Cult 2.0 is upon us
December 7, 2017 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Sedona, AZ has been infiltrated by a polyamorous tech bro cult leader with a massive following. His devotees are everywhere. They believe he can control the weather with his mind. He talks about aliens & government conspiracies, sleeps with and verbally abuses students and believes he is an awakened God not responsible for his actions. He loves expensive scotch and has a sweet spot for cigars, but not Cubans. I spent one month embedded in his group under the alias “Shakti Hunter.” This is my report.

Tech Bro Guru: Inside the Sedona Cult of Bentinho Massaro
posted by timshel (146 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sedona is a town that looks like it was designed by the unpleasant rich weirdos from Beetlejuice, then renovated into a massive Williams Sonoma store by Martha Stewart. It's perhaps the least surprising place for a cult to take root.
posted by selfnoise at 6:17 AM on December 7 [45 favorites]


Also,

Bentinho’s “brand” brought him as far as being featured with a select group of spiritual teachers for the Sounds True audio program “Waking Up.”

This thing is called "Sounds True"? Why does the Onion even exist anymore?
posted by selfnoise at 6:20 AM on December 7 [23 favorites]


I kept expecting to find out that this was the plot of a novel seeking to expose the excesses of tech culture.
posted by vorpal bunny at 6:22 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


As we've noted many times here before, there is a clear, bright throughline connecting the Human Potential Movement quasi-cults of the 70s West Coast, early Silicon Valley, the modern management culture both influenced, and now, the tech industry more broadly. It would be more surprising if this kind of thing wasn't happening with some regularity, to be honest.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:30 AM on December 7 [70 favorites]


Looks like Tim Ferriss has an even eviler clone.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:30 AM on December 7 [12 favorites]


Hyperreality strikes again.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:34 AM on December 7 [5 favorites]


"Being friends with an awake being is nearly impossible, because: A) his first priority is your purification and elevation into truth; not kindness, niceness, agreeability or even apparent equality, and B) he is not like an ordinary person and thus cannot be successfully compared with normal standards or related to as just another person (which the finite mind does not like).”

The most knowledgeable and thoughtful spiritual teachers I've been familiar with are humble, chill, and kind as fuck.

You'd think that it'd be a warning sign if your enlightened spiritual leader is angry and yelling all the time.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:37 AM on December 7 [57 favorites]


It would be more surprising if this kind of thing wasn't happening with some regularity, to be honest.

It is. Ray Dalio and Tony Hsieh are two off the top of my head.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:40 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


In 2012 Bentinho posted on FB that he has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.

You don’t say.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:42 AM on December 7 [64 favorites]


For a fascinating and scary look into a another recent cult populated by otherwise intelligent people, check out Holy Hell.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:43 AM on December 7 [7 favorites]


I'd imagine you probably can't go ten feet without tripping over some jag with too much money trying to pretend he's Jack Parsons out west. Like you get to pick that, crazy survivalist or Thiel style tech vampire at the Silicon Valley Memento Mori Denial Outlet and they send you on your way.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:44 AM on December 7 [8 favorites]


Pretty sure this ends with a bunch of people searching for the bottomless pit in the desert and a houseful of dead tech a-listers.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:44 AM on December 7 [5 favorites]


What makes this "Cult 2.0," exactly, other than the most surface trappings of techbro culture? The marketing? It really seems old-school cult to me. And obviously so.

These sorts of stories are always so sad to me. We all know what cults look like. The idea of a charismatic, abusive, guru is a pop culture trope at this point, and this story fits it to a T (so much so that I wondered if we were coming to some kind of fictional gotcha point). The idea of being so desperate or lost or damaged that you can look at this obviously-dangerous guy and say, yep, seems divine to me, is both scary and really tragic.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:47 AM on December 7 [15 favorites]


You'd think that it'd be a warning sign if your enlightened spiritual leader is angry and yelling all the time.

I'm old enough to remember when people were really into "est," where you'd pay lots of money to be locked into a conference room without access to food, water or bathroom breaks for, like, 12 hours at a time and the people in charge screamed at the attendees, calling them "assholes" and such. Never underestimate the pseudo-spiritual power of being demeaned.
posted by xingcat at 6:48 AM on December 7 [28 favorites]


What makes this "Cult 2.0," exactly, other than the most surface trappings of techbro culture?

Ostensibly because he was trained in whizbang IT management and business marketing principles and he was applying them in order to refine the cult program. But everyone who was a cult leader kept iterating and changing their style until they were able to reach a critical mass also, so it's mainly just a dumb headline. But one that draws attention to a dangerous asshole so the more eyes the better, I suppose.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:49 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


"Hello Seeker! Now don't feel alone here in the new age because there's a seeker born every minute."
posted by TwoToneRow at 6:50 AM on December 7 [19 favorites]


it's so surprising to me that a rich, white, cishet dude is somehow figured out a way to trick parts of our incredibly egalitarian society into paying heed to his weird normalizations

it's almost like we're socialized to prop up dudes like him or something. lucky for us that this doesn't happen more often like in Congress or, god forbid, our executive branch
posted by runt at 6:51 AM on December 7 [47 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember when people were really into "est," where you'd pay lots of money to be locked into a conference room without access to food, water or bathroom breaks for, like, 12 hours at a time and the people in charge screamed at the attendees, calling them "assholes" and such. Never underestimate the pseudo-spiritual power of being demeaned.

Oh they're still around. They just call it Landmark Forum now. A financial firm I work with just had their multimillionaire founder snookered in. He's now making it mandatory for all of his staff. Those poor bastards.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:55 AM on December 7 [44 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember when people were really into "est"

est was the one of the key entry points of cult-like thinking into contemporary management culture.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:56 AM on December 7 [16 favorites]


I have never heard of this person before, and he does indeed sound like just another shitty cult leader to me. This is only reinforced by the vast flood of sycophants showing up in the comments on the Medium article to tell the author how wrong she is and how awesome he is and how obviously she just needs to understand his teachings better and she will see how wrong she is. Nothing says "not a cult" like vast floods of defensive sycophants.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:07 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


Oh they're still around. They just call it Landmark Forum now. A financial firm I work with just had their multimillionaire founder snookered in. He's now making it mandatory for all of his staff. Those poor bastards.

My brother's work required him to attend one of their weekends. There's a point where they're encouraged, after 48 hours without sleep and having had several sessions of this crap, to call their families and ask them to attend (as a recruitment drive, presumably). My brother called me to ask me to come along. My parents and I did a brief bit of research and figured out they were a cult. We caught a flight to the UK, calmly walked into the hall full of attendees & family members and just grabbed him and frog-marched him out, furiously ignoring everyone in our path.

There isn't a hell deep enough for them.
posted by faceplantingcheetah at 7:08 AM on December 7 [166 favorites]


How hard my financial tech coworkers tried to push me into attending Landmark Forum! Luckily I have always hated cults. But, yeah, this shit is endemic to tech culture, specifically in the startup space.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:09 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


On the one hand, the techbro culture has helped foster this guy and given him an audience and way to easily propagate his message.

On the other hand, if the internet had been around in the 50s we might not have Scientology around today.
posted by Twain Device at 7:18 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


My brother's work required him to attend one of their weekends. [...] 48 hours without sleep

This is mind-boggling. Is there no remedy against employers foisting this sort of thing on their employees?
posted by uncleozzy at 7:21 AM on December 7 [12 favorites]


Some of the above comments have helped clarify my thoughts on this piece: the framing is pretty over-the-top ("Steve Jobs meets Jim Jones" is an elevator movie pitch, not anything that has to do with the actual subject of the article), and the breathless way that she reports the guy's social media numbers is inadvertently hilarious--people whose main claim to fame is that they used to be on a popular show once have more followers--but this guy still has the potential to do real damage. Heaven's Gate had the internet, but People's Temple didn't, and ended up with a much bigger body count.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:22 AM on December 7 [8 favorites]


I'm with uncleozzy; this guy is a skeezy cult leader but there's nothing particularly tech or startup about it. I think the article just tried to frame it that way to draft off of the current tech backlash. Judging by the discussion here that worked. The framing of his cult as a startup is particularly bizarre to me. What's described is nothing at all like a tech startup.

I was hoping for it to be a real tech/cult crossover. As Halloween Jack notes there's precedent in Heaven's Gate; most of that cult were working as very early web and multimedia designers. Or maybe folks who take Kurzweil AI singularity stuff seriously, like Andrew Lewandowski's bizarro post-Uber disgrace thing.
posted by Nelson at 7:22 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


A marketing bro I know got fired some years back for making his underlings attend Landmark Forum meetings. Fired from... The Weinstein Company!
posted by nicwolff at 7:31 AM on December 7 [17 favorites]


Yeah, Halloween Jack, I had a similar reaction to that bit as well. (all breathless) His videos on YouTube have more than 2 million views. What? There are single videos on YouTube of people playing a video game that have that many views. I'm not sure that's as much a "wow factor" as you think. Still, this guy sounds like a douche-canoe of the highest order.
posted by snwod at 7:31 AM on December 7 [6 favorites]


What we need is the self-terminating cult, a cult with good, deep hooks to get people in where further revelations of the cult's teachings actually serve to get people to reject the thinking that made them susceptible to the cult in the first place. Like a cult vaccine!
posted by jason_steakums at 7:33 AM on December 7 [7 favorites]


Hail Eris!
posted by b1tr0t at 7:36 AM on December 7 [15 favorites]


Great post, thank you. Without wanting to derail on the Landmark comments:

I've avoided Lululemon for their association with Landmark[1][2], even if they are not "pushing" employees anymore to attend Landmark seminars[3].

