When I was in high school my friend Allan Van Fleet wanted to found a cult called Postulatarianism. It was based on three ideas:

  1. Thou shalt not lie.
  2. Thou shalt not kill. [1]
  3. Thou shalt make up a postulate to fit any occasion.

Only three of us joined. I thought it was so cool people would line up to become members. But no one took it seriously.

We might have been better off telling people they couldn’t join. But that would make us a secret society, not a cult. So the question I’ve asked myself since is, what makes a cult.

I believe a cult demands its followers to make serious sacrifice. They have to write huge checks almost monthly or live on a compound and starve. If members aren’t required to pay a steep buy-in price, they see no value in membership. Members also have to be conditioned to accept arbitrary orders without question. [2] Most important, the leaders should have a different set of rules for themselves.

Cult leaders also know how to identify vulnerable targets. The ideal candidate will be eager to exchange their identity and or money in exchange for a group identity. That group identity fills a vacuum they feel in their own.

[1] Confesson: Postulate 2 was only included to make three postulates and because it was the sixties and we wanted to claim religious grounds to avoid the draft.

[2] This includes Amway, whose members spend more than they earn. Their direct distributors (on orders from their gold or diamond distributors who understand the importance of demanding loyalty) routinely require “distributors” to buy more products than they ordered, buy motivational tapes and books shipped “downline” (this are written into their P.O.s almost like a shipping charge), and to attend—at their own expense—local, state and regional rallies where they sing motivational anthems (receiving stern warning glares should they not sing), listen to dozens of speakers who stress the values of free enterprise, the Republican party and faith in Jesus and, during breaks, are encouraged to buy even more motivational books and tapes. Any distributor who doesn’t comply is discarded as a “loser.”

Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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