There are many simplistic definitions of a CULT that provide a very broad and general meaning. I’ve researched the material and come up with a more narrow and specific definition, which I think points to more dangerous cults more effectively than a broad definition.
It rests on 7 essential principles:
- It has a very strong leader, based on personal, emotional identification and an extreme feeling of allegiance and compliance.
- There are demands, pressures and pledges of allegiance to that extreme leadership figure or group of people.
- There is a central religious or ideological foundation that is rigidly adhered to.
- Some form of impending doom is involved, whether it be apocalyptic or some other sort of catastrophe.
- That impending doom is used as a vehicle to mobilize fear as a strong motivator.
- There is a routine suspension of reason and a dismissal of facts, with severe rationalization being obvious.
- There are paranoid tendencies dismissing all sources outside of the cult as conspiracies opposed to their one right way of seeing things.
- There is a strong pressure and often serious consequences forcing members to not leave the cult.
[postscript] There’s one other characteristic of most cults that I want to add after watching some of the televangelists this Easter Sunday morning. (I’m normally not in the habit of doing that, but GPS was a rerun, so I ended up flipping through channels.) Cults present arguments in calculated increments that are designed to convince people with weak reasoning skills to go deeper and deeper into ideological or religious beliefs. They’re half reasonable (if appealing to a more semi-rational group) or deal in gradations of emotional ecstacy with the less rational and more emotional group. They believe that if you repeat something, however ridiculous, often enough eventually many people will believe it. The facts around it aren’t important, but you still have to pull the con job in gradual increments so that cognitive dissonance can take hold. Whichever strategy is present (and sometimes all are), it is calculated and deliberately designed to inch the potential cult member towards the desired goals. It is different from “education” per se in two ways. First of all the strategies are diabolical and designed to minimize personal awareness rather than maximize it. Second, it is done in the context of the eight characteristics mentioned above.
Do with that what you will. Personally I have no trouble seeing Donald Trump’s supporters as falling in line with most of these to a rather extreme degree. Granted, you could make a case for any political movement being a cult, however by comparison I honestly don’t see Sanders supporters in the same fanatical light. There are some pretty easily identified differences between charisma and fanaticism. There are some pretty easily identified differences between speaking purely emotionally and putting forth rational arguments. Easy, at least, for those that are not embraced by the cult.
More and more, as I’ve watched Trump surrogates on news talk shows, I see blank eyes and totally uncritical minds. I’ve talked to many individuals who have come from bonifide cults, and Trump surrogates most certainly have “the look”. It has gotten to the point where some of their advisories on these panels seem like they want to physically go over and shake sense into them, and I can’t blame them. Recently several panel discussions actually cut the mike of Trump supporters because they just couldn’t stand the nonsense that they were spewing. I think that marginalizing reason and suspending critical thinking are a slippery slope for some people, aided by incremental brainwashing and the calculated use of logical fallacies. Once you start doing it, cognitive dissonance takes over and you end up going all the way down the rabbit hole.
Fortunately, a cult leader who is an outright narcissist is likely to consume himself and the cult in time. Also, unless there is some kind of societal psychosis, the cult should have a ceiling, reinforced by the aversion to that narcissism. That’s starting to happen now. But watching these people embarrass themselves as they are drawn into this hypnotic state is almost too weird to believe. I am hoping that it will be a socially transformative experience when it is all over, …and in a positive way.