The effectiveness of public mind control – a case study

In a recent post I explored psychologist A M Meerloo’s 1956 book, The Rape of the Mind – the Psychology of Thought Control, applying it (as he did) to the increasing control of opinion within Western society through propaganda. A later, more complete study of the issue – and of the overwhelming dangers it poses both to society and the human spirit – is in a 1965 work by Christian sociologist Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. I’ve linked to both texts here.

They have direct relevance to the deliberate undermining of society’s sexual morality over the last decades, which I highlighted here (incidentally getting more hits in a week than any previous post on The Hump). A third source, from an economist, gives the actual type of propaganda a label: the “availability cascade”, a “self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation.” Although both the public and the churches have sleep-walked into today’s situation, apparently still quite oblivious to the existence of the methods that have been employed to manipulate them, I can at least attempt a belated opportunity to increase our understanding of why we have succumbed.

I shall do that principally by showing the particular methodology used in one example of one medium – the British Independent Online newspaper – over the last week, though as Ellul points out the effectiveness of modern propaganda relies on its use of all media in appropriate, though always endlessly repetitive, ways:

We must emphasize this circle which we shall meet again and again; the structure of present-day society places the individual where he is most easily reached by propaganda. The media of mass communication, which are part of the technical evolution of this society, deepen this situation while making it possible to reach the individual man, integrated in the mass; and what these media do is exactly what propaganda must do in order to attain its objectives.

Propaganda – as opposed to rational argument – works by being ubiquitous and persistent, giving the mind no space for sober consideration. In that way, judgement gives way to conditioned reflex: propaganda doesn’t aim at changing ones mind, but bypassing it to produce the desired action in line with the myth… the mind follows after the event. As both Meerloo and Ellul point out, nobody is fully immune: at least part of the agenda must eventually sneak through ones defences. That is even more the case when you have no real mental defences because you think you’re receiving information, rather than propaganda. Ellul argues that it is actually the most educated and best-informed who succumb most easily to propaganda, because they are most exposed to the message.

It’s worth asking why even educated Christians, and social conservatives in general, are mostly unaware how the tools of propaganda have been so universally and successfully wielded in our age. An essay I read recently resonated with my own experience: sociology, and particularly the social psychology behind opinion-moulding, has long been the domain of the progressive left. The commentary noted how few enter the field from other ideological positions, how even fewer can gain employment, and how not only the bias of literature, but the very subjects considered worth studying, follow the radical agenda. For my part, I found the same when I studied social psychology back in the seventies: the field was entirely dominated by the New Left, combining Marxist politics with a dislike for established authority, religion and, especially, traditional views on sexuality.

Recognising that helps account both for the agenda and the methodology. Even something as apparently inevitable as disagreement in the churches over sexuality issues can be seen as an intended outcome of the use of propaganda. As Ellul continues:

If, by chance, propaganda is addressed to an organized group, it can have practically no effect on individuals before that group has been fragmented. Such fragmentation may be achieved through action, but it if equally possible to fragment a group by psychological means. The transformation of very small groups by purely psychological means is one of the most important techniques of propaganda- Only when very small groups are thus annihilated, when the individual finds no more defences, no equilibrium, no resistance exercised by the group to which he belongs does total action by propaganda become possible.

So to business: these are dated links to all the news items related to “LGBT issues” I found in The Independent between 2nd and 8th of this month (I was too busy to look on 4th!). I have tried, from these, to categorize the recurrent messages being conveyed (in contrast to what never is conveyed), bearing in mind that these are news, not opinion, items. I think you’ll find them represented in any other week’s coverage in the “Indy” or pretty well any other news medium you care to consult – you may well wonder at the source of such uniformity.

Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture (02/07)
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives (02/07)
German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government  (02/07)
Facebook rainbow profile pictures likely being tracked by social network (02/07)
Donald Trump’s stance on same-sex marriage shut down when CNN host asks: ‘What’s traditional about being married three times?’ (02/07)
Sam Malone: Texas conservative talk radio host likens LGBT activists to Muslim terrorists (02/07)
How the world reacted to gay marriage in the USA (03/07)
Gay marriage legalised in the USA: The best and worst reactions – one week on (03/07)
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teen: ‘Your future will be amazing’ (05/07)
More kids asked their opinion on gay marriage, continue to nail it )05/07)
Why the Church of England faces a dilemma as it comes under pressure to back gay marriage (05/07)
CD Guadalajara become second Spanish club to make stand against homophobia with new rainbow kit unveiled at Madrid Pride (06/07)
Cara Delevingne tells Tony Abbott to ‘listen to the world’ and legalise same-sex marriage 06/07)
Sarah Jessica Parker explains why she is not a feminist: ‘It’s not just about women now’ 07/07
These are the world’s most gay-friendly countries 07/07
YouTube star Shane Dawson comes out as bisexual in an emotional video 08/07
Olympic Torch carried by Caitlyn Jenner in 1984 set to reach $20,000 at auction 08/07

The first message is simply the exaggerated emphasis placed on the subject: it is hard to see why the interests of, perhaps, 2% of the population should require seventeen articles to cover it in a single week, compared, say, to the interests of much larger minorities like immigrants, the disabled, or persecuted Christians. Clearly, there is intended to be a daily drip-feed of items to keep it centre-stage in everyone’s mind. This comes into relief in the headline about “football kit against homophobia“, in which the actual article describes seven types of “prejudice” including child abuse and depression. Yet only “homophobia” is stressed.

Secondly, note how the vocabulary used invariably assumes (but seldom argues) that the LGBT agenda is good, progressive, and also inevitable. And so in the few cases where opponents are not described as “bigots”, they are ignorant and have not “yet” seen the light (see for example, the piece on the Church of England in which a conciliatory tone is taken, yet is conditional upon the churches eventually waking up to “reality”).

Thirdly, in this connection there is virtually always an editorial slant to this effect, except for “token” neutralist sentences like “some conservatives object…” after “correct” views have been fully voiced. For example, an item on an (American) TV presenter reads: “But what would the casual listener tuning into his show earlier this when week have thought when he criticised the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage…” In plain truth, the answer ought to depend on the listener’s own private opinions – yet the “news article” assumes all right-thinking people would have been shocked, which is a coded warning to any non-right-thinking Independent readers. And so one finds frequent use of phrases like “bizarre rant”, or the headline “Best and worst reactions” to the US court judgement (rather than “Most pleased and most disappointed”).

Fourthly, in other words, there is no discussion, or even acknowledgement whatsoever, of any case against the agenda. For this “quality newspaper” there is no legal, theological, philosophical, historical or biological case to be made – all opposition is just bracketed as bigotry, ignorance, inertia and cowardice. For example, transsexualism is always discussed as a matter of freedom and rights, so one would never suspect that it’s fundamentally a pathology – even if one denies it’s a mental pathology, then it must be a gross physical pathology (“the wrong body”) since it requires major surgery, lifelong medication and behavioural therapy. Likewise the strong association between homosexuality and paederasty is never acknowledged (which is highly relevant, for instance, to the Roman Catholic “paedophilia” scandal).

Fifthly, in pursuance of this closing down of rational discussion, all opponents are demonised: they are always represented as bigots, “hate-preachers”, stupid and self-contradictory conservatives. and so on. Conscience is not on the agenda.

Sixthly, this is particularly noticeable (if one has a mind to notice) in the contrast with stylised positive representations of supporters of the sexual progessives: beautiful or winsome people are always in favour (models, movie stars, children). It’s noticeable that only old white men in suits appear to be against.

Seventhly, one popular technique related to this is the frequent use of children, waving flags or speaking innocent wisdom (the “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings” trope). This is an old trick once used by peace activists, who quoted children saying “Why can’t everyone just live in peace?” as gems of wisdom rather than as immature naivety. In this case it ignores the reality that children are invariably socialised by adults – not only are children at Gay Pride marches likely to have activists as parents, but it’s hardly surprising if kids are on-message when they’ve been getting the “diversity” agenda ever since they started kindergarten.