Some past acquaintances were "deep" in Landmark territory. I used to reason with myself that attending self-help classes was a "free" choice, and that although I was not interested (and boy were they pushy), I should respect their choice.

That went out the window when I learned that they were sending their family's (wonderful, smart, fragile) 14 year old to the "Landmark Forum for Young People and Teens". I severed all ties. Monsters.

[1] Yoga, spinning and a murder: My strange months at Lululemon
[2] The Self-Help Movement Behind Lululemon's Eerie Dogma
[3] Lululemon Will No Longer Push Employees to Attend Self-Help Classes
posted by vert canard at 7:36 AM on December 7 [15 favorites]


I'm hoping that a genetic testing company soon reveals that ardent devotees have a certain gene, or maybe one missing. It beats wasting time with the denials.
posted by Brian B. at 7:42 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


Weren't Lululemon's founders also massive Objectivists, to the extent of having a huge Ayn Rand quote inscribed on the wall of the foyer of their headquarters or something?
posted by acb at 7:43 AM on December 7


From the New York Times earlier this week:
Where Silicon Valley Is Going to Get in Touch With Its Soul: The Esalen Institute, a storied hippie hotel in Big Sur, Calif., has reopened with a mission to help technologists who discover that “inside they’re hurting.”

Everything old is new again.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 7:43 AM on December 7 [8 favorites]


What we need is the self-terminating cult, a cult with good, deep hooks to get people in where further revelations of the cult's teachings actually serve to get people to reject the thinking that made them susceptible to the cult in the first place. Like a cult vaccine!

In the US this is called "high school"
posted by chavenet at 7:43 AM on December 7 [15 favorites]


What we need is the self-terminating cult, a cult with good, deep hooks to get people in where further revelations of the cult's teachings actually serve to get people to reject the thinking that made them susceptible to the cult in the first place. Like a cult vaccine!

I think that raising kids in a religious tradition helps, actually. Because then around 10-12 they start poking at the more nonsensical aspects of their tradition that don't have good answers, and start thinking that everyone else in church or temple (though very nice people) are blithering morons. Takes the bloom off the rose.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:48 AM on December 7 [13 favorites]


I don't think discussion about Landmark/est is a derail here. It's important for more people to know about this shit before they're unexpectedly thrust into it by some dumbass older person.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:51 AM on December 7 [24 favorites]


I think that raising kids in a religious tradition helps, actually.

I've heard anecdotally of atheist families who start taking their children to church when they're around 5 or so, to innoculate them.
posted by acb at 7:58 AM on December 7 [5 favorites]


Landmark is in no way a derail. Erhard was just as abusive, capricious, libertine, and also absolved himself of all responsibility. Cutting ties with the families is CLASSIC.
posted by asavage at 8:08 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


About the author:

Be Scofield is a queer/trans writer & digital strategist who has worked with and advised NYT bestselling authors, The Yoga Alliance, Chani Nicholas and Greenmedinfo among others. She is the founder of the online yoga school Mettaversity and the popular online magazine Decolonizing Yoga. Her writings on social change, spirituality and LGBTQ issues have reached hundreds of thousands of people and have appeared in Huffington Post, Tikkun Magazine, Alternet and Integral World amongst other places. She also has a chapter in the book “21st Century Yoga: Culture, Practice & Politics.”
posted by Going To Maine at 8:09 AM on December 7


I had a similar reaction to that bit as well. (all breathless) His videos on YouTube have more than 2 million views. What? There are single videos on YouTube of people playing a video game that have that many views


Yeah, I'll be way more concerned when Spiderman and Elsa start their own cult.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:16 AM on December 7 [9 favorites]



I've heard anecdotally of atheist families who start taking their children to church when they're around 5 or so, to innoculate them.


That was never necessary for me. My cult-dar is excellent and I grew up wholly without religion. I had a discussion with my own kid last night about the existence of Santa. We're approaching this as an open question in our household. He's on #teamsanta for now, because he's seen the guy and I can't really fault his logic there. I've openly expressed healthy skepticism. There's an older girl in his extended care program who is quite adamantly on team non-believer. We'll see if her arguments prove persuasive.

ANYWAY

I agree we need to stop being so breathless about horrible people who happen to know how to use modern design principles (or hire people who do). It's not rocket surgery. Being a shady as fuck cult leader isn't a disqualifying factor for using a desaturated filter on your website splash picture. Responsive web design doesn't stop working when you're an abusive monster. GoPros don't combust in the hands of child molesters. And YouTube most definitely does not kick you to a frowny face page when you're trying to consume brainwashing. These tools are in the hands of anyone with a couple grand to spend on them. And have been for a while. Their use indicates jack and shit about the nature of the person using them. We really need to stop being surprised.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:28 AM on December 7 [9 favorites]


I think that raising kids in a religious tradition helps, actually. Because then around 10-12 they start poking at the more nonsensical aspects of their tradition that don't have good answers, and start thinking that everyone else in church or temple (though very nice people) are blithering morons. Takes the bloom off the rose.

A good portion of the time, though, their reaction of "everyone else is a moron" is because they think everyone else isn't going far enough. Hence the substantial spike in young adults jumping from 'conventional' Protestantism to 'nondenomenational' pentecostalism, evangelical extremism, quiverfull, etc.
posted by Molten Berle at 8:37 AM on December 7 [7 favorites]


For a fascinating and scary look into a another recent cult populated by otherwise intelligent people, check out Holy Hell.

Otherwise intelligent? I don't think so.
posted by notreally at 8:38 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


Otherwise intelligent? I don't think so.

Did you watch it?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:41 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


I was raised Presbyterian and while I never bought into the god stuff I thought the church provided value from a social and moral perspective. That was, until I was on the path to getting confirmed, when I told my pastor that I didn't actually believe Jesus was the son of god etc. and he just looked at me and said that it wasn't a problem, just go through the motions. That, coupled with my stepfather's insistence that not getting confirmed would be shameful for the family (though it was more of a capitalist concern as he drummed up business for his auto repair shop at the church) rid me of any and all desire to associate with what was essentially a fraudulent enterprise. Yes, I got confirmed, but haven't been to church since high school.

It was definitely helpful to have experienced organized religion from the inside. I also didn't think my fellow churchgoers were morons - people can believe what they want - but I never was able to shake the sense of the whole shebang being very opportunistic and maniupulative.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:46 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


Hmmmm. Seems that the vast majority of these cult leaders are men. C'mon ladies. You all need to get your mojo on.
posted by notreally at 8:49 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


Sedona is a town that looks like it was designed by the unpleasant rich weirdos from Beetlejuice, then renovated into a massive Williams Sonoma store by Martha Stewart.

That is an amazing image, thank you selfnoise!

Never underestimate the pseudo-spiritual power of being demeaned.

I guess paying for a plain old S&M dom(me) is too boring, or something?
posted by Melismata at 8:51 AM on December 7 [8 favorites]


I'm having trouble summing up my thoughts coherently, but I think one of the most dangerous things we can do is indoctrinate children and even teenagers with anything bordering on fundamentalist believes.

I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church, went since I can remember, and even though I hated going, i bought into all that because I was a kid. At that age you trust those that are teaching you.

I got lucky, I had a moment a pretty singular defining moment that started to loosen the hold that cult had on my mind. I had brought my friend along that day, and he (being a Methodist) wasn't accustomed to the hell and brimstone message. In the Youth sermon the pastor was talking about "if you don't accept Jesus into your heart and get baptized, you'll go to hell". I can vividly recall the look of fear on my best friends face, thinking that he'd go to hell just because he hadn't been baptized. I remember thinking(in more simplistic thoughts) that God couldn't possibly be all that loving if he'd eternally damn a kid just because he didn't get dunked.

Not all kids get that moment. Those kids grow up to believe two men shouldn't be allowed to get married.
posted by Twain Device at 8:55 AM on December 7 [9 favorites]


I've been "abducted" by a cult.

Promises of spiritual ascension, enlightenment, infinite love...and all the drugs to grease the wheels. (Naive, I know.)

Turns out all that "love-bombing" includes coercion, blackmail, and extortion. Their weapons of choice include a combination of sophisticated gadgetry and social engineering.

It's been over five years, and I still get harassed and threatened when I speak out. Lost many friends to it.

This shit's real, and it's dangerous. Apologies for my vagueness and brevity.

