"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
Every Group Is a 'Cult'
Column by Dylan Delikta.
Exclusive to STR
…or at least that’s what I’ve encountered.
It seems that there is a lot of intellectual dishonesty within the confines of the Internet. There are many bloggers, journalists, and commentators who, instead of pointing out what they find as flaws to certain ideas, claim that there is a cult raised around one person or idea and that the people following it are treating him or her as the end-all be-all reference to every word that may be spoken out of their individual mouths. When that happens, it stops any means of debate that could be had about the certain subject, because a majority of people end up seeing that person or idea in a negative light and will not open their minds, and the people in the minority become ostracized. By throwing the word “cult” around, the movement of ideas comes to a halt and everybody loses out.
First off, the word cult has eight definitions according to dictionary.com, and they are listed as such:
A particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
An instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: e.g., the physical fitness cult.
The object of such devotion.
A group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
Sociology. A group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.
A religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
The members of such a religion or sect.
Any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.
Definitions 2, 4, and 8 are what these people attacking the ideas of others and their admiration for such as “cultish” since they refer to the veneration or perceived correctness of a person or idea other people cling to. However, I find these definitions over-reaching and arbitrary. Definitions 2 and 4 seem to be how people form little groups or clubs in the first place. It’s just like telling kids who intensely enjoy and admire a certain band that they are a “certain band cult.” Sure, there are groups who seem really “cultish,” i.e. the Juggalos, the KISS Army, etc., but all in all, they’re just a bunch of fans who really enjoy those bands. Sure, not all of us are willing to show such devotion to a band, let alone paint our faces, but we all have something that we truly like that others may truly like as well. It makes no sense then to label such clubs or groups as “cults.”
Definition 8 seems to be what most of the bloggers and journalists are trying to throw out at those who have a contrary idea to their own (of course, definition 6 can correspond with this, too). It also creates disillusionment with scholarly pursuits, since instead of exchanging ideas, we have to go on the defensive. Take for instance, this example: a minority of people disagree with a majority of people as to how lollipops should be distributed. John, a member of the minority faction, is the most vocal, bringing the ideas out in a brilliant manner, stating that people should have the right to freely trade lollipops instead of only allowing them to be given for free after a visit to the dentist. The people in the minority love this guy, and therefore he becomes the outspoken defender of this issue. The majority sees this as an outrage, and instead of providing economic or philosophic critiques which people might support or refute, they say that the minority only worships this man, and because he doesn’t follow the “mainstream” and his ideas on lollipops cannot be found in any of their journals on the history of lollipops, then that group must obviously be a lollipop cult bent on causing everyone to get tooth decay. In this way, instead of creating a forum for people exchanging ideas and knowledge, it creates hysteria, causing people to argue about how “we are or are not a cult,” which is really just a losing argument. No one seems to want to get to the center of the Tootsie-Roll Pop.
Now, where has this frequently been seen? For starters, some who support the establishment already call out Libertarianism as some kind of cult; seeing as it rests on philosophy, science, etc., which makes it seem difficult for the “average” person to follow. Because most people are not taught critical thinking skills in public schools, but instead are prone to obedience and pragmatism, a disconnect is created, and so it is easy to label a group of serious thinkers a cult. However, there are factions of libertarians who go out of their way to label other factions of libertarians as cults. Some groups (though for some of them, it’s just certain individuals in the groups) say that there is a cult at the LvMI and their staunch support of Rothbard, or that those who watch and frequent FreeDomain Radio are part of a cult. Though I agree with most of what Tom Woods says about Rothbard in his speech offered to counter the libertarians who frequently ignore Rothbard, it stands to reason that they shouldn’t be considered a cult either. Whether or not one believes a certain person, a group of people, or a set of ideas are right or wrong, calling each other “cults” curtails any sort of new knowledge to be gained, for it creates conflict rather than promoting intellectual discussion.*
If we are truly people who promote the idea of liberty and knowledge, then we shouldn’t go out of our way to call others who disagree with us part of a cult. Sure, there are those who might not have any idea about a certain subject, and if that is the case then you might explain to them why you think they are wrong. Please note that I am in no way trying to say who is right and who is wrong in these squabbles. I do have my own take on these arguments I will assume responsibility for, but this article is not about that. As a voluntaryist who prides this movement of ours on the ability of our reasoning skills, I want to see a good majority of our discussions using that reason, rather than to show how well we can attack the character of others. As Jesus said in one of his more rational statements, “May he who is without sin cast the first stone.” If one cannot and will not use reason in his arguments, just walk away.
*I would like to point out that it is only certain individuals who partake in this, not blog sites or institutions as a whole. I will give the benefit of the doubt because they may have been doing it innocently, but even if that is the case, it still hurts the discussion rather than adding to it.