Saturday, January 13, 2007

From the personal-is-psychological-is-political department

One possible way of looking groups or ideologies that doesn't depend on either the content of the beliefs or one's personal feelings about any given person in it: this "evaluation frame".

The word "cult" is used, but I think that because that word is so loaded, (even though it's also useful to try to take the word back from its common usage as "religious group i think is too way out there," which the author, a pagan, would have some vested interest in), a better way of looking at it might be "assessment of how authoritarian/totalistic a given group is." Note that the following is based on the dynamics of how the group works; they could be -saying- they believe in the exact opposite of authoritarianism. Freedom, equality, democracy, "yes, we are all individuals." It might not matter, is the point.

So, you're supposed to look at each one of these criteria and rate the group in question from a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the "high" end. the higher the total, the more you might want to be on your guard.

As the author points out, too low might also be a problem for some people. for me that wouldn't make a group "dangerous" so much as "completely ineffectual," but i suppose if the group has any sort of real-world decision making process, or is in a position of leadership/responsibility, then yes, that could be "dangerous," also.

Note that this could apply to religious groups of any denomination, political groups across the ideological spectrum, or any other sort of secular group.

***********

Factors:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Low High

1 Internal Control: Amount of internal political and social power exercised by leader(s) over members; lack of clearly defined organizational rights for members.
_________________________
2 External Control: Amount of external political and social influence desired or obtained; emphasis on directing members’ external political and social behavior.
_________________________
3 Wisdom/Knowledge Claimed by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared or implied about decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations; number and degree of unverified and/or unverifiable credentials claimed.
_________________________
4 Wisdom/Knowledge Credited to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations made by leader(s); amount of hostility by members towards internal or external critics and/or towards verification efforts.
_________________________
5 Dogma: Rigidity of reality concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility or “fundamentalism;” hostility towards relativism and situationalism.
_________________________
6 Recruiting: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing; requirement for all members to bring in new ones.
_________________________
7 Front Groups: Number of subsidiary groups using different names from that of main group, especially when connections are hidden.
_________________________
8 Wealth: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained by group; emphasis on members’ donations; economic lifestyle of leader(s) compared to ordinary members.
_________________________
9 Sexual Manipulation of members by leader(s) of non-tantric groups; amount of control exercised over sexuality of members in terms of sexual orientation, behavior, and/or choice of partners.
_________________________
10 Sexual Favoritism: Advancement or preferential treatment dependent upon sexual activity with the leader(s) of non-tantric groups.
_________________________
11 Censorship: Amount of control over members’ access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines or leader(s).
_________________________
12 Isolation: Amount of effort to keep members from communicating with non-members, including family, friends and lovers.
_________________________
13 Dropout Control: Intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.
_________________________
14 Violence: Amount of approval when used by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s).
_________________________
15 Paranoia: Amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; exaggeration of perceived power of opponents; prevalence of conspiracy theories.
_________________________
16 Grimness: Amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).
_________________________
17 Surrender of Will: Amount of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions; degree of individual disempowerment created by the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).
_________________________
18 Hypocrisy: amount of approval for actions which the group officially considers immoral or unethical, when done by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s); willingness to violate the group’s declared principles for political, psychological, social, economic, military, or other gain.

**************


Obviously some of these have more real-world consequences than others. The ones about wealth, violence, recruiting, and (overt) sexual manipulation are more applicable to more formally organized groups with some degree of real-world power; which I think is what least most people would mean by "danger."

What I'm currently interested in is how one might apply such criteria to more amorphous sorts of dynamics. Where it's not even an organized group at all, per se, and doesn't have much real-world power (i.e. no one's putting a hit on anyone, demanding money, blackmailing, etc. etc.) Where there isn't even really a "leader" per se; or at least, not one that's universally agreed upon. Somewhere between "ineffectual" and "authoritarian," but still not "healthy."

Here is another, similar checklist from Rick Ross.


*Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.*

Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.

No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.

No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.

Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.

There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.

Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.

Followers feel they can never be "good enough".

The group/leader is always right.

The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.


*Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.*

Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.

Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower's mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused--as that person's involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.

Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as "persecution".

Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.

Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.

Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.

A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.

Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.

Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.

Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.


*Ten signs of a safe group/leader.*

A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.

A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.

A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.

A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.

A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.

A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.

A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.

A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.

A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.

A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas
.

*********************

Ross, I think, is onto something in that he also includes abusive and controlling -relationships- (i.e. domestic partnerships, friendships,) as using the same techniques, having the same dynamics as large organizational groups. Here is another site that breaks down the similarities between a cult and a dysfunctional family,, in fact: they both have, or can have:

Distorted view of God, others, self, and authority
Rigid, unspoken rules with serious penalties which guarantee control.
Restriction/control of all choices by members.
Undue influence, thought control, manipulation.
Cult/Family [respectively]important; individual unimportant.
Uncertain boundaries.
Control by physical abuse.
Control by verbal abuse.
Control by sexual abuse.
Control by ritualistic practices, fear.
Dependency on group; independent functioning discouraged/sabotaged. Rigidity; security by stable sameness.Rigidity; security by stable sameness.
Exploitation of individual industry/resources
Relentless shaming, guilting.
Rules about emotions.


*****************************

There are any number of "red flag" lists for potentially abusive -individuals-, or abusive dynamics in domestic relationships, floating around. Here is just one of them.

Here is another.


Unfortunately, one thing that tends to happen is that people will wrestle their way free from one -sort- of abusive/authoritarian relationship only to end up in another, not because the person is stupid or a glutton for punishment or anything of that sort, but because the person associates the abuse/authoritarianism with the -kind- of relationship/group/ideology/person they just left, rather than seeing the subtler common threads that make these seemingly different sorts of relationships/groups actually quite similar in many ways. So, a person might flee her abusive family of origin only to find that her spouse, who seemed so different in so many ways, is actually ringing a few familiar, unpleasant bells; a person might give up on the Church only to find that the nice peaceful New Age group or right-on political groups he's joined is beginning to feel a little too close for comfort; a person writes off all members of a group of people sie's had nothing but draining and/or horrific experiences with-- gender, cultural background, religion, general political affiliation, socioeconomic status, nationality--only to find that the safe haven of (group X)-free people sie's joined is actually no safer than the last group.

Or, well, what also might happen is: in fact, the person has gone from the fire to the frying pan, so it's -somewhat- better than the last one. Certainly, in overt, concrete ways, the new relationship/group feels and looks much better.
The last partner was a physical batterer, screamed and raged; this one does not batter, scream, or rage. The last church insisted on members turning over all their funds and shaving their heads; this one doesn't make any such demands. The last political group was overtly, rabidly racist and believed in puppy-murdering for the greater good; this one doesn't, or anything like -that.-

So, for a number of reasons, now, even if disquieting feelings are starting to surface, one doesn't want to rock the boat.

And maybe one will never have to; maybe, for one's own purposes at least, this group/relationship is "good enough," if not perfect. So, fine.

In other instances, though, the boat gets overturned anyway, or sinks. It just wasn't sustainable, dammit.

So, now what?

Well, being human, the person who's now gone through a -series- of rocky, bruising and disappointing encounters with a fairly wide variety of groups and/or individuals, chances are that the person may simply burn out altogether, temporarily or permanently, and retreat, literally or metaphorically, into a fortress of some sort.

Sometimes that's necessary, sure. Hierarchy of needs and all that.

Trouble is--if it then becomes a permanent ideological standpoint in itself, this mm misanthropy, nihilism, despair; well, that is not so healthy either, for individuals, or for real, good relationships (which exist) or for healthily functioning groups (ditto), or for democracies, or other living things.

It becomes a question, then, perhaps, of boundaries. They are important, you know.

f'r instance:

"'Sometimes I know what's best for [this other person] Isn't it my job to care for them? '

Absolutely not! Care about [other person]; do not care for them. Big difference! They have the right to make their own choices, including choices that you believe are wrong. You may state your opinion once, even twice. Then you need to drop it. Stop trying to control them, fix them, guide them. Spend your energy controlling yourself, including learning to tolerate [other person's] choices. You don't have to agree with your partner's position. You do have to respect it...."


or, from this site specifically dealing with a certain kind of person/dynamic, much i think is applicable even for people who don't find the psych terminology applicable:

The easiest and most gentle way of dealing with this is to remember, that you do not have to rationalize your boundary. You do not have to defend your boundary. It is YOURS. You simply have to state it and enforce it. You do not have to ‘prove’ your right to have it. You cannot prove anything to [certain people, some or all of the time], since irrational thinking and some delusionary thinking are often part of the [individual's core personality, group dynamic]. The [person] in your life may do his or her absolute best to convince you otherwise. Stand firm in your own reality. It belongs to you.

***************

Basic assertiveness training is good, too.

Assertiveness training is all about helping people to know that there really are situations where they have a perfect right to defend themselves from bullying attempts made by others. Once people realize that it is okay, and even proper for them to stand up for themselves; to allow themselves to feel angry when they are taken advantage of, they tend to find that actually defending themselves is not so hard. Assertive behavior basically consists of the following steps:


realizing that you have been dominated, or taken advantage of
feeling the angry feelings (directed towards the dominating partner, and/or to yourself for allowing yourself to be dominated
deciding to act to put a stop to the domination
acting on your conviction (which involves finding a way to demand your rights be respected, while also being polite and civil about it so as not to become aggressive yourself)
waiting for your dominating relationship partner to escalate his or her bad behavior, so as to put you back in line and force you to submit again and then
resisting the urge to submit again in the face of escalation.


and

I have the right to be the ultimate judge of my own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon myself.
I have the right to offer no reasons or excuses to justify my behavior.
I have the right to judge whether I am responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems.
I have the right to change my mind.
I have the right to make mistakes - and to be responsible for them.
I have the right to say, "I don’t know."
I have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.
I have the right to make decisions without using logic.
I have the right to say, "I don’t understand."
I have the right to say, "I don’t care."


