Monday, March 5, 2018

A 10-Level Pyramid Model & Psychodynamics of Cult Organization

Having brought up and briefly described the organization of most cults on the multi-layered pyramid model on such other posts as "Authoritarianism, Affective Polarization, and Economic Ideology (with commentary)" and "Can People truly Recover from Cult Indoctrination and Manipulation?," I received several requests to explain the (proposed; not yet verified) model in greater detail. So here we go:

Having been in positions to observe the typical structure of a number of cults since the 1970s, I have seen a pretty much common, pyramid-shaped organization in every one of them I have encountered thus far, which include...

a) evangelical, fundamentalist, pseudo-Christian and other ostensibly Abrahamic religious "churches,"

b) human potential developers,


d) multi-level marketing organizations (which made the model I describe here evident to me in the first place),

e) radical political groups (often within ostensibly legitimate, major political parties),

f) Asian-style, Hinduism- and Buddhism-corrupting, meditation cults, 

g) criminal street gangs, and

h) terrorist (including Manson-style murder) cults.

(Though in type (g) and (h), the dynamics tend to be different and more reflective of the antisocial, cynical, sociopathic, violent and even sadistic behaviors of the very highest levels in cult types (a) through (f).)

While Eric Hoffer very usefully described the archtypical types of "true believers" in his mid-century masterpiece, it has been evident to me that they are only part of the story, and actually make up only a fraction of the total membership of any given "thought reform" or "mind control" operations. In fact, what is empirically observable -- if one has been trained sufficiently in group dynamic and/or organizational theories -- are pyramids that resemble the one on the green side of any US $1.00 bill. And, moreover, pyramids with the same "radiant eye" at the top and *layers* of bricks underneath that "all-seeing, omniscient" eye.

Thus observed, one can see the following ten levels, albeit with sub-levels that reflect "upward" movement from the lower layer of "bricks" immediately below, as well as other sub-levels that reflect transition in progress to the next higher layer of "bricks" on the pyramid. The Seekers. The Samplers. The New Recruits. The Committed. The Wonderbound. The Lab Rats. The Gluttons for Punishment. The Willful Slaves. The Cynics. The Sociopaths. 

In terms of raw numbers of participants, the lower layers are almost always larger by a factor of anywhere from double to several times compared to the level immediately above... all the way to the top, though the ratio of lower to upper gets closer and closer as one moves upward on the pyramid.

1) The Seekers. The lowest level is that of the curious, exploring, still open-minded, "innocent," and as-yet un-recruited prospects who tend to fit the psychological qualities of those described in my reply to a post on Reddit's cults sub, and this much longer disquisition elsewhere on this blogsite. (Previous experience and conditioning in cult-like, authoritarian, perfectionistic, manipulative, Karpman Drama Triangle families or religious organizations is very often seen in those of this sort who may "repeat that same mistakes expecting different results.") Any of the personality spectra described by Millon, save probably for the "retiring / schizoid," and the "shy / avoidant," are likely to be seen at this level. 

These people are characteristically dissatisfied with life as it has been for them and are "seekers" looking for "answers"... as well as lonely folks looking for social interaction and perhaps even "purpose" in their lives. And this is the case regardless of their apparent "success" and accomplishments as careerists, athletes (and other forms of competitors), scholars, romance- or sex-seekers, or even spouses, fathers and mothers. (One can "look full" but be empty.)

2) The Samplers. The next level of bricks on the pyramid is made up of those who have engaged in exploration via some form of recruitment, be it advertising, editorial, church services, guest seminars, free or low-cost orientations, lectures, seduction and/or pressure from peers, tracts, websites (very much including YouTube, Instagram and Facebook), emails, etc. Not yet bonafide, contracted, or dues-paying "members," per se, that have at least placed themselves in a position to see, hear and otherwise sense the "product offering," as presented. And be manipulated by the presentation. Again, any of the personality spectra are likely to be seen at this level, save for the two cited above and some of the more "skeptical / negativistic" types. 

3) The New Recruits. Up one more level, we have the newly recruited and initially committed who have returned for more because they were attracted and possibly empowered -- or at least intrigued -- by what they saw, heard and otherwise sensed of the product as presented in their initial experience. At this level, cash-on-the-barrel-head (or in the collection plate, on in the donation envelope) demonstrates a degree of acceptance of and commitment to the product as presented... which begins to eliminate some with more florid "suspicious / paranoid," "skeptical / negativistic" and "pessimistic / melacholic" trait spectra. And the willingness to trust the behavior of those at higher levels to the extent that some degree of in-doctrine-ation, conditioning, in-struct-ion, in-doctrine-ation, programming, manipulation, socialization, and normalization is now underway. Love-bombing, interpersonal bonding  and other forms of rewarding and reinforcing experience are usually utilized by those at the immediately higher level.

4) The Committed. After some period of time -- and further in-doctrine-ation, conditioning, in-struct-ion, programming, manipulation, socialization, and normalization to the group's beliefs, values and behavioral norms -- the newish member has become observably "signed on" and maybe even fanatical. Enough so to be asked to commit to some sort of service involvement, wherein free (or poorly compensated) labor is required to demonstrate loyalty to "the cause" (which is almost always the "betterment of mankind" as defined by the leader of the cult). But at this level, the labor (usually some form of recruitment or support of recruiters) is far from burdening, slavish or abusive... and often quite stimulating and enjoyable. Level four is where one begins to see the "cooperative / dependent," "sociable / histrionic," "confident / narcissistic," and "conscientious / compulsive" emerge. 

