My post asking for advice on cults was deleted. Is there a good site where I could get advice? December 13, 2001 4:51 PM   Subscribe

I posted something on Mefi that was apparently inappropriate (OK, thinking back on it, it wasn't a good idea): a request for advice about a family member becoming part of an orthodox religious "cult" like organization. It was killed pretty quickly. Can anyone tell me a good place to ask questions like this, here on this site or somewhere similar? I was hoping for advice from the people here; after hanging around here for a few months, I'm continually impressed by the quality (and quantity) of comment posted here.
posted by luriete to Etiquette/Policy at 4:51 PM (19 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

luriete, I think half the issue was it being inappropriate and other half an issue with the link. it was hard to get a good sense of why the site was ultra-orthodox on face value. perhaps you could have sifted through some stuff on the web to foster a better understanding rather than providing a generic link. it looked like a normal portal to me.
posted by machaus at 5:18 PM on December 13, 2001

I don't know why your post was killed, but I suspect that machaus is right. Perhaps the discussion would not have been focused enough by your suggestion and could have easily turned into a religious flamewar.

Anyways, I hope the best for you and your relative and that everything works out OK.
posted by rks404 at 5:26 PM on December 13, 2001

It was something more at home to a mailing list or an advice site. I don't know of specific ones that are appropriate for this specific problem, but if I left the post up, tomorrow you'd see 2 or 3 new posts asking for help with a personal quandary. It's not a self-help site, so I couldn't let it stay. Sorry.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:47 PM on December 13, 2001

The first link from the google pages is FACT which has an interesting article about John Walker - I presume he's "the American who fought with the Taliban" - quoting someone (not Walker) as saying When I was in the group, I was trained to obey my superiors without hesitation, including being willing to die or even kill.

So is a well disciplined army a cult (I'm not saying Al-Qaeda is a disciplined army, just that the description sounds like normal army life - apart from the hypnotism)?

Apologies for the off-topic post and good luck to the original poster. A friend of mine had a girlfriend who joined something. There are a bunch of support groups that might be able to help (and the Google page seems as good a start as anywhere).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:47 AM on December 14, 2001

Andrew: Very interesting question. I have undergone --and conducted myself-- army officer training. I have also looked into some cult history, mostly Scientology's. Your parallel is a good one, and one I have thought of as well.

Army training basically "tears you down and then builds you up". You have to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about your team --the only real way to survive a combat situation. The same though is true of manipulative cults --or really manipulative anythings: cults, religions, employers, significant others.

When I was training my officer trainees, I would --consciously, purposedly-- come up with situations or scenarios that would erode and/or destroy self-esteem and self-confidence and then, just after, build up that same self-esteem when the trainees were acting as a team.

Y'all MeFi'ers may think now "I would never fall for that, that's for dumb people who join the Army". Well, my Army was a draft Army: everybody had to join. My trainees were *all* college graduates, most with Master degrees, some with PhDs, a couple executives and college professors in their early 30s. And every single one broke down at some point.

So, what's the difference between a drill officer who makes you weak from exercise and hazing and a cult leader (or a priest) who makes you weak with the fear of the afterlife (or personal failure, as in the case of Scientology)? None that I can see. They are different means to the same end.

I think you have to get the best you can out of every situation (the value of teamwork from the Army, morality from religion) yet remain aware of the manipulation. Not easy.

Sorry for the way OT and way long post...
posted by costas at 4:22 AM on December 14, 2001

The army doesn't enforce continual isolation from your family and doesn't punish those that leave after fulfilling their commitments (in fact, it rewards them).

And unlike the CAN people, it's commitments aren't billion year contracts.
posted by NortonDC at 5:47 AM on December 14, 2001

NortonDC: Maybe I wasn't clear enough... I am not comparing the Armed Forces to cults. I am still a reservist --and proud to be one-- and I don't think I'd fall for a cult that easily.

What I was comparing was their means to get to their end --loyalty and commitment-- which although not identical, are comparable enough.

What each organization does after they have your loyalty obviously differentiates them.
posted by costas at 6:06 AM on December 14, 2001

I'm not sure that the behaviour distinguishes them - you could kill for the army or for a cult - as much as whether or not society approves of them. Armies are simply "acceptable cults".

This isn't meant as criticism of the/any army, particularly - like costas (heh, the only Costas I know in "real life" has just gone to start his national service in Greece), I've wondered about this before. It seems to me that getting people to kill other people is such an abnormal thing that you *need* this kind of mental programming.

