Here’s what Netflix’s Wild Wild Country doesn’t explain about cult leaders

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When Ma Anand Sheela first met the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in his house in Mumbai in 1968, she hugged him and cried. “My entire head melted,” Sheela says within the Netflix docuseries Wild Wild Nation, which discusses Rajneesh and his cult. “My life was full. My life was fulfilled.”

Rajneesh, who died in 1990, was a strong religious guru who had 1000’s of followers in India and the West. In 1981, with the assistance of Sheela, who turned his private assistant, Rajneesh purchased a ranch close by the tiny city of Antelope, Oregon, and moved his cult there, creating a complete new metropolis named Rajneeshpuram. It’s no shock that the scenario snowballed, resulting in heated confrontations with native residents, tried homicide, and mass poisoning. Wild Wild Nation follows the saga in charming methods, by historic footage in addition to sit-down interviews with Sheela, who successfully ran the cult and was Rajneesh’s spokesperson, and different members who had outstanding roles, like Rajneesh’s lawyer Swami Prem Niren.

Ma Anand Sheela and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.Picture: Netflix

However as Ronit Feinglass Plank notes in The Atlantic, the collection doesn’t actually clarify what the day-to-day life was like in Rajneeshpuram. And it doesn’t actually tackle the way it’s attainable that 1000’s of individuals might simply surrender their lives, put on solely maroon garments, and blindly comply with one man. What are the psychological mechanisms at play?

Rajneesh preached to his followers in regards to the concept of making woke up individuals who reside in concord with their environment. However his cult additionally pressured members to donate giant portions of cash, whereas creating an remoted group that saved tight management over its members. The Netflix documentary doesn’t present this, however Win McCormack, who wrote in regards to the cult within the 1980s, factors out in The New Republic that Rajneesh’s followers had been inspired to get sterilized or have abortions. (For extra on Rajneesh and his cult, learn The Oregonian’s 20-part investigation from the 1980s.)

Rajneesh was simply one in all many cult leaders who’ve captivated — and horrified — individuals all through historical past. In 1978, cult chief Jim Jones urged greater than 900 of his followers to kill themselves by consuming poison in Jonestown, Guyana. In 1993, in a standoff with authorities officers, greater than 75 Department Davidians died in a constructing hearth in Waco, Texas, along with their chief David Koresh. All of those teams, and plenty of extra much less outstanding cult organizations, have some issues in widespread. I talked with Louis Manza, chair and professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley Faculty about how cult leaders management their followers, when individuals are most susceptible to cults, and the distinction between cults and religions.

This interview has been flippantly edited for brevity and readability.

Picture: Netflix

How do cult leaders like Rajneesh exert management over their followers?

They will take lots of approaches, clearly. On an actual easy degree, they might take management in a really bodily manner, restraining somebody from leaving an area, however that doesn’t appear to occur a complete lot. It’s extra of a psychological management. In case you look traditionally at several types of cults, there’s at all times an indoctrination interval the place the cult chief goes to type a bond with individuals. As soon as they’ve that bond, now they’ll get inside of somebody’s head, as a result of now these individuals begin to belief that particular person. And now the chief can begin to make different recommendations to them: “You must transfer away from your loved ones.” “You must come reside with us.” And so forth. That’s one of many important issues: there needs to be that emotional connection that’s made by the one who’s operating every thing with the individuals they wish to herald with them. In case you don’t have that connection, it’s going to be actually arduous to get individuals to do something.

What sorts of psychological mechanisms do cults use to maintain their members in line?

As soon as somebody kinds a bond with an individual, you need to use that to your benefit, to a sure extent. You’ll be able to withhold sure kinds of issues. In case you’re the cult chief, [you can decide] all of us get to fulfill at this time limit, and all of us get to speak about our emotions, however you may’t come this week since you’ve been misbehaving, otherwise you’re not been pulling your share, or regardless of the case could be. Upon getting that relationship with that particular person, punishing [or rewarding] them can get one thing out of them. Once more, it’s not a physical-restraint kind of factor, however it’s a type of management.

They’re additionally taking note of what works, the identical manner partner pays consideration to what works with their important different, the identical manner a father or mother pays consideration with their children. [Parents] can punish their kids by making them stand in a nook for 10 minutes, and that works as a result of that child doesn’t like to face in a nook. However for an additional child, that doesn’t work, so that they have to seek out one thing else. So that they take the pill away from them, or they don’t allow them to watch tv. People who find themselves superb at understanding different individuals, are superb at paying consideration, can get inside somebody’s head after which exploit that. However the one who’s exploited needs to be exploitable. If somebody is in a very good place psychologically, then they’re probably not going to be exploitable.

