The spectrum of cult memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 04 Feb 2003 - 02:33:58 GMT

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    Cut and pasted from alt.religion.scientology.

    On Mon, 3 Feb 2003 23:15:49 +0000, Dave Bird <> wrote:

    > I suppose the proposition is that "if some people really need
    > cults, couldn't part of the solution be providing them with a
    > less harmful equivalent?" Well, yes it could. But only part.
    > You have to consider the question whether anyone can be swept
    > in or whether some folk are more recruitable than others, and
    > more suitable -- more likely to stay and for longer -- than others.

    Right. And if you look back at the original post I proceeded this as a proposal by discussing psychological testing to see if you could tell in advance who might be vulnerable to cults.

    It is not a sure thing that you *could* test for this feature of human psychology, but as far as I know, nobody has tried.

    > The first step to hammering groups like Scientology is undoubtedly
    > to hammer them for past offences, take away their tax exemption, make
    > many of their deceptive practices illegal, fine them every time they
    > are in breach, and BTW educate the public what a rotten lot they are.

    I see nothing wrong with groups being put under an edict that anyone joining has to be made fully aware of the nature of the group. Real or harmless groups could care less about people being informed. A
    "truth in advertizing" applied to fraud scams.

    > Then you have to ask, what about people they get to anyway (in their
    > weakened form afterwards) or what about people who leave but need
    > something similar --- methadone for their former addiction. Well,
    > there are indeed there are people who go for Scientology Lite in
    > the FreeZone / MethaZone. There are others whom one finds burbling
    > christian rubbish instead of scientology rubbish and to a lesser
    > extent (not actual "burn all the heretics" fundie extremism),
    > feeling that it would be a whole lot better if they would
    > WAKE THE FUCK UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE but that meanwhile
    > their present delusions are at least relatively harmless.

    Unfortunately this is going to be hard. Beliefs of this class had adaptive function in the past and we may be somewhat genetically programmed to pick up one of them.
    > If people want to be under quasi-military discipline, they could
    > always be shoved in a real peace-time army for a while -- I mean,
    > if they actually feel a need for that kind of experience. If they
    > want to save the world, they could always go in the peace corps
    > and save some real pieces of the real world, or simply do charity
    > work among the poor of their own cities. If they feel the need for
    > a tribe of friends or to follow some craze, they can usually find one
    > of a less damaging kind than the cult. In fact the social alternatives
    > that such people can be counselled into already exist. It really is
    > a matter of breaking the cults ability to trap people, then counsel
    > those who need such things or who are caught in the break-up
    > into the alternatives. You can also prepare people by getting them
    > pre-emptively into the less harmful alternatives. What you can't do
    > is both have something which has a more rapid irrational spread than
    > the cults AND is less virulent: the rule seems to be that most virulent
    > in effect is most rapid in spread.

    I am going to cross post this into another place to collect more comment. The general model for cult memes is similar to epidemiology of diseases. There is a limited range of virulence and incubation that results in the best spread (from the germ's eye view).

    A proposed model for cult memes would partly economic. A cult/social movement that really sucks the life energies out of people uses a lot of that energy/money/ect to infect more people. Now most such scams make claims to teach you things that are impossible like TM and levitation, or scn giving you super powerz. So after a while, feedback from the spread of the counter memes that this scam does nothing of the sort makes getting new people in harder and harder.
    (Kind of like building up herd immunity to some germ.)

    But it is not impossible to get a very large cult that is rewarding without being abusive. AA is my type case for this end of the cult meme spectrum--though it may be a special case.

    Keith Henson

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