Joe Maurone asked: "Isn't one of the main features of a cult that differentiates it from a religion is the idea of being a closed society as opposed to one that is open and/or proseyltizes."
By that standard, Judeaism is a cult, not a religion. There are no Jewish missionaries. Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, LDS, they all seek to bring the word, the truth, and the light. The Jews do not. They like keeping themselves to themselves. So, are they a cult?
I agree with the quips that a "cult" is a group that you do not like. I also appreciated the example of Unitarianism. Last year and the year before, I had an opportunity to read and write about Sir Isaac Newton. Dodging the charge of "Unitarian" was missing a bullet for him. It was a close call -- and one examined in detail by most of his biographers, because Newton clearly lied about what he really believed. So, was it that the Anglican Church was a cult that controlled a nation? What is a cult?
Have you never seen a group of Objectivists with their gold dollar sign jewelry? They speak in terms of "psycho-epistemology" and claim that no one else but them understands that "A is A."
Objectivism is a cult -- so what? I work as a security guard on a college campus. I spent last Saturday observing a "Walkathon" -- and the Michigan Earth Science Teachers Association, in their "Science rocks!" t-shirts. Tell me they are not a cult. The Walkathoners are a cult as well. T-shirts, slogans, social standings for achieving things that are hardly "achievements." So? Who cares?
People are social animals. Find us a group of people who have nothing in common.
Maybe this is a more precise way of wording the original question. I think we'd all agree that to practice Objectivism as an individual and personal philosophy is not cultish per se. However, when collective entities emerge, then the criticisms of cultish behavior may be more apt.
Cult is one of those words, like "fascist", that tends to get used sloppily. There's a saying that goes "terrorists are what the big army calls the little army." I think cult is used that way, where a cult is any outsider group outside the larger society. Saturn drivers were lampooned on one tv show as being a cult. There is a book on the shelves called "The Cult of Mac." People who have no problem going to church on Sunday have no problem calling Objectivism a cult because the larger group is being ignored. That's where I think the idea of cults being exclusive comes in. Like a secret society with decoder rings. (Edited by Joe Maurone on 9/28, 5:49pm)
Yes, you said that Objectivism isn't a cult. You said a cult was determined by form rather than content, to which I say it's context rather than content. I say this because, I assume, your "form" implies the maliciously manipulative behaviors described by Ed and Luke, which I disagree with because it's like arguing from a conclusion (e.g. "to qualify as a cult, a number of other important features must be present (e.g. mysticism, heavy indoctrination, etc.)", why? You don't justify why this is part of a cult.). It's up there with all hackers are evil punk kids or Angelina Jolie, or all Objectivists are Randroids, etc. But, no one here is claiming to be a cultist so no one gives a damn so, be gone with this line of thought.
Regarding the behaviors, as I said, they aren't cult-like behavior, they're human behavior. Congratulations, you've confirmed that Objectivists are human.
I took the Lifton challenge, I noted the one case where a cult-criterion happened to be true of Objectivism, I laid down the following, fantastic-in-my-ways polemic:
================= Language, to serve its human purpose, OUGHT to be loaded (with something of value). Loading language with value is right and good.
Think about the opposite, where words were unimportant. Where words didn't pertain to really existing wonders, and to really existing atrocities. Think about Orwell's novel 1984 -- where language was systematically "unloaded." Now ask yourself: What purpose did THAT serve? =================
... and ye' ole' Daniel Barnes rears his head to quip this already-amnesiatic obfuscation:
================= >6. Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand.
This has been the dominant theme in my own admittedly amateur and lightweight criticism, and I was interested to see it so strongly echoed when I picked up Greg Nyquist's very thorough "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature".
Nyquist writes (as I quoted elsewhere): "...As I will seek to demonstrate over the course of this book, Rand's philosophy is open to many serious objections. Rand was a surprisingly sloppy and even maladroit thinker who apparently believed that matters of fact can be determined by the manipulation of logical and rhetorical construction. =================
Daniel, I have 3 special (read: loaded) words for your post (which, by the way, entirely evaded my point about the objective merit toward changing the conventional meaning of conventionally self-stultifying words):
doubleplus ungood monkeythink
Ed [war is peace, love is hate, selfishness is bad, etc]
Kudos and sanctions to Jim, Ed, and Joe for their solid posts on this thread. Ed's point in Post 18 -- that people who exhibit cult-like behavior are failing to practice the virtue of independence and hence are not Objectivists -- settled the thread, as far as I can see.
