RE: MF Cults, Free-Thinkers and Monkeys

From: david buchanan (
Date: Mon Sep 12 2005 - 00:17:16 BST

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    Rick and all MOQers:

    Rick said:
    Using Pirsig's vocabulary, it's tempting to take your continuum and replace
    the "free-thinking" end with "dynamic thinking" and the "cultish thinking"
    end with "static thinking". DQ alone is chaotic and SQ alone stagnates so
    we can speculate that to be too far to either side of the continuum is a
    negative thing...

    dmb says:
    I would have posted sooner but my hand was stuck in a jar all day.

    Hate to be such a party-pooper right from the start, but I think our central
    term (cult) is being used too casually. I'm not even sure its a good idea to
    oppose "free thinking" with "cultish thinking", let alone translate those
    into Dynamic and static thinking. This formulation seems to use the word
    "cultish" to mean "closed-minded" or intellectually "stubborn". It seems
    that we're really trying to get at is the kind of cult that dictates the
    beliefs of its members. We're not really talking about ancient local
    religions. We're not talking about the fans of Harry Potter or the people
    who show up for star trek conventions. We're not talking about
    narrow-mindedness or other personality traits, are we? I think cults, by
    definition, are groups. More specifically of course we're talking about
    groups that define themselves by their beliefs and that enforce those
    beliefs through some kind of coersion. So its not so much that "cultish"
    thinkers join cults, its that cults demand compliance.

    I would also point out that Pirsig's treatment of contrariians and outsiders
    doesn't exactly appeal to conformists, patriots and other joiners.

    I think its pretty clear that Mark's questions about Christianity being a
    cult and Sam's questions about the MD being a cult are lurking close behind
    this month's question. I think both of them meant to imply that the
    organization in question does control people's beliefs. So again, I think
    we're using the term "cult" to refer to such a group. Just to get oriented
    to this meaning of the term a little better, lets look at what Mr. Wikipedia
    had to say today...

    Eileen Barker
    A checklist, allegedly based on empirical research, was made by professor
    Eileen Barker, in which traits of groups that can evolve to be dangerous are
    described. These traits include:

    A movement that separates itself from society, either geographically or
    Adherents who become increasingly dependent on the movement for their view
    on reality;
    Important decisions in the lives of the adherents are made by others;
    Making sharp distinctions between us and them, divine and satanic, good and
    evil, etc. that are not open for discussion;
    Leader who claim divine authority for their deeds and for their orders to
    their followers;
    Leader and movements who are unequivocally focused on achieving a certain

    Steve Eichel
    In his "Building Resistance to Manipulation", the psychologist Steve K.D.
    Eichel created a checklist of signs of a sect designed to brainwash its
    members into loyal followers:

    Isolate them in new surroundings apart from old friends or reference-points;
    Provide them with instant acceptance from a seemingly loving group;
    Keep them away from competing or critical ideas;
    Provide an authority figure that everyone seems to acknowledge as having
    some special skill or awareness;
    Provide a philosophy that seems logical and appears to answer all or the
    most important questions in life;
    Structure all or most activities so that there is little time for privacy or
    independent action or thought, provide a sense of "us" versus "them";
    Promise instant or imminent solutions to deep or long-term problems;
    Employ covert or disguised hypnotic techniques.

    James R. Lewis
    In his book Cults in America, a scholar named James R. Lewis describes a
    number of properties he would expect a dangerous sect to have:

    The organization is willing to place itself above the law. With the
    exceptions noted earlier, this is probably the most important
    characteristic; The leadership dictates (rather than suggests) important
    personal (as opposed to spiritual) details of followers' lives, such as whom
    to marry, what to study in college, etc.; The leader sets forth ethical
    guidelines members must follow but from which the leader is exempt; The
    group is preparing to fight a literal, physical Armageddon against other
    human beings; The leader regularly makes public assertions that he or she
    knows is false and/or the group has a policy of routinely deceiving

    dmb continues:
    As you can see, all three lists include that element of coersion. Its also
    easy to see that all three lists include a strong charismatic leader and and
    the followers in some kind of isolation. I would argue that its simply not
    possible for a cyber-discussion group like this one to meet any of these
    requirements and is therefore in no danger of becoming a cult. I would argue
    that Christianity would qualify as a cult except for one thing; there's no
    such thing as a carismatic Christian leader. ;-)

    Rick quoted ZAMM:
    >"The most striking example of value rigidity I can think of is the old
    >Indian Monkey Trap, which depends on value rigidity for its effectiveness.
    >hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake makes the trap. A monkey can put
    >hand though a small hole in the coconut and grab some rice inside. The
    >monkey can put its hand into the hole but cannot take its fist out with
    >in it. The monkey's value rigidity traps it when it reaches in. The rice
    >cannot be revalued. He cannot see that freedom without rice is more
    >than capture with it."
    Rick said:
    >Although it predates the MoQ, the passage seems relevant to the issues at
    >hand (at least via analogy). I think that a dangerous level of "value
    >rigidity" is precisely the dangerous quality that makes a given group or
    >person appear to be "cultish". And I say "dangerous level" because I think
    >we have to admit that we're all value rigid in some senses, as we should
    >since life can't get by DQ alone (in fact, I'm suddenly moved to wonder
    >the substantial difference is between "value rigidity" and "static
    >latching"? I mean, aside from the fact that one has a negative connotation
    >and the other a positive). The cultish thinker is the thinker who has
    >completely closed the door on DQ. ..

    dmb says:
    If we're using "cult" as I presented it above, I'd have to point out that
    the monkey is only ignorant of the value of freedom. We could say he loves
    rice too much. But unless there is a carismatic chimp with brainwashing
    skills in this monkey trap scenario, his devotion to food is not "cultish".
    Animal foolishness, sure, but not faith-based rice worship. Its not
    hypnosis, its just stupid hunger that has him trapped. I think this kind of
    value-rigidity gets at the problems that come from the inability to see
    higher level values, which is an interestng topic, but not quite the one
    that was elected...

    I think the sudden movement to "wonder what the substantial difference
    between 'value-rigidity' and static latching'?" was a good one. Do chemists
    and physicists suffer from "value-rigidity" because their fields require
    great precision? No, I don't think it helps to think about intellectual
    conformity in terms of the static/Dynamic split simply because all beliefs
    and ideas are static. The degree to which one clings to beliefs and ideas is
    another matter, the validity of those static forms is yet another. If were
    talking about cults, the level of certainty or clarity of the contents of
    the belief system aren't so important compared with the coersive group
    dynamics and their psychological effects of the believer. Emotion is what
    makes them grow and hold together. The "us and them" mentality appeals to
    our vanity, the certaintly puts us at ease, they provide hope, love and
    friendship. They recruit through flattery and acceptance. Just today I heard
    about a manipulative technique cults might use called a "love bomb". Its not
    to hard to imagine an explosion of warm fuzzies or the effects of such a
    weapon. Again, this sort of thing isn't even possible in cyberspace. But the
    basic features of a cult do seem to echo the things Sam has been saying
    about Christianity.

    Or did I misunderstand the question?

    As to the question of what makes a free-thinker? I'm really not sure what
    that means. I thought that was a Victorian euphemism for "atheist".


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