If you can draw anything from this, it is probably just that cults are extremely scary things...
posted by andrew cooke at 6:37 AM on December 14, 2001

PS costas, what would you do if someone set out to fight this, by, for example, commenting on the approach and, perhaps, being particularly agressive towards the rest of the group. Set out to break them? Could you get to the point where they could be killed? Is there a standard way of dealing with this in the army?
posted by andrew cooke at 6:40 AM on December 14, 2001

andrew cooke - The factors I cited are considered defining elements of cults.
posted by NortonDC at 6:56 AM on December 14, 2001

As I said earlier, apart from hypnosis, that sounds like the army. Maybe I'm missing something (I don't really understand why you've posted a message with my name on).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:06 AM on December 14, 2001

andrew cooke: I'm not sure that the behaviour distinguishes them

NortonDC: The army doesn't enforce continual isolation from your family and doesn't punish those that leave after fulfilling their commitments (in fact, it rewards them). and The factors I cited are considered defining elements of cults.

The link provided explicilty names enforced isoltion from family as a distinguishing behavior. Got it? (not asking for aggreement, just for understanding of the reasoning behind the sequence of statements).
posted by NortonDC at 9:15 AM on December 14, 2001

Oh, right. Well, if you join the army I believe you are initially whizzed off to some training camp away from the life you knew. Leave is strictly controlled. So it's a similar approach (I don't think they'd be that happy if the young recruits nipped home each night to Mum + Dad), but I agree that they also differ in that the army doesn't force you to stay with them (unless there's a war on, of course).

I'm not saying they're identical in every respect - but there are certainly clear and close parallels, and the differences are mainly because (imho) the army exists within a supportive society (parents aren't going to stop their offspring returning when they do get some leave, for example).

I may be way out of date on these details, or it may depend on the country. Anyone have direct experience?
posted by andrew cooke at 9:36 AM on December 14, 2001

I got this link from someone who's had experience in the matter.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:49 AM on December 14, 2001

i have a friend who's in the marine corps (have lost track of him -- he may well be in afghanistan right now), and he had to travel to several different camps in the nation for training. i know that he was allowed to maintain contact with friends and family, if not necessarily physical contact. it seems popular among cults to disdain contact of any sort with friends or family among its members. a big difference, i think.
posted by moz at 9:50 AM on December 14, 2001

the Religious Tolerance website -- which I visit frequently over the holiday season -- seem to have a well-balanced page on the subject of cult brainwashing, and they have a larger section on cults in general, you might be able to find folks there to ask some questions of.
posted by jessamyn at 5:32 PM on December 14, 2001

Andrew: to answer your PS (I was away for the weekend): I had just such a recruit --insubordinate, would point out the "theatrics" of training, etc., etc. There is a standard way of dealing with such people: single them out and make everybody *else* train more (i.e. suffer) pointing out that this is being done because of X.

Eventually, X breaks down because the peer pressure becomes too great and because in a situation like that, you need peer support. I guess extremely strong (and/or sociopathic) personalities could survive even that.

However, most people who undergo this sort of training (which 'only' lasts for a few weeks) are grateful for it, because you face your limits and your fears. My Mr. X (a much bigger guy than me that could have knocked me out in a sec) actually thanked me after training was over.

WRT NortonDC's comments: while in training, the Army restricts contact with families as well (physical definitely, mostly telephone as well) as this builds self-esteem and a feeling of support from an outside force, which kinda makes teamwork training ineffective. Also, failure of training tasks is punished severly (at least psychologically). However, this happens only during training (and combat); it doesn't last for the lifetime of 'membership' as it does with most cults.

Also, keep in mind: this kind of training is reserved for officers and special forces; people *volunteer* for this, knowing fully well what's in store --maybe not the details, but the intensity at least. When Scientology sets up front organizations for addicts, victims of abuse, 9/11 victim relatives so that it can recruit weak or weakened personalities, it's a whole different ballgame. That alone is a huge differentiating factor in my book
posted by costas at 3:12 AM on December 17, 2001

am I making this up?

I remember reading somewhere that the type of training that happens in the military was created after WWI, when the lack of cohesion in our fighting men led to more losses than were considered acceptable or necessary. and that the military put the "best scientific minds" on the problem of indoctrinating our men so that they would follow orders no matter what and indentify strongly with their unit.

I'll bet sdb knows the answer to this one.

posted by rebeccablood at 7:10 AM on December 17, 2001

rebeccablood: Such training appears to have begun in World War I.

"In 1919, Private Stephen Graham described training in the British Army as a nightmare involving 'constant humiliation and the use of indecent phrases' aimed at reducing each man 'to a condition when he was amenable to any command.' He continued:

'To be struck, to be threatened, to be called indecent names, to be drilled by yourself in front of a squad in order to make a fool of you, to do a tiring exercise and continue doing it whilst the rest of the squad does something else; to have your ear spat into, to be marched across parade-ground under escort, to be falsely accused before an officer and silenced when you try to speak in defence--all these things take down your pride, make you feel small, and in some ways fit you to accept the role of cannon fodder on the battle-ground.'

"He described having to hit his rifle with his hands during drill until blood flowed as a necessary hardening procedure." (From "An Intimate History of Killing," by Joanna Bourke, 1999)
posted by Carol Anne at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2001

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