Post Tagged with: "cults"

Jehova’s Witness finds freedom to think in totalitarian China

Jehova’s Witness finds freedom to think in totalitarian China

Former Jehova’s Witness Amber Scorah on how being a missionary in China changed her life:

When I got to China, things were really different, by necessity. Pro-selytizing is illegal. Religious meetings are banned. The preaching work and congregation meetings have to be conducted underground. This means that the handful of Witnesses in Shanghai can meet only covertly, which makes seeing each other more than once a week next to impossible. Preaching in the usual structured, door-to-door fashion is also, obviously, out of the question. For me, a Witness accustomed to a life of uniform routine, this seemed like an unprecedented adventure.

A couple of weeks after I arrived in Shanghai, I received a cryptic text message from a man who called himself James (some of us used fake names; we knew the Chinese government monitored electronic correspondence). He proposed meeting in a noisy local restaurant in the French Concession. I called his number when I got to the restaurant and he waved so I would know him. We chatted a few minutes, then he immediately got down to business. With a practiced manner, he explained the instructions from the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses as to how to conduct my missionary work. I was to find a job, perhaps teaching English, as a cover. Then I was to start cultivating relationships with worldly people, both Chinese and Westerners. These friendships were to be made with the sole purpose of religious conversion.

This sounded crazy to me. Every day of my life I’d been taught to stay away from these people, and I had. I was the person who made excuses not to lunch with coworkers. Who never kissed the boy who loved me in high school. I was the one who didn’t join after-school sports or attend birthday parties or my prom, all for fear of contamination. But I had my instructions; there was no other choice.

Full Story: The Believer: Leaving the Witness

(via Metafilter)

December 26, 2013 0 comments
The Untold Story of Jonestown

The Untold Story of Jonestown

Jonestown work crew

Deirdre Sugiuchi interviews Julia Scheeres, author of A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown, who makes the case that the infamous “kool-aid incident” was murder, not suicide:

Guernica: How, after seeding that initial idea in their minds, did he end up trapping them—if that’s what happened—in the jungle?

Julia Scheeres: Here’s the key thing: Everyone who went to Jonestown thought they could leave at any time if they didn’t like it. But once they arrived, via a two-day river boat trip, Jones confiscated their money and passports. He told them that if they wanted to go back to the United States, they could swim back: he wasn’t paying their airfare. I believe his plan all along was to sequester them in an isolated spot and kill them. Most Peoples Temple members arrived in Jonestown in the summer of 1977, and he introduced the notion of “revolutionary suicide” soon after. They were shocked; they’d immigrated to Jonestown seeking a better life for themselves and their children only to discover their pastor was intent on killing them. One of the most heartbreaking things I discovered in my research was dozens of notes to Jones from residents begging him to let them return to California. One mother said her daughter was having nightmares after listening to debates on the best way to kill the one thousand residents of Jonestown, and that she didn’t know how to convince her daughter that “death was a good thing.” Many offered to send down their paychecks for the rest of their lives if he’d let them go. He couldn’t of course; they would have let the world know that he’d gone completely mad.

I think the folks who joined Jones’s church did so because they truly believed in his stated ideals of racial equality and social justice. That’s why he was able to convince one thousand of them to immigrate to the jungle of Guyana. Although history has stigmatized Jonestown residents as the people who “drank the Kool-aid,” I’d argue that they were noble idealists. Furthermore, they were murdered. They didn’t willingly drink poison—they were forced to do so at gunpoint. They sought the ideal, only to have their leader horribly betray them.

Full Story: Guernica Magazine: Untold Stories

July 1, 2013 1 comment
Compassionate Takedown of Pickup Artististry

Compassionate Takedown of Pickup Artististry

Glenn Fleishman explains the “pickup artist” (PUA) community, and the recent controversy about a PUA book on Kickstarter that advocated sexual assault:

PUAs aren’t typically an overlap with the frat-boy stereotype of athletes and aggression. Rather, PUAs are social misfits who appear to be incapable of reading and responding to social signals. Just as the Ana subculture arose on the Internet extolling anorexia, which is medically and socially unacceptable even as the body image associated is perpetuated through media, the PUA subculture seems to thrive because it’s found a home in which such discussions are encouraged and cultivated.

And it is undeniable to these men that women meet other men and then, immediately or after a number of dates, engage in sexual concourse with them. Why not them? It must not be their personality, pheromones, conversational style, or appearance. There must be a secret that some men have that they have missed, and thus a culture of tips, tricks, and strategies develops. [...]

Mutually consensual behavior initiated by either party isn’t assault, of course, nor does it have to be spoken aloud. But it requires the ability to read signals and respond to them to know whether consent exists, and to stop — not “escalate” — when there’s ambiguity. This category of book provides the excuse for consent to men who can’t read signals. The book is advising sexual assault under the guise of something the woman wants but can’t ask for. That’s not consent.

