The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
The word “cult” has always been used as an empty ad hominem attack against unsettling truths. Let us take a look at this word “cult,” and use it with real precision about existing social institutions.
For authoritative British usage, the Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English defines “cult” and “sect” as:
- a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object.
- a small religious group regarded as strange or as imposing excessive control over members.
- a group of people with different religious beliefs (typically regarded as heretical) from those of a larger group to which they belong.
- a group with extreme or dangerous philosophical or political ideas.
Studies of religious, political, and other cults have identified a number of key steps in a type of coercive persuasion:
- People are put in physically or emotionally distressing situations;
- their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasised;
- they receive unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from the leader;
- they get a new identity based on the group; and
- they are subject to entrapment and their access to information is severely controlled.
Ovid once said, “Treason doth never prosper: What’s the reason? Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
If a man successfully overthrows the King, no one calls him treasonous, because he now has the power to execute others.
We could equally say: “Cults never prosper: What’s the reason? Why if they prosper, none dare call them cults.”
Let’s look at a few institutions that truly fit the definition of a cult.
Funded through violence against citizens, commits murder/genocide.
- People are put in physically or emotionally distressing situations (boot camp, combat)
- Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasised (obey orders)
- They receive unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from the leader (“You are heroes!”)
- They get a new identity based on the group (uniforms, medals, rank)
- They are subject to entrapment and their access to information is severely controlled. (Stop-loss, unilateral contract changes, lies about joining up, military censorship)
A cult or sect is “A group with extreme or dangerous philosophical or political ideas.”
“It is heroic and highly moral to rob citizens in order to pay people in costume to murder by the thousands any group you point at…”
Would you consider that a dangerous philosophical or political idea?
Prospers by lying to and bullying utterly dependent children, commits emotional and verbal abuse against the helpless — and all too often pedophilia — denies condoms to AIDS-ridden countries, justifies and supports wars and so on.
- People are put in physically or emotionally distressing situations (hellfire, damnation, social ostracism, circumcision, original sin…)
- Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasised (Obey the priest, give money)
- They receive unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from the leader (“God loves you!”)
- They get a new identity based on the group (“Muslim! Christian! Jew! Born-again!”)
- They are subject to entrapment and their access to information is severely controlled. (How many people have read the entire Bible? What happens to a family if the father begins to doubt the existence of gods and the virtue of superstition?)
Funded through threats of violence against parents, denies choice, traps children for years, makes kids slothful, resentful, frightened, bored, aggressive — and significantly impairs their cognitive development. A truly coercive form of kidnapping.
- Children are put in physically or emotionally distressing situations (confinement, fear, boredom, rote repetition, mockery, humiliation, punishment . . . )
- Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasised (obey the teacher, get good marks, the state solves all problems)
- They receive unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from the leader (praise for obedience and dumb regurgitation, punishment for disobedience and original thinking)
- They get a new identity based on the group (“Patriotism is a virtue! You are a citizen!”)
- They are subject to entrapment and their access to information is severely controlled. (parents cannot choose state schools, children are not allowed to leave, must complete assigned reading and regurgitate statist propaganda, and their parents will be violently aggressed against if they do not pay for this brutal indoctrination of their children.)
Cults never prosper, you see — because if they do prosper, they become governments, and armies, and religions — they become “culture.”
Insanity in individuals is something rare — but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Think of the absurd cultural beliefs that people somehow think are really true:
- Military — Hit men who murder for money are stone evil, unless they put on a green costume, and then they become moral heroes.
- Government — The government must use the threat of violence to steal half your income, in order to protect you from violence and theft.
- Christianity — The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree . . .
“Gases expand when heated” — this is not a statement of culture, but of science.
Mathematics is not cultural, but rational.
Einstein’s theory of relativity is not cultural, but factual.
Logic and science are not local cultural customs, but objective and rational methodologies.
My goal is to move philosophy from culture to truth, by reasoning from first principles, with reference to empirical evidence.
Culture is that which is not true, but is believed to be true. Religion, patriotism, militarism, political allegiance, all the supposed virtues of accidental geography.
Reasoning from first principles is dangerous to “culture,” since culture is always revealed by philosophy as irrational prejudice, indoctrinated through propaganda and the threat of violence.
Culture is the opposite of philosophy, and truth, just as superstition is the opposite of science, and proof.
Culture is only the first syllable.
Make use of the following additional resources to expand knowledge and understanding of the topic covered in this unit.
The entire unit, including all additional resources, can also be downloaded as a workbook to be used offline.