Monthly Post

A Field Guide to Thoughtstoppers

It occurred to me a while back that one very simple issue is responsible for much of the crisis of our age. No question, that crisis has plenty of causes, some of them recent, some of them much less so; to get a clear understanding of the way that modern industrial civilization has backed itself into a corner from which the only exit leads straight down, it’s necessary to trace patterns of belief and action that go back to the early days of the industrial revolution, to the rise of mechanistic philosophy at the end of the Renaissance, or all the way back to the rejection of the Pagan gods and goddesses of Nature by newly minted prophetic religions obsessed by the glittering dream of a perfect otherworld on the far side of death.

All these are relevant, and indeed important. Yet it’s not always necessary to understand a problem in all its intricacies to come up with a viable solution. People were breeding plants and animals to get inheritable characteristics they wanted millennia before anybody had the least idea what DNA is, and Isaac Newton in his Principia Mathematica famously refused to discuss the reasons why gravity worked the way it did. “I frame no hypotheses,” he wrote, and that act of self-limitation was essential to his triumph, allowing him to focus entirely on the mathematics of how gravity functions without being distracted by the then-insoluble question of why.

In the same way, plenty of things that could have been done to head off the coming of our present planetary crisis required no particular grasp of the historical complexities that got us into the mess we’re in. Reasonable people, watching the steady drawdown of irreplaceable natural resources and the equally steady buildup of the toxic waste products of industry, could have determined from those facts alone that the inevitable consequence of policies that fostered such habits was the decline and fall of industrial civilization. In point of fact, there were people who did this. What’s more, they went on to propose policies that could have prevented the crises we now face, had they been adopted back when our consumption of resources was much less extravagant and the biosphere was much less poisoned than it has since become.

Even today, when so many of those possibilities have gone whistling down the wind to wherever might-have-beens spend their golden years, there’s still quite a bit that could still be done to make the twilight years of the industrial age less traumatic and guarantee our descendants a less ravaged planet on which to build the societies that will rise out of our ruins. The fact remains that next to nothing of the sort is being done. Quite the contrary, straight across the spectrum from the supposedly radical left to the supposedly radical right, every political party, power center, and pressure group in the industrial world rejects all of the options that might actually help, and embraces one or another minor variation on the policies that got us here in the first place.

Nor, it probably has to be said, are they ramming these dysfunctional policies down the throats of a restive populace.  No, the people are clamoring for exactly those policies that guarantee them and their descendants a shorter, harsher, and more impoverished existence on a planet in chaos. What’s more, as the signs of industrial civilization’s terminal crisis build around us—as the planetary climate spins further and further into unexplored and dangerous territory, as infrastructure and economies crack under pressures they were never designed to bear, as the once-vital institutions of representative democracy hang limp as autumn scarecrows against a darkening sky—the only responses that most people are willing to consider amount to doubling down on the very mistakes that brought about the crisis.

If we deserved our self-assigned scientific name—Homo sapiens, “wise human”—that arguably would not have happened. The question is why a species with the tolerably impressive intellectual capacities we’ve got has done such a bad job of applying those capacities in the face of civilization-ending threats. Here again, it would be possible to spend a long time talking about the complex historical processes that got us in this mess, and that’s a conversation worth having, but right now I’d like to suggest a different theme. Newton’s example is relevant here: instead of getting caught up in the why of the crisis of our age, let’s talk about the how—about what specifically has gone wrong and what potentially might be done about it.

From this perspective, our problem can be phrased very precisely: the vast majority of people in today’s industrial world have never learned how to think.

It’s crucial in this context to realize that thinking is a skill, or more precisely a complex set of skills, and not some kind of innate ability that pops into being the moment we need it. Every human being with something approximating a normal central nervous system has the capacity to think, but that capacity has to be developed by education and regular practice, or it never ripens into activity. It’s as though, by some act of God or Congress, each of us received a brand new bicycle on our seventh birthday: the bicycle brings with it the capacity to be ridden, but turning that capacity into a reality takes experience, and can be greatly accelerated by a few helpful lessons from someone who already knows the trick of riding a bike.

There’s another factor that has to be considered here, though. Imagine that in response to the act of God or Congress just mentioned, the auto industry or some other malign power set out to frustrate the intention behind the act by teaching people things that would keep them from being able to ride bicycles competently. Imagine, for example, an ad campaign meant to convince people that the only thing they can do with a bicycle is drag it behind them. To the extent that such an ad campaign caught on, the auto industry might even be able to convince people to get angry and defensive if anybody questions their habit of dragging their bikes behind them, and to respond with hostility to any alternative suggestion.

That’s more or less the situation we’re in now. It so happens that there are certain common habits in today’s society that make it difficult to learn how to think. They’re best unpacked one at a time, and so I’m going to talk about one of them today, and leave the others for future posts. The habit I have in mind is the pervasive use of thoughtstoppers.

A thoughtstopper is exactly what the term suggests: a word, phrase, or short sentence that keeps people from thinking. A good thoughtstopper is brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion. It’s also either absurd, self-contradictory, or irrelevant to the subject to which it’s meant to apply, so that any attempt you might make to reason about it will land you in perplexity. The perplexity won’t do the trick by itself, and neither will the strong emotion; it’s the combination of the two that lets a thoughtstopper throw a monkey wrench in the works of the user’s mind.

Let’s look at some examples to see how this works. One commonly used thoughtstopper that found its way onto the comment pages of this blog a few weeks ago makes a good starting place. The context was a discussion of the problems with unrestricted immigration from nonindustrial countries to industrial countries, and one of the commenters dismissed all such problems out of hand by saying “I believe in people.”

You must admit that in that context, this is a distinctly odd utterance. I suppose that the logical response would be something on the order of “Why, I believe in people too; in fact, I’ve seen them repeatedly, so I know they exist.”  Respond that way to somebody who says “I believe in people,” though, and you can count on getting a baffled or irritated response from the speaker. It’s clear that this statement—though it resembles in form such utterances as “I believe in UFOs” and “I believe in Santa Claus”—does not resemble them in meaning.

Translate that utterance in terms of its actual usage, by contrast, and it works out to something like this: “I prefer to feel warm fuzzy emotions about the abstract concept ‘people’.” Translated that baldly, though, it loses its force as a thoughtstopper, since others would be perfectly within their rights to say, “Fine, but why should your preference in emotional states be the basis of public policy?”—or, worse still, “Fine, but what about the people who are losing their livelihoods and being driven into destitution because of the public policies you prefer? Why should your feelings count more than their survival?” That’s why a thoughtstopper has to embody the absurdity, contradiction, or irrelevance mentioned earlier—it serves as protective camouflage for the emotional payload.

A great many other thoughtstoppers get their results by means of the same strategy. Consider that classic example, “Love is the answer.” (This one is especially common in American popular spirituality—in my experience, both the liberal end of Christianity and the New Age movement use it relentlessly.) Again, a logical response might be “Okay, what’s the question?” If you get the bog-standard comeback—“Love is the answer to every question”—you have my permission to make fun of it. “What’s the standard excuse for staying in really dysfunctional relationships?” and “What do religious zealots inevitably talk about while they’re tying you to the stake?” are two of the obvious questions for which love is the answer; I encourage my readers to come up with examples of their own.

Taxonomy, the art and science of giving useful names to relevant categories, is as necessary here as elsewhere. We can therefore assign “I believe in people,” “love is the answer,” and other thoughtstoppers of the same general type to the category of Vacuous Belches. A Vacuous Belch combines an absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant utterance with a warm cozy emotional state. It has exactly the same emotional content as the belch of contentment you’ll hear after a good Thanksgiving dinner, or some similarly over-the-top dining experience. It stops thought by replacing it with vague pleasant feelings.

The opposite of a Vacuous Belch is a Vacuous Shriek. Vacuous Shrieks replace the warm fuzzy emotional state with a cold prickly emotional state. Where Vacuous Belches are usually short declarative sentences, Vacuous Shrieks are usually single words—I’m not sure why this is, but it’s quite consistent—and they stop thought by replacing it with hatred, loathing, and fear. A good Vacuous Shriek combines irrelevance and hatred into the kind of hefty epithet that can be flung at someone like a brick.

Consider the way that the word “Communist” was deployed as a Vacuous Shriek by the American right from the Palmer Raids in 1919 straight through to the collapse of the Soviet Union and, in some circles, beyond. It was standard practice, for example, for right-wing speakers in the 1960s to insist that Rev. Martin Luther King was a Communist. In any but a purely thoughtstopping sense, this was impressively absurd, as Martin Luther King was no more a Communist than Lady Gaga is the Tsar Of All The Russias.

Communism was (and is) a specific, tightly defined political and economic philosophy expounded at vast length in the writings of Karl Marx and his epigones, and it takes only the most basic familiarity with King’s writings and speeches to identify him as a Christian Social Democrat of the classic sort, which is not at all the same thing. The identification of King as a Communist, though, was not meant in any but a purely thoughtstopping sense. It was deployed to keep people from thinking about King and, more to the point, about the things he was saying about race and economics in mid-20th century America.

In exactly the same way, it’s absurd, in any but a purely thoughtstopping sense, to insist that Donald Trump is a fascist. Fascism, like Communism, is a specific, tightly defined political and economic philosophy, and though it never produced the mass of literature that the Communist movement did, it’s not at all hard to look up what exactly Fascism was, what specific economic policies it pursued, and so on. Do that and you’ll find that Donald Trump is not a fascist; he’s an authoritarian populist of the classic sort, which is not at all the same thing.

Please note that saying “Donald Trump is not a fascist” does not equate to saying that he’s a good president, or for that matter a good person. There are ample grounds on which Trump, his administration, his policies, and so on can quite reasonably be criticized, and criticized in very harsh terms indeed. The difficulty with any such critique is that it’s hard to develop it very far without having to talk about the core reason why he won the 2016 election, which has to do with the unmentionable relationship between social class and economic power in early 21st-century America. Since a good many people leading the hue and cry against him do not want to talk about such things, a Vacuous Shriek makes a good distraction.

Vacuous Belches and Vacuous Shrieks aren’t the only kinds of thoughtstoppers in circulation, though they’re among the most common. Another that’s nearly as common is the One-Way Street. A One-Way Street takes the form of a general observation, vague to the point of irrelevance, which looks like it applies to both sides of an argument but only applies to one.

Here’s an example: “Minds are like parachutes, they function only when open.” Your mileage may vary, but every single time I’ve seen that thoughtstopper used in argument, it functions as a demand that one side should have an open mind so the other side doesn’t have to. I’m thinking here especially of a conversation I had in Ashland, Oregon, back in 2007, with an acquaintance who wanted investors for a real estate scheme and was using the rhetoric of Rhonda Byrne’s meretricious New Age screed The Secret to push it. When I expressed a lack of enthusiasm for throwing money down that particular speculative rathole, and noted where that kind of bubble logic inevitably leads, I got the thoughtstopper just noted in response.

I’m not normally very good at snappy comebacks; far more often I suffer from what the French call esprit d’escalier or “staircase wit,” the sudden crisp rejoinder that comes to you when you’re climbing the staircase back to your apartment, far too late to affect the conversation. This once, though, I snapped back, “No, minds are like ovens. If you leave them open all the time, everything comes out half baked.” It ended the conversation, which was what I was after. In retrospect, though—esprit d’escalier again—I wish I’d pointed out that if an open mind is a good thing, maybe his should have been open to the possibility that he was wrong.

There are plenty of other One-Way Streets in use. Consider that utterly standard response to any attempt to talk about the problems facing industrial civilization, “Oh, I’m sure they’ll think of something.” Indeed “they” might, and it’s perfectly possible that what “they’ll” think of is yet another reason why we’re going the way of Nineveh and Tyre. The underlying logic, or rather illogic, of this thoughtstopper is the logical fallacy called the argument from ignorance: it’s impossible to tell whether I’m wrong or right, therefore I’m right. Stated thus baldly, it’s clearly nonsense; its value as a thoughtstopper depends on the bad logic never coming to the surface.

Yet another kind of thoughtstopper, which has seen use recently on the comments page of this blog, is the Undefinition. An Undefinition is the insistence that some issue or other can only be discussed if all participants use a label for it that predefines the outcome of the discussion, by erasing all the points that matter to people on one side of the debate.

The specific example I have in mind came out during a conversation about the downsides of modern biotechnology. One of the participants insisted that the supposedly scary term “biotech” shouldn’t be used—no, we should all be forced to say “being really effective about making things using fermentation” instead.

Those of my readers who haven’t been following recent controversies about biotechnology may want to know that many important practical applications of that technology are exactly what the Undefinition describes; that is, creating single-celled organisms that excrete useful substances the way that yeasts excrete alcohol and carbon dioxide. That’s not the dimension of biotech that concerns most critics, though. They’re concerned, rather, with the manufacture of organisms that aren’t safely confined to fermentation vessels—for example, the various GMO crops that are being dumped into the biosphere and the food supply without benefit of safety testing and without a thought for the potential consequences.

That’s the issue that most critics of biotechnology are talking about. Redefining the terms of the conversation so that this issue doesn’t exist, and the relatively safe and uncontroversial end of the biotech spectrum is the only thing about which discussion is permitted, is an elegant way of making sure that the hard and necessary questions don’t get asked—and that, again, is the point of deploying a thoughtstopper.

Undefinitions are common these days in politics. Consider the way that the political correctness of the American left and the patriotic correctness of the American right get Undefined as “treating people decently,” on the one hand, and “love for your country” on the other. A great deal of the agenda pursued by each side is not part of the ostensible meaning of the Undefinition in question—that is to say, there are plenty of things that are part of political correctness as it’s actually practiced that have nothing to do with treating people decently, and plenty of things that are part of patriotic correctness as it’s actually practiced that have no connection whatsoever with love for one’s country. Since the purveyors of both these ideologies have no interest in seeing honest discussion of those things, in turn, the Undefinition serves the purpose of keeping that discussion at bay.

We could go on at quite a bit of length, but I think the point has been made. A great deal of what passes for thought these days consists of the deployment of thoughtstoppers of various kinds, and the habit of deploying them to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects—for example, how we got into our present predicament, and what kind of changes we will have to make in our own lifestyles in order to cope constructively with the consequences—has played a significant role in putting meaningful change out of reach as our civilization blunders deeper and deeper into an unwelcome future.

Thus there’s a point in learning to recognize thoughtstoppers. Their function depends on going unnoticed. If you spot them in action, realize that they’re being used to prevent questions from being asked and issues from being raised, and refuse to play along, your chances of being able to think clearly about controversial issues have just gone up markedly—and, as suggested above, there are also significant potentials for entertainment in the process. Combine that with some of the other useful habits we’ll be discussing in future posts, and you may just be able to think your way through the mental traps with which the cognitive landscape of our time is so richly strewn.

Yet there’s a further dimension to this, as to all the skills of thinking we’ll be covering in upcoming posts. The thoughtstoppers that matter most aren’t the ones that other people use on us, but the ones we use to stop ourselves from thinking. The process of tracking those latter in their native habitat, identifying them, and learning to evade them is left as an exercise for the reader.


  1. I love your guides to thought and illogic – they are always insightful, and indeed are as pertinent as the creatures categorized are pervasive in their habitat. I’m going to have to start an elegantly illustrated field journal to document the ignominious beasts!

  2. I would like to add one other key thought stopper I’ve had thrown at me when I discuss thought stoppers: “thinking is natural”, which seems to mean that “I choose to not learn how to think well.” A good response is to ask why a large group of people they despise (usually, with my current social group, Trump supporters works rather well) are so bad at it.

    I have caught myself using various thought stoppers lately, which raises a huge question: how do you know if your mind is free of them? I have yet to come up with a good answer. It seems rather tricky to tell, since by definition they stop thought: how can you then think through things well enough to tell if any remain? I can’t think of a good answer, but the more I work at it, the better I’ll get at it.

    Another fun question to pose to those who insist “Love is the answer for every question”: “What’s the motivating force behind evil?” This tends to either kill the conversation or trigger a mental breakdown, but the reactions are quite fun to watch.

    Finally, do you have any resources for where and how to learn to think?

  3. What I find interesting about thought stoppers is how they relate to a point of view. It seems some thought stoppers are necessary on some level because we all have moral boundaries we can’t cross. These internal thought stoppers thereby act as the mental brakes to keep us in a psychological homeostasis. They anchor us to our own points of view. I think the trouble comes when these touch stones must become unhinged, like say when a situation is unsustainable. It goes back to all philosophy being based on an assumption and the assumption itself becomes a thought stopper if given enough time –

    Maybe thought stoppers are a good measure of the life of a philosophy. And we can gauge where a philosophy is in it’s life span by the question – Has the basic assumption of the philosophy become a thought stopper? If the answer is yes, I feel the society in question faces reorganization or an increased drive towards a totalitarian state; by totalitarian state, I mean the forcing of a point of view on the populace.

  4. One of my favorite group of thoughtstoppers can be catagorized as crocodile tears. These come up often when debating transportation policy here in Portland. For instance, a hot topic in a city with growing traffic congestion is to dedicate one lane on many of the arterial roads as a “bus only” often called bus rapid transit. This is a very logical solution as it accomplishes several things in the near term. It increases capacity on the route as densely spaced buses can haul many more people than single occupancy motor cars. It minimizes fuel use and greenhouse gases, and decreases the commuting costs of those who can now consider mass transit because the buses on not crowded to overflowing and jammed in traffic. It can also be done quickly with only a small fraction of the money needed for rail transit. But of course it takes away roadways from automobiles.
    Opponents of these proposals often pop up with one of the two following “crocodile tears” thought stoppers. The first is the new politically correct term ” ableism”. In other words they are attempting to insinuate that displacing cars with buses , bikes and walking is discrimination against the handicapped. The other fake thought stopping protest is that it discriminates against the poor who have had to move to the outskirts of town because of rising rents in the core. Of course the people using these thoughtstoppers really just don’t want their privilege of easy and quick motoring from their suburban garages to the parking garage under the law firm hampered, but they use fake concern for high empathy groups to try and stop the debate on the subject

  5. some years ago I “learned” that one should discover “what is wrong about what you think is right, and what is right about what you think is wrong”. Very difficult, but worth the effort (it only hurts for a little while) in that you can more easily converse with those with whom you disagree. More difficult that calling “them” names or other such pointless commentary. I have a long way to go, but once in a while I remind myself of what I was supposed to learn!

  6. Excellent post. Challenge accepted: I’ll be on the lookout for these in myself. No hints how to avoid them, though?

    Would ignoring (or even silencing) certain ideas because of their source count as a thoughtstopper? If you aren’t listening because your interlocutor (has no PHD)/(isn’t the right gender or ethnicity)/(voted for Donald Trump)/(is religious)/(et cetera), you have effectively stopped yourself thinking about the issue being raised.
    That doesn’t fall well into any of the categories given in the post, but I find it very common.

    Of course, you made no claims that you were providing an exhaustive list! I imagine that could fill a book.

    I’d like to add that in psychology, thought-stopping in the sense of “don’t think of the pink elephant” is deemed counterproductive in OCD, anxiety disorders, etc — even if one does suppress the unwanted thoughts temporarily, it is at a cost to overall mental health. Do these rhetorical thought-stoppers take a similar toll on our collective mental health, with stopped thoughts swept away to gnaw at the collective subconscious? That might explain some of the dysfunction of our era…

  7. Staircase wit… yes! That describes me perfectly. It’s one of the reasons why I dislike discussing controversial topics with friends, family or whomever. I think, too, I’m not very good at identifying and shutting down thoughtstoppers. Perhaps with consistent practice noticing my own thoughtstoppers first, and then watching for them outwardly, may help develop my skill in rhetoric.

    Thank you, as always, for your insightful posts!

  8. Does peak oil, anti-progress (actually what is the collective term for what you believe?) – have its own thoughtstoppers? Are there people you basically agree with but who make the argument in a way you’d prefer they didn’t, beyond personal preferance, on the grounds of intellectual integrity?

    Is it also possible to use a true statement as a thoughtstopper? “You can’t have limitless growth on a finite planet” is true, but I’ve heard some environmentalists use it to shut down any further discussion about what to actually do about the future of industry and technology.

    As it’s one of the things we’re not supposed to think about, does anyone know if any computer games do a good job of simulating or otherwise portraying diminishing returns and the limits to growth? I know there are plenty that go the other way – OpenTTD (the open source version of Transport Tycoon Deluxe) features comically ridiculous exponential growth. Having said that it’s still one of the best games ever and now I want to play it again. 🙂

  9. JMG,

    Excellent piece. Sometimes I wish you would write a book on clear, concise, logical and rational thinking.


  10. For me, thoughtstoppers are things which are ‘beside the point’ or have some kind of highly emotional laden content that is irrelevant to the discussion. Aphorisms are often employed to sidetrack things as well, since they rarely address a single point but refer to some ‘common truth’ which is not always true.

    I believe that many people are refusing to think, as to do so inevitably leads one to realize we have been in a dystopia for some time. The entire “republican vs democrat” is a thoughtstopper, since most anything one party is accused of doing has inevitably been done in similar fashion by the opposing party. The result of analyzing and reviewing and thinking about both parties, is that the two parties we have long assumed were working for opposing views are very, very similar in most things. The resulting cognitive dissonance in many people simply makes their brain shut down, and then we get, “So, how about those Tennessee Titans?”

    Most people are gutless (<– there, I said it). They do not want to think, and prefer to just go with some herd or the other, believing that if everybody else thinks "X", then they must be right or have a valid point. This is nothing new – it has always been this way. The difference today is that media is herding people by withholding facts, opposing views and featuring "pundits" explaining how a particular view is supported and right and correct – in real time, not in a weekly editorial. When all media venues sing in concert, very few have the courage to maintain an opposing view – hence, the gutless.

    Thoughtstoppers are a mainstay on media TV – they invite the opposing viewpoint and immediately the thoughtstoppers are deployed, sidetracking ensues, and the result is a nothingburger. The only thing that remains is a vague recollection of what the initial issue even was. It is helpful that the two parties are so similar – even if there is a valid thought or argument, it will mean nothing when the votes are tabulated – American politicians vote as they are paid, and every one is paid by an oligarch corporation or PAC.

    I see computer software used as a thoughtstopper frequently in my work. "The computer analysis says…" is often the thoughtstopper for engineers, scientists, clinicians and many other professions today. VERY FEW even ask what the input conditions were, what the boundaries were for the problem or simulation, or anything much at all. And yet these are the things that matter when looking at computer solutions to problems. The programs can only address the problem as it is framed by the software.

    This is especially problematic for doctors and clinicians – because they need to be addressing each person in wholeness, not just looking at their liver function by itself, or looking at their weight irrespective of their bone structure and build.

    I guess I am throwing out reliance on computer software and simulations as thoughtstoppers for those trying to solve complex problems. They seem to have forgotten that computers are overgrown slide rules more than they are anything else.

    You can watch this in the news on a regular basis, where computer-(add jingo word) will usually shut down conversations.

  11. How would you categorize arguments that may be correct, even relevant, but effectively act as a way of saying, “shut up”?

    I’m thinking here of the very-popular-just-now habit of accusing anyone who tries to point out examples of bad behavior shared by both the political left and right (as you did in this post) of committing a “false equivalence” or just being a smug centrist (which may well be true). On the other hand, if you only criticize one side, you’ll be accused of ignoring the fact that the other side does it too!

    Replace “political left and right” with any other emotionally-charged binary, and the results are the same: a kind of conversational double-bind in which no matter which of two options you choose, you’re going to be berated for not choosing the other one.

    What puts this in the same category for me is that the people making the berating are not necessarily being consciously disingenuous. I’ve talked to people when they’ve been complaining about something (insert ideological opponent here) has just done and said something to the effect of, “I’d have understood it if they’d done X, but they had to go and do Y!” They genuinely seem to not realize that they would have made exact opposite statement if what they suggested have happened. I know I’ve done the same thing myself.

  12. Oh, staircase wit. I know it well, though my context is “things I think of when I’m washing my hair the next morning.”

    In re: love, yes, and thank you. I have a whole rant somewhere about my dislike for “love” as a universal positive*, and how it low-key irks me that “hate” has become code on the left for various forms of bigotry, because abstractly, love isn’t always good and hate is a perfectly useful emotion.

    @Mike: Yes, though I’ve found that one useful, particularly in college, in situations where I am not up for having the fifty-seventh version of the same argument, especially about an unprovable. You think the existence of suffering disproves God; I do not; neither of us is going to change our minds; let’s drop the topic and go out for dim sum already.

    *If you saw the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty before you stopped watching movies, I always gave Malificent points for her mocking speech about “true love conquers all.”

  13. Mike, a classic Vacuous Belch!

    Migrantharvester, thank you! An illustrated field guide, preferably with caricatures for the illustrations, would be well worth having.

    Will, there’s no simple cure for thoughtstoppers. The only effective treatment is to practice thinking clearly, and to pay attention to your thinking, so that you catch yourself using thoughtstoppers to avoid thinking about certain things. As for a guide to thinking clearly, I know of several partial guides but no really complete one — it may be that something of the sort will be an upcoming writing project for me.

    Austin, good. Yes, one way to look at a thoughtstopper is to see it as the expression of an axiom that’s become dysfunctional.

    Clay, okay, we’ve got a new category! I’ve seen Crocodile Tears applied many a time — do you recall the guy back on the old blog who insisted that the blind pursuit of progress at all costs had to continue, because otherwise, what about the poor people trapped in wheelchairs who would never be able to walk again? (My late brother-in-law, who spent most of his life in a wheelchair due to a diving accident in his teens, used to characterize that kind of cheap rhetorical trick as “pity porn” — the exploitation of somebody’s disability as a way of getting an emotional reaction for manipulative purposes.) Thank you, and that earns you today’s gold star.

    One way to stop that kind of thing in its tracks, btw, is to ask whether they’ve discussed the matter with the disabled people (or other targets of pity porn) they’re exploiting for rhetorical purposes. It’s standard practice on the left these days to “speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves” by yelling so loudly that the people you’re supposedly speaking for can’t get a word in on their own account.

    Bruce, that’s a very good approach, and will keep you out of a lot of traps.

    Dusk Shine, hmm! Yes, that’s an important kind of thoughtstopper — “whatever this person says can be ignored because (s)he’s a [insert category label here].” I hereby christen thoughtstoppers in that category Delete Buttons. So we’re up to six categories: Vacuous Belches, Vacuous Shrieks, One-Way Streets, Undefinitions, Crocodile Tears, and Delete Buttons. The field guide is coming along nicely!

  14. The two main thoughtstoppers of the pro-GMO activists are the substantively fraudulent and emotive claim to be “Feeding the World”, and to shriek “anti-science!” at even the most mild questioners and critics. This is even though GMO deployment has next to nothing to do with science, while even R&D is based far more on brute force empiricism and the long-disproven junk science of genetic determinism, than on any evidence-based scientific theory.

    (For a good case study in double-think, read any recent book on the state of genetic science written by a geneticist. The author will most likely be pro-GE even as their whole book describes scientific findings which completely refute the “precision” ideology of genetic engineering.)

    As for “biotech” allegedly being a scare word, um, that’s the industry’s own term. (As are “GMO”, “genetic engineering” or “modification” and all other terms in wide usage.) So if the commenter is scared of that term he should ask e.g. the Biotechnology Industry Organization, or the many universities which have a “Biotechnology Institute”, to rename themselves.

  15. How exactly does one hunt down and identify your own thoughtstoppers?

    It’s a lot like removing the log from one’s own eye in order to see to remove the speck in your neighbors, but surely one of the main attributes of a thoughtstopper is that we don’t notice ourselves doing it? They would lose a lot of their power once identified as thoughtstoppers.

  16. I’m *so* happy to see you addressing thoughtstoppers! One of my favorite topics for years now, and one that I see at the heart of almost all of today’s problems.

    One place I’d go deeper is to emphasize that the most powerful thoughtstoppers, and the most damaging in today’s problems, are emotional and instinct-based.

    Our thoughts and our instincts both go far back in our evolutionary history. Our nervous systems can be traced clear back to the single-cell stage when protozoa evolved senses. Like the ability to distinguish light from darkness, so their flagella could be used to get into the light and get more photosynthesis going. Skipping a very long story, more relevant elsewhere, when multiple senses had to start communicating key messages to distant parts of a large multicellular body, remote signaling systems were needed to coordinate the whole, one of which developed into what we now experience as emotions, which are the drivers of action. Feeling an emotion is feeling an instinct in action. Thought is new, and is overridden by instincts, which say “Stop thinking and act fast, or else”.

    After literally tens of millions of years during which our (successful, surviving) ancestors all lived in social groups, one of our most fundamental evolved simian instincts says “Be in a group and support it, or else”. So one of our biggest thoughtstoppers is any appeal to group identity and group values. Hence the efficacy of calling MLK a communist. Or anything else that triggers group values, as simplified into catchphrases, flags, colors, clothing styles, music, and numerous other communication symbols by clever motivational experts. This is a phenomenon that now dominates our easily short-circuited thinking processes, and imo this is currently the most important family of thoughtstoppers to explore.

    Instincts are so strong and effective that they can be countered only by other instincts. Or with difficult directed effort, as in toilet training. The hold of one such thoughtstopper can be countered only by another that is based in an equally strong instinct. This could be why one of the possible futures that you have presented as likely ones, based on historical examples, is a new religion – one of the strongest group-types of all.

    I hope that with your excellent analysis and growing audience, we can all act together to fashion a new group that (whatever its name and basic structure) will be strong enough to put some brakes on our downhill slide.

  17. I believe that the numerous thoughtstoppers that are all some variation on the theme that industrial civilization and its inmates are so uniquely and overwhelmingly unique that no observation of the way nature, history and universe itself appears to work, that has been so painstakingly collected over the millennia, must be allowed to be taken into account when judging the performance of said civilization or trying to make predictions about its future.

    I name this the Progress Fart.

  18. Here’s some:
    “you overthink things”
    “you are intellectualizing/overintellectualizing”
    “your mind is so open your brains are falling out”
    I’ve had people remark about me that it must be “exhausting” thinking about things thoroughly.
    My wife gets annoyed about me playing devil’s advocate too much.

    I am not a genius or anything, I just try to take intellectual responsibility for my beliefs and outlook and philosophy.

    Oh and another thoughtstopper: “Most people don’t…” or “99% of people do…” when you are pulling the statistic out of thin air. First, the statistic has no basis, second, even if it did, how is it relevant without assuming that the “significant” group within the made up statistic actually means anything? Maybe this one is more of a logical fallacy?

  19. On the subject of identifying internalized Thought Stoppers: My wife and I did the first level of Avatar a number of years ago and found many useful terms and techniques for “managing consciousness”, despite the hard-sell, pay-your-way-to-becoming-a-wizard atmosphere (no doubt a remnant of Scientology DNA in their system). One of the most useful of the terms we learned is Transparent Belief. Meaning a belief of one’s own that is so large that it is difficult to identify or think about because everything is viewed and thought about through that belief. The water the fish swims in, so to speak. Typically, these transparent beliefs are not chosen but enculturated. The technique is to look at a behavior or response to the environment that is not serving you well and ask, “What would I have to believe in order to act or react like that?” When a belief is identified, follow that up with, “What would I have to believe in order to believe THAT?” In relatively short order it is possible, especially with the assistance of a trusted companion, to identify the deep belief you are living “as if it were true”. You may choose to retain that belief, or maybe not… For example; I identified a deep Transparent Belief that “Life is hard.” (I grew up on a stump farm cattle ranch in North Idaho where everyone worked from before daylight to after dark, year after year after year, so it’s not exactly surprising) But I decided to change that to, “Life is good.” And it has made a difference, not just in my actions and reactions but in seemingly synchronistic ways that I can’t explain, other than to say I must now be paying attention to different things than before…

  20. “Support the troops! ” I’m for freedom! Both work as flash grenades for both the listener and the person saying it. Our tenancy for binary logic is also something of a thought stopper. Your either with us or against us, if you don’t like technology you hate all technology.

    Big question why are we bothering wasting time and effort on having these conversations with people who are unable to think when there is so much to do? There are of course exceptions where it is necessary but I’ve found it better to frame the conversation in terms of actionable outcomes, say self-sustainability or economic independence depending on the listeners, rather than go off on one of my rants about the the staggering levels of moronic behaviour our species exhibits on a minute by minute basis.

    we are insane as we keep doing the same thing over and over and over, ad f#cking nausium again, while expecting different results. We’ve true perfectionists of the insane, with a dedicated that has gone so far beyond farce it stopped being funny a very very long time ago.

  21. Well said, JMG, well said. What I find in people around me is that there are really only two prime motivators driving the thoughtstop process: one external, one internal.

    Externally, the great benefit of the habit of thinking is the empowerment of autonomy that it brings – which makes a person more difficult to manipulate, thus undermining the power that authority figures have over that individual. That’s a major incentive for those said authority figures to arrest the thinking process in others as quickly and as effectively as possible so as to maintain control over them and thereby enhance their own powerful positions in the social structure.

    Internally, thinking is work, which requires effort. If I can’t get my lazy ass out of bed in the morning to go pick my own cotton because there’s someone else there that can be made to do it for me, why the heck would I get my lazy mind out of the gutter to go think about decisions I have to make? It’s just so much easier to have my thinking done for me!

    Sadly, these motivators are driving the vast majority of the population, and there’s no a whole lot that can be done to correct the problem.

  22. Another one of my favorites is uttered by NYT’s reading “intellectuals” when the discussion comes up of anything that counters the religion of progress, or the belief that rearranging the leaders of the democratic party or changing tax policy will return us to true democracy and prosperity. The thought stopper used in these cases is for the offender to be called a nihilist.

  23. This is my favorite thing you’ve written in a long time.

    Some thoughts on thoughtstoppers:

    Regularly uttered by New Agers: “It’s all just energy.” Okay, if it’s all just energy, eat arsenic for dinner instead of food.

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Meaningless; who defines “ordinary”?

    I’ve noticed that it’s a common habit among people of a Left-wing persuasion to throw the phrase “My X friends” into a statement, where X is an Official Oppressed category. The function seems to be There was an example of that here a week or two ago. The purpose seems to be to establish the speaker’s authority, their personal stake in the argument, and their popularity– Is interjecting “my black friends” or “my trans friends,” in a social setting that privileges black or trans people, all that different from interjecting “My friends on the football team” or “my friends in the homecoming court” in a highschool cafeteria?

    Speaking of the Left, the classic Left-wing “Undefinition” of the day is “racism,” which has now been re-defined by the Left as a sort of immoral act that only people with white skin are capable of committing. What word, then, describes racial animosity or racialized violence directed by a nonwhite person against a white person or another nonwhite? What term, for example, describes the Mexican Mafia prison gang ordering the ethnic cleansing of blacks from a neighborhood; or the rapper Chubb Rock leading concertgoers in a chant of “F– you Eggroll!” in the early 90s; or four black teens in Chicago shouting “F— white people” as they tortured a mentally handicapped white man last year? None, apparently.

    There was an article a few months ago in the New York Times by, apparently, a credentialed historian who claimed it was “ahistorical” to claim that Italians, Jews, and Irish were not considered white when they migrated to the United States. What was his reasoning? The aforementioned groups were considered white by the federal government. This is a very strange argument, because you could use the exact same reasoning to claim that there is currently no racial discrimination of any kind in the United States because racial discrimination is illegal. But the author seemed to think that merely using the five dollar word “ahistorical” was enough to make his case. In the same way, the word “physiognomy” has been deployed to attack the research of a group of Stanford scientists who developed a computer program that detected sexual orientation with 70-80% accuracy. Actually every single criticism I’ve read of the Stanford research boiled down to “It’s physiognomy, physiognomy is wrong, therefore this is evil and I hate you.”

    On the Right, the classic thought-stopper of the Bush years was “Why do you hate America so much?” This was deployed against anyone, Left or Right, who didn’t think that universal surveillance or aggressive war against a country that hadn’t attacked us might not be a good idea. These days the latest Right-wing thought-stopper is the word “cuck.” Have you encountered this? It’s a term used by Trump supporters to attack any Republican or conservative that disagrees with the MAGA party line.

    Three more thoughts–

    1. The phrase “think for yourself” is kind of funny, because it’s often directed at young people who have never been taught to think. In practice it almost always means “Start thinking what I think.” “Stop listening to your small town pastor; start listening to your big town college professor.” “Stop repeating things you heard on Fox News. Start repeating things you read by Noam Chomsky.”

    2. I’ve noticed that when you argue with people, they will sometimes ask for sources, but they rarely question your logic. Or if they do they will use the term “logical fallacy” as though it meant “I don’t agree with you.” I’ve also noticed that there is a style of writing– I’ve only seen it by people on the Left, though I’m open to seeing examples from the Right– in which one simply piles on quotations and citations, without bothering to construct an argument. The work of Derrick Jensen is the classic example here. I was thinking about where that practice comes from and it occurred to me that, in high school and college, I was taught in detail and repeatedly how to cite sources, and regularly given requirements like “use 5 different sources.” If I had not taken a formal logic class as an elective during my junior year in college I never would have encountered logic at all.

    3. On the internet I’ve noticed that the term “It seems like” or “It sounds like” or “It seems to me” are nearly always followed by something irrelevant that doesn’t in any way “sound like” what the speaker is trying to engage. And the phrase “In my opinion” is nearly always followed by recitation of some popular dogma.

    I feel certain that I must engage in thought-stoppers from time to time, though I can’t currently think of any. Using the criteria: “A good thoughtstopper is brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion. It’s also either absurd, self-contradictory, or irrelevant to the subject to which it’s meant to apply” I am going to try to watch myself over the next day or next few days to see if there are any thought-stoppers I deploy without realizing it! I will report my findings here.

