Homo sapiens just like many other mammals live in social groups. The proliferation of social media filled the vacuum created by weakening of the communal living – maybe? The babble of social media is not unlike the lingo used by the brainwashed cult members. We look down upon communes and cults, even though they fulfill the same need- to foster a sense of belonging at much deeper level, than the transient groups on social media.
Whatever we think is toxic in cults, permeates the social media communes too. Cults have their rituals and cult members use a uniform lingo to communicate their solidarity. At least in cults or communes one relates to what is in the vicinity and unfolding as it is rather than a “staging of the events “as in the social media. We connect with other people “as if they are on the stage – performing” – if one goes by the “sheer number of smiling faces” there should be no sadness in this universe. “
Even though it may be counterintuitive for some, I find it interesting to explore those organizations which are far removed from the idea of cult because “there is no worshipping or religion involved”. “Amway and Market America “were the two business organizations which I saw some of my friends became involved with during my training in Brooklyn, New York in mid 90’s.
This friend of mine, a fellow resident in psychiatry with me – very bright young fella -his spouse was a physician in training as well and had recently immigrated from India to pursue more advanced training in the field of medicine. Somehow, he got involved with Amway. Just like a fresh convert, he would leave no opportunity to promote Amway, even though didn’t make a dime himself. He would go to all the business meetings and conventions sometimes in other cities. He started buying their products- ostensibly to sell, which never materialized . I also noticed a sudden transformation in his demeanor, he appeared at ease and confident and rooted in the new country as if he had found a sense of purpose and meaning in his life. He would talk about the millions his “top earing distributors”-obviously higher on the totem pole, had made, and how he could join the same league. “False hope” but it was hope, nonetheless. I wanted to become comfortable, confident and acculturate to the new country as well. My program director suggested “psychoanalysis”- I jumped right in, looking for confidence and meaningful uplifting, but the only hope it offered to me was, converting “my misery” to “ordinary unhappiness”- would it even qualify as hope?
I had some personal experience with these “sellers of hope”,
when I went to a convention hosted by “Market America”. The founder CEO came on the stage to deliver his inaugural talk – oh boy! he sure was a performer and sold the “dream of becoming a millionaire” so well that by the end of the day I felt rich enough to buy a “Montblanc” fountain pen, because I couldn’t settle for less, when I knew soon enough I would be endorsing those “fantasized checks” I would receive, selling Market America products and “becoming an emerald level distributor”. I would be brutally honest in admitting that by the end of the day I catapulted from “misery” to “happy”. Alas, it didn’t last long as my skepticism kicked in. All said and done, I still want to be fair to these organizations- they sell hope but keep the cost “well hidden”.
Organized religion, Cults, communes, conmen – they all sell “hope” in some form or the other – the price extraction differs in form and steepness.
This Lady I knew a while back – worked in healthcare business. She had,a rather troubled teenage years,because of her mother’s bipolar illness. She did get herself involved in drugs. She didn’t make it very clear to me whether she was still doing drugs when she moved in a “commune” in Carolinas. She completed her college and got herself a good job during her continued stay in this “community- run by her Spiritual Guru”. The cost of staying in the commune was – giving at least one weekend towards the upkeep of the community and buying groceries from the “shop they had onsite”. She was happy, got married and her husband stayed there as well. Somewhere down the lane, they developed some differences, which were obliquely related to the communal living and the husband wanted to move out. The “guru” according to my acquaintance, started to “drive a wedge” in their already rocky relationship and wanted her to let her husband go and herself stay on. I guess this was a wakeup call for her and she decided to leave the commune lock stock and barrel. Adios commune!
After she got out, she was very bitter towards the “guru”, lamenting that she was robbed thousands and thousands of dollars she gave them directly or indirectly. I couldn’t help but observe that she did find some “shelter for her troubled soul during those years” and yes paid them for their services dearly, perhaps.
Many of the hard-core cults attract both charismatic personalities and members who feel alienated from the society. Some of them, can provide an insulated world of “us against them” to shield its more vulnerable members from the harsh reality of the real world, not unlike the protective walls of the mental asylum. The cost besides money its member pays is “selling one’s mind and souls to the good of the cult.” The cult -Branch Davidians led by David Koresh could be a good example though eventually rather than protecting it exposed them to even harsher fate.
Social media with its “groups”” friends” and so on provides a forum wherein “one is never alone” – when troubled can ask for help – start a “go fund me” if in dire straits. Share and find solidarity with the like-minded people and “follow the gurus on twitter”- seek guidance and most of it is free. The cost is very well hidden. One really must be as patient as an archaeologist, to go through the layers and layers of “freebies”,to arrive at the hidden price one pays. At the very minimum, it is one’s time and attention,and worst-case scenario parting with personal information ,for free. The data collected on the “users” is traded like commodity. One could argue – so what – it’s just data and no one individual can “mine cryptocurrency” “from that data”.Well… it’s convoluted and complex- I would suggest watching this movie “the Great Hack” to understand the full scope of this “ chess game” in which we amount to less than mere pawns.
Without getting lost in my own argument, what I am proposing is that “social media communes” also extract a price for the “hope and support” and “fostering a sense of belonging” they offer.
I acknowledge, that it would be very hard, for me to sell the proposition, that even conmen offer hope, I would easily concede though that the price extracted is at times “obscene” and could be at least potentially, more damaging than the help being offered.
The last, but not the least is “ the chemicals” or drugs – give hope to masses but again may cost more than one bargained for.
In the end, I can’t help but state, somewhat dated observation by Carl Marx that “ religion is the opium for masses”.