...Change is hard work. Healing is hard work. But you are worth the effort.

87 comments:

Rootietoot said...

"yes, we are all individuals."

I'm not!

(now I'm going to go finish reading this)

Rootietoot said...

"What I'm currently interested in is how one might apply such criteria to more amorphous sorts of dynamics. Where it's not even an organized group at all, per se, and doesn't have much real-world power"

Such as blog-lists? I am often bemused or astonished at the very real emotional trauma caused by something someone says in what is, essentially, a public diary. Factions are formed, lines are drawn, Us vs Them, You can't play with me because you talk funny...etc.

Then, it seems, the factions become almost cult-like (by the definitions you listed).

It seems to be to be...I don't know...some sort of inability to separate what's "real" and what's not, almost. I know I am as capable of getting my feelings hurt as anyone, but where blog factions are concerned, there is always the ability to go away, and not be followed, if it gets too ugly.

I've read an interesting book called "Feet of Clay: A study of gurus:saints, sinners, and madmen" by Anthony Storr. He writes about Jim Jones and David Koresh, Jung and Freud,Ignatious of Loyola and Jesus Christ. (and others) Fascinating stuff, goes into the making of a guru, why people would follow what's so apparently a madman, and so on.

belledame222 said...

"How shall we fuck off, Lord?"

heh.

yeah, sounds like an interesting read.

belledame222 said...

...so, what did the author say?

how did he differentiate a Jesus or even a Jung or a Freud from a Jim Jones?

what i am curious about i guess, is: what if there -isn't- any readily identifiable leader? or, not -as- readily, maybe, not to everyone, certainly, at least, or even most people.

and yes, online, you can always just turn the computer off and go for a walk. never turn it on again. or y'know pick a new login and start somewhere else. in theory you can do the same in real life as well ("just leave") but sometimes it's a lot trickier, and a lot more dangerous...

but, like, i am thinking of some y'know flesh and blood groups that operated along similar dynamics.

what i am thinking is: barring an extreme, obvious example, like when it gets to the level of a Stalin or a Mao, on the loosely defined left, you might be more likely to get these kinds of mmm let's call them structureless groups with authoritarian tendencies. Not saying either left or right is more prone to being healthy or going pear-shaped, just that the -way- in which it happens might be different in that...

if you have an ideology, okay, that says you believe "hierarchies are bad," then -if- a sort of hierarchy ends up starting to form anyway, then, in order to stay, o, what's the term, ah, something "congruent," anyway, if you want to keep identifying with the ideology you've chosen but there's a contradiction in how you're living it, then you either have to alter the ideology or deny that what's going on is really going on.

if you have an ideology that's more open to the idea of authority in general, then you can -still- have either a healthy organization or an abusive one; it's just, either way, it's probably going to be easier to identify who's running the show.

...except when things get to the level of -really- dodgy, and then the person(s) in charge sort of becomes inacessible, more mythic than real, and everyone else is busy policing each other...

yeah, maybe it's not that different after all.

just talking out loud, here.

Rootietoot said...

He differentiated the "bad" (Jones, Koresh) from the "good" (Ignatious, Christ) in a similar way to what you listed- does the cult require members to abandon everything and follow them? Once that's done, are they required to do only exactly as their told? Does the leader use member's money for his own comfort? And so on. Christians are told to abandon their lives and follow Christ. That can be interpreted as literally (like missionaries) or spiritually (turning away from sin and toward a Christlike life). We are not, however, told *how* to do that, and the only admonition toward how to live our lives is "Love your neighbor as your self" and how we do that is up to us. Christ was widely known for giving everything He had to people who needed it more than He did.

Jones and Koresh were all about controlling the members of their cult and using them for personal gratification, through brainwashing, seperating them from family and friends, and on down the list.

AS for the whole group dynamic thing, it seems to me once you have an organization larger than 5 or 6, a leader will be identified. IF the group is made of very strong personalities, it will either fail as an entity, or a method will develop to share power. More likely you'll have 1 or 2 who are stronger personalities than the rest, and they will be leaders. The hope is that the leader will have a moral sense that will keep them centered on doing what is best for the group, rather than using the power to do what is best for themselves.

The point is, there *will* be a hierarchy, eventually. I think even the best communist ideal, whether it's a neighborhood garden project, or a theater cooperative, or whatever, will eventually evolve into something with a clear leader, or else fail. People's personal needs and desires, their "not fair, I do the work and he gets the cookies" sense kicks in, and someone has to take control and go "you do this, you do that".
At least, that's been my experience with collectives.

Trin said...

"I have the right to say, "I don’t care.""

That's the big one in all this leftist shit, isn't it? Because if someone goes, I don't know "BDSm triggers me horribly" -- or worse "Pornstitution has harmed some women" -- you sound inhuman if you go "You know, I'm not so sure I care all that much." Yet if we really look at real life, we very often choose the injustices we care about most, fight hardest, etc. None of us even can keep them all in our minds, honestly. Do we really all care about everyone who has gotten shit in a crap job under capitalism? We like to say we do because it gives us cred, but of course we don't.

belledame222 said...

yeah. or, well, the other thing that happens is, with collectives, there's an incredible amount of ineffectuality, because everything has to be processed and task forced to death, and no one wants to be in the position of telling anyone else what to do, but at the same time, they DO tell other people what to do, they just make it confusing enough that not only is it not clear that they're telling someone what to do, it's also not clear what the something is, or when it's supposed to get done, or even, sometimes, why. and then eventually someone complains, and eventually there is another meeting to discuss this, and...

Trin said...

"if you have an ideology, okay, that says you believe "hierarchies are bad," then -if- a sort of hierarchy ends up starting to form anyway, then, in order to stay, o, what's the term, ah, something "congruent," anyway, if you want to keep identifying with the ideology you've chosen but there's a contradiction in how you're living it, then you either have to alter the ideology or deny that what's going on is really going on."

YES.

Every "anti-hierarchy" group I've ever seen has ended up having a handful of extremely powerful people in charge and a massive morass light-years below them.

belledame222 said...

trin: well, we all have priorities.

I mean, if someone is saying, "I am hurt," of itself, it is awful to say, "I don't care."

If someone is whacking you over the head with a dead fish while screaming in your ear,

"I AM HURT!!! YOU'RE HURTING ME!!! HELP HELP I'M BEING OPPRESSED"

...then, yeah, I think "I don't care" is a reasonable response. At least.

or for that matter, if the other person isn't actually hitting you with a dead fish exactly, but doesn't seem terribly interested in anyone -else's- pain, including yours, even when someone is standing in front of them with an opened vein, and all they can do is shout louder about -their- pain (and, You Are Selfish, for ignoring My pain)

...well, of course the impulse is to be made to feel guilty by the one who's shouting, especially if the opened vein of the other person isn't so obvious.

but, it is at this point that it is, yep, a good thing to say,

"Okay, I've heard about -your- pain quite a bit, and nothing ever seems to change, and you never reciprocate, and you don't seem to give a shit about anyone's else's pain. Why should we care about you? No answer? Okay then: for the moment, at least, -I don't-. Because I only have so much energy to go around, and giving it to -you- is like pouring it down a sinkhole, and other people need it more right now. Including, if not necessarily limited to, me."

Trin said...

"I mean, if someone is saying, "I am hurt," of itself, it is awful to say, "I don't care.""

Oh, yeah. But I'm thinking of, say, that d-girl (not delphyne, the other one) who would be all like "I know that BDSM and even penetration would violate me horribly and I can't stand to even hear about them" but turn all her personal time and energy into writing lengthy essays about the evils of sadofascism.

Where, you know, "I read something you said and it triggered me" -> "okay, I'm sorry."

"I keep looking at what you say because it's like staring at a car wreck" -> "Well, it's not there to hurt you. Please take your own responsibility and don't look."

Y'know?

belledame222 said...

oh, that one. i've seen you refer to her and glanced at a couple of her entries, but i don't think i've ever fully had the pleasure.

yeah. boundaries, much?

and i think you know the rhetoric of (for example) some branches of feminism compounds this, although this erm phenomenon (I'm cold, put on a sweater) certainly isn't limited to feminism or leftism or even politics.

but like, if you start using "individualism" as a dirty word...well, that can mean a few different things, can't it?

It's one thing to say, look, there are powers and principalities here, none of us is an island, no, not even you, look how this is connected to that, and this, and the other--oh, that's a good point, thank you, that, too, never thought of it that way before.

It's another to basically get bent out of shape whenever someone else expresses personal -feelings,- personal -experiences,- basically saying "no, you can't feel that way. No, I know you better than you. WE know you better than you. I, we, what's the difference?..."

that example with Vanessa and the skirt wearing a while back was classic.

"I feel more comfortable wearing skirts, because of my body type and etc. etc."