It’s astonishing how many people fail to realise that the greater support for gay marriage amongst the young than the elderly is precisely because they’ve been indoctrinated in the sexual libertarian agenda since infancy, often by law. Similarly, when commentators claim that nobody will bat an eyelid about same-sex marriage in twenty years, it is seldom that anyone replies: “Of course – all the findings of social psychology and recent history are that whole societies can be (for awhile at least) led wherever the propagandists choose.” But the question must never be, especially for Christians, “What will people think about it in a few years” but “What does reason and the word of God say about it now?”

Incidentally, given that science gives far more evidence for the social conditioning of sexual roles than for genetic causes (such as the widely varying rates of particular deviations in different societies), we will expect to find increasing rates, rather than merely increasing perceptions, of “diversity” over time. Lesbianism, for example, is far and away more common amongst college graduates… and celebrities.

Eighthly, The Independent, like all the other news outlets, carries a veritable United Nations of rainbow flags. Not only does this represent a subconscious conditioning to the idea that “LGBT = peace and fun”, but it can be used to evoke that cosy feeling in demonizing any other position. See, for example, in the article on the Church of England how the flag not only suggests the banner of simple joy in contrast to the laboured discussions of the bishops, but it is even captioned “The Christian Church has officially condemned gay people for centuries”, which is a misrepresentation at virtually every level – but who will notice that when there’s a pretty flag? 1960s hippies, too, used rainbows in their iconography with a similar “peace and love” vibe: and not only did that movement cover some very destructive drug use and a degree of sexual exploitation that is only now really coming to light – it was also cynically exploited by the New Left with a view to fomenting real political revolution.

Ninethly, notice how the LGBT agenda is held together as of a piece, and is never allowed to reach a conclusion, say with the US legal endorsement of same sex marriage. The public agenda expands (it’s beginning to be called LGBQT now), and is pushed in articles that are positive when it can be spun that way, or studiously uncritical when it can’t. And so, within a week of the court judgement, the agendas of bigamy and incest are quietly (for now) fielded. Meanwhile the bisexual model berates the fusty old premier of Australia to get behind the beautiful people on same-sex marriage.

Tenthly, and perhaps most importantly, is the encouragement of a victim mentality, with guilt as its counterpart for outsiders. Hence the oddly paranoid story about the possible tracking of those who adopted rainbow logos on Facebook, and that rather inexplicable piece about a weeping barely-teenager firmly established in his sexuality. What exactly set this child weeping, and how was a photographer handy to snap him? Yet the message, in the week that saw marriage arbitrarily redefined and any other view outlawed, is that it is not enough to have ended legal discrimination, if “people won’t like him.” The right to be universally liked has only in the past been claimed by megalomaniacs, and it can only be achieved by coercive brainwashing. But it seems OK for Hilary Clinton to endorse it if an innocent child is saying it.

Of course, sexual minorities have indeed suffered as victims, but propaganda robs us of the important truth that there are always nuances to history. As Ellul’s introduction says:

Most people are easy prey for propaganda, Ellul says, because of their firm but entirely erroneous conviction that it is composed only of lies and “tall stories” and that, conversely, what is true cannot be propaganda. But modern propaganda has long disdained the ridiculous lies of past and outmoded forms of propaganda. It operates instead with many different kinds of truth— half truth, limited truth, truth out of context. Even Goebbels always insisted that Wehrmacht communiqués be as accurate as possible.

And so when the Indy caption speaks of the the Church officially condemning gays for centuries, one should read instead that it condemned acts of anal intercourse, on whomsoever perpetrated. Once, Ecclesiastical courts managed all vaguely marital matters, and penalties for sodomy (exacted by the secular authority) could indeed include death – but in some periods 100 days penance was considered sufficient.

In fact the only case of homosexuality found in any English mediaeval court records concerns a cross-dressing London male prostitute in 1395 who preferred priests because they paid more – would it be right, even now, to welcome him as a church member in good standing? There is, it seems, no record of any punishment, and incidentally the main issue was trangressing gender norms by cross-dressing. In 1533 Henry VIII took matters fully out of church hands with the new crime of buggery. It is believed that the first person was only “persecuted” under that law eight years later: he was the headmaster of Eton, who had been abusing one of his pupils. Only instead of the legislated death penalty, he got a year in prison, received back-pay from Eton, and went on to be headmaster of Westminster School.

A more recently lauded victim of persecution by society, rather than the Church, was Oscar Wilde. His love for Lord Alfred Douglas is remembered as landing him in Reading Gaol. But it’s less remembered that, with Douglas, he engaged in sex tourism by procuring under-age Arab boys whilst abroad, nor that it was probably only the court case that prevented Douglas’s sexual designs on Wilde’s nine year old son coming to fruition.

Even more recently, in the legal case of gay icon Boy George, the only “victim” was the male escort he imprisoned and beat with a chain. Boy George was punished, not victimized, in most people’s books. Similarly singer Jonathan King’s many victims were mainly pubescent boys of 14 or 15, and that’s what put him in jail and finished his career. My own limited experience in the field was of having to manoeuvre around the approaches of a homosexual teacher at school, resulting in my dropping my best subject so as not to allow him the leverage of acadamic power.

In other words, the “victim” motif is not at all as straightforward as claimed, yet it has huge emotional appeal both in encouraging a victim mentality within the minority (as Islamist propagandists have found so effectively amongst Muslim communities) and in disabling any effective opposition outside it through guilt-feelings or, failing that, public denunciation or litigation.

This has particularly affected the Churches’ official discussions on the whole LGBQT agenda. By selectively accepting the media messages at face value (especially the victimhood message), insufficient attention is given to the actual ideological agenda, which is about the right to be sexually whatever one chooses. What else makes any sense of singer Tom Robinson’s claim, after years of settled family life, that he’s a gay who happens to love a woman and he can love whom he damned well pleases?

The package based on that ideology (as even this week’s news shows) necessarily includes bigamy and incest, sado-masochism and bestiality. It might still include the lowering of the age of consent for all these activities, if acceptance could be gained for the idea that love can not only occur in any form, but at any age. There was, just a couple of decades ago, a “P” in “LGBQPT”, and it’s not yet clear that there won’t be again at some future time, if the social climate allows.

How will the church that now marries homosexuals react to a divorced male “wife” grooming a member of the youth group who is above the new age of consent? On what basis will it deem unsuitable an SM club in the church? Will it be OK for a bisexual man to marry both a woman and a man in church, and if not why is that not the persecution of a bisexual minority? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not here predicting a slippery slope (it’s hard to do that when one has already reached the foot of the hill), but I’m just asking why churches are not working as hard on the limitations and church disciplinary issues surrounding the new sexuality (if it indeed represents God’s creation and Scriptural teaching more than the old) as they are about cherry-picking its agenda, whilst ignoring the true ethos that has driven it since Kinsey and before.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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44 Responses to The effectiveness of public mind control – a case study

  1. Cath Olic says:

    “It’s worth asking why even educated Christians, and social conservatives in general, are mostly unaware how the tools of propaganda have been so universally and successfully wielded in our age.”

    I disagree. I think only a MINORITY of educated Christians and social conservatives are unaware of the propaganda tools. The majority know the propaganda is pervasive and is wielded primarily in the schools and the media.

    “It’s astonishing how many people fail to realise that the greater support for gay marriage amongst the young than the elderly is precisely because they’ve been indoctrinated in the sexual libertarian agenda since infancy, often by law.”

    Same goes for other agendas such as climate change, evolution, socialism, religious indifferentism/ antagonism, atheism.

    But back to the main theme here, I think the ultimate goal of the gay “marriage” agenda isn’t marriage at all. One would have to be seriously deluded to think gays pursue marriage because of the high esteem they hold for the institution. They despise it. Attainment of gay “marriage” is just the first step toward the intermediate goal of DESTROYING marriage and its meaning. However, the ULTIMATE goal, whether many proponents are aware of it or not, is destruction of the Catholic Church. But they will never succeed.