Don't trust anyone who refers to themselves as Family, and navigate the underground rave/party scene with extreme trepidation. Sadly, they get them as young as middle/high school.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 9:06 AM on December 7 [49 favorites]


Sedona is a town that looks like it was designed by the unpleasant rich weirdos from Beetlejuice, then renovated into a massive Williams Sonoma store by Martha Stewart. It's perhaps the least surprising place for a cult to take root.

I've always felt driving in;

1. This is amazingly beautiful and otherworldly.
2. I'm in the opening scene of a horror movie, before everything goes wrong.

Kind of a rich hippy Stepford Wives vibe.
posted by bongo_x at 9:06 AM on December 7 [12 favorites]


I think the “web 2.0” angle is based on the fact that the cult uses the self described tools of “web 2.0” to grow.

It’s like yeah, it’s a cult, using Instagram YouTube and Facebook as tools to recruit. Those are literally exactly Web 2.0 tools.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:08 AM on December 7


Sure, but a group using social media is not a surprise. I mean it's not like they're Amish or something.
posted by Nelson at 9:14 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


This was sad but the piece was so poorly written.
posted by k8t at 9:15 AM on December 7 [6 favorites]


Anyone (where he's located) who claims to be an enlightened master beyond the requirements of personal responsibility and karmic accountability, needs to be asked if he's a US citizen. If yes, then he's bound by the same laws as the rest of us. If not, he doesn't get the protections afforded to US citizens.

Ditto for the "I am beyond human" speeches... if you're beyond human, then even international law doesn't protect you.

Other than that, the article is full of clickbaity hype, and between the hype, yeah, dude is starting a cult using techbro logic and startup methodology. Erm. Nice to know?

If he can change the weather, get him to start re-freezing glaciers. I don't really care if he can move clouds around by a few miles.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:29 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


believes he is an awakened God not responsible for his actions. He loves expensive scotch and has a sweet spot for cigars, but not Cubans.

as I am once again reminded I was born at least twenty years too early, because I tried all this back in the '80s, but the only proper follower I ever had lost interest that Halloween we dropped acid and spent the night watching horror films on a scrambled Pay-TV channel (this really is the only way to watch The Shining). Last I heard, he'd married a divorcée who inherited a diamond mine when her dad died. Some guys have all the luck.

Anyway, maybe I should RTFA
posted by philip-random at 9:30 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


I guess paying for a plain old S&M dom(me) is too boring, or something?

Beat me to it.

It's important for more people to know about this shit before they're unexpectedly thrust into it by some dumbass older person.

The Landmark thing keeps popping up all over the place, and refusing to go away, doesn't it?

The last time it surfaced near me it in the very late 1990s and early 2000s almost took down a bunch of people I knew, and it was alarming how fast it moved. I had a circle of friends at the time that were throwing desert parties and club nights and stuff, just a small following of maybe a hundred regular folks and extended friends and family.

Then we had this new kid show up, and it was definitely a warning sign that he was such an enthusiastic joiner and charismatic and such. Some few weeks later, he's crowing about the Landmark Forum and desperately trying to get people from this circle of friends to attend. And I mean desperately.

And in hindsight I can recognize that a lot of his defensive energy and tearing down of ideas critical to Landmark were classic Landmark/est psychological manipulations that he was propagating and using, because things got ugly pretty quick.

Thankfully our even more charismatic cult leader in the form of a dance party promoter wasn't having it, already knew what Landmark was and correctly called it out as cult bullshit that is based in est and other known cults. And at the time the anti-scientology Operation Clambake was in full swing and that early cult awareness website hadn't been co-opted by Scientology yet.

And at the time before I knew what Landmark was, I was actually curious based on this guys reports and stuff. For, oh, like three seconds.

Landmark dude ignored all of this, kept going, pulled his poor browbeaten SO into it, started giving them large quantities of money, much of it borrowed or begged.

And the last I heard from him he basically went totally nuts and unstable. Like, in the space of 3-4 weeks he went from Landmark Forums to shaving his head and going full Hare Krishna and giving away all of his worldly possessions and drumming/chanting at LAX, ending with running from the police in a stolen vintage convertible higher than the sun on mushrooms, and still wearing his Krishna robes and prayer beads. (And I'm sure LAPD was just like, "Christ, not again! Didn't this convertible get stolen by some Krishna wackjob high on mushrooms last week?")

I shudder to think what would have happened to that circle of friends if it wasn't for our promoter guy looking out for people, and if that other dude didn't flip out so fast and wasn't so obviously unstable. People were... too curious and tempted by his claims about Landmark. Most people hadn't heard anything about it or that it was based on est, or that it is a fully blown cult.

They seem to do an even better job of hiding under the veneer of a professional corporate self help seminar and program than Scientology does.

Don't trust anyone who refers to themselves as Family, and navigate the underground rave/party scene with extreme trepidation. Sadly, they get them as young as middle/high school.

Yup. The rave scene is rife with opportunity for cults, especially sex/drugs as spirituality cults.

Oddly, I'm remembering there was a series of really good parties in LA called F.A.M.I.L.Y. (which stood for, ostensibly, "Friends And Music I Love You") but I don't think they had anything to do with the Family. That Family was already a thing at Dead shows and Rainbow Gatherings, and we were aware of it - so I don't think they're related. I would be really disheartened to hear that they were related, because they were some of the best, purest and most innocent music-oriented parties the LA rave scene had ever seen, and likely will ever see.

Part of the birth of rave and acid house culture itself technically involves a cult - Temple of Psychick Youth. Which definitely involves a lot of sex and drugs. But TOPY is essentially a made up cult to mock cults and use cult techniques to spread high weirdness and art and whatever. They also essentially practiced chaos magic, which is a lot more self actualized and less culty, destructive or demeaning than, say, Landmark. Chaos magic is more about a meditation on intent and the followup action than trying to wish reality away with pretty spells. It's more like you took all the Humanist and "do what thou wilt" stuff from the Church of Satan and stripped it down to invented creative rituals and modern cyber-psychedelia.

It was still a cult, though, and some people took it way too seriously.
posted by loquacious at 9:36 AM on December 7 [28 favorites]


Yeah, I'll be way more concerned when Spiderman and Elsa start their own cult.

Or, way more likely, JonTron and PewDiePie.

Hmmmm. Seems that the vast majority of these cult leaders are men. C'mon ladies. You all need to get your mojo on.

Previously.

But of course the truth is, as I think you were alluding to, that it's primarily men and especially white men who have the cultural space and credibility to start cults.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:39 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


I agree we need to stop being so breathless about horrible people who happen to know how to use modern design principles (or hire people who do). It's not rocket surgery.

I've met creepy guys who really wanted to be cult leaders, but will never get the chance because they lacked charisma and manipulation skills. I never thought design sense was a factor, but I guess I could add it to the list too.
posted by ovvl at 9:39 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


Beat me to it.

I see what you did there!
posted by Melismata at 9:39 AM on December 7 [14 favorites]


I never thought design sense was a factor

oh boy wait until you hear about Kickstarter
posted by runt at 9:51 AM on December 7 [6 favorites]


xingcat: "
I'm old enough to remember when people were really into "est," where you'd pay lots of money to be locked into a conference room without access to food, water or bathroom breaks for, like, 12 hours at a time and the people in charge screamed at the attendees, calling them "assholes" and such.
"

Oxburger: My name's Dewey Oxburger. My friends call me Ox. You might have noticed that, uh, I've got a slight weight problem.

Soldiers: Nooo! Noooo!

Oxburger: Yeah, yeah I do. Yeah, I do. I went to this doctor. Well, he told me I swallow a lot of aggression...along with a lot of pizzas! Ha ha ha! Pizzas! I'm basically a shy person, I'm a shy guy. Uh, he suggested taking one these uh, aggression training courses. You know these aggression training courses like EST, those type of things. Anyway, it cost 400 bucks! 400 bucks to join this thing? Well I didn't have the money and I thought to myself, "Join the army"! It's free. So I figured while I'm here I'll lose a few pounds. And you got what, a 6 to 8 week training program here? A real tough one. Which is perfect for me. I'm going to walk out of here a lean, mean, fightin' machine! Ha ha ha ha!
posted by Chrysostom at 9:52 AM on December 7 [16 favorites]


Yup. The rave scene is rife with opportunity for cults, especially sex/drugs as spirituality cults.

Oddly, I'm remembering there was a series of really good parties in LA called F.A.M.I.L.Y. (which stood for, ostensibly, "Friends And Music I Love You") but I don't think they had anything to do with the Family. That Family was already a thing at Dead shows and Rainbow Gatherings, and we were aware of it - so I don't think they're related. I would be really disheartened to hear that they were related, because they were some of the best, purest and most innocent music-oriented parties the LA rave scene had ever seen, and likely will ever see.


That's exactly it. Same architects, same symbols...all peppered with "Men Who Stare at Goats" weirdness. Not sure if it's a rogue off-shoot of the movement, but it's all there.

Perplexingly, among the most open-minded, kind souls I've met (to my face). But stripped bare, it's all a facade. The long game seems to be victimization and totalitarian control.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 9:59 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


OMG. Both my parents went to Esalen.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:07 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


Wow--all this made me remember a new guy at work a few years back who tried to get all of us to go to a seminar on "non-violent communication." Sounds like a good thing for a bunch of coworkers, right? Our manager was on-board and things were getting arranged when it was suddenly canceled without explanation, and the new guy apologized to everyone for inappropriate use of email. I'd always meant to do some googling to see what that was about, but never got around to it until just now.

