Why do members of a cult go out of their way to defend their group, even when this group is obviously acting against their best interests?
For several years now I’ve been fascinated by the subject of group think, or mob consciousness. Our history is full of accounts where medium to large communities, sometimes even whole countries have acted as if they were under a spell, operating on some emotionally charged crusade, with a single minded objective, often with confusing and contradicting underlying motivations, unable to gain a wider perspective on reality.
In retrospect it’s always easier to notice, with the benefit of being able to step back from the situation and see with a birds eye view.
What might cause a person to begin to suspect they’re living in a cult?
If you’ve been brought up from birth indoctrinated in the ways of the group, what might lead you to question your community?
[ “Lauren Drain quickly became the black sheep of the family when she was ostracised from the Westboro Baptist Church. This banishment was reportedly due to her “questioning elements of church doctrine.” Lauren reported in a reddit AMA that she spoke up about inconsistencies in the doctrine to her parents and was met with extreme opposition. She was called a divisive and a liar. Lauren also revealed that the Westboro Baptist Church used scare tactics to prevent members from leaving by telling them that God would kill them if they left.” ]
Noticing inconsistencies, feeling unable to question rules or ideas, being mocked or put down, or shamed for saying things that don’t fit with the group consensus. These are some things that might trigger a person to begin questioning their community.
And yet even when rules or ideas don’t make sense, still many people will go out of their way to defend those same rules and ideas.
[…. “Contemporary cultic groups, which do not have the power of the state at their disposal, have more in common with this brand of thought reform than with the POW variety in that they rarely employ physical coercion. In order to control targets, they must rely on subterfuge and natural areas of overlap between themselves and prospects. As with all Korean era thought reform programs (those directed at civilians and at prisoners), however, contemporary cultic groups induce dependent states to gain control over recruits and employ psychological (sometimes physical) punishment (“dread”) to maintain control. The process, in my view, can be briefly described by a modified “DDD syndrome”: deception, dependency, and dread.” ….]
Tactics such as gaslighting, emotional blackmail, inducing states of dependence, promoting constant fear and or states of terror or anxiety, ‘dread’.
If a person feels that the world beyond the community is too frightening, then any security offered is enough to keep them within the fold, no matter how much doubt or suspicion a person might have due to inconsistent rules or beliefs.
As human mammals our survival, safety and security is paramount, even if it means giving up on sanity, rationale and truth.
What are the lengths people will go to in order to maintain their connection with the group?
[“One of the most famous studies of obedience in psychology was carried out by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University. He conducted an experiment focusing on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience.
Milgram (1963) examined justifications for acts of genocide offered by those accused at the World War II, Nuremberg War Criminal trials. Their defence often was based on “obedience” – that they were just following orders from their superiors. …]
Although we might not think the subjects of this experiment were part of a cult, we can see how the same obedience to authority is at play. With the ‘doctor’ or ‘teacher’ replacing the role of cult leader. The outcome is the same, people obeying authority figures without question.
Could this happen on a global scale?
Never before in the history of our world have we had global mass communication technology. The ability to spread a single message to over 60% of the world population via internet and television media.
During the early months of 2020 we saw the entire world paying close attention to one singular event. The mind of the world was focused on one thing. Everyone was put into a state of fear and ‘dread’. Everyone looking for some ‘authority’ or ‘expert’ (leader) to take control and make us feel ‘safe’. Then came the lockdowns. The punishment we had to endure in order to deserve our reward. We had to ‘obey’.
All the elements of hypnotic induction and cult-like group obedience shared via mass media. It was almost inevitable.
If this had been some mastermind plan to enrol humanity into a worldwide cult, then it would have been a stroke of genius. However we need not believe in a mass conspiracy. All we need are the right elements to come together as they clearly did.
[…”Anyone who can focus their attention, who has a good imagination or who can become emotionally aroused, will, at many points in time, enter trance. We are in a self-induced trance whenever we are highly emotionally aroused in what is usually thought of as a negative way: anger, fury, hatred, fear, anxiety, worrying, depression, envy, greed, selfishness – all such emotions cut us off from our thinking brains and give us a locked-in, limited view of reality….]
[…”When something confusing happens, the ‘attention gates’ of our minds open wide. We become confused when the mind has nothing to match to, because everything feels unfamiliar and unexpected or beyond our current powers of understanding.“… “So using confusion techniques makes people more suggestible. Ambiguity can mean that when the clear order, so to speak, does come it is more readily accepted….]
All that was required next was for the media take on the role of authority, and we have a mass hypnosis, with the media playing the role of cult leader. And what did we see on every TV station. The media telling people what to do, what to think. 24/7 news coverage of fear, followed by the proclamation of a coming saviour, the Vaccine! Democracy was all too quick to leave the building, and before our eyes we begin to witness country by country falling under tyrannical regimes.
However one thing all cults have in common is that they eventually break down. The group members start to question the inconsistencies in rules and regimes. Leaders become increasingly authoritarian, which in turn triggers deeper rebellion from questioning members. Eventually something has to break, either the leaders push too far and the group self destructs, or the individuals of the group establish a new consensus beyond the old authority.
It may be that human beings require some form of cultivated community to survive, but when the needs of the group outweigh the needs of the individual then we must ask, who is the group ultimately serving? Is it serving a set of ideas, an ideology, has it lost touch with reality? Or simply serving base drives, as we clearly see with all the profiteering by large companies and billionaires taking good advantage of the current global chaos.
One thing is for sure, to avoid making the same mistakes over and over, we require a deep self awareness. Because as long as we rely on others for authority, we are giving away our personal power. And we’ve seen what governments do with our power, and its never good.