Today's Sermon: Of Cults & Group-Think
To be part of a group means you're really special.
Why else would anyone join a group?
I apologize up front for the "carriage-return" format in the cited text from The Guru Test; I'm too lazy to correct it this morning.
Group-think, Suppression of Dissent, and Enforced Conformity in Thinking
The cult has standard answers for almost everything, and members
are expected to parrot those answers.
Willfulness or independence or skeptical thinking is seen as bad.
Members accept the leader's reality as their own.
Ask a candid question,
Get a canned answer.
There are two corollaries:
- A) Independent or critical thinking is discouraged,
especially critical thoughts about the leader or the group or the cult's teachings.
- B) Positive thoughts and statements about the leader and
the group are encouraged.
In cults, no criticism of the leader, his teachings, or
his organization is seen as valid -- such criticism is always automatically
wrong, just because it criticizes the guru, his teachings,
or his group.
(And of course such criticism of the guru or his group also breaks
Cult Rule Number One,
"The Guru Is Always
Group-think is not restricted to cults. It is a common problem
throughout the world of groups and organizations.
In her youthful drunkalogue, Smashed, Koren Zailckas encountered it while she was a
football cheerleader who partied with the jocks:
The experts say that jocks are susceptible to "group-think," a
decision-making model that includes collective rationalization (i.e.: "There is no
I in TEAM") and the illusion that shit can't happen.
Smashed, Koren Zailckas, page 128.
Many cults claim to have some divine, infallible teachings,
"The True Word of God",
"so of course any criticism of the guru or his teachings
is always wrong, and downright evil, because it is going against God."
...Or because it is going against The Spiritual Principles of the
Cosmos, or it is going against Nature, or whatever
the purported Higher Principle is...
In some cults, dissent is considered synonymous
with demon possession because
'Satan opposes the group's great works.'
Criticism of the cult, the cult leader, or his teachings
is seen as proof that someone is dominated by evil forces.
In many cults, the attitude is, "Those who agree with us are 'saved'.
Those who disagree with us, or criticize our group, our beliefs, or our
leader, are 'the lost', or the 'unsaved'."
Likewise, in cults, there is a reversal of judgement.
The cult itself is never judged, or subject to judgement; the people who comment
on the cult are judged by what they say about the cult.
People who say good things about the cult are deemed (by the cult) to be good people.
People who say bad things about the cult are deemed to be bad people.
Frank Buchman's Oxford
Groups/Moral Re-Armament cult (that was the precursor of Alcoholics Anonymous)
insisted that anyone who criticized 'The Movement' was immoral:
Moral Re-Armament cannot be honestly opposed on intellectual grounds
because it is basic truth....
Opposition to Moral Re-Armament has special significance.
It always comes from the morally defeated.
Remaking Men, by Paul Campbell and Peter Howard, page 66.
Dissenting members are advised to seek a consensus in all matters.
One fundamentalist Christian cult taught,
"In the abundance of counselors there is safety. He who
trusts his own mind is a fool."
Likewise, the Love Family cult told members who tried to
"What's inside your mind is lies. We are your
mind. The group is your
Cults can be quite harsh in
deviant or critical speech or thought.
As Synanon degenerated from a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program into a crazy cult,
dissent was suppressed:
In debates of Synanon policies on the floor, often too few representatives of
the commune were involved. And
once decisions had been made, it was dangerous to critique them.
Those who did so were silenced with accusations of whining, negativism, or lack
Such indictments were often accompanied by allegations of contracting with other
residents who felt the same way -- other dissenters -- though the very act of
dissent was an essential contract-breaking activity. There was, in other words,
no way one could effectively or appropriately disagree with decisions made by
top officials. One was caught in a Catch-22 net of conformity. As Bill Olin
described it, "The magic circle had deteriorated into a mono-dimensional psychic
cattle prod for keeping us troops in line."9
9. Olin, William F., Escape From Utopia, 249.
The Rise And Fall Of Synanon; A California Utopia, Rod Janzen, pages 218-219.
Group-think usually means no real thought at all;
just repeat the buzz-words and slogans and follow the program.
And group-think usually just means that the group thinks
that the Guru is always right.
One way of testing the cult nature of a group is by challenging
the ideology binding the group together. We can discover something
about the nature of a group by how well its members tolerate
opposition to the ideology that holds the group together. How
well do members tolerate difference of opinion, opinion that
challenges the very ideological heart of the group?
Members of the cult are like a colony of insects when disturbed.
A frenzy of activity and protective measures are executed when
core ideologies are challenged. The stronger the evidence challenging
the truthfulness of the group ideology, the more likely members
of the cult are to either lash out in a more or less predictable
fashion, fall apart, or disband into separate cult colonies.
Another aspect of group-think is something that might be called
"group-feel." The cult dictates what feelings or emotions
good members are supposed to feel.
Usually, all members are supposed to maintain a cheerful disposition
all of the time, happily proclaiming that the guru and his teachings
are just wonderful and will save the world, or some such thing.
Anger is permitted only when criticizing non-conforming or
under-performing cult members, or when faulting outsiders -- especially
when condemning "enemies" of the cult and other outsiders who criticize the cult, and when condemning competing cults or groups. Otherwise, everybody wears a smiley happy face.
Negative emotions about the cult or its leader are considered
especially bad -- a sure sign that someone is failing the standards
Thus endeth today's sermon.
Go forth today and look for the telltale signs of cult behavior.
You might be surprised how often you recognize it in people around you.
At least, think about it.
I mean it, damn it!
Best bar bet in the world: Delilah didn't do it.
Judges 16:19-- And she made him (Samson) sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head.