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Reblogged:Cult Member Escapes; Finds Cultish Zeitgeist

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Within the story of Katy Morgan-Davies -- who was born into a Maoist cult and kept prisoner until she was thirty -- comes the following:
Orwell? He had nothing on Anthem, the first novel about pronouns and totalitarianism. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
Through her "secret reading" in the house she learnt about Lord Longford, the Labour party politician and social reformer. She joined the Labour party but has since quit. "I hear things that remind me very much of the cult, some of the language, the hating on white people or on men. I just think it's wrong," she says. She finds certain conversations around colonial guilt particularly troubling. "My dad used to say that my mum can't say anything critical about him or my stepmother because she was from a colonialist, imperialist background. Because she is white, she has to apologise and allow them to bully her," Morgan-Davies says. "I hear the same things on the left nowadays."

We are becoming "more unkind, more punitive", she says. What she finds hardest to accept is the clampdown on independent thought. "I feel like there is an element of [George Orwell's] 1984. We have to think in a certain way and speak in a certain way." [bold added]
This reminds me of a couple of things. First, in the Where have we heard that before? department, it echoes remarks North Korean defector Yeonmi Park has made regarding American higher education. Second, it reminds me of Ayn Rand's important contention in her famous lecture, "Philosophy: Who Needs It," that:
If, in the course of philosophical detection, you find yourself, at times, stopped by the indignantly bewildered question: "How could anyone arrive at such nonsense?" -- you will begin to understand it when you discover that evil philosophies are systems of rationalization. [emphasis in original]
Park's and Morgan-Davies's stories are wake-up calls, but many will fail to heed them due to how normalized socialism is, along with the altruistic ethical ideas that make it seem like a noble ideal.

In the case of North Korea, too many will find it easy to argue (or accept) that a place like North Korea is a rare exception, rather than the logical end of the collectivist political ideas we have floating around. Likewise for Morgan-Davies: socialism and its war on independent thought are so widespread that it is similarly easy to dwell on the smallness and isolation of her father's cult as if his emotional manipulation in particular or the individual weaknesses of the other adult members were the only thing to blame.

But phenomena like North Korea and this Maoist cult are made possible by the acceptance on some level of their underlying philosophical ideas by their victims. Dismissing the one as (just) a criminal enterprise or the other as (just) a group of weak personalities being herded along is to miss what Park and Morgan-Davies are noticing within our culture.

We urgently need to look closely at what they are saying and ask why. If the cult grows to involve millions, does it stop being a cult? And if our leaders enjoy enough power to no longer feel accountable, shouldn't we question the teachings that led to such a situation?

-- CAV

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  • 1 year later...

Came across this post while searching “cult” after watching the Netflix documentary series on cult leaders. I started noticing how difficult it is to give “cult” a definition. You allude above to idea that the difference between a religion and a cult is popularity. This reminds me of Rand’s calling “extremism” an anti-concept. Intentional or not, there’s a good bit of allusion to/dancing around the notion that cults are just religions founded by conmen, with the content being the same.

But they mention in the documentary how the ridicule Heaven’s Gate received after the mass suicide was excessively reductive. (Incidentally, I have a friend who is very familiar with Heaven’s Gate and he had the same thing to say about the “monkeys on shrooms” theory of religious experience.) I think a better definition for cults would be “collectivism writ small”.

On a personal note, I began to lean left after becoming disillusioned with Christianity and soon after found myself getting precisely the same negative feelings with social justice warriors that I did with my friends who had engaged in healings and speaking in tongues. The “rebels without a cause” that I had encountered in college suddenly appeared to have a cause but had also maintained their airs of defiance and “individuality”. Nowadays, I can’t help but see them as leftist-bots following a pretty well-tuned formula for going against the grain, down to the uniforms. The cult of skepticism, at the end of the day, can’t function without its dogmas.

I’m happy to stick with the “cult of individualism”, or ideally, a “cult of one”.


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