate with the Gilbert Islands (now independent Kiribati) in 1892 and were formally annexed by Britain in 1915-1916, when the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony was established. The Ellice and Gilbert Islands separated in October 1975, and the former were renamed Tuvalu. The country became an independent member of the Commonwealth in 1978. In Tuvalu's first post independence general election in September 1971, Dr. Tomasi Puapua was elected prime minister. In April 1999, parliament elected Ionatana Ionatana, a former education minister, as the new prime minister. Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations in 2000.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: Bio and Passport

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1978

BornMahesh Prasad Varma, 12 January 1918
Jabalpur, British Raj (now in Madhya Pradesh, India)
Vlodrop, Limburg, Netherlands

Died: 5 February 2008 (aged 90)

Years active1955–2008
Parents Sri Ram Prasad (father)

WikiLeaks: Maharishi University of Management and David Lynch Foundation legal threat against The Examiner, Oct 2009

"This file is a legal threat sent to Examiner.com from Maharishi University (Transcendental Meditation) General Counsel William Goldstein in an effort to remove an article[1] critical of the David Lynch Foundation's efforts to bring Transcendental Meditation (TM) into public schools.

According to the source, the letter illustrates how TM has become Scientology-like in its litigious attempts to censor criticism."

Scientology to couple: You're no longer invited

Tampa Bay Times, June 11, 2014
By Joe Childs

Beautifully plated filet mignon. Attentive servers. A rocking band.

Sophia and Jack Vasilaros wanted a first-class reception for their daughter Marina, who married Louis Michaelos on Saturday afternoon in Clearwater. They got it.

"My phone's been smokin' with people saying they had a great time,'' Jack Vasilaros said Tuesday.
Not in that group, and unhappy about it, are a well-known Clearwater couple who have been close friends with the Vasilaroses for nearly 30 years.

Voncele and Denis deVlaming were banned from the event by the Church of Scientology.

Needing a large venue for their many guests, the Vasilaroses had rented the elegant Crystal Ballroom in the church's Fort Harrison Hotel, which is available to the public. As part of the rental agreement, the Vasilaroses agreed to send the church the guest list in advance.

Jun 12, 2014

Nazi slogan sticking to yogi school

November, 20, 2007

Plans by Hollywood film director David Lynch to build a Transcendental Meditation university in Berlin have provoked a storm of criticism in Germany after the project's chief guru used a phrase of Hitler's propaganda minister in promoting the scheme.

Lynch's attempt to promote the project, before Berlin students last week, backfired. Lynch, who does not speak German, watched as his white-robed German guru Emanuel Schiffgens told the students about the university's aim to raise human awareness and understanding. But he shocked them with language that could have been lifted straight from a speech by Joseph Goebbels. Schiffgens, who also wore a golden crown and claimed to be the "raja" or prince of Germany, declared: "Invincible Germany! Invincible Germany! I want to hear you all say 'Invincible Germany!'"

In a country that has spent much of the past half-century attempting to atone for the evils of the Nazi era, his exhortations did not go down well. The raja was booed and shouted down.

One audience member yelled: "That's exactly what Hitler wanted." Schiffgens further enraged the audience when he replied: "Yes, but unfortunately he didn't succeed." The row brought the uncomprehending Lynch to say: "I don't know what he said but I think I understand that he used a word from the Third Reich. Let's just look at it this way, it's a new world now."

Plans for Lynch's universities are under way in Estonia, Finland, Bulgaria and Scotland, where the university is cosponsored by 1960s folk singer Donovan.

They will combine traditional academic subjects with meditation techniques developed in the 1950s by Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose followers included the Beatles.


China rounds up members of doomsday cult

Jamil Anderlini December 17, 2012

BEIJING— Police across China are rounding up members of a quasi-Christian doomsday cult who have been preaching the end of the world and urging people to launch a “decisive battle” to slay the “big red dragon” of the Communist Party.

Scores and perhaps hundreds of members of an outlawed cult known as the Church of Almighty God have been detained throughout the country in recent days as Beijing tries to stop believers from taking drastic action on what they believe to be the eve of the apocalypse, according to relatives of cult members and state media reports.

The sect, which preaches the second coming of a female Jesus, appears to have adapted an ancient Mayan prophecy that some people believe predicts the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012, and has been popularized by Hollywood movies such as “2012”.