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Cath Olic

    To be aware that there is propaganda, without having a full understanding of how it operates, still leaves one largely unprotected from its influence, as Ellul points out.

    An analogy is advertising (which is, of course, a relatively minor form of propaganda). The savvy person thinks he’s capable of seeing past the claims of rival smart-phones – but still ends up believing he needs one. He doesn’t really believe that buying that new Fiat will also deliver pretty female passengers – but he still carries the association with him into the dealer sunconsciously. He resists the message that saving with that Bank will make him part of the in-crowd in the ad – but still picks up the lifestyle of the in-crowd.

    The same kind of thing was seen in, say, Soviet Russia, where everybody knew everything they heard was propaganda – but they never heard anything else, so the nost important bits of it crept in (and that was planned, by hiding the real propaganda under the improbable statistics).

    Unless people notice and ask why their newspaper happens to carry so many LGBT stories (there were three new ones in the Indy yesterday) they will assume, as they are supposed to, that it’s what everyone except them is interested in. Which will soon be a self-fulfilling prophecy, leaving the reader with the real problem that if he doesn’t comply, he will be outside society. That’s the clear problem for the churches wrestling with “relevance”, and it’s even overtly stated as such.

    Again, Ellul is good in showing how the very nature of our centralized technical societies is, for the first time in history, bound to ensure there is a single “public opinion” – the Internet and similar media, of course, encourage that opinion to become international – which is why one of yesterday’s articles was about Putin’s new “traditional values” banner and why it has to be opposed for “civilization” to survive. It’s not enough to tolerate the new viewpoints – you must adopt them and love them to be part of society… only, of course, up till the point of coercion, the language of “tolerance” does a good job, like all such buzz-words.

    As you say, the Catholic Church is under attack for the same reasons, and in the same way – by suggesting it is irrelevant to society. But the same is true of the other Churches – the Indy’s article was about the Anglican Communion – and all have some vulnerability. It is interesting, for example, to trace how new attitudes to sexuality infiltrated western Catholic seminaries in the sixties, and that is not unconnected to more recent problems. That the attempt is to sideline all the churches is shown by the marked reticence of the press to worry about persecution – real persecution – of thousands of Christians across the world – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Syriac and all. A bisexual moaning in London about being called a poser even by gays is far more important than whole congregations and towns butchered.

    And that’s why for the Christian, Roman Catholic or not, dwelling in God’s word – the fixed point that shows everything else sliding around – is essential. As soon as it’s perceived as just another negotiable element of the mix, the propagandists will have won. And though I’m not a Catholic, I am a catholic – and you are right to say that the destruction of the Church is far more important to the “powers and principalities” than merely messing up people’s sexuality.

  3. GD GD says:


    Your comments show that the proponents of perverse sexual (and other) practices are far better at propaganda and using technological methods for manipulating mass opinion, than many (I think all) Christian organisations/denominations. Two matters make this starkly obvious, and both seem to be acutely problematic for the Catholic Church (although Anglicans are very close second in this, but I think it is all denominations). To illustrate, I recall a senior Catholic figure pointed out publicly that the offenders were homosexuals who had obviously acted contrary to their priestly vows – this person as “shot down” in the media, for daring to refer to these as homosexuals – they were Catholic priests, yelled these figures in the media, and the remarks by this Catholic show he was homophobic. The facts were clear and any person could see that these homosexuals had used young boys, groomed them, abused them, and destroyed their lives. Yet facts were to no avail. This bizarre behaviour was so effective that even legal proceedings began to drop usage of the term homosexuals when prosecuting or discussing these people.

    The other (and perhaps most injurious) event has been the slow and inexorable incorporation of homosexuals into the priesthood/ministry. The methods used to justify what is clearly forbidden by the Gospel, have staggered me; so much so that I often think that these events are better understood as God revealing His anger to this generation, beginning with those who appropriate the name of His Son.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Hi, GD

      The rub is, of course, that if the churches were anything like as effective in using propaganda (in the modern sense – in its original Catholic sense it simply meant “that which is propagated”), then they would cease to be agents of truth, for propaganda is in essence selling falsehood, even when it tells the truth. The propagandiser decides what he wants you to believe, and even more important what he wants you to do, and moulds your mind to that end.

      The fact is that successful propaganda tends to tell people things they want to believe, either as the end or the means (and so the “sexual revolution” plays to the concupiscence in us all, and the propaganda to our guilt over it). I guess that takes us back to the power of the gospel – by God’s power it can cut through our preference for darkness and bring light. But at times there may be far more darkness than others.

      I confess I’ve not followed the Catholic abuse scandal and hadn’t picked up what you say about the charges of homophobia against the Church (whilst, presumably, guilty of padophiliphilia!). But as the article I linked shows that a big majority of the cases, because they involve post-pubescent boys, don’t come under the “paeodophilia” definition, and do come under the homosexual definition. That’s the medical diagnostics, and the social science findings on the circumstances. But as you say, in a milieu where propaganda reigns, that matters nothing – the required message just keeps coming out, the unwanted message is restricted to boring old journals, and the revolution moves on!

  4. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    The distinction between “propaganda” vs. “unvarnished truth” seems to me to be an attempt to match up a practical necessity with an unattainable ideal. For the moment your brain focuses (with the most objective eyes and appraisal it can muster) on any part of reality around you, it has already selected something as worthy of that focus to the exclusion of something else. And this “narrowing down” will happen again between brain and mouth (“mouth” figuratively standing in here for any of our communication methods be they oral or by fingers typing this onto your blog comments.)

    And that is, of course, a necessary way of things if we are to get anything done as a community at all. Can the brain say to the mouth, “I have no need of you” any more than the mouth can say to our hands or feet “I have no need of you”? The moment I open my mouth to teach my children or students I’m choosing to indoctrinate them in some direction or other by what I omit to talk about, and by how I choose to express what I will talk about. I may have cautionary stories (much like Grimm fairy tales functioned) to inculcate a protective respect for existing dangers (called “alarmist propaganda” by those who disagree with it in favor of a different sort of propaganda of their own.) And they may be right. It isn’t a matter of propaganda vs. truth, although many times it could be and is, I suppose, when intentional and malicious deceit is involved. But even in those cases, those who are correctively applying the truth to the lies of the other side are also in many cases even repudiating the motivations the other side has for spinning it as they did. After all, if I’m the good guy, then those liars over there with all their propaganda can be nothing but evil all the way to the core, right?

    And so we demonize the enemy. Is it not demonization, Jon, when you consistently charge the current sexually libertine fad of today with being “Kinsey-based” with all its attendant pederasty and abuse being, on your view, inseparable from current motivations? –something that nearly every sane and conscientious backer of homosexual rights would refuse to own, and yet you impute that to them presuming them either to be stupid or profoundly deceived. My point here isn’t to dispute your imputation –perhaps you are even right to make the charge, but my point is only to say that you too are charged with propagandizing a certain point of view here, particularly by those who have (rightly or wrongly) cultivated a different perspective.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


      Ellul has somewhat to say on the distinction, often blurred, between education and propaganda. Probably more than I’ve yet had chance to read in his book. Clearly, as a Christian he was not averse to the teaching of values, beliefs, etc to others, including children. Propaganda, however, he saw as a primarily modern phenomenon, and one which needed far more vigilance than most people have accorded it in our respective cultures.

      Much of the distinction lies in the consciousness of the manipulation, using specific technical and psychological methods to produce desired belief/action across whole populations. That involves the constant repetition of certain motifs, and the suppression of certain truths, deliberately.

      You’re right to notice the danger that all of us fall into of being blind to truths that favour opposing views (for example, the enemy’s killing of prisoners is an atrocity, ours was a necessity or enemy lies). In the case of the sexual liberalisation agenda, though, I think it’s naive to see it as simply a matter of different sides putting their point of view in an open market place, and that view is based on the otherwise inexplicable sidelining of things like medical evidence in the media, which I’ve noticed over many years (since I saw how ignorant people remained of such evidence in my medical practice, and the ill effects of that ignorance).