Yep, soundstrue.com. Bullet dodged.
posted by pupsocket at 10:17 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember when people were really into "est," where you'd pay lots of money to be locked into a conference room without access to food, water or bathroom breaks for, like, 12 hours at a time and the people in charge screamed at the attendees, calling them "assholes" and such."

not here to sing the praises of est etc, but I knew folks who were into that kind of stuff back in the day, and this feels like pretty serious exaggeration. More of a mashup of genuine cult sh** and the cult-lite aspects of est etc. A few things I picked up way back when:

A. the doors weren't locked
B. it was more like two or three hours between bathroom breaks
C. there were regular meal breaks

There was some screaming (welcome to tough love). They did make a big deal about NOT leaving the room in the middle of things (breaking the mood etc), thus the scheduled bathroom and meal breaks. They did definitely use cult-like methods to separate people from their cash, but to splay it out as hyperbolically as above is to miss what for me is the creepiest part about it -- how subtly the organizations played it, how so many "rational" people got suckered out of a lot of cash.
posted by philip-random at 10:18 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


I'm expecting that we'll soon see the first batch of ex alt-right kekistan guys who got out and advocate for treating it like the destructive cult it is and getting kids out of it. The level of awareness of the true nature of Scientology that 4chan et al has is pretty much matched by their level of blindness to the cult in their own backyard and eventually some of these kids will twig to that and be the Leah Reminis of that world. I feel like the alt-right is maybe the most appropriate thing to label a Web 2.0 cult, it's even got a more web-like decentralization thing going on instead of a single strong personality driving it.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:19 AM on December 7 [19 favorites]


We're approaching this as an open question in our household. He's on #teamsanta for now, because he's seen the guy and I can't really fault his logic there. I've openly expressed healthy skepticism.

In a fit of honesty I explained to my 6 yr old that there was no santa/etc .... next day he comes home and calls me on it, he'd seen santa at the mall, he was real - I capitulated - he'd believed his own eyes over what I'd said, what more could I ask for
posted by mbo at 10:22 AM on December 7 [21 favorites]


.... next day he comes home and calls me on it, he'd seen santa at the mall, he was real -

the turning point for me was that day (age seven) that I got dragged to at least three malls/shopping centers, and they all had Santas. It didn't outright convince me the whole thing was a scam (it's possible Santa was moving from place to place just like I was), but I did start to seriously wonder. What sealed the deal was waking up that Christmas Eve night to my dad (a little drunk) shouting at my mom to help him get the goddamn presents out of the basement and under the tree.
posted by philip-random at 10:28 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


There is a bug in the human brain that makes us susceptible to this sort of thing. Not surprising considering that our sapience sort of floats on a foam of all manner of buggy, kludged together, barely functioning, neural programming and reason, logic, and simple self awareness are very recent developments that only popped up by accident and don't really work that well.

I'd venture to guess that the same built in glitch that makes humans susceptible to cults is related to or identical to the one that makes authoritarianism appeal and made aristocracy and social hierarchy a factor in pretty much every human society that has ever existed.

Some of us seem more prone to that sort of thinking than others, but we've all got it to one degree or another.

My father was a former Scientologist, and tended towards a mindset that made cults of all sorts appealing. I think, based on conversations with him, that a large part of it was a desire for certainty and knowing, absolutely, what was true, right, and proper and what wasn't. He had a really hard time with algebra and in college failed basic algebra because he couldn't stand that the quadratic formula produced what he thought of as two answers. To his way of thinking there was **ONE** right answer.

I've got a tendency that way myself, as everyone does I think, perhaps a bit less than my father did and also his bad example has made me wary of that sort of thinking. I fail, often, to properly police my thoughts and rid myself of that sort of appeal to certainty and the One Right Answer, but I do try and watch out for it.

I'm also not surprised that tech types are just as vulnerable to cultism as anyone else, or perhaps even moreso. Engineers, especially, and software people also, tend to have a non-scientific understanding of their field. There's a reason why "software engineering" is a different field from "computer science". The former actually designs programs we use, the latter makes programming possible.

But, and this is critical, programming, engineering, etc are sufficiently difficult, time consuming, and mentally stressful that you can't just go back to first principles and really take a proper scientific approach to everything. Mostly programmers and engineers go by established practices, not science, logic, and reasoning everything through.

It's not surprising then that a properly constituted cult could appeal to engineers and software types. They're in a profession where knowing the answer is more a matter of looking up what the authorities have to say than trying to determine it yourself.
posted by sotonohito at 10:34 AM on December 7 [12 favorites]


The tech bro culture is partially encapsulated in the article here:

He was testing out his “product” aka spiritual ideas for no cost on the platform that defined a generation. It worked. Build, test, measure, convert. He soon began teaching to small groups which further validated his ideas and then grew from there.

This guy is straight out of the Lean Startup culture, and is I would say a descendant of the Agile Manifesto--both schools of thought about software development that have spawned innumerable processes for creating software. Some people exhibit a cult-like devotion to the ideas expressed by the founders/coiners of Lean and Agile, even to the detriment of reality on the ground. I'm fond of saying the phrase "I don't kneel in the church of Agile, but..."

The main tenets of lean and agile can be boiled down to this succession of steps: ship it, test it with real end users, iterate, release another version. The article states he's been iterating this nonsense over time, and honing it with user testing--aka tossing what doesn't work and turning up the dial on what does work. He's straight out of the tech bro culture.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:42 AM on December 7 [7 favorites]


Post linking this mentality to the Trumpist mindset

I took Landmark in 2012 due to my relationship with a woman who took the program with friends. On one level after the first night she did nail something about her relationships with men. HonestIy I ended up taking the program as I was really investing in our relationship and because of, (surprise) not wanting to be left behind.

A friend of mine told me a long time ago "If you do events like this, go in wearing their robes, take what you need and let go of all the bullshit" Even then it was a struggle to stay with that advice. Some things I did that I would never do. (Like inviting people to your "graduation. They wanted you to bring 10 people) I saw the bullshit AND was caught up in it.

My girlfriend was bought into it by a friend of her group, who I saw (without him looking) that his goal was "to get 10 people" He was a successful lawyer and competitive athlete at one time. I later told her that she was being asked and sold on the event to reach the lawyers goal. Not because he truly cared about her.

1) People who don't "get it" feel compelled to go to future "advanced" events feeling that they will "get it" then.
2) Facilitators telling "personal stories" when they are really are sales raps.
3) The fact the what they are selling as "technologies" is bullshit
4) We are pushed to sell. We were actually given phone numbers the third day to do this. One person I called got irate. I told one woman who said they better watch is as they are walking a fine-line between a cult and a management training program. I then went to an assistant to explain the problem. her response was, "Take care of it yourself"
5) There are a certain amount their ex-graduates walking the room as assistants. During the break they come up to you asking, 'What are you feeling" During the workshop they are to seen these confident, strong people. When they are out of the workshop they are kind of like people who you really don't want to give the time to or hang out with.
6) The calling to friends and family the second day is actually kind of cool as you do have the courage to make amends in ways you would not do. The bullshit is that you have been asked sell then by telling them you are taking this workshop.
7) Salesmen in their corporate offices are making hard pitches over the phone.

I took the beginners and the advance courses. When I was done with the advance, I signed up for the next course and also signed up my intern to take the beginners. After 2-3 days I thought, 'What the fuck am I doing?" I called my intern and told her not to do it, decided that I was bailing out and take the hit with losing the money. I was not going to call them for the return as I did not want to be positioned by their language.

The hard thing for me was Buckminster Fuller's association with them at the end of his life. I like Bucky a lot. A lot of their rap comes from him. So a lot of what they were saying I already agreed with.
posted by goalyeehah at 10:46 AM on December 7 [13 favorites]


P.S. Lululemon and Panda Express were corporations they said they were working which, which on hearing, legitimizes their actions
posted by goalyeehah at 10:50 AM on December 7


That's exactly it. Same architects, same symbols...all peppered with "Men Who Stare at Goats" weirdness. Not sure if it's a rogue off-shoot of the movement, but it's all there.

Again, I'm pretty sure the F.A.M.I.L.Y promoters weren't involved with the cult The Family. It was a really tight knit group that was decidedly atheist/agnostic about everything except music, friends and dancing. It is extremely likely I would have seen/heard about recruiting.
posted by loquacious at 10:55 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


And they do have a teen program.
posted by goalyeehah at 10:56 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


There's about 8000 cults with variations on the name "The Family" (which should tell you something about what draws people to cults) but I think the one being talked about here is The Family International aka Children of God. Another cult you see at music festivals is the Twelve Tribes (I saw them on Phish tour allll the time. You needed to help your more-fucked-up friends avoid their bus because they preyed on people having bad trips).