  24. Like Margaret Thatcher said (‘Blessed Margaret’ – I guess there could be a British version of Godwin’s Law; smile): ‘there is no alternative’. Nice, but in her case it was something more than a piece of rhetoric.She was in the same movie as Ronald Reagan.

    A good while further back Daniel Defoe remarked that ‘necessity is the worst evil because it can excuse anything’, This has a structure like a ‘thought stopper’ but seems to have some uncomfortable virtue. In my case it has provoked thought.

    Phil H

  25. @Mike- “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

    While I can see it being used as a thought stopper, most often I hear (and use) that particular phrase as a tool for deescalation. When there’s spittle flying in your face, – or when you feel your own mind begin to cloud over with intense emotion – agreeing to table the discussion is quite useful.

    It’s an argument stopper, but I mostly use it when the potential for thought has already fled! Better to disengage peacefully and leave open future discussion, cooperation and mutual tolerance than let an argument slam those doors shut with bad feelings (that filthy socialist / that racist nazi).

  26. Mr. Greer, Those vacuous belches can be pretty darn useful, not as part of a discussion, of course, but as a frontline stay out of trouble technique, the VB can be quite effective:

    Neighborhood (or office) malicious gossip: “Did you hear how late Jane got home/ Susan’s kids/ the guy in the cubicle next to me/ the floor manager etc. etc.”

    Smart, sensible answer often does consist of, yes, a vacuous belch along the lines of “Well I am sure there is a good reason/” ” I just try to get along with everyone” and so on. Sometimes statements like “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that.” or “I’m sure I wouldn’t know.” are taken as offensive in and of themselves, so one falls back on the warm fuzzy VB.

    Oilman2, about herd instincts, one of the best first sentences of any book, right up there with “All happy families…” and “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” can be found opening the Politics, by Aristotle.

    “Man is a social animal.” I have also seen it translated, “Man is a political animal”.

    And, yes, I think you are correct, techniques of propaganda have come a long way since the Pharaoh of Egypt and the Emperor of the Hittites both caused monuments to be inscribed celebrating the glorious victory of the one over the other, referring to the same battle. ( Egypt lost, historians think. Or maybe it was a tie; no one now knows for sure.)

    What about deliberate vituperation, as in “That (argument/statement/explanation) is Crap!”, or “He/She/It must be a Moron!”? Would that be a Vacuous Shriek or Delete Button? Those are favorites, because, sex having become commonplace, as our host pointed out a while back, the shrieker gets to claim his or her superiority while violating the Hate Taboo.

  27. I think the planetary crisis is a simple reward / punishment issue, at least at our current level of consciousness. The day most humans will be rewarded enough for sustainibility and punished enough for any destruction, we will solve it, presto. Think money, sex and power for reward / financial loss, celibacy and loss of freedom for punishment. Maybe I will implement such a system in my next sustainability company.

  28. “Caminantes, no hay caminos. Hay que caminar.”

    (A humble recollection from another era – unless someone equates ‘humble’ as ‘pretentious’, just another risk of publicly sharing one’s thoughts.)

  29. I am a bit resentful for “they’ll think of something” because it’s true. “They” have been thinking of things for a long time but “we” though it was too expensive or inconvenient.

  30. I will leave one of mine here. I’m not sure if it is a common thoughtstopper, but it surely makes me stop thinking about a problem now and then. It is “I’ve had worse”. It is okay for predicaments, as they aren’t meant to be solved, but every now and then I find myself using it to avoid the hassle of finding a solution to a problem. Thoughtstopper masked as stoicism!

  31. In some parts of the Internet I frequent, Vacuous Belches are known as Applause Lights:

    ‘What does it mean to call for a “democratic” solution if you don’t have a conflict-resolution mechanism in mind?

    I think it means that you have said the word “democracy”, so the audience is supposed to cheer. It’s not so much a propositional statement, as the equivalent of the “Applause” light that tells a studio audience when to clap.’

  32. I would like to participate with something intelligent. Yet it doesn’t comes to me. Only that I admire that presentation of thought stopping you made.

    In particular I am sceptic of admiration, suspicious to become too affectionate. Yet I enjoyed reading. I think, I have to repeatedly read it again. So I keep observant of them different thought stoppers. I understand, I am a good time mislead by them. Its frustrating and fruitless, to land in a dead end.

    So thanks for the impulse to dance with the contradictions and foul play in conversation, in order to stay more agile and get farther, as the fearsome other mind wants to avoid, or my own frightened self may also be hesitant to proceed.

  33. One frequently wheeled out by those espousing the necessity/inevitability of human space exploration: “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.”

  34. One of my favorites these days is this jewel:

    “It is what it is.”

    (Thanks, Stoic Man!)

    I get this one all the time. You bring up a point that deserves to be considered, or a predicament that ought to spark curiosity, if not contemplation, and you get this drivel in response. I’m always left feeling…underserved. I guess that would be a one way street type thoughtstopper?

    Another one I get is when trying to talk about religious views other than the Christain faith (or its atheist foil). For example, my dad will say, “Oh, you’re talking about [Native American spiritualism]…” and the conversation has absolutely nowhere to go. He knows every detail about what I mean to say, how deviant it is, and leaves not a whisker’s breadth for any new speculation. I generally just let it hang at that point…

  35. And let me second Steve Kimple’s request for a book to teach good habits of thought! I love this stuff…and need it.

    On to Pity porn. Good one. I’ve experienced this one on my old blog. When I first started talking about our new lifestyle, devoid of, among plenty of other first world amenities, air conditioning, an ex-girlfriend popped out of a cyber-alley and berated me for my ill and irresponsible treatment of my children! How could you treat the poor dears so dreadfully??

    In effect all she was saying was “I could never live without air co, so it’s obviously wrong for you to make your children do it.” My children, by the way, couldn’t care less. In fact, a lot of the changes we’ve made were intentionally hard on the adults in the house so that life without those amenities would be second nature to our kids. Sort of a deliberate deindustrial epigenetic overhaul, if you will. The children just know our hardships as “life,” and that was the point.

  36. I wonder if you have heard of Neurolinguistic Programming? They are full of what you term “Thought Stoppers”. For instance, they babble, “The World is Made Up!” Now, they are very scary.

  37. Here’s one I had tossed at me the other day: “War is never the answer!” – uhhh …. yes, on occasion it is, and sometimes it’s the only answer.

    And here’s a term I’ve had directed my way when I’m trying to have a discussion on religion/spirituality: “Flying Spaghetti Monster”. As in, “let’s first establish that you’re an ignorant child.”

  38. I am often told that the discounting of emotional data harms my discourse. This concept of thought stoppers seems very relevant to me and certainly something I regularly encounter. However I am nearly certain that if I were to present it to many of my friends I would be told that it was a wholly logical frame and therefore limited or limiting. Is the need for emotional data precluded here, would the emotional data argument be a thought stopper, or is there something else going on? Thanks for any clarification.

  39. As a partial antidote to staircase wit, you could dream up some “thought-starters” for quick ripostes–

    I like Bruce T’s “Find out what’s wrong with what you know is right, and find out what’s right with what you know is wrong” is a GREAT one–I plan to steal and use it.

    In high school in the early 70’s, I had an English class with an actual Englishman, complete with whiskers and cigar. He was pretty frustrated with our lack of access to the tools of literary criticism, so he would purposely say things we thought were outrageous just to make us defend our positions.
    Once, after I told him to “try to be more open-minded,” he came back with,
    “An open mind is often an empty mind. Be careful not to let any and every idea settle without a rigourous examination…”

    When I got over having my a** handed to me, I thought that was a good one! I’ve remembered it for 40-odd years.

    Does anyone else have a thought-starter?

  40. Hi John,
    Another thought stopper: “Sure, there turned out to be a few rotten apples in (choose your institution) but the vast majority are fine and upstanding, and the system works great 99.9% of the time.” An attempt to minimize situations that might, in fact, have more than just a few rotten apples, and a failure rate greater than 0.1%. But even on it’s own terms, the thought stopper could be wrong. What if the few rotten apples are in key positions, and able to make the upright majority their unwitting dupes? What if the 0.1% error–starting WWIII for example–is vastly more important than all the other decisions that may have gone correctly?

    I’ve come to believe that thinking is a lot like managing money: primarily a matter of mastering emotions and only secondarily mastering techniques. If someone isn’t willing to handle the discomfort of seeing the world as it is, and not as they wish it to be, then all the logic courses in the world won’t do much good.


  41. The one that drives me crazy is the one I hear from gun rights people after a mass shooting, “you can’t stop violence.” Well, could we at least slow things down?

    I was talking with a friend who is a former police officer about the Vegas shooting and she gave me that exact line. I in turned told her I felt her statement was a “thought stopper”. Fortunately we didn’t quite stop the conversation as she asked me what a “thought stopper” was and we had a nice discussion about what I meant by “thought stopper”. She did concede that I might have a point there and we proceeded to discuss what might be the cause of such an action.

    I think this one belongs in One-Way Street.

  42. There’s something really calming about things that have driven me to distraction being given a name and an explanation thank you. I have that great poster about logical fallacies but the concept of thoughtstoppers builds on it helpfully. My line of work implicitly values logical thought pretty highly (although of course that doesn’t mean practitioners are paragons of reason!) and I think that makes it even more jarring to confront the unself-conscious free rein that illogic has in other contexts. And, very often, an undercurrent of contempt for the cold prickly meanieness of rationality.

    How do you avoid getting exasperated though? Is it the equanimity you develop through magical practices? I find myself increasingly withdrawing from political discussion these days, a decision that seems to be shared by ever more people. Whenever I get drawn back in to the madness I immediately regret it.

    On a probably related note, my dialogue with my inner critic is bearing fruit, as is the story so far, thank you for the suggestion. I was wondering though, why did you prescribe self-discipline for the other dabbler writer (whose name I can’t remember, sorry) and journaling for me?

    Oh also, over here crocodile tears is more like: Child A hits child B. Child A gets in trouble with the teacher and cries at the terrible persecution of being caught. Maybe it’s different in other places. Or maybe another word is needed to describe people pushing their own agenda under cover of concern for some designated victim group.

  43. Philosophical question: If a philosophical conversation is going in endless circles agreeing with itself, no one playing devil’s advocate, etc. is that a sign of a thought stopper? Like I’ve talked with people on the political left and right and each side has these circular conversations…. It’s like they’re each getting to the same place only they’re not. If you point out they have anything in common with each other other, I find you’re ousted from the circle.

  44. Hello,
    first of all I’d like to say that I’m pleasantly surprised with the last series of posts.
    For a while lately I have come to the sentiment that somehow the Internet had reached the point of diminishing returns.
    When I was a kid, such fancy concepts as “multimedia” were being heralded to promote the miracles of new technology. Twenty years later, I don’t feel that the “information highways” have actually led us to very new places, quite the contrary.
    Lately I have had this feeling of lassitude, like the ideas I found on the Internet were no longer new or thought-provoking. In particular, I regularly read Jim Kunstler’s blog and his insistence that things too complex can’t go on forever is now a full-blown thoughtstopper that forbids him to think clearly about how the slow processes of economic changes could take place, similar to the people waiting for sudden apocalypse in order to avoid dealing or thinking about their predicament.
    Even your online writings have become less relevant to me as I try to keep my experience of the world richer than just the letters being displayed on my electronic devices.
    But the last posts of yours have surprised me again, as it shows you have a lot of resources in your mental bag of tricks, so I am quite impressed at how enduring an online thinker you are !

    On a similar line of thinking, the present-day “tech start-up” mythology uses thoughtstoppers a lot : first, because it uses “tech” to talk mostly about Information Technology, as if computers were the final frontier of conquest for man (Final Frontier… another one). Second, because its slogans are usually thoughtstoppers too.
    A lot of the corporate litterature now also makes a rich use of thoughtstopper phrases, just look at the articles posted on LinkedIn for an example
    That same corporate/startup mythology has been used by the winners of the latest presidential election here. The idea that one needs to “disrupt” the established order in order to make things change (usually at any cost) may seem paradoxical, and it is widely used to justify changes which favor only very specific interests.

    All of this is used to hide the plain and obvious fact that automation and information technology are reaching the point where they actually hurt the whole social fabric of our rich industrial economies. A commonly used thoughtstopper around that is that new jobs are being created even as older jobs are destroyed. “We don’t have coal miners and lumberjacks anymore” is a common thoughtstopper (since we actually still have those, but in further away places) when thinking about automation, avoiding a reflexion on how wealth should be distributed in a society that was designed to distribute wealth through human labour as a whole. The increasing complexity of the few available remaining jobs are concentrating inequality even more, and heavens know what monstrosities these processes are going to breed, as we have already had our share of monstrosities here.

  45. So I would like to ask about a topic that seems very cogent to me, here in the Old World (basically, Europe). All of you readers and author alike seem to view the current economic paradigm of industrialization, automation and centralization as doomed to someday fail.
    Actually here in France the paradigm looks unstoppable, even though it has dramatic side-effects on pretty much every aspect of our economic life, from the slow death of city center small businesses and shops, to the ill-being of the agricultural class, and I am not talking about environmental disasters which we have had our share of (summer forest fires, floodings, storms and an extended drought which the media should talk about a great deal more in my opinion…).
    Thus I keep asking myself one question, not necessarily in terms of thoughtstoppers, but those might play a big part in that. That question is, how can we spot when the logic of industrializing a business sector and automating it to death have come to the point of diminishing returns and there is an opening for a more local, more human-labor intensive way of doing the same but in a more viable and socially virtuous fashion ? What thoughtstoppers come in our way and hide the opening from us ?

    One example is digitization : as companies tend to increasingly get rid of paper in their business processes and outsource them to electronic processes, the arguments i keep hearing are, “it’s more simple”, or “it makes more economical sense”, “it’s cheaper”.
    Aren’t these thoughtstoppers ? Then how to find one’s way around them, and even to counter them in a conversation ? I have heard the same about the Internet, probably because in both examples the processes involve manipulating immaterial information, and we naively assume that because it is immaterial it is therefore free (no matter involved… which is false of course).

    That line of questioning has very practical implications in my opinion : I guess the individuals and communities who do best in the years to come are those who are able to identify before anybody else when, where and how the old (supposedly new…) economic paradigm is failing and spot opportunities to develop economically in the cracks left by this failure.

    On a related line of questioning, what would be good resources for advice or principles on how to start a business in the new (truly new, not digital) economic paradigm ?
    I suppose there will not be one but instead many new paradigms arising. An example is the paradigm of the cooperative, another example would be direct sale from farmers, and organic farming. All of which are indeed a re-invention of old ideas.
    I also guess that those new paradigms do take quite a bit more work on one’s part for quite fewer immediate results, even though the overall long-term results do probably exceed the lack thereof.

  46. “Freedom isn’t free!” That thoughtstopper was a fave of a former, quite conservative, lady-friend of mine. The AI computer in Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Aurora” comments somewhere that it helps if such phrases rhyme or are alliterative. Even a cursory study of Medieval Rhetoric, as you might encounter in a college course on Milton, can apply quite nicely to this topic.

  47. Hmm! I like this as a game; the naming of categories of thought stoppers. If I partied more I’d turn it into a party game, it is that delightful. They are very closely related to logical fallacies and remind me quite a bit of Transactional Analysis; they are like a set of fouls and dirty rhetorical tricks people play on social games. Let’s think:

    There is of course the grand old thought stopper of August Tradition: “We have always done it this way; it is our August Tradition! Indeed, this is who we are!” This one is nice because it gives whatever in question an unquestionable mythic backdrop. You can’t argue with the idea; it is time tested, nay, it is sanctified by its immersion in the holy waters of passing time. It is a kernel of sacred eternal identity.

    How about “We Don’t Do That,” where an idea is dismissed out of hand as gross. The important distinction of this thought stopper is the disgusted crinkle of the nose. There is a general appeal to community standards and propriety. This could alternatively called “That’s Gross”, or perhaps better yet “Taboo”.

    A very distressing thought stopper is “Ignorance is Bliss,” where a perspective is dismissed out of hand because it doesn’t make someone happy. This thought stopper says “this thought of yours hurt my feelings – now we won’t discuss that idea and you owe me an apology!” It is indeed equivalent to a social game out of Transactional Analysis.

    The ‘evil twin’ of “Ignorance is Bliss” is “Edgelord” where deliberately edgy things are said and their implied veracity is framed as consistent with their provocation. Saying that “feminism is cancer” really says nothing about feminism except “I don’t like it” It does shut down conversation. The younger brother of “Edgelord” is “Pottymouth,” where instead of any coherent thinking there is only overwhelming profanity. Indeed “Pottymouth” maybe the most common thoughtstopper, it is certainly the easiest to master.

    There’s “Turning the Question”. This involves implying the person asking a question is totally responsibility for an overwhelming task: “we real need to think about the firehouse; the building is in disrepair” . “Yeah, well what are you going to do about it?”

    “Delete Button” and “We Don’t do That” have offspring. The first is “Problematic…” Where an idea is simply called racist, sexist, homophobic, and the conversation shifts into tying the said idea to a rack and torturing a confession out of it. The sibling of “Problematic…” is “Keeping it Real” where someone shouts out a personal putdown and an assertion of street cred in place of an argument: “I’m concerned about the economic implications of raising the minimum wage may have on struggling, small businesses”, “People like you say that! Me, I’ve sold drugs for a living! I’ve lived on the street” There is no way to respond but to stop thinking and talking.

    “Keeping it Real” is the proud father of the more refined “Resume,” which instead of an argument cites superior professional or vocation experience “I’m concerned about the accelerated melting of the polar ice!”
    “Don’t worry; I’ve been an engineer for 35 years” “Resume” is married to “Lab Coat” which tosses an irrelevant factoid from scientific or engineering history, essentially invoking the August Tradition of science to invoke a “gee whiz” end of thinking. Lab Coat does indeed take after her father August Tradition in this regard, although she tends to focus more on the “gee golly whiz!” Christmas morning vibe, whereas her father really strains towards gravitas.

    I could go on and on; I’ll stop now for concerns of length. This is seriously fun; there is a very rich comic absurdity to thoughtstoppers.

  48. @tenchu13

    I like the idea of focusing on actionable outcomes rather than thinking about it.

    A couple of months ago I ran across a book titled “The Enigma of Reason.” The thesis is that reason did not evolve for the use of the solitary thinker, but rather for argumentation in small groups working toward a common goal. Things that are clearly problems for the solitary thinker turn out to be advantages in a small group setting where people are working toward a common goal.

    Here’s a skeleton review:

    And here’s one of the author’s summaries:

  49. Thanks for another great post. One common thing I’ve experienced is that people love to accuse others of being pessimists, or “negative” in order to avoid uncomfortable facts. When discussing the dismal state of many aspects of our declining civilization with most folks I know it can be expected almost without exception. Wouldn’t it make me an optimist if I believe a better way is possible?

  50. I think my favorite thought-stoppers (the one´s I used to stop myself from thinking) were something along the lines of “this guy has the wrong ideology” or “this guy is wrong on OTHER issues, so I refuse to support him on this one”. As in “Archdruid who believes in magick, please, can´t be right on peak oil” (I never used that particular one, though, but you get the idea)

    Sure I still have many others, good exercise!

    It´s easy to see them in other people, favorite this season must be “racist” or “fascist”. It seems “Communist” has fallen on hard times as a thought-stopper, LOL.

  51. I did notice that the people who were shouting “Communist!” at MLK couldn’t have told a Social Democrat from an ice cream soda; nor my friend with the Vacuous Shrieks, a fascist from a flamenco dancer. You can lengthen that list ad infinitum.

  52. “Socialism!”

    is an interesting vacuous shriek, it has precisely no effect over here in Australia. It’s interesting to see USians get so wound up about it, particularly in the context of healthcare.

  53. Ironically, I’m working on producing thoughtstoppers to stop destructive thought patterns with the aim of reducing my depression and anxiety issues. It’s a case of 1) recognize the problematic thought pattern, 2) visualize stop sign 3) remind yourself exactly why this pattern is unhelpful or factually wrong (oddly enough most people don’t include this but I have to do this or this doesn’t work for me), and 3) visualize something that makes you happy.

    I don’t think that’s quite what you’re talking about here, though…

  54. Haha, you had me belching of laughter at “The mind is an oven”—great comeback!

    Now that I have the opportunity, I should greatly thank you (and slightly damn you) for introducing me to Lovecraft Reread and the Old Solar System Heritage site—both have been absorbing a lot of time and attention from me lately. Floating a lot of ideas for the Anthology Project, hopefully I’ll get around to doing something with them as well!

    Back to the topic at hand, I hope you’ll allow me a minor nitpick—”Love is the answer” is, it seems to me, obviously talking about answers/solutions to issues/matters/problems, not questions of the grammatical question-mark type. Love on its own obviously isn’t gonna solve all problems, but perhaps a bit of love—or, more modestly, kindness—would do a lot of good in enabling sane discussions to start happening again.

    Unrealistic, I know, but “there’s always hope!” (One heck of a thoughtstopper, that one.)

  55. Sarah G,

    The problem with including emotional data is that emotions are subjective, and when two people’s subjective realities are in conflict in such a way that action within objective reality cannot please anyone, how do you choose whose subjective reality is more important? I’m not saying that the subjective reality of individuals doesn’t matter – but when people’s subjective realities crash into each other, open and honest dialogue is the only way to build a consensus about how to act in objective reality that balances the needs of everyone’s subjective realities. Of course, people also need to learn to change their mind – a process which often involves thinking – about features of their own subjective realities – because most of the time, objective reality won’t give us what we want anyway, and that’s true even if you’re a privileged person in an industrial democracy.

    This week’s essay and the one about Shoggoths are important parts of this conversation.

  56. @Austin: With those, I’ve found that it’s important to distinguish between people trying to have a genuine philosophical conversation/debate/etc and people who want to share experiences, commiserate, or discuss techniques for dealing with a particular situation they’ve agreed is bad. Both are useful, but I find a lot of the annoyance with people who play devil’s advocate etc is because they come into a commiseration session with a debate mindset/agenda.

    Preaching to the choir gets a bad reputation, and some of that’s deserved, but there’s a place for it: when you’re in a group that has a particular agreed-upon ideal or mindset, then you can discuss how to progress further toward that goal without having to hash the whole thing out every time you meet. If I have a beef with Christianity, for example, there are better times and places to discuss that than in the church meeting to plan the Easter decorations, or whatnot.

    Similarly, there are times when I just want to have a drink with my friends and talk about how awful so-and-so’s boss/SO/film/outfit/etc is. The person under discussion may well have good qualities*, and we all acknowledge that philosophically–none of us want The Girl Who Fears the T or Crappy Poetry Guy to suffer any lasting physical harm–but anyone showing up randomly to take that person’s side is, well, a buzzkill, and thus annoying.

    So my answer to your question would be, “Yes, but…”

    *I’ve adopted “…I’m sure they’re kind to animals…” as a “I will now proceed to trash some other aspect of this person,” warning signal/gesture in the direction of mutual humanity.

  57. Talk about synchronicity: I just dealt with someone who insisted that since I’m a Druid, I need to agree “love is the answer.” My answer was to respond with a very simple answer: “I’d rather be able to think for myself, thank you very much.” It worked like a charm, since the person in question has previously complained about people not thinking for themselves.


    If I may, as someone who uses “let’s agree to disagree” sometimes, it’s not always a thought stopper. I have seen it used as one, but other times it’s a response to knowing this argument will damage a relationship and deciding that continuing the argument is not worth the damage.


    I would buy that book! Please write a book on thinking, I think it could be very useful.


    I tend to think that thinking, like riding a bike, or driving, or talking in a foreign language, is hard when you start, but gets easier with practice.

    With regards to racism directed towards whites, I find it fascinating that no matter how much evidence of it comes up, plenty of liberals refuse to acknowledge it exists. As a liberal (although I think soon to be ex-liberal), I have to note it does no good to our cause…..

  58. @Nastarana:

    Smart, sensible answer often does consist of, yes, a vacuous belch along the lines of “Well I am sure there is a good reason/” ” I just try to get along with everyone” and so on. Sometimes statements like “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that.” or “I’m sure I wouldn’t know.” are taken as offensive in and of themselves, so one falls back on the warm fuzzy VB.

    That is a very good point. I often use such “thought-stoppers” to disengage from conversations which are going around in circles. Call it “rules of disengagement” if you will.

    This relates to what I said in the previous comment thread, that I will not spend time with people who are “push button reactive” when certain words are spoken, certain topics are raised or certain opinions expressed, and who have to be desperately clutched like hand grenades with the pin missing.

    Another related “life lesson” is that trying to get in “the last word” is seldom helpful. I think of the Old Testament story of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt because she wanted “just one last look, for old times’ sake” at Sodom and Gomorrah. That may be a bit of an extreme metaphor, but trying to get in “the last word” is usually unnecessarily draining, and almost never fruitful.

    By following these rules, I have found that the quality of my relationships has dramatically improved. Contrary to what one might think, these rules have not made me either a hermit or a recluse. On the contrary! The people I spend time with are emotionally mature and psychologically stable. I have a great many close friends for whom I would gladly “take the bullet” if need be, and who have, in turn, repeatedly demonstrated that they will do the same for me. Weeding out toxic relationships allows the healthy ones enough sunshine to grow and flourish.

    So! Sometimes, “thought-stoppers” can be strategically useful. The point (as I see it) is to be aware of what you are doing, rather than using them to reinforce blind spots you already have.

  59. @Austin That’s hardly a philosophical question, but merely a social one. When you chance upon an echo chamber, there’s two rules that apply—1) Don’t call the echo chamber an echo chamber. 2) Horseshoe theory can only ever apply when two designated enemies of the echo chamber are judged as similar—Never compare them to the horrific Other!

  60. Lady Gaga, Tsar of All the Russias? Man, that would be Awesome! Flamboyant, nutty, glitzy as all-get-out… Finally, we’d get the Emperor we truly deserve. Maybe it’s my after-work ale talkin’, but I want, nay, I demand to see Lady Gaga Installed as Emperor/Empress/Whatever of not just All the Russias, but the Globe!

    Man… That was a good ale…

  61. It is funny, I have used “Oh, I’m sure they’ll think of something.” many times but did not think of it as an argument for one option or another. I think the best classification of my meaning would be a prayer to the god of progress.

    Also got the first book! It is great to contrast the original work from ten years ago with today, crazy how some things don’t change. Eventually I will catch up with the middle!


  62. @ Austin…

    What? You mean by having a difference of thought, you find yourself cast out? I am shocked, I tell you, just shocked. Why, that sounds like a terrible herd to join, doesn’t it just? LOL

    It’s pretty boring being in either group, when difference causes exclusion and the same old verbal paths are trod in unceasing circles. I don’t know if that is a thoughtstopper or not, but in any case my advice is for you is to run, and rapidly, elsewhere. It might be gratifying to point out the circularity before you exit – one may listen or notice the branching path you take.

    Or maybe just sort of drop a tiny variance of the argument that causes them to parse their own thoughts, even if just a tiny bit. Then again, you may have to drop an entire loaf of breadcrumbs to get them to even see another path.

    @ Greg Simay…

    Smacks of herd behavior to me, somewhat. Do these conversations run in circles like Austin finds?

  63. Yes, all these things. Your oven comment brought out a guffaw of amusement, I hope you don’t mind if I steal it, on such an occasion when I might have need of it.

    Consider how people often “thoughtstop” themselves. My largest pet peeve in dealing with people while trying to repair/fix/solve an object/issue/problem is often the point at which all forward progress ceases — when they exclaim: “Oh, f*** it,” or “I hate this.” Usually with much hand flapping. It happens very early into the problem in question, which guarantees there will be no solution, because their expression of anger is a signal they have stopped thinking about it constructively, and instead chosen to retreat into a reactive emotional state, in which resentment of the problem has become more important than solving the problem itself. I never had the luxury of being able to treat my problems in such a way, and so had to learn to think my way out of them without depending on the junk food of the mind: epithets, one-liners, curses that serve only to derail — and stop — my own thoughts.

  64. I have found that by simply asking, “What do YOU think?” things can proceed. If another thoughtstopper is used as it is intended, then asking again, pointedly, “What do YOU think? Really…what do YOU think about xyz” can sometimes obviate the thoughtstopper.

    You need to make eye contact and show you sincerely want to hear their views – tough to do over the one-dimensionsl internet, but in face to face conversations, this seems to work for me more often than I imagined.

    It certainly has broken through the whole “You boomers have raped the planet and my entire generation” thing a time or two for me.

  65. I’ve always been confused by the word “freedom” as used by Americans, as in “The land of the free” or “America is a free country.”

    Have these people, ie apparently most Americans, never left the country? Do they believe that everything beyond the shores of the US resembles North Korea?

    The fact is, most people in most countries have the same freedoms Americans have. It’s completely obvious. So what does “freedom” mean when used in reference to America? Definitely a thought-stopper when it comes to evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of the USA.

  66. @clay,
    speaking from experience, a lot of transit riders are people who are disabled in ways that don’t allow them to drive, and a lot of the poor can’t afford cars, so that is indeed ironic…

  67. One of the dumbest thought stoppers I see all the time online is about flyover country Americans, “They’re voting against their own interests!” No, we’re voting against the establishment elite’s interests. Unfortunately, we don’t have that many good choices for that right now, but we’re doing the best we can with the options available.

  68. Garden Housewife,

    And my favorite part of the “voting against their interests!” thought stopper is some of the same people use “interests have no place in politics” as a thought stopper…..

  69. Jean-Vivien:

    The biggest problem I see is for the individual it is almost always cheaper to use advanced technologies, because the costs have been outsourced. It’s something my sister and I realized recently: given the subsidies to cars and hidden costs imposed on public transit, it’s actually cheaper for her to make any given trip using her car…

    The thought stopper is if people refuse to look at these sorts of subsidies.

  70. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a thought stopper, but I’ve noticed this phrase is often used in an effort to absolve an individual or entity from an obviously foolish decision—“it felt right at the time.”

  71. @ Zak…

    The second point you make is very much valid – many Americans do not leave their country. The minority that do usually opt for other English speaking countries or else short trips that are very much constrained to tourist areas only. I know many more people that do not have a valid passport than I know people who do. It is not uncommon for Americans to die without venturing outside the country or only to one of our two neighbors.

    Some of this is simply cost, some is distance and a lot is fear. Our government has spent the last 30-40 years, and especially the last 15 or so, doing their best to scare Americans about everything from ebola to evil Russians, evil everything in the Middle East and Africa. It is rare to see any show that does not include something “scary” about other countries. Socialism equals communism to most Americans, and that equals gulags and misery in many minds. There is very little coverage in the news of world events any longer – we must go to internet to get national news other than events concerning our own politicians.

    In this weird, self reinforcing environment of fear, the word “freedom” has come to symbolize that we are “exceptional” (routine political claim here). The extrapolation from that is that every other country is, well scheisse. And nearly every news item presented here is slanted towards that in one way or another. This is why my children were sent on trips abroad where English was not spoken – one to EU for 6 weeks across, two to Latin America and one to Japan (anime aficionado). Their perspective is very different from their peers simply due to this.

    The word “freedom” has simply become a rallying word for blind patriotism in America – it does not mean much more in the world than that, not any longer. Others may find my position unpalatable on this, but I have 5 years of butt-time spent in airplanes in my 62 years going to other countries, and this is what I think has happened.

    You are right – tossing out that word has become a definite thoughtstopper for many Americans when someone tries to illustrate differences that are not US-centric and positive.

  72. Regarding ‘homo sapiens’ – a better name for our species might be homo relator – ape storyteller, according to Google Translate.

    I thought that this interview with Macron was interesting, and increased my respect for the man quite a lot:

    My criticism of our gracious host’s criticism of the Myth of Progress is not an argument that we really are progressing to some sort of Space Nirvana, but rather that our species is biologically predestined to believe in Progress – the identification of where are and where we want to be, and the formulation and execution of a plan to go from where we are to where we want to be. Progress isn’t wrong, but we’ve all collectively become invested in Progress towards the wrong things.

    Funny story: I used to have the bad habit of urinating upwind – not literally, but online. I liked to troll socialist internet forums and point out that FULLY AUTOMATED SPACE COMMUNISM (aka angels with harps and clouds for pillows) was not physically possible. Even though I never specifically mentioned technologies such as hormonal or physical birth control and their dependence on advanced technology or various surgical or pharmaceutical interventions for gender dysphoria, I was accused of being both a misogynist and a transphobe – it seems like most everyone understands these issues and has their own special form of denial.

  73. Tim, thank you! For what it’s worth, blogging on controversial subjects is a good way to learn rhetoric, if you combine it with a dislike for thoughtstoppers, logical fallacies, and the like.

    Darkest Yorkshire, of course! For a true statement to function as a thoughtstopper, though, it has to be irrelevant to the specific subject.

    Steven, I’m going to give it serious consideration. A series of posts here will make a good first draft.

    Oilman, there are several different things going on there — thoughtstoppers, as I’m using the term, are a very specific anticognitive strategy, and there are quite a few others. The argument from authority, a classic logical fallacy, is another — a lot of the computer-babble these days gets its force from that. More on this in future posts!

    James, good. I’ll be devoting a post to the Batesonian theory of the double-bind, because that’s a major cognitive trap these days. As for “false equivalence,” though, I tend to challenge that one head on; in my experience, when somebody starts yelling about “false equivalence,” what they really mean is “How dare you point out that I’m acting exactly like the people I hate!” It’s not a thoughtstopper in the narrow sense of the word, it’s a good example of the old logical fallacy petitio principii, which we’ll also be discussing at some length in an upcoming post.

    Isabel, exactly. Have you ever encountered Ogden Nash’s fine little ditty, “A Plea for Less Malice Toward None”? If not, I think you’d appreciate it.

    Russ, good. “Feeding the world” is a classic Vacuous Belch, and “anti-science!” is a classic Vacuous Shriek.

    Alexander, that also very often functions as a Vacuous Shriek.

    Corydalidae, good. It’s not a fast process. The thing you need to do is pay attention to your own thinking, and notice when a given phrase or sentence or concept repeatedly shows up at the end of a short and emotionally challenging train of thought.

    Tom, there’s another way to deal with emotionally charged nonsense of the thoughtstopper variety. They gain power as you become more stressed. Calm down, give yourself time and leisure to think, and it becomes much easier to use your thinking mind to override the automatisms of emotion and instinct. More on this as we proceed!

    Sven, so noted! I think, though, that the Progress Fart is a subtype of a broader category which insists that it’s unfair to apply evidence to a claim because it, or the context in which it occurs, or something else about it, is so completely unique that no evidence from any other source can apply to it. I’ll take suggestions for a name for this broader category!

    DT, good. Those earlier examples are variants on the Delete Button: “people who think about things should be ignored.” The last one is a Rectal Extraction — “I just pulled this factoid out of my backside to bolster an otherwise weak case.” More on this as we proceed!

    Poet, I’ll refrain from borrowing a term from a heavily marketed system, but the phenomenon you’ve called a Transparent Belief is important, and we’ll be getting to it as this discussion proceeds.

    Tenchu, I don’t go out of my way to have such conversations, but it’s nice to be able to get trolls and paid shills to shut up in a hurry, and being ready, willing, and able to identify thoughtstoppers as such can be a very useful way of doing that. Besides, there are people who want to start thinking and don’t know how, and teaching them about thoughtstoppers is a good first step.

    Steve, nah, there’s quite a lot that can be done to cope with the absence of thinking skills in today’s industrial societies, but it all begins with the individual. Sound familiar?

    Clay, that’s a fine Vacuous Shriek.

    Steve T, excellent! Yes, those are great examples, and “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is also a logical fallacy so old it has a Latin name. (It’s a form of the fallacy petitio principii.

    Phil H., nah, the Defoe quote isn’t a thoughtstopper because it isn’t absurd or contradictory. It’s cogent, and states an important truth. Maggie’s little mantra, though, is a classic thoughtstopper of a variety I haven’t named yet, the Brick Wall. What’s a Brick Wall? An utterance that demands that conversation on a subject stop, because allegedly there’s nothing to discuss. It’s inevitably used when there’s a lot to discuss.

    Threewestwinds, fair enough. Just as most poisons can be used in controlled amounts as medicine, many thoughtstoppers have honest uses, and you’ve given a good example of one.

    Nancy, confirmation bias is going to get an entire post all its own, as it’s a very common cognitive trap all by itself. Thanks for mentioning it!

    Nastarana, sure. I used my snark about the mind being like an oven because I wanted to get a real estate promoter to leave me alone, and it worked. In the same way, throwing a thoughtstopper into the conversation can be a good way to get out of a conversation you don’t want to have; just don’t use it too often…

    Anchyo123, you’re making the common mistake of thinking that human beings are in control of our species’ current environmental predicament. At this point, that’s no longer true; events are in the saddle, and are riding us.

  74. Michael Martin, thank you for your very thoughtful response to my bit of levity.

    Another phrase which sometimes does have its’ uses is the infamous “It is what it is”, when used as a way to avoid giving in to pushy, aggressive people without having call them pushy jerks. ‘It is what it is’ can be an acceptable replacement for “No, I am not going to sell you this widget for half the price 100 other good people paid for it.”, or, “No, you don’t get to get into $400. seats for free.”.

  75. JMG,

    As an insulin-resistant type-1 diabetic who would have died circa age 9 in a deindustrial world, I have to give a wry smile to the use of wheelchairs to symbolize the horrors progress ending. “Pity porn,” indeed.

    That said, I’m coming to find a kind of freedom in accepting that I’m probably going to die younger than I might otherwise like. And as someone with nearly-60-year-old parents who both struggle with some pretty profound health problems, and a grandmother who spent nearly a decade slowing losing to Alzheimer’s, I can imagine a lot worse than death.

