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TOPIC: Cults, etc.

Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 11:50 #97942

So as to not derail Shargrol's thread completely, I am moving my further ruminations about cults, how they work, what the appeal is, etc., here. This development (in the link) came to my attention listening to a roundtable with the director of the new Scientology movie, Going Clear.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Cult_Awareness_Network
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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 13:20 #97943

here's something to add to the conversation...

www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-berlin.de...-and-psychopaths.pdf


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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 14:58 #97944

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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 14:58 #97945

On psychopathy in general, as related to this topic:

www.amazon.com/The-Psychopath-Test-Journ...dustry/dp/1594485755

It's a great read. A narrative from a journalist who wanted to know if he was a psychopath/sociopath. There are characteristics to look for but it would appear from reading this book that there are many psychopaths in politics and in business... and as self proclaimed gurus :-)
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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 15:48 #97946

shargrol wrote:
My sentiments exactly. New CAN: "We'll let you know about other cults!"
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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 17:30 #97948

New CAN: "We'll let you know about other cults!"

Worse than that, was my takeaway: "We'll include other cults on our panel, and direct people in trouble towards them."

And like the professional climate-change-denial 'scientists', there appears to be a small industry preying on people trying to get information about escaping cults.
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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 18:00 #97949

I moved my part of this conversation over here, so as not to derail Shargrol's thread, so I will respond here, to the counter-argument presented there.

Many of the links/sites that were extant a decade ago detailing the worst abuses in the Adi Da / Da Free John cult seem to have disappeared, but this one, as restrained as it is, gives some indication-- kheper.net/topics/gurus/Da.htm.
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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 20:26 #97953

You know Kate, the wonderful thing about all of this is that life has moved on.

I remember the old sites (reading them in my formative years). You and Mike lived it, each with different opinions/experiences. But regardless of our (very strong) opinions about what was... the younger adults just don't care that much. And why should they? The guy is mercifully dead and there are now much saner ways to explore meditation and contemplation. It's still hit or miss, but so much better than the 70's and 80's.

May the trend continue! __/\__ (to borrow Jake's icon :) )
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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 20:42 #97954

Amen to the sentiment that we've moved on. I think the younger generation is far less idealistic and naive than mine was-- and that's a good thing. And the information vacuum is filled much more quickly, with the internet.

However, human nature being what it is-- we will probably always have aspirant cult leaders and people vulnerable to them. (To my eye, Actual Freedom is a candidate.) So being very educated as to how this dynamic works is a good thing.
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Cults, etc. 04 Mar 2015 20:49 #97955

shargrol wrote:
You and Mike lived it, each with different opinions/experiences.

Yes; from time to time, Mike puts something Adi Da wrote up on Facebook. I guess I'd like to know a bit more about that--are any of his teachings worthwhile, in spite of the bad stuff? What's your verdict, Kate? (if, that is, you feel like discussing it). Edit: "his" menaing Adi Da, not Mike!

Second edit: I just saw Mike's post. So: I do not want to get into a disagreement here. Sorry I brought this up.
Last Edit: 04 Mar 2015 20:54 by Laurel Carrington.
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Cults, etc. 05 Mar 2015 04:59 #97961

A few more thoughts on this:

A beautiful open letter as to why Bikram yoga studios and teachers need to openly condemn Bikram
We have hidden behind a “wait and see” attitude too long. We are actively hiding behind a false compassion, an “idiot compassion” – compassion without clear wisdom. Idiot compassion is enabling, it is selfish: it avoids confronting the problem because we fear possibly painful change while enabling the other to continue their destruction. True compassion isn’t always comfortable: it is gentle and loving, but it is also strong and firm, and yes, sometimes painful.

If we as a community were really interested in being yogic or compassionate, if we really think that our yoga practice applies “off the mat”, we would stand up to Bikram and those who have helped him in his destruction. We owe the victims of his sexual abuse our compassion and support and we owe it to ourselves and our students to create a safe environment.

Also, a book I've been meaning to read on Amma.
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Cults, etc. 05 Mar 2015 09:25 #97965

Kate, I've been thinking about cognative dissonance and I'm pretty convinced the core mechanism exists for it's survival value during childhood development.

Inevitably, care givers are going to fall down on the job or a child is going to be exposed to something that it can't understand. There is going to be some sort of wounding, no matter what, fact of life. If a child then had a kind of reptilian aversion to the care giver from that point forward, obviously there would be all sorts of ways that the child would be vunerable - no longer mimicking the adult and learning skills, no longer communicating with parent and learning language and socialization, etc. So cognative dissonance is probably some mechanism that the child continues to bond with caregivers, despite their normal flaws or accidents along the way. Becuase, in survival terms, the child will die if it leaves the family.

Unfortunately, this survival mechanism works even with horribly abusive parents, which a child can remain attached to people who are objectively just not good for the child survival. It's that strong.

