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I think of cults as being something beyond the religious definition. To quote Louis Jolyon West:

A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of [consequences of] leaving it, etc.) designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.

Thus, the features of the cult include:

  • Illogical, fixed beliefs in certain ideas and devotion to a leader
  • Unethical, manipulative means of control
  • Evangelising said beliefs
  • Making it hard or impossible to leave, or harsh penalties for leaving
  • Replacement of your social structure with members of the cult (a means of isolation)
  • Taking up inordinate amounts of time and money with cult activities (another means of isolation)
  • Providing misinformation
  • Attacking all who deny the beliefs of the cult – resistance is futile!
  • Claiming that their beliefs are fact and that they are being unfairly persecuted

There are many who fit this kind of cult definitions, some surprising and some less so.

Let’s see:

The use of cult techniques for furthering a business model is gaining traction. Apple and Fitness First are prime examples of this unethical behaviour which locks you into their ecosystem.

Interestingly, the methods used by cults are very similar or the same as techniques used by emotionally abusive partners. Certainly the indoctrination and inability to leave are hallmark behaviour. It’s probably of no surprise then that religious cults are rife with physical and sexual abuse. Corporate cults on the other hand do not seem to have that physical or sexual abuse problem, possibly due to strict policing and the fact that their business model (unlike that of a religion) has nothing to do with sex.

Other subcultures have clubs and communities that run in a cult like manner. More on that subject later.