Ed, you asked:
how can you guys square a belief that Objectivism is cultish with these following words, words from the leader/discoverer/author of the damn philosophy?
================ Self-esteem is reliance on one's own power to think.
But you see, Ed, she maintained -- with absolute certainty (!) -- that that was the only definition of self-esteem. And just look at the loaded words like "reliance" and "power!" Clearly Ayn Rand was a cultist in philosopher's clothing.
Ed: >When you guys can square these 2 quotes with the idea of a necessary cultishness in Objectivism, well you just let me know then, alright?
I thought that's what we were trying to explain - the interesting problem of exactly *why* a belief system based on individualism could nonetheless take on highly cult-like aspects. It is "The Unlikeliest Cult In History", as the essay goes. That's what makes it interesting - the fact that it's *not* the Branch Davidians. If it was, it would be barely worth discussing, such examples are dime a dozen.
As far as I can see, you agree that such behaviour *has* been strongly manifest within Objectivism - in fact there is the well known term, "Randroid" which captures it - which is perhaps why you limit your counter examples strictly to SoloHQ, which I would certainly agree is un-cult like - but as I said earlier, scarcely encompasses Objectivism.
To avoid this whole "ah...but what do you mean by 'cult?'" side-tracking, the question could perhaps be put a different way:
How come a philosophy devoted to human individualism produces such a large supply of "androids" in the first place?
I asked: >>How come a philosophy devoted to human individualism produces such a large supply of "androids" in the first place?
Sarah answered: >Quite simple: The philosophy didn't produce them, they came prefabricated.
But this is the just same problem in a different form : if the philosophy is antithetical to "prefabricated androids", why do they come to Objectivism in such numbers? Think about it: Objectivism should, in principle, be *the last place* you'd find androids - in lesser numbers than society at large, which is supposedly conformist, "sheeple", "second-hand" etc! But it appears the opposite is the case. So this is the problem for your theory.
Sarah continues: >Why people are so insistent that biology stops at the neck escapes me.
You see, the other reason I doubt it is biologically determined, and is more like a "manufacturing" process, is that Objectivists often talk about going through a "Randroid phase" that they then emerged from later. This is also inconsistent with your theory, which is sort of "it-takes-a-Randroid-to-be-a-Randroid".
So my hypothesis is that there is something else at work.
On the contrary, I think Oism is a perfect place for potential androids, or more specifically, the "in"'s who fiercely reject the "out"'s. Individualism isn't isolationism, so there's no reason to think that we can't have a crowd of individualists. And, in AS for example, Oism is portrayed as practiced by only the exceptional; those who think for themselves, stand up to The Mob, see through to the truth of reality. Can you honestly tell me that's not a breeding ground for an "in" club? And excommunications... wow, if that isn't an obvious in-out divide.
What I'm saying is: Randroidism isn't about not thinking for oneself, it's about being in a members only club. It's just a part of human nature taken to an extreme. We've all got the in-out mentality, it just depends to what degree.
Sarah: >On the contrary, I think Oism is a perfect place for potential androids, or more specifically, the "in"'s who fiercely reject the "out"'s.
Well, I know what you're trying to say, but that's not what's typically meant by "android". "Android" doesn't usually mean "fiercely rejecting those who are not in your group". I think you may be stretching the term a little too far there, even for me...;-)
What it means, pejoratively, is someone who looks like a human but is actually just a mindless machine; someone who doesn't think for themselves, but is actually "preprogrammed". Obviously "Randroid" means someone who has abandoned their own capacity to reason and is mindlessly programmed with the various dogmas of Ayn Rand.
Sarah: >It's just a part of human nature taken to an extreme. We've all got the in-out mentality, it just depends to what degree.
