What if half the country’s in a cult (and doesn’t know it)?

How can you tell if you’ve accidentally signed up for a cult? One sign is that you’re so enthusiastically opposed to the U.S. presidential candidates besides the one you prefer that you’re no longer living up to the “reflective” ideal I described in my last post.

Of course, in a democracy, anyone is entitled to limit their point of view and ignore the rest the world has to offer. We can stay inside the “bubbles” or “echo chambers” our friends and media create for us, if we want – in the language of my earlier post, we can be “fully immersed.”

But it’s a slippery slope. It means we trust the authority figures in our “bubble” to do the right thing. And if they know they have that trust, and they’re not actually worthy of that trust, they can get away with murder. So no matter how much we love our candidate, we still need to think for ourselves. Right?

Here’s a quiz! Let’s think about three people who were candidates for president this year: Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders.

Positives: Can you list some sincere good sides of each candidate? Here are some examples. Can you think of more?
“Trump hasn’t gotten us into any wars.”
“Biden is a very good listener.”
“Sanders has done the country a service by raising important issues that we need to address.”

Criticism: How do you feel about critiquing your preferred candidate? Is it important to critique them, or does it feel disloyal?

Perspectives: When you see media for another perspective, do you always brush it off in horror or disdain, or do you sometimes find yourself thinking, “They may have a point”? If so, would you admit to that in public?

Values: Do your own values stay the same no matter who’s in office? For example, if you believe family values are important and you’re otherwise a Trump fan, do you find yourself saying, “I admire Obama’s commitment to marriage and family, and it bothers me that Trump’s personal life has a poor track record in that regard”?

Loyalty: What do you think is more important, loyalty to your candidate or loyalty to values that would lead you to reject your candidate if they cross a line?

Methods: What do you think is more important, for your candidate to pursue their goals using whatever methods they think will be best or most effective, or for your candidate to respect the Constitution?

Anxiety: Do you see your candidate as someone who would save us from a terrible fate… other than whatever terrible fates might befall us as a result of electing one of the other candidates?

Variety: Do you think it would be better for the country to always have the same political party in power?

Term Limits: If your candidate were elected president, would you favor removing the term limits so they could stay in power longer than the Constitution currently allows?

Accountability: If your candidate were elected president, who should they be accountable to – the American people, or only their own conscience?

If you favor Biden or Sanders, list three positive things you sincerely admire about George W. Bush – things Republicans would generally agree with you about.
If you favor Trump, list three positive things you sincerely admire about Barack Obama – things Democrats would generally agree with you about.

The other side: When thinking about the Americans you disagree with, which would be better – to understand their needs so your own party can better meet them, or for them to just shut up or leave the country?

Excitement: Are you only willing to vote for president if a candidate who excites you is on the ballot?

Heroism: Have you ever described your favored candidate as a hero?

Higher powers: Have you ever described your favored candidate as divinely chosen or favored by God?

I’m not going to score your answers. For one thing, that would imply I’d spent months doing surveys and analyses to find out where each of these questions lies on the spectrum of “thinking for ourselves” versus “being in a cult.” That’s not the point here; this is not scientific research. My point is to encourage each one of us to do some soul searching.

What do you think? What would you add to my quiz?

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I’m writing a book, and I could use your help. An important part of the publishing process these days is for the author to be able to show the publishers that people are interested in their work. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it and share it on social media. If you’d like to read future posts, please “Follow” by entering your e-mail address at the top of the right-hand column. Both of those steps will help me show the publishing world that people are listening. Thank you!

About Laura Akers, Ph.D.

I'm a research psychologist at Oregon Research Institute, and I'm writing a book about meta-narratives, the powerful collective stories we share about who we are and where we're headed. My interests include beliefs and worldviews, ethics, motivation, and relationships, both among humans and between humans and the natural world.
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1 Response to What if half the country’s in a cult (and doesn’t know it)?

  1. Pingback: George Packer’s four warring visions | The Meta-Narrator

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