-ists and -isms, Contemporary Cults, and Cultish Seminars

With many extremist -ist and -ism movements inciting mobs in our day, motivating individuals to behave toward others in ways they wouldn’t dream of doing on their own, and stifling rational inquiry and public debate, studying cults and mind-control is most timely. Rick Allen Ross, author of Cults Inside Out, identifies many characteristics of cults (https://youtu.be/B2WQpRageBE).

Here are Ross’s eight criteria for helping identify a cult:

  1. using coercive persuasion techniques that break a person down and then initiate thought reform
  2. demanding unquestioned ideological purity
  3. examining every private thought of the individual before the group
  4. citing anyone who questions the group as being unscientific and wrong
  5. using loaded-language clichés to stop critical thinking
  6. controlling the mind by controlling all information one receives
  7. manipulating emotions
  8. creating deployable agents, exploiting members

Dr. Robert Lifton identifies three main characteristics of cults (Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China. New York: Norton. 1961.):

  1. totalististic thought-reform practices
  2. worship of leader or group or ideology
  3. economic or sexual exploitation

Janja Lalich, Ph.D. and Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. suggest another list, as I paraphrase it (http://www.csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm):

  1. The group doesn’t question its ideology.

‪2. Excessive chanting or denunciation sessions or other practices counter doubts.

  1. The leadership or ideology dictates thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  2. ‪The ideology/group/leader is on a mission to save the world, having an elitist status.
  3. It’s polemical, us-versus-them.
  4. “‪The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).”
  5. The ends-justifying-means mentality has members preforming acts they wouldn’t even consider doing on their own.
  6. ‪Shaming manipulates behavior.

‪9. The member is subservient, radically altering one’s previous way of life.

‪    10. Members see no other viable alternatives to the group’s views, fearing reprisals for simply considering otherwise.

Using lists like these, classic cults already have been identified and thoroughly studied, e.g., Krishna Consciousness, Jonestown, Charles Manson, Unification Church, Scientology, Aum Shinrikyo, Heaven’s Gate, Leninism, Maoism, Kabbalah, Thelma, O.T.O. and other secret societies. If one substitutes an ideology for a leader, other cult-like movements also have been carefully investigated, like various totalitarian movements, The French Revolution, Marxist revolutions, and even apocalyptic groups using violence in destroying the world to renew it like Al Qaeda and ISIS. Though not often thought of as cults, these movements share many attributes with classic cults. Again, this is evident by substituting the group’s ideology with a revered leader.

Let’s employ the lists above in identifying cults less well studied. What popular movements of today might we suspect of using brainwashing techniques, thought reform programs, but which haven’t been much studied as cults?  Consider some contemporary and popular movements. B.A.M.N. (By Any Means Necessary) is contemporary; though it’s not popular, it is generally part of the much larger movement Antifa (Anti-Fascist), which supports the truly popular contemporary phenomena of Socialism. B.A.M.N. might qualify, then, as a little studied contemporary cult. One might establish a case for The Regressive Left or the Alt-Right elements of other movements, say, Feminism, Transgenderism, Environmentalism, Animal-Rights, and Racism (of whatever strip) as being at least cult-like, whether they’re benign or destructive.

Elements of some of these popular and respected movements are on the FBI’s domestic terrorist list. Names and slogans can be deceptive; who would dare find fault with a “People’s Liberation Organization” or “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”? Are you against liberating the oppressed or against treating animals ethically or perhaps you hate women or tranz!? Cult-like organizations and movements excel in using euphemisms in manipulating and deceiving the unsuspecting. Even honestly and respectfully questioning the ideology, assumptions, or practices of such groups is met with hostile ad homonym attacks and outrage. Such emotional backlash, appeals to pity of a group winning the victim-ology game of “oppression Olympics,” effectively buffers them from open discussion about their movement. Thinking-people don’t wish to risk their reputations on confronting well organized Social Justice Warriors. Instead, they self-sensor, preventing themselves from asking questions that beg to be asked, to the detriment of a civil and democratic society; cowardice is harmful. We’re facing irrational, vehemently emotional, delusional, brainwashed people more frequently, be they family, friends, peers, students, or strangers. It’s beyond time we politely and reasonably speak up, confront, expose.

Next, consider if most of these persuasion techniques might apply, not just to a classic cult or to a popular -ism/-ist, but to a given institution that one wouldn’t suspect, apart from scrutiny, of using mind-control or other cult-like techniques. Ross mentions “corporations, political parties, and self-interested groups” of influencing us to do things, using authority, celebrity influence, advertising, propaganda (https://youtu.be/JKZx5ucp78I). Corporation or university training seminars, courses, group-building sessions, and self-help groups perhaps use cultish tools. “Social Justice Boot-Camps” for incoming college freshmen, reform students into social agents for change regarding Intersectionality; depending on the program specifics, such camps might also belong with other groups using cult-like indoctrination methods.

We’ve traveled far, from classic cuts to popular contemporary movements to–corporations and universities? Depending on the samples chosen, applying the lists above to them reveals echo-chambers, group-think, lack of intellectual diversity, at least, if not further cultish characteristics. A cult member doesn’t think he’s in a cult, after all. Watch this Jordan B Peterson clip, calling some universities indoctrination cults: https://youtu.be/9-77NpxbE7k

Identifying cult-like influences on our family, friends, and society is not an inert academic exercise. Our cities, universities, religious institutions, and families, are being ripped apart, friends becoming enemies. “Emotionally unstable,” “mentally disturbed,” “mob psychology,” these terms come up short to me–“diabolical” seems a better fit! “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Turn the other cheek,” and “Do to others as you’d be done by,” must be our response–no silver bullet, no stake through the heart, no hacking off the zombie heads. We must lovingly, prayerfully, wisely deprogram the brainwashed. Fearing them, leaving them to their hysterical outrage and insanity, is indifference; some say this, not hate, is the opposite of love. Speak up!

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