Full Story: Boing Boing: Kickstop: how a sleazebag slipped through Kickstarter’s cracks

Something that’s bothered me lately about many critiques of internet subculture I’ve read recently. For example, Stephen Bond ‘s rants about skeptics and the Less Wrong community. He wrote about skeptics: “You’ll quickly find that the majority of visitors are not drawn there by concern for the victims of irrationality, but by contempt. They’re there to laugh at idiots.” And: “The average skeptic has little time for spreading the word of reason to the educationally or intellectually lacking. His superior reason is what separates him from the chumps around him, and he has no interest in closing the gap.” But Bond seems to fall quickly into a similar trap: he bashes skeptics and Bayesians, decrying their lack of ethics and implying his own moral superiority (someone on Metafilter suggested that Bond did this on purpose to parody those communities). There’s no compassion, no insight into why someone might become swept up in these communities other than “because they’re assholes.”

It’s a hard impulse to shake. It’s easy to get so angry at someone — internet scammers, religious people, pickup artists, libertarians, whoever — and end up seeing them as something less than human. I’ve done it many times right here on this blog. It’s hard to be compassionate or to see what attracted someone to this point of view. But that’s incredibly important not just to help win people over — which is very hard — but to help others understand the culture that you’re critiquing and why they are wrong. “They do these things because they’re assholes, and they’re wrong because they just are” isn’t a compelling argument. I think it’s why so many people have trouble with Evgeny Morozov’s work. Morozov doesn’t, at least in what I’ve read of his work, ever stop to ask why someone might believe what they do. He takes it for granted that everyone he criticizes is either a fool or a charlatan or both. It wears thin quickly, not just because it’s mean spirited but because it doesn’t read as a well-rounded critique. It reads as a rant meant solely for those who already agree with him, as a chance to make fun of the chumps who have bought into the “solutionist” ideology.

Fleishman doesn’t go easy on the PUAs, but he does explain why what they do is wrong, why someone might try it anyway, and why the people involved in it don’t realize what they’re doing is wrong. That makes it a far more powerful critique than most of what I’ve been reading lately.

If you want more info on the PUA culture and methodologies: The Observer’s review of Neil Strass’ book on pickup artistry and Jeff Diehl’s article on “speed seduction.”

June 24, 2013 1 comment
For Silicon Valley, Meditation Is About Getting Ahead, Not Inner Peace

For Silicon Valley, Meditation Is About Getting Ahead, Not Inner Peace

This touches all my cynical buttons:

But in today’s Silicon Valley, there’s little patience for what many are happy to dismiss as “hippie bullshit.” Meditation here isn’t an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of existence but a tool to better oneself and improve productivity. That’s how Bill Duane, a pompadoured onetime engineer with a tattoo of a bikini-clad woman on his forearm, frames Neural Self-Hacking, an introductory meditation class he designed for Google. “Out in the world, a lot of this stuff is pitched to people in yoga pants,” he says. “But I wanted to speak to my people. I wanted to speak to me. I wanted to speak to the grumpy engineer who may be an atheist, who may be a rationalist.” [...]

It also raises the uncomfortable possibility that these ancient teachings are being used to reinforce some of modern society’s uglier inequalities. Becoming successful, powerful, and influential can be as much about what you do outside the office as what you do at work. There was a time when that might have meant joining a country club or a Waspy church. Today it might mean showing up at TED. Looking around Wisdom 2.0, meditation starts to seem a lot like another secret handshake to join the club. “There is some legitimate interest among businesspeople in contemplative practice,” Kenneth Folk says. “But Wisdom 2.0? That’s a networking opportunity with a light dressing of Buddhism.” [...]

Steve Jobs spent lots of time in a lotus position; he still paid slave wages to his contract laborers, berated subordinates, and parked his car in handicapped stalls.

Full Story: Wired: Meditation Isn't Just About Inner Peace—in the Valley It's About Getting Ahead

See also:

Technoccult Interview: Open Source Buddhism with Al Jigong Billings

Mindful Cyborgs: Sensor Hacking For Mindfulness with Nancy Dougherty on the new Mindful Cyborgs

June 19, 2013 0 comments
The Source Family Documentary Trailer

The Source Family Documentary Trailer

The Source Family is a new documentary about the far out hippie commune/cult of the same name. It debuted in New York City on May 1 and will be hitting indie theaters across the country soon. The Hairpin has a good write-up.

The film follows the book The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and The Source Family.

Previously:

Erik Davis’ intro to the book

LA Weekly and the LA Times both ran stories on the Source and the book when it was released.

May 6, 2013 0 comments
When Does a Religion Become a Cult?

When Does a Religion Become a Cult?

Occult America author Mitch Horowitz writes:

Many academics and observers of cult phenomena, such as psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo of Stanford, agree on four criteria to define a cult. The first is behavior control, i.e., monitoring of where you go and what you do. The second is information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group. The third is thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning. The fourth is emotional control—using humiliation or guilt. Yet at times these traits can also be detected within mainstream faiths. So I would add two more categories: financial control and extreme leadership.

Full Story: Wall Street Journal: When Does a Religion Become a Cult?

Horowitz also recently delivered the State of the Occult Address with Richard Smoley. I haven’t read it, but thought some of you might be interested.

