It is important to understand that, in the spread of any cult, it is not the message that hooks people, it is the method of delivery. The message, dogma, or memeset of a particular cult is only instilled through indoctrination after the initial hook has been implanted and the veracity, provability, or complete stupidity and the goodness or evilness of the message has no bearing on how easily people are recruited.
What is this hook? It is what one book (appropriately titled “Snapping”) calls the “snapping” experience. It has been found that we do not have the kind of free will we would all like to believe we have. People are suggestible, even those with the strongest wills, and suggestibility increases under certain circumstances, which seem to involve either a significant excess or deficit of sensory input and/or emotional intensity.
In Sargant’s book “Battle For The Mind” he describes how the guy who started the methodist church converted thousands of people simply by preaching fire and brimstone. The intense fear/anger made his audience suggestible.
Many of these are “mind-stilling” techniques, that suspend your normal thought process to create an experience. People are sucked into hare krishna cults by the “snapping” experience brought on by chanting. People (including highly educated rational-thinking intellectuals who participate to prove it’s BS) are “possessed” by voodoo spirits in vood drum/dancing rituals. People “become one with the universe” through meditation. People “feel the power of jeeezus” by submitting their will to him. The techniques of scientology have similar roots and effects. Another area was “self-improvement” groups especially prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s which used many of these techniques. Sargant, who studied WW II soldiers, also found that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has its roots in the same place.
These things and other recruiting methods all utilize natural features of the human mind that all healthy human beings possess. That is to say, unless you are mentally ill, you too are susceptible to these mind-control techniques. The effect is the same, the heightened suggestibility, which then allows any kind of dogma to be implanted.
Why don’t people just avoid cults like the plague? People go to and find these cults because they are trying to find a “spiritual experience” and others who have had such an experience will swear by it, how deep and meaningful it is and how it has done wonderful things for their lives. Nobody suspects or understands that they have been manipulated, nor do I think those inside the group are even aware that anyone is being manipulated, these are reproducing mind-virii that have been evolving in a competitive environment and so any variations which allow higher recruiting/retention of members get selected for in future generations of the meme.
Anyway, given the recruiting techniques, people will not be innoculated from cults by simple skepticism and rationalism. Instead, I think the answer is to offer a “spiritual experience” that is completely detached from all the subsequent indoctrination, brainwashing, mind-control, and telling people how to live their lives and to believe in ridiculous fairy tale stories. I think something like this can be done. It would need someone with capital or the ability to raise capital, and someone who already has the ears of many people, such as Dawkins or Harris.
An organization that is something like “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” or some other similar concept would offer a “spiritual experience” in the form of a service in which the congregation participates. The “services” (a different one offered each week, perhaps) could be any number of these “snapping” techniques, such as chanting or meditating or dancing/drumming, whatever else that people can do to bring on the “snapping” event and which is enjoyable and easy to participate in. Instead of following up with dogma, it’s followed up with something to allow people to come back to reality, (refreshed as many are by their sunday church experience, so I’m told) and mention that whichever imaginary object or magical creature was the focus of today’s service, is truly imaginary and does not really exist.
IMO something like this offers that which people seem to feel a lack of in their lives, and without filling it in with a bunch of superstitious nonsense that destroys lives and societies. With that type of thing available, there may be less need or no need to turn to the dangerous cults, and their influence and virus-like spread could be halted or reversed.
The two books I recently read which I would recommend to anyone wanting to understand the whole “technology of experience” and the physiology behind them are:
Any comments are welcome.
post link edited by rab for formatting