    (That said, here’s hoping ecotechnic societies rediscover how to extract insulin from pigs’ pancreases!)

  76. In re: communism/socialism: I’ve encountered that as a boogeyman, and it always just strikes me as funny, because I was born in 1982 and my geekery encompassed the Paranoia RPG. So anyone saying that XYZ is bad Because Communism either sounds, to most of my generation and interests, like one of those fifties-ish social hygiene films (“Heavy Petting: Kruschev’s Secret Weapon”) or like they should commence talking about mutants and traitors and Bouncy Bubble Beverage, and either way it’s hard to take them at all seriously.

    @JMG: Ooh! I haven’t, and Google is strangely non-helpful, but the lines I do see quoted make me think I’d like it a lot. I’ll have to look for a book of his poems with that one in it next time I go to the library–I’m very fond of him as a general rule.

  77. Garden Housewife–

    I usually see that phrased “They’re voting against their own ECONOMIC interests.” Ironically, I usually hear it used by people who “know” that there’s “more to life than money” and condemn such things as “materialism” and “corporate greed.”

    Will J–

    I’m afraid it’s worse than that. It’s not that social justice liberals cannot see evidence of anti-white racism. It’s that they’ve literally changed the definition of racism so that it can only be committed by whites, against nonwhites. I’m not kidding.

    JMG and Everyone–

    I am not sure if this is a thought-stopper, but if so I think it deserves a new category. The category would describe those words and phrases that are heavily laden with emotional content to the point that they overwhelm rational thought, but the emotional content is completely dependent depending on one’s cultural origin.

    The specific example I have in mind is the word “Gun.”

    I grew up in Appalachia. For my people, the word “Gun” invokes the following image/feelings: Family; Nature; Dad; Childhood; Dinner; Safety; Home; Tradition. Hunting; Autumn; Beer; Independence. All at once, and not in any particular order, though all the images are related. The overall themes are safety (which includes the ability to provide dinner as well as the ability to protect oneself) and family (most boys learn hunting from their fathers, teach it to their sons, and share meals made from game animals with family and friends). Perhaps these could be reduced to a single, also word: Home. I cannot say with absolute certainty what images the word “Gun” invokes for people from other parts of the country, but here are my guesses. For middle class suburbanites: Fear; Pain; Death; School Shootings; Urban Muggings; Racists; Poor White People; Jesus. The overall theme is Terror. And I think that is both terror of actual gun violence, in the form of an individual robbery or murder or a mass shooting, AND terror of the other things that they associate with Americans who like guns; i.e. that they may limit abortions or gay marriage or pray in public.

    “Home” and “Terror” are extremely strong feelings. The result is that a politician who says the word “Gun” can expect to rouse the passions and stop the thoughts both of his followers and his opponents, who will then feed upon one another’s passions. In other words, it is simultaneously a vacuous belch and a vacuous shriek! The resulting feedback loop benefits the politician at least in the shortterm and shores up the support of his base, though he runs the risk of inspiring too much resistance in his opponents.

    Does this make sense, or is this too complicated to be considered a mere thoughtstopper?

  78. Armenio, I’m going to have to look that one up in English as my Spanish isn’t that good.

    JC, er, a lot of the things “they’ve” thought of don’t work…

    Bruno, good — and as you’ve pointed out, there are also times when using a thoughtstopper is a tactical necessity.

    Daniel, hmm — I’m not sure they’re quite the same thing, though they’re clearly related. Do Applause Lights actually function to stop thought, or are they simply ways of trying to attract favorable attention?

    Hubertus, fair enough.

    Colin, good. That’s particularly interesting in that it’s used as a thoughtstopper, but structurally it’s a dysfunctional metaphor — something else we’ll be talking about.

    Tripp, two good examples. The first one is a Brick Wall, the second belongs to a category we haven’t named yet — the opposite of a Delete Button, which I hereby name a Bullhorn: “I already know everything about this subject so you should stop thinking about it.”

    Twin Ruler, of course. NLP has gotten, shall we say, a very dubious reputation in the occult community because of its practitioners’ tendency to engage in self-aggrandizing doubletalk of various kinds.

    Will, good. Those are both Brick Walls, and deserve the appropriate response — a verbal wrecking ball directed straight at them, e.g., “And how would you have dealt with Nazi Germany?” on the one hand, and “Ooh, cheap satire! Just what we need” on the other.

    Sarah, I wonder how they’d respond to your saying “Yes, and emotions are also limited and limiting. Your point?” The paired notions that emotional discourse is somehow more true than reason, and that the intensity of emotional discourse is some kind of evidence of its truth, needs to be addressed in these posts.

    E. Goldstein, good. Thank you.

    Greg, which is why activities that decrease stress, or the effects of stress, are so important for clear thinking. We’ll get to that as we proceed.

    Kay, I’d call it a Brick Wall, but either way, you’re dead right that it’s a thoughtstopper.

    Dot, I went through my exasperated phase, thought through what was making me upset, realized that I was wasting energy I could use for other things, and decided to stop getting exasperated. As for the different advice, I tend to tailor my suggestions based on my take of the psychology of the person I’m advising. The other guy wasn’t having trouble with an inner critic — his problem was not getting to finishing. An overactive inner critic is a different kettle of fish.

    Austin, no, that’s a different kind of cognitive trap, the Echo Chamber, which is the deliberate collective cultivation of confirmation bias. We’ll get to that in due time!

    Jean-Vivien, thank you. The internet really is a rather boring medium, all thing considered; the only reason I use it is that I can reach a lot more people that way than by other means of publication. If you decide to wander away from it and have a life instead, I won’t be offended.

    As for the end of centralization, automation, etc., it’s important to remember that the reasons those will eventually break down are external to the processes themselves — if we lived in a universe with limitless supplies of energy, resources, etc., it would be entirely possible for centralization, automation, etc., to just keep on going, becoming more dysfunctional all the while, until eventually we all lived in some kind of science fiction dystopia. Since we don’t live in such a universe, though, the depletion of resources and the buildup of environmental damage will bring those processes to a slow, ragged, and messy end in due time.

    Phutatorius, nice.

    Violet, excellent! Yes, and in fact I got the concept of thoughtstoppers by way of thinking about the more dysfunctional kinds of interpersonal games, borrowing that concept from transactional analysis.

    J. McMillan, yep. “Negative” and “pessimist” are standard Delete Buttons these days.

    Tidlosa, yep.

    Patricia, nicely put! Thank you.

    Graeme, yep. It’s a very local sort of Vacuous Shriek.

    Corydalidae, no, it’s not the same thing. As I noted to Threewestwinds, you can use the same techniques constructively on yourself.

  79. Great post very entertaining! One thought stopper that was also a conversation stopper happened when I tried to bring up the recent military provocations of the US and Trump re North Korea. My acquaintances reply was, “it’s just what we (USA) do”. Probably correct, but conversation and thinking came to a screeching halt.

  80. JMG,

    Another classic post. My uncle from Minnesota, of Swedish descent, would sum up your thoughts with:

    “You can’t fix stupid.” Which I suppose could be a thoughtstopper.

    A couple more like “Everything is Relative” (when it’s often not), or “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up” (one I like to use) could be a couple more.

    When a discussion begins to leave the rails, I now determine if it’s worthwhile to make the empathy ploy, and begin asking low-emotion questions for clarification. As a sales technique, it can be most effective if the customer thinks the idea is their own original thought. Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh when leading them ’round the mulberry bush long enough until the light bulb comes on. Of course, sometimes it’s me being led, and sometimes darkness is complete.

    I think there may be more to the root cause then just a lack of critical thinking skills. Humans can be very self-centered of course, and often don’t want to waste the brainpower on some issues which are considered irrelevant to their existence, even if the potential is there. Not to be confused with cognitive dissonance, which often goes back to my Uncle the Swede’s viewpoint. Call it cognitive selfishness.

  81. Not a thoughtstopper, more like a way to overcome internal thoughtstopping:

    “Caminantes, no hay caminos. Hay que caminar.”

    Literally: “Walkers, there are no roads. You have to walk.”
    My current favourite: “Wayfarers, it’s not the road, but the stride.”
    (In the place where one’s thoughts dwell, there are no rules, only possibilities.)

  82. I am thinking of a maneuver whereby one side of an entrenched binary (I’ll just go with American politics since that’s on my mind lately) will turn a fairly legitimate criticism/cliche of the other side into a sort of mocking shorthand–for instance, Progressive Democrats will now snidely sneer “bootstraps!” if one makes the slightest suggestion that a person, particularly a non-straight-white-male person, might have some agency or responsibility for themselves, or, “Oh, the notorious Welfare Queens!” if one mentions the problem of fraud in the realm of public benefits. These are clichés for a reason–Many Republicans really do hand-wave structural social and economic inequality with self-righteous and fatuous declamations about personal responsibility, and they really do play on exaggerated and racially-based caricatures of welfare recipients to prod people into supporting the dismantling of the social safety net while ignoring many larger and more egregious government outlays, but these sneers serve to reduce complex topics to a stereotypical catchphrase and then smugly reject it without actually having to think about the topic. I’m trying to think of some examples with the parties reversed but I feel like Republicans are not as good at these sort of memes and tend to just make up contemptuous and/or idiotic epithets instead (Obummer, SJWs, snowflakes–although that last one is getting turned on them a bit). “Everyone gets a trophy,” maybe.

  83. I find if you challenge thoughtstoppers you can end up in a lot of hot water. People in the workplace who mention peak oil or catastrophic climate change might just as well kiss their chance for advancement or status within the organization goodbye. To do so suggests that business as usual won’t continue and change is required, and that line of thinking simply isn’t tolerated these days.

    Sometimes I watch the famous French comedian Remi Gaillard who has taken over the torch from Allen Funt of candid camera fame in pushing peoples buttons. It is funny to watch and see what happens when people deviate from social norms and to question the absurd nature of modern culture.

  84. Dot and JMG–

    Briefly, because I realize this is off topic– I’m the other guy, though I won’t use the label “dabbler writer” to describe myself and Dot, I suggest that you don’t use it for yourself either. I’d like to report that I followed JMG’s advice to the letter– set a minimum page count and stuck to it, even though it’s regularly kept me up until 2 in the morning. The result is that I finished a draft of my story for the contest two nights ago. At 96 pages, it’s probably too long even for the “maybe one novella;” it needs a TON of revision which I’m unsure how to even begin; and I have no idea if anyone other than my cats will ever read it. But it’s DONE. I gave my characters an ending, which I’ve been unable to do for all but one (!) of the dozen or so stories I’ve started in the last few years.

    An odd thing– Last night I decided to give myself a break from writing, you know, to celebrate having finished. Instead I watched a TV show on Netflix. It felt terrible! And for whatever reason also led me to “giving myself a break” from the other things I do daily, tai chi and ceremonial magic. I went to bed thinking “What an awful day, better write tomorrow.” It was an unpleasant experience but a great lesson. I’m trying to come up with some way of tying this in to Thought Stoppers to make this post not completely irrelevant, but I can’t think of anything. So I’m going to stop typing now.

    -The Other Guy

  85. I find it particularly interesting, and dangerous, when ideologies have automatic “delete buttons” built in. If you postulate that contrary views cannot really exist, you can regard disagreement as proof that the holder is incapable of having an actual position and/or ineligible to participate in discourse. Addressing the contrary views themselves is thus rendered unnecessary.

    That situation goes beyond the basic delete-button name-calling, as in “if you’re against segregation you must be a communist,” because at least communist ideas actually exist, even if said ideas are automatically assumed to be wrong. Instead, it works like this:

    Disagree with certain varieties of Christian? Must be Satan talking.

    Disagree with certain varieties of atheist? That’s just because you’re irrational or indoctrinated.

    Disagree with Soviet state Communism? You’re infected with bourgeois thinking, and/or insane.

    Disillusioned with patriarchy a century or so ago, and female? You’re just hysterical (as in, literally, a disordered uterus is addling your brains).

    Disillusioned with identity feminism today, and male? Check your privilege, dudebro.

    Disagree with a conspiracy theorist? You’re just another “paid shill” assisting the cover-up. (Go on, prove you aren’t. You can’t!)

    Don’t like this witch hunt we’re having? The conclusion is obvious…

    That doesn’t mean people dismissed as incapable of having a real position are necessarily correct instead. People can, after all, be irrational, neurotic, confused, blinded by privilege, psychopathic, indoctrinated, employed as paid shills, and so forth. It’s usually okay, after evaluating an argument and finding it without merit, to then speculate on why it was offered. Just don’t put the cart before the horse, or the thought-stopper before the thought, or else you can end up with:

    Disagree with Ecosophia? You’ve obviously never learned how to think.

  86. There’s the Complete Meltdown tactic, which Ive encountered a few times. I unwittingly drop a triggering word, e.g., “Trump” or “Iraq”, and my interlocutor becomes so overwrought with rage or melancholic vexation as to almost make me fear I’ve pushed him or her over the edge into insanity. At this point I feel as if I have to act as temporary guardian of their emotional welfare and I verbally walk on eggshells to avoid another meltdown. Then I go about the business of permanently avoiding them.

    Then there’s the person who rattles off a narrative like they’re reading from a TelePrompTer – if I raise an objecting point or two, I’m simply ignored, and the narrative rattle continues as if I hadn’t said anything. And then I think this is what an earth-bound ghost must feel like. Permanent avoidance.

  87. Large numbers also function as thoughtstoppers. The human mind simply wasn’t built to think about quantities much larger than the order of thousands. It can be be trained to do so, but like any other training, it must be instilled deliberately and wears off it not used regularly. This is especially problematic in discussions of energy policy, because the barrel is the standard unit in which reserve quantities are expressed, and a single barrel of oil is a tiny amount compared to how much we consume over any meaningful span of time (e.g., the US consumes ~20 million barrels per day). People hear about new discoveries (which often aren’t actually new, but that’s another discussion) on the order of tens of billions of barrels and think “wow, that’s a lot!” It takes training to (1) not be bowled over by that large number, (2) divide it by another large number, and (3) internalize the notion that the first large number isn’t really that large in the context of the second large number. I propose we call large-number thoughtstoppers “billions and billions.”

    Professor Albert Bartlett gave a great lecture on another numerical thoughtstopper, the fact that many people simply don’t understand the exponential function:

  88. To narrate the story of the first “thoughtstopper” I remembering encountering, and being frustrated by, you should know I grew up in Costa Rica where my parents were (are) evangelical missionaries, in the 1960’s and 70’s.

    My early life placed me in two positions of stark inequality, both of which I found deeply uncomfortable. In relation to our near neighbours we were rich. We had a house with floors, a telephone, and our food cupboards were always full. Our neighbours mostly lacked floors, phones and food security. One Christmas I received 7 pairs of underpants (days of the week) and so I put them all on me and went to my friends’ house to share the bounty with other girls my age. My mother was horrified!

    On the other side I went to an American school with the children of diplomats, and businessmen, and other people of great wealth. In relation to whom I was poor. My clothes were hand me downs, my school lunches were basic, my vacations were nearby, and most of all, my air or accent or something, marked me as a poor, and I didn’t make friends, and I hid myself in books to survive.

    Anyway, I thought a lot about these things and discovered a thirst for justice and a desire to imagine that this could all be different. I spoke to my father a lot about how to incorporate (or retrieve) justice from Christ’s message. But sooner or later he would always come back to: “man is fallen & sinful” and cannot change.No point thinking.

  89. “You can’t stop violence” – funny, doing exactly that is the central fact of European and Japanese history.

    “biologically predestined to believe in Progress” – the vast majority of the species hasn’t gotten that memo, and *my* criticism of anti-Progressism is that at least Progressists are interested in anything at all beyond taking things from others (JMG’s version of anti-Progressism being a microscopic exception thus far). (specifically, the Sequences) and are 2 of the partial guides to thinking clearly. What others?

  90. Great post Mr. Greer! Thanks for the run-through of definitions and examples. Can’t but agree that thinking, and additionally, I’d add, knowing how to think are the most important tools, bicycles, handed to us on a spinning, glittering, seductive, stars-in-yer-eye platter of wondrous stories. Oh, what can’t be done by thinking! Thinking is the best way to travel, as the saying goes.

    Myself I have over the years looked upon thinking more from its inner subjective and abstract platform, spent more time in meeting thoughts closer and closer to their originating inception point, rather than perchance stating expression in other dynamics in my life. In conclusion I regard the inner perspective on thoughts and thinking as them being events in the abstract — beyond which is The Deep, an absolutely subjective no touch no go area, the abstract field per se. (For any attempt to willingly penetrate into intellectual understanding of that deep subjectivity one would have to know too soon there is no sense in trying [to paraphrase Bob Dylan, Gates of Eden]) — Yet there would seem to exist an inner event horizon, as if mirroring the phenomena of event horizons in other areas of the universe such as e.g. the cosmological black holes that extinguish our world of phenomena. To me it seems as if all thinking originates from that inner dynamic field, that inner event horizon, full of subjective energy just waiting to be turned into Will. Coming on too directly onto that inner event horizon would, in this mirror image, have awareness as if bounce away from it, back into the world of phenomena, before the deeper immersion has taken place.

    What seems to me as most important in all this is our ability to cool down that area, the field of that event horizon and be able to merge, rather than excitedly penetrate into that inner deep, to subtly traverse the energetic field enveloping The Deep, so to say — become submerged even, a more pleasant outcome I’d say than bouncing off like a lost leaf into the winds of change. Listening closely though, as in not trying to but just being there, being around, or just being here (as in the subjective sense) so to say, one’d finally hear the celestial music, that no voice can hope to hum (Dylan again, Lay Down Your Weary Tune), and then experience the deepest relief ever as the final chords ebb out and a blessed silence, peace, and quiet serenity manifest seemingly out of nothing. That to me is the level from where, after the deep experience, Will becomes directly accessible and may be channeled in a myriad of dynamic and exquisite ways.

    (Nicked that wording, ‘The Deep’, from the title of John Crowley’s first novel, if not his first manuscript, this was Engine Summer, his third published work. By the way, John Crowley has a new seemingly epic novel in the pipeline to be released 24th October this year, just couple of weeks to go! Ya! It’s called “Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr”, about a crow who has lived for 2000 years, has travelled the underworld and has now returned to tell his story, might be of interest to you. And, missing the questions and answer thread last week I but wished to ask there if you’ve ever read Crowley’s Ægypt quatrology, about Giordano Bruno and John Dee, and the alchemy of the middle ages, and a modern perspective also, and just plain fantastic to me. Wondering if you’ve ever read that work? Any thought on it? Full of interesting metaphysical stuffs. 🙂 )

    The above, except the Crowley stuff, actually represents my view on the yoga and I wrote a li’l pamphlet some years ago where I present the yoga from a perspective according to the view I’ve expressed here above. I invented a graphic representation to cover the wholity of the yoga, “The Tree of Life”, and now I spend my time ‘tween clarifying my thoughts on this subject, and then I play me guitarra. Am actually retired by now. If there’s interest do check out my pamphlet. “Fundamentals of Yoga” > .

    My point in all this would be that in order to be able to apply Will effectively one would seem to need a clear view of the way thoughts originate in the mind, a platform of depth is needed, a foot in the deep (rather than in the grave of the big bang, in its aftermath of dark souled black holes) if not but to be able to distinguish ‘tween thoughts suffused with the deep and inspirational energy of clarity of thinking, as follows from deep peace and quiet, and alternatively clearly see what thoughts arise from secondary sources, e.g. colliding ideas, shark things of the mind, and grey shadows.

    (Now, on for to read the discussion here.)

    All the best to you Mr. Greer,

    Juri Aidas (a.k.a. Albatross … of The Deep.)

  91. The whole MSM evening news stuff I abandoned a couple of years ago for alternative blogs where people think deeply and I don’t talk politics except in the family where thoughtstoppers are unnecessary. MSM is a thoughtstopper, hollywood included, all presumptions.

    It reminds me more of pithy sayings and quotes for practical life like my labourer father would use to keep one out of trouble, ‘curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back’. I think that most people did not use to read or discuss politics and lived on farms and had hundreds of these sayings at the ready. Sancho Panza used them profusely, often incorrectly and finally Don quixote learned the same trick. This demonstrated class difference. This saves thinking. In a working environment fast action is advantageous. Fluidity of motion is hindered by slow ponderous consideration. Also life changed little. Pithy sayings are tools for specific recurring social situations to reduce stress or teach. This maintains longstanding social equilibrium in a culture. Here I am playing the devil’s advocate for brainlessness perhaps but just pointing out. Or is the term thoughtstopper just a negatively connotated word, i.e. a thoughtstopper for cultural tradition I described? Discussion is often unproductive when in advance it can be seen that two people’s opinions would clash due to race, age, class I recall hearing Abe Lincoln, ‘rail splitter’ was so sly that at the end of a conversation one would agree with him, thinking it ws one’s own idea he had persuaded one of.

    Lastly, ‘love is the answer’ I recalled as a song text from Mind Games, John Lennon, although upon googling I found many songs of this title. Funnily the text of Mind Games mentions a druid, magic and rituals dancing in the sun, all of which I had not remembered. Playing mind games means disingenuously arguing, living without true attempt at communication, understanding, i.e. at love. Therefore within the context of Lennon’s song text the quote ‘love is the answer’ can be vigorously defende although it is now a thoughtstopper. As one above said discussions in person can be better redirected by eye contact and bodily cues to create understanding, override hostility. Otherwise distance yourself, count to 10, take a deep breath or just feel love for the person anyway open your heart, reconsider your position, behaviour in general.

  92. One of my favorite types of thought-stopper when trying to discuss difficult topics, particularly with card-carrying members of the progress-is-4evah party, is the non-verbal reaction: the look of silent bemusement, a slight stiffening of the body, possibly an eye-roll and then walking away. A whole body language of thought-stopping that doesn’t need to be verbal. It’s just screams “taboo subject, can’t discuss”, without actually saying it.

  93. “Crocadile tears” is already well-recognized under the name “conern trolling”; I suggest sticking to that better known label to avoid confusion.

    Depending on the crowd, some if your thoughtstoppers can serve as thought starters — particlarly the edgelord. Is is feminism like cancer, and if so, how? Why would someone make that analogy? Milo has started a great many conversations and thoughts. Only if the word feminism is already emotionally charged to the point of distraction (positive or negative) does the utterance stop thought. The Edgelord is trying to provoke an argument, not shut it down.

  94. Greetings all

    Once a friend told me: “Modernity knows no major dysfunctions, only minor ones which are fully expected”. I immediately suffered a bad case of “esprit d’escalier!” and not yet fully recovered! Sounds to me a very good example of vacuous belch and of a brick wall too.

    It seems that some thought stoppers can be classified under several headings too.

    I also find that when ever some one is labelled as a ” conspiration theorist ” some thought stopping behaviour is under way.

  95. Hello, Jean-Vivien, it’s quite a long time ago, that you posted the last time on the old blog. I, too, came to the conclusion that the internet isn’t as interesting as it once was. Websites have become slower to load with more advertising, and everything, especially, the Google search, has become more commercialized. So, the predictions of Greer about the future of the internet in his blog post “The Death of the Internet: A Pre-Mortem” are spot-on.
    Regarding thoughtstoppers, in my opinion sometimes the people who use them genuinely don’t know some important things about the fate of industrial civilization. They might not know that externalities to technologies are unavoidable, or that an energy source is only useful, if it is concentrated and accessible, no matter how much energy is theoretically available from a resource.
    And as an remark about the thoughtstopper category “Crocodile Tears”, there are cases when people, who know the decline and fall of Industrial Civilization genuinely worry about the availability or possible replacements for prosthetics like hearing-aids and the like. This is presumably one of the areas where a genuine concern can be misused as a thoughtstopper under the right circumstances.

  96. It is amazing how otherwise very intelligent, well educated, well informed and well read persons (like my friend) can give in to thought stoppers. On the other hand if such persons can fall into such mental traps, so can I! I guess a catalogue of thought stoppers (like the one underway here it seems!) would help a lot to identify one’s own.

    Although I never came up with the concept of thought stoppers, I did realise that sometimes people did use tactics to avoid further discussions, prevent dissenting views and silence opposition.

    I am sure I did the same at times too unwittingly! So, I decided, one day to always remember that not everything I said might be right and not everything my counterparts said might be wrong. My dearest wife often told me: you believe far too much that you are always right and that everybody else is wrong!

    It is funny but at times I have the distinct impression that there is one Karim doing the talking and there is another one listening and at times whispering things to the first one, and it pays to listen to that little voice…it seems to help in avoiding logical fallacies and traps.

  97. Hi JMG,

    somewhat off-topic here, but on-topic for the blog as a whole. A recent study mentioned in Science is hitting the news here in the UK/Europe. A 27 year study on insect populations in Germany has noted up to a 75% decline in numbers across many species. It will be interesting to hear if that gets covered in the States. I also wonder what thought stopper will be deployed to avoid discussing that?

    More on-topic. I have found that actively researching points of view that differ from my own helps. I can unpick some of what is just emotional space filler and what are the keys points underlying them and the relevant counter arguments. I still have problems discussing somethings with people on the other side of the argument, but occasionally I can get past some of their blocks. Unfortunately, at any point that they conversation degenerates to some flavour of “You’re just an XYZ”, I can pretty much write off making any progress as their mind just snapped shut.


  98. JMG, you have a good point. I think humans can still reduce the severity of the catastrophies coming up, although that is not the path we are taking at the moment. The next question in my mind is then how to best adapt to those drastic changes and which rewards system for such adaptations.As I remember, Darwin said it is survival of the most adaptable.

  99. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This is the perfect toss-off to avoid discussing why change is needed.

  100. The Vacuous Shriek about Trump being a fascist is also a thought-stopper in that it is clearly designed to keep the “dem-prog” authoritarian left on the political compass from realizing how very unimpressive they are and in fact have been for quite some time now. This also falls under the description of what you recently called “preaching to an increasingly narrow choir”. (And those sad-sack dem-progs really do have no idea of just how narrow!)

  101. JMG, I sense a general distrust of emotion that runs through your writings, as I have read them over the years. Have you ever examined that? I wonder what the source of this might be? I also wonder whether most people are either emotionally stunted or lack the emotional intelligence to be able to function well in the world as it is.

    “Fine, but why should your preference in emotional states be the basis of public policy?”

    Because warm emotional states, like joy, feel better in the moment, and support social well being more usefully than fearful, hateful, or angry emotions?

    Personally I think that emotional “stillness” and “neutrality” might be more appropriate than distrust – or as I sense here, resistance – to emotional extremes.

    How is this for a thoughtstopper? “Great Art will save us a;;.” In my opinion, Art elicits affective states that allow us to more fully express our humanity, whether “good” or “bad,” as is presumed by the false dichotomy.

    Artists generate thoughtforms, not thoughtstoppers.

  102. My favorite thoughtstopper is when two people are having an impassioned disagreement on current affairs and someone blurts out “don’t discuss religion or politics at parties” to ridicule them and make them appear to be out of line for having such discussions. Thus, a thoughtstopper. Can’t have these discussions on social media; can’t have them at house parties; can’t have them in any public sphere according to some. Where might I ask should folks have these discussions then?

    Also, folks please stop calling Bernie Sanders a “socialist” He’s a social democrat very much like FDR and many other social democrats that occupy prominent positions in governments all around the world. Socialists call for the public ownership of the means of production in various forms and with varying social and political structures. Bernie is not arguing this whatsoever; with exception to his support of employee owned companies and worker owned cooperatives that may lead to greater public ownership of the means of production in the long term. It is only here in the US that thoughstoppers such as these are used to demonize and placate folks that disagree with dominant neoliberal corporate mercantilism that has reigned since the mid 1970’s.

    Source for evidence of corporate mercantilism:

  103. “The discussion is settled.” –Brick wall or appeal to authority? Have they seen the track record of our authorities lately?

  104. A shoggoth writes:
    Congratulations on another great blog, JMG, which has been forwarded to me by Zendexor of Solar System Heritage fame – my thanks to him too.

    I’d like to mention some thoughtstopper candidates that particularly irk me:

    One powerful variety is the word “offensive” used with comic unawareness of the necessary fact that disparity of opinion, like spatial distance, is commutative. What would you think of someone who realized that London is 3000 miles from New York but failed to agree that New York is therefore 3000 miles from London? Similarly what am I to make of people who are offended by my views, yet seem undisturbed that I am offended by theirs?

    Another variety, which some might class merely as a patronising insult but which I would give quite high marks to as a thoughtstopper, is to tell someone whose views one doesn’t like that he “has a problem with” whatever it is.

    E.g. informing someone who thinks sodomy is immoral, that he seems to “have a problem with” homosexuality. Implication: poor reactionary chump struggles to absorb the self-evident untruth of his beliefs. No point arguing with a mental defective.

    Which brings me to what I regard as the greatest thought-stopper of all time: the word “homophobic”. The greatest? Well, think of what it has achieved. The most dramatic and revolutionary shift in moral opinion in all of history is being sustained without any exploration of its profound implications – thanks to that thought-stopping word.

    I personally doubt whether the issue that divides natural-law from libertarian sexual ethics will ever be resolved. The question is too profound. Are good and evil purely and solely matters of decision-making, of acts of the will? If so, the liberals are right, and can therefore argue from the premise, that because so-and-so can’t help wanting to do X, there can’t be anything wrong with their wish. Or – is the alternative true? If so, questions of good and evil, while often greatly to do with benevolent versus malevolent acts, can also involve other polarities such as straightness versus distortion, adherence to versus deviation from some inner blueprint of what we are. In that latter case, disgust with sodomy might count as a healthy gut instinct rather than an unhealthy bigoted prejudice. I am not wise enough to be sure which is right and true. I tend to the traditional opinion, by analogy with other phenomena which have traditionally been categorised as perversions and are still regarded as such, but I know that the other side has its analogies too, equating homophobia with racism, and I could argue either way. How, then, to proceed with the question?

    Easy! Yah-boo shut up or we’ll call you a homophobic bigot. Liberalism is not only right but self-evidently right and anyone who doesn’t agree is beyond the pale. End of discussion.

    While unimpressed with this as an intellectual performance, I do recognize that there would be massive administrative and resource-allocation problems if parity were granted to what is now the minority traditional view. You can’t have a society split down the middle between one lot who regard the other lot as anathema. Hence the thought-stopper is employed partly for practical reasons, for which I have some sympathy.
    But the thought-stopper unfortunately prevents any solution other than the rule of the Gaystapo. My country, Britain, is still a democracy, but it is now a Rousseau-style totalitarian democracy in which the General Will, a.k.a. political correctness, dictates that it must be a free country only for those who aren’t “homophobes”. Thus, Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close because they would not cater for same-sex couples – i.e. they were “discriminating”; you know, like vegetarian restaurants “discriminate against” meat eaters and therefore should be forced to close.

    As a matter of fact I do have a practical suggestion which, if the thought-stopper could be put in abeyance just long enough, just might work.
    I would gladly accept some sort of well-defined second-class citizenship for shoggoths like me – or let’s use a more familiar term and call us Squares. Analogously to the pink triangle the Nazis forced homosexuals to wear, we anti-sodomy Squares (now that the boot is on the other foot) could wear stitched-on blue quadrilaterals. We’d be forbidden employment in the public services, or in large companies; on the other hand we’d be allowed to run our own small businesses in accordance with our beliefs, e.g. not being forced to bake cakes for same-sex “weddings”, we’d be permitted to express our views in the media and we’d be granted the crucial right of association with others of like mind. Also, TV programmes and films might out of courtesy indicate beforehand whether they are Square-friendly or not.
    Second-class citizenship for shoggoths like me is, I think, the answer. But it’s the sort of creative solution that will never be discussed while the plug is placed on thought.

  105. Would appeals to authority, ex: “Sagan said it, I believe it” count as a thought stopper, or are they a different class of cognitive traps?


    Allow me to clarify, since looking back at it, my comment was not clear, but I’ve met liberals who refuse to acknowledge violence from minorities against whites happens, and in nearly any context, not just racially motivated violence….


    The “Don’t talk about politics/religion here” has happened to me before. I usually turn to the person I’m talking to, ask if they want to continue (usually yes), then turn to the person voicing concern at our choice of conversation and ask what concern they have that trumps our right to carry out a conversation. Usually we can then continue. We tend not to be invited to future parties though……

  106. I loves this taxonomy and how everyone is contributing. I’m surprised you did not mention any of the thought stoppers from Garrett Hardin’s Filters Against Folly. I guess you felt that ground was already covered. In any case, while there is no definitive work on thinking clearly I think Filters Against Folly is a good place to start along with Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature. I learned about both from the recommend reading in your book on Green Wizardry.

    Here are some contributions of my own to the taxonomy.

    First, from Hardin. When the infinite, the infinitesimal, or their derivatives gets used (always, never, forever). “That is never going to happen.” means I refuse to think about that ever happening. Seems like delete button to me.

    When someone says “That has been debunked” without elaborating seems like hitting the delete button, but the self assuredness of it also seems like a vacuous belch.

    The way “mansplaining” gets used the majority of the time seems like a delete button to me. There are certainly times when it fits its original meaning, but in my experience it just gets used to dismiss people.

    The same goes for any time someone employs an ad hominem to shut someone down. I see a lot of “of course you think that you are a straight white male”. It functions as a delete button, but it is also an ad hominem. In general there seems to be a lot of overlap between thought stoppers and fallacies. Which reminds me that pointing out a fallacy can be a thought stopper of its own. Just because someone employs a fallacy does not mean they are wrong, though they often are.

    My mom, always used to tell me I think too much, to which I would say thank you. And when I expressed an unpopular opinion she would point out that “not everyone thinks like you” … vacuous belch.

  107. JMG, aren’t “snarl phrases” (which you have mentioned before) a sub-category of thought stoppers? And what do you think about the mystics such as Eckhart Tolle who advise against thinking in general? Is the increase of thought stoppers and anti-intellectual mystics a symptom of the end of the latest Age of Reason that you and Oswald Spengler were alerting us to?

    On a related note, I think you would enjoy (I am still reading and enjoying it, perhaps you have already read it) A Field Guide To Earthlings by Ian Ford. The author (like you and me) has Ausperger’s Syndrome and is analyzing the different ways of perception that neurotypical people have.

  108. “Nothing we can do about it anyways…” Generally accompanied by some ominous reference to some category of conspiratorial overlords and a suggestion to go partake of some vacuous distraction instead. I’d call it the Helpless Shrug.

  109. JMG, in a similar fashion to the thoughtstopper, if I recall correctly, there’s a double page spread on a whole selection of logical fallacies and how to (spot a) cheat in an argument at the beginning of in David Fleming’s ‘Lean Logic’.

    Have you read it? Fantastic book! I recommend all here with systems thinking mindset to invest in the book!

  110. I think “a word, phrase, or short sentence that …. is brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion” is the definition of effective communication, also. The experts, i.e., marketers, use it quite effectively… the ubiquitous ‘sound bite’. Now, if only the truth tellers (of all stripes) could learn to use it : )

  111. Another matched set of Thoughtstoppers. Upon hearing a fact, “Well, it *should!/shouldn’t.*”

    Classic example:
    Him: “!@#$%^&*!!!!!”
    Me: “Dear, that ‘right turn must turn right’ has been there as long as we’ve been in the neighborhood.”
    Him: “Well, it SHOULDN’T be!”

  112. For your response to Sven and a name for a broader category, how about Pleading the Exception? Much like special pleading, but instead of the speaker applying standards, principles, or rules to other people or arguments, while making oneself or one’s arguments exempt from the same critical criteria, the speaker deliberately states that no standards, principles, or rules can or should apply to them or their argument because it is such an exceptional and unique case.

    -Dan Mollo

  113. Steve T, if you are referring to me saying that it ticks me off when people say nasty stuff about trans people a few weeks back… bear in mind that it wasn’t a friend or two, it was a member of my immediate family who I’m not going to identify here, plus my deceased step-dad. I grew up being harassed and about that family member by other kids including complete strangers from a different school, and have had other members of the family try to turn me against them. A few years ago said step-dad got attacked specifically because they were trans.

    Almost everyone reacts badly to threats to their immediate family. I don’t think I can be told I should not speak of what I’ve personally experienced.

  114. I would like to hazard an intuition that an effective thoughtstopper is also a feelingstopper. Or at least it is trying to freeze feeling into a single, non-flowing, “static” emotional state, stopping its movement, if not its existence.

    The reason I’m wanting to say this is that I do believe feeling, or the capacity to respond to stimuli in an emotional way, is part of the larger category of “faculties of perception” in that it can bring us information about the world around us, along with vision, hearing, etc. Of course all such information filters through subjective and personally shaped perceptive lenses, yet for all that our link to the world around us – that is to say, our link to that which we want to think *about*.- can only be forged through perceptive faculties, including that of emotional responsiveness. (I’m not at all certain these words have conveyed my thought adequately).

    What I have noticed, though, is that a person wielding a thoughtstopper is trying to evoke a frozen, still and unyielding emotion – a sense of anger dialled up to outrage, say, or of fear dialled up to terror. If feeling/emotion freezes in such states, then thought will not be able to take place, but neither will perception, in which freely flowing responsive-to-the-world feeling plays an important role.


    Also a quick example of a consciously and deliberately used thought-stopper in a recent conversation about the safety of vaccines. Specifically my question was, if people, however rare, have experienced adverse reactions, should they be ignored or labelled “terrorists” (which our health minister had just done). To which the other person replied: “I’m not entertaining this line of thinking because it is dangerous to validate.”