My guess (I haven't researched this) is that the cult leader dynamic uses this core mechanism and happens in a similar way. Cognative dissonance mechanism are obviously still in play for young adults, which is why hazing and jumping people into a gang works. Probably same thing for cult communities. Young adults from disfunctional families with a lot of cognative dissonance might be more prone, but I can also see that if the rate of gradual increase of cognative dissonance is slow enough, it could ensnare anyone.

Just wanted to write a quick note on that, before I forgot! :)
Last Edit: 05 Mar 2015 09:27 by shargrol.
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Cults, etc. 05 Mar 2015 10:16 #97968

I think you're quite correct, Shargrol. A decade and more ago, I started noticing the number of abuse/trauma survivors' stories I was hearing from participants of these groups: Adidam, est/landmark, Scientology, Rajneesh/Osho, Frederick Lenz, Muktananda. That perpetrator-victim-rescuer dynamic is very compelling.

I was remembering that movie Kumare last night, and reflecting that he modeled the only positive guru-disciple arc I have ever witnessed, personally. The only one who had no vested interest in keeping his followers childishly dependent, and making his living and fortune thereby.
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Cults, etc. 05 Mar 2015 18:17 #97973

Some counter-notes to the "the members are usually broken human beings" theory of why people join cults:

www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-vi...do-people-join-cults

www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html

EDIT: I'm posting these because I'm wary of anecdotes, personal experiences and untested theories being used as the basis for judging a rather large population of people who may have multiple or widely varying reasons for joining cult-like organizations that seem, to them, to offer safety, assurance, a predictable world view, or some other context/experience sensitive reward. I am in no way defending cults but I think it's potentially an unfair but common practice to generalize about cult members, former cult members, or people who seem to be attracted to cult-like groups.
Last Edit: 05 Mar 2015 18:26 by Chris Marti.
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Cults, etc. 05 Mar 2015 19:03 #97974

I'm looking forward to reading the links, thanks Chris!
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Cults, etc. 05 Mar 2015 21:07 #97975

Chris, while I appreciate your efforts to defend "a rather large population of people who may have multiple or widely varying reasons for joining cult-like organizations" from judgement-- rendering judgement was not the burden of my exploration here. I have described other members of the cult I was in, and others like it, as young, idealistic, and vulnerable-- but not as "broken."

And I will grant that then and now, it is possible to be 'in' a cult, on the margins, and not 'of' it to the point of engaging in behavior harmful to oneself or others. But the criteria for what makes an organization a cult do not seem to me to be much in dispute, even in the links you provide. Obviously, the Jim Jones, Aum Shinrikyo, Heaven's Gate, and David Koresh cults are at the extreme end of harm done. But how bona fide human needs for community and so forth can be exploited in a harmful way-- that's a common thread that runs through less-heinous groups as well.

More awareness is better than less awareness, is my thinking on this. My current interest is driven by the confluence of what Shargrol wrote and my anticipation of the release of the Scientology film.
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Cults, etc. 06 Mar 2015 08:57 #97979

Kate, maybe the best way to explain why I posted those links is that this is a complicated issue and many people are prone to generalize, not about the nature of real cults - I think we agree on that - but about the reasons human beings end up being members of cults. As you say, more information is better.
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Cults, etc. 06 Mar 2015 09:59 #97980

Here's a quote from the psychology today article, I think it's creating a somewhat line between personality/situational, but it seems to be the most pivitol paragraph:

True to this discovery, there appears to be no reliable personality factor that predicts cult membership. However, certain situational elements make people more vulnerable to cult recruitment, and they include: loneliness (as experienced by someone who has recently moved to a new location); depression (as we feel after a failed relationship); and uncertainty about how to proceed (as I felt when I first went to college). These situations create the desire for quick, simple solutions. Cults provide a myriad of "solutions," which are more importantly accompanied by structure, authority, and close social contacts--elements that people want, need, and which most of us take for granted in the course of our everyday lives.
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Cults, etc. 06 Mar 2015 10:15 #97981

And here's the pivitol quote from the other article:

But it is true that certain individuals are more receptive to the message of cults than others? Recruiters know that what they appear to have in common is they are at some transitional phase in their life: something has gone and not been replaced. They may have moved location or given up work or education. They may have just left the bosom of the family because of age or poverty or divorce. They may have drifted away from their religion or ideological roots. They are dislodged from their social group…and looking for another. In short, they often feel alienated; they experience all the meaningless, powerlessness and helplessness that goes with the state. They can feel increasingly isolated form the commercial, political and technical world that offers little for them. Disaffected, often angry and resentful they can seek each other out.
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Cults, etc. 08 Mar 2015 17:57 #98000

For what's worth, I sent an email over to Ken McLeod on this topic, here's what he had to say...

The best book I know on cult dynamics is Them and Us, which is an update (post 9/11) of Deikman's classic The Wrong Way Home. It's a dispassionate exploration of cult dynamics and, not surprisingly as Deikman is a psychiatrist, he sees the essential bonding agent in cults as the promise the fulfillment of unfulfilled childhood wishes. This is very powerful and goes well beyond the rational mind, as you pointed out.