      I’ve for several years experienced a sense of wonder at how public opinion has not only changed through 180 degrees in just a decade or two, with very little in the way of new science or other knowledge, but has also come to act as if it hasn’t changed. The realisation that it’s not an unfathomable mystery, but all too explicable in propaganda terms, given the easily investigated programs of pressure groups, causes me new concern.

      It would be demonisation to say that all homosexuals are child-molesters, that everyone with gender dysphoria is part of a conspiracy, that those tempted in certain ways should be ostracised, etc. But I’ve never said that, and have (as I’ve already said) worked closely with people with every kind of sexual issue both professionally and pastorally, for decades. Last weekend I celebrated the birth of my granddaughter with my daughter’s lesbian neighbour, who’s also pregnant.

      Yet that does not mean there aren’t forces trying to distort the truth, any more than the genuine dialogues I’ve had with Muslims mean there aren’t Islamist organisations trying to undermine the society.

      There has to be something wrong with a society in which it’s reported that teenagers, learning oral and anal intercourse from rampant pornography (though these are also reportedly distasteful to many of the female part of the population), are headed for an epidemic of anal and throat cancers – and the suggested solution is universal vaccination against wart-virus. And this still comes under the banner of “sexual health”. They ban smoking to prevent bronchial carcinoma, but accept the meltdown of sexual health as inevitable … and healthy.

      Each issue can, indeed, be separated from the others: there is no transgender issue in teenage abortion, and the bullying of non-sporty boys (or sport girls) at school is an evil in itself, and not even exclusively a sexuality issue, though gender sterotyping is probably a trigger for sexual uncertainty. But there is also a big picture, which is far from being obscure in the history of the libertarian movement, which is expressed in the organised manipulation of opinion, and which is seriously destructive to society.

  5. pngarrison says:

    I have to agree with Merv’s comments to the extent that it is true that many of the methods of propagandists are used by evangelicals on occasion. Personally, I have never been much of a fan of the mass meeting, with the methods of emotional manipulation, although I know that some lasting worthwhile decisions are made in these circumstances. I just suspect that the decision induced by mass feeling, oratory, music etc has to be reaffirmed later if it is too mean anything, and the “wave” created even by propaganda for something that is true, tends, like literal waves, to carry along irrelevant debris that has to be sorted out later.

    An interesting paper that just came out a couple of weeks ago and seems relevant:

    Nazi indoctrination and anti-Semitic beliefs in Germany

    The effects of that all out propaganda environment can still be measured in German opinion.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


      I have to agree with caution over mass-emotion: it has been very much a part of Evangelical life since Finney and his milieu, and is particularly part of the extreme Charismatic/Pentecostalist scene now – I’m only glad I don’t have to write about that as I once did, because it was immensely depressing.

      That said, such meetings don’t really have the character of true propaganda as they are one off events: your indifferent neighbour goes to the evangelistic rally and is (perhaps) knocked off his feet. Rallies like the Nazi Nuremberg things were just the icing on the cake of a total environment of propaganda: you were already in the Hitler Youth, listening to radio, reading papers, reading posters, hearing rumours about Jewish treachery etc etc. That’s the difference.

      Incidentally, the first time I heard Billy Graham speak, on the radio in 1984 at a rally in Sunderland, I was waiting for the emotional stuff whilst listening to a matter of fact gospel address, and suddenly he’d finished. I thought he was having an off-night, but hundreds went forwards, which made me realise there was more to his ministry than “new measures”.

      • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


        The abstract you link is interesting as a model of what, I think, Ellul would have questioned, ie the unpicking of one factor – education – from the whole package of Nazi propaganda, as if schooling alone can even be disentangled from a total society. Going to a convent school has a very different impact on you in a staunchly traditional Catholic country and in a liberal country where all traditional values are mocked.

        But it interests me in another way too – anti-semitism has been so deeply embedded in childhood and as to determine their attitudes for 70 years since, despite the societal condemnation of antisemitism and its easily-demonstrated irrationality. Yet, presumably, we don’t regard their attitudes either as natural, or their anti-semitic behaviours to be accepted as inevitable, though it must be tough for them to hear their deep inner convictions condemned everywhere – including when they go to church. They must change, or keep quiet.

        Homophobia (I mean true hatred of those with homosexual orientation) is also said in the literature to be deeply embedded (at least as deeply as sado-masochistic tastes, surely?), presumably for many of the same reasons that elderly Germans’ antisemitism is. But it’s not only the LGBT community that say it should not be expressed, and should be rooted out if possible – in the churches that would mean teaching such behaviour to be wrong, however strongly felt.

        It would appear, then, that our condemnation, or acceptance, of behaviours depends in actuality not on their deepseatedness, but on our belief in their acceptibility. That, presumably, is why we labour to repress paedophiles totally , however deeply embedded their attraction.

        If I were organising a propaganda program, I’d seek to persuade people that X is acceptable. That’s what the Nazis did vis a vis the dehumanising of the Jews.

  6. pngarrison says:

    Since you’ve had a lot more experience with people dealing with these things, do you think there really is an experience of strong homosexual desire that appears in a few without much in the way of previous experience that might contribute to it?

    I encountered a women on an internet discussion who had made the sex transition with surgery and all, since she said she had always felt like a woman, although bodily a man. The interesting thing to me was that during workup, she was found to be XXY. This suggests that there is a gene on the X that is dose sensitive and involved in female brain differentiation that escapes X inactivation – there are a few genes known to escape X inactivation, so it may be possible to narrow down which gene(s) it is by looking at brain (hypothalamic?) expression levels.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


      The problem with your question is “previous experience” – we all have a mass of previous experience when we grow up, so that our preferences, habits and drives in all things are multifactorial, and not easy to understand. Why are some people serial adulterers and some not? Why do some men beat their wives and others aren’t even tempted to? Understanding is the business of psychology, but accountability for behaviour is part and parcel of our lives.

      What is pretty secure is that most “aberrant” orientations are not chromosomally linked (intersex being pretty rare), and the evidence is that genetics are, at most, vaguely predispositional. Your case is the exception that may prove the rule, showing the need for increased knowledge of true intersexuality and how to manage it. In a world in which gender reassignment surgery wasn’t the default option, perhaps the patient’s psychology would have been explored more fully, in the light of her knowing she was genuinely unusual. I gather there are some psychological arguments for not interfering surgically even in these rare cases.

      But if we assume there are social and environmental factors involved in most cases, even the genetics could be secondary: for example, if a boy’s genetic personality is less “macho” than his peers, and his father, siblings and the kids at the football college he was sent to to “toughen him up” all bully him, he’s being given a strong message that he’s abnormal. Yet the fault lies with his social situation. Who knows how some will respond to that, and what patterns of behaviour will develop … and so become his own fault.

      Sexuality not being a genetic given, it will naturally be influenced strongly by social patterns: in ancient Greece where paederasty was institutionalised, “orientation” would be meaningless to that social class – being sodomised was a rite of passage, and perpetrating it some kind of civic responsibility, one assumes. If churches had existed then, the tension between religious and social conformity would be just as severe, and following social norms just as “natural”.

      I’m not a psychologist, of course, so have nothing useful to say on possible aetiological factors. But one problem is that it has, for decades, been considered probably unethical to do research on what many now term normal behaviour. But of course, “normal” is a bit of a weasel word. One teenager I treated, 3rd of 4 brothers if I remember, was struggling with same-sex attraction at the age of 16. As it was, he fell in with a group of older men in London via a magazine and was fully initiated into “gay lifestyle” – would the outcome have been the same in a different environment?

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


      Found a section relevant to this in the book I mention to Merv below, and what it says has crossed my mind after I replied to you:

      The percentage of homosexuals among people with Klinefelter’s syndrome [XXY or XXXY] is about typical for the general population (contrary to a commonly circulating myth), but about half of those with the syndrome have no interest in any type of sex (they are quite prone to sexual anxiety), partly due to their physical attributes.

