Sep 14, 2019

Are We All Cult Members Now?

Who What Why
SEPTEMBER 13, 2019

"Every day there are stories about how interactions between people have become increasingly tribal — prompting individuals to trash facts, science, and objective reality in the service of a cause or a set of beliefs.

It’s almost as if society has been taken over by cults.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, we talk to Dr. Janja Lalich, professor emeritus of sociology at Cal State University, Chico, and one of the nation’s leading authorities on cults.

Lalich talks about the recent and dramatic increase in cults.
What are the characteristics that define all cults? What are the uses of paranoia? What is the appeal of the charismatic and highly narcissistic leader who demands total loyalty while promising some kind of salvation, framed in an us-vs.-them message?

She details how citizens are most susceptible to large-scale cults when a nation is in turmoil and ideology becomes sharply defined — as it has been historically by Hitler and Mao, as well as by the religious cult leader Jim Jones.

Successful cults, Lalich tells us, create an entire belief system, which is why they are so difficult to escape from: to leave means renouncing everything one has developed faith in.

She explains that when individuals try to leave cults they need the support and intervention of family and friends who are understanding, non-judgmental, and provide an emotional safe haven.

On the other end of the spectrum, for large populations or even whole nations that have been taken over by cults, the job of deprogramming millions of people usually requires a significant outside force — something that can be more dangerous and destabilizing than the cult itself.

Unfortunately, the law provides very little protection against the power of cults, most of which grow by word of mouth in a kind of ideological pyramid scheme. Based on her personal experience with cults, and years of academic research, Lalich provides a new framework for looking at the current political landscape."

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