The Cult-ure of Zero
Defining a cult is challenging but in most popular usage is associated with ‘brainwashing’, cultic practices, binary dogma and unusual beliefs. Richardson has a good definition of a cult as: ‘a group that has beliefs and/or practices that are counter to those of the dominant culture’. (1983, The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological, Psychological, Legal and Historical Perspectives. Mellen Press, Toronto).
One of the key elements in being cultic is not-knowing one is in a cult. Usually a cult is ‘anchored’ to a charismatic leader or group. The beginning of leaving a cult is critical thinking.
Most cults develop a unique doctrine of salvation based on unethical foundations that ignore the fundamentals/ethic of personhood.
The idea of ‘brainwashing’ was first used by British psychiatrist William Sargant (1959, Battle for the Mind. Pan Books, London). Brainwashing is often associated with persistent propaganda and binary opposition. Conversion to cults is often framed as an either/or choice, a black and white decision framed by a binary question. Conversion to belief is also framed by political association to a group of fellow ‘believers’.
Not understanding cults, religious studies, theology or psychological conversion serves as a hot bed for conversion to a cult. Similarly, studies in Critical and Cultural Theory, Transdisciplinary studies and disciplines that question the nature of power, ethics and personhood help lead people out of cults.
The word ‘cult’ is of course associated with culture. It was first used in relation to ‘worship’ meaning: ‘what/who one serves’. Similarly, an ideology as a philosophical system of beliefs drives the nature of worship and is sustained by political association in a like-minded group.
Of course, culture is not defined adequately by ‘what we do around here’, but is a holistic way of being, enacted through semiotics, artefacts, practices, myths, language and discourse. One needs to analyse these to be aware of the nature of a cult.
Even a casual examination of the basic elements of the political, social, psychological and ideological elements of zero, confirm that it is a cult (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/ ).