The following is from an e-mail I received; unfortunately, there was no attribution to the original source. It is reproduced here without permsission of the author.
Arthur Deikman is a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF and author of the well-regarded book The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy. In Wrong Way Home, Deikman takes a careful, scholarly look at cult thinking and behavior and finds that it pervades many institutions in modern society. Cult behavior is found in the military, in government advisory boards, in corporations, in political campaigns, and in the professions of law and medicine, as well as in religious denominations
of all shapes and sizes. Unlike many popular authors (often Christian apologists) who use the term "cult" to describe a carefully delineated subset of new religious movements, Deikman uses the term as an adjective describing distinct types of behavior or thinking found in many groups and institutions. He emphasizes that any group can develop cult behavior.
Following Deikman, four factors characterize cult thinking and behavior within groups: (1) compliance with the group; (2) dependence on a leader; (3) devaluing outsiders; and (4) avoiding dissent. Case studies show that almost any normal person can, as a member of a group, develop increasingly cultish thinking and behavior with almost no awareness of the change. Deikman traces susceptibility to cult behavior to two kinds of wishes, the desire for a meaningful life and the need for a feeling
of security and belonging. Playing on the second wish, the yearning for security and protection, allows group leaders to bind members to the group and direct their thinking and activity toward group goals of almost any description. Even highly ethical individuals may find themselves suppressing personal qualms or concerns in the face of clear and seemingly urgent group directives, even those of dubious moral quality. How does this happen?
Compliance With the Group. Behaving as do those around us is natural behavior and often enhances our chances of survival and prosperity (p. 52). We first encounter the need to comply as children in a family, and our "complaince training" carries over to other groups we become part of later in life: "Most social groups share characteristics of family groups with members who occupy dominant (parent) and subordinate (child) roles" (p. 50). Groups disfavor nonconformity: "A major way a group
exerts power it through threat of censure and expulsion, classifying the deviant as bad" (p. 59).
Deikman observes that compliance with a group increases with one's psychological and economic dependence on it. He notes how large corporations foster such dependence by frequently transfering managers. Other social and cultural ties become weak and fleeting; the corporation becomes the primary source of self-esteem and social interaction for many managers. Even family needs are generally subordinated to those of the corporation and the manager's career within it. "Commitment to the
corporation is also measured by a manager's willingness to take work home at night and on weekends and to be absent from his family on frequent business trips" (p. 63).
Dependence on a Leader. All groups have leaders. Cult behavior thrives in groups with authoritarian, hierarchical leadership structures. "Authoritarians emphasize obedience, loyalty, and the suppression of criticism. . . . Authoritarian leaders, especially, draw power from the dependency fantasy, from the individual's wish for an idealized parent" (p. 71). In a sense, we hold all our leaders up to the idealized memory of our first authority figure, Dad. "The structure of cults is
basically authoritarian; obedience and hierarchical power tend to take precedence over truth and conscience when they conflict, which they often do" (p. 73).
Politics and religion provide good examples of dependence on a leader. "As in any authoritarian system, the basic perspective of most religious groups is one of superior/inferior relationships; as obedience is the prime virtue in all authoritarian systems, so obedience to God's commandments is a prime virtue in theistic religions. This is espoused most rigidly by fundamentalists, those who believe in the literal, inerrant truth of the Bible, the Koran, or some other religious text. Rev.
Jerry Falwell puts the matter most unequivocally: 'We must be obedient to the Word of God. Obedient. Whatsoever He sayeth unto you, do it! That's all there is to it! Find out what God is saying to you and obey Him. Obey the Lord. Obedience!'" (p. 85-86).
Deikman also discusses the political career of the popular Ronald Reagan, who frequently mischaracterized world events and got facts wrong. No matter -- people loved him. He was confident and optimistic. By contrast, Jimmy Carter, in many ways a capable president, did not project confidence and security and was therefore not embraced by the country at large. People want leaders to act like the confident father figures they are supposed to be. This suggests that the leader-follower
dynamic draws strength from the urge to dependence of followers as much as from any leader's individual will to power.