  115. @ Dusk Shine,

    Thank you for engaging with what I wrote. I have spent hundreds of hours watching and studying the alt-light and alt-right. I’ve watched Milo and read his writing, I’ve watched countless Paul Joseph Watson and Sargon of Akkad videos, as well as the rest of them; Lauren Southern, Black Pigeon Speaks, Mouthy Buddha, Steven Crowder, Gavin McInnes etc etc. Going further right into the alt-right I’ve made sure to see what Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor have to say for themselves.

    Here, at this point, I must emphasize the I mean “Edgelord” is a rhetorical tactic not a rhetorical position. Sure I concede that all of these people do bring up points that are worthy of consideration. However I remain firm in my position that when someone else’s ideas are dismissed as “feminism is cancer” or “feminism is the last refuge of fat lonely women!” or “feminism makes women fat and ugly!” ad nauseum, these are indeed thought stoppers, rater than substantive additions to the conversation. When these edgy conservatives actually do the work of offering meaningful critiques of feminism, that is indeed very different.

    Imagine for a moment if all that Milo did was call feminists fat, trans people crazy, and people who con’t agree with him cucks. Literally that was it He offered no other ideas what so ever. If he only focused on insulting his opponents with thought stoppers what sort of conversation would he be starting? Would it be a good conversation? Well, not to such absurd extremes, he already does indeed employ these sorts of thought stoppers in his arguments and they indeed don’t start conversations, they make it harder to think critically about the positions his opponents have, regardless of your opinions on their merits.

    Look, on many levels I like the sort of edgy kind of humor that some of these people use. One thing I don’t vibe with about the serious alt right, besides the hang ups on race and degenerecy and my inevitable status of untermensch on several counts, is the utter humourlessness. Jared Taylor has such a strained seriousness! His affectations nauseate me. But just because I’ve enjoyed laughing along with the “edgelords” doesn’t mean I haven’t learned valuable things from Social Justice folks. I’ve read bell hooks, Cornel West and have enjoyed many social justice warrior videos. And frequently I feel that the social justice “genre” uses the thought stopper of “Keeping it Real,” amongst others. But also they raise some good and very important points independently of their use of thought stoppers.

    I am heavily informed by intersectional feminism. I disagree with it’s mythical leanings into marxist ideology, but as a way of understanding the chaotic way that people move through identities it’s really helpful. I like bell hooks punchy, direct and entirely unaffected prose. I actually think she is an excellent stylist and reaches the exalted, spare minimalism that Oswald Spengler believed was the future of German literature, but I digress.

    Indeed, it may be fair to say politics has degenerated into teams of people armed with thought stoppers shouting past each other, no one thinking. Marx was right; history does appear to come in twos the first time tragedy and the second time farce. We are, to my great sadness, in the farce segment.

  116. As for thought starters, my Granma would say, “To each his own, said the old lady who kissed the cow”, which works better than “Lets agree to disagree”. (self-deprecating, light-hearted and funny)

    Wendall Berry pointed out on occasion that “An Expert is somebody who is right 51% of the time”. (Now there I shouldn’t use quotation marks)

    Bucky Fuller once went to the root of a word: (IIRC) “reconsider — con is to bring together, sid is star, so — reconsider means, bringing stars together” (I never checked to see if thats true, I liked it so much)

    As for learning to think for yourself – – – you will make mistakes. That’s the best way, because you loose your fear of being wrong. You also loose your quickness to beat up other people who are wrong, you give them permission to be wrong, and you can be patient with their mistakes. It’s not the only way — I’m not saying that! — lots of people have made lots of mistakes long before you came along trying to think something, and you can learn from their mistakes too.

    I am skeptical that there could be a comprehensive guide for thinking, it would go out of date quicker than a POTUS could say, “Puerto Rico is never going to pay back its loans, so they should just be forgiven”

    However if you did write a guide to thinking as such, I’d buy a copy. 😀

  117. @ Arménio Pereira

    The complete “anti-thoughtstopper” poem of Antonio Machado you have mentioned is:

    “Caminante, son tus huellas
    el camino y nada más;
    Caminante, no hay camino,
    se hace camino al andar.
    Al andar se hace el camino,
    y al volver la vista atrás
    se ve la senda que nunca
    se ha de volver a pisar.
    Caminante no hay camino
    sino estelas en la mar”

    “….there is no path, but wakes in the sea”

  118. This is a beyond-awesome post, with even more beyond-awesome responses. Cardboard stars for so many of my fellow commenters (JMG hands out the gold ones, of course!); I started noting these as I was reading, and they really struck a chord:

    @Oilman2 – “most people are gutless”; “computer software used as a thoughtstopper”
    @DT – “you overthink things”
    @Steve T – “it seems to me”
    @JMG’s – “the mind is an oven”
    @Workdove – talking about Peak Oil, climate change (or the religion of progress for that matter)

    the list goes on. It is tough not to put these in your own conversations or writings; eternal vigilance isn’t easy.

    Perhaps this is why my own tag line ends with “(with more questions than answers)”, and my own posts end with questions as well. I sure as heck don’t have THE answer(s).

    Thanks to everyone here for posting such great thoughtstarters.

  119. I haven’t heard “you can’t stop progress” in a while. Perhaps I haven’t been listening in the right places, but if it is diminishing in use, it would be interesting.

  120. This has been addressed a bit, but debates between Christians and Atheists can lead to thoughtstoppers (if I am understanding them correctly). “I don’t have to address your arguments, because you think you have a magical, invisible, sky fairy best friend,” or “I don’t have to address your arguments, because you’re not really an atheist; you just hate God.”

  121. In the scientism or corporate science domains, I often observe the “Studies Have Shown” species of thoughtstopper. (In common English grammar, that something has been shown necessarily implies that it is so; in journal publications, that ain’t necessarily so.) I originally was going to propose to put this in the Brick Wall genus, but since JMG has split off the Bullhorn genus I think it’s better transferred there.

    In the former domain, what I call the Fallacy Fallacy is a very plentiful species (generic placement yet to be determined). It consists of the assumption that if an ingroup member accuses someone of committing a Fallacy, then they have definitely done so, and further, that proves that their opinions are wrong. Extra points if you give the Fallacy a Latin phrase name to show that because you are so superior in education and intellect to those who understand no Latin, you certainly must be correct in dismissing their opinions.

    BTW, I hope you’ll keep Crocodile Tears, as the phrase “concern trolling” infuriates me; I regard it as a thoughtstopper itself, not a category for thoughtstoppers. Sure, it’s a real thing, but after you have had five or ten experiences of raising a sincere concern and had someone throw that phrase in your face by way of full answer, you tend to assume that it’s usually just used to dismiss disagreement. Likewise when you are accused of “Tone Trolling” by someone with a Manichean outlook, who has already demonized you for being middle-of-the-road, because you point out sincerely that spewing contempt on anyone who does not initially agree with every single point of your beliefs will not encourage them to adopt the most genuinely valuable of those beliefs. (Lest you think that where that applies to politics I am talking about the left, it equally means those who think that objections to any form of bias, prejudice, or authoritarianism can be disposed of by bawling “Ess-Jay-Doubleyoo!”)

  122. Dear Booklover, et al, I humbly suggest for your consideration the following: that anyone who resorts to Crocodile Tears can reasonably be asked exactly what he or she is doing to alleviate the suffering of the victims to whom he or she refers. For example, if someone thinks you mustn’t grow your own veges because someone else can’t afford to do so..I would like to know what that person is doing to make garden space available in low income areas.

    Dear Josh, I believe the phrase you quoted can legitimately be used to fend off intrusive inquiries of an excessively personal nature, being a little more acceptable than MYOB. Otherwise, as in the workplace, it tends to function as a euphemism for “Because I said so”.

  123. SpiceisNice, oh, granted — but I don’t accept the claim that love is a good response to every substantive question, either. What a monochrome world it would be if that one emotional state were the only one appropriate for all situations!

    Will, I wonder where they got the notion that being a Druid involves accepting that particular thoughtstopper. That seems very strange to me!

    Casey, I actually think very highly of the kind of constitutional monarchy in which the monarch has no political authority at all, and serves as a focus for collective identity. We’d frankly be better off in the United States if the President was elected for a four-year term of opening shopping malls and staying on the front page, without having anything to do with the workings of government, while Congress appointed and supervised the heads of the various departments and handled all the grubby business of running a country. With that in mind, if Lady Gaga were to become Tsaritsa of All the Russias, I’d be in favor of it. 😉

    Bill, I’d agree that it was a prayer if it took a form such as “I hope they come up with something” or “Mighty and Omnipotent Progress, grant that Thy researchers and scientists will come up with something.” Stating it as a foregone conclusion is what turns it into a thoughtstopper.

    Starsbydesign, you’re welcome to use it. As for the “I hate this” dodge, exactly — the point at which wallowing in an emotion replaces responding to a problem is the point at which failure happens.

    Oilman, good. I’ll give that a try one of these days.

    Zak, good. To use a term I introduced back in the old blog, “freedom” is a Warm Fuzzy — a verbal noise connected to warm fuzzy emotions, which masquerades as word that means something.

    Housewife, that’s a good one. Exactly — no, Mr. or Ms. Privileged Middle Class Liberal, they’re voting against your interests, because you’ve so consistently voted against theirs.

    Nick, hmm. That’s kind of on the border, as it doesn’t contain the absurdity, contradiction, or irrelevance that’s part of a real thoughtstopper. What’s behind it, rather, is the conviction — very common these days — that emotions are somehow more true than thoughts. That’s going to take some unpacking in a future post.

    Justin, the notion that our species is biologically predestined to believe in progress simply can’t be defended if you learn something about those members of our species who don’t happen to have lived in modern industrial societies. Most humans, through most of human history, did not believe in progress, so there’s clearly nothing biological about it! Take the time to research the history of the idea of progress — there’s been quite a bit written about that over the last century or so — and you’ll find that far from being a biological imperative, belief in progress is a historically conditioned ideology that emerged at a certain point in history, for certain reasons deeply mired in economics and imperialism, and has been systematically marketed since that time for similar reasons. At this point it’s passed its pull date, and I’m quite confident that people a few centuries from now will see it as an absurdity, just as people a few centuries back did.

    James, your reaction is the one I’ve gotten from most people I know who actually have serious medical conditions that would be fatal without advanced medical technologies. It’s the exploitation of those conditions for thoughtstopping purposes that I find dubious.

    Isabel, good heavens. Most people I encounter have no idea who Ogden Nash was!

    Steve, that’s more than a thoughtstopper, and it requires careful examination, because it’s a major source of confusion.

  124. @Isabel I find conversation fluid and knowing when to talk about the tactile aspects of life versus the abstract comes down to our own sense of the immediate situation. And people commiserating about why the economy is driving their lives into the ground, often agree things are bad around here, where they differ is what logical circle/echo chamber they fall into. That’s why I’m an independent.

    btw – Sleeping Beauty as a metaphor I find pretty interesting. The whole kingdom going to sleep is the heart going to sleep. It’s like the heart can’t reason or think about itself. It’s kinda like a thought stopper, going with the theme of this week’s post. Maleficent is only able to rule effectively when Aurora and everyone else is asleep. But in the end the kingdom must wake up. Que up the long decline…..

    @Oilman2- I don’t think the comment section here runs in circles that much. Good conversation just keeps going and going because we have to continually readjust ourselves to the circumstance of each day.

    @SpiceIsNice – It is a social question but aren’t all social interactions governed by the interaction of two philosophies – or at the very least one philosophy having an introspective moment with itself? I think there’s a thought stopper somewhere that amounts to everything going back to philosophy…. would that be a thought stopper.?

    I guess it could be said thought stoppers contribute to making the echo chambers. I sometimes wish we’d stop talking about things as a spectrum because each variance has at least one bad idea. And dystopia isn’t necessarily a particular slice of the spectrum just a bunch of bad ideas standing together, or one really bad idea running the whole show.

  125. In re: edgelords, they mostly seem like my friends’ young children, who are at the age when they really want everyone to see how, um, successful they are at toilet training. And as someone who doesn’t get fussed much about infidelty, “cuck” seems like an extraordinarily stupid insult: your SO was unfaithful, like half of everyone’s throughout history, and that seems unlikely to reflect badly on you. (Or you’re chill enough to be okay with that, in which case you’re a gracious romantic partner, so well done.)

    To be fair, though, I suppose many insults make no sense if taken literally from a modern perspective. Dogs, including the female ones, are largely adorable; wanking is a healthy and normal activity; and if one *is* the son of a sex worker, that’s probably still a better moral foundation in life than being the son of the average CEO.

    @JMG: He’s great, though! I suspect I got exposed early because of my name, but also my parents had a few books of poetry around, and I liked the one about the llama a lot, as well as the “candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” couplet. (I do also keep mis-identifying him as the author of “Why Nobody Pets the Lion at the Zoo,” which I also like a lot–maybe it’s the llama connection?)

  126. Congratulations on finishing Other Guy Steve T! Sorry about the dabbler term – I couldn’t think of a good word to describe our somewhat shared difficulties. You’re right, I’ll bin it for myself too.

  127. @ DFC

    Thank you for your comment.
    However, the source I’ve used (The Guardian) is related to the Italian composer Luigi Nono. I’m not aware of any connection between that episode and Machado’s beautiful poem.
    Allow me to suggest the following: Masalların Masalı – Tale’s tale (as performed by Serenad Bağcan, music by Fazıl Say – English translation under Marianne Schroeder‘s comment.)

    Kind regards.

  128. JMG,

    Once I’ve finished my entry for the OSS contest, I may have to go back to a character idea I had a while back: a sorcerer who’s kept alive by a form of magic that is slowly being exhausted. He sees his purpose as helping to prepare for a world that he himself

    My challenge is how to tell stories about such a character without stumbling over every outworn magic-as-a-blatant-allegory-for-technology/oil trope ever used, from the The Magic Goes Away to Final Fantasy VII. That includes setting up a conflict between those who practice “good” nature-y magic and “bad” tech-ish magic.

    (Honestly, any type of “white magic” vs. “black magic” trope—including the “light side” and “dark side” of the Force— is pretty boring to me at this point; far more boring, in fact, than just declaring all magic to be evil and running with it. If you can’t treat witches like people, have the decency to burn them.)

  129. When Socrates educed from an untaught slave an understanding of the proposition about the square on the hypotenuse being equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides, he was showing that even ignorant people can be led to think (among other things). I propose the idea that the problem you posed does not begin with people being untaught how to think, nor taught how to unthink, but instead with being excluded from the experience of civil conversation.

    The tenets and customary usages of formal conversation are generally not taught to children. They may sometimes be taught to teens and young adults; but this training may come too late to have an effect on indoctrination of one kind or another. By the time schools allow young people to talk to each other under skilled guidance, it is too late. Children have already imbibed the notion that conversation is not an enjoyable dance but a form of mouth-to-mouth combat.

    What you are calling thoughtstoppers may be the last resort of a child-like, untrained mind that has been sausage-stuffed with a mash of chopped up parental prejudices and TV trash, or conceptually starved, then bullied and chivvied beyond endurance: the equivalent of blocking one’s face and middle with gloved hands to ward off the rain of blows.

    It is possible to converse not with the aim of dominating the room, not to show off one’s wit, nor to prove one’s own perfect rightness to the entire satisfaction of one’s own supreme self; but with the milder aim of discovering the truth about the topic under discussion. But this is a more fundamental issue. Everyone can learn how to think; not everyone wants to.

    It is not the lack of trained thinking that allows crisis to run amok; it is the lack of respectful listening: this is the first requirement for anyone who has an earnest desire to get at the truth about anything. Not being heard is what drives individuals into being a herd.

  130. Robert Gibson: “The most dramatic and revolutionary shift in moral opinion in all of history is being sustained without any exploration of its profound implications – thanks to that thought-stopping word.”

    Well, if you take the LONG term view of history, indeed, the dramatic shift away from the Classical Greek view that homosexuality was fine, that gay men were the most inclined to courage and leadership, and that relationships between men and youths benefited both parties – to the Christian-era view that all such persons were bound for hell and should be speeded on their way there – was revolutionary, and it doesn’t seem that anyone at the time felt willing or able to explore its profound implications.

    Not what you meant? 😉

  131. Cory,

    No I wasn’t referring to you. But I understand where you’re coming from. I grew up in Appalachia, as I said elsewhere in this thread, and my area has been hard-hit by what’s sometimes called “The Heroin Epidemic,” though it includes suicide and alcoholism as well, and sometimes just called “White Death.” Your anger on behalf of trans people reminds me of the way I feel when I read people like Ta-Nehisi Coates or Tim Wise talking about white privilege. I picture all the kids I know who are dead before their time… the Iraq vet, my old friend’s little brother, who killed himself last Thanksgiving; the father of four, my old middle school bully, who overdosed on heroin last year; my first girlfriend’s dad, dead of an overdose; my childhood best friend, dead of suicide; my other childhood best friend’s mom, dead of an overdose. I hear liberals dismiss the complaints of working class people and white Trump voters and call us “Nazis,” and I picture all those people, dead before their time, and it frankly makes me want to go out and buy a tikki torch.

    But I do my best not to feed those instincts. I despise Richard Spencer and most of the alt right, and I don’t want to be like them. So when I have these feelings I try to relax my body (the tension usually builds in my chest), breathe into my abdomen, and think about what the other person is actually saying. Sometimes it really is just clueless bigotry, but that doesn’t have to turn me into a bigot. Sometimes it is a legitimate point: It is true that expanded government welfare might help the rural poor– not as much, in my view, as not sending their jobs to Mexico and their kids to Iraq, but that’s a debate that we can have. And it is also true that Republicans have made use of racist imagery to sell the white poor on opposition to the welfare state, to their lasting disgrace. I can accept that and engage in the conversation– but only if I let go of my feeling of being under attack and my self-righteous need to fight back on other peoples’ behalf.

  132. MY favorite Crocodile Tears, which I have heard ridiculously often from every shade of the political spectrum, is “What about the children?” Whether it is wealthy urbanites trying to get possession of neighboring properties by getting them demolished before they fall on unsuspecting children, or poor country folk trying to get more resources liberally scattered on their almost childless districts, or underprivileged minorities using their children as battering rams to break more value out of the public piggy bank, or overprivileged majorities using their children as the most subtle of blades to surgically extract more value out of the public piggy bank; somehow, they all use that same invincible phrase.

    Clearly, we would leave ourselves more exposed to attack if we were to admit that we were distracting our opponents attention onto all the innocent, undefended children in order to get our way without anyone noticing how avaricious we are. The unstated but understood tarring of our opponents as insensitive, self-centered child-haters is an artful bonus to this particular thoughtstopper! And, yes, my switching to “we” very much indicates that I have used this phrase in passionately defending the innocent children I teach. Excuse me while I wipe away a crocodile tear from my unblemished cheek.

  133. “The thoughtstoppers that matter most aren’t the ones that other people use on us, but the ones we use to stop ourselves from thinking. The process of tracking those latter in their native habitat, identifying them, and learning to evade them is left as an exercise for the reader.”

    I’d like to explore that idea further as it is a particularly interesting one for me.

    In my experience, it seems many people don’t actually want to think. They are comforted by the worldview they have, and it gives them a sense of self, an identity and a feeling of security. Why would someone with those feelings want anything to change? Everything seems pretty good. People in that position don’t want to seek out many new experiences, leave their countries or even hometowns, or listen to any viewpoints that are contrary to their own. In fact they seek out experiences that reinforce the beliefs they already have. So in a sense, they’re locked up in a prison of their particular point of view or perspective. There is no motivation to get out, and they probably don’t even realize that they’re trapped.

    There are other people though, myself included, that for one reason or another never had that comfortable feeling of security or self. Instead there is another feeling – the feeling that something is not quite right. And that feeling is what can motivate people to actually want to think. To figure out what might be causing that unsettled feeling and find out if anything can be done about it. But I soon realized that this wasn’t going to be an easy task, and that I didn’t have a lot of willpower to work with – just a little glimmer of motivation.

    Not really knowing what I was doing, I set out to deliberately challenge the worldviews that I had, in as many ways I could think of, to gain new perspectives on the situation and try to get out of the prison of my point of view. This involved traveling to some very unfamiliar places, where people in most cases didn’t speak English, and whose lifestyles were as different from my own as I could manage to deal with. It also involved moving my body in unfamiliar ways – through yoga, African dance and other disciplines. And reading, lots of reading, on as many different subjects as possible. Eventually I even left my comfortable, familiar group of friends behind as it seemed they were trying to hold me to my original perspective.

    And it started to feel like all of this was starting to have an effect, because a lot of unpleasant memories and feelings started to resurface. Feelings and thoughts that had seemingly been ‘stopped,’ as though they were frozen in time. Sometimes a realization would just hit me out of nowhere about some error of thinking about myself that I had been making that wasn’t exactly helpful. And little by little, that nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right started to diminish. That was when I started actively looking for thoughtstoppers. Not just trying to evade them, but trying to catch them.

    Thoughtstoppers are the slipperiest of creatures. They do everything in their power to escape notice, and have mastered the arts of evasion and camouflage. They move so fast that they seem to fly by like a dark shadow, one you barely notice out of the corner of your eye. And they are hiding things – things about myself that I really need to know about. But they are painful things, so that the first reaction I have when I encounter a thoughtstopper is to close my eyes and cover my ears, and pretend not to see it. Of course, this is counterproductive to actually catching one.

    But after having successfully caught a few, pressed them to let go of the feelings that they were stopping, and been through the resulting painful emotional process of feeling the feelings that had been stopped, I started to notice that I came out on the other side actually feeling a bit better. I started to fight against that reaction of trying not to see the thoughtstoppers, and realized that I needed to gradually try to catch them all. Why? Because the thoughtstoppers were each holding on to a little piece of my personal power, which I really wanted to get back. Every one that got caught reluctantly coughed up the power it was holding. And this is the power which allows me to think for myself, little by little, instead of just thinking what other people want me to think. And slowly, gradually, wearing down the walls that are keeping me trapped in the prison of my own perspective.

    But of course, this is an ongoing process, and a tricky one at that. So, JMG, any time you are ready to write that book about how to think properly, I will be waiting in line to get my copy…

  134. @Violet
    Certainly I concede that you can have edgy thought stoppers: if someone says, “Oh, that’s just feminism you’re spouting, and feminism is cancer.” — that’s what JMG is dubbing the Delete Button, plus edginess. I haven’t seen it used like that, but it sounds like you’ve interacted with the material more than I. I had mostly seen the edge-lord rhetoric as an attention-grabbing tactic: lead with something outrageous, and then deliver an argument. (The very act of which requires you to think about what you’re arguing with!) If the outrageous lead becomes an excuse to hit the Delete Button, though, that’s a different story. Perhaps one naturally leads into the other, but I don’t see that that is necessarily so.

    Wrongly accusing someone of using a thought-stopper ought to go onto the list.

  135. Thank you, Isabel!!! Son-of-a-CEO is a keeper. From now on, I pledge to address those that sufficiently annoy me as “Hijo de tu diputada madre”.

    “Diputad@” being the term for a member of the lower chamber in Mexican Congress, roughly equivalent to “representative”. On further thoughts, diputada can be composed from the roots “di” and “puta”, meaning respectively “double” and… a rather rude way of saying sex worker. May I be forgiven for mixing Greek and Latin etymologies, but “Twice as willing to sell out herself than a sex worker” is too good to ignore.

    Great, now I have offended sex workers worldwide!!!

  136. PhysicsDoc, a classic Brick Wall. I suppose one could say in response, “So you’re saying that our nation is incurably stupid. I’m not sure I’m ready to agree with that…”

    Drhooves, of course there’s more going on than a lack of exposure to the skills of thinking, but it’s helpful to start with something one can fix!

    Armenio, thank you! Now I’m going to want to find a translation of the whole poem.

    Jen, good. Yes, that’s a common mode of thoughtstopper, and I’ll have to come up with a suitably snotty name for it. 😉

    Workdove, of course. That’s why the way to deal with thoughtstoppers first of all is in your own thoughts — to stop using them, stop letting them affect your thinking, and start identifying them and looking for ways around them in the privacy of your own head, first of all. Take those same skills into conversation only when you’re sure you can do so safely.

    Steve the Other Guy, huzzah! That’s really good to hear. Now let the story sit for a couple of weeks while you work on finishing one of your other projects, go back over it, and see if it needs editing. (How many words is it, btw? It’s the word count rather than the page count that Zendexor and I need to track.) Meanwhile you can get another story done, and when it’s edited and ready to roll, you can get that one on the way to a magazine — I can suggest a couple 😉 — and proceed from there.

    There are two massive barriers to becoming a published author, and neither of them has anything to do with publishers. One of them is starting stories. The other is finishing them. If you can keep going the way you’ve begun, the doors of the sanctum have just swung open for you. Again, huzzah!

    Walt, that’s a very good point. In my experience, any ideology that comes with built-in delete buttons is built on a foundation of nonsense — that’s why it takes up the defensive maneuver of insisting on erasing opposing views. Yes, it’s important to avoid that here, as well!

    Will, the first is an extreme thoughtstopper, which we can call the Tantrum Defense. The other — yes, I’ve encountered it, and it’s not so much a thoughtstopper as evidence that there hasn’t been any thought taking place on the subject in question for a very long time…

    Anthony, I’d classify that somewhat differently, but quantitative traps are going to play a role in our discussion as we proceed.

    Scotlyn, a fine example of a Brick Wall. I gather that those are even more common than I thought!

    aNeopuritan, thanks for the links! My preferred sources tend to be printed books, for what it’s worth, but I’ll check those out.

    Juri, oh, granted — to get all the way past the traps to cognition it’s necessary to go into some very deep places and do some very challenging inner work. My goal here is much simpler: to teach people how to avoid some basic cognitive traps, so they can think a little less murkily from time to time. As for John Crowley, I’m a serious fan of his writing — the man is a brilliant prose stylist, and it probably doesn’t hurt that the vision of the future that informs many of his books is fairly close to mine. I could well see a future like that in Engine Summer rising out of our ruins…

    Gandalfwhite, of course it can be useful from time to time to use, or acquiesce in the use of, thoughtstoppers. Here again, that’s why I stressed that the most important thing you can do with thoughtstoppers is stop using them to block your own thinking…

    Mark, fascinating. Since I have Aspergers syndrome I don’t read body language at all well — I like to joke that it’s a foreign language, for which I’ve never yet found a phrase book — so that one hadn’t occurred to me.

    Dusk Shine, no, concern trolling is a much broader concept, and includes much more than thoughtstoppers. Trust me, I get concern trolls on my blogs fairly often, and have had more experience than I want to think about dealing with them!

    Karim, I’m still trying to fit my head around that one. “Modernity knows no major dysfunctions…” Well, maybe, if it means “Modernity is incapable of thinking about its own major dysfunctions…” You’re right, too, that “conspiracy theorist” can be used as a Brick Wall; the challenge there is that some people do take conspiracy theories to the point of giddy paranoiac fantasy, and one way or another people are going to come up with a label for that kind of thinking.

    Gavin, yep. We’re moving into ecological crunch time.

    Anchyo123, rather than worrying about a rewards system, why not focus on making those adaptations yourself, and helping your family, friends, and others who are willing to do the same thing? When the ship’s already sinking, putting life jackets on yourself and those nearest you takes precedence over figuring out some abstract scheme to get everyone to put on their life jackets all at once….

    Lawfish, another good example of a Brick Wall.

    Mister N., the irony here is that putting in gratuitous insults such as “sad-sack,” as you’ve done, is a classic way of preaching to the choir, as it chases off anyone who doesn’t already agree with you. So you’re copying the behavior of those you’re criticizing…

    Y. Chireau, I wouldn’t call what I have a distrust of emotion; rather, it’s a recognition that like all other human capacities, including reason, emotion has its limits. The fact that you feel strongly about something, for example, doesn’t mean it’s true, and the fact that you feel one way about a given policy shouldn’t be allowed to erase the fact that other people have very different feelings about it! That latter’s the great trap when it comes to emotionally based policy: people who justify offshoring jobs, say, using warm cozy feelings about the global economy as the basis for that choice, are ignoring the misery, despair, and pain that those policies cause among the millions of people who’ve been deprived of a chance at a decent livelihood by the offshoring of jobs. That’s why it’s so useful to bring reason and evidence into the picture!

    Glenn, have you seen that used as a thoughtstopper, or is it simply a label you don’t like? I consider the kind of regulation that keeps rotting meat and dead rats out of the food supply, for example, very much a matter of common sense…

    DC, that can be used as a thoughtstopper, though it can also be a way to keep hostage-taking behavior — something we’ll be discussing at length further on — from taking over a social event. As for Sanders and socialism, though, you’re dead on target; thank you.

    Josh, good. I’ve usually seen it applied as a Brick Wall, but we’ll be discussing it when it comes time to talk about informal fallacies, too.

  137. JMG –

    >>…. the notion that our species is biologically predestined to believe in progress simply can’t be defended …>>

    I hope not too OT – I certainly agree with you that we are not biologically programmed to believe progress is predestined, but – and this is not to discount the economic/political reasons that gave rise to it – I do wonder if our immature notions of progress were, in part, stimulated simply by the beginning of the Aquarian Age. Aquarius/Uranus, after all, is associated with the urge for change, for free expression, as well as electricity and science. Obviously the sign of Aquarius has a deeper, more spiritual dimension than the aforementioned attributes, but if we’re really just embarking on the Aquarian Age, then perhaps we’ve yet begun to tap into Aquarius’s more significant aspects. Meanwhile the more mundane, even materialist aspects of Aquarius might prevail, and that would include the concept of revolutionary change, progress, the eternal march of science, etc. I suspect that only resource depletion will bring an end to this still-prevailing concept of Aquarian “progress”, and then, I’m hoping, the more significant aspects of the Aq Age will start to have an impact.

    I was born at the time the Space Race was really getting underway, around the time of that Uranus-Jupiter conj. in the early 60’s, and I admit that I was for a time infatuated with notions of an ever-progressing science and politics, of the “race to the stars”, etc. I wonder if my Uranus astro-imprimatur, along with the Aq Age itself, helped in firing up my immature infatuation with the idea of eternal progress.

  138. JMG said:

    “Casey, I actually think very highly of the kind of constitutional monarchy in which the monarch has no political authority at all, and serves as a focus for collective identity.”

    I suppose it has its strong points. As a subject of Her Majesty, it’s comforting to know that:

    1) The Royal Family is safely situated way over there in the other side of the Atlantic and don’t really care about anything north of the 49th parallel, so they pretty much leave us alone.


    2) We’ll always have someone to name a highway after. Witness: The province of Alberta (named after a princess, BTW) renamed Highway 2 after our Defender of the Faith etc, so now it’s called “The QE 2”.

    There’s another kind of thought-stopper, I’ve realized of late, tangentially related to the Royal Family, and their alleged Lizardhood. It’s a mode of thought. Of course, there Are such things a conspiracies. And seeing a Lizard in every Shadow has some survival advantage, no doubt. And we Should Be Willing to ask the tough questions about our easy assumptions… including our own tendency to fall into the easy answer that it’s all a big conspiracy.

    Today’s after-work ale was, again, excellent.

    Carry on. And Long May Czarina Gaga Hold Sway!

  139. DC –

    I agree that B Sanders is definitely not a socialist, but he’s called himself a “socialist” on a number of occasions, not just “democratic socialist” but plain old “socialist”. That’s obviously one of the reasons why so many people refer to him as socialist. Would help if you could first get Sanders to stop calling Sanders a socialist ….

    In fact Sanders who often refers to the Nordic Countries as exemplars of socialism, was told by the president of Denmark that, hey, thanks for the praise, but while we do have a wide social security net, we are a market economy, not a socialism. I think Bernie should take time to redefine his use of the word “socialist”.

  140. Here’s a two-word Vacuous Shriek:
    “Conspiracy Theorist”

    Then of course there’s the one used so often by young people today who want to end a conversation that makes them uncomfortable:

    The one that always gets me is the one used by “Neocons” (supposed conservatives) to attack those who point out that one of their heroes, George Washington, would be aghast at America’s current bloated standing military, sprawling complex of bases, and proxy wars across the globe:

    It seems to me the use of a Vacuous Shriek is nothing more than a sophisticated form of name calling.


    And as far as Undefintions go, your example of the American right’s patriotic correctness reminded me of something Wendell Berry once wrote (and I paraphrase), that if those politicians truly had love for their country, they wouldn’t be more upset by the desecration of our flag than they are by the desecration of our land.

  141. Rousingly put–but in halfhearted defense of the thought-terminating cliché/thoughtstopper, I’d say in life it can often be exhausting if not impossible for even the most trained minds to think carefully on all fronts simultaneously, to examine all or even most assumptions before acting. At some point we are called simply to live with our actions and with whatever seems beyond our control. For those times, the thought-stopper is a sort of watertight bulkhead that keeps the mind from sinking into anxiety and fruitless second-guessing.

    I suppose the real pity is that so many people in our time resort to this fairly desperate strategy and tap out so early, surrendering to mental exhaustion and anxiety long before it’s really needed, when a little mental tenacity and thoughtful action could still have brought the ship to kinder waters (so to speak).

  142. Are crocodile tears actually a thoughtstopper?

    To me, ‘crocotears’ are either attention grabbing by very needy personalities or loud virtue signalling. I have seen both in action many times.

    I ask this because in these situations, the most common response to crocotears is, “What’s wrong?” or “What did I say?” – both of which seem to elicit deeper conversation, but mostly about the one squirting out the crocotears…

    @ JMG…

    OK – started my OSS squiggles. I figure since the first one I ever wrote got published in the initial edition of Into the Ruins, I might as well go for the OSS. After all, I cut my reading teeth on ERB at age ten. And even if it doesn’t get pubbed, it is a fun exercise!

  143. Robert, “that’s offensive” and “You have a problem with…” are certainly classic thoughtstoppers, and so are buzzwords of the “homophobia” variety — these latter, of course, redefine an opinion as a pathology in an attempt to shut down discussion. That said, you do a good job of shooting yourself in the foot further on; exaggerations such as labeling the normalization of same-sex relationships “the most dramatic and revolutionary shift in moral opinion in all of history” make you sound shrill, and preaching-to-the-choir snarl words such as “Gaystapo” simply make you sound silly.

    Since you’ve brought in the wider context of your remarks, I’m going to take the time to respond to them here, not least because I’ve written a defense of same-sex marriage on Burkean conservative grounds that had some notoriety a while back. First, as suggested above, the normalization of same-sex relationships is far from the most significant change in moral opinion in history; for example, in modern English history, the abolition of chattel slavery and the legal changes that deprived men of property rights over their wives and minor children were quite a bit more significant, and the legalization of divorce was on the same level — and got most of the same rhetoric, by the way, back when it was a hot-button issue.

    To be valid, a natural-law argument has to start by assessing what actually happens in nature; since sexual contact between members of the same sex happens among quite a few species of mammals and birds, and there have been plenty of human societies in which it’s been quite normal — presumably you’ve heard of ancient Greece, for one — such an argument falls flat in this case. What’s at work here, rather, is something rather simpler. Starting around seventeen centuries ago, most of Europe accepted (by force or otherwise) the Christian religion, and accordingly accepted the sexual taboos that are part of that faith; starting around two centuries ago, Christianity began the decline in popularity that has turned it into a minority religion, and the taboos have been abandoned accordingly.

    Mind you, I have no objection at all to people following the tenets of their faith, whatever that happens to be. I’ve argued, in the essay linked above, that it would be appropriate to grant conservative Christians the same tolerance that we grant other religious minorities, and (for example) allow business owners who believe that same-sex relationships are sinful to refuse to cater such weddings, provided that signage to that effect is posted on the premises. I’ve also argued repeatedly that criminalizing the expression of unpopular opinions as “hate speech” is totalitarian in effect and should not be permitted. (“I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it” remains the bedrock foundation of any attempt at democracy.)

    That said, there’s a distinction of some importance between “I have the freedom to do as I wish” and “I have the freedom to make others do as I wish.” If you demand the former, consistency requires you to grant it to other people; if you demand the latter, you need to deal with the fact that others will do the same, and try to force you to do as they prefer. Which do you choose?

    Will, it’s a more complex trap, and will be discussed when we get to informal logical fallacies.

    Greg, I’ll be citing Hardin at length in due time; to my mind, he’s dealing with a different set of cognitive traps.

    Iuval, a Vacuous Shriek is a snarl word used for the purpose of shutting down thinking; snarl words have other uses. As for the mystics, I’ll have some comments to make on them in a future post.

  144. As a youth, our school gave us a course by the Cognitive Research Trust (an Edward de Bono soin off), called amusingly CoRT Thinking. The idea was to, if not teach us, at least get us used to the idea of thinking and provide a few tools and methods for so doing.
    (e.g what are the short, medium and long term consequences of introducing rabbits to Australia?)
    Whatever you think of EdB, and the course was brief and far from comprhensive or exhaustive, it remains to this day many decades later, one of my few treaured memories of formal education as well as being one of the few classes I looked forward to and enjoyed.
    Whilst I would by no means consider myself a ninja thinker, I do find myself more able than most of being able to think through a proposition and see glaring flaws that others overlook in their enthusiasm for the next ‘big idea’.

  145. A classic Brick Wall: “It’s only a coincidence.”

    Can an ad hoc explanation of the “Look, it must have been (insert convoluted, evidence-free explanation here),” variety be a kind of thoughtstopper? I’m especially thinking of the sort of thing called “nothing buttery”: “X is nothing but (insert thing that X obviously isn’t here).”

  146. I would disagree with fascism being a specific, tightly defined philosophy. If one is defining fascism in its technical sense, then there has only ever been one fascist government (Mussolini’s), and even that was not noted for its ideological coherence.

    That said, as was noted long ago, fascism became an all-purpose term to describe something someone doesn’t like. It’s a sort of work-around for Godwins Law – people switch off at allegations of Nazism, so fascism becomes the fall-back accusation.

