Cult Mentality: The Visceral World of Emotional Manipulators

A common Old-World parenting strategy consists of showing dangerous objects to toddlers and labeling them as “poop.” Once defined as objects of revulsion, these things become off-limits. The matchbox? “Poop.” Mommy’s prescription meds? “Poop.” The cooking range plates? “Poop.” As their world becomes organized around the dichotomy of what is good and what is “poop,” toddlers begin to make sense of what they can, and cannot stick into their mouth. Mercifully, within a few years most children begin to develop a more sophisticated understanding of reality. After all, there may be times in life when you need a match, a prescription med, or even–God forbid–a cooking range.

Yet at times some of us end up relapsing into our toddler self’s fascination with simple boundaries. After all, who does not like an easy map of a complex reality? Slogans, dogmas, and soundbites are the lazy thinker’s dope. Drawing on this awareness, some religious and political movements propose a worldview organized along the lines of a crude dichotomy: “good” versus “evil.” “Good” is everything pertaining to the in-group: its leaders, its members, its beliefs and practices. “Evil,” instead, is everybody and everything else. Do you have a different faith? You are “evil.” Is your lifestyle unlike mine? “Evil.” Does your gender, skin color, national origin or political faith challenge my certainties? “Poop!”

Take a look at the state of affairs in today’s world and you will see how such crude thought processes are the bread-and-butter of mind control. Those who think they are the chosen ones will perceive any challenge to this belief as a mortal threat. And yet this threat is what keeps them going, too. Did you ever wonder why religious and political cult members live in a world full of imaginary foes? Consider this: if they want to rule their community with an iron fist, leaders need to convince their followers that an evil enemy is looming large.

Fear is a most powerful motivator, and today’s world is steeped in it. Even a cursory exposure to social media will show you how many people are afraid of villains allegedly keen on upending their world for no reason other than their personal pleasure. This dynamic is particularly prominent in the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists whose success derives from their ability to excite anxiety and upset. Rambling claims about foes such as the “cabal,” the “New World Order,” and the “elites” are all tools of a manipulation that triggers emotions to block rational thought processes.

If, like me, you are tired of this paranoia, you may want to try a different approach: instead of demonizing others, recognize the shared humanity in the people whose beliefs are not yours. You do not have to agree with what they say; you do not have to embrace different religious or political faiths, either. However, what you can and should do is to practice love and respect towards your fellow human beings—both those who are like you and those who are not. This approach does not amount to naivete but rather to the ability to truly understand the nuances of life. If you embrace this notion, you will find that the evil foes of conspiracy theories only exist in movies. Indeed, the world is light and shade and life will keep challenging you; however, free yourself from fear and your existence will be all the better for it.

Image by Russell Ferrer via Unsplash

One thought on “Cult Mentality: The Visceral World of Emotional Manipulators

Comments are closed.