      Your individual might possibly have been psychologically affected by the physical feminisation in Klinefelter’s (which might mark him out as “odd” to his parents or peers); or the transsexualism may well have been coincidental, since it is uncommon in that condition – perhaps even related to sexual anxiety. Lots of possible factors!

  7. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Jon, you wrote: “Much of the distinction lies in the consciousness of the manipulation, using specific technical and psychological methods to produce desired belief/action across whole populations. That involves the constant repetition of certain motifs, and the suppression of certain truths, deliberately.”

    If a government runs certain television public service ads to encourage use of seat belts in autos, or to discourage a harmful behavior such as smoking, we have every right to presume they should have factual material handy to enlist in their ad campaign. I.e. –they shouldn’t need to exaggerate or lie about the dangers of smoking if there are perfectly good and true statistics handy that ought to make the case adequately (but most importantly: truly). Now, if the ads do more to appeal to emotional alarmism (following the strategy you have rightly noted of commercial interests appealing less to our logic and more to our emotion ever since Freud) then is that a form of benign propaganda? And what if a parent on the subject of smoking mentions scary (but true) statistics to their child but neglects to mention other anecdotal things (i.e. old uncle Tommy has smoked nearly his whole life and shows no signs of lung cancer or suffering from emphysema) because they want to be “on message” to their kids to help them reach a proper conclusion: that their lungs will certainly suffer from such a habit? I would call that a warranted form of propaganda and indeed freely exercise that kind of discretion with my own children/students.

    I’m intrigued by your comparison of “sexual health” with other forms of health (we wouldn’t just resignedly accept that some people are genetically prone to smoking and therefore we ought to celebrate the habit to help them feel more welcome). And we freely note the dangers associated with smoking without that being thrown back as a bigoted presumption of God’s judgment on sinners. We easily acknowledge instead the practical fact of what smoke actually does to lungs.

    One of the other contributing factors to all of this, though, is that (to continue my example) smokers have never been singled out by society as being particularly sinful in that habit like those of alternate sexual orientation were singled out generations ago. Yes, I do fellowship with Christians who do castigate cigarettes as being from the pit of hell, but on the whole even they don’t react against that the same way they probably would against homosexuals. And I maintain that today’s extreme pendulum swing must at least in part be chalked up to past repression of any sexual deviancy. Not that this justifies everything the movement says — it just may help us understand it.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


      Ellul (again) writes quite a lot on the inevitability of propaganda in the modern state, yet is still against it (nothing to do with his being a “Christian anarchist” I don’t suppose!). It’s an interesting question how benign exaggeration really is – on smoking, for example, there is a large proportion of people who would smoke forever and not get lung cancer, and a rather smaller, but sizeable (I think it’s 40%) who are similarly immune from bronchitis/emphysema. But nobody’s doing genetic tests and saying – “You’re OK, you can smoke tax-free.” Conformity to the norm is the priority over attention to truth.

      Parental guidance is a different matter, in that biologically parents provide the initial total environment, which has always been regarded as right – the family should mould behaviour. Yet there is a responsibility on parents to temper their “bogeyman” stories – but perhaps most of all to train them to make their own judgements rationally as they get older.

      What gets me about the term “sexual health” is that, despite the WHO definition, it’s usually a euphemism, assuming that all sex is healthy, and that one just needs to keep it so, as one does with advice on dietary health, especially with contraception. The flip side is that traditional sexual continence is repressed and unhealthy.

      Yet modern mores have led directly to new and exponentially increasing sexually transmitted infections, big increases in unusual cancers, infective infertility, psychological trauma from terminations, social trauma from unstable families, the sexualisation of children with knock-on effects on family life etc, etc. Preventative health – chastity, faithfulness, exclusive marriage relations – are totally neglected in favour of vaccinations, screening, easy termination, and an absence of any real attempt to critique a grossly over-sexualised society.

      Homosexuality is only one small part of this, though it’s a good focus for the theme of “victimisation”, as every other aberration from swinging to sadism gets in under the same umbrella. But I’m also unconvinced that, in general, homosexuality was regarded in the past as more especially sinful than anything else. Criminal, yes, though prosecutions were relatively few and socially, most people (at least over here) shrugged off their “queer” friends, as long as they weren’t themselves propositioned.

      It was rare enough to be below the radar of most churchgoers… that’s why teachers and scoutmasters could get away with what a few of them did. Yet far more tears were shed, memberships lost, and prosecutions brought, over youth workers abusing their female teenagers: I’ve personally come across 3 or 4 cases of that, and churches have split over the pain caused.

      Rightly or wrongly more opprobium (numerically and in terms of public scandal) was in the past felt by women conceiving out of wedlock, whose kids were likely to be adopted a cople of generations ago, and in some cases the mothers institutionalised – though from family experience there was more forgiveness in church circles than outside. Drunkards were excluded from membership of churches, as were those guilty of theft. Public discipline, in an earlier age, especially in non-conformist churches, was applied to those missing service too often, or going the the theatre, or breaking the sabbath, or swearing. My Baptist church has just turned 365, and the early records are full of such matters.

      Now all that’s changed, yet without the need to redefine what was genuinely sinful as, actually, good, or to apologise to unmarried mothers or alcoholics today as if they were the same people disciplined more harshly a century ago. We treat them rightly (as even our ancestors did) as individual and needy sinners, not categories.

      • pngarrison says:

        One of the few places where I had to disagree with C. S. Lewis was when he claimed that people felt strongly against homosexual behavior because it was illegal. It seemed clear to me that it was the other way around. It was illegal because of the degree of revulsion that most people feel about it. And that’s why the neologism “homophobic” annoys me so much. People aren’t afraid of homosexuality, unless they are 14 and unsure of their own outcome. What they feel is revulsion. I don’t know how you get that into a word, but fear is not what they feel.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          I suppose “phobia” has useful connotations of being a mental illness – though in practice it becomes a moral accusation… like paedophilia, I supposeL they’re sick, so throw the book at them.

          Yet even revulsion is a complex issue, being apparently partly biological (shared across most societies), yet (a) also capable of being sidelined in many cultures (male cult prostitution, Greek or Arab paederasty etc) or (b) strongly reinforced by moral norms, as in the Judaeo-Christian tradition (which has for centuries included a strong natural law component).

  8. GD GD says:

    It is interesting to use the case of smoking tobacco as an example of propaganda – this conversation can move to differentiating the methods of mass persuasion (the media is the message) and how these are used by various groups and institutions. I can never remember a time when anyone told me cigarettes were good for me or for anyone else, but there was also the endlessly repeated message that real men smoked, and the media was saturated with such messages (until sophisticated women were also included). It took a great deal of effort with medical backing before the message changed, and the manufacturers fought every move away from cigarettes. As I understand it, smoking is still done on a large scale amongst young people and in developing countries.

    If we look back, the same methods were used to promote smoking as are now used to discourage smoking – so we have to accept that nowadays, powerful techniques are available for mass persuasion, and relatively small sections of the community are able to find ways to counter or negate the impact. We need to understand the motivation of those who use these methods.

    I suggest we are presented with a dilemma – but this is exacerbated by a feeling of powerlessness by most individuals. The dilemma stems from wishing such powerful techniques were not used and people could make their decisions as they wish; then again, we are an information driven civilisation, so if we cannot make information available on a massive scale, communities would not be well informed.

    Thus the question – what is good and bad when we discuss propaganda techniques that are the backbone of mass media?

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


      You’re touching on many of the same themes as Ellul does – you need to read him! For example, modern states are forced to employ propaganda simply because enemy states do (especially back in those cold war days) – propaganda simply swamps simple factual information. Likewise, the propaganda medium of cigarette advertising could only be countered by opposing propaganda.

      Yet the result – that public opinion is formed simply by the winner in the propaganda wars – is damaging to the psychological well-being of both the individual and the res publica.