  147. JMG – I think this would fall under the category of Pity Porn, but I’ve seen a lot of people on social media use some variation of the word “privilege” to thought-stop.
    I see it used two ways; sometimes people will say “you have xyz privilege” and leave the rest implied, or they will just come out and say “you don’t get to talk about this issue, because of your (usually white) privilege.”
    This is too bad, because the concept of prvilage actually has some validity, and probably could use some thoughtful discussion, but instead, gets employed to shut down discussion. I’ve seen this thought stopper used a lot on social media lately.

  148. Yes, (echoing Steve Kimple) – I think we’d all welcome an article that discusses the converse – thoughtstarters – how you start folks on the road to clear thinking.

    I’m reminded of a Buddhist prayer along the lines of, “Delusions are endless. We vow to cut through them all!” ; which one might modify to “Thoughtstoppers are everywhere, we vow to root them out!”

    Seeing all these phrases from everyone reminds me how ingrained these things are. The are like corn syrup in the goods found in many modern supermarkets. Thoughtstoppers, “intellectual corn syrup”; making an argument “feel good” without any attendant cognitive nutrition.

  149. Heather, good. It’s a subset of the Brick Wall, but probably deserves its own name; the Helpless Shrug it is.

    Rutger, I have indeed, and highly recommend it.

    Nancy, er, did you happen to notice that you deleted half my definition? Cough, cough, absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant, cough, cough…

    Patricia, good. I’m not even sure how to characterize that, other than as an absurdity.

    Dan, hmm. That’s a possible name. I’d like to find one with more zing to it, though.

    Scotlyn, a very interesting point, and potentially important. I’ll have to watch some thoughtstoppers in action and see if stopping feelings is also a reliable part of their function.

    Mark, it won’t be comprehensive, just (I hope) useful.

    Peakfuture, I’m delighted by the responses so far; this one does seem to have struck a chord. Now to see if the next post on cognitive traps can keep things lively!

    Michael, fascinating! Has anyone else noticed if that particular Vacuous Belch is being used less often?

    Christopher, yep. Both sides are using Delete Buttons.

    Dewey, as I noted earlier, concern trolling is a broader thing than the Crocodile Tears category of thoughtstopper, so I’ll keep the category name as it is. Studies Have Shown is another good subcategory, too.

    Isabel, the llama? Would that be the one that begins “The one-l lama, he’s a priest”? I fell crazy in love with his poetry at the age of eight or so when I read the first two lines of the second stanza of “The Wendigo”:

    The Wendigo, the Wendigo,
    I saw it just a friend ago!

    The guy was good.

    James, good. At this point, when I run into a fantasy novel that posits a bunch of Good Guys fighting a bunch of Bad Guys, I usually start yawning at once, and the only thing that stops the yawning fit is throwing the book across the room. That has been done not merely to death, but through the afterlife and most of the way through the next incarnation, and it deserves decent burial. Conflict does not require a more than Manichean dualism!

    Gkb, that’s fine. I can’t do much to get people to listen, since I’m not sitting with them in their conversational contexts. I can teach them how to avoid certain common cognitive traps, and so that’s what I plan on doing.

    Christophe, dear gods, yes. I’ve come to suspect that the next genocide will be carried out “for the children.”

    Stefania, it sounds like you’ve already made some important steps in that direction! You’re right, of course, that what normally lies behind an unwillingness to think is some kind of unprocessed emotional experience; I’m not at all sure how to get people to deal with those, though. Hmm…

    CR, okay, that one just about had tea on the keyboard. My Spanish isn’t good, but it was good enough to catch that just before you explained it…

    Armenio, thank you!

    Will, that’s entirely possible.

    Casey, well, there you are. To my mind the British royal house is overpaid, but that’s just me — if the Brits want so expensive a luxury, that’s their choice, of course.

    Blue Sun, of course, but it’s namecalling with a specific purpose. The goal is not merely to call somebody a naughty name, but to paralyze their own thinking so they don’t have to notice that they’re in the wrong.

    Sevensec, as I’ve noted already, there are times when the use of thoughtstoppers is a tactical necessity, or at least advantageous.

    Oilman, crocodile tears can be used for many different purposes. As Clay has pointed out, on some occasions they make a great thoughtstopper.

    Extremist, I wonder if that’s publicly available at this point. It might be interesting to compare it to some of the other resources.

    James, yes, indeed it can! I think Nothing Butter is a good name for that class of thoughtstopper — X was nothing but a coincidence, Y is nothing but swamp gas, it’s all one big crock of Nothing Butter.

    Patricia, yep.

    Strda221, not so. Quite a few regimes in Europe between the wars took Mussolini’s regime as their model, and scholars have worked out fairly detailed taxonomies explaining what fascism was and how it relates to other movements of the past and present. In any case, unless the word “fascist” is going to mean nothing more than “I hate you!”, it needs to return to something like its original meaning.

    Ben, yes — that’s a Delete Button. It’s typically used by someone who wants to conceal their class privilege by talking about someone else’s privilege of a kind not related to social class.

    Peakfuture, I don’t have any ambition so exotic as rooting all thoughtstoppers out! I just want to give my readers the tools to get rid of some of them.

  150. Here’s a minor thought-stopper that I encounter now and then: I’m in some issue debate when my interlocutor suddenly pauses and says “Well, *the point is* …….”, a lordly negating of all the points I’ve made in one fell swoop. How, I think, did this person get to be President of Points?

    A Palace Coup thought-stopper?

    The tonic: Let the President have his or her say, then just say “That’s your point, I’ve got my own.”

  151. I tend to agree with you. If you don’t conform to the party line, it is because you are blinded by your privilege and thus unqualified to speak. If, inconveniently, you are actually part of the disadvantaged group in question but still happen to disagree, it is because you are riddled with “internalized oppression.” Argh. It takes the totally valid observation that less privileged groups tend to have a better understanding of more privileged groups than vice versa (because the privileged can afford to ignore those with less power, but the reverse is not true), and exaggerates it to the point of absurdity, so that a relatively (or allegedly) privileged person is declared unqualified not only to have an opinion but even to understand their own motivations.

  152. “Quite a few regimes in Europe between the wars took Mussolini’s regime as their model,”

    Perhaps, but which do you have in mind? Nazi Germany may be considered fascist in a broad sense, but its ideological coherency set it apart (Mussolini’s Italy didn’t bother with the anti-semitism thing until much later). Franco and Admiral Horthy weren’t fascists any more than Trump is – ultra-reactionary conservative authoritarians, certainly, but not fascist. Salazar’s ideology was rooted in Catholic Corporatism.

    Inter-war fascism is a slippery thing – there were plenty of right-wing authoritarians and corporatists running around who were more than willing to co-operate with actual fascists, but the point where one ends and the other starts was less clear cut.

  153. Dear Mr. Greer

    In the Archdruid Report, you had a post called ‘Star Hawking the Privilege Game’. If I recall correctly, a pagan personality named Star Hawk stopped thoughtful discussion of her brand of paganism with something along the lines of ‘we’re all in this together’ or some such. A thought-stopper maybe?


  154. Oh Man! I could fume on and on about the use of empty meaningless thought-stoppers. How about ‘building a brighter future’! or ‘Hard working people’ or ‘jobs’ or economic growth! or of course ‘PROGRESS’ YEEHHH don’t those word just feel so uplifting!!! so powerful!! so strong!!!!! we have a Strong economy were Progressing!!! Warm fuzzies warm fuzzies!! yeh yeh!!!

    Just letting off a bit of steam…



  155. Thank you for bringing this up. Very interesting!

    Where does this one fit?:

    Environmental policies for ecosystem-rehabilitation/restoration often aim towards a historical reference condition in which the ecosystem was not affected by people. The EU water-policy classify watersheds by that measure. The class “High” is best, with the motivation that the watershed then is not “disturbed” in relation to the ancient undisturbed reference condition. In my point of view this classification is a thoughtstopper, since I’m quite sure that ecosystems that are disturbed by humans — if we do it wisely of course — can be even richer than “high”. Very few officials seem to think like that, however,

  156. A few weeks ago, I attended a film and discussion session at my church, where the topic was a struggling movement by Israeli ex-soldiers and Palestinian ex-radicals to form a common cause for peace. Predictably, their former comrades-in-arms have nothing but snarl-words to describe the effort (at least, that was the response documented in the film, which clearly thought that the effort was For Good). During the discussion, I asked the presenter whether she thought that this effort for peace in Palestine had any lessons that we could apply to the recent conflict in Charlottesville, VA. [For the archives, I’ll describe that as “a white-supremacist march, with counter-demonstration at which one counter-demonstrator was killed.”]

    “Oh, no.” she said. “In Charlottesville, the marchers were motivated only by Hate, and the counter-protesters only by Love. They’re too far apart to work together in any way.” [fabricated as a quote, but probably pretty close.]

    I tried to say something polite about that analysis being “not universally accepted as the truth”, because I didn’t want it to go unchallenged, but also didn’t want to hijack the whole session. Somehow, though I think it’s rather more complicated than that. Actually, I don’t know any white supremacists (and I doubt that she did either); nor do I know any counter-protesters. But I can imagine that either side could deploy the “It’s for the Children” argument.

  157. Good to see ‘Old World’ Jean-Vivien in the discussion again. Smile.

    My son takes a similar position (as J-V) especially regarding the expanding interconnectedness, although he tends to think more in terms of ‘solutions’ rather than self-organizing disruption and dislocation actively consolidating a maimed and chronically sick society.

    I tend to JMG’s version where the more ‘we’ up-the-tempo the more rapidly we see the ‘ragged mess’ of decline because of diminished resources and poorer returns from those resources (I paraphrase). Take the financial ‘industry’ for example. The London skyline is a very real physical sign of resources swallowed by complexity – a very big ‘overhead’. Try recent Mark Carney describing the cost to EU of moving complex transaction management from London. Scared smile.

    ‘Management’ is a serious cost with a tendency to non-linear excursions within imperial structures, however vital these structures might be.

    I mention in this context, Bitcoin, where a crypto currency has a most enormous carbon/energy footprint compared with say Visa electronic transaction. We can look more generally at the energy increasingly soaked-up by ‘the internet’ and the ploys it enables.

    @JMG Thanks for denying that the Daniel Defoe quote has any likeness to the structure of a ‘thought stopper’. There are as you say inherent differences. Yes, I had already found his thought anything but a ‘stopper’, but value your words. As you say: “it isn’t absurd or contradictory. It’s cogent, and states an important truth”
    Phil H

  158. WOW–this may be the first-ever post, JMG, where your individual brilliance is matched by the collective brilliance of these comments. It’s hard to know where to start; so many of these ripostes are worthy of reflection and future reverse deployment. I started clapping for DT, who reminded me that my dear husband used to say: “you’re looking into things way too much.” After 5 years of wedded bliss, he’s looking a lot more closely himself 🙂

  159. Dewey – good point about the long view of history; I daresay you thought I’d reject it but actually I couldn’t agree more. Whether a revolution in moral belief occurs in the fourth or in the twentieth century, its underlying shift in basic assumptions ought to be argued through, rather than be imposed by “arguments” based merely on the new premises themselves and bulwarked by thought-stoppers. Incidentally, I have thought of a universal solvent to dissolve all thought-stoppers; more of that anon.

    Dewey and JMG both – I ought to have inserted the word “arguably” in my contention about what was the biggest opinion-revolution in history. Apologies for the omission, which made it seem as though I was laying down the law.

    JMG: So you don’t think my use of “Gaystapo” is justified. Hmm… well, bear in mind, John, you’re an American; you don’t live where I live. I agree they don’t use torture; but I find it hard to absolve them of vindictiveness. To pick on an old-fashioned Christian firm and prosecute them for not baking a “gay wedding” cake… The sexual libertarians ought, in my view, to be content with having won control of the Government, the media and the educational system; they surely don’t need to weed out dissenting bakers as well. Above all I feel the term “Gaystapo” is justified if it refers to the creation of a climate of fear. Not the fear of being tortured, but certainly the fear of prosecution, of losing one’s livelihood, of social denunciation, of peer-group disapproval… I assure you the boot really is on the other foot here in Britain, though it may be different in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    Concerning natural law and observations of nature: The concept of “natural law” as I understand it purports to cover “subjective” aspects of reality, like conscience, that are observable only from within, not from exterior behaviour, whether human or animal. Natural law is to do with the relation between our physical and spiritual natures, and thus impossible to pin down. Arguably, it is natural for us to be discontented with our own natures. You as a well-adjusted pagan may disagree, but I strongly suspect that twitchy hang-ups and taboos about sex are integral aspects of our nature. We don’t know about the inner life of animals but I suspect, again, that it may be just as misleading to argue from mere behaviour as it is with humans. Frightening though the idea is to a meat-eater like myself, I suspect animals have moral natures and therefore might have their own twitchy hang-ups and spiritual discontents too – or some equivalent, at any rate.

    And now for the universal solvent with which to dissolve any thought-stopper. This one is a killer: it’s none other than the two-letter word, “if”.

    Such-and-such is right IF…. Yes, you’re right IF…. Yes, one shouldn’t say this, IF….
    Thought-stoppers, like the Count of Monte Cristo, can all be locked up in the Chateau d’IF.

  160. We’ve discussed thought stoppers others use on us, and we’ve been encouraged to think abouut thought stoppers we use on ourselves. There are also group thought stoppers that function to keep us within the acceptable groupthink of our group.

    I have in mind Garden Housewife”s comment that some people use “They vote against their own interests” as a thought stopper. I’ve seen it used in a group setting where everyone is a (so called) liberal. In a discussion on why working people vote Republican someone will say “They vote against their own interests” Rather than seriously explore why a working class person might vote Republican the questioin is dismissed by the thought stopper. The implication is t;hat it’s useless to try to figure it out because you can’t fix stupid. It keeps anyone in the group from contemplating what might be wrong with their world view.

    When this particular thought stopper comes up I usually interject that maybe “they” vote against their own interests for some of the same reasons you do. It’s not hard to show instances where “liberals” vote against their own professed interests. Usually the conversation takes a turn for the worse at this point. People don’t like to consider why they vote against their own intersts.

  161. A good way to identify thoughtful people is by the influence their thinking has over their choices. They find that in general, thoughtful decision making leads to better outcomes, and because that is often true, they are also rightly proud of their method. We come together to celebrate these achievements with other thoughtful people. And because good thinking recommends humility and even philosophy, the best of us moderate our pride and chasten the hubris of thought. And our greatest moment of humility, our deepest chastisement, is the heartfelt bestowal of the power of thinking on everyone else. It is the most magnanimous gift. But it is only a reflection of our goodwill. Alas the gift is not ours to give, nor theirs to receive. Celebrate your gift and goodwill, but try to own a deeper realization why thinking is so rare.

  162. Archdruid,

    I’ve had two particular thought stoppers thrown at me on several different occasions. Both usually at the end of a larger discussion on some topic. The first is “it’s all a matter of definition,” keeping in mind that I usually take the time to define my terms before using them in a logical argument. The second is “it’s all a matter of perspective!” I mean obviously everything is a matter of perspective, but I thought we were attempting to discuss and align our perspectives so we could come to some conclusion about the world.

    I have no idea which categories these fall under.



  163. Tried to talk to a fellow about degrowth and got a lecture on how Freemasons have manipulated us into thinking the world is round. That was a hopestopper. Have a merry Halloween.

  164. “Studies show” is a thought stopper. How can you argue if, by gosh, somebody did a “study”? Logic, reason, the plain and ordinary sense of things, the evidence of your own eyeballs, all are helpless and useless in the face of a “study”. Aren’t they? Especially if the author has a PhD, is awarded and applauded by academe and peers and offialdom. What are you going to say? That the emperor has no clothes? Are you going to call him a liar? That his conclusions are nonsensical on their face? That he’s compromised by corporate money? That his study directly contradicts what is visually obvious? Are you really going to say that? No, the argument is over. It’s all about “data and evidence”. Isn’t it? He has the credentials and reputation. What do you have?

    No assertion is too preposterous that it can’t be backed by a “study” especially in the social sciences and especially in the farcical and crack-pot ridden field of economics. You know who an economist is working for as soon as they open their mouth.

    Even if a good-faith study, with its data gathering and analysis, was bullet proof, the thought stopper that jolts everything off the tracks is the retort “I don’t believe that.”

    You wrote about the demolition of the productive economy that once fostered a prosperous American wage-earning class. The thought stopper invoked as justification is “globalization” usually portrayed as a natural force as implacable as plate tectonics and leading inexorably to world peace and prosperity. Those offside with it, those not benefitting, are dismissed as deplorable, under-educated racist kooks who have only themselves to blame.

    Just try to make the counter-argument that “globalization” is no such thing, that it is the result of deliberate trade and investment policies whose effects were the immiserization of some social classes and the enrichment of others and you will face TWO thought stoppers: you’re a “conspiracy theorist” provoking “class warfare”.

  165. If I may, I’ve been thinking of a historical thoughtstopper which happens under certain perverse and obscene political arrangements. Of course it is related to “Tantrum”, but more tight lipped and sinister. We can call this variant “Threat of Force” or perhaps “Secret Police”, they also might be distinct. Instead of countering a specific argument there is a either a threat of violence, or with more subtlety, allusion to the idea that there may be more ears listening with sinister intent, or that trust is contingent and betrayal likely.

    Functionally, totalitarianism is predicated on its ability to create internal thoughtstppers concerning Threat of Force and Secret Police, and thus the verbalized use of the thoughtstoppers can be enormously veiled, allusive and even poetic. That was, at least, my experience running with some people with totalitarian fetishes. Of course these thoughtstoppers, are extremely effective and kept me from thinking some startlingly obvious thoughts for the better part of a decade.

  166. Will M: Fair enough. And, I meant to state that also Sanders needs to stop confusing social democracy with democratic socialism, or any version for that matter, for the reasons the president of Denmark stated as well. And, since that is the case, those debating him or writing articles about him should confront him on it as to not further confuse the difference for those that are being introduced to the concepts for the first time. But red baiting him is largely what the term is used to do in mainstream media and among some of his opponents which drives further misunderstanding of his real positions by attacking a strawman instead of engaging in substantive debate. Thus, a thoughtstopper. I don’t think he is confused himself on the differences but nevertheless needs to come clean on his position.

    JMG: I am very eager to discover what you mean by “hostage-taking behavior — something we’ll be discussing at length further on — from taking over a social event.” Obviously, if the disagreement is so pervasive that it is disruptive to the purpose for the social event (e.g. informal party) then it is most likely appropriate for the discussion to stop or possibly take place elsewhere. But, my point was more toward folks that would rather not discuss those issues simply because they cannot have discussion of such kind without it devolving in to emotive chaos. Therefore, they use that phrase to thwart healthy discussion from taking place for those who may be impassioned but respectful in their disagreements simply because they think it will inevitably end up the same way if they were involved in such discussion. Thus, used as a thoughtstopper. Sorry, if I did not make that clear or omitted that reasoning from my earlier comment.

  167. JMG – indeed. I find it funny that white male prvilage gets thrown around a lot, but I almost never see the same people call out someone’s middle class privilege.

    On a related note; in response to the sexual abuse scandal involving Harvey Weinstein, a lot of my female friends has used the hostage #metoo or have posted stories about sexual harassment or assault. Not to set aside the core problem, but I have found it fascinating who posts stories or simply the me too status update.
    First things first, my Facebook friends list is pretty well balanced between wage and salary class people. I grew up in a college educated family and went to five years at a state university, but have lived and worked with wage class Americans for about a decade now.
    In my Facebook feed, a woman who posts on the topic is almost certainly college educated (or at least with some post-high school education), is almost certainly a meneber or the salary class, and probably around my age (35j. I can also tell you who is NOT posting me too stories; women of the wage class and/or without much or any post high school education, regardless of age.
    I find it hard to believe (to say the least) that only middle class women experience sexual harassment or assault. I talked to my wife about why the wage people were not participating in the “me too” phenomenon, and I’m curies why you think there is such a stark class divide.
    Also, anyone else with a theory please jump In!

  168. Robert Gibson – Thanks for the thoughtful response. I agree that individuals should be free to discriminate to some extent, and wedding cakes fall into that category. I have personal experience of this, having been tasked with procuring a cake for an informal handfasting of two young women back in the late 80s. The first grocery store given the order called me back in so the baker could refuse to do it because her hands would be Doing the Devil’s Work!! No big deal; I rolled my eyes, left and went to another grocery store. If you really can’t find anyone in your county to bake a cake for you, you would be happier and probably safer if you moved to another county. (Though when you do, you contribute to the ease of gerrymandering, stripping yourself and those like you of political influence.)

    The question is where the limits should be drawn. In my opinion, discrimination that is widespread enough to be burdensome to its targets is necessarily corrosive to society. Overt racial discrimination used to be commonplace in America even where it was not legally mandated: ads for good jobs, houses in nice neighborhoods, restaurants, even hospitals would be marked Whites Only. I sometimes wonder why any black American before the civil rights era ever felt loyal to the U.S., when most were told at every turn that it didn’t matter how talented they were or how hard they studied, they wouldn’t be allowed to get a good job – and even if they managed to, their families wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the rewards that others did. In the modern world, demanding that any segment of the population accept exclusion from mainstream society has the possibility for serious blowback.

  169. Hi JMG

    If there is an institution tha was born as a “thoughtstopper” this is the children’s school

    The school was born as a way to adapt the man to the machine at the start of the industrial revolution, because as Andrew Ure said in 1861:

    “Even today, when the system has been organized perfectly and its work simplified to the maximum, it is almost impossible people who have passed puberty, whether they come from rural or craftsmen, in useful factory workers”

    Put simply the “healthy” people cannot withstand “the machine”, they have to be “trained”, and then we have the school…(and also the unions and the local police that were born also against luddism)

    The people have to be “disciplined” in the schools:
    To be early in the morning, from 3 years old, to a place surrounded by strangers
    To be quite and silent (very natural for a child) many hours, accepting in an undisputed way the total authority of a teacher, however brutal it may be,
    To accept the arbitrary punishment of any authority silently and respectful
    To memorize boring routines, learning to read and listen sentences in order to simplify the way they will receive orders
    To repeat loudly in group the same norms and rules without any meaning for them
    To adapt their phisiology to the time schedule of the school and later to the factorty (wake up at the same hour in winter or summer, work the same hours all the year, etc…),
    To always prioritize work to play at any age in life, life is only the “struggle to survive”.
    To see life, from childhood to the grave, as a long series of obligations and duties to fulfill, guided by almaighty authorities
    To give up, to forget imagination and questions, the knowledge is a passive one way route from the masters of science, engineering and government to the rude hoi polloi

    I know things have changed, but some of the same spirit of the school remains

  170. @Sven

    Hmm, that definitely has more zing than mine! I definitely like using Snowflakes as a descriptor of uniqueness.

    Here are four more that I thought of along those lines:

    Teflon Snowflakes (because evidence won’t stick to it)
    Snowflake Rhetoric
    Snowflake Arguments
    Deploying Snowflakes

    These may be too abstract. This is tough!

    -Dan Mollo

  171. Well, I was not intending to derail the classification project nor deny its value as a teaching tool. I was trying to indirectly address the (in my opinion) overly sharp characterization by some of the commentariat of the people who use thoughtstoppers as cowards and dullards. Not everyone is trained to think; thinking is dashed hard work and often upsets one’s internally ordered universe. It can be scary. A little kindness and compassion, empathy for those who are stressed out by the challenges facing us as a world and a society might be useful in persuading others that being asked to think about a given topic is not just another attack on their time, mental capacity, and personal values. That’s all I meant.

  172. @CR: Ha! That’s awesome, though–and hey, capitalism makes prostitutes of all of us, myself included. 🙂

    @JMG: That’s the one! With a footnote later, apparently: (“The author’s attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh.”) And The Wendigo is terrific–I’d only heard the Canada/veranada couplet, but just looked up the whole thing and love it.

    @Robert Gibson: Oh, there was a similar case here re: wedding cakes. And while I don’t think the government should *prohibit* those businesses (except where an argument can be made for public health issues, such as the only pharmacy in fifty miles refusing to sell contraception or similar) I differ when it comes to “of social denunciation, of peer-group disapproval”.

    Basically: we’re not obligated to be friends with everyone, there are seven billion people in the world, and life is short. Given those three facts, I’d just as soon not keep company with someone who’s more than a certain amount of judgmental* about personal lives in which they don’t need to take an intimate part, if for no other reason than I suspect they’d find plenty in mine to disapprove of and I don’t need or want to deal with that. Likewise, if I have a choice in the matter and I know that someone disapproves of the sexual/romantic entanglements of consenting adults, I’m going to take my money to a business that’s not theirs**, and if that means they can’t run said business without “moral” compromises…well, they can either make those compromises, re-evaluate their morals, or sign up with a temp agency.

    *Cynic that I am, I would argue that we’re all a certain amount of judgmental, and I’m not going to say that, for example, people who call their SOs cutesy pet names don’t put me off my lunch, but they still should get to be part of society, with all the benefits thereof.
    **One might even say that, if you don’t know how to mind your business, I’m not going to patronize it.

  173. Steve T, that’s good to know, and thank you for explaining. The opioid epidemic is pretty terrifying, even if I’m lucky enough not to have had anyone I know die.

    The social issue I typically go out of my way to discuss and pester politicians about is housing, especially the lack of affordable rental housing here in BC, and the associated renovictions and rise in homelessness. The main reason I haven’t had major problems yet is that I’m really lucky in my landlady. Too many of my friends have had big problems. One group of people I’ll admit to detesting are housing speculators and the politicians who enable them.

    Oh, and I oppose pipelines due to greenhouse gas emissions and oil spill risks.

  174. How about, “doing X will hurt economic growth” where “X” represents some wise or desirable action? This brings me back to the mention of sex workers in a previous post and to the word “meretricious.” Meretricious is a terrific word that can be used to describe a false argument being made for pay by comparing it to a sex worker who is trying to pass for “respectable.” This becomes sort of complicated. J.K. Galbraith made a terrific joke when he combined “meretricious” with “econometrician” to coin the word, “economeretrician,” which (I hope) brings me full circle to the economic growth though-stopper.

  175. @JMG, I think Stefania wrote much more eloquently than I on the interaction of thoughtstoppers and feelings, but certainly I found a few echoes there of the point that is trying to get itself made through my writing hand just now: that the “energy” sustaining a thoughtstopper may be coming from a visceral need to stop a feeling.

    @Stefania, when you refer to “the feeling that something is not quite right. And that feeling is what can motivate people to actually want to think. To figure out what might be causing that unsettled feeling and find out if anything can be done about it.” I remember that it was feeling that made sharing the Christmas bounty I was privileged to have urgent and overwhelming. I may have been around six at the time. The fact that I had what others lacked was discomforting in the extreme. I’ve narrated above some of the obstacles I found in the way of thinking my way through this conundrum. But its wrongness remained a nagging discomfort that prompted thought for me.

    On the other hand, one might say that if one is feeling no pain right now, thinking could put a pleasant state at risk. Likewise if a certain topic reliably exposes one to pain, one might wish to shortcircuit thinking about it.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say locating thoughtstoppers in yourself and catching them enabled you to reclaim a part of your power – the power to think your own thoughts and not the thoughts others would have you think, is one of the quietest, but most effective of superpowers. I would hazard that this power comes from willingness to feel your own feelings and not the feelings others would have you feel. It needs some courage to locate and claim that power.

    Thank you very, very much for putting all of that into words.

  176. Hi John Michael,

    One popular thought stopper on college campuses these days is “Check Your Privilege!” which just seems like a PC way of saying “Shut the F Up, you racist/classist/sexist/elitist scum!” I guess it’s a vacuous shriek with a faintly intellectual twist. All served up with a heapin’ helpin’ of sneering contempt, which seems to accompany many thought stopping utterances.

    I read a very decent book recently titled “I’m Right and Your An Idiot! (from New Society Publishers). The title alone is a pretty blunt expression of a major underlying problem which has given rise to the great proliferation of thought stoppers across the entire spectrum of ideological/political opinion. Until people can at least somewhat let go of their self-righteous certaintly, the possibility of honest dialogue seems remote.

    This is a terrific topic and the upcoming series of related posts promises to be an important contribution. Thanks.


  177. “Opportunity comes once in a lifetime”
    A thought and action stopper. Seems to also fit into the pitty porn category.

  178. Totally OT, but – with respect to the California fires. The California fires and tribal involvement. Native America Calling’s news segment bragged on the way the local tribes were pitching in to help – opening casinos for emergency shelters, donating money, etc. Democracy Now, OTH, had a spokesman – tuned it a hair late, not sure which tribe, talking about how the indigenous population bore most of the burden for things like the fires. Then Amy Goodman got him into the Dakota Pipeline. She followed with The Misdeeds of Trump where that was concerned. He talked about the protests and she – bragged?- genteelly, of course, that she had been arrested. Am I wrong in seeing her agenda and her ego coyly peeking through the veil of concern?

    Sorry. We now return you to the topic of the week. Which is neither fires nor what they think in Indian Country, but possibly a classic case of thought *diversion* along the lines of “Well, enough about me. What do YOU think about me?”

  179. Dropping in rather late, but enjoying all of the comments! I’ve been living abroad so long I wouldn’t recognize a thoughtstopper unless it got backed up with a brick wall, delete button or simple profanity. That is a shame, because I’ll rabbit on when the other person is signalling they’ve had enough.

    Probably the biggest thoughtstopper of all, the one you’ll be hit with if you try American debate tactics in Japan, is polite, but complete silence. The other party becomes too busy to see you again. You are left to wonder helplessly what it was you said or did that offended them.

    It is usually very hard to detect disagreement from the Japanese. I have been in conversations with them where the topic was “Do we want to go hiking?” and they were all enthusiastically in favor of it because they perceived that I was, while in a subsequent conversation with a young lady who did not like hiking, they were all adamantly against it. They quickly come to a consensus somehow on what the group’s opinion will be, and then everyone conforms to that. They don’t like pushy folks like me who have an opinion, because they tend to get led around. I tend to remain silent now, where that is possible.

    They had some real beauts of thoughtstoppers, though, to throw at foreigners in specific. (These are at least 20 years old.) One of them was, “We Japanese are a homogeneous people.” Once the words “We Japanese” got thrown at you, you knew you’d gone too far. Another that got thrown at me was “Japan has four seasons,” when I noted all the unsightly concrete in what they call “nature.” They do indeed have four seasons. And lots and lots of pork barrel politics.

  180. In Australia our government started a thought stopper in relation to refugee/asylum seekers arriving by boat. There were a few thousand refugee/asylum seekers arriving by boats each year, public sentiment and a change of government and it was decided that those who arrive by boat will never be allowed to settle in Australia and we send them to gulags in other countries such as Papua and Naru. This effectively stopped the arrivals. One boat had capsized/sank killing a number of people so the government, and those who agree with them that refugees aren’t welcome, shut down any argument on how inhumane this is by stating “So you want people to drown do you?” The only comeback I have is “Wow imagine how desperate the situation must be to risk your and your families lives trying to get here”. But it stops the discussion.

  181. Ben, the same hashtag has been making its way around my friends list, too. I think part of the disparity you note is demographic–college educated women are more likely to be politically liberal and thus to participate in a feminist social media campaign. Also, I think it is frankly viewed as whiny and/or agenda-pushing by many lower class and/or conservative women not because they don’t care about sexual violence but because among other things it conflates sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the parameters of both have been undergoing a renegotiation in public discourse of late, with liberal feminists tending to use a wider definition. I have seen the hashtag used to cover everything from rape to being sexually pressured by one’s boss to being catcalled to being spoken to with unwelcome flirtatiousness by a guy shopping for the same type of vegetables at the grocery store. I think there’s also a cultural difference, with college-educated liberal/progressive women having a “share, process, and validate” way of communicating that can come off as too touchy-feely and self-indulgent to those who don’t share it. Also many women consider the milder end of this type of experience not really worth commenting on and have bigger fish to fry. Sure, I’ve been subject to unwelcome, persistent sexual attention; who hasn’t? I don’t feel any urge to talk about it on social media and field a flurry of saccharinely supportive comments and sadface emoticons, nor would I feel comfortable putting my mildly uncomfortable experiences on the same stage with women who have been raped, molested, had to submit to sex in order to keep a job or keep from getting arrested, etc. Differences in severity have been elided so that basically every woman can say she has been sexually harassed in some way, and then we are all supposed to be overwhelmed by how many women are reposting it. I think it cheapens the issue, and I know a lot of women who agree with me.

  182. Isobel Cooper: Absolutely, one should take one’s business elsewhere – rather than prosecute the businessperson! If I want a pork pie I don’t go and demand it from a Muslim butcher.

  183. Sorry for the offbeat question, but I don’t know any other experts of the occult/mysticism who regularly answer questions. If you think I should wait until the open question week, I am fine with that.

    What do owls represent symbolically in occult and spiritual traditions – such as in your own neo-druidry or Golden Dawn occultism, for instance? I have grown a somewhat bizarre obsession with the little creatures, they seem much more charismatic to me than other birds or animals. I suspect it has something to do with the subconscious, but I have no way of knowing what, because I am not well read in mystical topics myself.

  184. Hi John Michael,

    I’m unsure I have much to add to this discussion as I encounter this stuff all the time and just dismiss it out of hand. Instead I get on with the next job that needs doing.

    I’m reading the most excellent book “Aurora” by Kim Stanley Robinson, and if that book does not cure the reader of the conceit of the desire to metastasize across the galaxy then far out, I don’t know what would! :-)!

    Anyway, a version of the thoughtstopper was in the part of the book that I read this morning, and I just wanted to share my feeling of discomfit upon encountering the words: The avoidance.

    The author wrote: “A plan had to be made, that was clear to all. But plans always concern an absent time, a time when extended far enough into the future would only be present for others who would come later.”

    Wow. Talk about a one-two knock out blow. Plans can be used as thoughtstoppers too! And don’t laugh, but I have seen people making plans to make a plan. Thanks very much for the book referral. It is excellent.

    Hey, I picked up a new bee colony this morning and it looks like a very strong and healthy hive. As is my usual manner, I don’t generally ask too much from the bees – and in return they over winter easily. The interesting thing is that my original hive is going gang busters and it is a really strong hive. The thing that I’m taking away from this experience is that us humans are asking far too much from these insects and in our greed we are putting them at risk.



  185. I hate to admit it, but my favorite (most problematic) internal thought-stopper these days is “before I pause to think for myself, let’s go see what people are thinking about on Ecosophia”.

  186. @Roger and Violet, there are lots of impediments to reasoning or dialogue that aren’t in the thoughtstopper family. When one-word concepts, however desirable, are used as the last word that closes debate – whether that’s Globalization or Freedom of Speech, Equality, Justice, Life, etc. – what you have there is an essentially religious belief that one value trumps all others. Threats that the local equivalent of the Inquisition will come get you if you express the wrong opinion aren’t even a bad form of argument; they’re threats. Totally different category.

  187. P.S. There is a rich collection of thoughtstoppers (Along with some words of wisdom) from World War I in the chapter headings of Donis Casey’s murder mystery “All Men Fear Me.” The title refers to a government poster of that era saying “I am Public Opinion. All Men Fear Me.” The novelm as one might guess, illustrates how that fear leads ordinary, decent people astray

    One of the most blatant ones is from a 1917 issue of the Tulsa Daily World “We need more loyal and less ‘thinking Americans…Are you an American?”

    Incidentally, Woodrow Wilson as quoted there sounds like a tyrant’s tyrant at heart.

  188. I keep thinking about Newtons choice to limit his scope of thinking at “I offer no hypothesis.” In order for thinking to be effective it must function with in a limited context; similar to how any given biological adaptation is to a particular range of environmental conditions, not to any and all potential conditions (except the x-men obviously). With this realization a practiced thinker, even at a beginner or intermediate level, can chose to willingly limit the range of their thought within a workable extent. However, understanding that thought requires such limits, and sorting out even a rough guess as to where those limits might best be placed requires a significant degree of thoughtfulness. This implies a bit of a chicken and egg issue, and I suspect that thought stoppers of the form discussed in this post:

    “A good thoughtstopper is brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion. It’s also either absurd, self-contradictory, or irrelevant to the subject to which it’s meant to apply, so that any attempt you might make to reason about it will land you in perplexity.”

    are actually an important ‘organ’ of thought, providing limits informed by more primary mental faculties than thought. It has the strength to hold the torrent of thought with in its banks, strength not derived from the thought itself.

    Addressing the downsides of thought stoppers is a core matter in a tradition of thinking, such as the tradition particular to the west. Identifying and removing biases and undermining superstitions (in the old ‘standing over’ sense) has been core work of the development of the Scientific tradition in its prime. Unfortunately one axiom which was held particularly closely during that development process, the objective world, participated in a imbalance which eventually brought forth a sort of nihilistic relativism. Thoughtfully deliberated limits on thought though extremely useful, are not sufficient to hold up a metaphysics. Bias, superstitions, inherited unexamined premises, and thought stoppers always have some place in a living philosophy, thought ‘born not made’ if you please. Rationalism became hyper effective on targeting thought stoppers, until with the collapse of some final efforts in philosophy and mathematics to hold up an objective world, post modernism and other flavors of radical relativism flooded in. With this flood, came, like the sediment of a flood plane, a vast quantity of new thought stoppers right into the core traditions of Western thought. We had destroyed the biases at the foundation of the project of controlling the biases. Classic Faust, a war against the irrational.