"Oh, stop making excuses! You do NOT feel more comfortable because of your body type, I have that same body and -I- feel fine in pants, so clearly -you- just haven't found the right pair yet, and also you have been brainwashed by the patriarchy..."

and then the crazy-making kicker:

"Look! I'm not telling you what to do! Wear whatever you want! I'm just saying: admit that you don't feel the way you say, because -I know- that you CAN'T."

and of course that's so much fucking worse than a more straightforward,

"Don't wear skirts. Put on pants."

because, duh, obviously no one can -make- anyone do anything else, it's the Internets ffs, you could say,

"I order you with the mind-meld power of my brain to desist wearing skirts and only wear pants, whirrrrrr"

and y'know, it still probably wouldn't work.

so instead, Miz Bad Boundaries (consciously or not; probably not) goes for the headfuck. So much more effective, really; by the time you've emerged from it, you simply won't have the energy for the -next- round down the rabbit hole.

belledame222 said...

...and of course, in fact, ultimately it isn't about the skirt or the pants at all. It's about, the person is trying to treat the other one like an extension of herself.

drydock said...

This guy Tony Allen was involved with group MOVE and the "Free Mumia" movement. He alleged claims against the group are extremely harsh-- authoritarian cult, murder, child abuse. Interesting reading.

http://antimove.blogspot.com/

belledame222 said...

thanks, drydock.

Trin said...

"but like, if you start using "individualism" as a dirty word...well, that can mean a few different things, can't it?"

Yeah. Yeah. That's where the vague cultiness comes in.

"that example with Vanessa and the skirt wearing a while back was classic."

Don't think I ever saw that, but yeah. That or this old thing I remember us poking at:

http://community.livejournal.com/egalitarian_sex/1555.html?thread=3859#t3859

"I just keep talking and questioning and my guess is that if people are hostile, or defensive, it's because they are experience a real dissonance and they don't want to consider the possibility of real freedom."

Because if anyone is saying that options like "radical celibacy" don't fit them, they're just unwilling to be FWEEEE!

Which is just, y'know, weird -- a lot of the people in those radfem communities seem very not interested in sex. Yet no one really talks about what that might mean, how much easier it might be for that ideology to fit someone with a low libido than someone with a very high one, etc.

Because honestly, I suspect that sexual voluntarism (if possible at all really and not a self-harming strategy under all circumstances, as I suspect it is) becomes a lot easier if you have a low drive anyway and it doesn't really matter what you do.

But the problem with a lot of these ideologies is, really, who do they work for? Who is able to keep up with them and to follow them? The answer to that really does, I think, end up being something like "the people whose preferences already square with them."

The non-BDSMers. The andros rather than the butches or femmes. The lesbians rather than the heteros, bisexuals, or rowdier dykes. The women without much sexual drive. Etc.

Trin said...

hm. i don't think that URL came out right.

try this

belledame222 said...

"I just keep talking and questioning and my guess is that if people are hostile, or defensive, it's because they are experience a real dissonance and they don't want to consider the possibility of real freedom."


yup, that right there would be a big ol' red flag for me. or, you know, "guess again, Sunny Jim."

it goes back to the business somewhere up in all those links: even if you're right? You still don't get to harangue someone endlessly. You suggest it once, twice. Then, if the person is still completely "nope, that's not it," then you nod, and *back the fuck off.* Otherwise--whatever else you're doing, it isn't about the other person's "freedom," bank on that.

belledame222 said...

...so, but yeah, if Einstein there hasn't connected that maybe someone is hostile or defensive because y'know they feel like they're being invaded, -and maybe it has something to do with "keep talking, keep questioning," and maybe also -how- Einstein is doing that, well...

then this is the point at which one, identifying with the harangued, suggests, disengage, since the haranguer ain't gonna, and there's no point in further discussion with this person, at least until such time the haranguer gives some better indication of self-awareness and respect for yer boundaries.

Emily said...

Wow, this is a great reminder as to why I'm not a "joiner." To me, yeah, any organization, whether clearly defined or not, is eventually going to get bogged down in defending itself, casting out the outcasts, and making people feel like shit instead of getting anything real done. I actually came up with that one my own and then was informed that it's Somebody's Law. I'm so proud of myself.

As to the stuff about boundaries you linked, most of it reminded me of a few past personal relationships I've had. One of my "friends" in high school was this guy twice as big as me who worked with me, went to school with me, and bought me shit all the time because he had a crush on me. One time he was trying to kiss me and it was pretty much a case of the French kitty in Pepe LePu's arms. I wanted to punch him in the face, but, unless I completely snap, I always get within a millimeter of expressing my anger in a physical manner and then pull myself back. Later, I told him that I had wanted to punch him in the face and he said, "Why didn't you?" GAAAAHHHH!!!! I dunno, maybe because my squirming and struggling and completely repulsed body language should have been enough and I shouldn't have had to ruin some of my good karma just to let you know that you were being a dick?
(Somewhat happy ending though: months later I called him point blank on his sexual abuse and he never touched me again.)

belledame222 said...

h'm.

yeah, i hear you wrt "joining." i do think some organizations are healthier than others. i also think they all have shelf lives, both for where you are personally and as an entity, and it's good to be aware of when it's gone past expiration date. i have a tendency to hold onto past-due dates, out of sheer inertia and habit. i've gotten better at it, though.

word verification: reibl

Rootietoot said...

I hear you re joining also. I don't join anything unless it has a clear and narrowly defined purpose- like choir, or handbell chorale, or vacation Bible school (not only clear and defined, but finite). I will not join action groups, or even food coops. I will work on an individual Habitat house, but no thanks to the committee. give me precise boundaries, an established leader(that's not me), and I'm good.

belledame222 said...

oy. yeah, i belong more-or-less to an incredibly amorphous and dysfunctional organization, an LGBT peer counselling outfit. the core of it, the actual counselling, and the supervision with actual therapists, has been great experience; that's all i'm interested in. i've stayed the hell out of all the endless task forces, monthly meetings, committees, this, that...

other people put all their time and energy into it, and end up burning out.

so, spank my ass and call me "selfish," i've been to that rodeo, or close enough, anyway, and i just haven't the energy.

as it happens, it's kind of falling apart anyway. at any rate, they have to find a new space, and fast, because the rents just went up, and actual counselling has gone on the back burner due to all the ambitious projects and organizational reshufflings and dramas and so forth.

so, yeah. clear goals, clear boundaries. and if not a clear leader, a -really tight structure- which can probably only be done if the group is quite small and everyone knows each other and is accountable.

belledame222 said...

...or, alternately, the group doesn't have any particular purpose except to have a good time, in which case, sure.

ambitious goals + poor organization drive me crazy, tho', mainly because that's exactly my own problem.

Emily said...

I keep giving myself a (most likely justified) guilt trip about not getting involved with any activism. I would love to do something with feminism, animal rights, or anti-racism, but I have to admit to myself that I'm just literally scared of doing something like that. I think part of it stems from what you're complaining about: what if I get onboard and the thing just sinks? I also am wrapped up in asking questions: will I actually make a difference? Is my help even wanted? Getting into some activism is the new year's resolution that I'm probably least likely to keep.

JackGoff said...

Every "anti-hierarchy" group I've ever seen has ended up having a handful of extremely powerful people in charge and a massive morass light-years below them.

The Iron Law of Oligarchy.

belledame222 said...

Hm.

then again,

At the time Michels formulated his Law, he was an anarcho-syndicalist. He later became an important ideologue of Mussolini's fascist regime in Italy.

ballgame said...

Christ, I was just about to post that same fucking quote, bd!

Now that's creepy!

*shivers*

But interesting reference, Jack, had not heard of the oligarchy thing before.

JackGoff said...

I wasn't making any statement about the veracity of the law, it's just that trin's sentiments have been expressed before.

ballgame said...

I wasn't making any statement about the veracity of the law

If nothing else, it's depressingly plausible.

A couple of other stray reactions to the overall issue:

>A thorough understanding of R.D. Laing's work is a very good prophylactic against mind fucking.

>There does seem to be a rather dismaying dichotomy between emotional authenticity and political effectiveness. It always seemed to me that having a democratic structure which preserved minority rights was the only real protection against the abuse of power — with emphasis on structure (i.e. explicitly spelled out responsibilities and authority). Of course, such a 'consititution' tends to put an immediate damper on the emotional spontaneity which often draws people to particular groups in the first place, and is no absolute guarantee that the folks in power won't ignore the thing and abuse their power anyway (see You Know Who).

R. Mildred said...

even though it's also useful to try to take the word back from its common usage as "religious group i think is too way out there,"

So is tarantino... omg!

I always tend to think of a cult as "a religious organisation that's so disorganised it has to pay taxes" personally...

Ross, I think, is onto something in that he also includes abusive and controlling -relationships- (i.e. domestic partnerships, friendships,) as using the same techniques

Isn't this backwards? Isn't it that abusive and controlling group relationships utilise techniques common to abuse interpersonal relationships?

Because fundamentally abusive group relationships work by the same dynamics, being the same thing just working on different scales - the core thing that defines such things would thereforth be;

does the potentially expoitative group/person create and use against you a need for the relationship/membership in the group?

Does the person/group ever aknowledge that they need you as much as you need them?

Seriously?

Does it/they take liberties with the mutual need you both have for each other, i.e. do they/it take more out of the relationship than it/they gives back?

These are all very good indicator points for realising that you're a democratic party voter, or some other sort of abusive

R. Mildred said...

"...or in some other sort of abusive relationship" even.

R. Mildred said...

Also, I realise now that thereforth isn't actually a word.

so very tired :{

belledame222 said...

