From: Keith Henson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Tue 11 Feb 2003 - 03:55:33 GMT
At 12:04 PM 10/02/03 -0500, you wrote:
>Human beings are social animals. Our ability to relate psychologically to
>dogs and wolves comes from our mutual instinctual understanding that an
>individual has more success in the pack than alone.
>The "prisoner's dilemma" from game theory models this situation. However,
>in it's simplest form, we usually see the scoring as a "fair system" in
>which both players receive equal benefits and penalties. The principle at
>the core of the game is the same in circumstances where the payoffs are not
>equal. In most real situations the payoff for various members of a social
>institution is not equal. Dominant individuals receive greater benefits and
>suffer milder setbacks than lower ranked individuals. And yet, even under
>these circumstances, it is usually better for the lowest ranks to be within
>the hierarchy as opposed to outside it.
>Every human institution is structured on this basis: governments,
>businesses, religions, education. The complexity of modern life that our
>instincts have not prepared us for is the vast number of different
>organizations that we are either compelled or given the opportunity to join.
>Unlike our ancestors, we are no longer simply members of family and tribe
>but also church, state, company, school and listserv.
>People value those hierarchies which they rise in.
>Atheists tend to be people who consider themselves relatively more
>intellectual. People of faith tend to think of themselves as more
>disciplined and moral. Accomplished businesspeople are more cunning and
>industrious in their own eyes. People who become teachers were usually good
>students. In a sense, those are all cults.
While it is true that the same reward mechanism that turns people into cult
zombies works to reward (motivate) people in ordinary life situations, I
would reserve "cult" for the extreme cases.
>People value what they are good at and look for organizations and ideologies
>where those talents lead to dominant positions. Academics or Amway, there
>isn't a difference.
Yep. Attention is the common factor. And we are sensitive to attention
because it is indicative of our social status--and for more than a million
years your chances of becoming an ancestor were strongly affected by your
social status (esp. for males).
>When thinking about organizations it's easy to focus on the structure and
>not the individuals. Except in circumstances of almost complete isolation
>(the Amish come to mind) most modern people have many options. We can think
>about how an organization entices and how it treats it's members once they
>are within. But, a more interesting question might be: what type of person
>would join a "cult" anyway?
"Gullible" is one word that comes to mind. Also those highly rewarded by
attention or those very sensitive to the chemicals the brain releases when
a person is the object of focused attention.
>How do you decide what groups to be a member of? I think most people watch
>what happens to the people around them. If your father was a minister then
>you'll probably be faithful. It might be because you were indoctrinated.
>But, it might be because you were the child of a person of high status (and
>thus high status yourself) within the organization. If your mother was a
>professor at MIT and your father a Doctor teaching at Harvard Med then you
>might be desperate to do well in school because you have been inculcated
>with the proper values. Or, it could be status seeking inside a familiar
Both I would say are factors.
>In blighted areas of America's cities it's hard to convince black children
>that excelling school is better than drug dealing and gangs.
Especially when you consider that money is only a part of the equation. As
a ghetto child, you are not likely to get attention/recognition/status from
doing well in school, to at least from the members of the 'hood.
>Members of the
>community find few examples of successful graduates. It might be because
>those people have the wrong values. Or, they might have the right ones, at
>least the ones we all share.
True. Virtually everyone is wired up by evolution to find attention rewarding.
>So, what kind of person joins a cult? Who would sell all their possessions,
>leave friends and family, and focus all their energy into an organization
>with a nonexistent or questionable track record? Several incidents of
>sexual abuse and cover-ups have lead many Catholics to question or even
>abandon a faith with two thousand years of history in which they were
>probably raised from birth. A bad season could result in attendance at
>local sporting events dropping by half or more. Most people seem relatively
>assiduous in choosing organizations in which they can feel like winners and
>avoiding the opposite.
Simple chemical rewards.
>Why do people make these decisions which, from the outside, seem so
>obviously self destructive?
The exact same thing can be said for taking up chemical rewarding
substances from heroin to cigarettes.
>I propose that focusing on the individual psychology might be enlightening.
>For instance, I hypothesize that people joining cults feel estranged from
>their families (whatever the members of the families may claim). They have
>few or no close long term relationships with friends or lovers and no circle
>of friends. They weren't fraternity members and probably don't play poker
>with the guys every weekend. They may have recently moved to a new city.
>Their work doesn't interest them and they don't feel involved in their
>church (even though they might go through the motions in each). In short
>they are isolated from the stable organizations that most people devote
>their energy to.
Good suggestions for research. There are enough life stories posted on
alt.religion.scientology alone to do a substantial study. I suspect,
however, that genes are a major factor.
>Under such circumstances joining an unknown organization might seem
>In times of instability when old institutions falter membership in new
>organizations should see an increase.
That was certainly the story of the Nazi party.
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