    In my own experience, reflecting on my own thinking and observing the thinking of others, it seems as though thought stoppers provide a important function to life. In my own heart they warn my thinking of where turbulent waters of emotion might drown me if I venture too deeply with out due care. In relation to others they indicate where difference of world view are more than ornamental, but are being actively used to live. One friend uses his ideology of vilification of the wealthy, with the entire suite of thought stoppers intact, as motivation to build his farmstead. It functions. On the other hand, I am the image of the air-headed intellectual, for better and worse, the more of my irrational biases fell when their thought stoppers were identified the move vague and multi-directional I have found my motives to be; this isn’t all bad, as I am starting to find my niche in my community as the conversationalist and advisor to several farmsteads, but it is also clear that my removing even a small number of my most cherished thought stoppers, I have thrown myself to a very different environment, the adaptation cost for which is slowly paid.

    When I first started reading this blog I had a vision, in vogue at the time, of starting a eco-village, there was a army of thought stoppers ready to fend off objections to the plausibility of the idea, or to defend its virtue. This was a problem, because it blinded me to some extremely useful perspectives, and caused me to act on representations of the world around be which were cheesy fiction, but it also gave me the conviction I needed to buck the current pulling me toward mainstream academia, and I am thankful to my delusions of that era for saving me from a more frightening set of delusions.

    Now the most powerful thought stoppers I am aware of in my thinking is built around defending my resentment felt toward those living above me in material wealth of social status. The thought stopper I most skillfully use is an High-brow Blow (attack the other position at such a abstract level of analysis that only the really patient interlocutor will put up with the Bird Walk back to what we are really talking about.) In order to do what I have done in walking the Green Wizard path I have had to turn away from many opportunities to pick up social status or wealth, this has lead to some frustrating separation between myself and my peer groups, which is emotionally challenging and lonely. I have not fully escaped dependence on pride at turning away from opportunities for social prestige as a emotional support, and the related scapegoating of my colleagues who are wedded to the more expensive path.

    Referencing back to my friend who scapegoats the extremely wealthy with the Disney Villains caricature, and there by motivated his work on the farmstead. Since reading this Field Guide I have had a break through on our vision of World events. Basically I calmly tried to describe how it appeared to me that our opinions differed, after stressing my conviction that with the poor quality of data available to the commoner about world events I think there are wide uncertainty bars permissible. I told him our views of the elites failing in their duty to society was similar, but that I tended to interpret them as being a more diverse group, and more constrained by conflict among many factions, personal ambitions, and various ideologies, but that it seemed to me that his view of the upper class was more homogeneous. Instantly my friend, granted the difference as roughly accurate, but then assured be that the difference was much less than I had described, he started to articulate his view of the world in the terms of my picture of events. We had a constructive discussion of world politics and economics with very little use of evilness as an explanatory factor, and then both granted that it is really hard to tell what is really happening, because figuring our which sources to trust is a staggeringly difficult task. I hope that this progress will allow us to speak more constructively about how to more effectively work together that our farming projects are more resilient.

    Finally let me say that it is important for a thinker to be able to respect an idea like a beautiful friend. That is to say, you can entertain them, with out proposing. It is lacking this skill that the Though Stopper, as opposed to more refined ways of giving limits to our thoughts, is so vital.

  189. @JMG,
    thanks for your response to Robert, I was waiting to see your response before I added anything. One thing I’d like to add, anecdotally, it seems that far more cultures have designated roles for those that fall under the broad queer umbrella than cultures like the Abrahamic ones that make queerness taboo. Also, sexual repression including heterosexism seems to go hand in hand with industrialization, as cultures like India that traditionally had very sexually open attitudes did not become sexually repressed until colonization and industrialization, and the West didn’t totally lose its sexually repressive grip until deindustrialization started setting in in the 70s.

  190. People don’t like to consider why they vote against their own intersts.

    Do you mean that voting for tax cuts for the wealthy 1% isn’t in the interest of working class Republicans? Strangely, the few white ethnic Trump supporters I personally know are perfectly fine with it, and in fact support the rich getting richer, because that is part of the American dream. I’m not saying that I am that smart, but I am impatient with this kind of shortsighted stupidity.

  191. Hey hey JMG,

    I haven’t finished reading the comments, so apologies if this has been covered. The fast progress, everything in human experience is incomparable line, I think it should be called ‘this time it’s different.’


  192. If I want a pork pie I don’t go and demand it from a Muslim butcher.

    The purchase of a pork pie or a gay cake is not at the heart of the argument at all. The argument is about discrimination, and how far the first amendment rights go as far as protecting theologically-based discrimination in the public sphere or in publicly chartered businesses. I doubt that the court will approach this as a commerce issue. I think that a religion that considers certain sexual actions and actors to be sinful abominations is dangerous and wrong, a kind of legal discrimination.

  193. I’m not sure if this is a thoughtstopper or not, but in a recent phone call with my sister– who I love very much, but we are quite different– she was quite upset because I told her I had no desire to get a smartphone of any kind. I have a landline and an older flip phone, both of which work quite well for my needs. She mentioned the need to keep current with technology, and I mentioned that I thought individual choice over which technologies an individual wants to use is a good idea…..and then she said with a burst of emotion, “but you can’t go back”!! Her voice cracked slightly and I detected a note of panic…..but anyway, it kind of stopped the conversation, as I didn’t think I could deal with that statement at that moment.

  194. @ Dewey,

    Hmmm! What you write are important distinctions. My perspective, which may differ, is that a thoughtstopper is defined instrumentally by our gracious host as “A thoughtstopper is exactly what the term suggests: a word, phrase, or short sentence that keeps people from thinking. A good thoughtstopper is brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion. It’s also either absurd, self-contradictory, or irrelevant to the subject to which it’s meant to apply, so that any attempt you might make to reason about it will land you in perplexity”

    Since it is defined instrumentally, as doing things, it seems that the accroutrements or decal are beside the point.

    Let’s talk about boats; there are kayaks, and canoes, rowboats, galley boats, yachts, sailboats big and small, aircraft carriers, rafts a la Huck Finn, etc. They too are defined instrumentally; they are structures that float on water.

    That is to say: if a boat is carrying missionaries or it is a fearsomely armed warboat it is still a boat, if it operates as a boat. It does all the things that a boat does.

    So if there is a brief statement that is : a) crisp and memorable, b) packed with strong emotion or c) absurd, self contradictory or irrelevant.

    Given this definition, I see no reason why something mythically derived or derived through the possibility of violence is a priori not a thoughtstopper. Indeed, these seem like very powerful and effective thoughtstoppers.

    Of course, for all fairness it must be noted that we are playing this semantic game with someone else’s definition. JMG naturally has the last say with defining groupings within the taxonomic scheme he is discussing.

  195. Everybody knows there is no such thing as a thoughtstopper. What gives you the right to invent such a thing? If God had meant thoughtstoppers to exist we would have had them by now. Stopping thought brings us down to the level of monkeys. At the end of the day it makes no difference; computers will be doing all our thinking for us anyway.

  196. I just ran across a tweet:

    “Women don’t need men to protect us. We need men to stop protecting each other.”

    The context, of course, is the revelation of decades of sexual harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein on the women who worked under him.

    The statement provokes—and is intended to provoke—a strong emotional reaction. Content-wise, it implies—without ever quite making—a sweeping accusation against only one gender, rendering coherent consideration of it nigh-impossible. Conclusion: thoughtstopper.

    What puzzles me is: what kind of thoughtstopper is it?

    (BTW, any chance you’ll compile a list of all the kinds the commentariat have come up with into a more convenient WordPress page of its own?)

  197. Will, that’s not quite a thoughtstopper in the narrow definition of the term, as it’s not a simple, frequently repeated statement that combines strong emotion with absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant meaning. It serves the same purpose, though, and deserves a label of its own. I’d call it Hijacking — trying to take over a conversation at gunpoint with an insistence that whatever point one wants to use is “the” point.

    Jen, exactly. Both those phrases function as Delete Buttons, as they define the other person as one of a category to which (supposedly) no attention need be paid.

    Strda221, by exactly the same logic, none of the social phenomena that today’s social justice activists like to call “fascist” are actually fascist, because they have considerably less in common with Mussolini’s regime than did, say, Admiral Horthy”s regime. You can’t insist on a narrow definition of “fascist” in the 1930s and the broadest possible definition in the 2010s — or, rather, you can, but the rest of us can always roll our eyes and walk away.

    Lordyburd, the comment was, as I recall, “Why are we even having this discussion when we should be saving the planet?” Not quite a thoughstopper — it’s the My Cause Trumps Your Cause gambit, a common bit of manipulative rhetoric these days.

    Tom, good. You’ve defined another class of thoughtstopper, which we can call the Mantra — a single word that’s crammed with such intense feeling that people utter it to drown their minds in ecstatic bliss.

    Swimmer, that’s more complex, because it depends not on emotional overload packed into an absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant phrase, but on a basic mismatch between the ideas guiding action and the reality on the ground. We’ll be exploring that in later posts.

    LatheChuck, good. As though there aren’t plenty of Israelis and Palestinians who insist the other side is solely motivated by hate, while their side is solely motivated by love…

    Phil, you’re welcome. There are also thoughtstarters, and a really crisp aphorism — such as Defoe produced by the dozens every time he picked up a pen! — definitely counts.

    Karen, I’m also absolutely delighted by the way the comments on this post have picked up the idea I tossed out and run with it in a hundred interesting directions. If that happens in future posts about thinking skills, I’m going to revise my more pessimistic notions about the prospects for teaching people how to think.

    Robert, what you’re calling “Gaystapo” is simply common or garden variety political bullying, the sort of thing every group does when it gets a certain amount of power — I’m sure you can recall the way the Tories under Thatcher did the same sort of thing to their political enemies after Maggie moved into Number 10. If you’re going to Godwin yourself by using a reference to National Socialism, you need to be ready to have a meaningful response when your critics say, “Okay, what’s the body count so far?” or “So how many people are in prison camps yet?” — because if you don’t have a good answer, as I noted earlier, you’re going to look silly.

    I’m not at all sure why it is that these days, groups that have lost relative privilege so often fall into the trap of exaggerating their sufferings in such overblown ways, but it’s very common, and it makes them look weak and whiny. Show some noblesse oblige, respond to the changes with dignity rather than hysteria, and you’ll find — as people in similar situations have found for many centuries — that you’ll strengthen your case and encourage people to tolerate your difference from the norm.

    As for your natural law argument, the difficulty with using subjective experiences such as conscience is that you inevitably end up trying to privilege your subjective experience over that of others, a habit which (a) is logically inconsistent and (b) simply encourages them to privilege their experience over yours. I assure you that there are plenty of people — I am among them — who consider moral issues of great importance, but whose consciences don’t react toward sexual acts between consenting adults the way yours apparently does. I evince the Stoics, who condemned adultery in the strongest terms, not because it was sexual — to the Stoics, sex as such was morally indifferent — but because it involved breaking a promise, which they found utterly abhorrent. Why should your particular reaction be “natural” while theirs is not?

    Here again, though, we’re back up against the usual problem with natural law arguments — they pick and choose among what nature does, to fit some preconceived agenda. If you want to build a natural law argument on the basis of conscience, you have to include all relevant acts of conscience, including that of those Amazon tribes for whom refusing to share your wife with a visitor is an appalling violation of the moral virtue of hospitality…

    Sven, good. I think I’m going to shorten that, and call it Snowflaking — defined as “designating the subject as such a Special Snowflake that it can’t be compared to anything else.” Hmm — I’m definitely going to have to go through this comments page and copy down all the categories, not least because of their potential use in Bingo cards during the next presidential election…

    Christopher, a good point. Thought policing is one of the main functions of thoughtstoppers, of course.

    Redoak, I’m not perfectly sure that the gift can’t be offered, if on a less wholesale scale than you have in mind. Still, we’ll see…

    Varun, it depends on how they’re used. Are they polite ways of saying “shut up and stop asking me to think”? If so, they’re Brick Walls. If, on the other hand, they’re ways of saying “I know my views aren’t defensible but I want to believe them anyway,” they belong to another category of thoughtstopper, the Escape Hatch — we can define this as a way to weasel out of the implications of a counterargument.

    Dennis, I’ll have to share that at lodge. Most of my brother Masons think that we’re just a very old-fashioned men’s club that does a lot of charity work — to think that we’re actually the round Earth’s sole defense against raging hordes of Flat-Earthers! Whee! 😉

    Roger, the counter I’ve taken to using against “studies show” is to say, “yes, and other studies show exactly the opposite. For every study there’s an equal and opposite counter-study.” That will usually reduce your opponent to babbling, because everyone knows that it’s basically true. Then you can redirect the discussion to things like the evidence of your own eyes, etc.

    Violet, excellent. I’d tend to call that The Walls Have Ears, after a bad visual pun in one of the last television programs I watched regularly, but either of your labels will also do.

    DC, fair enough! Agreed, the same gambit can be used for unproductive as well as productive reasons, As far as hostage-taking behavior, though, have you ever encountered the kind of people who insist on dragging some specific obsession into any social interaction they engage in? Vegans or evangelical Christians for whom every encounter is an opportunity to proselytize, individuals whose personal emotional traumas (real as those may be) must take center stage in every setting, true believers in this or that political stance who must always find a way to pick a fight over politics whenever they’re within shouting range of another person — those are all examples of what I’m calling hostage-taking behavior. The other people who are forced to be an audience for the hostage-taker’s histrionics are the hostages, of course.

    Ben, class privilege is the electrified third rail of contemporary political discourse. A vast number of the people who like to chatter about every other kind of privilege will turn on you and rip you to shreds if you mention class privilege — especially if you mention their class privilege, which is usually considerable.

    DFC, that’s not a “thoughtstopper” in the sense I have in mind, of course. That said, I won’t argue at all with your assessment of schooling. If my wife and I had had living children, we would have homeschooled no matter what the cost; my time in public schools was far and away the most wretched, useless, and repeatedly traumatic experience of my life, and by all accounts it’s gotten much worse since then. I would no sooner have sent a child of mine to a public school than I would have engaged in any other form of child abuse.

    Dan (if I may), yes, it’s tough! I think “Snowflaking” will probably do best, as it has the advantage of brevity.

    Gkb, fair enough. I hope I haven’t given anyone the impression that I consider people who use thoughtstoppers cowards or dullards. Most of them, as mentioned in my post, simply have never learned how to think; a minority use thoughtstoppers deliberately as a weapon, which is neither cowardly nor dull, just evil.

    Isabel, yes, I recall the footnote. Thank you for a blast from the past! “If you don’t know how to mind your business, I’m not going to patronize it” is brilliant, btw.

    Phil K., thanks for the link.

    Phutatorius, thank you! I’ve revered Galbraith for many years, but that’s good even for him.

    Scotlyn, so noted. I’m going to want to mull that one over for a while.

    Jim, I’d classify “Check Your Privilege!” as a Delete Button, because it’s used to assign somebody to the category of Those Who Should Be Ignored. You’re right, though, that it’s a classic example.

    Travis, hmm! I haven’t seen that one deployed as a thoughtstopper. Can you give me an example of how it’s used?

    Jay, yep — that’s a classic Brick Wall.

    Patricia M., you’re not wrong at all. There’s virtue signaling, and then there’s virtue preening — “look at me, I’m so virtuous…”

    Patricia O., hmm! Fascinating.

    Karen, that’s a good example — a rare Vacuous Shriek, in that it’s more than one word.

    Yorkshire, that’s more complex than a thoughtstopper as I’ve defined it, but you’re right that arguments from human nature, like those from nature generally, are cognitive traps much used in today’s poisonous culture of nondiscourse. We’ll talk about that down the road a bit.

    Bubo, symbols don’t have crisp, easily defined meanings — that’s what makes them symbols rather than signs. If you want to understand the owl as a symbol, read as much about owls as you can, including mythology as well as natural history; spend time around them; brood over them; and let your understanding ripen. A symbol, to use a Zen turn of phrase, is a finger pointing at the moon,and the moon cannot be defined, it can only be experienced.

    Chris, glad the book is turning out to be useful as well as entertaining! As for the bees, based on everything I’ve read, you’re very likely right. Here in the US, most beekeepers truck their bees from place to place to provide pollination services on demand, and use various gimmicks to maximize honey production. None of this is good for the bees, and helps explain why the neonicotinoid pesticides are killing them at such a frightful rate.

    Lathechuck, funny. A certain scene in a movie comes to mind!

    Patricia, Woodrow Wilson was the guy who resegregated the federal civil service here in the US; Ulysses Grant desegregated it back in the 1870s. Think about the implications of the fact that Wilson was a Democrat and Grant a Republican…

    Ray, do you find that you need to have the absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant phrasing to make a thoughtstopper function for the sort of useful purpose you’ve described?

    Shane, two solid points. An argument from nature falls flat when the only nature it’s willing to consider is the extremely unnatural “nature” of the cultures of the Christian industrial West!

    Y. Chireau, were you under the impression that the people who vote Republican consider tax cuts for the 1% the most important issue that should guide their votes? The fact that you consider it important doesn’t mean that they consider it important. I noted in a post back in late 2016 the reasons why people I know voted for Trump, and whether or not the rich got another round of tax cuts was not an issue that concerned them; other issues were far more crucial to them. It’s precisely the arrogance that insists that all classes must care about the issues the middle class cares about that blinds members of the US middle class to the blowback they’ve created.

    Tim, that’s a classic example! I’m going to stick with my label “Snowflaking,” but that’s going to take an honored place on the list.

    Lydia, I’m not sure if it’s a thoughtstopper strictly speaking, though it functions as such. It’s certainly an expression of the religious faith in progress that pervades present-day society. I hope you reminded her that when you’ve gone down a dead end street, going back is the only way to get out of it!

  198. @ Jen – thank you for the thoughtful reply. My wife and I came to a very similar consensus with regard to the difference in ways people of different classes process such experiences. As for the widening of definitions, I also noticed that the stories ranged from sexual violence to “this one guy made me feel icky a whole lot of the time I knew him.”
    I hate to, as a man, say that one story qualifies and another does not. It really isn’t for me to judge. And now the predictable BUT… I think at least a few of the people posting “me too” stories were bandwagon-ing off the very real harm done to other women. If that makes the real victims feel better or at least feel less alone, then no harm done. If it makes others roll their eyes and maybe take other victims of sexual violence less seriously, then maybe the bandwagoners are doing more harm than good.

  199. @JMG – what you wrote “I evince the Stoics, who condemned adultery in the strongest terms, not because it was sexual — to the Stoics, sex as such was morally indifferent — but because it involved breaking a promise, which they found utterly abhorrent,” my mouth dropped open, because that’s precisely what I think and I never knew its roots. I remember being sniffed at as a Puritan for objecting to an acquaintance’s open cheating on her husband – and my reaction “But, it’s oathbreaking!” being greeted with blank incomprehension. (At which time my respect for her, which plummeted when she told me about the cheating, dropped through the basement floor. At the time, I had barely heard that the Stoics existed – this was pure gut feeling.

  200. JMG –

    >> Hmm — I’m definitely going to have to go through this comments page and copy down all the categories, not least because of their potential use in Bingo cards during the next presidential election… <<

    Heh! I'm starting to think that "Thoughtstoppers!" (and variations thereof) would make for a decent board game.

    And yes, I will think seriously about it.

  201. @Y Chireau,
    I think a difference could be made between why the white working class voted GOP from 1980 or so until Trump in 2016. The so-called “Reagan Democrats” from 1980-2016 or so could be said to prioritize social issues over economic, however, Trump, at least in his campaign, represented a smashing of the neoliberal status quo in the GOP with his rhetoric on trade, etc. I dare say that the white working class soured on neoliberalism/globalization, if they ever were that keen on it in the first place, and Trump capitalized on that weariness w/neoliberalism/globalization. Now, his policies/actions since taking office are another story.

  202. “For every study there is an equal and opposite counter study.”
    Newton’s Third Law of Thought Stopper Stoppers

  203. Martin, funny. Clearly God did want thoughtstoppers to exist, given how plentiful they are… 😉

    James, I’m not at all sure that it’s a thoughtstopper. To my mind, it doesn’t imply either that all men protect each other (e.g., from charges of sexual harassment) or that the only point at issue is that men protect each other from such charges; my read is that what it’s saying is, “Er, men, if you want to do something about rape and sexual harassment, don’t fixate on ‘protecting’ women — don’t excuse, protect, and justify the behavior of those men who engage in such things” — which seems like a sensible suggestion to me.

    Patricia, Ioan Culianu pointed out a long time ago that certain philosophical positions reappear all over the place because they’re straightforward developments from specific, easily reached starting points. He was talking about Gnosticism, but at least as good a case can be made about Stoicism. I’d worked my way to more or less Stoic attitudes well before I first picked up Epictetus, and I know other people who’ve done the same thing. From an admittedly biased standpoint, I’d say this is because they make sense…

    Will, oh my. What a party game that would be!

    Sven, it’s been added to the taxonomy. Heh heh heh…

    Michael, please! It’s Greer’s Third Law. 😉

  204. And, for those that are keeping track, here’s the basic taxonomy:

    Vacuous Belch: An expression of warm fuzzy feelings meant to shut down conversation.
    “I believe in people.”
    “Love is the answer.”
    “We’re saving the planet.”

    Vacuous Shriek: An expression of cold prickly feelings meant to shut down conversation.
    “That’s offensive!”

    One-Way Street: A thoughtstopping utterance that looks like it applies to both sides but is only used against one.
    “You should have a more open mind.”
    “I’m sure they’ll think of something.”
    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    Undefinition: An attempt to redefine the issue so that it excludes one side’s points.
    “It’s not political correctness, it’s treating people decently.”
    “It’s not patriotic correctness, it’s love for your country.”

    Delete Button: An insistence that the other person belongs to, or speaks for, a category of people whose opinions are automatically wrong.
    “Check your privilege!”
    “You think too much.”
    “You’re just being hysterical.”

    Bullhorn: An insistence that one belongs to, or speaks for, a category of people whose opinions are automatically right.
    “I’m an expert on this subject, and…”
    “Studies have shown…”

    Brick Wall: A flat denial that there’s any point in continuing the conversation.
    “There is no alternative.”
    “It is what it is.”
    “You’re just being negative.”

    Crocodile Tears: An insistence that any disagreement with one’s viewpoint involves drowning a basket full of puppies.
    “What about the children?”
    “What about the poor people who [insert pity porn here]?”

    Escape Hatch: An attempt by someone whose point of view is indefensible to evade counterarguments.
    “It’s all a matter of perspective.”
    “It’s all a matter of definition.”
    “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

    Nothing Butter: An insistence that whatever is under discussion can be redefined as “nothing but” something else.
    “It’s nothing but a coincidence.”
    “It’s nothing but an accident.”

    Snowflaking: An insistence that the subject of the discussion is so special that no comparison with anything else is valid.
    “This time it’s different.”
    “That’s a false equivalence.”
    “You can’t compare this to that.”

    Mantra: A sound bite so packed with emotion that it shuts down thinking altogether.

    Meltdown: A screaming tantrum in response to disagreement.
    (See your least favorite five-year-old for an example)

    There are lots of subcategories — see Violet’s comments above. among others, for some good examples. What I’m trying to sketch out here is the first level of the outline, in order to have something people can learn in fairly short order and apply in everyday life, or as a party game…

  205. Dear Patricia Matthews, Amy Goodman is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Her assignment is basically to keep leftists sanitized and non-threatening, what in politics is called sheepdogging.

  206. JMG,

    You make a fair point. I agree that interpretation is quite sensible. My initial reading was that it was basically an attempt to provoke reaction by using vaguely accusatory language. (Imagine if Paul Elam tweeted, “Men need women to stop protecting each other,” about the domestic abuse of men, to see the sort of thing I’m thinking of.)

    Perhaps I’m overly-jaded at this point and need to do some reflecting.

  207. Violet– “thus the verbalized use of the thoughtstoppers can be enormously veiled, allusive and even poetic.”

    I remember a few years ago, when I was still involved in radical left-wing politics, making some comment that dissented just a little bit from the orthodoxy on some identity politics issue. One of the more popular members of the forum responded by quoting what I had said and writing, “I don’t understand this. Could you clarify?”

    I felt genuinely afraid when I read that. I felt amused, seeing how actually fearful I was, but– the fear was still there. To someone not in the know, or in the game, “I don’t understand that. Could you clarify?” sounds like a somewhat awkwardly phrased but innnocent enough question. But I knew, and the commenter knew, and everyone reading knew, that what it really meant was “Repeat our dogmas now exactly as you were taught or we’ll kick you out of the group after a lengthy process where we get everyone to call you a racist and get you to doubt your own subjectivity.”

  208. Dear Mr. Greer and Commentariat

    If I may make my own contribution to thought-stoppers….the one I’ve encountered is not strictly a thought stopper, it is more like ‘I don’t want to think about the implications of this’-stopper. Right after a terrorist attack, especially on law-enforcement personnel, some tv news reporter will call the act and the terrorists in question cowardly. Now, I understand the need for solidarity, but this borders on burying one’s head in the sand. Terrorists may be insane and evil, but not cowardly. To say so is to put wool over one’s eyes instead of accurately assessing the threat they pose.


  209. JMG–

    Thank you so much for your encouragement re. my story for the contest. At 40,000 words I expect it actually is too long. I could be wrong though, and it could turn out in the revision process that half of it needs to be or at least could be trimmed away. I haven’t read the whole thing through yet, so I don’t know. But the opposite could also be true– I often write very sparsely on my first pass through, and then when I come back later find that I want more detail, want to see what things look like… the same thing occasionally happened with my Bardic grade pathworkings, for that matter.

    In the meantime, I am going back into a series of stories I began earlier this year, after reading the old Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer for the first time. The protagonist is a variation on the speaker in that poem, except that the dark age world he wanders isn’t quite ours and he carries a series of planetary magical talismans based loosely on the sort of thing one finds in the Picatrix. It’s quite fun, diving back into it.

    On the subject of thoughtstoppers… Observing myself I notice that there are certain things that I am willing to debate, and certain things that I am unwilling to debate. The latter category seems to include beliefs that I hold uncertainly. It’s not that so much that I don’t want them to be challenged by others, though that’s there, as it is that I’m not willing to try to push them on anyone else. For example, I think I can mount a pretty solid intellectual defense of “classical (mono)theism” and of polytheism, both of which I think are true. But there are other things I think are true that I’m personally devoted to but far less certain of.

    I also seem to use thoughtstoppers as mental placeholders– “I think that X is true but I lack either the time or the intellectual capacity to examine it right now. Get to it someday though.” I don’t think that this is a problem provided I don’t go around insisting to others that X is absolutely definitely true, it says so right here in the Bible, only a racist would disagree, and you really should have a more open mind.

  210. JMG- For someone who’s not much into dancing lights on a small screen, you come up with a most excellent example of “stopped thought” (for those of you who didn’t click on the YouTube link, it’s a classic scene from The Life of Brian.)

  211. Not sure if this is a separate category or a subcategory: the Nebulous Fear. A sensible course of action can’t be carried out because of an ill-defined fear for the economy, national security, public morality, house prices, nuclear proliferation, the return of the Old Gods… 🙂 Possibly more of a political and bureaucratic action-stopper than a thoughtstopper.

  212. Travis suggested “Opportunity comes once in a lifetime” and you asked for examples. Travis will no doubt come up with his own, but here is one in my experience.

    It was in the middle of a housing bubble. A young friend had bought a house recently and had seen its value rise hugely. Accordingly she was encouraging the rest of us to buy up property too (even if we already had a house of our own). She was oblivious to our arguments. I don’t remember if she used the actual phrase “Opportunity comes once in a lifetime” but she may well have done, and that was certainly her argument. It didn’t stop our thoughts, but it certainly stopped hers.

  213. JMG
    It is coming along nicely. Thanks for keeping count. Smile.
    I am turning over one I have experienced apparently used to demolish certain fact in a counter argument
    “Of course it is all subjective…”

    Thus for instance in some contexts a ‘promise’ is ‘subjective’ as against ‘true’. A more delicate acknowledgement, humorously, in a contended zone, might be the old song … “I’m true to you darling in my fashion … in my way.”

    In these latter days and brutalized contexts the more pseudo-intellectual put downs might be called ‘the shoulder shrug’: an appeal to higher sophistication?

    A bit like another one from the same stable:
    “We have moved on (of course) …”


  214. @JMG:
    ‘Undefinition: An attempt to redefine the issue so that it excludes one side’s points.
    “It’s not political correctness, it’s treating people decently.”
    “It’s not patriotic correctness, it’s love for your country.” ‘

    To me the word “correctness” is glaringly the problem. It immediately suggests that someone (who?) is prepared to apply “correction” to achieve conformity. (To elicit understanding or gain the support of conscious behaviour change via empathy does not seem necessary to this scheme. Only “conformity”.)

    It makes me think of this aphorism (which I do not count as a thoughtstopper but as a “listeningstarter”).

    “A mind changed against its will, is of the same opinion still.”

    Re – fascism/nazism
    While these words define the aspirations and policies of specific regimes, and those regimes are emphatically not the same as the regimes currently being called “fascist” or “nazi”, it does seem to me there is “a” point in discussing why there do exist movements engaged in trying to revive or reconstruct such regimes, or to rehabilitate their reputations. I guess *this* discussion is likely to get lost by the overuse of “fascist” or “nazi” as vacuous shrieks, and may have questionable value for that reason.

  215. Martin B’s post is actually a cleverly constructed sequence of thoughtstoppers. For the benefit of anybody who didn’t spot this, I thought I’d try and unpack them according to JMG’s classification. JMG, do you have any comments?

    a) Everybody knows . . . . . . (appeal to authority used as Brick Wall)
    b) What gives you the right to . . . . . ? (general purpose Delete Button – you are left to categorise yourself)
    c) If God had meant X to exist . . . . . (appeal to authority used as Brick Wall)
    d) X . . . . . brings us down to the level of monkeys (Vacuous Shriek)
    e) At the end of the day it makes no difference . . . (Escape Hatch)
    f) Computers will be doing all our thinking for us. (a different Escape Hatch, which justifies the abdication from all thought since computers are so much better at it than we are)

  216. Hi John Michael,

    I appreciated the summary. Very amusing, and so very true.

    Having internet troubles tonight, so I’m on the backup connection which whilst slow has the benefit of actually working. It is making posting photos for the blog a little bit complex… I’d miss the flower photos!

    Hmm, I’m not sure about this as a thoughtstopper, but I have come across folks who say something along the lines of: “If the solution is not perfect (or all encompassing) then I won’t consider it”. Have you ever seen that?

    Yes, those practices would certainly stress the bee colony. No doubts about it. I saw a flatbed truck with a load of bee hives once and it was during the middle of the day. I wondered if the bee keeper had asked the bee hive whether they wanted a drink of water before they took the bees to a new location… It takes a long time for a bee colony to get established in a new area. From what I can see it is definitely more than one year.



  217. Hello JMG and fellow commenters, really enjoying reading this article and discussion and hope to see more like it in the future.

    A favorite thoughtstopper (not sure of which category, possibly Vacuous Shriek or Nothing Butter?) of certain alleged “skeptics” is “woo” or “woo woo” to describe anything outside of what they think is “real” (a word which they have redefined over the past couple of centuries to mean “made of matter”). That’s among the ones that gets on my nerves the most.

  218. As always JMG you’re great at bringing into aware consciousness those things that everyone, everywhere, has had to experiment, but almost no one calmly and precisely adressed.

    I recently had to face some of the categories you just mentioned in a meeting to discuss the pavement of a dirt road in my neigbourhood.I hope the next time i could be more prepared!

    Aside from that, a lot of thoughtstoppers here in Spain and Catalonia this days.
    Lots of acquaintances saying “Puigdemont will think of something” “they had planed everything, we just have to come along” etc etc And they pasively refuse to think individually, as if it was tiresome or useless.Its no wonder they are constantly in shock and surprise:”No, this can’t happen” “No, they won’t dare to do that to us”.

    I myself, im grateful and happy to have followed the ADR for some years, and to have spent some time reading History. It helps a lot to be able to foresee things and events, even if its just a little.

    Best Regards,


  219. I was thinking how Starhawk’s comment or something similar might be used as a thoughtstopper. I came up with the term Triaging: The relegation of whatever you are talking about into a low priority category by someone else, where, in the context of the conversation, it effectively dies. An example would be:

    “There are more important things to talk about right now.”

    This statement would actually mean that the speaker would rather talk about anything other than what you are talking about. This may be too close to a Brick Wall. What do you think?

    -Dan Mollo

  220. I’m not at all sure why it is that these days, groups that have lost relative privilege so often fall into the trap of exaggerating their sufferings in such overblown ways, but it’s very common, and it makes them look weak and whiny.

    JMG: Nice! I have to go back and see who you are speaking of here. Sounds like these “Trumpians”, the poor victimized “ordinary” Americans who believe they have lost white male privilege and who blame their woes on Mexican criminals, affirmative action policies, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, women, globalism, Democrats, leftists, etc. etc. You know, the ones who are carnaging!!! or who were told they were by the President. As a majority of voters, yup, they sure do sound weak and whiny. Looking forward to your next post.

  221. Thoughtstoppers – what a fabulous topic, great essay and wonderful, thoughtful, insightful, responses. Too many for me to read them all unfortunately in the time that I have this morning. And I apologize for that and if what I have to say has already been covered or especially covered better. Come to think of it that relates to what I intend to say.

    I feel frustrated by thoughtstoppers as much as anyone and hope to put JMG’s taxonomy and other examples to good use in the future. However I can’t help but wonder about the other side of the argument. Let me explain…

    I define thought as the process of consciously using models of reality – constructing representations of reality, dissecting them, modifying, combining, applying and communicating them. By reality I include basically everything, not just physical reality. There are good models, so so models and poor models but they all share a problem. The problem with models, as has been warned by many thinkers at least as far back as Lao Tzu, is that models are inevitably incomplete, inaccurate, simplifications. We get into trouble as thinkers when we forget that fact. For example this model of what thinking is (manipulating models) is also limited, simplified, ignoring many aspects of the process itself. Using poor models gets us into trouble more often than good models but even the best models need to be repeatedly assessed and updated. Another kink of models is that a more accurate or more complete model is not necessarily more useful – it may just be more cumbersome to use and communicate. Relativity is a “better” physical model than Newton’s model but for most purposes we’re better off with Newton.

    Thoughtstoppers are essentially models of reality (like everything else we think about). The reason we call them out is not because they are models but because we deem them to be poor models and they are commonly used to block, avoid or sidestep good thinking. But like most models there is probably a germ of truth in each of them, which helps explain their persistence. More than that they are useful.

    A problem I have is thinking too much, so much that it can get in the way of deciding things, and of taking action. So “you’re overthinking it” while it may be a way of blocking good thinking can also be a way of breaking a cycle of endless research, discussion, and chewing a mental cud, and actually making good use of those (hopefully good) models that I came up with. What I’m saying is that there is a need to “stop thought” at some point and just get on with it.

    Looked at this way we all need and use “thoughtstoppers”, in the sense of models of reality that we think are pretty good and that we can use for the basis of thought and action without having to constantly reevaluate them. JMG’s “Law of Balance” and other spiritual laws are useful, broad and deep models and thus useful “thoughtstoppers”. I don’t need to deeply understand the theory and limitations of trigonometry to make good use of it. Used appropriately even oversimplified models like “Love is the answer” have their uses — love actually is a pretty good answer to a lot of problems (or would be if people were more secure and thus more capable of it). “Remember the children” really is generally a good guideline. “It’s all a matter of definition” is literally true (see models above) and useful when we differ on meanings.

    Looked at this way thoughtstoppers (in the broader sense) are a necessary aspect of life. They are just general models. Models get us into trouble when they entrench themselves as beliefs especially when they are poor or misapplied. Which I guess is what JMG’s useful thoughtstopper concept is mostly about – people misusing commonly held beliefs (culturally entrenched models) to shut down discussion too soon. Their power comes from being shared beliefs that people can’t or won’t challenge. Belief seems to be the core issue and the fear of upsetting the models of reality that we base our lives on.

    Enough said (by me).

  222. “do you find that you need to have the absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant phrasing to make a thoughtstopper function for the sort of useful purpose you’ve described?”

    Not at all, but I find that when the need for a mental limit first arises a Thought Stopper is born, and that actual thought seems to develop from a Thought Stopper carefully cleaned of its most absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant phrasing. Thinking on it more the most common Thought Stopper I am tempted by is an Escape Hatch, to escape to a point of faux neutrality. “Sure that is a perspective, but there are counter views which have just as much a place in the conversation.” Perhaps a thought stopper is like a scab in out minds skin, forming a barrier until a lasting and healthful solution develops. Though that would mean that humans who don’t learn at least the basics of thinking, the process of repairing such breaches, are apt to become lepers of the mind.

    One of my inner jokes is the inversion of an infamous quote attributed to Arnaud Amalric “Kill them all, God will know his own.” which in my twist becomes “Let them all live, Nature will select her own.” The catch is that Nature outsources a tiny serving of her selective duties to each and every one of us.

    I have been trying to imagine

  223. Here are some ‘weaponized’ versions of rhetorical techniques already mentioned.
    You may find they fit better under the existing categories.