      The powerlessness of the individual is another of Ellul’s themes – technological society creates it, and propaganda can actually provide a necessary psychological crutch – you’re a Real Man with Marlborough, or an enlightened one frowning at smokers, or one of the rainbow people… but actually, you’re just as powerless.

      As for information, Ellul reminds us that the “well informed” person is the one who, when not working, (in reality) scans the headlines of the paper that most confirms his existing prejudices (choosing from the half-dozen major news manufacturers in the world), reads a few of the stories, and learns to parrot the propaganda he’s been fed.

      Whether there’s an answer apart from passive acceptance I don’t know – but I suspect if there is it must have to do with passing all the infomation through the filter of God’s word, whose truth – he says – will make us free.

  9. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    “Christian Anarchist”?! My imagination fails me as to what such an animal could look like and what sorts of philosophical appendages he may have.

    • Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

      …and I have already begun my own reading of Ellul (thanks for the link) to try to satisfy my own curiosity. It looks very promising.

  10. pngarrison says:

    One of my undone projects is to see what is the current state of knowledge on sexual differentiation of the brain during development. I have the impression that some of it may be directly chromosome-, cell-autonomous, as opposed to hormonally controlled, but I really need to look into it. It seems apparent that the brain is moved in one direction or another during prenatal development and later during puberty (the latter being probably entirely hormonally controlled.)

    Part of this is the determination of what the individual finds sexually attractive, but obviously there is more to it than that in terms of mannerisms and the general patterns of behavior that parents observe in young boys and girls.

    My working idea is that there is a subprogram for what is perceived as sexually attractive (perhaps there is a program for modifying the default of being female and finding the male physiognomy attractive that is a downstream consequence of having a Y chromosome.) If the whole brain program of differentiation fails, the result would be a transexual who always feels like they are in the wrong kind of body. If only the sub-program for what it is perceived as attractive fails, homosexuality would be the result. There seems little doubt that these things are also strongly affected by later experiences, but sex is biological at its root. We shouldn’t let the success of the ideologues in substituting “gender” for “sex” in our language blind us to that rather obvious bit of biology.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      I think you’re wise to distinguish general behaviour from sexual appetite. If I had a social-psychologist’s criticism of your project (which hardly matters as you’re not doing it!) it would be the old one that in people, the biological and mental are never really separable.

      I understand, for example, that watching a lot of pornography changes the brain structure physically, which presumably corresponds to the changing patterns of sexual behaviour studied in teenagers. No doubt those physical changes have their own physical mediators in hormones, or perhaps epigenetics.

      By the same token, presumably outlawing pornography and having a stronger societal conditioning for chastity, leading to different choices, would tend to reverse the changes – and maybe even affect the biological situation for their children in and out of the womb.

      It would be research well-worth doing, and we have new theoretical, as well as technical, tools to do it. Whether we have the intellectual will is another matter.

  11. pngarrison says:

    I should have added that when I was in med school in the ’70s the dominance of the environmental view of sexual identity was current. In medical endocrinology we were taught that in case of ambiguous sex, the doctor was to choose the sex of rearing based on what was easiest for the surgeon to accomplish, and that the parents could shape the child into male or female by the way they reared them helped by hormone treatments. Its seemed pretty strange to me, but I didn’t go into the field and see directly how this worked out.

    What I have read since indicates that this was an ideologically motivated disaster. What is done in rearing doesn’t change the perception of the kid. They either feel male or female, and it seems to be built in. This is what any sane person would have concluded from talking to some parents. Each kid has a personality which includes a sexual identity, and you can’t alter that by child rearing practices, any more than you could convince a weed that it is a sequoia by treating it as one. This kind of observation makes me suspect that what is going on with transexuals and many homosexuals has a basis in biology, and we ought to find out what it is. We have the tools to do it now.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Yup – my experience too in social psychology, as I mentioned in my original post on Kinsey.

      Once again, though, we need to distinguish a “pure” situation in which your intersex individual (or perhaps a transgender person with some of your subtle biological factors), living in a simple male-female society, wonders why they aren’t normal – and the situation we have now in which one can trace sociological gender/sexuality fashions through time.

      For example, such sexual aberrations have been grossly over-represented in the popular arts since, say, the late sixties: as my old friend John Russell, from the band After the Fire said in 1979, “The only activity not permitted in this permissive age is Christianity”.

      It became a mark of moral liberation for rock stars to wear make-up and pout, whether they were straight, like the Stones, hetero-paedophiles like Gary Glitter or anything else. As I remember it the first to claim bisexuality (a bit after the fashion for male glamour came in) was David Bowie, and it came across far more as pushing the arty sexual boundaries than getting in line with his brain chemistry. In fact, in 1983 he told Rolling Stone “I was always a closet heterosexual.”

      Forty years later, and it appears that every female model, schooled by largely gay male fashion people into making themselves sexually desirable to females to sell frocks, needs to come to terms with their unusual gender preferences, in public of course.

      On our local TV yesterday was an interview with a male pop-singer claiming his “non-traditional gender role” as the mark of his artistic authenticity, and his appearance looked every bit as if “original gender role” was at least as important to his artistic self-image as “original vocal style” or “original stage act” once was before they all looked and sounded the same.

      We also need to account for the fact that sexual preference, as opposed to actual gender (see Paul McHugh on the latter), is a whole lot less fixed than is usually considered – in a majority of people experiencing same-sex attraction it changes over time according to maturity (98% of those who identify as gay at 16 identify as heterosexual at 17), circumstances, individual relationships and whatever. Churchill’s old adage about the British Navy, “Rum, sodomy and the lash” (refined from the nineteenth century’s “rum, bum and bacca”) had nothing to do with the profession just happening to attract those with genes for alcoholism, homosexuality and sado-masochism!

  12. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    “98% of those who identify as gay at 16 identify as heterosexual at 17”

    Wow — that is dramatic.
    Can you indicate where that statistic came from? …would be useful for citation. Thanks.

  13. pngarrison says:

    V.S. Ramachandran had a paper recently in which they identified a group of patients whose sexual identity seemed to oscillate over time, as if things weren’t complicated enough. 🙂

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


      According to the research cited in the Whitehead book that is the norm, not the exception. It all boils down to the evidence suggesting that the most important factors in “sexual orientation” are individual combinations of “environmental” (including choice) events. Those can result in deepseated beliefs, attitudes and behaviours (presumably with asoociated physical changes in the brain), but no more so than in other behaviours.

      Their chapter on twin studies is extremely illuminating.

  14. pngarrison says:

    In starting to look into this, I found this recent article:

    Equal ≠ the same: sex differences in the human brain.
    While advances in brain imaging confirm that men and women think in their own way and that their brains are different, the biomedical community mainly uses male animals as testing subjects with the assumption that sex differences in the brain hardly matter. This month’s Cerebrum highlights some of the thinking and research that invalidates that assumption.

    It’s going to take some doing to convince me this is mostly the result of environment and choices.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


      The issue of differences between genetically male and female brains (together with complications of intersex) are different from the issue of the development of homosexual, or even heterosexual, behaviours.

      Differences in attention, for example, appear to occur from birth, and the divergence between “girly” interests and “boy” interests (dolls v trucks) begins early on and likely has some biological basis. But it’s hugely accentuated by parental management – and appears from much of the intersex research to be in some cases reversed (check out how variably intersex kids raised in the “wrong” gender opt either for biology or upbringing).

      So I’d agree that using males only in research is likely to be misleading, and is based on a faulty assumption that birth gender is entirely neutral.

  15. pngarrison says:

    Have you bought into the left’s old contention (which has ruled academia for quite a while) that environment is everything? It was Lysenko’s bunk, and it was based on ideology, not evidence – it was necessary in order to believe that the right environment could create the new Soviet man. The methods have become less draconian, but the goal remains.