April 12, 2013 3 comments
Inside The Greasy World Of Internet Marketing

Inside The Greasy World Of Internet Marketing

Joseph L. Flatley wrote an in depth article on the greasy business of Internet Marketing:

The term Internet Marketing in this context describes both a particular business model used to sell fraudulent products and services online, and the community or subculture that embraces it. It operates out in the open — with poorly designed websites, tacky infomercials, and outrageous claims designed to scare off the wary and draw in the curious, desperate, and naive. The Internet Marketer positions himself as a marketing “guru” with a product or coaching services guaranteed to generate income.

I’m familiar with this stuff from my brief stint in search engine optimization (SEO), and from a couple friends who went down that particular rabbit hole. But I never realized how deep that rabbit hole goes. Flatley writes:

PushTraffic was what is known as a boiler room. As Dan Thies, an SEO professional and former employee of an Internet Marketing company called StomperNet, explains, Internet Marketers often “sell super-cheap products so they can get the names and phone numbers, and turn people over” to boiler room companies who try to sell the unsuspecting consumer fraudulent goods.

If you’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross, you’re familiar with the boiler room MO: pressure a lead into spending a heck of a lot of money on something worthless.

Full Story: The Verge: Scamworld: ‘Get rich quick’ schemes mutate into an online monster

It goes deeper still.

Flatley wrote a follow-up on Mitt Romney’s connection to one of these boiler-room operations, though perhaps that’s less interesting now that the election is over: : Mitt Romney goes to Scamworld: Prosper, Inc. and its powerful friends

Mother Jones has covered these connections in more depth. Rick Perlstein’s essay on scams in the conservative political world fits into this as well.

Previously: Beyond Growth – Technoccult interviews Duff McDuffee and Eric Schiller

December 13, 2012 0 comments
High Weirdness Today

High Weirdness Today

Whatever happened to all the “kooks” listed in Ivan Stang’s High Weirdness By Mail book? Funny you should ask:

High Weirdness By Mail (HWBM) is a kind of directory of kooks circa 1988, built up during Stang and friends’ hobby of collecting kook literature, a listing of hundreds of addresses that a collector could write to and, either for free for for only a little money, receive some authentic weirdness for their trouble. Some of the addresses are of lone kooks, like Brainbeau (p 160), looking for spread their ideas. Some of the them lead to UFO cults like Unarius (p 50), looking for recruits. Some believe Jesus talks to them personally; whether they’re viewed as lone nutters or respected televangelists seems to depend only on resources. Doesn’t matter, Ivan Stang includes them both. Some are actual hate groups. Many are independent artists, several of which would subsequently hit it big before a wider audience. There are over 320 pages of addresses in the book, and each of them has a short blurb written about them to warn the reader about what he’s in for. Most of the addresses, of course, probably don’t work now. Here, in a kind of metapost, I visit some of the entries and find out where they are now, or if they still exist.

MetaFilter: High Weirdness By Mail

August 28, 2012 0 comments
What’s Next for Libraries?

What’s Next for Libraries?

I’ve mentioned only in passing this incredible comment from MetaFilter on the dismal state of funding for libraries even as they become more essential. It’s too long to reproduce here and an excerpt won’t do, so go and read it and come back.

OK, so then what’s next for libraries? I don’t know, but there are a few people trying to figure it out.

Your Future Library is a group working to create an online journal for sharing best practices on information access. They’re hoping to bridge the gap between local libraries and those interested in digital dissemination of information. There’s not much on their site yet (they gave me a flyer at ContactCon), but you can sign-up for a newsletter to keep in touch.

Meanwhile Fiarce Dunne, a librarian interested in the intersection between local libraries and makerlabs (and the guy who brought he DARPA/MAKE connection to my attention), has started a project called Library Cult which is also in early stages.

March 21, 2012 1 comment
Beyond Growth’s Eric Schiller to Present on Digital Hipsterism at EsoZone Portland 2011

Beyond Growth’s Eric Schiller to Present on Digital Hipsterism at EsoZone Portland 2011

Eric Schiller

Beyond Growth co-founder Eric Schiller will give a presentation titled “Digital Hipsterism: Anti-intellectual Movements in Social Media” at EsoZone Portland 2011 on November 18. Here’s Eric’s description of the talk:

In this talk I will explore how social media technology has facilitated the creation of loose ‘internet cults’, and how they are used to influence their followers. I will analyze elements of the lifestyle design movement, Hacker News, and Reddit to further the thesis that social media portrays itself as a transparent means of communication yet in reality is anything but. Using the notion of ‘Digital Hipsterism’ to unmask the authoritarian and anti-intellectual core of these movements, I will demonstrate how depth of research and well reasoned arguments are not valued, but merely the appearance of depth is regarded as the ideal truth.

Eric is a part-time social critic and philosopher. When not writing snarky essays, he works as a freelance web designer and developer in Seattle.

Eric’s essay on digital hipsterism can be found here. You can read the Technoccult interview with Eric and his collaborator Duff McDuffee here.

October 27, 2011 1 comment