Isn't this backwards? Isn't it that abusive and controlling group relationships utilise techniques common to abuse interpersonal relationships?

You say tomato, I say tomahto.

belledame222 said...

(go to bed!)

Kai said...

belledame, great thought-provoking post as always. But I think I'm going to be a bit contrarian on this one: I see Western civilization as a cult, its beliefs and logic and everything about its worldview frankly, supported by our institutions of learning and our armies and every bit of propaganda we swallow all day every day. So the question of how to avoid cults makes little sense to me. I join community groups freely and leave them freely, have been an enthusiastic student in spiritual groups that were called "cults" by mainstream society, and intend to continue doing so. Most of my martial arts and spiritual training has come within groups that I'm sure most Westerners would call "cults", and that's some of the most precious stuff in this thick head, so I just can't relate to the hyper-concern over getting taken in by a cult when it seems to me that our entire mainstream society, supported by political and economic and media and educational institutions, is a big-ass cult full of illusion and deception and manipulation and exploitation based on non-consensual hierarchies from which, unlike small groups, there is no escape. So I guess, the last thing I'm worried about is whether some spiritual or political group I'm working with is considered "a cult" by the dominant ruling class, because I'm more worried about the cult of the dominant ruling class.

Kai said...

Not that you were talking about "cults" as defined by the ruling class, but I'm just thinking out loud about my views on the subject. I mean, if I join a spiritual or political group to try to learn or accomplish something, and the dynamic starts getting funky, I try to absorb what is useful and reject what is useless and leave when the work is done. If I barred myself from all "cultish" groups, I would be unable to attend a single college class or adult education workshop. I'm not saying that this subject is undeserving of closer analysis. I'm just trying to convey my own attitude about "joining groups", because I feel like there's a self-contradicting Western paranoia about such things. Westerners often claim to value their "individuality" above all else, but this pretense usually falls apart under light scrutiny.

Anyway I hope I'm not sounding too rabidly pro-cult or anything. Just trying to do my part in contributing to this exchange. I've followed the whole sordid sequence from the beginning, but am only now finding a point to engage. ;-)

Kai said...

To put it another way: I don't think all hierarchies are bad, I only think that unjust or unnecessary hierarchies are bad. But the hierarchy between a mother and a daughter makes perfect sense to me, as does that between a martial arts teacher and student. When I ask a martial arts teacher to share knowledge with me, I better damn well be prepared for hierarchy or I'm not going to get the knowledge. And if some ideological principle gets in the way of that, it's my loss, because I'll walk away without the knowledge. Of course the teacher could decide to share this knowledge in some more equitable or progressive manner, but I have no insight or input into this decision-making process and therefore feel utterly unqualified to even comment on it. All I know is, I want that knowledge, so I'll bow.

Again, hopefully I'm not too being tangential. But I feel kinda proud for pulling a belledame with these serial comments. ;-)

KH said...

On empathy:

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/ramachandran07/ramachandran07_index.html

KH said...

Try again:

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/
ramachandran07/
ramachandran07_index.html

belledame222 said...

Kai: that is why i felt the criteria as laid out were more useful than the more casual ways people tend to have of defining "cults," and why i personally was trying to find ways to substitute other terms, even though the sites in question make use of the word. "harmful authoritarianism" vs. "healthy authority," then, if you like. the first one in particular was deliberately framed so as to -not- be all, "kooky martial arts/spiritual training/etc. are Bad, Avoid."

(elsewhere, the author also has a take on Satanisms that, besides reflecting a rather subjective experience, i do think reflects a problem with the worldview expressed therein, which in his experience ranged from a kind of goth-flavored Ayn Randishness to a distinctly fascist worldview based on a fanatical devotion to the idea of Nietszchean ubermenschen).

i mean, yes, i think it's possible to say that there's something wrong with the overall...ideology of the loosely-defined West, the "cult," if you like, of individualism, sure. and that that is not immune to abuses; witness the fascistic behavior of *cough* Certain People who are vigorously waving the flag of Democracy and Freedom.

at the same time: i think there are more clearly defined parallels between a Mao, a Ceasescu, a Kim Jong Il, a Mugabe, and a Franco, (and the dynamics supporting them and keeping them in place) that go beyond particular cultural assumptions. maybe call it modernism run amok and ultimately trace it back to the West, I suppose, but ultimately i think that gets a bit into I Blame the ___ Monolith mode, you know.

Robert Jay Lifton writes rather well about this; he talks about groups & phenomena ranging from Aum Shinrinkyo to the Nazi doctors, and does i think put each within their respective cultural frameworks. "Destroying the World to Save It" is the one that focuses on Aum primarily, although not exclusively. it was also eerily prescient of a 9/11-like event (i think he did cover radical fundamentalist Islam as well). his basic take was that the "cults will always be with us;" but in a world where stray nukes and vials of vile things are increasingly available on the free market, their study becomes more urgent. and then, too, his POV certainly allows that entire nation-states and large-scale institutions can also be "cults," or cultlike. i need to dig up the post War on Iraq interviews with him; he is decidedly against the turn we've taken, the whole bloody thing.

nectarine said...

but where blog factions are concerned, there is always the ability to go away, and not be followed, if it gets too ugly

I get this but I don’t think its so easy especially when people are getting hurt by people who are supposed to be “on my side” I would have felt horrible over recent events if I had just walked away without supporting the person who had been turned into a scapegoat.

I think that a lot of people on the all sorts of branches of the left came to where they are by being catapulted out of seriously scary cult like religious communities and kind of decided that they wanted to be as far from that as possible, but I think the problem is that if you have spent your whole life in an organisation/community that has rigid hierarchies and rules that are opposed from above going into a space where you might be expected to act unilaterally and think for yourself is incredibly frightening so it is easier just to mirror where you’ve come from even while professing you hate its methods.

I tend to play it by doing activism with all sorts of different people and by kind of skirting round the edges of groups, I think the problem comes often (same as cults) when everyone you know is part of the same group as you and ID’s the same as you so if you don’t toe the party line and they reject you, you loose everything.

Nobody fits in boxes I think and I’ve been thinking about this lately in relation to my radical feminism as opposed to others radical feminism, An example being that really if I’m honest I’m attracted to soft butch women and older men which I think by a lot of radical feminists would be seen that I am attracted to the eroticisation of inequality, but I cant switch it of and just be attracted to who I “should” be attracted to, But I’ve got my Kin you know? I’ve got people who’ve got my back both on and off line so getting kicked or scapegoated for not being “pure” enough wont bother me overmuch

nectarine said...

that are opposed from above

that should say imposed from above

v said...

im in agreement with kais posts here.

on healthy and not healthy authority, i usually describe them as "natural" and "unnatural".

have you read any john holt? he was one of the main pioneers of unschooling. a quote from his "instead of education":

"Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons' experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives. Whoever takes that right away from us, as the educators do, attacks the very center of our being and does us a most profound and lasting injury. He tells us, in effect, that we cannot be trusted even to think, that for all our lives we must depend on others to tell us the meaning of our world and our lives, and that any meaning we may make for ourselves, out of our own experience, has no value."

belledame222 said...

I think that a lot of people on the all sorts of branches of the left came to where they are by being catapulted out of seriously scary cult like religious communities and kind of decided that they wanted to be as far from that as possible, but I think the problem is that if you have spent your whole life in an organisation/community that has rigid hierarchies and rules that are opposed from above going into a space where you might be expected to act unilaterally and think for yourself is incredibly frightening so it is easier just to mirror where you’ve come from even while professing you hate its methods.

yes, exactly.

on healthy and not healthy authority, i usually describe them as "natural" and "unnatural".

As I was just saying over at Kim's,


I think there's a balance, you know, between too much structure and not enough structure. in developmental psych they call it different parenting styles; if you're George Lakoff, say, you could apply that to bigger, cultural or political trends/policies also.

but so you have yer "authoritarian," "laissez-faire," and "authoritative" (which is confusing because it sounds so much like "authoritarian," but it's very different).

so yeah, laissez-faire means pretty much no structure at all, which is bad for kids, because they need structure and support. "do what you want to do" (wave hand), even if that's clearly self-destructive is neglecting parental responsibility; that's abusive, in its own right.

but authoritarians go too far in the other direction. strict strict strict rules, too much control. not enough room for the kid to grow. and what's an appropriate level of control at seven is not the same as what's appropriate at seventeen.

so i think sometimes kids "act out" as part of the normal growing-up cycle (no matter how "good" the parents are, there's often some point where surly adolescence sets in; it is, as they say, a phase); sometimes they do it or overdo it as a reaction to too much control; and sometimes they do it because they're just kind of...lost.

unfortunately, when the behavior looks the same, people tend to prescribe the same "cure" for everyone sometimes, when in fact it's not always appropriate because the respective causes may be very different.

...but, so, authoritative, I meant to say, is kind of like the littlest Bear: not too hot, not too cold, just right. except, not, because expectations of being -perfect- aren't so hot either; it's not about that. just, there's a balance of how much control and structure.

and even so, other shit happens sometimes, because the "nuclear family" doesn't exist in a vacuum, and parents (or people who fill that role) aren't the only influences in a kid's life, even if they are the most important.

belledame222 said...

btw, i just lifted that comment whole from my response over there, which was in response to a thread about adolescent rebellion; so take the "acting out" stuff with a grain of salt. i mean, like i say, i think there are parallels between adult political movements and family-of-origin dynamics, but it's not always a perfect correspondence.

belledame222 said...

anyway, no, v, i haven't read Holt, but i'll have to check him out one of these days, that sounds interesting. i'd been meaning to ask you about "unschooling," you mention doing that on your blog.

