Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Anti-Cult

Or at least the Anti-Destructive-Cult Guy, Steve Hassan, spoke at the conference I attended this week. If you need to help someone get out of a destructive cult, see his website, which also lists a number of groups that use "mind control" techniques to keep people mentally enslaved rather than having them think for themselves (a more widely edited list is included on Wikipedia).

For information and possibly a few chuckles, see for the secrets of Scientology, exposed...this from a group dedicated to opening the inner secrets of this group to all for debate and discussion. Steve believes that groups that are not destructive allow debate on all tenets and do not cloud them with secrecy, making them available only to those who open their bank accounts to them and who agree not to leave the group ever.

Mind control techniques (from the Cult Information Center) include the following. If you are being subjected to such techniques, get out. This is not a legitimate enterprise!

Confusing Doctrine--Encouraging blind acceptance and rejection of logic through complex lectures on an incomprehensible doctrine.
Removal of Privacy--Achieving loss of ability to evaluate logically by preventing private contemplation.
Time Sense Deprivation--Destroying ability to evaluate information, personal reactions, and body functions in relation to passage of time by removing all clocks and watches.
Uncompromising Rules --Inducing regression and disorientation by soliciting agreement to seemingly simple rules which regulate mealtimes, bathroom breaks and use of medications.
Verbal Abuse--Desensitizing through bombardment with foul and abusive language.
Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue--Creating disorientation and vulnerability by prolonging mental an physical activity and withholding adequate rest and sleep.
Dress Codes--Removing individuality by demanding conformity to the group dress code.
Confession--Encouraging the destruction of individual ego through confession of personal weaknesses and innermost feelings of doubt.
Financial Commitment--Achieving increased dependence on the group by 'burning bridges' to the past, through the donation of assets.
Isolation--Inducing loss of reality by physical separation from family, friends, society and rational references.
Change of Diet--Creating disorientation and increased susceptibility to emotional arousal by depriving the nervous system of necessary nutrients through the use of special diets and/or fasting.
No Questions--Accomplishing automatic acceptance of beliefs by discouraging questions.
Fear--Maintaining loyalty and obedience to the group by threatening soul, life or limb for the slightest 'negative' thought, word or deed.
Replacement of Relationships--Destroying pre-cult families by arranging cult marriages and 'families'.

By the way, Steve agreed that the U.S. Military has aspects of destructive cults, particularly in bootcamp, but "how else are you going to train people to kill on command?", and at least there are grievance procedures and the like.



  • seems that every place I've every worked is a cult! YIKES RUNNNNNNnnnn :)

    By Anonymous Diane, at 8:14 AM  

  • I'm struck by the complexity and the length of the list. I think we all realize it's probably accurate. But, I wonder how this process came to be? Was it designed? Did some expert panel do a systems analysis of what's needed to induce cult-accepting behavior? Was there a requirements capture process? A systems architecture document? Clearly, an existing cult is a living, breathing system. It plans, adapts, reacts, and grows. But, it's a system without a designer (probably).

    Cults are the ultimate complex adaptive system? And, they provide a lesson to all of us organizational theorists: you can grow a pretty big system without the trappings of modern systems engineering.

    By Blogger Redbeard, at 6:08 AM  

  • Great questions, Redbeard. (I like your blog too,
    I'm fairly sure no one analyzed cult behavior in the ways you suggest. Steve Hassan was inducted into the Moonies in the typical way when he was a teenager, and only broke free after a car accident. He has dedicated his life since to demystifying the process.

    I'm fairly convinced that the tools we use for engineering systems, such as the requirements capture and systems architecture documents you mention, are not as primary when dealing with complex adaptive systems such as people. As you say, these systems don't have a designer, who would be the one to use such tools. The question is, what kind of effect can we have on such systems?

    By Blogger SarahSheard, at 9:08 AM  

  • It is an interesting list, but I think it could be usefully divided and refined. All of the elements fall under the general category of "Things that operate synergistically to create group identity at the expense of individual identity." Humans are social creatures. We live in groups, and our group identity is as central to who we are as is our individual identity. Since having group identity is essential to survival, it should not be surprising that we have evolved a variety of mechanisms by which it is built and maintained.

    Cults, like other organizations that need their members to identify if the needs of group more strongly than individual needs, have developed an understanding over time of how to operate the psychological cues by which group identity is built. It isn't just the US military (beyond cults) who use these techniques, it is all militaries, and street gangs, and Cub Scouts, and churches, and schools/universities, and fraternaties, and so forth. They all use these, to some degree, because they are factors that link to our social psychologies. Personally, I think this is a cardinal example of the socio-biological process at work.

    The morality of using these methods is another matter. Is it wrong for a cult to do it and okay for the Marines? Is it okay for the Cub Scouts to do it in very attenuated form, but not to use the full set? I think we can usefully separate the moral judgement about who uses the tools of group identity and when from the observational question of how it is done.

    In a blog on system theory I think I'll leave the morality aside, but even taking a pure socio-biology approach tells us something. If a group uses the techniques of group identity to improve the fitness and welfare of all members, top to bottom, and the same rules apply at the top as at the bottom than they are on safer ground. If the function of the group identity is to make life sweet at the top at the expense of misery at the bottom, and rules are changed and/or ignored as you rise up the pyramid than you have a clear case of abuse.

    By Anonymous MarkM, at 10:16 AM  

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