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Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life.
Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find
a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause,
but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers
them unlimited opportunities for both.
                             Eric Hoffer

Authoritarian Personality

On this page:
Dictating behavior and thinking | Elitism | Bitch Patrol | The Moses Ploy

Birds of a feather flock together. That old clich? Well it proves itself to be true in cults.

Cult leaders are both afflicted with and surrounded by authoritarian personalities. The reason they are the leaders is because they are just a little better at disguising it and manipulation than their followers. But both leaders and followers are playing different positions in the same game.

The authoritarian personality is characterized by a cluster of personality traits reflecting concern with conformity and conventional behavior, and manifesting destructive and aggressive impulses.(1)

What this boils down to is controlling how people behave. The goal of  authoritarian personalities is not to change how they think to fit how society works, it is to change people's behavior to conform with how they think. Such people attach themselves to a larger authority (i.e. the Bible, the Koran, the Nazi Party) and attempt to act out the behavioral decrees of that authority. This higher authority serves as an excuse for the authoritarian personality to act out destructive, controlling and manipulative behavior. This person's "authority" comes from their mastery/possession/ knowledge/following of superior knowledge or revealed teachings. This both gives them power and allows them to justify their behavior. It also allows them elude responsibility for their actions. For example with fundamentalist Islamic terrorist, it is not them that is condemning you, you are condemning yourself for not following Allah's word. Their terrorist attacks are Allah's retribution -- even though they are committing them.

Although the cult leader doesn't take it that far, he manipulates members to behave in a manner that benefits him. Often insisting that members engage in strange behaviors that make no sense to outsiders, but make perfect -- if illogical -- sense to cult members. Below are off site links describing the authoritarian personality traits please take a few moments to follow them and see if your Uber Guru or his followers display any of these traits History of the concept cshtml/psy/person5.html Personality Traits Personality Traits F-scale test (Fascist test, flip, but accurate)

Now compare this with a more healthy management style (I want to be the boss)

There are four main indicators of the presence of authoritarian personalities in a group 
1) Dictating behavior and thinking 
2) Elitism
3) The "Bitch Patrol"
4) "I am Moses"

1) Dictating behavior: Heavily intertwined with martial arts cults is demanding that you adhere to either other culture's standards of behavior or to a "warrior ideal." In the more common cults it is a combination of both. What you often end up with is a group of people trying to ape another culture's mores and standards as a way to prove how advanced they are in the system. What is important to notice is what is being demanded is that you adhere to the Master's interpretation of those standards, not the actual standards themselves.

We make this statement because often individuals from the culture that is being aped are confused and appalled at the interpretation and behavior of the cult members. While the cult members think themselves acting in a proper manner, the reason it is so appalling to natives is it is not how it is done in their country!  

One of the better ways to find out what we are talking about is to go to a large bookstore's travel section and pick up a book on the etiquette of the country of origin. You will discover that a great many different interpretations and connotations exist for these ideas. They are in fact, far more complicated than what is being presented in the school. However, you will just as often hear that the Master's interpretation is what is used in the martial tradition that you are studying in. Supposedly this is how "warriors" of that culture act. This slick bit of circular logic justifies any mistakes and flaws in the supposed code of conduct and conveniently explain away why people from that culture wouldn't know about this interpretation.

What is most interesting is how often the Master insists that the students behave in prescribed manner while his actions are light years away from the same rules! His advanced status allows him to function in ways that are beyond these requirements. An example of this is making a production of homage and respect for seniors/other practitioners as integral to the code of conduct and then waging an on-going feud with other cult. And in many cases actually encouraging students to go out and engage in flame wars, smear campaigns and bad mouthing other schools. You really have to stretch the definition of courtesy and respect to make this kind of behavior fit!

Another, more subtle way, to watch for  authoritarian personalities at work is the requirement for volunteering. This can range from just encouraging people to participate in extra curricular activities and money making events to making donating time teaching/working for the cult a requirement for advancement. The point about this kind of volunteering is that it determines who is and who isn't in the inner circle. The volunteering aspect has many purposes, a culling process of the "unworthy," a means to indoctrinate people into the "group think," not only free labor, but often money making for the cult leader and, by presenting such a happy worker bee image to the general public, advertising/ recruiting for the cult.

It is this manipulative and controlling behavior that encourages people to work harder to get next to the master so they can learn his revealed wisdom directly from him. This takes us to the next step of what to watch for when looking for both the authoritarian personality and cults.

2) Elitism: The authoritarian personality LOVES hierarchies. The idea of being in the elite of that same hierarchy really puts them into spasms of liver quivering joy. The problem with this is the nature of 'elitism' as most people perceive it.