Jun 11, 2014

Campaign to Crack Down on Fringe Sects in China Worries Mainstream Churches

Andrew Jacobsjune
June 11, 2014

BEIJING — Last month, as she waited for her husband and 7-year-old son at a McDonald’s in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, Wu Shuoyan was approached by members of a Christian sect who were on an aggressive recruitment drive.

After Ms. Wu refused to give them her number, several members of the group beat and kicked her to death, an act of brutality captured by cellphone and widely shared on the Internet.

Although the Chinese public’s outrage initially focused on the many bystanders who failed to intervene, the national news media has sought to shift the indignation toward what the government calls “evil cults” — the roughly two dozen outlawed religious sects often demonized by the authorities as coercive and dangerous.

In the two weeks since the killing, state-run publications have produced a steady drumbeat of alarming articles detailing what they say are the predations of the Church of Almighty God, the group blamed for the McDonald’s attack. On Tuesday, the Xinhua news agency said the authorities had rounded up about 1,500 cult members, although it appears many of those were arrested as early as 2012.

“Religious cults recruit and control adherents by fabricating and spreading superstitions and heresies,” the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement carried by state-run news media last Wednesday.

China's 'cult' crackdown: 1,500 members of two sects rounded up

Associated Press

BEIJING -- China on Wednesday announced the roundup of hundreds of alleged cult members following a deadly attack in which a group of adherents beat a woman to death in a McDonald's restaurant.

Slightly more than 1,500 cult members have been detained and prison terms handed out to at least 59, the official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday. It wasn't clear when the arrests took place, although the reports said some went back as far as two years.

Wednesday's reports appeared to be an effort to reassure the public following outrage over violence and other illegal activity blamed on cult adherents.

The reports said cult members were given terms of up to four years on charges of "using a cult organization to undermine enforcement of the law." Accusations against them included that they used threats, violence and other illegal measures to expand their memberships and organizations.

Those detained were allegedly members of the Church of Almighty God and the Disciples Sect, groups drawing on an unorthodox reading of Christian scripture.

Six members of the Church of Almighty God are accused of beating a woman to death at a McDonald's in the eastern city of Zhaoyuan last month after she refused to tell them her phone number as part of a recruitment drive.

The group, whose Chinese name "Quannengshen" also translates as "All-powerful spirit," was founded in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in the early 1990s and later spread to the country's eastern provinces, according to Chinese media reports.

China has struggled at times to control grassroots religious movements based on Christian or Buddhist ideology, most notably the Falungong meditation movement that attracted millions of adherents before being repressed in 1999.

Jun 10, 2014

WikiLeaks: Transcendental Meditation financial statements and legal, 2004-2005

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a meditation/stress relief technique and the trade mark used by series of globe-spanning organizations introduced into Western culture by founder "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" (MMY, 1917-2008). MMY gained fame in the 1960s as the spiritual guru to the Beatles. Currently the singer Donovan and the film maker David Lynch are TM's most recognizable proponents.

Some former TM teachers have described the TM organizations as operating at the upper level as a cult or Vedic sect. Upper level training includes levitation, group mental action at a distance and similar claims not recognized by science. Five day meditation classes cost upto $2,500 and TM has become a big business, with its own University and town in Iowa, and branches in Lower Manhattan ("Global Financial Capital of New York") and elsewhere around the world.

These files are financial and legal documents pertaining to the "Global Country of World Peace," the Iowa non-profit corporation which, among other things, teaches the Transcendental Meditation program. Included are financial statements for 2004 and 2005, and the organization's Articles of Incorporation.


"WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box). One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth. We are a young organisation that has grown very quickly, relying on a network of dedicated volunteers around the globe. Since 2007, when the organisation was officially launched, WikiLeaks has worked to report on and publish important information. We also develop and adapt technologies to support these activities.

WikiLeaks has sustained and triumphed against legal and political attacks designed to silence our publishing organisation, our journalists and our anonymous sources. The broader principles on which our work is based are the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history. We derive these principles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Article 19 inspires the work of our journalists and other volunteers. It states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. We agree, and we seek to uphold this and the other Articles of the Declaration."

Intervention 101: cult intervention, cult mediation, and relationship-building resources.: Video of Girish Verma’s statement to police sought...

Intervention 101: cult intervention, cult mediation, and relationship-building resources.: Video of Girish Verma’s statement to police sought...: By FPJ Bureau,  May 16, 2014 BHOPAL: An application on behalf of complainant Renu Rani Sharma, former teacher of Maharishi School, was mov...