    I think we need to be consciously skeptical of results that just confirm our biases, and evangelicals need to believe that sexual inclination is all a matter of choice – if it isn’t it creates a problem for us. But I haven’t noticed that the world is inclined to fit my expectations. It’s always more complicated than I expected. I wouldn’t have thought in my naive youthful state that Lesch-Nyhan or psychopathy or even a proclivity to addiction were things that God would do/allow, but it turns out they are. A real inborn reversal of sexual preference or identity may be another such case. It’s too easy to just start out concluding that these things are just choices so we can condemn them. Too easy to say when we haven’t ever experienced anything similar.

    Human environment and choice do complicate things considerably, but I doubt that the lessons from mice, where the environment can be controlled and choice has nothing to do with it, are really completely irrelevant for us. Biological sex has powerful effects on behavior of mice which have been studied pretty thoroughly. I want to see if someone has come up with an XXY mouse to see if sexual behavior is moved toward the female. 🙂

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      “Have you bought into the left’s old contention (which has ruled academia for quite a while) that environment is everything?”

      Nope. But the question, if it means anything when the two are essentially inseparable in these days of epigenetics, needs to be founded on good research… and as the Whiteheads show from their detailed review, interpretation is a minefield, and researcher bias likewise. But a lot of work on XXY is there in the literature, so that particular question is not just a blank slate.

      Incidentally, work on mice would be useful, but cannot be prescriptive of human behaviour, without the presupposition that mice have the same freedom of choice as we do – though one useful comparative study would be the usual rate of exclusive homosexuality in untreated mice. I think you’d not get very far with that, especially as exclusive homosexuality even in humans appears very recently in human history (the “Western” model as distinct from the “Greek” and “Melanesian” models).

      Regarding the general question of LBGT issues, the question is surely about explaining anomalies: if sexual behaviour were determined by biological gender, then one would be seeking to explain the exception of why biologically normal males and females are same-sex attracted, or in transsexualism why all that biology produced entirely the “wrong” mind. You’re committed to looking for a hidden biological trump-card over chromosomal and hormonal gender, and so far not only has it eluded detection, though it affects maybe 2.5% of our society, but there is much counter evidence.

      Such counter-evidence would include the cultural malleability of sexuality, its variation in individuals over time, what kind of biological cause could possibly determine say heterosexual transvestitism (presupposing there must be a genetic basis for wearing normal gender clothing in all its cultural variation) etc.

      To reduce the matter to “choice” is as glib as reducing it to “chance”, though those words have to be used in context. For example, one male twin being abused by a same-sex relative (or a female by an opposite sex relative) is a “chance” factor, though begs all kinds of questions about the perpetrators choices). A subsequent eroticisation leading to further male encounters, or for the female an abhorrence of males, is a “choice”, though one subject to conditioning.

      The same is true of the alcoholic, where “chance” places him in an alcohoic family or a teetotal society, and “choice” leads him to drink or, subsequently, to join AA. Such words leave out important matters like “grace”, but not only have explanatory power, but transformative power: rob the alcoholic of the accountablity of choice, and you rob him of the possibility of change.

  16. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    “…rob the alcoholic of the accountablity of choice, and you rob him of the possibility of change.”

    Amen to that. There might be few things more cruel than to tell somebody they can’t help the way they are. And yet, as you say, “To reduce the matter to “choice” is as glib as reducing it to “chance”, though those words have to be used in context.” And by “Chance” I presume you would include within that “genetics”? But I was fascinated to read Whitehead’s identical twin study revealing that for 65% of monozygotic twins, if one is homosexual, the other will be also. And this apparently undisputed statistic is played as a 65% full / 35% empty scenario from each side. Whitehead says “See! even with identical genetics a significant portion (35%) apparently do not have their orientation determined solely by those genetics.” And Narth detractors say: “See! There is a strong correlation (65%)! between genetics and sexual orientation.” And they are both right, with Whiteheads corrective working only against those of the LGBT crowd who are brash enough to pass this off as 100% instead of 65%.

    Regarding Preston’s opening statement to which you were responding: … the left’s old contention … that environment is everything”; I thought that “the left” in this issue was insisting that biology was everything [hence the fierce resistance to any notion that change can be environmentally or therapeutically induced]. What am I missing?

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      “What am I missing?”

      Probably the tendency to put everything into “left” and “right” pigeonholes! Preston is right that, generally, the left-leaning social sciences saw genetic determinism as vaguely fascist, based I supposed on the models of racial eugenics, intelligence testing and so forth which flourished in Nazi Germany – which is odd because J S Haldane was a leading eugenicist and also a Marxist, and the Bolsheviks practised eugenics on whole classes.

      It seems that the convenient ideological harnessing of genetics serves a similar purpose, ie that of removing accountability. If you’re a conservative who believes genetics shows blacks are less intelligent, more criminal or whetever, then they’re incorrigible and need suppressing because they can’t help being inferior, wicked etc. It’s for their own good, like aborting Downs babies.

      If you’re a liberal invoking it in sexual orientation, it can’t be helped and must be accepted as inevitable. If the stories about Hitler exterminating gays is true (who knows what the truth is – perhaps he just exterminated activists as there were plenty of homosexual Nazis – they liked the uniform!), then the same genetic beliefs of left and right, in a different setting, prompt opposite actions.

      Another factor is that, for the progressives, genetic determination is largely a propaganda factor to influence conservatives. I think the more basic issue is libertarianism – the right to be whatever I choose to be, whatever the Church, society or nature say. They can’t both be honestly held, self-evidently, being mutually contradictory.

      In the context of my comment, I was treating “choice” as a subset of what the Whiteheads call “chance”, in the sense of non-genetic factors which are (in I suppose the Thomistic sense) “accidental”, ie not part of necessary nature (which genetics would be). However, I wanted to avoid the connotation that “choice” is somehow random or irrational: a woman may choose to shun men because of the “accident” of being abused, but it could be otherwise, for she could instead think “That was just a bad man”, or she could receive counselling, or a thousand other things that are in that sense “accidental” rather than deterministic.

      As for the twin studies, I’m not sure which research you’re referring to – reference? The Whiteheads’ “best” twin study, from Australia, is discussed on p177 and shows only an 11% concordance between pairs of MZ twins where one is homosexual, not 65%, making the “chance” factor (in their special sense) 89%. In that case, of course, one hasn’t even pinned down what’s genetic, because one hasn’t been able to filter out shared factors or even imitation, the last of which can be a ruling personality factor in MZ twins (but not mine, where the ruling factor is not to imitate!)

  17. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Thanks for catching that —and it corrects a mix-up which may help illustrate the differences in documentation. I remembered the 65% from this NIH document (p. 12), and I will just paste the relevant paragraph below.

    From the NIH document:
    “Twins studies indicate that this correspondence in sexual orientation probably does not reflect a communality of postnatal experiences (psychosocial factors) but rather genetic similarity. Several studies indeed demonstrated that there is a better agreement of sexual orientation in monozygotic (identical) twins than in dizygotic twins (fraternal twins conceived from different ova and sperm) (65). If a dizygotic gay twin has a brother, there is on average a 15% probability that the brother will also be homosexual, but this probability rises to 65% in monozygotic twins (66). Overall, these studies suggest that in social conditions typical of Western societies, 50–60% of the variance in sexual orientation in humans has a genetic origin.”

    And that is a rather astounding difference! 65% (which I thought I had remembered from reading Whitehead) when in reality Whiteheads number was 11%! So much for those studies being undisputed … or for somebody’s honesty about all that. I know you disparage the NIH over here with towing party line on behalf of a LGBTQ lobby, and maybe you are right –though a lot of respected people over here still site these numbers as being trustworthy against such influences. I did notice that the top of their reference list includes (to your delight!) none other than Kinsey himself (probably the same one), though that has to be considered irrelevant from where I’m standing, since the same recognition of ad hominem prevents me from discounting the Whitehead authors despite them being maligned (over here) as being part and parcel of the politically/religiously motivated “Narth” movement. Since I didn’t find that charge of association to be a very engaging response (much less refutation) to Whitehead’s seemingly fairly presented data, I won’t pretend that the NIH data all falls apart because it retains a bad boy from the past on its list of influences. That would be rather disingenuous and doesn’t fly (as it shouldn’t). So the open question remains … which is closer to truth 11% or 65%? And either way the main point still stands (though stands much less strongly as would be evidenced by the emotional energy invested in pushing for the affirmation of one or the other.)