I was at the dentist this afternoon and the conversation in the seat next to me was two older ladies (the hygienist and the patient) talking about Scientology. One of them didn't know Tom Cruise was a Scientologist! I kinda wanted to sidle on over there and be like, "Let me tell you ladies about some cults. Are you sitting comfortably?" But I didn't.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:06 AM on December 7 [11 favorites]


My parents told us that Santa was an old tradition, and that the fairy tale associated with Santa goes as follows, and to celebrate, we set out cookies and milk and pretend that he’s going to come down the chimney while we’re sleeping (the need for suspended disbelief assisted by the fact that we had no actual chimney in the house).

So, it was always treated as a fun bit of make-believe that we could participate in, but there was no “Psych! Santa isn’t real” reveal that ruined anyone’s day. If I were to have had kids, that’s how I would have taught about Santa, because in my opinion it preserved all the fun parts with none of the dream-crushing.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:11 AM on December 7 [19 favorites]


The article states he's been iterating this nonsense over time, and honing it with user testing

You know who else iterated nonsense over time, honing it with user testing? Yes, it's Hitler. Hitler did that. So does anyone. Lean Startup and Agile haven't invented anything new, they've just packaged it in some new bullshit so it's marketable to a new group of suckers.

I'd be more willing to see this cult as a tech story if they were doing something innovative or unique with social media. Or somehow using the Internet in a sophisticated way as a psychological control medium.
posted by Nelson at 11:18 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


Anybody remember Dr. Frederick Lenz, the original tech bro cult leader?
posted by borges at 11:25 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


Lean Startup and Agile haven't invented anything new

You won't get an argument from me on that.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:26 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


Wow--all this made me remember a new guy at work a few years back who tried to get all of us to go to a seminar on "non-violent communication."

Yeah, NVC is a thing. My sister belongs to it, and it seems to help her actually; it's culty, but no more than other crunchy granola groups, not evil like some of these narcissistic guys. I think someone once posted to MetaTalk that NVC was great and we should start using some of their guidelines, and got shot down pretty thoroughly.
posted by Melismata at 11:30 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


Well fuck the thread got godwinned we can shut it down now.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:30 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


F.A.M.I.L.Y. is definitely not culty. I know people who are Landmarky, and I am friends with the guy who basically IS F.A.M.I.L.Y., and there is no overlap there.
posted by flaterik at 11:39 AM on December 7


Well fuck the thread got godwinned we can shut it down now.

I don't think that's a thing any more. I think that was a privileged time when we thought the possibility of the world being taken over by Nazis was unrealistic, and always hyperbole.
posted by bongo_x at 11:39 AM on December 7 [59 favorites]


I took Landmark in 2012 due to my relationship with a woman who took the program with friends. On one level after the first night she did nail something about her relationships with men.

I'm sure some of the lower level Scientology "tech" benefits some people, too.
posted by thelonius at 11:40 AM on December 7


Dang bongo_x way to kill a buzz :-)
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:46 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


So, it was always treated as a fun bit of make-believe that we could participate in, but there was no “Psych! Santa isn’t real” reveal that ruined anyone’s day. If I were to have had kids, that’s how I would have taught about Santa, because in my opinion it preserved all the fun parts with none of the dream-crushing.

I kind of wish we'd done that in general, My son, mentioned above, figured out quite soon that Santa was make believe, but at 8 or so he discovered all the tooth fairy's saved teeth .... and was horribly distraught, angry, that we'd fooled him ... I wish we had turned it into more of a game
posted by mbo at 11:47 AM on December 7


I feel like the alt-right is maybe the most appropriate thing to label a Web 2.0 cult, it's even got a more web-like decentralization thing going on instead of a single strong personality driving it.

Indeed. /b/ is very much a cult, except you replace the figurehead with a hive mind.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:48 AM on December 7


I'm pretty sure that Landmark is pretty much recycled EST, and EST essentially IS the lower levels of scientology (which is why the scientologists are so pissed with them)
posted by mbo at 11:49 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


philip-random: "the turning point for me was that day (age seven) that I got dragged to at least three malls/shopping centers, and they all had Santas. It didn't outright convince me the whole thing was a scam (it's possible Santa was moving from place to place just like I was), but I did start to seriously wonder. "

Pfft, those are Santa's HELPERS.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:55 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


D'oh, I should have posted this when I read it yesterday! I was going to include something about Nxivm, the cult that brands women and uses Smallville's Allison Mack as a key recruiter.

Also, if you are not listening to the Heaven's Gate podcast, you should be. Lots of amazing insight into what makes people join cults, the sort of people who join (not who you think!), and the damage they leave in their wake.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:55 AM on December 7 [10 favorites]


My friggin three-year-old asked if the Santa we were going to see was "the real Santa," because how does he get there? I thought I had a few more years, at least.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:58 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


My huge douche radar is way too strong for me to get suckered in by any man on earth but I think i'd have a one in three chance of being culted by a charismatic woman.

One in one if it was beyonce
posted by poffin boffin at 11:59 AM on December 7 [17 favorites]


"Single Ladies" is actually a pied piper-style call
posted by uncleozzy at 12:01 PM on December 7 [3 favorites]


"What we need is the self-terminating cult, a cult with good, deep hooks to get people in where further revelations of the cult's teachings actually serve to get people to reject the thinking that made them susceptible to the cult in the first place. Like a cult vaccine!"
You might really appreciate the movie Kumaré.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:03 PM on December 7 [8 favorites]


There's about 8000 cults with variations on the name "The Family" (which should tell you something about what draws people to cults) but I think the one being talked about here is The Family International aka Children of God. Another cult you see at music festivals is the Twelve Tribes (I saw them on Phish tour allll the time. You needed to help your more-fucked-up friends avoid their bus because they preyed on people having bad trips).

This is touching on it. It's not so much that the Family members preyed on those having a bad trip, but more specifically that they targeted and exacerbated negative vibes, including instigating conflict, harassment, and gang stalking. Like some perverse kind of gaslighting. When I tried to escape these situations, I was hit with some covert electronic weaponry that paralyzed my body, and I was pulled right back in (among the many other victims I witnessed). And it was like we were being fed upon, like some soul harvest. Psychic vampyrism.

Again, I'm pretty sure the F.A.M.I.L.Y promoters weren't involved with the cult The Family. It was a really tight knit group that was decidedly atheist/agnostic about everything except music, friends and dancing. It is extremely likely I would have seen/heard about recruiting.

My apologies; I should have clarified. The "it" I was referring to wasn't F.A.M.I.L.Y. (who I'm unaware of), but simply the Family. Just a breath of fresh air to come across someone who has any idea what I'm talking about (even if unaware of the "initiation" side).
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 12:04 PM on December 7


Also medium on mobile is a relentless agony of being prompted to open in their app and then sullenly returning you to the start of the article when you refuse to do so. Go away medium i am not joining your cult.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:04 PM on December 7 [11 favorites]


I have some friends who like NVC who are really good activist ppl but who are also down to earth. I think there are actually good communication principles (like the 'I hear you saying this, it makes me feel this way' thing) followed up with a bunch of unrelated sociocultural asks that you can shear off like you would with any normal self-help book

I would guess that the Landmark seminars probably also have good advice buried in there somewhere that makes it easier to indoctrinate people. if you start getting dates when you used to get none, why wouldn't you also internalize the misogyny that is pervasive in pick up 'artist' culture. distinguishing between basic advice about social dynamics that you haven't heard before and pushes to internalize weird normalizations (like misogyny) requires both insight and critical thinking, neither of which is systematically taught, especially not in relation to each other
posted by runt at 12:11 PM on December 7 [4 favorites]


Sedona is Woo Central. I'm still pretty much a hippie, peace-lover, lefty, but the woo industry is just the New Age attempt at capitalism.
posted by theora55 at 12:21 PM on December 7 [8 favorites]


There’s something missing here that I’m surprised nobody has mentioned at all (unless I missed it), and it’s that Sedona is literally a massive, massive center for white-people spiritualism that is basically insititutionalized Native American reappropriation. Sedona’s main tourist attraction are the “vortexes”, which are alleged centers of “energy”, and downtown Sedona is filled with New Age shops selling overpriced rocks. Sedona is consistently described as a “healing” and “spiritual” place, even within its tourism literature. It makes sense to me that some rich white guy would use that area as a base for his cultish New Age philosophy and that people would buy into it.
posted by gucci mane at 12:25 PM on December 7 [19 favorites]


theora55 beat me to it.
posted by gucci mane at 12:25 PM on December 7 [1 favorite]


My apologies; I should have clarified. The "it" I was referring to wasn't F.A.M.I.L.Y. (who I'm unaware of), but simply the Family. Just a breath of fresh air to come across someone who has any idea what I'm talking about (even if unaware of the "initiation" side).

Right, and I wasn't super clear, either. I was mainly thinking out loud about the coincidence in names. The Family you're talking about (in its various forms) has existed a lot longer than rave/house culture.

F.A.M.I.L.Y. is definitely not culty. I know people who are Landmarky, and I am friends with the guy who basically IS F.A.M.I.L.Y., and there is no overlap there.

This is good to hear.