Devaluing the Outsider. "The security of a cult is bound up with the idea of being special, better than those outside the group. Indeed, outsiders are likely to be seen as threatening since they do not share the cult's belief in the leader and in the special entitlement of its members. This threat is met by devaluing the non- believers" (p. 101). This behavior is surprisingly common in society at large. Tellingly, the use of demeaning, profane labels is almost a prerequisite to social
violence directed at outsiders or those on the margins of society (p. 102). Conversely, recognizing the "other" as fully human almost invariably has the opposite effect of making violence or aggression emotionally more difficult.
"Devaluation relies heavily on projection . . . . Projection occurs when we attribute to others those aspects of ourselves that we wish to deny. By identifying the bad impulse or trait as being outside ourselves, we can feel more secure" (p. 103).Deikman notes the prevalence of self-righteousness in cults, often masked by "false humility and public confessions of unworthiness" (p. 105). Religions are especially prone to employ devaluation, despite good intentions to the contrary.
"Fundamentalist religions, in particular, tend to devalue the outsider to preserve the certainty of their scriptures and the leader's connection with God" (p. 108).
Deikman uses psychiatry itself as an illustration, showing how the radically different therapeutic orientation toward outpatients and inpatients is rooted in the treating therapist's unwillingness to identify with psychotic inpatients as much as by any underlying medical conditions. The automatic use of anti-psychotic drugs, with the dosage increased if disturbing behavior persists, is inconsistent with evidence showing a significant degree of successful non-drug treatment of some inpatient
subjects. Deikman also discusses how mainstream media news coverage betrays the same unconscious use of devaluation: American military strength is portrayed as purely defensive, whereas the military armaments of potential adversaries show aggressive intentions.
Avoiding Dissent. "Although we all need dissent as a corrective, cults tend to punish it, to inhibit and stifle disagreement and criticism, to restrict access to information that would challenge group beliefs" (p. 123).Detailed apologetic or justificatory arguments are replaced by dogma, then "dogma itself may be simplified into slogans, . . . futher hampering critical thought" (ibid.). Furthermore, hierarchical institutions can develop a sort of autonomous process whereby subordinates
suppress deviant points of view before they ever reach upper management or senior leaders (p. 144). Think of it as the one-big-happy-family institutional model, maintained by burying any evidence or examples to the contrary.
Especially in America, dissent and the right to voice contrary opinions are valued, at least in principle. It is thus ironic that avoidance of dissent is practiced in American society at large more than is generally recognized, certainly within the government and corporations but even by the lauded free press. "Media bias in favor of the status quo is often not obvious because of the appearance of debate in the various mass media presentations, especially network television. However,
debate turns out to be within the rather narrow limits acceptable to authority" (p. 132). For example, left-wing, "radical" speakers almost always represent safely foreign countries or movements.
Religion tolerates dissent no more willingly than government or business. "All too frequently, administrators of religions consider themselves to be God's representatives and define any choice of doctrine or interpretation but theirs as false or evil. To the extent that religious leaders claim divine authority, dissent is discouraged and suppressed among their followers" (p. 141). The Inquisition comes to mind, of course, as does the frequency with which new denominations or sects form
around religious dissenters after they are expelled from established denominations.
Exit From the Cult. No doubt the reader takes the phrase "exit from the cult" to mean exiting specific groups deemed to be cults -- that is certainly what I was expecting to encounter in the last chapter carrying that title. While life may be too short to spend any more of it in a cult than is absolutely necessary, that isn't the argument Deikman makes. He isn't talking about getting out of specific groups. He is referring to reforming society to eliminate (as far as is possible) cult
thinking and behavior, starting with the reader and, by extension, you. He's thinking of social reform, not temporal salvation. He is talking about exiting the Cult Universal, not the cult next door. He offers a short checklist to faciliate self-examination and to help exorcise the invisible cult that lurks in each of us (p. 154):
Do I speak of opponents or outsiders as if they were all the same, with reference to only negative traits and unflattering motives?
Do I lack interest and information concerning the actual statements and actions of opponents or outsiders?
Do I fail to consider the possible validity of an adversary's point of view?
Do I fail to critically examine my own position?
Do I disapprove or reject a member of my own group who departs from the group position, regarding the dissident as an annoyance or a problem?
Do I feel self-righteous?