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The savior who wants to turn men into angels
is as much a hater of human nature as the
totalitarian despot who wants to turn them into puppets.
Near Cults, Failed Cults and Flawed Instructors
Until now we have focused on the behavior of leaders and would-be leaders in cults. That is to say the people who are actively trying to claw their way up the ladder. But that is not the whole of the picture. In the same way that sadism and masochism play off each other, the cult leaders and the cult followers have a symbiotic relationship.
In seeking peer review, I submitted this page to a large number of people. People who I asked to comment on the information. These included not only several PhDs in psychology (with cult experience) but notable martial arts instructors and many others. In one of the responses I received it was pointed out that I had failed to address the behavior of cult members who are followers, not leaders. A very valid point, since the behavior of cult leaders is predatory it, not the behavior of the followers, was my concern.
Let me once again stress that this behavior is an extreme. It is not to say that anyone who has a hobby or interest is a cult member. Like everything else, there are many mitigating factors and issues that must be weighed and considered.
There are many reasons for a person to join a cult. What was pointed out (by someone who I am still waiting to get permission to reprint the whole of his post here) is an underlying theme is simplicity. As a junkie once told him "Addiction simplifies life." That is to say one's entire existence revolves around this issue. Nothing else matters. You get up in the morning and you know what you have to do.
With this idea in mind you can begin to see how a person can try to turn anything into a behavioral anchor. All of that person's spare time, energy, effort and money is poured into that fixation. Whatever the fixation, the individual organizes his/her life around it. As chaotic and obsessive as it may seem to the outsider, this creates a form of order in that person's life. Think about it, how many hard-core fans (short for fanatics) organize their spare time around their hobby/passion? They literally schedule their lives and thoughts around it.
In exchange for obsessive devotion to a subject, many of life's difficulties are taken care of for that person. For example, if someone obsessively collects something, quite often that act of collecting can be used as a means not to engage in creating a healthy relationship with members of the opposite sex. That is to say the obsession becomes both an impediment to and a shield against having to deal with the complexities of a relationship. It is simpler for the person to collect than to deal with the requirements of a healthy relationship.
In the same way, having a slavish devotion to a creed/group/organization/religion is a way to organize your life. There are rules that you follow, without question. You know what is expected and meeting those expectations gives you not only structure, but a purpose to one's life. In short, the person not only doesn't have to think for themselves, but by obsessing on conforming to the rules, simplifies his/he life. This is exactly what a dependant personality wants. The creed such a person follows dictates his/her lifestyle, decisions and personal interactions.
Cult members are doing the pretty much the same thing, but with a few specific twists and turns. Namely, they are aren't self-regulating as say a collector is. They are closer to dominance/submission types. That is to say the person is looking for an authoritarian personality to tell him/her what to do. The Master (or his representative) is right there in front of them to submit to (12). That person is telling them how to think and behave. Such an overlord punishes and praises both failures and successes in meeting these expectations.
This is why one of the standard, identifying warning signals of a cult is an authoritarian, charismatic leader. This is the kind of person a dependant personality is looking for. Someone who can give meaning to their lives. It is not just a fanatical adherence to a creed, it is dependant devotion to a Master. This also explains why the continually changing information that the Master presents does not bother the cult member. Since it is the Master that the cult member is devoted to, it is all revealed truth. No matter how outrageous, inconsistent or misguided it is. The authoritarian personality of the leader fills the hole within the cult member's personality.
For ease of example we have spoken of three easily identifiable extremes, authoritarian personalities, Scottish Knights and dependant personalities. What is important to realize is that these traits operate on a continuum. That is to say that a person can have mild or extreme personality traits that make them more or less susceptible to being sucked into a cult. There is no one personality trait that all cult members share. A cult is a complex mix of symbiotic neurosis's of varying degrees.
We now have reached a point where the reason that cults can be hard to differentiate from other organizations should start to be understandable. In order for a cult to be successful it takes a great many factors to all come together. If they are not present, it won't qualify as a cult -- even if it qualifies as an unhealthy organization. Chief among these factors is that the leader must have the personality traits necessary to successfully exploit the character flaws of others.
Simply stated there are people just don't have what it takes -- or perhaps "lacks" would be a better word -- to be a successful cult leader. Having skill alone isn't enough. Being without scruples is not enough either. Nor is overwhelming arrogance and neither is the ability to manipulate people. These and many other factors must all be present in order to be a successful cult leader. It doesn't mean that they want to or that they don't want to, it means that some part that would take them over the edge is not present.
Such instructors, through personal limitations, do not attract enough of the personality types that make a successful cult. While they do have small dedicated following of true believers, they don't have enough appeal beyond that small select group. It is interesting to note how often that such instructors are, in fact, far more accomplished at the style they practice than the far more successful cult leaders in similar styles or organizations. Which only goes to show that there is more involved than mere martial skill to run a martial art cult.
This also does not mean that there are not members of a large organization who wouldn't like to turn it into a cult. Members, who even though the organization isn't a cult are 'true believers.' Usually these personality types gravitate to a particular branch that has more cult-like tendencies. It's just that over-all enough other factors are present that prevent the whole organization from becoming a cult. Which is another reason why it is so often difficult to positively identify an organization as a cult.
Another point that can make cults difficult to spot is, as we said earlier, the initial information is usually solid. Since only a small number of those who sign up at a martial art school stay until black belt, most people will drop out never having realized that they were dealing with a cult. People drop out of training for numerous reasons and most will do so without ever having seen the behind the scenes behaviors that this page has addressed. On the surface, even the most virulent cult can look like a legitimate martial art school. It is only as one stays and gets more involved that you will see what we have addressed in this page.
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