In very cynical hindsight I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that some of the parties we went to (flaterik and I share some history, here) were active fronts for cults. I always got a really weird vibe from some of the Moontribe crew, especially in the later years when it the demographic started to shift from dirty ravers and hippies to wealthy and very pretty people who looked like they'd be more at home in a seriously upscale boutique hot yoga studio than high on drugs in the sand out in the middle of the desert.

I know I went to a few dodgy parties that were held in very unlikely locations by people who had no real interest in rave culture or music beyond "Wow, look at all the young people!", the sorts of parties that ended up at someone's large private house, business or rural property. One of these that I remember in specific was in the underground parking garage basement of a chiropractic practice run by a dude that was a total kook and quack offering free chiropractic adjustments in the middle of the party who was at the least obviously fishing for new paid clients, he totally rubbed me the wrong way as a toxic narcissist and kept trying to boss people around and keep himself at the center of attention.

This kind of behavior stands out in stark relief at a proper rave, where things are usually so decentralized and anarchic that there's no "center" of anything except maybe the big piles of speakers and the DJ, and even then that could be tenuous at best. "Hey look at me I'm a rock star and/or god!" doesn't go over well with a crowd that would reply with "Cool. Me too! We're all stars!"
posted by loquacious at 12:27 PM on December 7 [5 favorites]


"That was never necessary for me. My cult-dar is excellent and I grew up wholly without religion."
Cults are filled with people who had recently felt this way, and if you can't see how Metafilter could be easily said to have an unusually high concentration of people vulnerable to cults, that may just describe you. I'm more familiar with the Christian flavored variety, but they actively target and primarily have success with the 'unchurched.' It is people who don't know what a healthy religious community looks like, which is an easy ignorance to have when you spend adulthood believing such a thing to be a contradiction in terms, who miss or find reasons to ignore what should be really huge red flags.
  • Are they open and honest about their finances? Individual salaries can be a touchy subject for good reason but you should be able to easily find out the total budget spent on salaries, which should be a high percentage of the total, and a full accounting of everything else.

  • They have a habit of applying 'Church Discipline'. If it is applied to non-leaders in any case whatsoever this is a really big red flag for insanely unhealthy dynamics.

  • The head pastor has 'enemies' real or imagined

  • Ask about Satan and their doctrine relating to him, abusive churches very predictably get really dramatic ideas about Satan that 'are not easy to communicate to outsiders'

  • The church community does not have a body of leaders with the explicit authority to sack the head pastor. This should also be a body representative of the plurality of the church with regular non-dramatic attrition.

  • There anything presented as spontaneous that looks like it was actually scripted.

  • Members want to be just like the head pastor, in a healthy church community this is totally absurd.

  • Members don't seem to have friends outside of the church community

  • Other warning signs of a cult
  • posted by Blasdelb at 12:32 PM on December 7 [28 favorites]


    Dang bongo_x way to kill a buzz :-)

    It's a skill, like anything else.
    posted by bongo_x at 12:35 PM on December 7 [7 favorites]


    Yeah, I think a lot of us were operating under the knowledge that Sedona has been hippy-woo central for decades now and are unsurprised by the choice of location.

    This isn't even the most annoying thing about Sedona, though. What's really annoying is if you live in the area (say, Cottonwood, just down the road) and you're trying to drive somewhere, anywhere around Sedona.

    Because invariably you'll nearly rear-end some hair-brained tourist who suddenly quick stops in the middle of the road to stare at the fucking rocks. It happens so often and so frequently it actually makes the roads dangerous. Especially since they seem to do it most often as they come around a sharp bend and get a new view of the rocks.

    They'll often do this right next to turnouts that are built specifically for people to stop and stare at the rocks. Which, when prompted with a horn to remind them that they've been stopped for a whole damn minute in the middle of a busy, twisty two lane road, they'll slowly, slowly drive by the provided turnout while still staring at the damn rocks.

    Sedona is somewhere I wanted to live for a long time. Until I visited it and realized it was a total crystal-hippie-woo nightmare and I'd last maybe a few days before ranting and gibbering at people in the streets. Their Chamber of Commerce would probably run me out of town before a week was out for scaring the tourists buying pretty rocks.
    posted by loquacious at 12:39 PM on December 7 [15 favorites]


    The Family you're talking about (in its various forms) has existed a lot longer than rave/house culture.

    Do you by chance know of any literature that can expand on that? My personal (limited) research only stretches as far back as the dawn of the psychedelic revolution, and that leads into conspiratorial headway involving the military-industrial complex, MK-ULTRA, Laurel Canyon, Operation Paperclip, etc. Looking for anything grounded in a little more substance.

    In very cynical hindsight I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that some of the parties we went to (flaterik and I share some history, here) were active fronts for cults. I always got a really weird vibe from some of the Moontribe crew, especially in the later years when it the demographic started to shift from dirty ravers and hippies to wealthy and very pretty people who looked like they'd be more at home in a seriously upscale boutique hot yoga studio than high on drugs in the sand out in the middle of the desert.

    Yes, all evidence points to the original merit/intent of the scene having been co-opted. Eerily, once I went through "initiation", I suddenly became insanely popular. Either rich or beautiful people (usually both -- including women way out of my league and several years my junior) began to enter my life and invite me to every rave, festival, gathering, or mansion party (when I struggled before). Also, for the first time, seemingly every other person I met was a drug dealer and had every cocktail of any chemical to my heart's desire (took me a couple years to come across my first tab of acid; post-initiation, within the week, three of my acquaintances can suddenly hook me up with a full sheet). All very sketchy.

    This kind of behavior stands out in stark relief at a proper rave, where things are usually so decentralized and anarchic that there's no "center" of anything except maybe the big piles of speakers and the DJ, and even then that could be tenuous at best. "Hey look at me I'm a rock star and/or god!" doesn't go over well with a crowd that would reply with "Cool. Me too! We're all stars!"

    I wish so hard I could have experienced more of this side of it. But alas, I got myself caught up with the barnacles.
    posted by Christ, what an asshole at 1:14 PM on December 7


    Do you by chance know of any literature that can expand on that?

    I don't, actually. My knowledge and experience mainly comes from random people talking about it and a few mainstream articles exposing it.
    posted by loquacious at 1:19 PM on December 7


    some hair-brained tourist who suddenly quick stops in the middle of the road to stare at the fucking rocks

    This happens at the little Sedona municipal airport too. I mean not the stopping part, but the "I should be landing this plane but I'm distracted by all the fucking rocks". To be fair, they are some pretty beautiful rocks.
    posted by Nelson at 1:28 PM on December 7 [1 favorite]


    I was taken to a few Landmark Forum events in my late teens, back in the mid 80's when it was called The Life Training. They didn't torture us, deny us food or water, or anything like that. It was basically intensive group therapy with a lot of insider jargon, or, looked at another way, church for atheists. They had charismatic presenters and public confession of private fears. These things are easy to mock but I got the impression there were lots of lonely people there - I think they got a hit of intimacy and may have learned a few things about themselves, without being exposed to anything particularly sinister, kooky, coercive, or supernatural.
    Back then AIDS was new and very poorly understood, but they thought it was transmitted in bodily fluids and there was no treatment for it - a diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. At one point we were broken up into ad-hoc groups of four people who then paired off for rounds of a quick sharing exercise. I found myself sitting on this lurid orange hotel ballroom carpet listening closely to a man in a tight t-shirt and tighter facial expression as he told me he was gay, newly out, and had just tested positive. He pitched forward into my arms and started bawling. His tears poured down his face and dripped onto my forearms. I remember patting his back kind of awkwardly and trying to comfort him as a part of my mind wondered if his tears would infect me through a cut on my hand. After a few moments I decided I couldn't do much about that anyhow and kept trying somehow to make this guy feel less alone. I think that experience was good for me and I hope it helped him somehow.
    posted by jcrcarter at 1:51 PM on December 7 [9 favorites]


    Wow, Christ, what an asshole, I'm deep in house music/burner community in LA and I haven't had any personal experience like yours. That sucks, and I'm sorry you got culted like that. There does still exist people who really care about music, dancing, and community here, but I don't blame you for being disillusioned.