    Thanks for your continued scholarship and patience in all this. Eventually I’ll get these numbers straightened out (so to speak). But I’ve got a lot of other things calling for my attention the next couple of weeks.

  18. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Let’s try again on my link to the NIH document: <a href=""here is a link you should actually be able to get to.

    You can search the page for “65%” and it should take you to the relevant paragraph, which I pasted in my post above in any case.

  19. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Let’s try again on my link to the NIH document: here is a link you should actually be able to get to.

    You can search the page for “65%” and it should take you to the relevant paragraph, which I pasted in my post above in any case.

  20. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks Merv

    Sticking strictly for a moment to the question of “propaganda”, as opposed to the particular issue that prompted writing about it, the disparity and the nature of the controversy around these figures speaks volumes – propaganda and counter-propaganda becomes the arguing ground, and truth is the first casualty.

    Instead of weighing the methodological reasons for differences (or, as a lay person, being able to assume they’ve been adjusted for by the scientists), you have to ponder over whether “religiously motivated” is more or less heinous than “libertarianly motivated” (after all, my career in medicine was religiously motivated!), delve into the politics of NIH and and the origins of NARTH etc. And so it becomes a question of argument from authority (or from ones own prejudice) rather than science, the ostensible battleground… all in the polarised atmosphere of propaganda, the very antithesis of rational enquiry.

    At least, being aware of that, one can steer past blanket pronouncements and consider why they’ve been made. For my part I’ve been struck how the Whiteheads show their working and discuss opposing evidence and why they disagree with it. And they’re citing research done not against other research, but against the closing down of research by the claim that it’s unethical to do research when it’s done and dusted.

    As far as the 65% figure goes, though, it rings alarm bells on first principles (to a parent of MZ twins, anyway). It’s almost the kind of figure you’d expect for simple, near-determinative physical characteristics like height, suggesting that there’s minimal non-genetic influence to such a complex behavioural issue as homosexuality. That would make the cultural and historical variations absolutely inexplicable – with that degree of genetic determination the phenomenon should be rock-solidly constant across all societies – and it’s not even constant between college graduates and non-graduates.

    • Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

      Jon wrote:
      “Sticking strictly for a moment to the question of “propaganda”, as opposed to the particular issue that prompted writing about it, the disparity and the nature of the controversy around these figures speaks volumes – propaganda and counter-propaganda becomes the arguing ground, and truth is the first casualty.”

      Well, and also strictly speaking on Ellul’s terms, none of this qualifies as propaganda at all, since propaganda must be an all-or-nothing campaign. And the fact that easily accessible information and discussions (such as ours here) can still weigh options or express any dissent or reservations at all means that even the most powerful lobbies are (again, according to Ellul) failing to successfully propagandize. At best it could all be called “attempted propaganda”. Perhaps they (or you) would shut down all dissent if it were possible. But it isn’t.

      As you’ve noted, the internet is a tricky thing. No one agent (so far as we know) exercises complete control, thereby being in a position to successfully implement propaganda, at least within the internet universe. So any such attempt is being waged on a different front — a grassroots appeal to enlist all of us masses as foot soldiers to attempt by cultural fiat what top-down authority can no longer force. But “propaganda” to one person is a righteous crusade for justice to another. And the latter is not always unrighteous in their cause just because they may utilize some of the same techniques. It is said that Martin Luther King made very media-savvy choices about the venues in which he led the non-violent resistors as they stood against oppression. Of course, he was open about his overall goals, which might distinguish racial civil rights from some other movements.

      I do agree that attempts toward propaganda must be abandoned by the Christian in favor of simple and fragile truth. But I can sympathize with the objections of hardened, street-wise practitioners of politics (or any big cause, really) who see nothing in that but the futility of pearls being cast before swine. Maybe Jesus would have “all of us swine” just learn to love each other, pearls and all, and let God worry about the rest. And yet it would seem that Jesus and Paul were not themselves above making use of gentle manipulations to help people come around.

      • GD GD says:

        Propaganda, strictly speaking, is using any means available to put forward misleading information for a political cause or to further the interests of a particular group. It is difficult to believe that effective speaking, or civilised presentations, or people speaking the truth concerning important issues, would be considered propaganda.

        The present situation is more complex than perhaps during Nazi times. The means for mass persuasion are far more powerful and can reach larger audiences, and the nature of information can be disguised as scientific (must be true), educational (it is for your good) and commercial (again will benefit everyone). It is also easier to detect propaganda in most cases because we have access to a great deal of information, and the educational level overall has improved.

        I think we should learn to distinguish between effective communication, that in essence involves identifying the communicator’s character as sound (or otherwise), from blatant attempts to deceive others to part with their money, their vote, or their beliefs.

      • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

        The question of whether propaganda is effective in a “free society” where there are blogs etc to discuss the evidence is an interesting one (and difficult to be objective about when you’re writing on such a blog – I don’t think any of us is under the illusion, though, that The Hump is an effective tool to mould public opinion).

        My reading of Ellul or Meerloo is that availability of good information doesn’t actually change the issue that much. It’s this thing called “public opinion” that is the target, and the occasional thinking dissenter is irrelevant. Even in Hitler’s Germany there were academics, Christians and so on who utterly saw through the Nazi regime. But there came a tipping point where it was not only risky, but ineffective, to speak out truth against the lies.

        In a non-totalitarian society, I guess that’s the point where “no reasonable person” would believe A, so that standing up for A automatically brands you as an unreasonable person in the public discourse, and therefore prevents your arguments ever being heeded at all. Anyone who agrees with you in secret is likely to sense what’s what and keep quiet (or rant with you in private, on unfrequented blogs). If you have good evidence for astrology or fairies it doesn’t pay to say so too loudly, because you’ll be judged on the belief itself, not the evidence.

        An example – the new leader of the (recently wiped out) Liberal Democrats here is, although extremely left wing, a practising Christian, which was his motivation for coming into politics. I heard that the night he was elected on the BBC. But an in-depth article about him and his background in the Independent next day said absolutely nothing about it: faith is, as a serious factor in human affairs, invisible to much of the media.

        The Indy only mentioned his faith a day or so later when it was being used by his political opponents to crucify him by persistently asking: “Is gay marriage a sin then? Yes or no?” He was either wise or cowardly in refusing to answer (he abstained in the SSM vote here) – what is certain is that had he committed himself, his reasons or nuances would be of no interest whatsoever, but just the eliciting of the propaganda meme “Christians = homophobes.”

        So you don’t need a totalitarian system to be able to ensure that every reputable science documentary has “all has happened by chance” as its mantra. Religion can be allowed to exist, and yet it be axiomatic that to be religious is to be biased, whereas to be objective is to be secular. And so on.

        • GD GD says:

          “…… availability of good information doesn’t actually change the issue that much.”

          It depends on the ‘availability’ – easy access to good information, and an ability to assess it regarding a particular issue, are all positive aspects for countering propaganda. As I mentioned, the character and credibility of the person communicating is an additional factor. On the issue of homosexuality and the lengthy propaganda waged for that issue, I agree that a survey of the past 50 years will show their campaign was very effective – but I am also convinced that vices and heretical opinions regarding homosexuality amongst many Christian denominations were a major factor in reaching the present absurd situation, where marriage is redefined and any sexually perverse practice is put forward as experimenting and healthy.

          So yes, moulding public opinion is the final end game – and this is done using propaganda and also making public the vices of those opposing (or appearing to oppose) the particular propaganda. Countering it requires good moral character, a way of life based on sound Christian doctrine. If these basics are compromised, the battle is lost before it has begun.

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