Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, September 18, 2011

You Know, Nobody Is Forcing You to Stay in Your Idiotic Robot Cult

“Transhumanists” could instead, after all, just be, you know, Democrats fighting for secular sustainable scientifically-literate progress and also, you know, nerds who enjoy science fiction and popular science blue-skying. Nobody is forcing you to be members of a Special Movement that is going to get you into Tech Heaven or Sweep the World, but at the cost of making you indulge in all this pseudo-scientific flim-flammery and self-promotional pseudo-wonkery and guru wannabe-ism and New Age texhno-transcendental True Believer whizbang.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> Nobody is forcing you to be members of a Special Movement. . .

Ah, that's a deep and subtle question. Of course, no particular
person (at least in the vast majority of cases) is forcing
anybody to be a member of a Special Movement.

There are nevertheless powerful social and psychological
forces that lead people to wind up in such movements
(and to resist strongly being disabused of their cosmic

from _Dream Catcher: A Memoir_ by Margaret A. Salinger
[daughter of author J. D. Salinger]
(Washington Square Press, 2000)
Human beings, when chartless, seek a stable point of
reference. . . This is true whether they be wise men
in the desert or thirsty fools who pass by an oasis
in pursuit of a mirage -- reckoning dead wrong.

A few years ago, my mother sent me a book, _Cults and
Consequences_ [Rachel Anders and James R. Lane, eds.,
Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles, 1988] in
response to my questions about my father's involvement
in and donations to everything from Zen Buddhists,
Vedanta Hindus, Yogananda's Self-Realization Church,
Christian Science, L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology,
followers of Edgar Cayce, George Ohsawa's macrobiotics,
Eastern medicines, and a hodgepodge of practices
including drinking one's urine, speaking in tongues,
and sitting in a Reichian orgone box. This book
proved an invaluable starting place for unraveling
the mystery of my father's journey's through the
looking glass.

What I began to understand is that the content of
what my mother called isms doesn't matter, it may
be truth or absolute rubbish: it's what a cult
does to the mind of a believer as well as the way
in which the believer embraces the belief -- the
particular characteristics of the relation between
believer and belief -- that earns it the designation
_cult_ rather than _religion_ or _belief_ or
_philosophy_. . .

The existential state of the typical person who, upon
encountering a cult, is likely to become a follower
reads like a description of most of my father's
characters, and indeed, or my father himself.
Many studies of cult phenomena have found that the
appeal of the cult depends "largely on the weakness
and vulnerability that all of us feel during key
stress periods in life. At the time of recruitment,
the person is often mildly depressed, in transition,
and feeling somewhat alienated." [Robert W. Dellinger,
_Cults and Kids_] One study, in particular, of
those who become involved in cults, speaks directly
to the vulnerability of my father and his characters
who "just got out": "Leaving any restricted
community can pose problems -- leaving the Army for
civilian life is hard, too . . . many suffered from
depression . . . loneliness, anomie [Margaret Thaler
Singer, "Coming out of the Cults," _Psychology Today_,
January 1979], or what can be referred to as
"future void." They're standing at the edge, as Holden
[the protagonist of Salinger's _The Catcher in the Rye_]
said, of "some crazy cliff," looking for a catcher. . .
Many of those who join cults find "close relationships
with like-minded others" [A study conducted by the
Jewish Community Relations Committee of Philadelphia
asked former cult members to list their reasons
for joining. The committee found that, in order
of relative importance, the number one reason was
loneliness and the need for friendship. "More than
any other factor, the desire for uncomplicated
warmth and acceptance . . . leads people into
cults."] . . .