The Wrong Way Home
Author: Arthur J. Deikman
About twenty tears ago I heard psychiatrist Arthur Deikman speak on the subject of cult behavior in American corporations. What a speaker! It was he who finally convinced me that public speaking and total relaxation really do go together, but, more importantly, he gave a totally gripping account of how cult thinking happens beyond cults and, in fact, is all around us.
Cultishness is so ubiquitous we don’t always recognize it for what it is (just as a fish, if it could, might inquire “What is this ‘water’ I keep hearing about?”). Mini cults – and larger ones – can and do form wherever people collect in groups. Which is everywhere, of course. This isn’t inevitably a bad thing, but if we look at the historically recent cult of Nazism it’s clear that the consequences can sometimes be devastating. The Wrong Way Home would make an excellent text book for schools, spelling out the principles of cult formation and pointing out the dangers both of the more prominent cults and of cult behavior in everyday life.
The Wrong Way Home first describes the typical characteristics of cults and then illustrates how these characteristics manifest in everyday groupings that nobody would think of associating with a cult. So a business, a political body, a therapy school and even purely social groups can all be somewhat – or evenly extremely – cult like. I would go further and suggest that even a relationship between just two people can become cult like.
Deikman examines how cult formation is based on infantile desire for meaning and dependency; the quest to have everything taken care of by an all-knowing, all-providing ‘leader’ or organization. Other cult features include:
- Devaluation of outsiders/non group members: promoting ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitudes
- Suppression of disagreement or dissent – especially disagreement with the leader
- Manipulation and control of behavior through alternate use of fear and hope
- Isolation of the members from ‘outsiders’ – disallowing contact with family, friends or media – so no countering influence can gain a foothold
This isolationism is deliberately deployed in some business corporations, who discourage their employees from socializing with anyone not connected with the business, and even move employees around regularly so that non-corporate social contacts become hard to create and maintain.
Cult behavior limits people’s ability to mature and develop as autonomous beings and manipulates how they behave. It encourages bigotry on the one hand and blocks the path to better knowledge on the other – because really looking for truth risks coming into conflict with the ideology of the group.
Gaining a clear understanding of cult behavior can help free people from the more obvious dangers of cult thinking that surround us. The Wrong Way Home is a great and important book. It’s already on the humanities curriculum in some universities. I hope more will soon be ensuring that their students are reading it.
Review by Mark Tyrrell