I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Robert Jay Lifton’s 2019 book is an amazing instrument for any reader attempting to slough the distinction between their own sincerity and our greater shared reality. With style and grace, Lifton begins by introducing the question “Who can own reality?” and then aptly commands attention to a top ten list of essays woven into our collective intelligence. Having devoted the better part of his 95 years to the examination of reality and the countering of its censors; the doctor, who is almost universally recognized as earth’s foremost protector of objective reality, transports readers across the timespans of his career delivering his opus in three distinct parts. First he examines ‘Thought Reform and Cultism’ from the dangers of Mao’s de-individualisation to the much more modern ‘cults of personality’ fed by the banal and facile deification of ‘specialness’ in societies that otherwise claim to be built upon the concept of egalitarian creation. Next the doctor walks readers through the state of learned helplessness encouraged by ‘World-Ending Threats’ as well as the puggings of madmen like Hitler and Trump. In this section, Lifton notes readers can sometimes choose not to be overwhelmed by the barkings of false gurus seeking to enhance their social status while expanding their doomsday cults. He also encourages reflection on “the role activism can play both in mitigating extreme danger and overcoming collective despair.” The doctor concludes with his notes on ‘Regaining Reality.’ Dancing around Ghandi’s and Thoreau’s coteaching that truth is a form of love, Lifton invites a fuller recognition of our societies’ vulnerabilities to internal and external solipsistic figures commenting that while “cultist attacks on [democratic] institutions” may never fully fade “neither will our capacity for openness and truth-telling as alternatives to the closed world of cultism.” All terrifyingly liberating ideas.



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