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Manipulation at its Best (or Worst)

Few groups manipulate their members to act against their own best interests more effectively than the Watchtower Society. A case in point would be the irrational policies on blood established for Jehovah’s Witnesses to observe.

These policies have almost no theological basis beyond obscure Biblical commands to“abstain from eating blood”, and certainly no rational basis in science or medicine.

Rejecting a medically necessary transfusion of a forbidden blood product can and often does result in death or disability.

However, failure to observe the Watchtower’s bizarre policy will typically result in extreme shunning by JW family members and friends, and supposedly even eternal destruction by God. Even the simple act of questioning the validity of the policy can land a member before a judicial committee on charges of apostasy.

Congregation elders, and special committees of elders trained in the intricacies of Watchtower’s blood policy called HLCs (Hospital Liaison Committees) carefully monitor compliance among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

If a member accepts a forbidden blood product their disobedience will be reported to the local body of elders for investigation.

Even Jehovah’s Witness healthcare workers who learn of medically privileged information are expected to report non-compliance despite gross violations of medical record confidentiality. 

It is nothing short of remarkable that some Jehovah’s Witnesses still choose to think independently, question the policy, and make an informed conscientious choice to accept blood or a forbidden blood product. This notwithstanding years of meticulous indoctrination, implanted phobias regarding the exaggerated dangers of blood, and severe penalties for non-compliance.

The irony is that current Watchtower policy permits the use of 100% of blood in fractionated form, but not specific “formed” elements like red cells. 1

A Jehovah’s Witness can accept all of the ingredients of red cells (hemogoblin, hemin, the cell membrane, etc.).

However, they cannot have them at the same time. Nowhere does the Bible require compliance with such purely organizational policy.

Tami Davis is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who summoned the courage to question the Watchtower’s irrational rules on blood. She is a mother of four, and thanks to her enormous courage, this is a story with a happy ending. This despite incredible pressure applied by her believing Jehovah’s Witness husband.

You can read Tami Davis’s story HERE

Thanks to her courage she will not be counted among the tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have perished by following the consistently faulty medical advice of Watchtower writers who manipulate members to act against their own best interests. 2,3,4

Breaking free from the grip of skilled manipulators is difficult but it can be done. The key is taking that first step of starting to ask questions, and thinking both rationally and critically. Giving oneself permission to consider other views and evidence begins the process of breaking down years of indoctrination and mind control. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, it can be the difference between life and death.



1 http://ajwrb.org/watchtowers-approved-blood-transfusions

2 http://ajwrb.org/jehovahs-witnesses-and-blood-tens-of-thousands-dead-in-hidden-

3 http://ajwrb.org/the-watchtower-on-science-and-medicine

4 http://ajwrb.org/the-historical-perspective/blood-policy-timeline

Are We More Vulnerable to Manipulation in Groups?

“Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachment, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family.”

But the groups and tribes we belong to can also make us much more vulnerable to manipulation by narcissistic leaders, which is what Amy Chua’s well-researched and timely book, Political Tribes, is all about.

Political Tribes by Amy Chua“The tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It’s also an instinct to exclude.”

“Once people belong to a group, their identities can become oddly bound with it. They will seek to benefit their group mates even when they personally gain nothing. They will penalize outsiders, seemingly gratuitously. They will sacrifice, and even kill and die, for their groups.”

Getting specific, Chua warns us that terrorism is above all a group phenomenon: it’s a murderous expression of tribal politics. To understand how group dynamics can so twist an individual’s psyche, she states: “Groups not only shape who we are and what we do; they can also distort our perception of objective facts.”

Members of terrorist and fanatical religious groups don’t become killers or shun family and friends overnight. “They are typically drawn in through a gradual process of socialization, indoctrination, and radicalization—with group identity and dynamics playing a critical role at every juncture.

J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, praises Chua’s book with, “Political Tribes is a beautifully written, eminently readable, and uniquely important challenge to conventional wisdom.”

Other reviewers of the book say it is a clarion call, a page-turner and a revelation that will change the way you think.

The book definitely reads like a cannot-put-it-down encyclopedia with fascinating and expertly-researched information about group dynamics, our tribal instincts and how easily people can be manipulated in a group environment.

Two masters of tribal politics, Chua asserts, are the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and America’s Donald Trump, both unlikely political victors with similar personality types.

We will conclude this post with a Friedrich Nietzsche quote in Political Tribes, “Insanity in individuals is something rare—but in groups . . . it is the rule.”


Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations is available here on Amazon.


Teaching Teenage Students about Undue Influence

We are always on the lookout for best practice examples of educating teenage students about the prevalence and dangers of coercive manipulation in the modern world. The following story definitely meets that criterion:

While a middle school class was learning about the Salem Witch Trials, the teacher explained that as part of the learning experience the students would have to play a game.

He went on to say, “I’m going to come around and whisper to each of you whether you’re a witch or a normal person. Your goal is to build the largest group possible that does NOT have a witch. At the end, any group found to include a witch gets a failing grade.”

The students quickly began grilling each other. One fairly large group formed, but most of the teenagers broke into small, exclusive groups, turning away anyone they thought showed even a hint of guilt.

“Okay,” the teacher said. “You’ve got your groups. Now it is time to find out which ones fail. All the witches please raise your hands.”

No one raised their hands.

The kids were confused and told the teacher that he had messed up the game.

“Did I?” Was anyone in Salem an actual witch? Or did everyone just believe what they were told?”

Now that’s how you teach teenage students about how easy it is to
unduly influence and divide a community.


PS – The aforementioned classroom story has been circulating on Facebook and the Internet for the last ten months. We do not know for sure if it is a true story or the product of a very creative and well-intentioned writer and educator. Either way, we are grateful for the effort and pleased to share it.

Authoritarian Groups in our Midst

The techniques of the scam artist has been elevated to new heights in destructive, authoritarian or totalist groups, which are also commonly known as cults. The term “totalist” or “totalitarian” refers to dictatorial leadership which allows no disagreement and has “total authority”. Our concern is for any authoritarian group or relationship, wherever it fits on the spectrum between autonomy and totalism.

There is no democracy in an authoritarian group. These groups have proliferated in our society. Experts list as many as three thousand dangerous authoritarian groups in the US alone. Some claim to be religious or philosophical, some are political or offer supposed therapy, others promise revelations leading to wealth or success in relationship, yet others promise eternal life.

There are many more “family” groups that cluster around an abusive individual, who has total authority. The smallest authoritarian group consists of a single follower in an intimate relationship with an authoritarian partner. The dynamics of manipulation or undue influence are broadly the same: all create authoritarian or even totalist relationships.

This definition of a totalist cult – which can be applied to any authoritarian group or relationship – was arrived at by a group of experts under the direction of Professor Louis Jolyon West, MD:

“A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical, manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the possible or actual detriment of members, their families or the community.”


This post is an excerpt from Jon’s new book, Opening Minds – A Primer on Undue Influence, scheduled for release in the fall of 2019


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