Trin said...

"I join community groups freely and leave them freely, have been an enthusiastic student in spiritual groups that were called "cults" by mainstream society, and intend to continue doing so. Most of my martial arts and spiritual training has come within groups that I'm sure most Westerners would call "cults", and that's some of the most precious stuff in this thick head"

Kai:

Yes, those kinds of groups tend toward the hierarchical, often the very hierarchical. But if you look at the "cult criteria" in the original post -- do they really fit them? Does your Sensei really have, say, control over your life outside your dojo? Does s/he dogmatically discourage you from seeking wisdom of any kind anywhere else?

I am part of a dojo most of which hero-worships its Sensei more than I'm comfortable with. But although there is talk of carrying martial arts principles into daily life, there aren't flights of rhetoric that insist my life outside the dojop be subordinated to my life in it, or measured against my life in it. And we're actively encouraged to study other arts and learn from other schools.

Ergo, my dojo fails to meet at least two big criteria for Being A Cult. I could start in on others: people drop out or take breaks all the time and are not aggressively re-recruited or deemed lost causes, etc.

To me, these criteria sound good. I can't imagine a dojo, religious group, or anything else, that fits most of them being anything but emotionally unhealthy.

And I honestly don't agree that Western culture fits most of them, either.

v said...

it means a lot of things, one of them is that the kids pretty much decide what they want to do/learn about, and we go with that. it also means "learning by doing" as opposed to learning by being taught. it also means, wrt to us as the schooled adults, and as yoda might say* "unlearning what we have learned".

*totally off topic: did you know im a massive SW fan? also, i meant to tell you ages ago, it makes me smile when you quote from movies like the princess bride. :D

namaroopa said...

Ooh, I'll delurk for a cult post. That doesn't happen very often! I'm just starting out on my blog, but I've been lurking around the feminist stuff for awhile. Very interesting and thought-provoking stuff here all the way through.

However, I grew up in one of the big cults (in a much more isolated-from-the-mainstream context than most of the discussion here has been about), and am thinking I'll write something about my use of the term. Mind if I link to here?

v said...

kai said:
it seems to me that our entire mainstream society, supported by political and economic and media and educational institutions, is a big-ass cult full of illusion and deception and manipulation and exploitation based on non-consensual hierarchies from which, unlike small groups, there is no escape

thats exactly how i see it.

namaroopa said...

in theory you can do the same in real life as well ("just leave") but sometimes it's a lot trickier, and a lot more dangerous...

Plus beyond pragmatics and how far a group is willing to go to overtly control people, this also assumes that members have the same resources (cultural, knowledge, etc) to adapt to the mainstream world without trouble. After involvement in an extremely separatist situation where everything about use of mainstream knowledge and behaviors has been recentered in addition to limited geographic/cultural exposure, it's not a realistic expectation that someone "just leave." There are parallels there to the psychological challenges of leaving an individually abusive relationship, but they take place on cultural levels that can be hard to see peering in on them when we're so used to mostly smooth connectivity to mainstream culture.

belledame222 said...

hey, welcome, namaroopa! thanks for delurking. please, link away.

belledame222 said...

Yes, those kinds of groups tend toward the hierarchical, often the very hierarchical. But if you look at the "cult criteria" in the original post -- do they really fit them? Does your Sensei really have, say, control over your life outside your dojo? Does s/he dogmatically discourage you from seeking wisdom of any kind anywhere else?

I am part of a dojo most of which hero-worships its Sensei more than I'm comfortable with. But although there is talk of carrying martial arts principles into daily life, there aren't flights of rhetoric that insist my life outside the dojop be subordinated to my life in it, or measured against my life in it. And we're actively encouraged to study other arts and learn from other schools.

Ergo, my dojo fails to meet at least two big criteria for Being A Cult. I could start in on others: people drop out or take breaks all the time and are not aggressively re-recruited or deemed lost causes, etc.

To me, these criteria sound good. I can't imagine a dojo, religious group, or anything else, that fits most of them being anything but emotionally unhealthy.


Right, exactly. Their usage of "cult" is very specific; and it's gone out of its way (unlike a lot of other "cult checklists" that tend to be sponsored by various churches or more partisan people, unfortunately) to -not- make it about the content or even the style of relating...as long as it doesn't meet those -abusive- criteria.

Like for me, okay--I'm gonna just briefly allude to the whole buzzy bee mess for a sec--yes, in many ways any sort of online activism cannot be a "cult" because, well, it just doesn't meet a lot of those criteria; logistics don't permit. it's a bit harder when you've never actually met someone physically and live on the other side of the planet.

however, the whole, "you're with us or agin' us--oh, you're being nice to the Enemy and you said something Wrong, clearly you're one of Them and always were all along" crap that SC pulled wrt Laura--that, that's got...implications.

she has no real power here, no; and her attack was so crude and transparent that it had the result that it did: the opposite of what she wanted.

but, if it's the thought that counts...

well, i don't like it. which i think is what everyone else was responding to as well, more or less. I mean, in addition to, hey, you're dissing a woman we really care about and hurting her; or, maybe that's just part of the transaction.

"my way or the highway." in a genuinely free/democratic environment, when someone pulls that maneuver, most people are gonna go, "groovy then, there's the turnpike, be seein' ya"

--which is pretty much what happened here.

otoh, as people have been noticing, this is not exactly the first or only time similar -sorts- of things have happened, online (or off). so:

i'm reluctant to attribute this to radical feminism per se, or any other "ism." QD/BL and i have been arguing about this, although actually i think we don't really disagree as much as it sometimes seems like.

i mean, yes, SC and others are going off a belief, sure: the specifics are tied to radical feminist theory (Pornstitution is bad, or maybe the -root- of badness, or one of them; these people are "pro-pornstitution," therefore there can be no point of meeting or negotiation). but, does that really explain the whole, I can't even see you as a human being because I'm too busy with my preconceptions? I doubt it. Because I've seen people from all over the political map pull this sort of shit, and sometimes they're not even political at all.

like, my granny, she used to lose a lot of friends, because she'd have one fight with them and that was it: they were Written Off, Forever. until that time, she'd love them and love them and they could do no wrong, ("she tries," deep mournful sigh), but, there was no room for -negotiation,- there.

So if we don't use psych terms and political framing isn't sufficient, and "cult" is demonizing and so is any sort of moralistic talk, then how do we talk about this, this let's say inability to deal with ambiguity? Just say, "so and so is being an insufferable asshole?" (and I love my granny, don't get me wrong, but she can be...well, yeah, anyway). Maybe that would be best, after all. Because, you know, while I think the ideas and theory are important and worth discussing seriously,

1) I can't discuss anything with someone who refuses to even engage at all, or can't or won't do it honestly, or at least I always feel like I've gone down the rabbit hole after talking to hir

2) sometimes, you know, i really do feel like all the political jargon and dogma acts as rationalization for what's simply crappy behavior, plain and simple.

R. Mildred said...

I don't think all hierarchies are bad

It's not so much that they're bad, but that someone will eventually apply them absolutely and construct a black and white world view around those hierarchies which is ultimately counter-productive to the goals of the original organisation pre-totalisation.

belledame222 said...

I don't know that I see it that way. I think what we're dancing around here is: there is no automatic, structural, ideological safeguard against the totalistic impulse. on the other hand, a lot of different sorts of structures and ideologies can be (relatively) healthy, functional. so how d'you make distinctions? and how do you identify how and when it all begins to go pear-shaped, so's maybe we can stop it before it happens?

belledame222 said...

it seems to me that our entire mainstream society, supported by political and economic and media and educational institutions, is a big-ass cult full of illusion and deception and manipulation and exploitation based on non-consensual hierarchies from which, unlike small groups, there is no escape

"Not that there's anything wrong with that."

No, I don't know. I see it and I don't. (ask me again when the PMS starts to kick in again). I mean, do you honestly believe "there is no escape?" And if so, why do activism at all? If not: well, lemme ask this:

ideally, if you could, where would you escape to, and what would it look like and feel like?

Trin said...

"in many ways any sort of online activism cannot be a "cult" because, well, it just doesn't meet a lot of those criteria; logistics don't permit. it's a bit harder when you've never actually met someone physically and live on the other side of the planet."

Eh. Yes and no. I think it is possible for online stuff to be a cult, or at least for it to meet a lot of these criteria. The control can't be as tight in some ways, but well, if you're a nerd like me who spends most of her time online, your interactions may narrow to the point where it really is easy for a certain ideology to burrow pretty far into your brain.

I mean, at the time I was exploring more radical feminism, I didn't really have much opportunity to do BDSM, to hang out with my real friends offline, etc. So I'd finally see them and feel guilty to talk to them as if sex were fun and harmless, y'know? And this was even though I'd dedicated myself to digging in my heels on being pro-BDSM, and all.

So... I think it can affect you. Because I think one big thing about cults, or cult-like thinking anyway, is the whole re-writing of language thing:

"Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms,"

"Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought."

I'm thinking here of some of the stuff in Scientology. I don't think I have time to look it up, as I'm actually hangin' out with three-dimensional friends shortly, but if you look up Operation Clambake you'll find reams of discussion of their propensity to redefine words in ways only comprehensible to them.