Before we look at that, let's take a realistic look at being elite. While special forces do exist, they are not above the group. In fact, they exist to serve the group. The reason that they exist, the reason they receive special training is because of the service they provide for the group. Services that assist the group to do their job or to achieve a goal that the larger group -- by it's nature of being a larger group -- cannot do as effectively. To understand this idea, all one has to do is look at what the elite cannot do. For example, the SEALs can clear a beach for a large beach head landing. What they cannot do however, is put the boots on the ground to hold that beachhead, much less an entire invasion front. They cannot take territory. They definitely cannot occupy conquered territory. Furthermore, they must rely on the larger group  in order to do the specific job they can do. A Special Forces Alpha team is blind and useless without the rest of the military to provide them with 1) an assignment, 2) equipment, 2)  intel, 3) transportation to the job 4) backup during the job and 5) replacing/ extracting them when the job is done.  

While it is true that the elite are given extra perks by the group, it is because of the important service they provide to the group, not because they are intrinsically superior to the rank and file. If this providing of special service is not provided, then there is no legitimate elite status. There is only a bunch of people with perceptions of superiority and snotty attitudes. Which brings us to elitism.

Most self-appointed elitists fail to meet the requirements of being elite. Just being better at something than another person does not qualify you as being elite. Nor does being part of a social clique convinced of its inherent superiority over others. They serve no one but themselves. Which is why they aren't the elite, no matter what they tell themselves. Unfortunately, this arrogant and obnoxious behavior is the common perception of most people of what being elite means. What it is really is unfounded elitism.

Having said this, what is to a majority of people repugnant behavior, is, to an authoritarian personality, a wet dream. One of superiority and power that feeds into their perception of self and the world. And they will invest a great deal of time, effort and mental gymnastics to achieve it. Which explains the incredible amount of jockeying for position, back stabbing and politics that accompany cults. It also further describes the behavior described in the Why do we say cults? section.

Getting up the hierarchy within the cult into the elite inner circle is a major motivation for hard-core 'true-believers.' Which brings us to the next point.

3) Bitch Patrol: This is a term I picked up from Steven Brust's Jhereg series. I don't use it the way he uses it, but I have not found any single term to describe this intrinsic cult phenomenon and the associated behaviors. I use the term to describe the nasty, back biting, in-fighting pack of senior students who act as both a buffer between you and the Master and serve as his hitmen.

They are the enforcers of his will as well as doing all the cult's dirty work. And dirty work there is, the more extreme the cult, the more severe  (up to and including strong arm tactics, attacks and murder). While other cult members might be drones, these are the ones who have clawed their way to the top in order to be next to the master. They serve many purposes, but their main one is to keep you from getting too close to the Master.

As we will discuss in the next section, charisma is a very important factor for the Master's success. As such, the Bitch Patrol serves a very important purpose in that they protect his image and charisma. They engage in bad behavior for him. This is done in such a way that the blame falls on them, not the Master. The Master can be all smiles and friendliness while the bitch patrol is beating people into submission. They are not only the enforcers of group think, but deeply enmeshed in the running of the organization. As such, what the Master gives, they take away. So in the end the Master doesn't have to give away anything, but still looks good.

The Bitch Patrol serves the very important function of keeping you -- an unworthy supplicant -- from pestering the Master with your petty problems. Although the Master may seem approachable, you can only talk to him about inconsequential things or perhaps sit in a relaxed setting and listen to him pontificate. If you try to bring up a serious problem, the Bitch Patrol will coalesce around him to keep you away. They will literally run interference for him to keep you away. You are not to disturb the Master with your presence except when he is teaching.

In a purely business sense this is an incredibly stupid idea. Teaching the martial arts is a service industry. In a healthy business, the way you stay in business is through customer satisfaction. Despite what you see in the movies, you do not hire a rude receptionist that keeps a person from seeing who they need to see. But a cult isn't about healthy business practices, it's about the glorification of the Master and milking the cult members(2)

Having said this, the Bitch Patrol serves another very important function, that is they create "crabs in a barrel" effect. This refers to the behavior of crabs in a barrel or container. A single crab can easily crawl out of such confinement.. However, when a group of crabs are placed in the container, if one crab tries to crawl out, the others will grab it and pull it back down. The Bitch Patrol not only insulates the Master from the masses, but through their constant bickering, backstabbing, in-fighting, politics and jockeying for position to be next to the Master, they ensure that the Master remains on top. Making sure the energy of the Bitch Patrol is focused on other schools and each other  is what keeps the Master in control. A savvy cult leader can cleverly encourage in-fighting through a series of small words and petty actions. Thus appearing to be benign and caring for his senior students when all the while he is manipulating them and goading them into fighting each other.

4) The Moses Ploy
There is a particular nasty crossbreed of the "Bitch Patrol" and the "Master" that you should be aware of. It is what a PhD. friend who specializes in cults calls the "I am Moses" approach. This ploy is very common when someone is trying to set up a cult inside an existing organization. And yes, it is possible to do that. The organization itself might not be a cult, but that branch is. One should keep an eye out for this behavior, especially when looking at international organizations (and where the ultimate head of the system is far away and speaks a different language).

Basically the "I am Moses" ploy goes like this: 
Moses speaks to God, the peons don't. Moses goes up the mountain and returns with the laws and teachings from above, the peons stay put waiting for the latest news.. Moses tells the peons God's will. The peon's don't make the hike up the mountain themselves and ask God " What's up with that?"  

