New book explores “sectarian” language
“DTHE RINK Kool-Aid, ”which means unquestionably adhering to a belief or system, is often used jokingly by people unaware of its horrific origin in Peoples Temple, a 20th century religious community. (Jim Jones supporters in Guyana actually committed suicide by putting cyanide in Flavor Aid, a different drink.) The cult also had its own internal lexicon. The Temple’s acolytes celebrated the birthday of a man, Jones himself, “Father’s Day”. “Churchianity” was a term for Christianity observed by the American middle class. “Revolutionary suicide” was the group’s final act. Heaven’s Gate, another cult that ended in mass suicide in 1997, used equally bizarre jargon.
Enjoy more audio and podcasts on ios or Android.
A new book, “Cultish” by Amanda Montell, examines the role of language in connecting people and organizations of all kinds. The group can be an ordinary workplace, a fan club, or a circle of friends, but it can also include institutions that make it difficult to escape from their orbit and, at worst, inflict severe damage on members. What organizations have in common are passionate members, charismatic leaders, and a unique use of language that helps bring everyone together. The vocabulary of tightly knit organizations gives people a strong sense of belonging.
Ms. Montell briefly addresses a central question: does being forced to use a certain lexicon make people manipulable afterwards. The highly controversial Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in linguistics poses a causal link between language and thought. In its strongest form, it suggests that ideas that lack a linguistic label are unthinkable – in the same way that the very concept of being “free” is destroyed in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. – while the regular use of other labels forces people’s thinking to adopt an approved attitude. patterns.
But, like most modern scholars, Montell rejects such notions. After years of immersing themselves in an island language, some people think they should leave a group or a job. A weaker, more plausible form of the idea is that the constant repetition of sectarian vocabulary only pushes thoughts in some directions and away from others. This makes it more difficult, although far from impossible, to flee.
More interesting is his discussion of “thinking clichés” in sects and religious groups. They are circular or distracting mantras designed to dispel doubt. Believers in QAnon, a conspiracy theory, have constantly told skeptics to “trust the plan” that President Donald Trump apprehends a global ring of satanic pedophiles. Shambhala, a controversial branch of Tibetan Buddhism, said to worried people, “Why don’t you sit down with this? rather than talking about it. “You shot it” is Scientology’s response to a bad event in someone’s life. Such calamities should not befall the adherents, so if disaster strikes, you are hurting Scientology.
‘Cultish’ will raise eyebrows as it moves from modern belief systems to multi-level marketing (MLM), whose members are often put under pressure not only to sell products but also to recruit new associates. Amway, the biggest and the most powerful MLM, formerly called its members “independent contractors”; his own cliché that ends the thought is, “A good system always works.” Modern beauty programs often target young women, as Ms. Montell puts it, using “bogus fourth wave commodified feminism”. These “boss babes” are motivated by a rhetoric associated with independence.
Ms. Montell also scrutinizes fitness trends such as CrossFit, a kind of high-intensity workout, where gyms are “boxes” and coaches are “trainers”. “Uncle Rhabdo” is the nickname for rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal result of excessive exercise, and almost everything else has an acronym. She examines online wellness gurus pouring out pseudo-scientific terminology such as’ quantum transformation ‘and’ upgrading your DNA”. Most of these treatments are harmless, but some suggest harmful treatments.
Ultimately, Ms. Montell’s network is so vast that it can leave many readers wondering if a group they belong to is manipulating them in any way. It may not be a cult (although it would certainly deny being one if it was). But being aware of how language is used to deflect or stop thinking within organizations is a powerful tool in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with joining a team and willingly adopting your lingo as long as it is freely chosen.
This article appeared in the Books and Arts section of the Print Publishing under the title “The Binding Terms”