    Shining Shield: An assertion of group identity opposed to the thought in question; excluding the opponent.
    To wit: Ignorance is Bliss, We Don’t Do That, August Tradition

    Virtuous Sword: An aggressive statement intended to escalate the emotional temper of the discussion to the point of discomfort; deliberately elicit futile wrath or force cowering submission to the speaker’s POV.
    To wit: Edgelord, Keeping it Real, The Walls have Ears

    The Squid: Inking the waters to diffuse wrath, avoid pursuit, or divert the opponents’ attention
    To Wit: Air of Samarkand, Mirky Metaphor

    The Loaded Gun: Using a word loaded with widely variant connotations to harden opposition in all parties, prevent deeper discussion, and shut down empathy for others’ opinions/experiences
    To Wit: Gun control is evil/right/futile; Right to Life is the baby’s/the mother’s/the state’s; Freedom of Choice is the mother’s/the father’s only/God’s; Short people gots no reason to live (self explanatory)

  224. The party game could be like Trivial Pursuits. You have a card with some kind of thought stopper on it that you read to everyone and they try and guess what kind of thought stopper it is. Also, I think you could maybe do a charades kind of game with two people acting (not mimed) out a scripted conversation with a thought stopper in it and everyone has to guess what kind it is. That might also work for other logical fallacies as well.

    Maybe a something of a card game like UNO or The Great Dalmoudy where the if you draw a thought stopper you can apply it to someone in the game and if they can’t identify it they pay a penalty.

    Could be fun.

  225. I can think of examples for quite a few of the thought stoppers provided are actually legitimate thoughts: for example, “It’s different this time” can sometimes be backed up with reasons why, in which case the other person truly is making a false equivalency.

    Sometimes accidents do happen, and building conspiracy theories around those can sometimes be problematic: if I say something I did by accident was not part of a plan, but “nothing but an accident” that’s not a thought stopper, but a truth….

    “There is no alternative” can also be accurate: we face a decline and fall over the next few centuries, and there is no alternative because, and then with reasons it’s not a thought stopper, but rather an observation.

    The issue becomes recognizing legitimate thought from thought stoppers then. Which seems far easier said than done….

  226. As a subcategory to the Nothing Butters mentioned already, I’d add most statements that begin with the words “it’s just–“. Essentially they’re the same thing rephrased. It’s just coincidence, for example. I tend to encounter the “just” phrasing more often in my neck of the woods, though.

    Another type comes to mind, but it may not fit under thought stoppers, or it may be a redefinition. It’s more of a thought redirector, but it stops thought on the established topic. For example, if you were debating someone on whether a bakery should be allowed to refuse a wedding cake to gay couples, you make a point that’s particularly difficult for the other person to rebut, and they start arguing about the health and sanitation aspect of gay people entering bakeries as if that were the crux of their argument all along.

    A shifting of the point being argued once the ground initially occupied starts sinking, which usually takes place as many times as necessary to kill thinking on every subject that becomes difficult.

  227. Accusation of “whaboutism” is another classic thought stopper, meant for stopping people from evaluating a situation in context and offering a wider perspective.

  228. @Darkest Yorkshire – a good example of Nebulous Fear is being expressed at the moment by the No-Till Farming community (mainly represented in my conversations by UK folk) in response to the possibility that the EU may fail to extend glyphosate’s nearly expired 10-year-licence + 18-month-extension. They tell me if they can no longer use it, they’ll all have to go back to ploughing and wrecking their soil microbiota and killing their earthworms, and lowering their yields, which will drive up food prices and make people riot.

    Of course, some or all of these things may happen anyway, given that some consequences of past decisions are already unstoppably past their tipping points. But to sensibly stop applying glyphosate on their fields seems too “nebulously fearful” a prospect for them to consider.

    @Lathe Chuck and JMG – since ye have introduced the Monty Python crew and the Life of Brian, I’d say it’s a topical time to express my appreciation at the enormous fun they all have demolishging another thoughtstopper – “what did the Romans ever do for us, then?”

  229. “The Walls Have Ears” — THANK YOU, Violet. That one is a very powerful thought-stopper. I realize I’ve been using it on myself: refusing to entertain arguments for fear of becoming a pariah were I convinced of them. (example: I have a strong interest in history, but wouldn’t even look at rebuttals of holocaust denial. Likewise a reluctance to interact with global-warming denials. Or astrology, for that matter, for all that I respect our host. Holding any such unpopular opinions even privately would be a professional death sentence, if they ever leaked.)* Certainly I have applied the others to myself, but most of the time? I suspect this was the root of them. Giving it a name is a good first step to rooting it out. Especially one with such a wonderful visual pun attached. Thank you for that, JMG.

    *Was it Nissim Taleb who said all salarymen are cowards? When one depends upon the system for everything, it can be a very soft sort of totalitarianism that keeps one’s thoughts in line.

    The biggest reason I can see for the rehabilitation of actual fascism is the use of the word as a vacuous shriek. If the authoritarian left is going to march around vacuous shrieking “Nazi” or “fascist” at everything it doesn’t like, then sooner or later some of the people who don’t like the authoritarian left are going to pick up swastikas or fasces and learn to march in step. It already happened with the hammer-and-sickle: the overuse of “communist” and “socialist” as vacuous shrieks on the right convinced a good part of a generation to reach down into the dust-bin of history, and dust off that arguably-failed ideology.

  230. lojack – I thnk I follow that one but am not sure. Do you mean that, when you want to derail the argument, just ask “What about those Broncos (Lobos, Giants, 49ers, Yankees, Mets… )

    Pat – who has actually used it successfully.

  231. @JMG re: “what normally lies behind an unwillingness to think is some kind of unprocessed emotional experience; I’m not at all sure how to get people to deal with those, though.”

    Are you sure you’re not sure? I think you might be more sure than you might think 🙂

    I don’t think thoughtstoppers can really be addressed using the ordinary thinking mind. If so, any time you pointed out to someone that they were employing a thoughtstopper, the natural reaction would be to say thank you, promptly correct one’s thinking, and carry on with a much-improved outlook on life. But of course, the natural reaction is almost exactly opposite to that in most cases – double down on one’s position, get angry, and storm off. You must have to delete some very nasty examples of that reaction from people who respond to your blog. Surely there is a middle ground there too, but even if one is open to considering other points of view, I don’t think it is so easy to dislodge thoughstoppers using regular thought or words. It is almost like trying to move a giant boulder with a spoon – it’s just not powerful enough. One needs a different kind of tool, a different kind of awareness.

    Gurdjieff was on to this in the Fourth Way, I believe. Although I would tend to file him under ‘Practically Incomprehensible, and Slightly Creepy to Boot,’ a lot of the ideas from that book in particular seem to have stuck with me. I think his notions of ‘forces’ and ‘buffers’ were all about this idea. His response to how to get people to deal with thoughtstoppers was to start a mystery school. So if he really was talking about this sort of thing, it would lead me back to my original question – are you sure you’re not sure how to deal with this? Have I completely misunderstood what some of the goals of a mystery school might be?


    When I read your comment, I thought that we might be trying to get at the same idea, so thank you very much too for writing it all down! I think that thoughtstoppers might form in our consciousness as a response to a painful emotional state that occurs early on in one’s development, almost as a way of protecting oneself. Rather than risk harming the self by constantly re-exposing it to the painful emotion, a thoughtstopper is formed in the conscious mind, while the painful emotion is regulated to somewhere else (the subconscious?) Then any time one is exposed to an experience which might re-trigger the painful emotion, the thoughstopper is employed instead as kind of a barrier. It’s hard to try to describe this, but possibly what you meant by saying “it is trying to freeze feeling into a single, non-flowing, “static” emotional state, stopping its movement, if not its existence?”

    I think you could probably take every example of a thoughtstopper in JMG’s taxonomy and deconstruct it back down to the original emotional state that inspired it. Many of the Vacuous Shrieks, for example, which insist that some other undoubtedly evil group or person is responsible for all bad things in the world could probably be traced back to a personal feeling of guilt and shame. Rather than accept personal responsibility for the good or bad things that happen to one’s self, it is so much easier to freeze that emotion, erect a thoughstopper that says ‘it’s all someone else’s fault,’ and carry on with life. That’s the moment that it passes out of conscious control though, and one’s perception of the world is sharply altered and filtered through this thoughstopper. Yikes!

  232. James, the thing is, I’m open to the possibility that it might have been meant as a thoughtstopper. One thing you can do with a thoughtstopper is turn it around and use it as a thoughtstarter — e.g., “Okay, you’ve said that this can’t be compared to that. What are the differences between the two, as you see them?” (A lot of people lose their cool completely when you do this, so choose your occasions wisely.)

    Lordyburd, I think that counts as a vacuous shriek, as it packs a powerful emotional punch, is absurd (how many of the people who call terrorists “cowards” would have the guts to carry out a suicide bombing?), and is used to shut down thought. Specifically, it keeps people from asking themselves, “What could motivate people to do something that extreme?” — a question that ends up pointing straight toward the clueless savagery of current US policy in the Middle East…

    Steve, if it comes out around 40,000 words, yeah, that’s too big for the contest; on the other hand, last I heard, Founders House is looking for novellas to publish, so you might drop them a line. As for thoughtstoppers, do you find that you need to use absurdity, contradiction, or irrelevance for that purpose? If not, it’s not a thoughtstopper as I’ve defined it…

    Lathechuck, thank you. Some of the formative experiences of my insufficiently misspent youth come in handy from time to time…

    Yorkshire, good. I don’t see that as a thoughtstopper, not least because it’s by no means always absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant — a lot of Nebulous Fears are based on very real dangers, e.g., “If I speak out about this I’ll lose my job.”

    Doug, thank you! Yes, that would make it a good example of the Vacuous Belch: warm fuzzy feelings about “opportunity” swamping basic critical thinking skills.

    Phil, all good examples. “It’s all subjective” is an Escape Hatch, “We’ve moved on” is a Brick Wall.

    Scotlyn, since both the politically correct and the patriotically correct are perfectly willing to use bullying and other dubious means to enforce their idea of correctness, yes, I think the labels work well. As for that very small subculture in today’s society that deliberately uses the imagery and jargon of 1930s fascism, I think there’s quite a bit to be learned by talking about them; a good starting point would be the literature on adolescent Satanism in the 20th century, since the two start from the same shock-your-Mom mentality.

    Doug, that’s why I thought it was so funny.

    Chris, yes, I’ve seen it, and it deserves discussion on its own, as part of a broader cognitive trap we talked about in the old blog — our old friend, binary thinking. “What’s good must be all good, and anything that’s bad in any imaginable way is all bad” — talk about a recipe for failure!

    James, a classic Vacuous Shriek, differing from the usual in that it embodies the end of hatred that’s closer to scorn, rather the end that’s closer to fear.

    Guillem, glad that the blogs have been of use! I hope things don’t get as ugly on your side of the pond as I suspect they’re going to get…

    Dan, good. I see that as a subset of the Brick Wall — remember each of the broad categories I’ve sketched out has many subcategories within it.

    Y. Chireau, it’s always easy to see things like that at work among people you don’t like. You’ll learn more, though, if you take the time to watch the people you like and support doing the same thing — as of course they do. Thoughtstoppers aren’t unique to any side of the political spectrum…

    Truethomas, I’m curious. Did you miss the fact that my definition of “thoughtstopper” includes, as a basic element, that the thoughtstopper must be absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant, or did you deliberately choose to leave that out of the discussion? They’re not just models, or commonly held beliefs, or what have you — they are absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant statements containing a powerful emotional charge. The distinction’s more than a little important, you know.

    Ray, if it’s not absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant, it’s not a thoughtstopper. That’s my point. It’s entirely reasonable to draw a line under a sequence of thoughts by saying, “I don’t know the other sides of this question well enough to continue,” or “I wonder if I’m taking this issue past the point where it’s no longer productive to brood over,” or even “I don’t have the mental and/or emotional resources to tackle that point right now, so I’m going to bracket it for future reference.” All those are perfectly honest ways of dealing with the complexities of one’s inner life. That makes them different from using absurdity, contradiction, or irrelevance to jam up your thinking process or that of other people. I’m not at all sure why so many people seem to have trouble seeing the difference!

    Gkb, good. Thank you.

    Kay, could be very fun! I’ll be interested in seeing whether future posts on thinking skills inspire similar games.

    Will, ahem. Absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant…

    Kyle, that’s a good one. We’ll call it a Detour — suddenly changing the topic to something irrelevant to the original discussion in an attempt to stop thought about the original topic. Since it’s based on irrelevancy — and sometimes also on absurdity — and very often packs an emotional punch, it’s a thoughtstopper. (I’ve seen the Detour combined with Crocodile Tears fairly often, for that matter.

    Iojack, tell me more. What do you mean by “whataboutism”?

    Scotlyn, oh my, yes. Monty Python really does have a lot to offer the current discussion!

  233. They hate us for our “freedumbs and dumbocracies”. I kid you not, I was on the receiving end…..

  234. @JMG “a small subculture in today’s society that deliberately uses the imagery and jargon of 1930s fascism”

    @ Dusk Shine “people who don’t like the authoritarian left are going to pick up swastikas or fasces and learn to march in step”

    I don’t think people playing with the imagery and/or jargon of 1930’s fascism for shock value are the people I’m talking about (although there may be some overlap).

    Imagery such as the American flag could work just as effectively for people who wish to revive an idea of the world as an arena for a struggle between “races” over a soil, whose characteristics are passed through the blood, and whose strength is expressed through leaders of firm will who can protect the strong from the “degeneracy” of the weak.

    But, like I said, this may be an impossible conversation to have amidst all the shrieks.

  235. Y Chireau,
    hmm, how long have you been reading JMG? Were you reading the ADR during the election when he discussed Trump and the white working class? For that matter, have you been reading his comments on this blog? Hmm, talk about reading your own views into things. Not sure if that’s a thoughtstopper, but still…

  236. Here is another sort of “Nothing Butter” I’ve encountered: telling people who are describing their own physical harm from externalized problems such as pollution, “That’s merely anecdotal” as a way of belittling their observations and shutting them off from consideration.

  237. “He is worse than Hitler” and other permutations of phrases that include “Hitler”.

  238. Stefania, a mystery school isn’t a panacea. For people to benefit from it at all, they have to be willing to engage in sustained self-examination and reflection, and that’s not something you can teach people to be willing to do — in my experience, either they’re willing or they aren’t, and there’s nothing the gods themselves can do to make somebody do that if they’re not ready for it. (In the traditional lore, what makes you ready for it is enough incarnations, and enough pain, that you finally stop running away from it.)

    Once that willingness exists, the teachings and practices of a mystery school can build on it, teach students how to go about the work in a productive way, avoid at least some of the traps, and handle the benefits productively. But the willingness has to be there, or it’s all wasted breath. (And if the willingness is there, a mystery school is helpful but not required; people can get to the summits all by themselves, without benefit of outward initiation, although it’s a longer and somewhat riskier trip.)

    Darren, yep. I’m honestly not sure what to call that one, other than stunningly dishonest, but it’s a thoughtstopper, all right.

    Scotlyn, how many people like that have you encountered? I’m genuinely curious about this — the ones I’ve encountered here in the US have a bad case of shock-your-mom syndrome, and gravitate toward nineteenth-century racist claptrap because that’s the most reliable way to get a rise out of people.

    James, again, only if it’s absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant. Otherwise it’s just a debating tactic.

    Patricia O., good! Yes, that’s a classic Nothing Butter.

    Observer, the word “Hitler” used that way is the Vacuous Shriek to end all Vacuous Shrieks.

  239. @Stefania, you may be on to something. I know a lady whose speech is peppered with platitudes (i.e., vacuous belches), sometimes recited with eyes closed tight shut if she anticipates any disagreement from her conversation partner. Her sister describes her as a rational adult on the outside and a screaming four-year-old on the inside. She had a miserable childhood and escaped through marriage at the first chance.

  240. Thanks for the question. It is only a “train of thought” but there is a particular member of my familiy, a person I hold very dear and who in character would do anything for me, who yet holds ideas about the world that have long convinced me they would be happy under a Hitler-like regime. One that would clear the “problematic” people away, one that would deal firmly with moral degeneracy, and one that would recognise and celebrate the superiority of “our peope” (culture and race).

    I do not think this person has thought deeply about the logical consequences, nor have they joined any group other than a church, nor do they play with 1930’s symbols. Hitler is to this person “the bad guy” (mainly because that is ALL he is, his ideas, and policies (other than camps) are not made known for people to understand what might compare to them, and the Holocaust is Snowflake history – so NOTHING can be compared to it or to its lead up), so I honestly believe this person is unaware that the enthusiasm with which she would greet the approach of a group that advocated willingness to do all the above, would bring her into the train of a Hitler-like leader.

    I won’t go into the details of the conversations I’ve had that confirm this to me, or with which I have tried to sketch out logical consequences (most often met with a thoughtstopper), but you could say it has “tuned” me to the question of where does a person like Hitler or Franco or Pinochet (I know too little about Mussolini to include his name in this list of my ponderings) get the following they need to actually be dangerous? For on their own, none of them would have been.

    And I have encountered people since who share this kind of worldview. A yearning for someone to deal with degeneracy, and protect the strong from the weak. These people are often very good people, not horrible at all, which makes it a real headache.

    Again, even venturing to put this kind of thought into words is almost impossible – either because of vacuous shrieks or because of shock-your-mom types.

  241. John – thanks for your interesting response to my natural law argument; let me quote you before I reply:

    “As for your natural law argument, the difficulty with using subjective experiences such as conscience is that you inevitably end up trying to privilege your subjective experience over that of others, a habit which (a) is logically inconsistent and (b) simply encourages them to privilege their experience over yours. I assure you that there are plenty of people — I am among them — who consider moral issues of great importance, but whose consciences don’t react toward sexual acts between consenting adults the way yours apparently does. I evince the Stoics, who condemned adultery in the strongest terms, not because it was sexual — to the Stoics, sex as such was morally indifferent — but because it involved breaking a promise, which they found utterly abhorrent. Why should your particular reaction be “natural” while theirs is not?

    Here again, though, we’re back up against the usual problem with natural law arguments — they pick and choose among what nature does, to fit some preconceived agenda. If you want to build a natural law argument on the basis of conscience, you have to include all relevant acts of conscience, including that of those Amazon tribes for whom refusing to share your wife with a visitor is an appalling violation of the moral virtue of hospitality…”

    My answer to this: I view all of subjective history as analogous in some sense to one long continuous general election held under proportional representation. All types of conscience, never mind how they contradict each other, are natural because they occur. In fact, one ought to expect them to contradict one another, just as parties in a parliament oppose one another. Types of conscience which get the most “votes” during history acquire weight, especially if they occur in minds which one can credit with achievements in other fields. All this political analogy doesn’t prove anything, but should give pause to those who are being judgemental about being judgemental.

    Which brings me to the use of “judgemental” as a thought-stopper. Judgement can be two-sided: with a positive and a negative side. The negative side of mine, is sufficiently obvious from what I have said so far. The positive side, is to do with something that nowadays seems never to get said (and this in itself is a good indication that thought-stoppers are in use somewhere along the line). I shall now try to say it, though it’s hard to say.

    The love that dare not speak its name nowadays is the love for an ideal which can be criticised as (a) laughable, (b) nostalgic, (c) unrealistic and/or (d) never actualised outside the pages of literature. It is the ideal of an old-style “decent man”, as in the heroes of old-fashioned novels. It is to me a thing of nobility, cleanness and dignity. It is all the more powerful to those who believe (as I do) that literary phenomena are as real as “real life” because literature and its conventions spring from our inner natures. Again, please realize I know that this is just one strand among many. But it has my “vote”.

    Now, some may say, so what’s the problem? As in politics, can’t we just all vote the way we want?

    Yes but politics is, I now realize, in some ways more advanced than culture generally. In politics it is recognized that parties represent incompatible views which are nevertheless both necessary to air in public and can have their usefulness. In culture wars, incompatibility tends to be regarded as evidence that one side must be bad. I want to shrilly shriek that there are incompatible forces of GOOD.

    All right, maybe not ultimately. Maybe sometime before the universe’s Big Crunch (if dark energy relents and allows it to happen) a unified field theory of goodness will be found, whereby all goodnesses are reconciled. But I can’t see it happening much sooner than that.

    So for the time being, my ideal of a “decent man”, which necessarily excludes sodomy (if you doubt this, check it out with reference to literature; try to alter the plot of an old novel to accommodate modern attitudes, while still preserving its particular glow) – as I say, my ideal is incompatible with other ideals which are noble in their different way: the liberal ideal of universal kindness to all life-styles between consenting adults. Live and let live? Admit that some vision gets killed, whichever view prevails.

  242. This is a great conversation and thought-stopper, said with a conclusive air:

    ‘Pollution is just the price we pay for Modernity!’

    It ties in wonderfully with the Religion of Progress…….

  243. John Michael Greer you really need to write a book teaching us how to think. If not you, then who. This is the book I’ve been waiting for.

  244. JMG, when I used ‘nebulous’ I meant insubstantial, often bordering on ridiculous – so a fear of losing your job is a legitimate fear not a Nebulous Fear. A pervasive climate of real threats that stops people from acting is something else.

    Scotlyn, I didn’t know no-till farming was a thing in Britain. I live in the Pennines so it’s all sheep and dairy cows round here. I looked up no-till farming and those are some of the biggest agricultural machines I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t really go with no-till’s ‘treading lightly on the earth’ image.

    Dusk Shine, it may help to know there are different motivations for Holocaust denial. One group are neo-Nazis who want to do it again, but know they won’t get the chance if people know what they did last time. Next level down are sadistic racists who know you can use genocide denial to further hurt a suffering population, so it functions as a kind of racist abuse. There is also a certain type of academic who treats Holocaust denial as a kind of extreme sport or game of Russian Roulette. It’s thrill-seeking behaviour for them to see how close they can push to outright denial without getting in trouble (and possibly beyond that point seeing how much trouble they can cause).

    I think a lot of extremism may be of the ‘irritate your elders’ variety, rather than real political commitment. British punks in the 70s and 80s often wore swastikas and at the same time there was a Japanese punk band called Nagasaki Airburst (which on reflection is the greatest band name of all time). So both were playing at taking the opposite side to the older generation. But once you start wearing the mask it’s possible to become the mask.

  245. @JMG

    Oops, my apologies, it was unintentional. I couldn’t have missed your definition but in my enthusiasm for my particular train of thought I somehow must have blocked it from my immediate consciousness. Interesting. In retrospect I probably do that more than a little, taking a tangent from a discussion about a topic I don’t know much about to something I do know or find more intriguing. I can’t ever remember someone using a true thoughtstopper on me, but maybe now that I’m aware of the concept I will notice it.

    I’d assumed that you had coined the term/concept but a wikipedia search turned up something that seems close if not identical: “Thought-terminating clichés, also known as thought-stoppers,[16] are words or phrases that discourage critical thought and meaningful discussion about a given topic.” Robert Jay Lifton wrote about them in his 1961 book, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China”. In case anyone is interested.

    What I am more accustomed to and was trying to examine is the “thought stopping” that comes with ordinary, garden variety beliefs. I often experience that kind of stopping. Beliefs often seem absurd to me or contradictory, rarely irrelevant but usually emotionally charged since questioning them can upset a persons whole operating system, even life support system. Apologies again if this was too far afield from the main topic – it was unconscious and unintentional on my part.

  246. @Shane W
    hmm, how long have you been reading JMG? Were you reading the ADR during the election when he discussed Trump and the white working class?

    hmm…back since around the time of TOD, since Cat Yronwode’s luckymojo classes, since Ashcroft’s magic/lodge, I’ve followed him and his work a long time but it seems to me that there have been so many different JMGs writing over the years that it’s hard for me to keep up, but the version that reads as an anti-neoliberal right wing apologist for majority Americans – or as you euphemistically put it, the white working class – is new to me. No insult intended.

    Enjoying the new site

  247. Wonderfully written. I have been down this taxonomic trail often. I am greatly interested in why various thought stoppers gain widespread use. You hint at the marketing and self-interest that are major drivers in our age. And you clearly reveal how both of these use thought stoppers to pursue irrational ends without facing their irrationality. But I have seen another psychological reason for thought stoppers. It is maybe less common, but maybe more relevant to readers of your blog. The modern world pushes many of us very close to the precipice of mental illness. And sometimes clear logical thinking pushes us toward the precipice and not away from it. I find that often when I or those close to me are latching onto thought stoppers it is because of conscious or unconscious belief that not thinking is more emotionally healthy than thinking clearly. In the long run, this usually fails and groups that adopt the strategy are in for trouble. But it takes emotional reserve and practice to implement the mindfulness strategies that move away from the precipice without using thought stoppers, and thought stoppers are sometimes a short term fix. Like most short term fixes they carry serious risks of addiction.

  248. I am trying to sort out why I have been over applying the term thought stopper in my responses so far. I think the first reason is the possibility of treating the term as a noun phrase instead of a title of a category; a thought stopper is that which stops a thought. It is hard to not hear that meaning in the phrase, and as I formulate my replies the content slumps that direction without careful attention.

    A second reason is that so far I have been giving personal examples, and a glitch in my memory might be showing. I can feel the emotional embarrassment of spouting a rather dumb thought stopper at work; the shame of recognizing in my self that I said something irrelevant to a conversation for the point of blowing up a road the conversation might go down. However, I don’t really remember what exactly I said, and trying to reconstruct it, I sanitize it. “Sure that is a perspective, but there are counter views which have just as much a place in the conversation.” was the example I gave in the last post, and stated as such would have a place in most conversations, but the same notion could easily be stretched to a point of absurdity.

    Finally one of the points of commenting on a new mental tool kit here is to poke and prod boarder line examples. How bright does a thinker have to be to deploy a thought stopper so effective they themselves cannot notice it?

  249. @JMG. Thank you for the new prayer! (“Mighty and Omnipotent Progress, grant that Thy researchers and scientists will come up with something.”) I am going to have to start using this one to break the ice on the subject. I may end up branded a heretic though…

  250. JMG:

    As far as hostage-taking behavior, though, have you ever encountered the kind of people who insist on dragging some specific obsession into any social interaction they engage in?

    Yes. More times than I like to admit. Especially, with so-called evangelical vegans and christians. Shared obsession is par for the course with many of the agents for social change I have encountered, and in some instances, a litmus test for interacting with them in a social setting. Of course, whatever obsession is trendy at any given moment, one would be remiss or outright foolish to openly admit not to share it while being proselytized by the provocatively obsessed. A pariah you will become, I say.

    I am a passionate and compassionate being, but I am bereft of obsessive behavior. I will listen up to a point, mainly to try to understand the behavior better, but do not have a problem with just walking away without the slightest utterance or murmur when I feel the heavy hand of the lifestyle police descending upon me. Is walking away a thoughtstopper? I don’t know, but at least, if I am lucky, the benign act might trigger some thinking on their end as to why someone would just walk away and not openly accept their divine wisdom and toe the line accordingly as they have likely done in acquiring said obsession. Doubt it though, and am likely a pariah for doing so anyway.

  251. A few months ago I was having an argument with someone about the antics of the Antifa movement. This person has, since the election of Donald Trump, become increasingly difficult to have a conversation with. On this occasion I was arguing that the fact that Richard Spencer is bad doesn’t make Antifa good. To illustrate my point, I said, “The most effective Nazi fighter of the 20th century was Joseph Stalin.” I went on to say that this demonstrates that “It’s not enough to be against something bad. You have to also be for something good.”

    My friend became visibly agitated and then proceeded to argue that Stalin could not have beaten the German army without British and American aerial bombings of German cities. As though that had been the question all along.

    I’m thinking of two possible unidentified thoughtstoppers:

    The Five Dollar Word. This is when a person uses an obscure technical term or turn of phrase to end the conversation. For example, I described above the historian who used the term “ahistorical” as though it were a magic wand. On another occasion I was debating with a friend who is a sociologist whether or not white people can experience racism. After I’d cornered him on basically every point, he said, “But how often do you have to negotiate non-white spaces?” At this point the conversation was pretty much over, because “negotiate spaces” is not something that ordinary people do or think of themselves doing, and I had no idea what it meant. Of course it’s not at all relevant to the question. At the time though (this was some time ago) I was intimidated by his use of a technical term with which I wasn’t familiar.

    I saw the same friend do the same thing to someone else, much less educated than either of us, with the use of the term “bourgeois media.” To readers of this blog, “bourgeois” won’t be unfamiliar, and probably neither will the specifically Marxist idea of the popular media as “bourgeois media” and therefore inadmissible as a source for reasons related to the class conflict. But it was to the person in question, and it ended the debate.

    This may be a subcategory of the Detour or Brick Wall. Whatever it is, it’s responsible for the entire careers of Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida.

    “This Is Just Ridiculous!” This may be a vacuous shriek… although it’s more like a Vacuous Scoff, which may be a better name for it. This is when something is described in a way that sounds silly to the speaker, and the speaker thinks he has thereby dismissed it as a possibility.

    Examples: I was listening to a talk by the philosopher and Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart. At one point he was addressing panpsychism as argued for by people like Galen Strawson. In the snootiest voice he could manage, Hart said that “While I’m willing to accept consciousness in the case of a cat or a dog, I’m far less willing to do so in the case of my breakfast cereal.” He seemed to think that having scoffed thus scoffingly, he had proved panpsychism to be false.

    Another time I was listening to a talk on Lao Tze by Allan Watts. He was making the case for Taoism as a rational religion. He mentioned, as an aside, that Taoism had later become involved in “alchemy, magic, and all manner of foolishness.” In that way he dismissed the entire history of religious Taoism from Zhang Daoling onward.

    In my experience this is the main way that mainstream Christian thinkers deal with the Gnostic tradition. A few years ago I read an article by the New York Times’s House Catholic Ross Douthat, in which he was discussing the Gnostic gospels. In order to illustrate why they’re So Ridiculous, Douthat cited as passage in the Gospel of Judas in which Jesus asks “Who do you think I am?” Judas replies something like “You are from the mystic realm of Barbelo.” Douthat simply described this, understanding that his readers would just KNOW that “You are from the realm of Barbelo” is just ridiculous, while “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God” is perfectly sensible. Scoff, Scoff, no argument necessary.

    I’ve seen other Christian thinkers compare the Gnostic scriptures to comic books, as though that were enough to dismiss them. I’ve never been sure what the point of that was supposed to be– that the Gnostics were interesting? But again, the writers in question seemed to think that the comparison was enough.

  252. What’s the difference between a Vacuous Belch and a Mantra, since either can be a one-word warm fuzzy? The fact that the latter is being proffered as a single key value that should be the deciding factor in any argument, while the former is just proffered as disposing of some particular case? Either way, they’re often not absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant; as I envision Mantras, they would usually be important general values that do pertain to many arguments and the only question is whether they’re absolute, or outweigh all others in a given argument. “People should be able to threaten to send Jews’ children to the ovens because Freedom of Speech” is not the end of the argument, even though Freedom of Speech is an important value and entirely relevant to the argument.

  253. @JMG re: mystery schools

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that it would just be a simple matter of starting up a school. After all, schools have been around for a long time, and the world is still, well, a pretty big mess! In my original comment I was trying to get at the idea that most people don’t have any motivation to actually think properly (and thus wouldn’t be candidates for a school), but that there is a smaller subset of people who did have that motivation. That smaller subset are the people who I’m thinking about, as it does seem to be a sad, harsh truth that you can’t really help people to change if they are not already motivated in the first place.

    I was just a bit confused about your comment that you weren’t quite sure how to get people to deal with unprocessed emotional experiences, but if school work is in fact one way that this might be done (for those who do already have that motivation), then that would pretty much clear it up.

  254. Steve T – The Five-Dollar Word may be a thoughtstopper when used as an intellectual bludgeon (akin to what I call the Fallacy Fallacy, beloved of scientism) but more often it’s someone just talking the way that comes naturally to them. People who have a large or technical vocabulary sometimes use it automatically without knowing or thinking about whether their interlocutors will understand it, because to them those are perfectly good words. (And there’s no telling what some people do or don’t know; my high-school-educated small-town MIL recently described using the word “perpetual” in a conversation with a much younger person and being asked what it meant.) If there’s no intent to make the hearer feel inferior (which would be a Bullhorn) or bamboozle him, it may be socially obtuse but it’s not a thoughtstopper. I find “negotiating spaces” unbearably jargony (I’ve had to read some anthro stuff recently that drove me up a wall) but no doubt the folks who use that term settled on it as representing a distinct meaningful concept more consistently than any phrase in colloquial English, and now they just think of it as “what that concept is called.” Which perhaps means that they need to get out more.

    Of course our assumptions about motive depend very much on our attitudes toward the speaker, e.g., whether we have class prejudice against (dare I say it!) well-educated people. Allopaths can’t win with me because I understand much of their jargon, and if they do the “talk-down, use small words” thing I say to myself: “Aha, you’re being condescending while avoiding the technical terms that I might look up on PubMed.” But if they use the jargon [without having found out that I have the background to hear it] I say “Aha, you try to bull your patients into submission with a blizzard of vocabulary you know most of them won’t understand.” Had I not had family severely harmed by malpractice, and had I a more generous attitude, I might just as easily presume that the ones who used small words were considerately trying to be accessible to all, while those who used large words had sagaciously perceived my ability to understand more detail.

  255. JMG,

    The example I had in my head for “you do it too” is Trump supporters who, when faced with some criticism of Trump’s behavior or presidency, bring up all the bad things Hillary has done.

    On the other hand, both sides legitimately do that sort of thing. I’m referring to when it’s a derailment tactic to avoid facing criticism by changing the subject. In which case, it’d be an Escape Hatch, I think.

  256. There are thought stoppers on a local level too. Here in south Texas, if someone complains about the stench coming from the chemical plants and oil refineries, the usual thought-stopping comment is “Well, that’s the smell of money, honey”. In Texas, many people assume that if an activity results in big time money making it cannot be criticized. It seems to me that thought-stopping statements only become such when the speaker says something they assume their interlocutor also agrees with and then the interlocutor is reluctant to argue about it. Interlocutor thought stops, speaker can also stop thinking and walk away untroubled by doubt.

  257. I have a lot of trouble reading David Brin’s blog these days. He has become such foil to the things discussed here. But this post really nails why I have been having such a tough time reading him.

    A long time ago he used to have this catch phrase that was more of a thought starter:
    “Criticism is the only known antidote to error.”
    But, I guess some time over the last ~15 years, events must have shaken his confidence in Progress. He has moved on to a place were winning the argument is his most important goal. He will constantly use all the thought stoppers you listed and every rhetorical trick he knows to “prove” that we are still on track to our Start Teck future.

    His new catch phrase is:
    “I am a member of a Civilization! “
    I find it very sad, that someone who tried hard to think clearly now does everything he can not to.
    (on the plus side – you will find a menagerie of thought stoppers, rhetorical ticks and cognitive short circuiting at his blog. Every week or so he does an entire post of nothing but confirmation bias showing how on track we are for our Star Trek Future.)

  258. Y Chireau,
    well, during the 2016 election year, JMG did write a series of posts explaining and defending the working class vote for Trump, these were by far his most widely distributed, and most commented on, posts (one hit an all-time record of over 400+ comments) I’m sorry that you weren’t able to read those while the ADR was up, and it really would be too much to rehash all those arguments here.

  259. The whole “America first” thoughtstopping that Oilman referred to early shows up in some surprising places. I remember some offline interactions I’d had with someone near me who used to post on the ADR. She was, by all intents, a doomsday prepper planning for the worst, but anytime I’d mention the fact that perhaps the US might be the worst-case scenario of the upcoming collapse, and that other regions might get off easier, while third world countries might come out ahead once the boot of Western imperialism is lifted, it would set off a chain of “America first” reactions (Islam in Europe, Canadian weakness, third world crime & poverty) It was really impossible to discuss with her–if I’d say that third-world countries were already living a low energy lifestyle that we eventually would have to adopt, she’d revert to the American standard of living as the ideal and third world standards as unacceptable, and then I’d be like “maybe that ideal is not possible anymore”. I just thought it interesting b/c, as a doomsday prepper w/such a grim outlook, she seemed far from the “America first, progress worshipping, onward and upward” type

  260. Archdruid,

    I think those two thought stoppers are definitely an Escape hatch.

    If I may add to your conversation with Scotlyn about people who actually believe that 1930’s style blood and soil philosophy is a good thing. One of my major fears is that the people who are propagating these values for pure shock value are slowly starting to believe their own rhetoric. I mean isn’t there the saying about the foolish mage who doesn’t believe that their own spells can effect them? These “red pill” people are producing a great amount of propaganda to support a specific agenda. Some of them may have started doing that just for the shock value, but how many of them are starting to buy into the ideas they’re helping spread?

    Also, as an interesting aside doesn’t “Trump is not a fascist!” count as a counter thought stopping thought stopper? If a discussion were to take place, neither “trump is a fascist,” nor “trump is not a fascist” actually moves the conversation productively forward.



  261. Y Chireau,
    umm, globalization affects everyone equally–the hollowing out of the inner city is no different than the hollowing out of rural America. Black, inner city jobs get shipped off just as easily, if not easier, than rural ones.

  262. @JMG: Thank you!

    In re: masculine decency and gayness, I now kind of do want to rewrite some of those old novels with gay protagonists; I don’t see any essential difference in plot there across that subgenre. (Notably, there are a fair number of relationships in aforesaid novels that parts of the Internet *have* interpreted as gay, and without changing much about the characters when the subsequent fanfic is well-written.)

    In re: adultery and promises, my experience is that generally the people I know who step out on their SOs dishonestly are reliable for anything that doesn’t involve sex, which falls into an “okay to lie about”* exception category for many. (I generally don’t for my own sake, because I’m young and snippy and modern and just put things on the table take-it-or-leave-it style, but I don’t get upset when others do.) On the other hand, folks my age (and thus those who grew up with ethical non-monogamy as a possible thing) who do that are, IME, prioritizing conflict avoidance over dealing with issues, and it’s best to expect that to come up in other contexts when dealing with them. Otherwise…eh, other people’s relationships: not my circus, not my monkeys, as the saying goes.

