Why Do Smart People Fall for Cults?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by Bongolation, Oct 31, 2011.

  1. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    I'll probably regret bringing this up here, but I'm stuck for answers.

    I have a very close friend, now in his sixties, about whom I have always wondered.

    He's very intelligent, well-intentioned, self-sufficient and capable -- valedictorian, elite U, Navy, Peace Corps, etc., all with high marks. He's not your average meatstick. Drop him anywhere, he'd do fine. He's one of those guys with the strength and energy of men thirty years younger, an impressive guy all around.

    Many decades ago, he had a scrape with mental illness, the details of which I've never really gotten. He's always had some strange ideas, but he seems to have been drawn to absolutist, fanatical cults. He was a hardcore Communist of some strange fringe stripe, then he was a $cientologist, then he was involved in some even weirder groups. I thought all this was pretty much behind him, because he's always going on about logic and reason and intellectual freedom, right?

    For the past few years, he's been spouting all these odd assertions and theories that make no sense and contradict each other. He will not discuss the reasons he believes them or intelligently field the questions I naturally ask when he spouts some of this creepy bunk. His attitude seems to be religious about it. Very disturbing!

    I've been trying to get to the bottom of this.

    Yesterday, after he mentioned that he was driving a couple of hundred miles to attend one of their front group functions, curiosity got the better of me and I encountered this, containing about 95% of the mostly crackpot stuff he goes on about, from this really scary pure authoritarian personality cult (if you're familiar with them, you'll recognize that the Wiki articles are being pretty charitable -- these people are bad news).

    He's been almost totally brainwashed with this immense ratbag of lunacies. Now that I see all the crap in one place at one time, I realize that he hasn't expressed two consecutive thoughts in years that didn't include core nonsense from this cult's vast catalog of pernicious weirdness.

    "Well, here he goes again!"

    Why do intelligent people fall for these mind-control cults, often repeatedly?

    If there is a predictable process by which vulnerable people fall into this crap, is there a predictable process for extracting them from it?

    Professional psychologists or experienced laymen, please fire away.

    Please, no moronic jokes. This is serious business.
  2. Because it gives them something to identify with.

  3. Actium


    Jan 15, 2011
    Feeds his ego?
  4. W/o even skimming the OP, I will say that defining the term *cult* would almost certainly violate TB's policy on the subject of religion. That said, the phrase *scrape w/mental illness* may be a clue.
  5. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    Well, you'd be wrong in this case.
  6. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    Cults destroy the ego.
  7. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Inactive

    Aug 15, 2010
    If I'd have to guess, I'd say that people who are emotionally vulnerable usually fall for stuff like cults, gangs, and other such things. That includes feelings of acceptance, longing for ideals to agree with, etc.

    Intelligence and emotionally security are 2 things that aren't mutually exclusive.
  8. Actium


    Jan 15, 2011
    Yea but if he's talking down to his peers about what he's involved in...
  9. What if your definition of *cult* includes what someone else considers a mainstream/established religion, or even- dare I say it- THE TRUTH?!? No disrespect to your friend's situation or anyone else's beliefs, but I give this thread 2-3 pages max.
  10. gnjpowell

    gnjpowell Inactive

    Nov 12, 2010
    Concord, NH
    Bass & guitar tech, FOH sound, backline rentals
    He's "smart enough" to know there is something bigger out there than himself, but he's "too smart" to fall for that Creator-God thing, there just *has* to be _something_ _better_ than THAT..... God Bless!
  11. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    Read the OP. Cults are not necessarily religious.

    They are defined by their structure and symptoms.
  12. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    Took about eight minutes. :rollno:
  13. Bingo.

    ...and even very intelligent people often engage in serious cognitive dissonance.

    I mean - that Occam's Razor guy (Willem of Occam) was a Franciscan Friar...
  14. IconBasser

    IconBasser Scuba Viking

    Feb 28, 2007
    Fontana, California
    My own uninformed and untested hypothesis is as follows:

    Cult involvement is a coincidental side-affect of how the brain collects information and constructs its own little model of how the world works. In many cases, once people have a working model of how the world works (e.g. a belief system or something like that), they judge everything through a lens of that model; information that supports the model is approved, information that contradicts is either ignored or rationalized away.

    This process can be elevated to the point of fanaticism in some, to the point where they are more susceptible to joining cult-like organizations of like-minded individuals.

