May 14, 2007

How to Create a [Socionics] Cult

(or any other, for that matter)

Nearly any psychological, religious, or ideological concept has the potential to form the basis for cult-like groups. To have a cult, you need just four components:

  • a belief system that describes the way things ought to be
  • the belief - whether explicit or implicit - that there is only one way to arrive at the way things ought to be
  • the belief - whether explicit or implicit - that individuals cannot achieve the desired state without leadership
  • a leader or hierarchy whose authority is unquestioned
The more literally these four points are taken in a given group, the greater the psychological power and destructiveness of the group. The most controlling cults leave their members unable to function normally among people outside of the group (form relationships, interact comfortably, etc.) and unable to make personal decisions or judgments without consulting cult leadership.

The easiest kind of cult to imagine is a religious cult that believes there is only one specific way to get to heaven, and that only the group's leadership has the authority to guide people along this path.

Other ideologies can also form the basis for cult-like groups. Tightly-knit groups of followers of psychological theories and practices can at times look and act like cults. So can adherents of idea systems. And, of course, totalitarian governments create mass "cults" based on political ideology, nationalism, or adoration of leaders.

Cult genesis

Cults always, or almost always, form around an individual with an unusually high level of personal conviction. This person strives to create a group and become a teacher figure to the group. The teacher's conviction and categorical worldview move him to weed out people who are interested but do not accept all the teachers' views and values. As soon as there is a stable group of adherents who accept the teacher as the ultimate authority, a small cult is born. From here on the group simply needs to replicate itself effectively.

A socionics-based cult?

Unfortunately, there are a number of socionics groups in the former Soviet Union who display marginally cult-like behaviors. Perhaps by writing about this possible "application" of socionics, I can help weaken the influence of such groups in the future.

Socionics itself is not a cult, just as people who get together to read the Bible are not a cult. However, socionics, Bible study, or nearly anything else can provide the context for the emergence of a cult-like group.

One variety in socionics is the authoritarian teacher who possesses a special technology for identifying types that no one else has or is able to use properly. They claim extremely high accuracy in type identification (sometimes 100%) and scoff at all other socionists, who are "completely in the dark." All these socionists seem to have a low convergence rate with other socionists in their typings of famous people.

Often, students of these socionists have no idea that their teacher is a poor representation of socionics as a whole. They are not aware that the socionist's convergence with others is low, that the socionist's approach is criticized by mainstream socionics, and that their teacher has little or no credibility in the professional community of socionists.

Students of these teachers are gradually "infected" with their teacher's views. They believe that the socionics community is "all messed up" and that their teacher has given them the only version of socionics that really works. They feel hostility towards other socionics groups who speak a somewhat different language than their own. They can even acquire the persecution complex of their teacher.

A milder version of cult-like behavior in socionics is the typical socionics "school." When you hear or read the phrase "our school believes..." or "our school considers...", you have probably found one of these groups. These groups are typically somewhat more intelligent than the first kind, but there is still the sense of group beliefs overriding personal ones. Adherents of the school feel and act like spokesmen of the school when interacting with people from other socionics schools or groups.

The views school adherents express are usually not truly their own (or else they would speak in the first person). "So-and-so says..." is not yet cult-like behavior, since the person is simply quoting a recognized authority. Within socionics "schools," people typically have a sense of group belonging and adherence to the common viewpoint that comes through in their speech (e.g. "we believe..." or "our school says..."). They become unwitting spokesmen of the teacher's convictions.

In certain cases this may be quite harmless - particularly when the "spokesman" feels like he is participating in the discovery and formulation of new principles and technologies being developed in the school and is thus truly competent to speak for the group. In most cases, however, this independent view is lacking.

Readers should be aware of this kind of behavior in socionics and in many other spheres of life in order to not be fooled or manipulated.