How Cults… and Mobsters, and Spies… Seduce

Via Nadim Kobessi’s Twitter feed, an excellent look at the recruiting technique of religious cults and the peculiar social dynamics they all have.

Since most of them have similar dynamics, it’s worth asking — why? Surely their founders didn’t all read the same dog-eared copy of “Starting Cults for Dummies.”

The answer is, I don’t know, exactly. But they all face similar evolutionary forces, which is to say they share the common fate of being considered whackjobs by mainstream society.

Also, the modern ‘cult’ is a close cousin to something that’s been going on for a very long time, with plenty of room developing an optimized ‘operational blueprint.’ Indeed, what historians call cults (as in the Cult of INSERT_GREEK_GOD_HERE) were basically insular groups practicing some really crazy shit (more debauchery = closer to the god)…

…which resulted in the semi-modern world of, well, go watch Eyes Wide Shut, and watch the circle of naked chicks kiss to the drone of “weeee are allll onnnee…”

Same social pressures… just wearing masks instead of waving E-meters. And historically facing a burning-at-the-stake instead of an Anonymous protest.

It’s interesting to note that this applies outside the world of ‘cult’ and its linguistic derivatives. Mobsters, spies, and indeed almost every kind of covert organization with which I’m familiar borrows the described dynamics to a greater or lesser degree.

(Examples of exceptions: Mobsters aren’t big on ‘love bombing,’ and covert organizations tend not to be big on excessively frequent communication for obvious security reasons.)

I would note that if this side of human behavior interests you, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear.”

It’s less obviously related — focusing as it does on threats from individual actors rather than groups — but the dynamics it describes are highly apropos.

I suspect one reason this is so harkens back to that line from Eyes Wide Shut… these groups can manifest the same behaviors and psychology as a single, very, very creepy, person.

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