Cult 2.0

Carey Burtt’s sharp and funny short film has me thinking about cults again, and specifically Cult 2.0s. The “2.0” is an irritating neologism for an irritating fact: That new cults have learned from the excesses of old cults. They’ve seen that certain behaviors raise red flags, and they’ve learned that by tinkering around the edges they can gain the same rewards — control and wealth — without bringing the same organized backlash. Jim Jones is dead, but Reverend Moon is one of the most powerful men in America.

Necessary to understanding the Cult 2.0 is the rejection of the 70’s-style language of victimization. Cult 2.0 members are no more “victims” than smokers. Both are addicted, both are progressively harmed, both could stop at any time (but rarely do), and both chose to begin.

Traditional cult members tend to be of above average intelligence — as is vividly illustrated in the Jonestown Tape. At the outset they perceive at least some of the methods of psychological control, but they choose to believe that the positive aspects of the organization outweigh the negatives. They “cult into” these groups; they’re not tricked.

The following are the common attributes of the traditional cult. (Credit to the late Perry DeAngelis.)

  • Surrender to Authority
    • Leaders defeat autonomy
  • Environmental Control
    • Carefully control daily schedule
    • Leave no time to reconsider/criticize
  • Totalism
    • Us vs. Them Mentality
    • Make members feel needed/wanted
  • Loading the Language
    • Jargon
    • Common words given unique meanings
  • Demand for Purity
    • Purity defined by leadership
    • Any sacrifice allowed for purity

Moving beyond DeAngelis, I point out that this is a hierarchical list. The Surrender to Authority requires Environmental Control which supports Totalism which begets Loading the Language which supports the Demand for Purity. The Cult 2.0 merely accomplishes the above with soft power. It’s the paper difference between slavery and sharecropping.

In a Cult 2.0 they don’t control your life, but they sure always need you to do something or other for them, at all hours. They don’t tell you to stop talking to your friends and family, they just don’t give you the time. When your loved ones ask what you do now, it’s hard to explain it all without using that new terminology. Most people wouldn’t understand anyway, right? The Cult 2.0 doesn’t tell you to give them all your money, but if you paid for this training retreat and the next you’d sure start to make progress, and be able to help your local outlet move forward. You want to do better, don’t you? Keep that enthusiasm up. We’re changing the world. And it’s easy.

Cult 2.0s are the antibiotic-resistant germs of the cult world, reshuffling their features to deliver the same payload. Scientology’s Narcanon and “Free Personality Test” tent are easy to spot front groups, but the for-profit Dahn Yoga corporation (Dahn Hak) is a front for nothing but itself. Cult 2.0s don’t kill people; they just leave them broke, broken, ashamed, lonely, and knowing that nothing has been done to them that they haven’t done to themselves.

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