And I think that kind of thing can easily go on online. "Feminism" has a narrow definition; anything else is being "anything goes." "Power" has a narrow definition, and it's bad, unless it's "power-with" or whatever. "Individualism" is not about rights, but about privilege -- hell, even the way we often use "privilege" (not that I disagree with using that one, actually) is pretty far divorced from the term's usual meaning. Most tellingly, "personal" has almost no meaning at all, given the way "the personal is political" is interpreted; *everything* is political and seeking space for you is not being good enough, etc.

I also see censorship -- bans fly wildly around LJ, rules that begin as "hey, saying 'retard' is rude" eventually become bans for using the word "squick" (yes, true!), etc.

Wisdom by leaders, yes -- hero worship of community mods is common, etc.

Dropouts being vilified: another yes.

Etc. I have to go... but I think the "yes" column can get pretty fat pretty fast.

belledame222 said...

*nod* You know, I realize I was making concessions to the common view that the 'Net isn't "real," out of i think, o i don't know, shame? Because in fact that's not what I believe. I think the "real world" isn't necessarily the material world; and if it's true that it's what's inside that 's really "real," the ineffable, the world of ideas, then what's the 'Net but one giant collective consciousness?

and yeah, sooner or later as long as we're residing in this sack of meat we still all have to at least, like, eat, sleep, do the laundry, go to the dayjob--which like as not involves something just as abstract: marking up figures and charts in virtual space to represent transactions happening involving mutually-agreed-upon symbols for "material wealth" (i.e. money) that you can't actually eat or wear or even probably burn, touch, since it's most of it numbers in hyperspace now as well, imaginary, never taking the form of actual coins and bills--

but, yes, one way or another eventually it comes back to: eat, drink, take a shit, have sex, embrace, give birth, get sick...die. Sure. That's as "real" as we know.

but. I mean, I'm planning to go into counselling, to earn my bread and butter. that entire career is going to be predicated on the idea that -words matter.- talk therapy. that they can actually make profound changes, all by themselves. or, well, in certain contexts, and sometimes with other things as well (meeting in person; touch therapy is also something i am interested in, also music and art).

but so: yeah. Laura just wrote that she nearly cut herself after this latest mess. Because of hurtful words, on a screen. And other people talked her down.

presumably having a significant other to physically hold her if need be helped a lot, too, but...

yeah, you're right: how can we say this doesn't matter? We can say it -shouldn't- matter, but that doesn't really help, does it, especially when saying it to someone who's in emotional pain? The pain is real; it doesn't matter why, or whether she "should be" feeling it. and if it ends up translating into physical self-harm, well, shit, that's plenty real by anyone's standards...

Kai said...

belledame, I definitely noticed the way you carefully framed the definition to avoid demonizing "cults" in the common manner. Appreciate it. Still, even with the technical criteria you laid out, and the studious avoidance of cultural imperialist talk, I feel like the word "cult" remains loaded and skewed, hence my rant against its more common usage (not really against your usage, I think). In that sense I've kinda derailed your original line of questioning, sorry bout that. I'm very much interested in your search for a language with which to address some of the behavioral problems we're seeing played out repeatedly. As you can see, I'm not fond of the language about cults, yet at this point I'm not sure what alternatives are preferable either, so I'm open to being swayed.

trin, first off I'm always pleased to meet fellow martial artists, I respect your study. To answer your question, I've trained with quite a few teachers and mentors, in some cases they were kinda wacky and eccentric and genuinely cultish but I still wanted to pick their brains on the relevant subjects. I remember when I was 16 one of my martial arts teachers gave a speech in which he said, at first this is just a class you attend a few times per week, but eventually it will be your life. And I thought, wow that's kinda creepy but actually I think he meant it in a positive way; as in, martial arts will be your life, not him. But we did go on camping trips together and do volunteer work and have sleepover parties, none which led to anything more than a lot of learning opportunities for me, yet all of which might be frowned upon by those who are scared of cults. Of course most mainstream-ish dojos or dojangs or training studios aren't so heavy-handed, in fact they're usually very watered down in my experience, to the point that the training itself is constrained by the desire to appeal to Westerners and satisfy liability insurance agents and all that. So I guess to try to answer your questions, you're right, no group I've gotten involved with has come close to meeting *every* one of the criteria in belle's post. But then, I almost think that my regular old schools (private middle school, for example) probably come closer to meeting those criteria than any martial arts or spiritual groups I've participated in, so I'm not sure where that leaves us.

I guess the main point here is belle's attempt to understand and describe the clearly unhealthy dynamic that we've just seen. Is there behavioral language that doesn't descend into psych 101 and questions of motives? I think I need to turn it over in my head a bit more...

belledame222 said...

well, "authoritarianism" and "totalism" are about as accurate for what i'm trying to get at as anything else i can think of at the moment. still, it makes for cumbersome...ness.

"hivemind!" maybe. heh. no.

per the dojos: well, i don't know that going on sleepovers, volunteering, etc. is or should be frowned upon per se; i think, again, the problem comes when there is strong pressure (it can even be subtle and roundabout, which makes it worse, but it's still definitely there) to do those things, with the implication that you're less-than if you don't.

i mean, it's a continuum. i think every supposedly non-hierarchical collective i've been a part of or witnessed has had that going on, well, you don't HAVE to, but...

but, i do think there's a line that gets crossed.

with something like a dojo--well, like, for me it would become about, do they insist that you pay money out of proportion to what's being taught? do they make you feel terrible for even asking a question, ever? do you start to second-guess yourself all the time? do you find everything else in your life is taking a backseat, not because you get so much joy out of the activity or work or group but because they keep you constantly busy, busy, busy, and more or less insist that they come first in your life? Those would be the real warning signs.

and yes, i think that even in dodgy sorts of situations--"cultish," as you say, some people might be able to take what they need from it and leave the rest. I mean, I know people who still swear by est and Landmark and suchlike, and they live pretty normal, non-Landmark-centered lives as far as I know (just went to a few sessions, i think), even though there's a -lot- of info out there saying, yep, cults, bad shit going down, stay away. shrug.

belledame222 said...

Is there behavioral language that doesn't descend into psych 101 and questions of motives?

oddly enough, i often find pop-psych or self-help better at that than yer more "serious," DSM/diagnostic-oriented psych. not that there isn't a whole lot of bullshit out there, too, often badly conceived and grossly misapplied; and it is true that even the stuff i find useful can often be tooth-achingly sweet or overly simplistic.

nonetheless, it's geared more toward a behavioral sort of approach: as in, never mind understanding the impossible person's childhood, how do you deal when the impossible person is your boss? How do you negotiate better relationships? How do you apply these lessons to -your own- behavior?

The "I'm Okay, You're Okay" era has come in for a lot of dissing, particularly among the more "serious" political types, including those who basically think -all- of it is just a bunch of individualistic navel-gazing and only serves to sway us from the real important Work. or is an insipid distortion and co-option of the original, y'know, consciousnes raising, conflict negotiation within a political context. which i suppose some of it could be; it maybe depends where you're coming from.

but, you know, on the thesis-antithesis-synthesis tip, I tend to be of the belief that the (U.S., at least; am not sufficiently familiar with Elsewhere) turning inward that happened after the 60's happened for a reason, or reasons, and not all of them sinister disruptions and diversions from the Establishment Powers That Be, or even greed, hypocrisy, everything else that's chalked up to the yuppification of the former hippies. I think that it was in part a necessary time of collective reflection and introspection after all the shouting and fighting and violence and -action- and factions and...

and yes, the accusations all have a fair grounding in truth: there's shallowness, materialism of the grossest kind, a sort of bland cheery complacency, way too much insistence on a sort of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality without taking shit like, some people just never get the boots to begin with, and that is -structural,- and thinking positive isn't enough, there.

... that's all a part of it. But that is because we are the culture that we are. it got commodified (maybe in this case was more commodified to begin with, depending on how you define it), same as y'know hippie-ism turned into crappy rainbow designs on everything and flower power lunchboxes; riot grrls led to Spice Girls, and so on, and so on, and so on.

as with your dojos, even the "cultish" ones: i think one can take what one needs from this, from many aspects of the "mainstream" culture, and, becoming conscious of it, leave the rest; that that -is- the "escape." or rather it's the crack in the wall, at least: it's a start.

belledame222 said...

oh yeah, meant to say. and, there is the accusation that such things as say "how to deal with your impossible boss" is a way of capitulating to the System, when energy would be better spent figuring out ways to overturn the whole thing, or at least organize to get better wages and standards from the impossible boss, turn him out, take over production of the means...

but, y'know, i guess i think: reform and radicalism can co-exist in that way. "harm reduction," okay: sure, go ahead and talk about ways in which to plot the downfall of the System, but that may be a long way off, and meanwhile, you're still stuck in the craptastic job. is there -anything- you can do to make yourself less miserable, more like you'd like to feel ideally, -right now?- Is there any way to improve conditions, one way or another, even a little, -right now?- Then, go for it.

and, the cheery "think positive!" stuff in the self-help, you know what: -maybe- it might just come in handy for the fulltime activist who's about ready to throw in the towel because everything just seems so dark and sie's simply out of ideas, feels helpless and overpowered.

Any way you can rediscover that (positive!!) power and energy that -works- is alright by me, is what i am saying, i guess; and maybe we need a whole bunch of different tools in the kit, after all.

belledame222 said...

do they make you feel terrible for even asking a question, ever? do you start to second-guess yourself all the time? do you find everything else in your life is taking a backseat, not because you get so much joy out of the activity or work or group but because they keep you constantly busy, busy, busy, and more or less insist that they come first in your life?