What makes one susceptible (and susceptibility is across the socio-economic spectrum, education, wealth, etc. do not make a difference) is the inability to tolerate the pain of those unfulfilled wishes and the tendency to live in the dream that they will one day be fulfilled. (AI was a brilliant exploration of this theme, and one of the reasons it didn't not last long in the theaters even though the story is based on the idea that if you want something enough, you will get it, a way of thinking that makes one susceptible to cults.)

As for authority-submission, I think if you sit with the body sensations that accompany that shift, you will see the elemental reaction chains in operation. Yes, these are primal reactions, strongly conditioned by both biology and culture. Nevertheless, when faced with an authority figure, one can feel the earthquake (one's position in the world is threatened), or one feels swept away, flooded, by the power of the other, or fears rejection and isolation, etc. In my own experience, one needs first to develop the ability to tolerate the emptiness part of the elemental reaction chains and then, second, experience it in real life situations. This does not make one immune, but it's a start.
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Cults, etc. 08 Mar 2015 19:50 #98002

Thanks so much for the references and for moving the conversation along, Shargrol.

As may be obvious, I have a great personal interest in teasing out all the issues involved in engaging with those who declare themselves authorities. A reaction not mentioned in your post, is rage: the quiet rage that bides its time before making a break; or the roaring rage that erupts in confrontation. I have witnessed the latter, experienced the former. It's one of the possible effects of childhood trauma, is my theory.
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Cults, etc. 09 Mar 2015 11:39 #98008

Kate, if you are interested in saying more, I would be interested in hearing. I think you are talking about aspects of the "cult-ees" anger? The anticipation of when they can finally get out and the primal reaction when someone tries to block their way?
Last Edit: 09 Mar 2015 11:39 by shargrol.
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Cults, etc. 09 Mar 2015 12:47 #98009

Or the reaction when you finally realize just how much of yourself you've given away to someone who does not have your best interests at heart? I experienced that in my first marriage.
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Cults, etc. 09 Mar 2015 13:32 #98010

I am referring to something I first saw written about by Alice Miller, in The Drama of the Gifted Child. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Miller_%28psychologist%29

The rage was very much bottled up, unrecognized but for tiny flares, often years apart. As much as I was able to recognize at the time of my flight from "the guru" was that my life had been a long story of authority demanding my submission-- always to my detriment. A series of people claimed to know better/more than I did. and whose claims did not withstand any scrutiny. The "deal" that interested me about the Free John group, was an intentional community of people guided by an insightful teacher. His first writings very wittily made fun of the model of a bunch of dependent devotees hanging on The Man's every utterance. Then it turned out-- according to BFJ-- that even the most scholarly and accomplished of the students he attracted with such writings "were incapable" of practicing anything but slavish devotion. Classic bait and switch, but done by slow degrees, so that it took the 5-alarm accounts of abuse, particularly of women and girls, to make me bail.

It wasn't until 20 years later, among the walking wounded fellow ex-followers who were trying to make a reformed version of his model work, that I began to notice the extremely high proportion of folks there with stories of major childhood trauma: it was almost universal, in fact. There was a song from my youth that summed it up: "Reason to Believe" by Tim Hardin. "If I listen long enough to you, I'll find a way to believe that it's all true. Even knowing that you lied, straight-faced, while I cried-- still, I look to find a reason to believe." All our own innate goodness was seeking a model worthy of respect and emulation. Reckoning with the reality of our encounters, and the implications of our recognition of worthiness or failure-- that's been a long road.

Maybe the rage has stages: the first-order rage at suffering abuse; and the second-order rage at the denial that anything is wrong. The final explosion when it becomes evident that the perpetrator will "get away with it," enabled by those who don't want to know.
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Cults, etc. 04 Apr 2015 07:49 #98250

I finished reading Them and Us (the book recommended by KMcL up thread). Pretty good. Wound up confirming a lot of the things we talked about on this page.

Basically I'm realizing that all the "tendencies" we have as humans --- including the noble tendencies like protecting, comforting, cooperation, caring, wishing for a better world --- are the same very tendencies that create cults. The horsepower doesn't come from something necessarily damaged in our psyche, except for the NEED for certainty and structure and defensive walls along the perimeter, which corrupts and indulges all the noble tendencies and turns it into a simulation of the thing originally desired.

Not many people will pray like this saint:
Oh Lord!
If I worship you from fear of hell, cast me into hell.
If I worship you from desire for paradise, deny me paradise.


In the most simple sense, sometimes people will find more value of the thought object of a belief or an ideal, than the tangible reality of their situation. It's both the strength and weakness of the human condition. Every innovation began with a creative thought that went beyond reality, every cult ends up trapped in the belief of an ideal that doesn't reflect reality.
Last Edit: 04 Apr 2015 07:49 by shargrol.
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