Any attempts by the peon's to do these things results in the unleashed fury of the self-proclaimed Moses and his own Bitch Patrol.

Sometimes this Uber-master that SPM (self-proclaimed Moses) is reporting to doesn't even exist at all! He is just a made up story to give Moses credibility beyond himself. That is why this secret grandmaster is off in a far and distant land -- a place that conveniently doesn't have Web access.

More commonly, however, the uber-grandmaster is -- or was -- a real person. Most of the time the uber-grand master has a certain degree of fame in the martial arts world. And often these grandmaster have either accredited schools, representative or franchises across the country and/or around the world. As such the  SPM is indeed, certified in that system and/or has been granted status as that organizations "representative" in a country or state. Most of the time the SPM is a school/franchise owner.

In some cases the SPM will claim that the grand master is no longer teaching except to the highest ranking students -- the SPM included. (Although in the age of the internet, this ploy unravels pretty fast). But, if you want a good laugh, start checking how many individuals in a system were granted their master ranking by the uber-grand master  in his final days. This is the ultimate in the grandmaster isn't teaching anymore ploy. He's dead. But, they'd have you believe that on his death bed the grandmaster was on the phone promoting students left and right, himself included. Remember how we mentioned earlier that most cults do not survive beyond the Master's death? This dying breath promotion ploy is an example of the fragmentation and splintering into smaller cults that was also mentioned; each one claiming to represent the 'true' teachings of the master. Even if the original grandmaster wasn't running a cult, these splinter groups often develop into mini or near-cults.

If the uber-grand master is still living and teaching, the SPM and his bitch patrol will run interference between students and the grandmaster. Sometimes he will prevent those not of his inner-circle from attending seminars by the grandmaster Although this is more common with the SPM and BP traveling to where the Grand Poo-bah is and leaving the students behind. This tends to be more subtle pressure than direct, without actively discouraging a student training, the reason for the SPM's travel is for "advanced training" (which excludes the peon student). Or, if the grand master shows up in Podunk, the SPM and Bitch Patrol will make sure nobody (at least nobody not within the inner circle, a.k.a. "a nobody") will get close to the to ask anything but the most basic question during the seminar. In many of the bigger organizations, the grand master will demonstrate the techniques, but the SPM/BP will be doing most of the hands on instruction. Thereby ensuring an extra layer of isolation between the grand poo-bah and seminar attendees.

Often SPMs can operate in this manner because of cultural differences. It is true; Heads of traditional oriental organizations can be difficult to approach. In fact, cultural protocols make some notoriously difficult to approach. Talking with them is like trying to have a private word with a rock star. The SPM, however, takes this tendency and exaggerates it until he literally becomes Moses...the messenger through which God speaks to the congregation -- except in this case the SPM is spindoctoring the message for his own profit.

There is a serious question that arises out of this situation. That is: How much does the (mother organization/grandmaster) know is going on? Is the Grandmaster completely unaware? Is he culturally unaware of this possible spin? Is he turning a blind eye because he's making money from the SPM schools? Or is he, in fact, an active participant and encouraging such a mess? It only takes one glance at the Wing Chun Wars in Germany to realize exactly how valid of a question this is.(3)

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1) The Authoritarian Personality was the title of a book written by Theodor Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswick, Daniel Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford in 1950. The idea has not been "proven" by the psychology profession and therefore remains a theory. Although you will not see it in the DSM IV, it is a rare psychologist who will not be able to discuss the idea as it has received wide acceptance in the field. Where it has been accepted as nearly gospel is among social thinkers to explain the nature of mass movement, cults and the rise of Fascism. Return to text

2) On a purely personal note, I am well known for my ability to get along with other name instructors. I often will drop into schools of famous instructors to pay my respects when I am in the area. One of the first things I look for is the Bitch Patrol attempting to keep me away from the instructor. In schools that are not cults I am warmly welcomed by the instructor himself. In cults, however, I pose a serious conundrum for the Bitch Patrol. I am too famous to be dismissed and at the same time, I am still too much of a nasty little wolverine for it to be safe to be rude to me. There is a very specific "stripping of gears" about what to do in cults that is not present in non-cults. I also use the unexpected 'drop in' to test the Master. How, or even if, I am received tells me volumes about what kind of person he is. Return to text

3) The truth is that business of franchising has very distinct rules and protocols. Do you think McDonalds gives someone a franchise and says "Do what thou will?" No, protocols, procedures and standards are established that provide consistency of service and product. It would be very helpful if more martial arts organizations, before they start handing out franchises, opening schools creating representatives would look into these professional standards. (That is unless they really are interested in creating a cult). At the very least, these organizations/instructors need to encourage direct contact and post guiding principles on their home Web site to protect people from SPMs. For example, I do not have representatives in other countries, nobody is certified to teach my system in their country. I state this on several occasions around this website. Therefore anyone who claims to be certified under me and teaching my ultimate fighting system is lying. This fact can be easily checked on this Web page or by contacting me personally. Return to text

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