...but, so, like, by -those- criteria, you might say, well, shit! my last job was a cult! and y'know, if it was anything like this, i wouldn't argue.

so, yeah, while i think sweeping all of mainstream or Western culture into the "cult" category is a bit broad, definitely there are pockets. sometimes rather enormous ones.

R. Mildred said...

I don't know that I see it that way. I think what we're dancing around here is: there is no automatic, structural, ideological safeguard against the totalistic impulse.

Well it's like the tao - the more you define it the less defined it'll be because any definitive definition will be too specific to take into account this one specific thing you didn't plan for and then the whoel thing goes fubar and a house lands on top of you.

How do you totally encompass something that goes ever so slightly beyond words, which never stays the same for two goddamn seconds?

Clearly you don't, at best you can get a rough guidline and apply your common sense to various situations.

I remember when I was 16 one of my martial arts teachers gave a speech in which he said, at first this is just a class you attend a few times per week, but eventually it will be your life.

Now I know that's definatley assbackwards, because if you get good at martial arts then the distinction between yourself and your art will become indistinguishable, and that's not creepy because ultimately you can't be totalised by martial arts as it is fundamentally a form of self expression - if martial arts is being taught in a truly cultish way then it's not martial arts that's being taught, it's just some movements being learnt by rote.

Though I've heard that some of the okinawan schools of karate are as bad as all that, at some point the various nationalistic politics from the early twentieth century got mixed up with the teaching methods and it all got a bit facist - forms done to stirring militaristic music, that sort of thing, and there's bound ot be some wannabe spec-op survivalists out there teaching ju jitsu for maximum anti-semitic justice.

ewww, just thinking about them gives me the willies.

R. Mildred said...

so, yeah, while i think sweeping all of mainstream or Western culture into the "cult" category is a bit broad, definitely there are pockets. sometimes rather enormous ones.

Actually I think considering bourgious culture to be cultish is totally valid, it definately smells right to me, and my nose is good at abstract concepts.

R. Mildred said...

And a fortuitious third comment for luck.

Can you tell I'm reading Cherryh?

a very public sociologist said...

Rootietoot only made the opening comment because her guru told her too ;)

I don't know, cults are a funny business. The organisation I'm a member of (Socialist Party/Committee for a Workers' International) has been branded a cult by an academic called Denis Tourish. By pure coincidence he's also an embittered ex-member of my organisation, lol.

namaroopa said...

hm, I can't seem to figure out how to trackback to Blogger. Is there a way to do it?

trin said...

I don't think calling an entire culture a cult should be based on "how it smells." That's something that needs an argument, not a hunch.

Professor Zero said...

I suggest there are cultish aspects to many institutions which would not like to admit this: say, academia, mainstream psychotherapy, capitalism...

Alon Levy said...

Prof. Zero, usually those organizations are distinct from cults in the nature of their hierarchies. Proper hierarchism, à la the military or the Catholic Church or the post-Stalinist Soviet communist party, tends to be based on the following principles:
1. Decisions flow top down.
2. There are multiple levels of hierarchy, and decisions are communicated between a leader and a direct subordinate.
3. Advancement in the hierarchy is based on merit.

The academia, as well as capitalism (but not the intra-corporate hierarchy), is based on a far looser hierarchy, with rules that are more like,
1. Decisions flow horizontally, in a way that's similar to the spread of memes.
2. Different individuals/firms compete with one another for success.
3. Every individual can overthrow the entire established norms given the right idea (a new product, a new marketing technique, a new scientific paradigm).

And finally, there's the cultlike hierarchy you're talking about. That hierarchy isn't intended to be such. It usually grows from an egalitarian organization that eschews class distinctions; hence the lack of safeguards as in the traditional hierarchy. Good examples include every cult, as well as Maoist China.
1. Decisions flow from the leaders directly to the commoners.
2. There are usually only two classes, the leaders and the commoners.
3. Any notion of merit or success is suppressed.

v said...

alon -

i disagree with you about academia because i think you are only taking a small few people into consideration.

i think education systems are a sort of cult, and they start conditioning most members of society when they are what, four or five? but books for kids younger than that are aimed at getting kids 'ready for school'. so training 'for school' starts in the first few years of most of our lives.

by the time some get to 'academia', the cult of education has narrowed its members to only the most educated (educated being something only the cult can measure and noone else has a right to make claims on). sure there are still some few dissenters, but they are usually still 'academised', wanting to maybe reform academia in some small way, but not perhaps examining other ways of learning/teaching that are different.

are you a graduate of academia alon? because i think our perspectives might naturally be different if you are, because its something ive been kept out of, having not been able to devote the time or the money that it demands. i think the amount of money and time required to be part of it is another indicator of its cultlike status.

i also think the medical industry can be seen as cultish, absolutely. this starts from before we are even born, the amount of control pressured on women during pregnancy and during birth to do things in the way deemed acceptable by the medical industry in their region (because it does vary, but not much). and that continues so that, as gps complain about quite regularly, people want "a pill for everything". and kids are taught not to ever question what the doctors say, despite the fact that any quick look will show that medical people themselves dont agree on almost anything. so we arent really supposed to question, we're just supposed to believe.

R. Mildred said...

I don't think calling an entire culture a cult should be based on "how it smells." That's something that needs an argument, not a hunch.

We could start with the one hting that appears to missing from teh cult lite in the primary post: The obsession with advancement within the group's hierarchy twinned with advancement being defined by how well they support the hierarchy they are trying to rise up i.

This often leads to advancement within the cult's hierarchy being achieved by screwing over or enforcing the organisation's structure through punishing and overseeing the punishment of lower ranking members when they transgress outside the organisations set rules.

All of which goes hand in hand with the freedom from punshiment for the higher ranks of said society/organisation, which is doled out by the leader of the group as a privelage of rank.

That has to be included in any definition of cults, and applies to things like corporations, militaries, the worst of the belt based martial arts schools, catholicism, those weird little utterly pointless political groups Kos and the other "leftie" wingnuts organise every so often as soon as they forget how the last one imploded, etc...etc...

Though I think calling such things "cult" is a misnomer, the original mystery cults don't really fit into these categories too readily, while military organisations from teh same period and for ever more undoubtably fit most of those categories very easily.

R. Mildred said...

2. There are usually only two classes, the leaders and the commoners.

wrong actually, you have to take into account that while the small cults take such a structure, that's more to do with their small size ultimately limiting how many classes they ultimately can have - the number of classes has nothing to with the cultishness of the orgnisation, as such things have much more to do with the various basic organisational needs of such groups, rather than because that's how cults naturally organise - many cults only have a leader figure as a figurehead that enables teh wielding of power by the Uberclass that actually runs the cult.

There's probably some sort of size/structure equation out there that describes it.

And of course there's the question of whether or not things like the totalist Cults of Personality that surrounded Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Franco and most south american dictators, are truly cult-enough to be described as cults here. It's entirely possible that there's actually various sub-genuses of cults, so there's Hierarchae Cultus Nationali and Hierarchae Cultus Maritali or Hierarchae Cultus Petite-fritz, and loads other breeds of course, all of which are extremely similar but are not entirely the same in all respects, the trick will be then to figure out what unites the phyllum of the various species.

R. Mildred said...

Ugh, that should be genus not phyllum.

belledame222 said...

Well--*all* structures have certain insider/outsider aspects, I think; and there are rewards if you behave according to the approved strictures and punishments if you don't. That's just variations on basic human socialization. The questions are:

1) what are the rules/social contract

2) how are they enforced

and, perhaps most important,

3) what are the ramifications if you can't or won't adhere to them, for whatever reason. Does it just mean you're out of this particular structure but are free to find another? Or are your basic safety and survival needs threatened?

So, as such, I understand why some people are calling certain mainstream structures "cultlike."

at the same time, I also think that there's a difference between not fitting into the society as defined and not fitting simply because...well, there are names for that.

I mean, we're social animals, okay; no matter what kind of structure we end up in--a small family, say--there are rules within that structure, even if often unspoken. ; this is how we maintain the structure, and also keep from, like, killing each other.

R. Mildred said...

I mean, we're social animals, okay; no matter what kind of structure we end up in--a small family, say--there are rules within that structure, even if often unspoken. ; this is how we maintain the structure, and also keep from, like, killing each other.

The more healthy families that utilise a larger extended family system that I've seen tend to organise less around an Us/Other binary, and tend to be hugely inclusive, and conflict is usually solved by the points of contest actually being resolved rather than the conflict being supressed through a complex system of rules and regulations to avoid harm to the over-group because such groups have no other recourse but actual conflict resolving rather than suppression.

There was, admittedly, usually a sort of special authorative respect given to certain figures in such groups, but it's questionable how much power they could have weilded if the rest of the group didn't want to accept their authority, respect their opinion, and ultimately agree with and want to follow their advice and do what they told them anyway.

Families and dojos both tend to get progressively nasty as the "leader" figures try to force people to act against their wishes and do things in one particular way rather than giving people ways they can do stuff they already want to do and just letting them figure out which way will work best for them, and just accepting that you can't teach someone something they don't really want to learn/do something and will do everything in their power to avoid doing that if you try to force them to do it.

namaroopa said...

Differences between the US military and cults:

http://www.factnet.org/Margaret_Thaler_Singer/How_the_United_States_Marine_Corps_Differs_from_Cults.html

Of course, there is a continuum, but there are some important distinctions here that easily get lost when people say "everything we don't like is a cult!"

