Thursday, June 14, 2018

Vance Packard and the Hidden Persuaders

Vernon Howard has been featured and quoted in a few articles. 

Although he did not mention cults specifically, some of his words of wisdom were relevant to this article .

He is not the only American writer to have produced some material that is incidentally useful for understanding how cult members operate. Journalist and social critic Vance Packard wrote a book that exposed the sinister and unethical techniques, the influences and manipulation, the propaganda, the hooks and bait used by advertisers and politicians to make the public buy products, people and ideology.  

It is not just sales people and spin doctors who employ these techniques. Many others use them to overcome resistance and objections and manipulate people into doing something against their best interests: for example, cult members may do it to get people to join or give money and positive publicity to their organisation.

The use of techniques that play upon people’s subconscious minds started in post-war America. The Hidden Persuaders was first published in 1957, but it is still very relevant today.

It is an excellent but very alarming, depressing and disillusioning book. The content speaks for itself and there are many reviews and analyses online, but I want to highlight some of the material that is of particular interest to me and make a few points.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Cults, occultists and Stella Gibbons: Part IV

This article covers more elements that Stella Gibbons’s sorcerer Esmé Scarron and Madeleine L’Engle’s Zachary Grey have in common and goes into more detail about the final betrayal and showdown.

Zachary Grey, Esmé Scarron and the big anomaly
These two people are very different when it comes to attributes such as age, generation, nationality, background and lifestyle yet they both have the power to remotely influence people, they both have a similar bad effect on the girls they target and both behave in much the same way when faced with the loss of the girl. Once again, the similarities are uncanny.

I described a big anomaly in Zachary Grey’s life here. Sometimes his glamorous image disappears and he becomes lost and frightened.

Scarron is much the same. He begins by appearing mysterious, glamorous and charming, then he is shown to be sinister and malevolent and finally he is seen as empty and pitiable.

Just as Zachary tells Vicky Austin that she is all that stands between him and chaos and she is his reason to live, Scarron begs Meg Lambert to help him and says that she is his only hope.
Describing this anomaly and making connections is much easier than finding answers to the questions it raises:

If they are so superior and their lives are so marvellous, why are they so desperate, why do they stake everything on one outcome and why are they destroyed when they lose?

I have had some ideas about this, which will appear in the next and final article in this series.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Cults, occultists and Stella Gibbons: Part III

A few of the common elements in Stella Gibbons’s Shadow of a Sorcerer and the Madeleine L’Engle books in which Zachary Grey appears have been mentioned in the first two articles.

There are more similarities to come, but first here is a summary of the remainder of the Sorcerer story:

How the story ends
The arrival at the language school of a young man called Humphrey gives Meg Lambert someone other than Esmé Scarron to think about. Humphrey is a worthy, dependable type and only 10 or so years older than Meg. Her mother likes him very much. Unfortunately he is engaged, and his fiancée Ruth soon comes out to join him at the guesthouse/language school in Austria.

Meg, her mother and some of the other students including Humphrey and Ruth take a short sightseeing trip to Venice.

An attempt by Ruth to make Meg see reason about Scarron backfires; her well-meaning criticism pushes Meg into doing something drastic. She tells Scarron on the phone that she will give him her final answer in person at his palazzo. Then, in revenge for the pressure to forget Scarron, she hits back by telling the others in her party a big lie: she says that she has just got engaged to him over the phone. This hurts her mother terribly and confounds the others.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

103 years of John Buchan’s 39 Steps

Today is the 103rd anniversary of the first appearance of John Buchan’s classic spy thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps.

This exciting adventure story was first published in book form in October 1915, soon after it had run as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine under the pseudonym H. de V. during July, August and September of that year.

Surprisingly, the very first appearance of The Thirty-Nine Steps was in the American magazine All-Story Weekly. It was published in two instalments, in the June 5th and June 12th 1915 issues:

The Thirty-Nine Steps was an immediate and great success.

John Buchan went on to write more books about the adventures of Richard Hannay. Unlike some of these later stories, The Thirty-Nine Steps does not contain much material that is directly relevant to this blog; it may however have some subtle messages for us.

All the world’s a stage
Perhaps there is a message in what Richard Hannay says about playing a part and how you have to think yourself into it. You must convince yourself that you are it and stay in part all the time, always behaving as if enemies were watching.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cults, occultists and Stella Gibbons: Part II

Going through Stella Gibbons’s novel The Shadow of a Sorcerer in the light of what I have learned about cults, occultists, energy vampires and other relevant topics since I first read it has provided enough material for two articles so far.

I am particularly interested in the connections I can now see between some of the material in this book and material in previous articles about cults, very different books and very different people.

The first article introduced the two main characters and ended with a description of some of the harm Esmé Scarron had done by abusing his powers and knowledge.

The next topics to be covered are the dreadful effect that Scarron’s attempts to influence her have on his chosen disciple Meg Lambert and the cult leader/cult member aspect of their relationship.

Many of the unpleasant symptoms that Meg experiences are very familiar: they are typical of the negative effects that energy vampires and black occultists have on their victims.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Another look at Madeleine L’Engle’s Zachary Grey

I thought at the time that my article about Zachary Grey contained all the relevant material of interest; I have since found a few more significant points and incidents and noticed some intriguing connections.

The bad boys are a bad omen
In The Moon By Night, Vicky Austin and her family stay in a series of camping grounds as they travel across the USA. 