Suspects in Cult Violence 'Feel No Remorse'

Zhang Lidong
Suspect of the killing Zhang Lidong [Xinhua]
June 7, 2014
Sandy Zhu
(Source: Xinhua and China Daily)

The self-confessed cult members arrested on suspicion of beating a woman to death on May 28 at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Shandong Province, have shown no regret for the incident.

Zhang Lidong, a 54-year-old suspect, said in a detention house that he was a businessman before becoming obsessed with the heretic sect Quannengshen, translated as "Almighty God", seven years ago.
Zhang said he was influenced by his elder daughter Zhang Fan, 30, who was the first in the family to join the cult after reading a book about it. He then stopped working. The car he drove on the evening of May 28, the night of the attack, was a 1-million-yuan ($160,100) Porsche, which he said he bought with his savings.

On the night of the attack, the father and five other cult members were attempting to recruit new members, police said. When Wu, the mother of a 7-year-old boy, refused to give them her telephone number, they beat her to death, according to the police.

In addition to his daughter Zhang Fan, Zhang Lidong also has a daughter, Zhang Hang, and an underage son whose name has not been released to protect his identity. All allegedly participated in the assault.

Zhang Fan's friend and Zhang Lidong's lover are also suspects in the beating.

Zhang Lidong said on Sunday that he beat Wu because Zhang Fan told him that the woman was a "devil" or an "evil spirit".

He said the devil should go to hell, so he has no remorse for his behavior. He did, however, confirm that he has had on two occasions doubted "Almighty God", the first time when he arrived in Zhaoyuan and the second when he was arrested.

Zhang Fan, who is a university graduate and briefly studied overseas, said she would kill her mother because she is the "biggest devil" and has shared that idea with her friend, one of the suspects.

Zhang Fan met the friend on the Internet in 2008. In 2009, the Zhang family came to Zhaoyuan to live with the friend, she said. She added that she has donated more than 100,000 yuan to the cult.

At the home where the suspects lived, words like "massacre" are painted on a white board. Zhang Fan said she killed her dog the night before the beating because she thought it was also an "evil spirit".

Both the father and his elder daughter said they are not afraid of the law nor are they repentant for what they did.

The cult first came to light in the 1990s in Henan Province. It claims that Jesus was resurrected in the form of Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect's founder Zhao Weishan, who is also known as Xu Wenshan. The couple fled to the United States in 2000.

China lists 14 illegal cults, including Falun Gong and "Almighty God". Nine key members of "Almighty God" were arrested in Changde, Hunan Province, the Changde public security bureau said on Thursday.

Previously, five "Almighty God" members were sentenced to three years or three and a half years in prison in Henan province. Four others in Liaoning Province were sentenced to three to four years in prison.


Anger in China over fatal beating of woman by cult followers

June 4, 2014
The Irish Times

Five members of a religious cult known as the Church of Almighty God have been arrested on suspicion of beating a young woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant in Shandong for refusing to give her mobile phone number.

The vicious attack triggered nationwide outrage after a video of the beating went viral online. It allegedly took place on Wednesday last week in Zhaoyuan after the woman, surnamed Wu, refused to give her mobile phone number to the group, which was in the restaurant recruiting new members, Shandong police told Chinese state media.

Zhang Lidong, (54), and two of his daughters are among the six suspects accused of taking part in the McDonald’s attack. A son of one of the suspects who was also involved in the attack has not attained the age of criminal responsibility, according to Zhaoyuan police.

“She was a demon. She was an evil spirit,” Mr Zhang said in an interview on state broadcaster CCTV. He was shown handcuffed in prison garb, and showed no indication of remorse.
The Church of Almighty God, also known as Eastern Lightning, was set up in the early 1990s by Zhao Weishan, a physics teacher from Heilongjiang province, according to Chinese state media.

It was banned by Chinese authorities in 1995, after which Zhao fled to the US, the Global Times newspaper reported, and in late 2012, authorities arrested more than 450 people accused of belonging to the group after they held secret gatherings and spread leaflets in the apparent belief the world was going to end on December 21st that year.

China’s Public Security Bureau has announced a crackdown on the Church of Almighty God, focused on its activities in Shandong. “Religious cults recruit and control adherents by fabricating and spreading superstitions and heresies. They use various means to harm people and collect large amounts of money,” the bureau said in a statement.

Adherents to the cult believe that Jesus Christ was reincarnated as a woman surnamed Deng from central Henan province. They also claim to be on a mission to fight and slay the “big red dragon,” or China’s ruling Communist Party.