"Cultish" is an almost entirely meaningless adjective - the only meaning it connotes for sure is a derogatory valence. It may be more helpful to try to uncover what underlying qualities people are trying to identify in mainstream society by connecting the Big Cults and their obvious weirdness with it. Structural qualities? Behaviors? Freedoms? Social exclusivity? Individual outcomes for ordinary members? etc. But that's exactly what this post originally suggested, too by suggesting totalism/authoritarianism is the central point, I think.

belledame222 said...

well, and obviously if it's a big enough organization, one's subjective experience of it matters enormously as well in whether or not one might be inclined to see it as a "cult," as defined by the OP's links' criteria.

Kai said...

More than anything, I think this exchange demonstrates the confusion surrounding the very word "cult". I really don't care whether you call a group or society or culture "a cult" or not, I only care about my actual interaction with it (though I do think it's interesting that "cult" and "culture" appear to share the same root word). And my interaction with Western culture is largely shaped by white male supremacy. If that's not a cult, it's still a pretty negative thing for me. If you've gone through your whole life being ridiculed or attacked or denied hierarchical status because of your race, Western culture looks a whole lot like a so-called cult, not a meritocracy. I'm not sure if that's academically imprecise or if my adjectives are academically meaningless, but I'm not an academic (I'm a child of two academics, but I'm not a fan of the academic world myself -- as the saying goes, the fighting in academia is so vicious because there's so little at stake). My experience with the word "cult" is that it's a code word for a group that you don't approve of, and that's all, forget about the finer points of definition and criteria. So I guess, to me, the thing to do is find better language to describe this stuff, rather than relying on language that appears to produce more confusion than clarity. And I think that's what belledame was trying to accomplish with her post.

Peace.

Kai said...

Well I just went and read the posts by Trin and Namaroopa which spun out of this post. It's good thoughtful stuff. I'm glad the exchange generated this much consideration. Although, I'm not sure why I've been singled out as the "ooober-left" (hehe) that Trin is "done with". I love Western culture, even if it's a cult, or even if it's not. Maybe most people are more logical and internally consistent than me or something, because I have no problem loving things that have profound problems and aspects with which I disagree. Anyway, nice job, belledame!

Namaste.

Trin said...

"Maybe most people are more logical and internally consistent than me or something, because I have no problem loving things that have profound problems and aspects with which I disagree."

Kai, this really confuses me -- if you go back and look at my post, you'll see that I too mention not liking many facets of Western culture.

I honestly don't see Western culture as cultish because I think that a big part of Western individualism comes from Enlightenment liberalism, which is at least in theory all about thinking critically and not going with the group, etc. Check out Mill's On Liberty if you haven't.

My experiences as a TA at a college, in philosophy, fit this too -- the whole point of requiring ethics courses for these young adults is to offer them tools for examining the mores they've grown up with and studying which fit them and which don't. Your average religious cult doesn't assign materials on opposite sides of the God question and ask students for personal reflections, I don't think.

Cult thinking, if I understand it right, is all about "follow the teachings of our leaders and don't question." Western culture is, in name at least, deeply committed to teaching people not to do this. In fact, the big thing the left is always arguing against is too much atomistic thinking!

So I just don't see it.

R. Mildred said...

Western culture is, in name at least, deeply committed to teaching people not to do this.

Alas, not since Sparta, if you'll refer to the history of first europe, which is basically puntuated by religious pogroms, invasions and the occasional mass genocide before they got to the americas, and started burning people, religions and cultures.

Remember that the true "tradition" of Teh West began with the greek city states, where democracy was started by Sparta, that ran on a slave economy, and Athens, that routinely had athiests kill themselves to prove how devoted they were to the power of the state and teh courts.

It then moved to the Roman empire, who began the great tradition of efficient imperialism and genocide, was then defined in it's more modern form by the western arm of the Holy Roman Empire after its move to christianity, this then started teh tradition of crusades.

And after that we had such wonderful freethinking revolutions such as the peasant's revolt (which began with the mass stringing up of bishops and clergymen, and ended with the leaders of the revolt beign killed enmasse to put it down), the reformation (which led to occupation of ireland for maximum joy and freedom) french revolution (with Terrors and eventual napoleons) the american revolution (where noble coat revolving new yorkers and bostonites fought against the evil tyranny of tea taxes and the attempts by the british to free the slaves).

Following that was nothing particularly interesting like the mass theft of cultural artifacts from all over the world by europeans, the Raj, the initial occupation of the congo, south africa, east africa, south asia, the opium wars, the legalised scalping of amerindians in texas, the final expansions into the west of north america by europeans and their slaves, all of which occurred just prior to ww1, (somewhere about here we decimated the peoples of the phillipines after they tried to evict us from their country, and we armed and supported the facist groups in the east and the west) ww2 and the rise of facism, at which point america rose to the level of an imperialist super power as russian reclaimed it's age old role as such after the sad period of hte later tsars, at which point every 3rd world country went to war with each other for reasons of the giant game of Risk the USSR and USA played during the post-war years which teh USSR eventually forfeited for reasons of boris yeltsin so that China coudl have a go.

and then Bill clinton occured and hisotry reached it's ultimate nadir in the Movies Leonard Part 6 starring Bill Cosby and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back which is believed to be responsible for lobotomising all ethicists and therefore being indirectly responsible for the Ashley treatment and the Iraq War.

No, Plato was a pedophlic, Washington a slave owner and JFK started the vietnam war, so no, western culture has never ever been devoted to stopping people engaging in cult like thinking, not on the macro or personal scales.

*breaths deeply*

Alon Levy said...

are you a graduate of academia alon? because i think our perspectives might naturally be different if you are, because its something ive been kept out of, having not been able to devote the time or the money that it demands. i think the amount of money and time required to be part of it is another indicator of its cultlike status.

A graduate student. When I say "academia," I don't mean the entire educational system; I honestly don't know how it works in primary and secondary schools. I mean "academia" mostly on the level of researchers: physicists, historians, economists, biologists, anthropologists. An eighth-grader who knows more than his teacher is likely to get thrown in detention; a post-doctoral biologist who knows more than his advisor is likely to be rewarded with lush grants and an accelerated tenure track.

And of course there's the question of whether or not things like the totalist Cults of Personality that surrounded Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Franco and most south american dictators, are truly cult-enough to be described as cults here.

In the case of Hitler and Mao, I'd say it was definitely cultlike. Mao encouraged his followers to smash everything, to question every authority except his, to be more loyal to him than to their counterrevolutionary parents.

The others are slightly more complicated - Franco was a monarchist, Stalin had a conservative technocratic streak that the others didn't, and about Mussolini I don't know enough.

Rosie said...

This was such an excellent post and so many thought provoking comments. I've read a fair bit about all of these points but have never really tried to marry them before.

My interest is more in the individual and our instinctual need to seek groupings.

Human beings seem to be hard-wired to seek out groupings whether hierarchal(good or bad) or not. A certain percentage of people seem drawn to ego-driven, power-seeking behavior. That behavior may be benevolent or not. Is a benevolent despot any less a despot?

A seemingly large percentage of people enjoy being surrounded by people who share and parrot back their own views. These views seem to gain verisimilitude within the group the more often they are repeated. Many of the people in groupings of this sort have not made a conscious decision to join the grouping and have just fallen into it. Some of the people have made a conscious decision to join the grouping but tailor their behaviors or opinions to be acceptable to the group.

Having a charismatic ego-driven leader is helpful but unnecessary to focus the group's dogma. Peer pressure seems to have the same focusing effect.

The obvious solution would be to encourage critical thinking skills in education. This would certainly help people behave less like lemmings and more like reasoning individuals.

But such education is discouraged by upper level hierarchies historically from medieval church literacy to Carl Rove's statement that it was good for the public to be educated...just not too educated.

And then there are those who are just happier being lemmings. And I'm afraid that number is far higher than we think it is.

Just a few thoughts.

Thanks for visiting the SMB, Belledame. I've had a secret crush on your blog for a while.

Trin said...

Mr. Mildred:

Try reading my post and addressing my points next time. It might help you make a rational case for whatever you're talking about.

How much do you know about Greek pederasty, anyway? Or are you one of those sorts who think someone can't possibly have a point unless they are completely unaffected by the mores of the time? (Small hint: that's none of us.)

Oh, and I was thinking more along the lines of Mill and of Locke than of JFK, but if you can point me to writings of his that have marked serious shifts in Western philosophy, please do.

Anonymous said...

Meester?

Plato ahd the same weird idea of sex that dawn eden does, except dawn eden doesn't do children (afaik) and it followed a pattern in Plato's thinking that expressed a belief in purely numinous concepts as being better and more worthy of respect and reverance than actual physically grounded things, which is the core basis around which nationalist authoritarianism that was repeated by JFK with the infamous line (paraphrasing here heavily); "ask not what your country can do for you, ask instead what you can do for your country" an idea that totally flips around the basic democratic ideal that the nation state, if it must exist, should serve the needs of the people, rather than the people serving the needs of the nation state. JFK came into power right after the mcarthy period remember, so this should be too surprising.

Plato was also one of the major philisophical proponents of the mind/body duality that runs throughout catholicism and hence the western society that took the idea of the early mystery cults and merged them ever more successfully with nationalism until the final totalist cults of the greater totalitarian period of the 19th and 20th centuries.

So there you go, Plato ---> JFK via authoritarianism.

I do believe this is where you ph33r my mad skillz :}