    Loquacious, moontribe is definitely woo-y and overlap with the typical conspiracy nonsense, but even after working pretty closely with them for a while and being friends with a few of core people I didn't feel any pull to be "initiated" or anything. I might just come off as a poor target for these groups across the board, though, given how different my experience has been from Cwaa's.
    posted by flaterik at 1:51 PM on December 7 [1 favorite]


    It is people who don't know what a healthy religious community looks like, which is an easy ignorance to have when you spend adulthood believing such a thing to be a contradiction in terms, who miss or find reasons to ignore what should be really huge red flags

    I feel like I've known plenty of very religious folks who have either gotten into a worse, more cultish evangelical church or were drawn into some MLM scheme after being a part of a very boring church. one of them is even obsessing now over bitcoins and believes the end of fiat currency is nigh. I also get the same vibes from some people at my work who are really into talking about work and corporate culture and hierarchies and other folks whose lives are various kinds of fandoms

    I hear you saying that it was important for you to have reconciled with your own Christian upbringing but I think a lot of people have not and will never admit to being molded by a culturally Christian/religious upbringing. to them it's a way of life or a way of being or whatever it is that people who are irrationally attached to a subconscious doctrine say (like 'family' lol) - an identity forced onto them that they didn't realize they could rebuff, whose only source of power comes from being associated with the institution

    by the same token, I think that the only thing that predicts your cult-dar, imo, is how much you respect yourself and are able to see when your power is being taken away. I grew up secular and I learned about unhealthy power dynamics and abuse through abuse and from being a person of color in a very white part of America. I didn't see myself as valuable or deserving respect so when people stepped over my boundaries, I let them because I didn't realize I could even ask them to stop

    agency is probably the most precious thing you have as an individual. getting to that understanding meant, for me, learning the language of emotional labor, power, and oppression and being able to see how my agency and self was regularly chipped away both by my abusive parents and by an abusive community. you went a different path but arrived at the same conclusion but I think that was no less valuable an experience as the process I took to embrace the things about me that I was taught to hate and distrust
    posted by runt at 1:53 PM on December 7 [12 favorites]


    "downtown Sedona is filled with New Age shops selling overpriced rocks" - as are many places. I actually saw water bottles with clear compartments filled with crystals, to infuse the water with the crystals mythical properties. This was in Carlsbad, CA.
    posted by dbmcd at 1:58 PM on December 7 [1 favorite]


    I know of est from watching The Americans show
    posted by sio42 at 2:04 PM on December 7 [4 favorites]


    People looking for more about the mindset of people who end up enmeshed in self-help becoming cult groups - there's a fascinating book by Connie Joy about her experiences with James Ray. It's called Tragedy in Sedona.

    She and her husband were actively involved at high levels (they were some of the first members of his elite circle-by-subscription, they were assistants at a number of events, they knew many people involved well) though they weren't at the sweatlodge in Sedona where 3 people died in 2009 (because they had serious concerns about the safety and had raised them to the best of their ability with multiple people.)

    Connie includes a number of emails and personal notes she made before October 2009, not just things written after the tragedy, so it makes an even more interesting look at mindset, what she (and her husband) found compelling and interesting at different times, what they got out of it, things that they recognised were problems (and when), and much more.

    I found it fascinating reading, even if in parts I really wanted to take her out for coffee and make suggestions about better ways one could deal with various emotions.
    posted by modernhypatia at 2:49 PM on December 7 [2 favorites]


    @dbmcd: that makes sense to me, especially since there are places like Mt. Shasta that do the same thing, but Sedona’s identity is wrapped up in mythical healing and Native American reapproriated mysticism. Is Carlsbad marketed the same way?

    Here is an example from their tourism website:
    How Can Vortex Energy Help You?
    Some say Sedona’s vortex energy is so powerful that you can actually feel it and that it is powerful enough to help people take giant leaps with their spiritual development. The Native Americans believe that spiritual transformation can occur more quickly and easily in Sedona because the veils to other dimensions are thinner here. Whether or not you believe that energy vortexes actually exist, one thing is for certain, there is “something” about Sedona that has made people travel here for something more than just its incredible beauty.
    This doesn’t even get into the whole “skinwalker” mythology.

    I don’t know the whole story behind the Hohokam and other Native tribes that use to be in that area, but it seems weird to me that these amorphous Native American ideals are being marketed by white people. It squicks me out, and it has ever since I was a kid growing up in Phoenix. I imagine Mt. Shasta may be the same way, but idk about Carlsbad. There’s a lot of rich white people meditation/energy healing/crystals/gurus here in Portland but it’s not institutionalized for profit on top of Native American tribes.
    posted by gucci mane at 2:57 PM on December 7 [2 favorites]


    That "fuck you fuck you fuck you" video in the article is unintentionally made brilliant by the copanelist lazily munching on chips while hotmic'ed.
    posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:19 PM on December 7 [2 favorites]


    I imagine Mt. Shasta may be the same way

    Yeah kinda, but all the people I know there are through a childhood friend of mine who was a Deadhead spinner back in the early 90s, so I might have some bias.
    posted by elsietheeel at 3:26 PM on December 7


    > As we've noted many times here before, there is a clear, bright throughline connecting the Human Potential Movement quasi-cults of the 70s West Coast, early Silicon Valley, the modern management culture both influenced, and now, the tech industry more broadly. It would be more surprising if this kind of thing wasn't happening with some regularity, to be honest.

    Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man
    posted by bukvich at 3:33 PM on December 7


    All’s I know about Sedona is that my ex absolutely believes the place has some magical vortex power and that’s enough for me to know I’ve got no damn business there at all.
    posted by Annika Cicada at 3:42 PM on December 7 [3 favorites]


    My dad persuaded us to go as a family to a Landmark forum after they allegedly saved his parents from separation. I think we went to one multiple-day seminar, and afterwards my parents agreed that we wouldn't be attending another. They attended an adult class whereas I was split off into a seminar for kids which was hosted in a large but weirdly-shaped room tucked away in some sort of convention centre. We had the occasional food and drink break in between being lectured at for a couple of hours. The only thing I remember from the long talks was crying when the speaker told us about witnessing the accidental death of her brother. I hadn't really doubted the story was true until I read the comments here and loosely checked some of the details, as I remember them, for plausibility. There were a lot of people there, though—a lot of kids in my seminar and hundreds more adults off doing their thing in other parts of the venue. On the final day there was an aura of celebration as the forum ended and people flooded the hall of the centre. I sat on my dad's shoulders as we weaved through the crowd looking for his parents.

    Overall, it's one of those memories that exists in a curious kind of bubble which makes it hard to place within the broader temporal and mnemonic constellation of my life. I think because I have forgotten virtually all of my experience that the kids' seminars were mostly pretty benign, but it's weird to read that my parents were probably yelled at and made to call their friends and relatives. I kind of want to ask them about that. I hope everyone who was there that week got through their experience without endangering their mental health, and without losing more money than I'm sure we did.
    posted by Panthalassa at 4:52 PM on December 7


    Do you by chance know of any literature that can expand on that?

    it's just wikipedia, but The Family International seems as good a place to start as any. The notable members part is interesting.

    I had an older friend who did a bunch of research on all this a few years back, mainly inspired by some people he'd lost track of back in the ole hippie days. As he put it, "You learned pretty quickly to steer clear of Children of God crowd."
    posted by philip-random at 4:59 PM on December 7


    Looks like Tim Ferriss has an even eviler clone.

    The 4-Hour Cultist.
    posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:04 PM on December 7 [6 favorites]


    I just drove through Sedona for the first time last month and 1) my goodness, it is so beautiful I'm itching to go back and 2) my goodness, it is the most annoying town to drive through because there are mini-whispers of traffic circles every 50 feet. And TONS of crystal shoppes.

    My friend did Landmark in SF a few years ago -- he was amazed at the doors opening and then a bank of telephone booths for you to call your family and make amends. The whole thing was fascinating to hear about.
    posted by armacy at 6:31 PM on December 7


    est to Landmark to management cults, sure; but also Blavatsky to Sedona, so this is nice solid US tradition.
    posted by clew at 6:45 PM on December 7 [2 favorites]


    Metafilter is a cult.
    posted by b1tr0t at 11:28 PM on December 7


    I can live without the narcissistic cult leader but woo hippie bullshit AND over priced rocks?? That's the best trip advisor review I've read all year. Sign me up!
    posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:46 PM on December 7 [2 favorites]


    crystal shoppes : Sedona :: pancake houses : Pigeon Forge
    posted by mmascolino at 6:16 AM on December 8 [4 favorites]


    Metafilter is a cult.

    Now, now, those kinds of negative vibes are why Paphnuty's been in the Woohooubliette the last long while.
    posted by cortex at 7:30 AM on December 8 [14 favorites]


    Avoiding teachers like this is why I posted my AskMe question a little while back.

    I came across the name of Bentinho, and after my first impression ("hmm, name sounds like a Brazilian soccer star"), I looked at his book and it sucked badly. Glad I dodged a bullet. Back to reading Tolle and Adyashanti for me.
    posted by theorique at 7:38 AM on December 8 [1 favorite]


    [Sorry for double post]

    I have some friends who like NVC who are really good activist ppl but who are also down to earth. I think there are actually good communication principles (like the 'I hear you saying this, it makes me feel this way' thing) followed up with a bunch of unrelated sociocultural asks that you can shear off like you would with any normal self-help book

    I've read a couple of books and seen a video seminar on NVC and as far as I can tell, it's about as cultish as Crossfit, veganism, or Weight Watchers. Which is to say, you can read about it, learn about it, watch videos about it, and even sign up for in-person seminars about it, but there isn't any weird charismatic leader or isolated compound.