    On “woo”: It’s too bad that the more extreme skeptics have taken over that one, because I rather liked it as a description of either The-Secret-style “just think positively and everything will be fine” daytime-TV spirituality or the kind of “I am really a mermaid/was Cleopatra in a past life” wispy Specialness that, in my fellow pagans, causes me to need a drink on the other side of the room.

    Actually, “all your problems are because you don’t XYZ” (pray enough, work enough, think positively enough, give up meat/sugar/glutin, lose weight, etc etc) strikes me as a pretty good example of a thought-stopper, and one that society throws around pretty widely. (The thought in question being stopped is usually some variety of “the world is not entirely just”–sometimes with the caveat that we should do something about it, as in the classic Bootstraps Argument, and sometimes not, as in “if you just ate more kale, you wouldn’t get cancer!”) Not sure what the name for it would be, though: Forcing Justice?

    #metoo: Yeah, I didn’t end up posting it because, except for one incident I can’t go into details on in most forums, I don’t think it’s actually happened to me at that level. I’ve been hit on in oafish and clueless manners, and I would like that not to happen and for people to realize that the T is not a singles bar**, but conflating that with assault or harassment just seemed like a bad idea.

    * Or okay to lie about by omission–most wedding vows I’ve heard don’t include the “forsaking all others” line these days, and I’m sure one could interpret that in ways that allowed a bit on the side, and with non-marital arrangements, well, my feeling is that the partner who wants more structure is the one who should bring it up.
    **I’ve gotten snippier in response. Guy on Friday asked what I was reading. “A book.” He went away.

  263. Found a great example of thoughtstoppers at play in the comments of “The Dark Ages” – Popery, Periodisation and Pejoratives.

    One note: clearly the author of the article and JMG seem to use the term “dark age” in different ways: O’Neill is denouncing the pejorative use with its connotations of ongoing stagnation and suppression of learning, while the way JMG has used it clearly means simply “the period after the collapse of a civilization.”

  264. Steve T, as a fellow former radical lefty I recognize that scene so well! When they do it in person there’s even a particular facial expression that goes with the ‘confusion’. Shame it can’t be done over the internet but you’d recognize it if you saw it. Then there’s the ritual expression of ‘sadness’ at your descent into apostasy. Thoughtstoppers are infuriating but I’d take them over the passive-aggression that foreshadows one’s show trial on the left anyday.

    I have no thoughtstoppers to contribute JMG although not for lack of examples. I seem to have an amazing talent for provoking people into reacting with them when I talk about predictable hot-button issues. But that means that dredging up examples would be far too much like masochism.

    Rather than observing my own use of thoughtstoppers, I might assign myself what for me is the much more challenging task of both consciously choosing better responses to them as well as working out why I consistently produce them in others even though I’m well aware of the pattern and that it’s possible to change it.

  265. @ Steve T – I remember that sorta of phrasing from my old anarcho days and it still makes my skin crawl

    @ Dusk Shine, your welcome!

    Some possible other subcategories, if I may:

    Sometimes a thought stopper is very good to use if a conversation is getting a little heated and rowdy and there are guests. A very common ploy I’ve seen for this is the Detour mixed with a goodly dollop of vacuity is “Care Bear Stare”. For Care Bear Stare you paste an unctuous smile on and say “Aren’t Care Bears cute?” and try to manifest through emotional exertion utter and pure cuteness into the surroundings, and through this cuteness shut up the opponent. It is distinct because it relies on cuteness and utter infantilism. In its more pathetic form it may as well be called “Why do Mommy and Daddy Keep Fighting?” Again though, it must be noted thtat the emphasis is on cuteness; it is about the pronounced pout and big shiny eyes, rather than the harm done. Strangely, I’ve seen mostly young men from wealthy backgrounds with feminist inclinations employ this Thought Stopper. It is very useful, especially when two more aggressive people have gotten in an argument and are taking up a little too much space and speaking a little too loud for anyone else to get a word in edgewise. From what I’ve witnessed the Care Bear Stare can often unite the hostage crowd to wrest the conversation back, but sadly inevitably lands it in puppyville for at least the next half hour.

    Another Detour into Vacuity is “O, Shiny!”. This one is usually reserved for when one winning an argument and coming in for the kill. The losing conversational partner or an audience member says “O, Shiny!” and mentions something that catches their eye or is completely and utterly irrelevant. Sometimes it could be better called “Factoid”. This tends, ideally, to start a free association session. Again, this can be tactically very useful when there is a lack of manners or propriety, and is highly effective at organically shifting a multi person conversation towards what the most people are interested in discussing, rather than what the two strongest personalities are keen on arguing.

    Of course while these thought stoppers are fairly innocuous I suspect that they have ghastly effects when done internally. It is an interesting question how much ADHD is someone unconsciously intent on not thinking clearly. I’m not trying to make the claim that it is entirely, but I’ve known enough intelligent people who claim to have ADHD and willfully seem to be getting in the way of their own thinking to imagine that an inner over reliance of this thought stopper may account for some of the manifestations.

    Something similar happens with people who are excessively twee, positive, and upbeat. It is literally as if there is a voice shouting “Care Bear Stare! Care Bear Stare! Care bear stare!” in their left ear constantly. In fully developed cases it is utterly terrifying; the smile is nailed on, the happy wrinkles in the eyes never leave, and everyone and thing is treated like a teddy bear at a tea party.

  266. The overlooked Vacuous Belch or possibly Brickwall, “Artists generate thoughtforms, not thoughtstoppers.” may well to be the first thoughtstopper to incorporate the term “thoughtstopper” in its expression. Surely that deserves to be recognized as a significant accomplishment and sign of the category’s potency and timeliness, imitation being the highest form of flattery.

  267. Off topic,
    but Patricia O, our media is blustering about how “unacceptable and threatening” Japan thinks North Korea is, considering how little I trust MSM, I wondered what the view on the ground is there. This may have to wait for open post…

  268. Just thought of another one.

    “Look, come on now, this is the twenty-first century!”

    As Pericles might have said to Aristeides (if he had known):
    “Look, come on now, this is the fifth century BC!”

  269. Hi John Michael,

    Yup. It is a recipe for disaster that sort of thinking. There comes a point in time where you can face a situation where every decision leads to poor outcomes and yet you have to make a decision all the same, or be swept away by the tides. In a strange coincidence, I was talking to someone about that earlier today, and I sort of suggested that in that situation you have to pick and choose a way through the mess knowing that you are going to possibly get washed away (I used a less family friendly term for that). Just for your info we were talking about the economy down here.

    I may write about that scenario but from the point of view of the dogs. The dogs always make complex matters more accessible and entertaining. :-)! Dunno.

    I hope you do write about that subject and that it gets a future airing. Did you notice that it also gets back to the gains and losses that we were discussing last week, but this time it brushes upon impacts and consequences?



  270. Off Topic, but I did want to share my discovery that if you use an old fashioned phone, you receive no more telemarketing calls. Blessed silence from the phone since my granddaughter said it would be “so cool” if I bought and used the dial phone we were looking at in an antique store. I did and it still works as well as when Ma Bell used to give them to new customers for free. I don’t know why, maybe computers only talk to other computers? It is heartening that up coming generation Z or whatever it is thinks that old technology is cool.

  271. The present system of institutionalized schooling is a product of two or three centuries of economic and political thinking that spread primarily from a militaristic state in the disunited Germanies known as Prussia. That philosophy destroyed classical training for the common people, reserving it for those who were expected to become leaders. Education, in the words of famous economists (such as William Playfair), captains of industry (Andrew Carnegie), and even a man who would be president (Woodrow Wilson), was a means of keeping the middle and lower classes in line and of keeping the engines of capitalism running.

    In a 1909 address to New York City teachers, Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said, “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity to forgo the privilege of a liberal education.”

    I’d like to suggest the work of John Taylor Gatto on the history of modern schooling. It was specifically designed to prevent independent thought. I was built first in Prussia where the state wanted to indoctrinate the population to provide an obedient and predictable workforce for the state and the industry, and to teach the men to follow orders so they can be used as effective soldiers. Reflexive obidience to authority, constant interruption, being imprisoned with people you did not choose, and being isolated from you natural allies in the older generations are not conducive to independent thought.

  272. @Chris

    Some time ago John Beckett (Under the Ancient Oaks) talked about the same dilemma. He suggested sorting the possible choices by which supported long-term objectives as well as immediate objectives.

  273. @Y Chireau: “but the version that reads as an anti-neoliberal right wing apologist for majority Americans – or as you euphemistically put it, the white working class – is new to me. No insult intended.”

    Y Chireau, must one’s perspective always fit neatly under a label when a person happens to disagree with part of the argument? For example, your conclusion that JMG’s writing reads”reads as an anti-neoliberal right wing apologist for majority Americans ” seems really reductive to me. I find JMGs conclusions to be consistent with my own conclusions about race and class within the United States and I am not white. I think that taking the concerns of the white working class seriously does not have result in being a “right-wing apologist” but essential for recognizing the humanity in others – something that is essential for cohesion and survival.

    Have you ever read Paul Gilroy’s work? I highly recommend it.

    Also, I would categorize “anti-neoliberal right wing apologist” as a thoughtstopper. No insult intended either.


  274. @Violet: Oh, lord, I’m having so many memories of my college crowd right now: between the philosophy majors, the hardcore-rules-principles gamers, and the strong-feelings-about-Star-Trek-canon crowd, it was almost inevitable for any otherwise-pleasant social gathering to become like Tokyo beneath the feet of two people’s hour-long argument that went nowhere.

    Due to the demographics of that particular crowd (I do have a theory that certain aspects of culturally-prescribed masculinity encourage this, but it’s only a theory) and me being even nastier and more vulgar in my youth, my tactic was usually a sigh, a blatant eyeroll, and some variant of “…can I get you guys a ruler already?” (There was one tabletop where my then-friend and I resolved to start working out every time Those Two Guys got into a rules argument, on the theory that either we’d embarrass them into silence or we’d get really buff forearms–win-win.)

  275. The history of so-called Third World countries needs to be seen in a broader historical context; specifically what happened during the 1930’s when the so-called First World “collapsed”. Many poorer nations improved the conditions of the people since they were no longer kept in their places by the U.S./European coalition of military/industrial/political systems. That all came crashing down again post WWII, but for a little while….

  276. I have heard that Thomas Edison used to have a placard on the wall of every office in his laboratories at Orange, NJ, that read:

    “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking. — Joshua Reynolds”

    (Apparently Reynolds wasn’t this pithy, but used about three times as many words to express the same thought.)

    I haven’t had time to comment at length this week, but I’d like to echo and applaud Stefania’s observation in here first comment that she “never had that comfortable feeling of security or self. Instead there is another feeling – the feeling that something is not quite right. And that feeling is what can motivate people to actually want to think.” That was my boyhood also.

  277. The thoughtstopper that gets me is “It’s good for the economy.” Never mind if it immiserates millions, destroys a pristine habitat or wipes bees off the face of the Earth, it’s good for the economy and that’s more important.

  278. I think a time honored way to reduce and eliminate “thought stoppers” is to initiate “thought flow”, and we all know how to do this. It doesn’t require a manual – we just start the process by saying, “what is the right thing to do in this moment?”. This initiates a flow of thought. Oddly, this process takes “Moral Courage”, which is very much missing in todays culture, politics, and of course, religion.

  279. Scotlyn, thanks for the clarification. That’s a different matter, and it’s something that needs to be talked about — even though it may be impossible to do so with the people who hold such opinions. One of the downsides of the way that “fascist” and “Nazi” have been stripped of their meaning and turned into meaningless snarl words is that a lot of people these days — including quite a few on the left — hold beliefs that are indistinguishable from those that motivated the historical fascist and Nazi parties, but you can’t tell them that because the words “fascist” and “Nazi” mean nothing to them but “Boo!”

    Robert, it interests me that you keep on changing the basis of your argument as I raise counterarguments. This one — your allegiance to an unfashionable ideal — is at least a good deal more interesting than the others, and while I don’t share the specific ideal you do, I have a great deal of affection for supposedly outdated ideals myself. My question to you is this: why should it be necessary for you to impose your ideal of “the decent man” on people who don’t share your commitment to it? If that’s the ideal that speaks to you, why not simply enact it in your own life as perfectly as you can?

    That question gains a great deal of force when we glance at actual portrayals of “decent men” in the kind of literature under discussion — a genre which, btw, I also enjoy. One of the things that makes the “decent man” stand out is that he’s not constantly trying to manipulate other people into supporting his notion of the good, nor does he constantly complain about the fact that they’re not doing so. He simply does what’s right, and keeps on doing it, irrespective of the criticism and calumny that’s so often thrown at him. Part of his essential decency, in fact, is that he bears up under that kind of pressure with grace. I can easily imagine such a character responding to contemporary shifts in mores by living his own life according to his ideals; I can’t imagine such a man constantly complaining about how unfair it all is.

    Xabier, yeah, that’s a good one. I wonder how people would respond if you rephrased it “Children dying of cancer is just the price we pay for Modernity!”

    Joshua, so noted. I’ve decided to run a series of posts on that subject here, and use that as the first draft; given the enthusiastic and helpful responses I’ve gotten to this post, it’ll be a much better book after the commentariat beta tests my suggestions.

    Yorkshire, fair enough — I misunderstood that.

    Truethomas, thanks for the research — I wasn’t aware of the origins of the term. That’s highly useful.

    Y. Chireau (if I may), no, it’s been one and the same JMG all the time. It’s a source of wry amusement to me that so many people are enthusiastic about what I’m saying, until it’s their turn to have their favorite ideas subjected to scrutiny — and then, of course, it’s “JMG, what happened? You’ve changed!” Admittedly that’s become a good deal more common since I started pointing out that class bigotries play at least as massive a role in today’s America as do bigotries based on race, ethnicity, gender, etc.

    Ganv, that’s an interesting and, I think, a useful analysis. I suspect that a connection with Bateson’s theory of the double-bind origin of mental illness is worth pursuing.

    Ray, fair enough!

    Bill, please do use that, as often as possible. You might even graduate from being a common or garden variety heretic and become a bona fide heresiarch!

    DC, walking away isn’t a thoughtstopper, because it’s not absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant; it’s a simple declaration that you don’t want to continue that conversation, thank you very much.

    Steve, those are good. I’ve also watched people get frantic when you point out that most of the people who obsessed about “fighting fascism” in 1930s Europe were supporters of Stalin’s regime, which killed around three times as many people as Hitler’s did, and ended up presiding over a system of prison camps and secret police that would have made Heinrich Himmler drool with envy. Notice the underlying logic — the opposite of something bad has to be good. That’s not even remotely true, but it’s one of the ways that people days defend themselves against the creeping recognition that their own descendants will think of everyone in the industrial world today the way we think of Nazis.

    Dewey, I think I mentioned that Vacuous Belches are almost always simple declarative sentences, not one-word warm fuzzies. The distinction is that the Vacuous Belch expresses an idea — absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant, yes, but it has some cognitive content — while the Mantra is pure emotion.

    Stefania, thanks for the clarification! I should have been more precise, and noted that I have no idea how to help people in general deal with unprocessed emotional experiences. If they’re already in a mystery school, and are learning the toolkit of methods their school has to offer, then that’s quite another matter.

    James, got it. Thanks for the clarification.

    Hellacia, a very good point.

    Jim, I’ve been tempted more than once to start using the tag line, “I am a member of a civilization in decline,” just to offer the obvious counterpoint to that particular thoughtstopper. That said, I can sympathize with the plight of those people who’ve placed all their hopes on the Great God Progress; it’s got to be a ghastly experience to watch their deity betray the hopes they’ve heaped upon him.

    Shane, fascinating. You’re right, of course — I’ve encountered the same thing rather more than once.

    Varun, yes, I’ve seen quite a bit of that as well; I’ve noticed that several of the alt-right people who used to be active on the Archdruid Report have drifted away, and I suspect that it’s because they’ve made the transition from being ironic Nazis to being sincere Nazis. That’s unfortunate — not least because the Nazi movement was almost comically self-defeating, and they’ve just signed onto a one-way ticket to failure.

    As for “Donald Trump is not a fascist,” of course — that’s why, when I point this out, I always go on to talk about what he is — specifically, an authoritarian populist of the kind that’s usual as Caesarism sets in. (Julius Caesar was another of the same type, thus calling Trump “the Orange Julius” works for me.)

    Isabel, I’d like to see some of those rewrites! I don’t think it would be at all hard to swap out gay and lesbian relationships for some of the straight relationships in classic fiction; I forget who it was who demonstrated many years ago that you could take every cliche of the standard Gothic romance — the kind where the cover inevitably shows a young woman in a nightgown fleeing from a vaguely sinister mansion — replace the young woman with an innocent, pretty young man, and make it work perfectly. (I read a library copy decades ago, and found it highly amusing; the title, if I recall correctly, was Gaywyck.)

    With regard to Stoic notions regarding adultery, one thing that tends to get missed in modern treatments of Stoicism is that it’s not about telling other people what to do — it’s about making your own decisions. (Obsessing about other people’s moral choices is, from a Stoic standpoint, a really idiotic idea; the Stoics liked to point out that you control nothing in life but your judgments and your voluntary actions, so all other things are morally indifferent.) “Not my circus, not my monkeys” could have been coined by Epictetus! And of course Stoicism is also an ideal, and how far anyone can manage to live up to their ideals is always a complicated question.

    I’m mulling over the proper label for the “all your problems are because you do/don’t do X!” thoughtstopper. It’s a huge one, and plays a bigger role than many others, as it combines with the Nirvana fallacy — no solution is good unless it’s perfect — in a galaxy of impressively stupid ways. Hmm…

    James, thanks for this — and yes, I mean “dark age” in the sense Terentius originally gave it.

    Christophe, fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that before; if I had, I’d have laughed myself into hiccups.

    Robert, good! I like to borrow one of Zendexor’s terms for this kind of thinking, and refer to it as the “chronist fallacy” — the notion, as absurd as it is widespread, that if you live in a specific time, you’re obliged to embrace all the common notions of that time.

    Chris, I’m planning on a full post discussing that and its broader context, the comic-book thinking that insists that what’s good is all good and what’s bad is all bad, and if you can find one bad aspect in something, that thing must be all bad. Idiotic, but common…

    Nastarana, thank you! Now to find out if my landline can handle a dial phone…

    Tony, yep. I’m painfully familiar with all of that — and I wish more people were.

    Bruce, yes indeed.

    Robert, fascinating. The Reynolds quote/condensation is a keeper.

  280. Reloaded, good. Yes, that’s a classic.

    Chris, I admit to a certain delight in taking the jargon of a distant age about “going with the flow” et al. and turning it to the work of encouraging people to think. “You have to let the thoughts flow, man…” But you’re right about moral courage, and we’ll be talking about that in due time.

  281. JMG, Reloaded, etc., RE: My temporary optimism over the possible decline of “You can’t stop progress” was, apparently, premature. It may have metastized into many others including, “its good for the economy”.

  282. The old friend who delivered the ‘Pollution: that’s the price we pay for Modernity!’ thought-stopper, also delighted me with ‘ Growing your own food? In the 21st century? That’s nuts!’ I hope that their blinkers never fall off, the shock would be fatal…..

  283. “I’m mulling over the proper label for the “all your problems are because you do/don’t do X!” thoughtstopper. It’s a huge one, and plays a bigger role than many others, as it combines with the Nirvana fallacy — no solution is good unless it’s perfect — in a galaxy of impressively stupid ways. Hmm…”

    What about the Silver Bullet? Kinda catches both aspects: “this one thing is the cause of all your problems, so you can solve them all by doing X” and “if it doesn’t solve the problem completely all by itself it’s worthless”

  284. To mark last year’s presidential election, on Nov 8th there will be a “ten minute helpless screaming at the sky” to be conducted in various public venues.

    A collective Vacuous Shriek, Brick Wall, Mantra Meltdown combo?

    I’ll get just close enough to the one conducted in my town to get a video.

  285. John,

    Your response to Scotlyn regarding Fascism/Nazism and the left supports a thought I’ve had over the week or so. In the ADR you talked about the six markers of the actual Fascism movements of the 30’s seem to share that historians have defined (although there is not total agreement here). It’s occurred to me that a certain leftish group that says they are against Fascism seem to exhibit some version of an uncomfortably significant number of those markers, actually more so than many of the very unpleasant right-wing extremist groups. Once again history or some other greater power has a wicked sense of irony.

  286. @Shane, briefly, the average Japanese isn’t paying any attention at all to North Korea. Like most people worldwide, they are so deeply involved with their smartphones that external realities hold a minimal place in their lives. To the average intelligent Japanese paying attention, the whole circus looks exactly like political grandstanding by all sides involved, including Japan’s political class (which are the “Japan” the US media are quoting). The Japanese media paint a more favorable view of Kim Jong Un and North Korea than America’s media–many internationally minded Japanese took an opportunity to visit during Kim Jong Il’s (the second Kim’s) reign, when the country opened up a little. Kim Jong Un shows every sign of wanting that to continue. I’ve been surprised by the vitriol spewed at me by Americans for considering Kim human, and it seems the US media are keen to repeat any lurid rumor, while the Japanese media hesitate. They are more likely to present information favorable toward North Korea.

  287. For some reason, “be more open minded” has become the go-to thoughtstopper of purveyors of crackpot investment schemes.

    In my country, “Are you open minded? Let’s have coffee!” has become a social media meme for that awkward moment where an old acquaintance joins a multi-level marketing company and starts going through their entire contact list in order to extend a “business opportunity.”

    My favorite open-mind metaphor comes from G.K. Chesterton, who used the same metaphor twice:

    “An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.”


    “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

  288. On the subject of people trying to force their notions of good on others, I think it’s because a lot of social ideals are like vaccines – they only work if they include the vast majority of people. And to take the metaphor to its logical conclusion, anyone who doesn’t get with the programme isn’t just missing out on the benefits, they’re a liability and a threat to everyone else.

  289. JMG, Great post! I love the idea of a taxonomy of illogic and avoidance-thinking; especially if it is illustrated with fantastical creatures to make it memorable! As a book — ideally a hardbound, so it goes well on a coffee table — I’d buy one or more! I’ve long thought such a thing should exist — and systematic training in how to detect and counter such thinking should be taught in our schools. But, of course, the latter presumes the purpose of public education is to improve thinking rather than to, perhaps, keep the citizenry divided and compliant. A government “of the people” which fights for Democracy around the world, wouldn’t do that to their own people — would they?

    While it shows up in various ways, usurping the existing definition of a word or – sometimes – subtly substituting a new word is one of the standard techniques by which people are made compliant. NewSpeak is all around us and it does a wonderful job of making reasoned dialog pretty much impossible. And usurping an existing definition works even better as it leads to endless disagreement — with each facet of the social split having their own implicit definition and wondering how the other facets can be so horrible or obtuse. Discrimination is one example; good luck surviving long without being very discriminating. Democracy in place of Republic is another. And we can’t have a Depression any more because economic contraction was re-defined in the literature after the Great Depression as the much more palatable “recession”.

    I’d like to mention one of my (least) favorite forms of thought-stopping, even though it doesn’t fit neatly into a speech jingle but, rather, the absence of looking, seeing, and telling the truth: I call it “Evil by Proxy”.

    Most of the Evil done in the world is done by proxy. It’s done routinely in our name — without our having to get our hands dirty nor think too much. We just need to comply, pay our taxes, and drive on. People who would never do something personally participate in the spoils of someone else doing something ugly for them. Most religions and most acceptable social groups agree killing and polluting and stealing are wrong…or worse. But we — and they — all participate in the killing and polluting and stealing…by proxy. It’s nice that way, because you don’t have to think and anguish about where your money goes and how you contribute every day in every way to Evil in the world. Hollywood celebrities and politicians can wring their hands about social causes and “global warming” while snorting their coke; flying their private jets around the world; and systematically taking advantage of others.

    We pay our taxes and don’t think much about the forever wars we are funding and the innocent civilians of different skin color we are complicit in murdering. It is inconvenient to think or act too much.

    I am actually okay with hunting, especially with bow and arrow and a little reverence. I’ve personally slit the throat of a downed sheep, with a prayer, knowing it was suffering and would otherwise die slowly in agony. As you know from a prior exchange, I tend toward vegetarianism. I do eat fish from time to time, though, because I know I would — and do occasionally — kill my own fish. It always caused me a problem, though, when I used to eat flesh from an animal I knew quite well I wouldn’t kill personally in order to eat. I don’t know if you’ve ever driven down I5 in California through the area known as Colinga? It’s a vast area of probably many tens of thousands of acres of stench with not a flicker or grass or other greenery to be found: cattle shoved together with their excrement to await their conversion to hamburger; probably the nicest thing that ever happened to them. Everyone agrees the stench is horrible and holds their noses and drives on by to stop for a burger and fries just a little further upwind.

  290. Nastarana & JMG,
    I’m afraid that it’s just a coincidence that you haven’t received unwanted calls since plugging in a dial phone. There’s no difference the phone co can see between any types of phones. It’s only a matter of time before you receive one of those calls on your dial phone. Your number is still out there circulating on the lists.

    The surprising thing is that most phone companies are still supporting the dial phones for dialing out. However they won’t work to access any of the stupid menus (“touch 1 to select X, 2 for Y”) that you encounter so often.


  291. @Patricia,
    well, I’m already hearing from older conservatives about how “we’re gonna hafta go in there and take him out” RE: Kim Jong Un & North Korea. Talk about thought stoppers, or better yet, dysfunctional thought ruts.
    Also, RE: African-Americans and illegal immigration. Seems like studies have shown that black people are disproportionately affected by illegal immigration, and that black wages & jobs are more affected by illegal immigration. Also, there’s the timeless issue of “leapfrogging”, which might explain the increasing numbers of Latinos claiming white privilege. I know that in this latest round of extrajudicial shootings of unarmed black people, including Philando Castile, I believe, the perpetrators were Latino. (In NC, one of the perps was black.) Of course, this messes with the neat liberal category of people of color on one side singing kumbaya, and the evil white working class over on the other side…

  292. @Isabel Cooper – “Actually, “all your problems are because you don’t XYZ” (pray enough, work enough, think positively enough, give up meat/sugar/glutin, lose weight, etc etc) strikes me as a pretty good example of a thought-stopper”

    I have also encountered this as an “all MY problems…” thoughtstopper… or perhaps more of a “lifestopper”. In that there are people who seem to be waiting for X to happen (job, love, home, baby, health, etc) after which their “life” can start up again. (As life has not really stopped, though, I still mull over the question of what it is that IS stopped for such people – attentiveness? engagement? openness to the person or experience in THIS moment? self-regard? …its a conundrum.)

  293. @Nastarana, Nice catch! The other thing about the old fashioned landline phone is that it is extremely resilient to lightning strikes. We lost three cordless phones to lightning strikes one year, and eventually replaced them with an old phone. Now the lightning can bang all it wants, the phone still works. (We don’t try using the phone during the lightning storms, just in case you’re wondering. But it survives them perfectly well).

  294. @JMG I don’t speak about this concern of mine too much, but I do read and ponder works such as Hoffer’s “True Believer”, Hannah Arendt’s “the banality of evil”, your own post on “how fascism could come to America” and even Douglas Adams’ description of “the people of the planet Krikkit, a people who believe in peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life, and the obliteration of all other life forms”… His is a fairly hyperbolic take, but still gets at the point that people capable of becoming dangerous to others are often fairly innocuous and high-minded and idealistic when you meet them.

    When I read Hoffer’s work, I found I could easily recognise myself during a period of my life. When I was a teenager, I longed to be “caught up” into a work and a cause that was much greater (and “gooder”) than myself. I would read books by people who faced great suffering with great fortitude and lament there was insufficient suffering in my life through which to demonstrate my capacity for fortitude. I was sure if asked I could perform huge feats of renunciation and strongly desired to do so. If I had been presented with a charismatic leader and a cause at that point, I fear for what I might have become.

    Later I came out of this stage, but the experience (and sense of a path barely avoided) has stayed with me. Hoffer touched on a point which became part of my own recognition: that a person too willing to renounce their own self may place no value on the self of another – they may easily become a servant to their higher cause up to and including the renunciation and sacrifice of all “selves” – their own and others, none of whom are especially privileged.

    I now weigh causes as lesser than people. A person’s self is a precious thing that no one should disparage as worth less than any cause.

    Thinking helps.

  295. @JMG: I’ll have to try and find that one–it sounds great!

    And an excellent point about the Stoics. My mother, ex-Latin teacher that she is, tries to adhere to the philosophy and has ended up being one of the least flappable people I know, and it’s always been one that impressed me. There are points where I think some kind of moral judgment must be made–so-and-so is a danger to self and others, this other person doesn’t rise to that level but is a toxic influence on those around them or just plain unpleasant, and so forth–but then, I’ve yet to encounter the philosophy that doesn’t have an exception or two, life being complicated and all that.

    @Scotlyn: Lord, yes. I knew too many of my fellow women in my twenties who couldn’t do whatever-it-was because they didn’t have a boyfriend to do it with, for the example that comes first to my mind. Or the “if I only lost five pounds, the rest of my life would just fall into place” crowd. I’m also not sure what’s stopped for them, other than an ability to appreciate the bigger picture in life, usually self-imposed (though I’ll admit that serious health and financial crises can really be outward obstacles, in a Maslow-hierachy kind of way), and it’s sad.

    Names for the all-your-problems thing: I like those that have been suggested! Another that comes to my mind is Fake Yog-Sothoth: this isn’t *really* the key and the gate, nor does it pervade everything, but people sure take that view…

  296. “A mind like a steel trap” used to be a compliment. Perhaps someone noticed that the main purpose of a steel trap is to close instantly when something foreign was introduced to it.

  297. @Scotlyn – the first thing you hear in Weight Watchers is to beware of this fallacy. That your life must NOT be put on hold until you lose the weight – resume it immediately! That plus the detailed but not micromanaged nutritional advice was what I got out of it – close your ears to the sales pitches for fake food and the rah-rah- skinny- is GOOD! an there are diamonds in amongst the garbage.

    Aha! Another thoughtstopper: “I don’t like their style, so there is nothing good to be found here.”

  298. John, it seems I haven’t been careful enough to anticipate objections. (Hard to close up all loopholes without being lawyer-like.)

    You write: “Robert, it interests me that you keep on changing the basis of your argument as I raise counterarguments. This one — your allegiance to an unfashionable ideal — is at least a good deal more interesting than the others, and while I don’t share the specific ideal you do, I have a great deal of affection for supposedly outdated ideals myself. My question to you is this: why should it be necessary for you to impose your ideal of “the decent man” on people who don’t share your commitment to it? If that’s the ideal that speaks to you, why not simply enact it in your own life as perfectly as you can?”

    Answer: So far as I can tell, I’m resisting something, not “imposing” anything. However, I do admit to scorn regarding the liberal claim to want to uphold the right to “private acts between consenting adults” – simply because it doesn’t stop there. Whereas “private” and “consenting” are words that press nice synaptic buttons to do with freedom and choice, the next stage is for liberals to safeguard their gains, by guarding against possible counter-revolution, by gaining a monopoly of expression in the media and the educational system, so we end up with social change, and there’s nothing “private” or “consensual” about social change: it’s an intrusive juggernaut, transforming a culture at all levels, and juggernauts don’t deserve the epithet “liberal”. I certainly didn’t “consent” to the demise of the culture I grew up in.

    Now, John, I have an important question for you. Why, please, do you think I want to “impose” my ideals on others? I’ve gone out of my way to emphasize that I would accept a well-defined second-class citizenship, with certain restricted but recognized rights, for squares like me. Surely that’s a modest demand which precludes even the desire, and certainly the capacity, for imposing one’s views. Besides, as I said at the start, I can never be sure of the truth. We won’t know until all the “votes” are counted at the end of history and the result posted on the display-board of eternity. But you think I’m in the “imposing my views” business – why? I haven’t even attended a single Square Pride march.

  299. Thanks, John, for this post. How frustrating it can be to speak with people who either cannot think or do not think. My favorite thought-stopper still irritatingly chimes in my head from time to time and came to mind while reading this post. Like you, I am a former resident of Seattle, Washington where, about ten or twelve years ago, I began to see a bumper sticker that read simply “I’m voting for kids.” I’m not exactly sure why, but it really ground my gears. I still have no idea what it referred to, but I am guessing that it was a political slogan tied to some ballot initiative to raise school taxes. The thought-stopping mantra, to me, implied that if one were to vote against the initiative then one was effectively voting against “kids” and that regardless of the merits of the measure any debate is disallowed because children are more important than any political discussion. I always wondered, “what if it was a really bad initiative? What if it disproportionately affected poor people? I would love for schools to get all of the funding they needed, but what if it was just poorly written and liable to be abused if passed?”, etc. This kind of binary thinking seems to have deeply penetrated the American mind. It is the reason I have decided to largely refrain from any kind of political discussion at all. If one has anything at all negative to say about Hillary Clinton (for example) then someone lashes out “so you think that Trump would be a better president?!!! If one expresses doubt that so-called renewable energy sources can keep the industrial economy afloat or that they may not actually reduce carbon emissions by any measurable amount then you are branded a “climate change denier”. Don’t think that there is any merit to the idea that Russia rigged the election (due to the simple fact that no evidence has been presented)? You are a far-right purveyor of “fake news”. Don’t believe we should relieve the country of the burden of an antiquated notion of freedom of expression and stop people with whom we disagree from speaking about their personal beliefs for the simple reason (among others) that knowing what someone thinks, feels and believes is a good indication of their future beliefs, voting patterns and behaviours? Then you are a Nazi or some other kind of bigot basking in white privilege and hatred. The list goes on and on. You bring to light a very good point here in your essay, John, but I have decided that there is no hope for any real change in modern America: people there (and in many other parts of the world I assume) simply will not, do not and can not think. And that is not likely to change before civilisational collapse runs its usual course. By the way, to this day I have no idea what that bumper sticker I wrote of meant and I am unclear when they started to appear, but up until my departure in 2014 I would still see them from time to time, so it must have been some time in the last 10 or 15 years that they were printed. Any idea? And, if it means anything, I am not and have never been anti-child, regardless of my voting patterns. One additonal matter: you are a friend and colleague of my brother Mark and he introduced me and one of our other brothers to your writing about ten years ago around the time of the Second Great Depression (is that a thought-stopper?). Since then I have read your column nearly every week and have read and added to my collection all of your works on collapse and have recently begun to really dig into your druidic works. I am currently working on The Druidry Handbook and quite thoroughly enjoying it. Thanks for all of the great scholarship and intellect over the years. You have really added something to the western canon as well as made me think. Have a good week and keep up the good work!

  300. JMG, canonically an Applause Light is a sort of zero-nutrient thought substitute, so that it does has the effect of “stopping thought by replacing it with vague pleasant feelings”. One difference might be that some instances of AL may sound like thinking if you don’t pry too much. The original example involves a speaker who calls for a “democratic solution” to a certain problem—potentially a good suggestion—but who, upon further questioning, can’t explain what he means by “democratic”, or how democracy or lack thereof has anything to do with the problem at hand.

    A Vacuous Belch seems to fit this pattern, but with the added proviso that it’s so blatant that the words can’t be mistaken for a coherent thought? Perhaps we could describe it as a particularly noxious subspecies of Applause Light.

  301. Nicholas, it sounds like Animal Liberation was going strong in Seattle! “Vote for kids” – why stop there? Vote for fauns, foals, kittens, puppies…

  302. I’m late to the conversation and maybe this is a bit of a tangent, but I will chime in to say that Nicholas outlined the specific behavior that I encounter constantly:

    If you have anything negative or critical or questioning to say about certain things, you immediately get put in the “enemy” camp and attacked for “supporting” the far opposite of what you’re questioning/criticizing. Nicholas mentioned Hillary Clinton, renewable energy sources, Russia-rigged-election, and relieving the country of freedom of expression as things that MUST NOT BE QUESTIONED on any level, and if you do, you will immediately be accused of some sort of extreme belief in the opposite direction, and all efforts will be made to shut you up. (One of my own earliest experiences with this was when I dared to question whether race-based affirmative action really did much to address inequality or help people who were the most disadvantaged; asking that question promptly got me labeled a “racist” in desperate need of schooling in the true horrors of slavery, etc.) I’m sure we can all think of more examples, but my question is – what’s the name for this phenomenon, and why does it seem to keep getting worse?

    I think it goes beyond simply binary thinking, in the sense that it’s not even live-and-let-live binary, but more like a cult mentality that ruthlessly suppresses any deviation from the proper binary position. For example – it’s not simply “Trump is bad so Hillary must be good (or at least, reasonably good)”, but goes further to say that “….and anyone who doesn’t agree that Hillary is all good must love Trump, because only a Trump-lover would criticize Hillary, and those people must not be tolerated”. No amount of “I’m not defending Trump, he’s bad, I’m just saying that there are problems with Hillary…” is ever good enough. Trump is bad, so not only is Hillary good, she is 100% good, and anyone who doesn’t agree that Hillary is 100% wonderful is the enemy and must be silenced through any means necessary. You’re expected to get in line 100% with the agreed-upon position, or you will be attacked viciously until you either “come around” to the Right Thought position, are silenced, or leave. Dissent will not be tolerated, and there are no gray areas allowed. (I used the Trump-Clinton binary as an example, but there are many more.)

    I’m finding it harder and harder to have conversations with many people on both sides of the political aisle because of this.

  303. Once again you nailed it. Now I have much to think about in terms of my own use of thoughtstoppers.

    Have you ever considered teaching a community college course? Young people would benefit from someone like you challenging beliefs and re-teaching them how to think. I ask because many times over the years you have reminded me of a professor I had in college who I credit with teaching me how to think.

    I just came to your new blog. I am beyond thrilled to have more posts of yours to look forward to. Cheers!

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