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How cults can produce killers
The Irish Times ^ | Jul 16 2005 | Dennis Tourish

Posted on 07/16/2005 3:40:55 AM PDT by AdmSmith

One of the commonest reactions to the revelation of the London bombers' identities has been that they were so ordinary, and in at least some instances so well educated. How could such people have callously bombed dozens of their fellow citizens into oblivion? The surprise, really, is that we can be so easily surprised.

In truth, throughout history ordinary people have believed and done extraordinary things. The key to understanding why is to recall that they do so when driven by two things - intense commitment to a powerful ideology and when they join a high control group environment whose every ritual is designed to reinforce their ideological commitment. Groups of this kind are generally known as cults.

Most people assume that, since what cults do is mad, the members must be mad to join. But in fact researchers have found no correlation between cult membership and psychological disorder.

Counterintuitively, most cult members are of at least average intelligence and have perfectly normal personality profiles. It is this which makes them valuable to the cult's leaders - those who are certifiable would be useless at recruiting others, raising money or successfully engaging in terrorism. Consistent with this, a recent analysis of 500 al-Qaeda members found that the majority of them had been in further education and were from relatively affluent families.

The only difference between a cult member and everyone else is that they tend to join at a moment of heightened vulnerability in their lives, such as after a divorce, losing a job or attending college away from home for the first time.

At such moments we are more likely to crave certainty, and the comfort of belonging to some group that gives our lives a higher purpose than day-to-day survival.

Cults promote a message which claims certainty about issues which are objectively uncertain. Despite this logical flaw, the message is alluring. Most of us want to believe that the world is more orderly than it is, and that some authority figure has compelling answers to all life's problems. An individual who claims to have "The Truth" is more convincing than someone who announces "I don't know".

We should never underestimate the power of ideology. Cult leaders know this. They invest their ideology with extraordinary power by exaggerating the extent to which they are confident in its precepts. Conviction becomes faith.

Since we can't see into their heads, we take their public performance of certainty as more authentic than it probably is. And by virtue of their skill as interpreters and purveyors of the chosen ideology, the leader also becomes a powerful authority figure, whose pronouncements are taken very seriously by his or her followers, however strange they seem to outsiders.

Moreover, most of us are much more willing to do bizarre things on the word of authority figures than we care to realise. This was famously shown by Stanley Milgram, an American psychologist in the 1960s. Milgram convinced his subjects that, by administering potentially lethal shocks to other subjects in the next room, they would be helping him in a learning experiment - a rationale, or ideology, that justified despicable behaviour.

In point of fact, the recipients of the shocks were actors who, on cue, shouted and screamed with great conviction. Threequarters of Milgram's real subjects carried his instructions through to an end, when the fake subjects next door were silent, signifying that they were unconscious - or dead.

The London terrorists had two ultimate authority figures - Osama bin Laden, and, beyond him, God. Cults, whether secular or religious, generally go to great pains to project their leaders in a semi-divine light, blessed with uncommon insight, charisma and dedication to the cause. Convincing messages from such sources, cloaked in the language of ideology, have a powerful effect.

The ideology is therefore critical, and cults are adept at reinforcing its power. Members spend more and more time talking only to each other. They engage in rituals designed to reinforce the dominant belief system. Language degenerates into a series of thought-stifling clichés which encourages other actions that are consistent with the ideology of the cult.

The world becomes divided into the absolutely good and the absolute evil, a black and white universe in which there is only ever the one right way to think, feel and behave. Members are immunised against doubt - a mental state in which any behaviour is possible, providing it is ordained by a leader to whom they have entrusted their now blunted moral sensibilities.

A further factor is what has been described as the principle of "commitment and consistency". It has been found that if people make an initial small commitment to a course of action or belief system they become even more motivated to engage in further acts that are consistent with their initial commitment.

For example, if we persuade people to attend a Tupperware party the chances are that they will buy something, even if they have no particular desire to do so. In a similar vein, if we get someone to buy cult literature, attend a meeting or engage actively in any other activity at its behest, more will follow.

The key is that each new step is but a small advance on what has already been done. A terrorist cult does not order each new recruit to engage in a suicide bombing tomorrow. But they will gradually build to that point, so that the final act of detonation is but a small incremental step from that which was taken the day before. The gulf from where the person started to where they have ended up is not immediately apparent.

Within the cultic environment I am describing, ideological fervour is further strengthened by the absence of dissent. Imagine, if you can, a senior DUP member daring to suggest that Gerry Adams has some redeeming qualities.