There are some unpleasant incidents during these stopovers. The first one happens just before Zachary Grey comes into Vicky’s life, and it could be interpreted as a bad omen.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Cult members and the superiority syndrome

Yet another warning to people who are involved with cult members:

- They consider themselves to be superior to anyone who is not part of their organisation.

It is standard practice for members of various groups to be told that they are superior to outsiders. This helps to enforce solidarity and institute an 'us and them' mentality.

This is something that acquaintances, friends and family of members of cults and cult-like organisations often have to deal with. All they can usually do is try to understand why the members believe it: trying to discuss the superiority syndrome or telling them a few home truths is useless if not counter-productive.

The Superiority Syndrome
Sometimes cult members are told that they are superior 'just because'; sometimes the stated reason is that they are part of an elite group of people who have left the mass of humanity behind and devoted their lives to a cause.

They are special because they have access to secret knowledge, knowledge that the herd would never be able to deserve, understand or make use of.

Sometimes members are told that they are superior because of their godliness and righteousness, which makes them the only people who will be saved from Hell. Everyone else is a lost soul.

Perhaps they think that they are superior because of what they sacrifice and what they endure.

It may also be that they are told that outsiders are inferior, tainted and unenlightened; outsiders live in the outer darkness while members reside in the inner light. The members have gone where the under-privileged outsiders are unable, unwilling and unworthy to follow.

Cult members may pity non-members for what they are missing or feel contempt because they are not up to their standards and haven’t made the grade. Outsiders may be seen as ignorant, as not being politically minded, spiritual, or dedicated enough to qualify for selection. In other cases, when they do not respond to attempts to recruit them, they might be considered stupid, selfish, misguided and cowardly.

I read in some novel about a Catholic priest who told his flock, mostly married people with children, that they were living on the crumbs and crusts of life and only he had the real thing. What an insult. And how wrong he was. He may have had more theological knowledge than his congregation and been more focussed and dedicated, but he was probably below them in many other areas. People such as this need to believe that they have the better part.

Some members will conceal their feelings of superiority when in the company of outsiders, while others will make them very clear. My own experience is of people who hid their feelings for many years, then revealed them when I asked awkward questions and said things that were against their ideology.

What is behind the feeling of superiority?
Possibly the most important point here is that feeling superior may help to quell subconscious doubts that what they are being told is true and what they are doing is ethical and worthwhile. They need to see themselves as deeply superior to outsiders because they might be unable to function or carry on if they didn’t. Their inner world, which is based on fantasy and dissociation, might collapse like a house of cards.

Feeling superior to outsiders may also be compensation for being constantly criticised and made to feel inferior by higher-ranking members or the cult leader.

People who assume an air of superiority when with non members may also do it as a way of demanding attention, recognition and appreciation for such things as the sacrifices they are making, the work they are doing or their esoteric knowledge.

Non-members and the superiority syndrome
When outsiders realize that they are considered inferior, some may buy it and feel humbled, unworthy and unenlightened while others may be confused, irritated, offended, angered or even amused.

I used to be annoyed when patronised as it is not easy to take, but I now feel sorry for people who are so out of touch with reality.

We should feel pity for the members because their feeling of superiority is often a delusion, an irrational conviction that may be compensation for dimly sensed feelings of inferiority. After all, they do often behave in ways that decent human beings would not, and their personalities may be undeveloped or warped.

It is worth bearing in mind that some people protest too much, and that saying something is true or believing it to be true does not make it true. See this article

People who really are superior do not use manipulation - intimidation, trickery, lying and other techniques - to get others to do what they want or as a way of avoiding a proper discussion.

Perhaps I really am inferior!
It was a poster on the old Conservative Conspiracy Forum who got me thinking about cults again after a gap of many years.

‘Glad’ was worried about a friend of hers who was a long-term member of a religious cult. We were able to provide much independent confirmation for each other: our experiences were similar in many ways. She said this:

”... and yes I did wonder for years if she was justified in her feelings of superiority.“

My reply:

“… you are not alone. Many people have felt exactly the same. Being considered inferior, being treated as crazy, stupid, a criminal and a traitor, can get the recipients wondering whether there might be something in it.

I could say a lot on this subject, but perhaps it is best to just remind ourselves that some assertions are a dead giveaway.

Remember Emerson’s wise words:

“The louder he spoke of his honour the faster we counted our spoons.”

People whose feelings of superiority are based on faith, conviction and indoctrination alone are delusional.

However, they may be convincing just because they are convinced. 

We need to examine and challenge their beliefs and premises. As it is impossible to have a proper discussion with them, we have to debate with ourselves.

I found that after going through all the accusations point by point and playing my own devil’s advocate, I came out feeling much better and with a much stronger case for support. And they can sense this; they know that their attacks and manipulative tricks just won’t work anymore so they stop doing it.

So, you are inferior because you don’t want to join and hand over your earnings to an organisation that sends huge amounts of money overseas to be spent on who knows what and orders you not to associate with non-members?

The members are the inferior ones.

Summary of the superiority syndrome
Non members should not be fooled by the impression and promotion of superiority: it is all image and a façade. It is often a cover for the exact opposite.

Non members should not try to persuade the members of their error: this might trigger their attack dog or confirm their belief that outsiders just don’t understand.

Non members should not try to defend their views or reasons for not joining as this puts them at a disadvantage. A mixture of bafflement, pity and amusement, perhaps also with a few remarks that slip past the defences, is a better bet.