    Bongo, looking back on your friend's behavior, does he have a history of being confrontational when explaining what he thinks? Does he actively try to discredit any theories that he doesn't agree with? If so, this hypothesis could be plausible. If not, disregard it as inane pseudo-psychological musings, which is pretty much what it is.
  15. skychief


    Apr 27, 2011
    South Bay
    this is an over-simplified statement imo, but theres some inherent truth in it.

    "If there is a predictable process by which vulnerable people fall into this crap, is there a predictable process for extracting them from it? "

    Not trying to be funny...But with many mental illnesses, there's some really effective meds that helps keeps them in check, and allows the individual to lead productive lives without sliding into that manic abyss.

  16. Exactly. The same reason people fall for popular religions. It's really not shocking at all when you look at the number of people who subscribe to more socially acceptable and politically backed religions.
  17. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    I'm assuming you mean "insecurity" there...

    I'm still waiting for the requested experts to step in on this question.

    As pathetic as it sounds to me personally, I suppose the need for approval and acceptance may have something to do with it, but I think I assume because these have never been attainable or mattered to me, they shouldn't matter to him. It strikes me as unworthy and repugnant to "go along to get along," especially when you're going along with such rot just to get some superficial and insincere approval from people my antenna would detect as inferior at best and dangerous at worst.

    It would also seem to me that he'd be too smart to run such a sleazy emotional con on himself, something in my view that would be almost criminal.

    But of course I could be giving him far too much credit. :meh:
  18. Another reason for some folks is the "simplicity", current or future, of a life following them. Smart people are generally looked towards for leadership by either personality or technical/academic prowess. Some folks inevitably get burned out on the whole Leader Of Men thing and want to just follow someone else's ways, plow fields, and have nothing. Coupla cults worked this way: successful (and supposedly) smart folks just giving up everything they had worked their butts off for 20, 30, or 40+ years to go plant corn, not have sex with their marriage partners, and live in near poverty.

    Best bet: leave your neighbor alone and have the absolute minimal contact with him, warn your family, friends, and his family if you can. He will either snap out of it, or plunge himself into the dark abyss.

  19. Bassguy61


    Feb 28, 2008
    Pearl, MS
    All religious stuff aside, I really think it comes from some human need for idenification, and, mainly, a need to find some bigger meaning to the world they see around them, and sometimes as a way to not take responsiblity for themselves. I had a good friend go through something like this, though not a cult directly.

    My friend was one of those people that somehow was never at fault for anything that happend to him. It was always someone else's fault, or someone else's doing that caused his problems. Well, with that kind of mindset, it didn't take him long to stumble into all kinds of conspiracy theory goups. They feed his need to avoid responsibilty ("See, it's not my fault I can't get a job. It's all part of the world banking conspiracy!"). It also put him in place where he could identify with everybody else. They were all of a like mind, so there was a comfort level there.

    Lost touch with him years ago, but he was the perfect target for a cult. Looking for "secret knowledge" that made him part of a "select few" that knew the "truth" about what was happening in the world.
  20. MakiSupaStar

    MakiSupaStar The Lowdown Diggler

    Apr 12, 2006
    Huntington Beach, CA
    This is actually a very good post. I'd like to add that another possibility he is a deep thinker, seeking companionship amongst people like himself. Now looking down the list on Wikipedia, it seems like anyone of those ideas and 'goals' could organize some deep thinking people, but when you try organize all these ideas into a group dedicated to them, then it becomes suspicious. The marxist philosophies have been around for a long time, gold standard monetary system is still in place in some areas, etc etc all the way down to colonizing mars by 2025. Each one of these things could generate endless discussions and ideas in and of themselves, but when you combine them together it seems like a great magnet for smart people. They're controlled by distraction. They ignore the fact like their organization requires that them to create a direct withdrawal from their checking accounts to belong, or that they must go through this particular ritual, because they're focused on colonizing mars, or focused on devising a plan to eliminate the IMF, etc. Often, highly intelligent people are not all that perceptive when it comes down to it, and this particular cult is probably aware of the types of people that are attracted to these ideas. For example, they know that for a person to declare an allegiance to Marxist ideals, that this person might have a lot of people around them in disagreement, and just like everyone else smart people want companionship, friendship, and they get lonely. They know that a declared Marxist might like confirmation because they're not getting it around them. So they drive 200+ miles to join an organization of people like them. It doesn't have to be Marxism, communism, or financial reform. It could be anyone of those things on that list. They think it's about the topic, while the organizers use it for control.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Jun 24, 2021

Share This Page