The Value of Cults and Understanding Cult Tactics

Jaylen Moulton, Editor in Chief

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1969: The year the definitive “peace and love” hippie culture of the 60s was literally and figuratively murdered by the Manson Family. The Tate-LaBianca murders caught the world by storm from August of 1969 and onward. The 60s were officially canceled. Charles Manson, the mastermind of the plan, was able to gather susceptible, drugged-out, free-love baby boomers into his “family” and train them to follow his orders–murder included.

1978: 2018 will mark the 40th anniversary of the tragedy in Guyana, where more than 900 people died after drinking the Flavor-aid (or as the more popular phrase would have you think, Kool-aid). Jim Jones, along with his followers in the Peoples Temple, committed suicide in their settlement in Jonestown, Guyana, after years of religious zealotry preached by Jones.

1993: 2018 will also mark the 25th anniversary of the devastation in Waco, Texas, where 76 followers of the Branch-Davidians, along with their sect leader, David Koresh, died after they started fires in the building they had taken siege over. While 9 escaped, the rest were buried alive by not only the rubble, but also by their blind following of who they thought was Jesus on Earth.

1997: Just last year, 2017, marked the 20th anniversary of the Heaven’s Gate suicide. A UFO cult that believed their human bodies were merely vessels ready to pass on to what they called the “Next Level” and the only way to get to the “Next Level” safely before Earth would be “recycled” (essentially, their form of the apocalypse) was to die. When Comet Hale-Bopp came around that year, founder and leader of the cult, Marshall Applewhite, convinced 38 of his followers that a spacecraft was following the comet and the only way to get on, of course, was to commit suicide.

What do all of the above events have in common? They serve as warnings and reminders of the evil that can occur when people follow a belief strongly. There is something to be learned from cults, both on an individual level and on a societal level. As much as people would like to believe in their capability to spot deception or offness about their surroundings, it is too often that we don’t see what is in front of our faces.

Arguably, the type of cult-like following we have for our idols, for the latest trends, for gossip, for a certain image, for a TV show or book series or movie, for an ideal way of living, for politics–arguably, these are not harmful. The mindless following we have is not harmful the way being in a cult is. Your latest obsession will die out and be replaced by the next obsession. No biggie, right? Actually, yes, it is. An easily impressed mindset is one that cult leaders prey upon. If you’re going from fad to fad because “that’s the cool thing,” it’s so easy for someone to convince you that what they’re trying to sell you is what you need. They’re “doing you a favor.” The only difference is this fad is not going to be one that will die out quickly, because it will always be disguised with beauty, luxury, excitement. It’s the right thing–the perfect thing. Your seller will give you an upgrade every time you want to leave (and that’s frequent). You can’t get rid of the product even if you wanted to. Remember? You need it.

The charismatic people in this world know how to manipulate. They know what to say to draw you in–to draw the masses in. We see this in politics all the time. Both sides drawing in large crowds of die hard left-wingers or right-wingers, who will always vote based on political alignment rather than the breadth of the policy being considered or the values of the politician. The left-right dichotomy is almost a cult in and of itself, telling followers to never question the base and always oppose the “enemy.” This idea of rejecting criticism of one’s group is the basis of cults. Just believe and accept. Questioning is wrong and makes you look suspicious.

A lot of the times in cults, members take substances or do rituals as a way to alter their mindset. It’s easier to control a mind that is more open with loss of senses. On an individual scale, this might not be as prevalent because life isn’t necessarily followed in a pattern. People do different things on different days. While many people try to stick to a daily routine, it’s hard to equate that to a daily ritual unless it is forced upon by someone else’s ideals (i.e. a celebrity mentioned their daily routine and a person mimics this because of idolization). However, on a larger scale, it’s so much easier to see the ritualistic way we are manipulated. Prescription drugs seem to be taken by so many these days. A Time’s article states that 13% of Americans take antidepressants, and a CBS article states that more than 1 in 3 people took prescribed opioids in 2015. While these drugs may legitimately help people, there’s cause for concern when, “one in 12 doctors has received money from drug companies marketing prescription opioid medications.” Feeling as if there was corruption behind drug prescriptions would be understandable. What if it’s just for money and the drugs don’t actually do anything? It seems like it’s pill after pill after pill taken on the daily at the hour with no effect for some. It’s so much easier to control people who are taking drugs when they feel the way you want them to feel. Big Pharma might be real after all and working on the same foundation so many cults have worked on.

Scientology is one of the most prominent and current cults in the world, and while it may be the butt of many jokes, it’s still treated like a real religion and still draws in members despite it’s manipulation tactics, or as they’d like to call it auditing. A lot of people don’t know that Scientology is more sinister than just the auditing, or the strange nature of the basis of the religion and how it drains the pockets of its members. As someone who has watched many documentary TV specials on the religion, it is crazy to me how this “religion” remains, but then I remember that it uses so many cult tactics. It draws members in by making them feel special, they have a charismatic leader, they provide a false sense of security, they have celebrity figures (like Tom Cruise and John Travolta), they regulate many of their members lives (people literally have to reject all contact from family members or friends who decide to leave Scientology), and they constantly manipulate the emotions of their members, especially those that are thinking of leaving. They even have a compound in Hemet, CA where they essentially keep members they are suspicious of prisoner. It’s crazy and yet so many people are unaware about these evil features of Scientology, and many members are so sucked in to their religion that they don’t realize how harmful it is.

While I could go on and on about this topic and the instances of cult-like following in our society, this article needs to end at some point. Cults have always had a negative connotation and they have always been frowned upon, but in our “normal” lives we don’t seem to see how similar so many aspects of our surroundings are cult-like, because we don’t think it could happen to us even though it is happening to us. Maybe not as scary as some of the cults I mentioned at the beginning of the article, but it is still scary enough that it’s an acceptable form of obsession, of manipulation, of alliance. It’s so scary that we try to alleviate the fear we don’t want to face with jokes. It’s not that funny, and self-awareness that doesn’t want to be awakened is the worst kind of self-awareness because it means people want to justify their zealotry. It’s lying to yourself, so the only way to try to escape the cult dynamic is by facing reality first.

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