When you think of a cult, you might conjure some very specific imagery. Groups of people dressed in white, huddled around a charismatic, long-haired leader. Glasses of red fruit punch, mixed with other things, in the background. And a general sense of impending doom as the leader shares their celestial or holy visions with the crowd.
This idea of a cult may have been popular in the 70s and 80s but the modern cult is more sophisticated, often choosing to weave cult-like practices into more acceptable industries such as self-help or entrepreneurship. In fact, you may be being influenced by cult indoctrination techniques right now, without even knowing it…but in order to talk about that, we first need to look at cults more generally and the practices that cause their followers to behave the way they do.
From Jonestown to NXIVM, cults have caused massive damage to their victims and destroyed the lives of everyone they’ve come into contact with. So much so that, through various podcasts, documentaries, and exposes, they have become a pop culture phenomenon. A kind of lens for us to view the world from a slightly darker perspective. Inevitably, once the interest in cults hit, each of us asks the same questions…how did this happen?
Why do these people fall for such obvious lies? Why do they follow someone who is often cruel to them? And why do they become cruel themselves? The answers to these questions can be found in the psychology of indoctrination. Indoctrination is defined as “the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”