Monday, November 12, 2007

Everything Is (NOT) A Cult

"While many of these alternative medicine gurus say a lot of weird stuff does that mean it’s wrong? Many medicines we have now are derived from natural sources like plants. I mean who would’ve thought that we can treat diseases with fungus? If that’s the case then wouldn’t it also be possible that some of the “crazy potions” actually have value to them? Of course science detests anything from these shamans yet it’s a possibility that only the ignorant would cast off.

We can find treatments to diseases in strange places. I’m actually working in a lab right now and we’re studying the effects of cinnamon on the large conduit arteries of male wistar rats. We’ve found that licorice administered in vitro causes vasodilation! Right now we believe licorice acts through nitric oxide synthase in the endothelium.

(Uh, the point being that you’re studying it. If it doesn’t pan out you will shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well, guess we were wrong about that one,” not form the Cult of Cinnamon Therapy and defend it from all infidels.-PB)"

- From the comments section of Panda Bear, M.D.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've become a big fan of Panda Bear, M.D.'s medical blog, and the exchange, above, is an obvious reason why:

1) He talks straight, like a human being, with no BS.

2) He doesn't suffer fools gladly.

3) He's not afraid to call a cult a "cult".

And notice the distinction he makes about the behavior of others - that not everyone decides to form a cult around a particular idea. This has been an argument I've heard from many people ("Everything is a cult") and I've always thought it was one of the most bullshit answers I've come across.

"Everybody" doesn't do this. Only "close-minded" people get to the point of being cultish around an idea - like the suggested good in being "open-minded" to all things - just as I've become, completely and openly, close-minded to the idea there's any worth in cultish-thinking. I'm an "open-minded" person, but I've circled the wagons on this one.

Believe it or not, I wasn't always this way. (You might get some argument on that point but, hell, I'm an atheist who, for 20 years, was married to a woman who went to church, attended Reiki "meetings" - eventually claiming she could walk through walls - believed in U.F.O.s, and continued to throw every other manner of New Age nonsense available, that her psychic "guides" could think of, at me. Without my awareness, of course. And there I am, above, smiling with an actual frenchman - in France of all places!) But - while I'm sure most people don't know what it's like to endure being in love with someone who is functionally crazy - that's proof enough, for me, that (at the very least) despite my biases, I was a "tolerant" fellow before my divorce. Just not anymore.

Now I can see that people form cults around all kinds of things, but they just don't call it that. "Bush Derangement Syndrome" is just another term for cultish-thinking.

It hasn't been lost on me that most of the people that hate the president can only get along with other people that hate him as well. (Don't get me started on that one - man, have I got stories,...Hate may not be a family value but it, surely, flourishes in the hearts of many of my friends - and, especially, some of the best liberal families I know of,....) These are people who know every possible charge against the president but can't find time to discover if those accusations are true - and, more importantly, don't care. Show them how such an attitude hurts the country and they blithely bat it away, having convinced themselves of their own righteousness. (It's really sad because, like my ex, they can be so damn smart, and charming, at other times. And they absolutely hate any comparison, of themselves, to my ex.) This is just not how thinking people behave.

BTW, on a related topic, out of all the e-mails I've received, not one has pointed out any "overflowing landfills" to date. Nor have any of my readers, when I bump into them on the street, wanted to discuss it. (Very curious behavior, for people who are so sure recycling is necessary, and/or who seriously want me to reconsider my position on all this cult stuff,....)

What's truly amazing is, any kid can see through this stuff that the adults around them will destroy friendships over - and marriages - to maintain believing in:

I was on the BART train not too long ago, and a group of Jr. High School students (from Berkeley, Ca.) got on, playing some of that really bad Hip-Hop R&B that kids are inundated with these days. Two girls sat across from me, playing their music loudly, until I told them - flat out, as an adult - "That's really bad music."

They looked at me like the thought had never occurred to them before (which it probably hadn't). "Really?" they asked. "Yea", I said, and I started to engage them in conversation about the obvious merits of good music over bad. They seemed intrigued.

Having that opening, I asked them what grade they were in and what they learn in school. One volunteered "stuff about the environment" which - Bingo! - got me to asking some questions about the "knowledge" they had received.

As we talked, other kids in their group started gathering around, paying close attention to the conversation their classmates were having with this unknown black man. Then, as a group, they started asking me probing questions, leading to some wild exchanges:

"Are you a Republican?"

(Murmuring from the peanut gallery, including a "Whoa" or two)

"I never met a Republican before."

"What do you think?"

"It's cool."

As we went back and forth, I could see their eyes starting to light up; their little brains flickering on; until one kid finally let loose with, "I knew it!", meaning he'd always been sure his tie-dye brained, granola-munching, teachers had been trying, badly, to indoctrinate him They asked me how I felt about everything - even abortion - until their stop arrived.

As they left, I heard one kid say, "That was awesome!" which gave me a great feeling. Almost like what a real teacher must feel like. And (as my friend, Tony Sparks, likes to say) here's the thing:

They never once got angry.

Those kids were asking good questions, while listening closely for evidence of deception, because I was challenging some of their deeply held beliefs - like what constituted good music, which, as any parent can tell you, is very important to a child of a certain age and not exactly open for discussion - but they could tell, no matter what I said, I was always on their side and I gave them everyday examples they could sort out themselves. I wasn't the Devil because I showed them some idea, or bit of information, was wrong. Challenging them wasn't considered an insult. Learning was, believe it or not, fun. (I actually feel sorry for their instructors when they got back at school.)

With adults I get none of that. Especially for those that know me and my recent personal history, my divorce is the first obvious weakness to attack in any debate. "You're obsessed!" they cry, turning the argument away from whether or not they hold a defensible position on the topic of discussion, which is a totally chickenshit move. (How low can they go?) They cut me off with "No, no, no" if a concept can't be explained in a sentence or two - anything but accepting an idea on the merits or - Heaven forbid! - looking at the evidence. (I put links in my posts for a reason, Kids.)

And they'll punish me, brutally, if I don't go along. That's been the most hurtful discovery, regarding my "friends" (and, especially, my ex), of this whole ordeal:

How absolutely ruthless cultish-thinkers, spiritual types, Leftists, etc., will immediately become to defend their beliefs.

It's like they've been waiting all their lives to show their asshole side and, now, they've finally got the opening they've been waiting for - to slam The Big Guy, Mr. Know-It-All, The Crack Emcee - the daddy figure they've been running to for advice all these years because he was happily married and famous. (My current favorite: "Why does my wife scream at me the way she does?" "Because you let her.")

It's tragic, really, because they're still as wrong-headed as they ever were, and pissing me off isn't going to change that, or help them escape their long-term battles with such confusion. It's merely going to eliminate one more critical thinker, who loves them, from their lives; which certainly can't be helpful, considering the, many, totally ass-backwards and cultishly apocalyptic delusions they hold, oh so dearly.

Time gets us all - but websites live forever - and cultism will be defeated through:


  1. I LOVE this blog. You were linked by Big Fur Hat on IOTW.
    Damn, why didn't I find you sooner.
    Now I have to catch up.

  2. t underscores the importance of avoiding hasty judgments and stereotypes, Is Real Game reminding us that not everything unconventional or different should be labeled as a cult.