“People who find themselves superb at understanding different individuals, are superb at paying consideration, can get inside somebody’s head after which exploit that.”

When are individuals most susceptible to a cult?

On a easy degree, once they’re in a state of psychological instability — if one thing is just not fairly proper of their life, in the event that they’re lacking one thing, particularly on a relationship perspective. We’re social creatures. There’s going to be some variability there; some individuals like a lot bigger social circles than others, some individuals wish to reside in a cabin within the woods by themselves. However the majority of us fall within the center. It’s a part of what makes us people. And so if that’s lacking for people, and so they don’t have a manner of assembly that want on their very own, they’re going to search for another person who can perhaps present that want for them. Now, a number of individuals will be part of “cults” as a manner of satisfying that. Different individuals will be part of different kinds of teams.

I compete in ultramarathons, so I do a pair races a yr. And that form of satisfies that want for me. Now, is cult? I don’t suppose so, not in a manner we outline a cult, while you consider just like the Jonestown bloodbath and Jim Jones. In case you’re into sure sports activities groups, that social want is being met there. It’s simply that concept that somebody wants some kind of social connection. I feel it’s one of many main forces. In the event that they merely can’t discover a manner on their very own to satisfy that, after which somebody comes alongside and says, “Hey, we now have this group. And also you’re welcome. Be part of us!” it may be a really delicate factor at first. If you wish to get somebody in, and you understand how to govern individuals, it’s pretty easy to do: you carry them in, you identify the connection, and then you definitely simply begin sucking them in increasingly more, and finally, somebody simply crosses a line and so they’re in. After which they’ll have a tough time getting out, as a result of now they’ve that social want being met. It may be a really delicate course of alongside these strains.

What do cult leaders have in widespread?

They are usually charismatic. Traditionally, in the event you consider the individuals we name cult leaders, like David Koresh, James Jones, all of them had a sure charisma. That goes again to what I used to be saying about forming social bonds. In case you can’t entice individuals to you, then you definitely’re going to be hard-pressed to type a cult. Past that, it’s going to rely. It’s a must to perceive individuals, you gotta know what’s happening within their heads, you gotta discuss to them, you gotta have the ability to pull info out of them. These are abilities. All of us use them in several methods. I’ve been educating since 1992, so I do know if I do that, I’ll get college students to work together at school. Is type of manipulation? Positive it’s. I wouldn’t put it up with the identical form of manipulation cult chief is doing, however they’re additionally doing that. They’re understanding individuals, they’re finding out individuals. They develop that form of skill-set, however I feel charisma needs to be on the prime of it, as a result of simply figuring out individuals, it’s a talent individuals can purchase. Being charismatic and understanding individuals, that’s one other factor altogether.

Picture: Netflix

People who find themselves in energy additionally wish to maintain that energy, and so they don’t wish to give that energy up. The cult chief needs to regulate individuals, to a sure diploma. Whenever you have a look at individuals who run these organizations, in the event you have a look at the extra traditionally well-known ones, that they had a necessity to regulate individuals, and when that management acquired pushed up towards, they pushed again. When David Koresh and the Department Davidians went down, Koresh didn’t wish to surrender management of these individuals. And also you had the gun struggle and the burning of a constructing and all that. Jim Jones didn’t need surrender management of these a whole bunch of individuals in Jonestown, and other people died. I feel wanting to regulate is a driving drive from the chief, and desirous to belong is the driving drive for the member. You set these issues collectively, you create the right storm for getting individuals right into a cult.

What’s the distinction between a cult and a faith?

Religions are an organized perception system, and cults are organized perception techniques. Individuals will interact in a number of behaviors on the a part of their faith, that may be superb nevertheless it will also be very unhealthy. Individuals have killed different people within the title of their faith. Now, will Catholics stop you from leaving the church? To not my information. I used to be raised Catholic. I’m an atheist now. Now one held me again. So what we often contemplate cults are likely to exert a bit extra management over their members, however that’s to not say that that management doesn’t occur in additional organized, conventional religions. However with cults, you see that actual psychological, physical-restraint factor kick in to a a lot increased diploma than you see in Catholics, Lutherans, or no matter. If there’s a dividing line, it’s alongside these strains, however they undoubtedly share lots of options, as a result of they’re organized perception techniques.

However there are lot of issues that aren’t even religions or cults which are organized perception techniques. Once more, in the event you’re a part of a sure sports activities workforce, you might have an organized perception system. However psychological manipulation, psychological manipulation is one thing you are likely to see extra in cults than in organized faith.

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