Your BS-Free Guide to Cults
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I’m fascinated by cults.
Because movements like cults can make people do crazy shit like:
Convince female members that they were high-ranking Nazis in their former lives and that the only way to “shift the bad energy in their systems” is to sleep with the cult leader.
Commit the first bioterror attack in the US, sickening over 751 citizens using Salmonella.
Convincing women that their gender weakened them, so they need to subject themselves to a program of discipline and suffering to escape the prison of feminism.
I mean, who doesn’t get fascinated by communities that possess that much power over their members?
I’m a member of a few Discord communities, there’s no chance they’ll convince me that I was a Nazi in a previous life.
My eternal personality is one of a skeptical “do no harm, take no shit” cat.
With that powerful intro out of the way, let’s talk about cults.
Your BS-Free Guide to Cults
Cults come in all shapes and sizes.
The most common ones are religious and sex cults, but there are more bizarre ones (there’s a cat cult that believes that cats are divine creatures that will save their souls.)
While I don’t agree with that cult’s beliefs, I can totally see cats as divine beings.
I mean, look at them:
So, what makes a cult?
Cults have five distinct characteristics:
A charismatic leader
He/she’s the chosen one. The one that will lead you to the promised land, whether that is freedom, ascension, or power. The leader is charming, articulate, and convincing.
Us vs. Them dynamic
A cult is nothing without an enemy. Every cult has “a big bad” that rebels against. That enemy could be the government, a small group of people that controls everything, or a movement like feminism.
Similar to how mobsters talk, with code words and sentences, cult members operate the same way. Cults have their own set of beliefs and language that they use that makes the members feel like insiders, part of a special organization.
The leader shames the members for not being like him
Shame is the go-to tool for cult leaders. They use it to gain more followers. Cult leaders will shame others, playing on their insecurities. This creates a power dynamic in which you’re underneath the leader in the hierarchy, and the only way to rise is to follow their gospel.
A big promise
While we humans like to think of ourselves as logical, critically thinking beings, that’s not the case. We don’t understand the world through logic. There’s too much information out there for any human to fully comprehend the world. We understand the world through narratives, and cult leaders love that.
They are great at building a narrative, creating the Us vs. Them Dymanic, which explains why you’re not where you want to be. Then, they shame you into believing that the cult leader has the answer to your problem. And finally comes the big promise.
To gain new members, in most cases, cults promise that they’ll teach you one of three things:
How to live life the right way (aka the leader’s gospel.)
Ways to get rich and achieve your dreams.
How to ascend the material life and escape its day-to-day suffering.
These five things make a cult.
While cults are bad (duh), there are a few things we can learn from them to build better companies and communities:
Building a narrative
Just look at all of Elon Musk’s companies. For the untrained eye, these are software (X) and manufacturing (Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity) companies. But you don’t get that sense when you hear Elon or any of his fans talking about them.
With X, previously Twitter, Elon is saving online free speech because it’s vital for humanity. Tesla creates electric cars because relying on fossil-fueled cars is not sustainable and bad for the planet.
SpaceX builds rockets that will help us go to Mars one day to be a multi-planetary species, preserving conscience in the process. SolarCity sells solar panels to help more people transition to renewable energy.
See what Elon does?
Elon never talks about his companies as simple manufacturers or software creators. He talks about them as they’re saving the world, which changes the way people perceive and value his companies.
Narrative > reality.
Creating an Us vs. Them Mentality
Apple is an excellent example of this.
Over the years, Apple has built an ecosystem of hardware products that seamlessly integrate with one another. So, with each Apple product you buy, the harder it is to leave the ecosystem.
As a result, some of their loyal users have adopted an Us vs. Them mentality. You’re either an Apple-loving elite or an Android-using pleb.
Building an Us vs. Them mentality is vital for building a loyal following.
Sell the vision
Cults are effective at selling the transformation of the members. Because the leader has shamed you, you see yourself as someone who’s lesser than him. Then, the cult leader will pitch you on the transformation you’re about to experience.
If you join the cult, you’ll start living life the right way (following his instructions), and as a result, you’ll become a new person, one who has achieved his goals. You can apply the same concept to business.
One of my favorite copywriters, John Carlton, has this quote that will probably butcher: “People don’t want your fitness program, they want a pill that makes them look good.”
So, when you’re selling a program or a service, focus on the transformation your client will experience, not the process they’ll have to go through.
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