Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lessons from Jonestown III: The Breakdown

There's another essential element in the development of any cult member. It usually isn't enough to create a new world for the recruit. It's also vital to destroy the old one.

As nice as the new world can be, withdrawing from it is infinitely easier if the old world is still sitting there, unchanged and familiar. So while the new world is being created, the old world can't just suffer only by comparison. It has to be dismantled, inside and out, so when the cult asks for a big thing, there's nowhere to go.

The outside of the old world is dismantled by ENEMIES. Oh, that old world actually was teeming with enemies, lurking with pits for the unwary, actively working against the recruit in ways they hadn't even realized at the time. Didn't get that job, diploma, significant other or new toy? It wasn't their fault. It was that dang outside world working against them.

This is a seductive thought when formulated in the privacy of one's couch. It becomes well-nigh irresistible when other people say it constantly. All past disappointments are recast as a monolithic conspiracy to keep one down. All past triumphs are all the greater when they are wrested from the grasp of the ENEMIES.

The recruit is a new, more heroic, beset person than they ever dreamed. They are now more valuable and valiant than they had ever concieved. And this new person changes with these new concepts.

The internal changes are put on greased rails with the ever-popular cult trifecta of peer pressure, intimidation, and threats.

The new world is made up of people who never show their doubts. So the recruit does not.

The new world is made up of people who want to help the recruit see things in a new way. If the recruit does not want to be helped, a little pressure is a good thing among friends. And soon the recruit joins in the circle of pressure.

And the threats just keep coming. Threats of withdrawal, of disapproval, of rejection. And key here is how the recruit responds to threats.

All abusive relationships test the waters first. The first time a boyfriend demands that his girl break off her conversation to get him something, the first time a boss asks for unpaid overtime, the first time a cult leader asks for a sacrifice for the greater good; it's easy. It seems easier to comply than make a fuss. Until the effort of making a fuss is so overwhelming the recruit is almost unable to do so.

They are literally no longer the person they were. The world has changed, inside and outside.

Simple steps, impossible for others to comprehend. "Why didn't you leave?" is the number one question that gets asked. Lost in the echo of the question is the obvious: By the time the person wanted to, leaving no longer looked like an option.

Looking back, they often can't even tell when the box lid closed.

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