24 September 2012

In defence of cult leaders

So does anyone start a mind-control cult on purpose? It is rumoured that a certain rummed-out science fiction writer started his "applied religious philosophy" solely and purely as a money-making scheme. It is certainly tempting - and much much easier - to assume that all the televangelists, half-baked jihadi imams, crooked Buddhist monks and leaders of tiny socialist sects out there do so in conscious and pure selfishness, seeking nothing more than to make a living without having to produce anything of value, and giggling at their success in pilfering funds from the sheeplike Pinks.

One thing I'm slowly but surely learning is that anything that's easy is probably dead wrong. James Cannon, the American Trotskyist leader, said that anyone does anything for two reasons: "a good reason, and the real reason". Let us start from a principle that Marxism, Islam and Scientology all hold clear - people are basically good, although forgetful and easily confused. Indeed, LRH himself - in a moment of interesting personal insight - suggested that if people get trapped in a spiral of evil behaviour, they end up "doing themselves in" to save the world from themselves.

The Alexander Technicians and the followers of Gurdjieff all agree that "it is difficult to overestimate the power of habit" - that people start doing counterproductive things and they keep doing them because they come to accept that as the "new normal". A Marxist description of ideology is that it's an "imaginary solution to a real problem" - we could connect all these with Bourdieu's concept of habitus, that your habitual patterns of behaviour becomes your identity and that to give them up just because they're counterproductive is the equivalent of death. And the Sufis take seriously the Prophet's injunction to "die before you die" (equivalent of Jesus's "be born again", I suppose).

So the argument I'm making is that perhaps all these cult leaders begin by actually believing that their methods are what's best for them, their disciples and the world. Nothing survives which is purely evil - the important thing to remember is that all lies with staying power are based on an element of truth, or that all ideologies are false extrapolations from real data. So any cult leader's practice will be a combination of real "juice" and ego-gratifying bullshit. A good reason - and a real reason - for ordering people around.

But the time comes when the cult's practice comes up against obstacles in the real world. At that point, the guru has two choices - the hard one, which would be to give up his/her ego-gratification, or the easy one, to give up the confrontation with reality (and remember that Reality is the Sufi name for God), and to turn the cult inward and to play God over their own little world. Jim Jones, in other words. God can destroy the world if he wants to. Take it away, Wikipedia:

One goal in the study of Thelema within the magical Order of the A∴A∴ is for the magician to obtain the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel: conscious communication with their own personal daimon, thus gaining knowledge of their True Will.[66] The chief task for one who has achieved this goes by the name of "crossing the abyss";[67] completely relinquishing the ego. If the aspirant is unprepared, he will cling to the ego instead, becoming a Black Brother. Rather than becoming one with God, the Black Brother considers his ego to be god.[68] According to Crowley, the Black Brother slowly disintegrates, while preying on others for his own self-aggrandisement.[69]

And that's where cult leaders come from. But the important thing to realise is they wouldn't have gotten there if they hadn't been trying to do something useful (as well as gratify their egos). It's just that they failed the final test, or decided it was too hard.


By the way, we're coming up to the 6th anniversary of Chaos Marxism, and I should explain that the reason I don't contribute that often is that I'm starting to become aware of how much nonsense my own ego spouts in an effort to make itself important. Thanks for your continued interest.


  1. Important point. David Icke has just spoken for 11 hours to 6000 people in London, and the response of the official media was predictably facetious and condescending. I think Chaos Marxism is breaking ground where it needs to be broken - if we're to understand the gap between what you feel when you read the Marxist classics - and what you get from the sects who claim to apply them. On the recent TUC march in London the ONLY leaflet which didn't hide a sectarian agenda under a false front of unity (saying stuff we are all agreed with) was the CPGB's, who are a weird little remnant of the "disbanded" CP here who take turns to do the food at their tiny annual conference. I don't think I shall in future be able to talk to professional revolutionaries unless they can take on board what Daphne is saying here.
    Ben Watson

  2. As the de facto head chef at Communist University, I resent the implication! I'm not cooking the food every fucking day for a week, that's for sure, and the comrades need to eat...

    Certainly an improvement on the days when we'd all pile into the Brockley Barge for two-for-a-fiver deals on microwaved bilge, anyway.