5) The Wonderbound. If the newish member at level four has sufficiently demonstrated his or her willingness to commitment and action in behalf of the cult (e.g.: recruitment, promotion, event production, sharing of performing talent, logistics interface with rented facilities, honored transport of higher level members and "officials," respectable "valet" service, trusted messengering, phone and email answering, etc.), he or she is rewarded in some public fashion that is valued by the higher-ups and the general membership. (Ceremonies -- however brief -- are often involved.) It's "reward & reinforcement" right out of the John Watson / B. F. Skinner / Albert Bandura "behavior modification" playbook. The same types of personalities as level four predominate at this stage, although it is the "cooperative / dependent" and "conscientious / compulsive" who predominate.  

6) The Lab Rats. Commitment to ever-greater time and responsibility opens the door to the next level. And here's where the "fun" (not) begins. Because those above have seen, heard and otherwise sensed that are now sufficiently codependent to begin to suffer a bit... or even more than a bit. More (usually cheesy and only internally meaningful) rewards are handed out. And more work is dished out. "How bad do you want it (whatever it is you think we're offering if you do the do we want you to do)?" The "cooperative / dependent" and "conscientious / compulsive" tend to remain at this stage until they either fade from the scene as they begin to decompensate under stress or stay but move toward the more extreme ends of their spectra.  

7) The Gluttons for Punishment. If the level six member is not only dedicated and uncomplaining, but willing to imitate his rewarding abusers (who are actually more codependent to those above them that he or she is to the level seven member), he may be brought into the first level of rationalized abusiveness and conditioning, in-struct-ion, programming, manipulation, socialization, and normalization thereof. The member is now a (relatively) trusted "fellow" on the inner elite by virtue of demonstrating his or her willingness to intimidate, denigrate, derogate, insult, pick on, persecute, scapegoat, bully and otherwise abuse those on level six to "get the job done." By this time, most of those who were New Recruits, Committed and Wonderbound have either a) slipped away, b) burned out and suddenly bolted, c) become severely codependent, masochistic, compulsive and robotic, or d) have begun to "flip" in borderline organization towards occasional "antisocial," "sociopathic" and even "sadistic" trait presentations.

8) The Willful Slaves. (A.k.a. "victim" at the bottom corner of the Karpman Drama Triangles with the few above them.) Having proven his or her commitment to the cult's (and guru's) still "honorable" and rationalized objectives, the level seven member may be sufficiently conditioned, programmed, socialized and normalized to the get-the-job-done routine and rewarding & reinforcing enjoyment of being "powerful" that he or she has become "antisocial," "sociopathic" and "sadistic" enough to do pretty much whatever is asked, even if it involves vicious behavior toward "friends" who may have been peers at lower levels.

9) The Cynics. At this level, the member has become sufficiently "brainwashed," power-addicted, mean-spirited, and sufficiently criminal that he or she is willing to go so far as to spy upon, gaslight, betray, abandon, ridicule and publicly humiliate former intimates at lower levels in the service of what are now pure power motives. To keep him- or herself out of the "victim" corner, the member has made the transition across the top of the Karpman Drama Triangle from "rescuer" to "persecutor." Forget all that rationalization of "saving the world for humanity" junk, because, this level, the member is usually party to and accepting of the cult's actual wallet-vacuuming motives and objectives. (It is, however, useful to note that crass profit motive is seen much earlier and at lower levels in multi-level marketing cults which are upfront about pecuniary objectives at the outset.)

10) The Sociopaths. The member is now willing to destroy the lives of members and families of former intimates in the service of what is now their own adopted self-interest. They have become psychological clones of the cynic at the top of -- or "eye" above -- the pyramid, as well as committed, reliable "persecutors" and "covert rescuers" across the top of the inverted Karpman Drama Triangle. Ethics, empathy and "compassion for mankind" be damned. Show me the money.

The Seekers are just looking for something to make their lives worthwhile. 
The Samplers are looking for a freeway to "The Answer." 
The New Recruits are looking for a drill sergeant. 
The Committed are looking for rank & recognition. 
The Wonderbound are willing to submit & rationalize. 
The Lab Rats are willing to see how much they can tolerate. 
The Gluttons for Punishment are masochists.
The Willful Slaves are desperate to hang on to their suppose "empowerment."
The Cynics are sell-outs to what they know is a scam... but don't care.
And the Sociopaths are the criminals running it. 

(And, believe me, I am quite aware that some of you who just read this believe yourselves to be Sai Babas, Muktenandas, Sri Chimnoys, Mahesh Yogis, Oral Roberts, Jim Bakkers, Jerry Falwells, Louis Farrakahns, L. Ron Hubbards, Jack "Werner Erhard" Rosenbergs, John-Rogers, Richard Devos's, Mark Hughes's and the sort in training. And smart enough to read this stuff and figure out how to Get Rich Quick. But most of you aren't and will hit the wall hard in some fashion because toothy and troublesome litigation attorneys are really onto these psychological ponzi schemes now and suing them like mad on behalf of rich old ladies who can pour money into it to save their errant children... as well as in the form of "class actions." And if they (and the nasty, morally self-righteous news media) don't get you, the Darcy LaPiers's and Marla Maples's of the world will. Worse yet -- for anyone trying to break into the "field," now -- the established cults are out there torpedoing the new stuff right and left. Often quite viciously. The elevator is getting full.) 



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