Yes that's true, but once again it is the exact part of human nature that Objectivism *ostensibly rejects*! Yet it shows up there *in spades*, time after time, and is a persistent and striking part of the philosphy's internal culture. Completely the reverse of how it should be, surely. So why?
I'm not saying that an android isn't what you describe. However, a person obviously doesn't relinquish his ability to think simply by reading a book, so I use the term Randroid to describe the behavior, namely the fierce in-out mentality, displayed rather than the mental processes at work.
As to why, the best told lies are the ones which the liar believes wholeheartedly. If one were to fully believe that one could do away with millennia worth of evolution simply because one's philosophy rejects that aspect, that makes one all the more vulnerable to its influence. Rather than rejecting the aspect, it needs to be kept in check. Denying it exists gains one nothing.
Your eight points taken from another perspective are extremely valuable. Instead of using them to point a finger and say that this or that group of people practice Objectivism like a cult (which some do), they can be used as warning signs. Your points and my comments to illustrate:
1. Milieu Control.
Here is a very great danger is closing your mind off to wonderful authors and works of art simply because they are not within the molds of standard Objectivist reasoning or romanticism. Even science. Within factions of Objectivism, some factions do not encourage access to information of other factions and even punish such with ostracism or stripping privileges. To a healthy Objectivist, all information is worth looking at - at least once. There is a danger here to close your mind.
2. Mystical Manipulation.
The more dogmatic Objectivists take principles as inherent to reality - rules to be followed, as mentioned in an article by Joe Rowlands (the "not better set of rules" thing). This extends to "correct" emotional reactions like bliss on looking at skyscrapers (when person actually might be feeling indifference because he has something else more important to him on his mind) and a elusive "happiness" that seems always to be proclaimed by the leaders but never achieved by the disciples. (I'm talking about the dogmatic approach here.)
3. Demand for Purity.
Have you ever participated in one of the endless "moral perfection" discussions - even here on Solo? There is real danger here because the concept is completely wide open and formless in practice (it cannot even be defined - at least I have not seen it), but it can induce real guilt.
Here is an amusing way I have seen this is done by some in Objectivism. I call it the Randroid Shuffle. One person makes a statement. Another contests it from an absurd position - the more absurd the better. They quibble - sometimes quite hotly - over meanings of meanings of meanings of meanings until one can pin down a point to Rand or Peikoff. Hopefully, this will be done in the most insensitive and rude manner possible (with "take no shit love of truth" being the subtext). Then the vanquished party admits defeat and thanks the other for helping him be more rational - avoid evasion - not commit an error of knowledge - you know, these and other traditional sins of Objectivism.
5. Sacred Science.
There are those (dogmatists again) who not only imply that Objectivism is perfect (hardly anybody openly proclaims this), but they even hold up the fiction of Ayn Rand as the greatest fiction ever written - absolutely sacred and not to be questioned. Ayn Rand also is held to be the greatest human being who ever lived. The danger here is obvious with one observable result. Objectivist writers are usually not very good fiction writers.
6. Loading the Language.
The catchwords and jargon are too well known to discuss. They produce conformity and "knee-jerks" also. If you don't believe it, try the following test. Talk to an Objectivist and make an offhand comment about your professional duties. See if you don't get a "knee-jerk" mentioning Kant.
7. Doctrine over person.
The greatest danger here is emotional repression. By far the greatest danger - and it is observable in many. Several group (mob) attitudes encourage this. An Objectivist needs to watch out for it in his own thinking - everywhere - especially wherever one or more other Objectivists are found.
8. Dispensing of existence.
Excommunications and shunning are common practices in Objecivist organizations. They are not rational but they exist. A person must be true to himself, so if the group he is in demands adherence to shunning, etc., then that is a warning sign with bells and whistles going off all over the place.
As you mentioned in a later post, one of the attractions of Solo is that these tendencies are resisted when they arise. (I have a real temptation to make a crack about a Lanza mystical experien... er... just joking...)
Seriously, this is a good checklist to look at once in a while, even here on Solo where it practically does not apply. Still, these bad characteristics are always trying to creep in through one poster or another.
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