The reaction of his or her colleagues can be readily imagined. It is even more difficult to imagine a group of terrorists listening patiently while one of their number offers the view that "maybe bombing London is not such a good idea". Rather, any deviation from the official script is met by a combination of silence, ridicule and yet louder assertions of the group's dominant ideology.

Ridicule is a powerful social force. It strengthens people's faith in their belief system. Rather than risk becoming marginalised, most of us wish to affiliate even more closely with those groups that we have come to regard as important.

Secondly, when no one is openly critical we tend to imagine, wrongly, that those around us are more certain of their views than they are. The absence of obvious doubt from anyone else quells any reservations that we ourselves may be harbouring, and tempts us into ever more enthusiastic expressions of agreement with the prevailing orthodoxy.

We reason that, if something was wrong, someone other than ourselves would be drawing attention to it. Psychologists call the process "consensual validation". What seems mad to an outsider becomes the conventional wisdom of the group. All sorts of dismal group decisions, including many made by business and government, can be partly explained by this dynamic.

People have been attempting - and failing - to imagine what must have been going through the minds of the bombers in their last minutes. Surely they must have looked around, and had some glimmer of doubt? It is necessarily speculative, but my guess is that any such feeling would have been muted.

Within cults, the gap between rhetoric and reality is so pronounced that, of course, doubts do occasionally intrude. But cult members are taught a variety of automated responses to quell the demon of dissent. For example, a member of the Unification Church who suddenly doubts that the Rev Moon is the ordained representative of God on earth might chant "Satan get behind me".

It is likely, I think, that the London bombers spent their last moments in a final silent scream, designed to obliterate in their minds the pending screams of their soon-to-be victims. It is a sound we all must now attempt to deal with.

What therefore can be done? It is certainly clear that where cultic groups engage in illegal activities the full force of the law should be deployed against them. It is less clear that outlawing any group deemed cultic is the way forward. Who, ultimately, is to decide on the difference between, say, your legitimate religion and my view of a cult?

We must become suspicious of those who claim certainty, we must challenge all authority figures and we must cherish dissent: it is these responses that diminish the leaders of cults, rather than the society in which we live.

Dennis Tourish is a professor of management and organisational behaviour at Robert Gordon University in Scotland. He is co-author of On the Edge: Political Cults, Right and Left published by ME Sharpe

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: alqaeda; cults; islam; london; londonattacked; londonunderground; terrorattack
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To: tsomer
They aren't hypnotized, it isn't a spell, changing cycles of repetition would make no difference whatever. They are simply men who have consciously and rationally decided to commit evil acts, that is all. There are no rabbits feet to rub that will make them go away. Evil enemies have to be fought by direct force, that is all. And the only "cure" for it at the individual level is deciding that the acts involved are evil and refusing to commit them because one refuses to do evil. Which is called morality.
41 posted on 07/16/2005 10:22:44 AM PDT by JasonC
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To: AdmSmith
I've discussed with wahhabis, and with asharites, and with western philosophical skeptics who are also commies, and I can assure you skepticism does not prevent any sort of moral evil to the slightest extent. It is a prejudice of people whose religion is skepticism. They do recognize moral evil in skeptics because their world-view is built around "non-judgmental" people being "safe" and "reasonable". Which is nonsense, of exactly the same sort as the nonsense of Muslims who say those committing these atrocities cannot possibly be true Muslims because Muslims are righteous and true.

There is no connection whatever between the strength or weakness of epistemic claims anyone makes and their moral virtue. Nada. Empirically. It is made up, a mere hope or wish or self-identifier, not something you know anything about in the real world, and false.

42 posted on 07/16/2005 10:28:18 AM PDT by JasonC
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To: tsomer
I read that the Islamists in Gitmo are allowed their daily prayer rituals. What would happen if we were to disrupt this cycle of repetition?

They would be angered, and strengthened in their extreme beliefs. Better to provide them with selected books in Arabic.
43 posted on 07/16/2005 10:29:30 AM PDT by AdmSmith
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To: JasonC

You discuss this as an intellectual endeavor, but those engaged in terrorism has not read about the Mutazilites-Asharites debate, nor about moral right or wrong.

They think that what they do is the absolute right thing to do. (I am not including those that are forced to become a "martyr")

They have not read any philosophy 101, they are just believing in what their Imam is filling in their head. We have to identify those "spiritual" leaders and take them out .