The incident has revived memories of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, as the two movements hail from the same part of China and have many similar characteristics.

China has labelled the Falun Gong an “evil cult” that encourages suicide, makes people neglect severe medical conditions and takes their savings. The authorities carried out a nationwide crackdown in 1999, putting thousands of members behind bars.

Beijing does not allow new religions outside the streams of the Communist approved versions of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.

Chinese authorities are particularly wary of cults, which can grow in power and turn into national rebellions. Both the Boxer and Taiping rebellions in 19th century China had their origins in groups with spiritual or mystical components.

“The persistent existence and rampancy of cult activities in this country reveals worrying failures in both education and administration. That cults like the Church of Almighty God, whose crude ‘theories’ are nothing more than awkward blends of rural superstition and a madman’s ravings, have so easily established themselves and expanded in rural China is a loud slap in the face for the education authorities and their proud indices of success,” the China Daily said in an editorial.

Zhu Lijia, a public management professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, told the Global Times that followers were lured by the sense of security cults profess to offer. “Society is changing rapidly, which has led to individuals being unsure about their future. They are looking for spiritual relief and are easily influenced by cults,” he said.


China Detains Five ‘Cult Members’ for McDonald’s Murder

Bloomberg News
Jun 3, 2014

Police in eastern China arrested five alleged members of a religious cult on murder charges after a 35-year-old woman was beaten to death in a McDonald’s restaurant for refusing to give out her phone number.

The victim, surnamed Wu, was attacked May 28 by members of a sect known as the Church of Almighty God who were trying to recruit followers, Zhaoyuan city police in eastern Shandong province said on its official Weibo account late yesterday. After she refused to give them her number, the assailants beat her, believing she was a demon and evil spirit, it said.

The five suspects are also charged with organizing and using a cult to undermine law enforcement, after police seized books and other material from the suspects’ homes, the Zhaoyuan police said. The provincial and city police will increase scrutiny of such cases and crack down on illegal and criminal activities of cults, it said.

The attack has led to widespread condemnation of religious sects on China’s strictly controlled Internet, as well as in state media. Lu Dewen, a deputy professor at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, called for an immediate crackdown on cults in an article in the Chinese-language Global Times newspaper today.

The persistent existence of cult activities reveals “worrying failures in both education and administration,” the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial today. “There will undoubtedly be a harsh crackdown on the illicit cult,” it said.

Jesus ‘Reincarnated’

China carried out a nationwide crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement in 1999, putting thousands of members behind bars. In late 2012, authorities arrested more than 450 people accused of belonging to the Church of Almighty God after they held secret gatherings and spread leaflets in the belief the world was going to end on Dec. 21 that year.

The Church of Almighty God, also known as Eastern Lightning, was set up in the early 1990s by Zhao Weishan, a physics teacher from Heilongjiang province, according to Chinese state media. It was banned by Chinese authorities in 1995, after which Zhao fled to the U.S., according to the Global Times newspaper.

The cult believes Jesus Christ was reincarnated as a woman surnamed Deng from central Henan province. Adherents also believe they are on a mission to fight and slay the “big red dragon,” as it refers to China’s ruling Communist Party, the Beijing News reported in December 2012.

Zhang Lidong, 54, and two of his daughters are among the six suspects who took part in the McDonald’s attack, the Beijing News said today, citing unnamed sources. A son of one of the suspects who was also involved in the attack hasn’t reached the age of criminal responsibility, according to Zhaoyuan police.

Deadly attack raises concern about growth of 'evil cults' in China

Julie Makinen
LA Times
June 7, 2014

Twenty minutes later, she lay dead on the floor, beaten to death with a metal pole. Authorities say the perpetrators were six members of a religious cult, including a middle-aged man, his two grown daughters and his 12-year-old son, who became angry when Wu refused to give them her phone number.

A bystander recorded the horror with a cellphone camera; in the footage, uploaded to the Internet, Wu's main attacker can be heard bellowing, "Go die! Evil spirit!" as he pummels her. A female accomplice screeches at onlookers: "Whoever interferes will die!"

Religious belief is on the upswing across China, with underground and fringe groups as well as mainstream, state-approved congregations attracting many new members. The savage, apparently random attack last week in the eastern city of Zhaoyuan has prompted calls in the state-run press for a crackdown on "evil" religious organizations. It also has sparked questions about whether the government's longtime controls on belief groups of all sorts may inadvertently be hampering efforts to combat possibly violent sects.