    I suspect it gets the reputation for cultishness because people who previously communicated badly and unkindly probably notice a great positive transformation in the quality of their conversations after learning and implementing NVC. Having gotten good results, they want to "spread the gospel".
    posted by theorique at 8:03 AM on December 8


    [Sorry for double post]

    By the by, there was just a discussion in MetaTalk that "don't double post" isn't a Metafilter norm, and you can do it without apology.
    posted by Chrysostom at 8:25 AM on December 8 [3 favorites]


    MetaFilter: It’s like yeah, it’s a cult
    posted by mmcg at 9:39 AM on December 8 [1 favorite]


    Also, if you are not listening to the Heaven's Gate podcast, you should be. Lots of amazing insight into what makes people join cults, the sort of people who join (not who you think!), and the damage they leave in their wake.

    I came in to post the same thing. This is a good podcast, made better because the host, who does unfortunately have annoying Ira Glass diction, was raised in what he describes as an (different) end-times cult.
    posted by OmieWise at 10:35 AM on December 8


    Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

    Burners.Me is full of Deep Conspiracy woo and toxic AF. No thanks.
    posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:45 AM on December 8 [2 favorites]


    Metafilter is a cult.

    How Can Cortex Energy Help You?
    Some say Metafilter’s cortex energy is so powerful that you can actually feel it and that it is powerful enough to help people take giant leaps with their website development. The Native Netizens believe that CSS transformation can occur more quickly and easily in Metafilter because the veils to other subsites are thinner here.
    posted by oneswellfoop at 12:42 PM on December 8 [10 favorites]


    All’s I know about Sedona is that my ex absolutely believes the place has some magical vortex power and that’s enough for me to know I’ve got no damn business there at all.

    The place where I live now in the PNW is kind of jokingly known to have a vortex - but it's the kind of small town vortex that sucks you in and makes certain kinds of people orbit the place because they like it too much.

    But the area has reportedly been a gathering place and regarded as a place of peace by First Nations people for millennia. And I will confirm that it is incredibly peaceful here. As much as a place can be soothing, gentle and comfortable this place is that kind of place.

    I would even describe it as a place of healing, and that's not based solely on my own positive experiences. A lot of people talk about it.

    However, I don't think it's ley lines or any weird crystal energy vortex woo. It's an incredibly peaceful place. The air is very clean. The air is also saturated with natural conifer/evergreen terpenes, which have been studied recently and have been found to have positive effects.

    Having been to Sedona, it is really a similar kind of place. The whole area around Sedona and north to Flagstaff is just so drop dead gorgeous it's almost too much for the eyes. The rocks are really cool and peaceful and pretty. There's a lot of pines and conifers and clean(ish) air. Lots of lightning and natural ozone, too. I have been to places like Sedona where even though it's technically the harsh desert, the landscape is welcoming and comforting like a good hug or good food, and it's quite pleasant to drape oneself over the curve of a large rock, or even hug a tree.

    All of these things are pretty magical, really. It's part of the real magic of nature and existence. These kinds of environments aren't just pretty to look at or peaceful or pleasant, they can be inspiring and can activate and transform people in powerful ways.

    This all goes sideways and out the window when you start building temples of woo around it and trying to bottle it and sell it as shiny trinkets to pilgrims and tourists, which all ignores if not actively defiles the message inherent in that real natural magic.

    Which is often as simple as "Shut up. Sit down. Be here now. Take a long, deep breath and breathe. Feast with all of your senses. You don't have to figure it all out, and you'll certainly never be in control of it, either. It's ok. Just be. It's good to be."
    posted by loquacious at 3:10 PM on December 8 [4 favorites]


    The place where I live now in the PNW is kind of jokingly known to have a vortex

    I hear they make a damn fine cup of coffee, and they've got a cherry pie there that'll kill ya!
    posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:55 PM on December 8 [1 favorite]


    All Ley Lines lead to my pants.
    posted by Burhanistan at 7:59 PM on December 8


    But seriously, I'm glad you pointed out that Sedona is a site of incredible natural beauty. That's the real reason people visit. If you read some of the comments on this thread, you'd think it was like the Gatlinburg of spiritual appropriation, full of nothing but New Agers wearing crystals and communing with vortices. Even the New Agers and their spirituality are drawn to the place for a good reason.
    posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:00 PM on December 8 [2 favorites]


    Nthing Sedona as a beautiful place to visit and spend time. The woo is easily avoided in favor of hikes among the red rocks, star-gazing, and side trips to places like Jerome.

    Just this week I dodged a cult bullet at a local meditation center. It is frigging amazing how the elements of cults (clear and unquestioned hierarchy, coercion, selective rewards, frequent poverty crying to drum up funds) crop up like kudzu in supposedly spiritual places.

    We don't give people instructions on how to avoid these scenes... perhaps we should.

    I found this helpful guide on choosing a Buddhist teacher this morning.
    posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:09 AM on December 9 [1 favorite]


    Just this week I dodged a cult bullet at a local meditation center. It is frigging amazing how the elements of cults (clear and unquestioned hierarchy, coercion, selective rewards, frequent poverty crying to drum up funds) crop up like kudzu in supposedly spiritual places.

    Yep. In my town there's a place run by a guy that he calls a "meditation center". He posts a lot of ads for rooms/couches for rent, and direct reports from friends who have had to stay there tell me there's nothing meditative about it, that the dude basically rants at people 100% of the time he's present and basically never shuts up at all. This same person also is known for setting up "free speech" displays in town where he's writing up a really confusing mish-mash of Breitbart talking points mixed with LGBTQ issues. Like, he'll have big white boards talking about Pizzagate while flying a rainbow flag. The locals know not to engage him but I've seen him tie up tourists in six hour arguments of endlessly meaningless bullshit.

    Point is that he basically wants to start a cult so he can have a captive audience to rant at.

    I briefly stayed with someone in town in exchange for work and they also had some kind of wannabe spiritual/meditation center going on. I had my first hint I needed to GTFO fast when I came home from a really heavy shift at work and the lady who ran the house insisted she needed to see me right away about something very important and my response was "Can you give me like, 15 minutes, I just got off of rough shift and I'd really like to decompress a bit and not have to interact with anyone or talk at all."

    But, no, she needed to see me right away, it was urgent. I figured she wanted help with something like moving some firewood inside, which is one of the chores I did, so I capitulated, because it was cold and firewood could be important.

    No, she absolutely had to see me because a Braco video was about to start and be broadcast, and I absolutely needed to gaze into his healing eyes and enjoy his smile. What the fuck? Healing for what, exactly, and what are you implying, and further, no? Can I help you with something or may I please go wash the stink of humanity's demands for coffee off of me and sit down for the first time in like 10 hours?

    And then I did GTFO in a hurry and (quite happily) went back to camping and working in the middle of winter when I realized that underneath that calm, peaceful, white light meditative exterior was someone who ranted angrily on the phone at donors and contributors and stuff haranguing money out of them. Someone who spoke with the words and tone of a grifter. Someone who was incredibly, incredibly angry and toxic.

    I got a huge dose of that anger after I left, when she tried hounding me for money she said I owed her for things we never agreed on, and damages that never happened. Like a homeless barista living on a bike has any money, like that wasn't the whole reason I was trading work for a corner of a garage in the first place. She'd harrass me at work, even. I actually had to lay into her and threaten to go to the police and get a restraining order.

    Yeah, fuck your "meditation center". No wonder you need to watch Braco videos for his healing gaze. What the fuck is wrong with you?
    posted by loquacious at 11:33 AM on December 9 [5 favorites]


    Metafilter: the stink of humanity's demands for coffee
    posted by thelonius at 12:30 PM on December 9 [1 favorite]


    Na-na na-na na-na na-na Leader!
    Well someone had to say it...
    posted by Redhush at 3:17 PM on December 9


    Ah, Landmark Forum. The way it's been told to me my mother spent the money that was meant to part of my college fund on this nonsense.
    posted by runcibleshaw at 8:49 AM on December 11 [2 favorites]


    I've done a couple of est/landmark type things over the course of my life. Got some good out of them, but was able to leave the rest of it behind.

    I'm aware I'm very lucky. And I hope I'm somewhat inured to it in other guises, but I'm perfectly willing to believe that the wetware still has all kinds of exploitable vulnerabilities left over by evolutionary oversight.
    posted by rmd1023 at 9:49 AM on December 11


    Just this week I dodged a cult bullet at a local meditation center. It is frigging amazing how the elements of cults (clear and unquestioned hierarchy, coercion, selective rewards, frequent poverty crying to drum up funds) crop up like kudzu in supposedly spiritual places.

    What better place to start and/or expand a cult than in a place that is known to have a high density of spiritual seekers and practitioners? You'll have a much higher conversion rate if you fish where the fish are.

    I've done a couple of est/landmark type things over the course of my life. Got some good out of them, but was able to leave the rest of it behind.

    Me too. People tell horror stories about it, but as near as I could figure out, it cost me about $450 and a weekend, nothing more. In terms of enthusiasm level, the people involved were about a 10/10, but it terms of usefulness, it was about a 5/10. For me, it was neither an evil cult disaster, nor a life transforming experience. Just a busy weekend involving a lot of introspection and idiosyncratic, technical vocabulary. Am I glad I tried it? Sure, I guess.
    posted by theorique at 10:39 AM on December 11 [1 favorite]


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