44 posted on 07/16/2005 11:11:06 AM PDT by AdmSmith
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To: AdmSmith
Some of them believe what they are told, others think "one way I'm worm food, the other way I go to heaven, what's to lose?", others think it is likely, others trust their teachers or trust their God, others don't give a damn, some are just blind with anger, some think they are helping their "brothers", some think they are standing up for their families or other Muslims overseas. But all of them, to a man, do not mind committing morally evil acts because they are themselves immoral. And that is the only problem with them, not their motives or their sense of certainty. You can find men with the same motives and the same sense of certainty behaving much better all over the world and in every sect or belief. The difference is not epistemic commitments or how sure they are of anything. The difference is morality, they willingly kill innocents. They don't need to be untaught having opinions or believing things or to be more cowardly. They need to be taught morality, that committing immoral acts is the worst thing you can do, worse than getting killed, that nothing can justify it, and that killing innocents is the epitome of moral evil. This is not what the author of the piece is talking about, because he is philosophically uncomfortable teaching absolute morality. Which is his own problem, not theirs.
45 posted on 07/16/2005 11:39:34 AM PDT by JasonC
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To: JasonC

Don't you think people who have been taught morality can be swayed?

46 posted on 07/16/2005 11:44:53 AM PDT by nuconvert (No More Axis of Evil by Christmas ! TLR) [there's a lot of bad people in the pistachio business])
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To: nuconvert
Anyone can choose moral evil at any time. Men who have been taught what it is, how it works, why it is bad, who have felt the ugliness of it in their bones, as are immunized as men get, about doing so. But always can. Men are free and that means free to choose evil at any time.
47 posted on 07/16/2005 11:47:37 AM PDT by JasonC
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To: JasonC

So, you think all men (people) are basically immoral and it's a day-to-day, hr-to-hr struggle to fight the temptations and live moral lives?

48 posted on 07/16/2005 11:52:21 AM PDT by nuconvert (No More Axis of Evil by Christmas ! TLR) [there's a lot of bad people in the pistachio business])
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To: nuconvert
No, most men learn morality from those around them and decide to adhere to moral norms throughout their lives. Most slip occasionally in minor matters without ever committing any great crime. They are free to act immorally, they face occasional temptations to do so (provoking circumstances, opportunities to get away with things, momentary anger or despair), and most successfully resist on those occasions.

Some men, on the other hand, never decide that they are against moral evil and do whatever looks good to them. Or convince themselves they decide what shall be moral or immoral and proceed to do whatever looks good to them. Such men only behave themselves when they see clear and present dangers in failing to do so, and are not uncommon.

And some men don't pay much attention to those dangers, which are ephemeral enough, and not the real reason to avoid immoral conduct. They think themselves superior because they see the shallowness of conventional restraints, and experience their freedom to choose evil as liberating. Occasionally this is a phase in wild young men feeling their oats and it issues in precious little, and maturity or worldly responsibilities cure it. But it can go as far as they let it, all the way to self righteous service to morally evil courses of action, "idealistically".

This is less common than either of the previous, but happens often enough to fill all of recorded history with endless crime. Evil is always with us because men are always free to chose it, and some men do. The rest of us then have to deal with them, by force.

49 posted on 07/16/2005 12:05:40 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: AdmSmith
"Killer cults tend to be led by charismatic megalomaniacs who pit themselves and their churches against the rest of the world. They are usually apocalyptic visionaries drunk with lust and power that have physical and sexual control over their followers. In most cases their beliefs stem from twisted interpretations of established doctrines. These self-proclaimed divinities usually amass a large arsenal of weapons before bringing forth their personal day of reckoning."

From a secular perspective the above quote appears accurate. If one studies Scripture and Bible doctrine, the reasons for cultic activity being so heinous is a bit different.

The term 'charismatic meglamaniacs' with respect to original meanings is contradictory. Charisma, from the Greek CHARIZOMAI, might be translated as gracious or a gift not requiring anything in return and frequently associated with a spiritual gift. A meglamaniac, though, is usually associated with a person seeking power for themselves. Accordingly, a person who gives a spiritual gift with the intention of gaining more power for themselves is not synonomous with the God of Scripture, nor with the mind of Christ, but rather following a policy of evil.

This choice of words, if an accurate description of a preacher, indicates the preacher isn't preaching the Word of God, but rather a false doctrine.

Characteristics of arrogance in advanced stages of worldliness also correspond to the vices mentioned, such as lust for sexual control and physical control.