"That cults … have so easily established themselves and expanded in rural China is a loud slap in the face for the education authorities and their proud indices of success," the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.

In a jailhouse interview broadcast on state-run CCTV, the suspected ringleader of the McDonald's slaying, Zhang Lidong, said he had been a member of the Almighty God organization for seven years; the group has been banned by Chinese authorities since 1995.

Zhang calmly admitted to killing Wu, calling her a "monster" and a "demon," and expressed no remorse. "We are not afraid of the law. We have faith in God," said Zhang, who was identified as an unemployed former businessman. Asked how he felt, he said, "Great."

The Almighty God group began about a quarter of a century ago in northeastern Heilongjiang province; the group is sometimes also called Eastern Lightning and has connections to earlier sects, including a 1980s movement called the Shouters.

Founder Zhao Weishan preached that Jesus had come back to Earth in the form of a local woman named Yang Xiangbin, also known as Lightning Deng. Both Yang and Zhao subsequently immigrated to the United States. The sect claims to have up to 5 million members worldwide and opposes China's Communist Party, calling it the "Great Red Dragon."

It's quite difficult to get true information from Mainland China ... and some say maybe the government uses the same kind of tactics as [the] Almighty God [religious sect].
- Pastor Wu Chi-wai, general secretary, Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement

China cracked down in late 2012, when members prophesied that the world would end Dec. 21. Nearly 1,000 Almighty God adherents were detained for handing out leaflets about the apocalypse and "spreading rumors." It was one of the biggest operations against a religious group since the 1999 ban on Falun Gong, which draws its beliefs from Eastern traditions including qigong and Buddhism.

The communist government officially permits Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Catholic and Protestant Christianity; the religious groups are supposed to be affiliated with a government-approved umbrella organization. Tens of millions of Chinese, however, have joined "house churches" and other unsanctioned groups.

Such unregistered organizations make Chinese authorities nervous, in part because large uprisings have sprung from Christian sects in the past. The Taiping Rebellion of the 1800s, started by a man who said he was Jesus Christ's brother, led to civil war and contributed to the downfall of China's last dynasty.

Some observers sense a newly intensified effort to counter unpermitted belief groups. Red-and-white banners with messages such as "Believe in science, create culture, make great efforts against evil cults," can be seen in parks and many other public spaces across the country.

"I think it's more visible. After the Falun Gong [crackdown], there was a wave of this kind of propaganda," said Nanlai Cao, associate professor in religious studies at the People's University in Beijing. "The past five years, I don't think it was very visible, but now I think it's a big issue, and has become a top priority for government officials."

In the wake of the McDonald's slaying, state-run media have linked the Almighty God organization to riots in Henan in 1998, the killing of an elementary school student in 2010 and a mass stabbing of schoolchildren in 2012.

"Maybe in the past, they choose not to report it, but in the current context there may be more coverage," Cao said. "It's a reconstruction of the story in a new framework, an anti-cult framework."

Liu Ling, a Peking University graduate student who has been studying the Almighty God group for two years as part of her thesis work, said she had read numerous media reports about the group's violent acts but had been unable to verify most of them.

She was able to substantiate one incident in which sect members abducted 34 members of a house church and tried to indoctrinate them, and more recently occasions of Almighty God believers invading house church services, pushing pastors offstage and trumpeting their own teachings.

Because house churches are not legal, their members would be reluctant to report harassment. "When they're raided and attacked by Almighty God, they would just warn other home churches, not tell police," she said.

Liu said she interviewed relatives of Almighty God believers who said members of the sect had broken their windows or set small fires in their yards to intimidate them into joining the group. However, she added, the slaying of Wu, apparently a total stranger, did not fit any known pattern of the group's behavior.

Other details of Wu's slaying as reported in state-run media have raised eyebrows, including witness reports that the unemployed Zhang and his group arrived in a Porsche Cayenne and that they carried out such an attack at a restaurant near a police station.

Pastor Wu Chi-wai, general secretary of the resource group Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement, says the Almighty God group is "quite rich" and has bought full-page ads in local newspapers to trumpet its beliefs. He says his organization has heard reports that the sect has kidnapped and bullied people and tried to blackmail others with accusations of sexual improprieties, but that the McDonald's killing seems out of the ordinary.

"Some people are not certain that this is linked" to the sect, he said. "It's quite difficult to get true information from Mainland China … and some say maybe the government uses the same kind of tactics as Almighty God."