The final comment is accurate, though, as most human misery is brought about by our own volition and arrogance.

It's also interesting to note that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever might believe with faith should perish, but might have everlasting life. Whereas those who fall away from God, might be prone to pit themselves against the world, rather than pitting themselves against their old nature.

Amazingly, by remaining faithful in daily study of His Word, even deceptive policies manifest how His Word remains worthy of trust.

50 posted on 07/16/2005 12:11:21 PM PDT by Cvengr (<;^))
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To: Cvengr
The term 'charismatic meglamaniacs' with respect to original meanings is contradictory.

I would not argue about names, just call them psychopaths
51 posted on 07/16/2005 12:16:45 PM PDT by AdmSmith
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To: AdmSmith

52 posted on 07/16/2005 12:17:17 PM PDT by AdmSmith
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To: JasonC

How do you know which catagory the terrorist bombers were in? Maybe one or 2 had been taught about morality, but were swayed or corrupted.

So, as Admsmith said, "We have to identify those "spiritual" leaders and take them out ."

53 posted on 07/16/2005 12:27:02 PM PDT by nuconvert (No More Axis of Evil by Christmas ! TLR) [there's a lot of bad people in the pistachio business])
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To: AdmSmith

"Psychopathy is a general term for mental disturbances or mental disorders. However, psychopathy is also used specifically for certain mental disorders characterized by emotional instability, perversity of conduct, undue conceit, suspiciousness, lack of self-control, lack of social feeling, lack of truthfulness, lack of common sense, and lack of persistence. The psychopathic personality likes to surround himself with others who also lack common sense and who are also moving toward unreality."-- From Bible doctrine notes of RB Thieme III, on the grieving of the Holy Spirit, AKA Cosmic One.

54 posted on 07/16/2005 12:31:29 PM PDT by Cvengr (<;^) See Eph 4)
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To: Cvengr

You are free to use your definition, but I will stick to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.

55 posted on 07/16/2005 12:54:48 PM PDT by AdmSmith
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To: JasonC
I don't consider hypnosis a spell. No one is involuntarily hypnotized; this is why the indoctrination is gradual. Further, the hypnosis has to be reinforced; I suspect this is the purpose for the muslim's frequent calls to prayer.

Secondly, we know nothing about morality without God. Those under the sway of a false deity are, from their subjective vantage, acting morally. Someone once offered the illustration that a cannibal will feel guilt for not eating the missionary.

I don't see how these people can know God until the perimeter of delusion they've created for themselves is broken.
56 posted on 07/16/2005 2:32:12 PM PDT by tsomer
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To: AdmSmith
One possibility that we as free citizens could do is to collect money for translating important books that could be downloaded for free on the Internet, why not start with this book that probes in to the origins of the Quran and proposes that it has Syriac Aramaic origins; the promised 72 virgins are actually garpes, oops they were really sour ;-)

I would also make it mandatory for every Christian and Jew to carry something made out of pigskin (belt, wallet?). It will make the bombings theologically impossible (admixture of pork will prevent the access to the virgins or raisins, whatever). And I assume Jewish restrictions on pork can be lifted on account of saving the human lives.

57 posted on 07/16/2005 2:36:13 PM PDT by A. Pole (For today's Democrats abortion and "gay marriage" are more important that the whole New Deal legacy.)
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To: JasonC
Nor is the willingness to accept death a sign of madness. The article turns bravery into madness, or any hope for an afterlife. All Christianity, all Islam, all Hindus teach the existence of afterlifes

Actually it is more reasonable to die with the hope for eternal reward than to die for democracy or other secualt objective.

58 posted on 07/16/2005 2:41:34 PM PDT by A. Pole (For today's Democrats abortion and "gay marriage" are more important that the whole New Deal legacy.)
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To: oldbrowser
So then FR is a cult ?

Only some factions on FR (primarily free market worshippers). :)

59 posted on 07/16/2005 2:44:37 PM PDT by A. Pole (For today's Democrats abortion and "gay marriage" are more important that the whole New Deal legacy.)
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To: tsomer
Cannibals emphatically do not think they are acting morally. They are getting their rocks off over the fact that they don't have to and they know it. Subjective vantages have nothing to do with it, either - morality is not an opinion. Nor is it first created by religion - on the contrary, religion presupposes the direct perceptibility and knowability of moral goodness. Or is there a man among you who when his son asks for bread, would give him a stone?
60 posted on 07/16/2005 4:02:00 PM PDT by JasonC
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