If you see American “conservatives” as people with a certain political view and try to talk to them, you will be hopelessly confused. You can only understand them if you realize that they are members of a cult.
That word has pejorative connotations. Conservatives will be insulted when I call them members of a cult. Sorry about that, but I’m not just name-calling. It’s the only way that I’m able to make sense of their statements and actions.
What makes them a cult?
First, they have a dogma – a set of core beliefs that they take on faith. This dogma is invulnerable to observable facts. Any fact that contradicts their dogma will either be re-interpreted or ignored.
For example, a core tenet of contemporary conservatism is: “No government can do anything as well as a private corporation.” What happens when the government issues a clear specification for a contract and the corporation that wins the bid fails to deliver on time and within budget? Do conservatives blame the corporation for lying about what they could deliver; failing to produce a useable product; and overcharging for their service?
No. The conservative lays the entire blame on the government for not managing the contract properly.
Apparently, signing a contract with a company in good faith and honestly reporting when they fail to deliver is “mis-mangement”. But only when the government does it. When the corporation does the same thing to a conservative, then the corporation is at fault. But the conservative will invariably add the aside, on the basis of dogma alone, that “if the government had been providing the service, they would have done worse.”
On a far larger scale, conservative policies have brought us into an economic depression, eroded the middle class, increased the disparity between the wealthy and the average citizen, driven countless small businesses into bankruptcy, and increased poverty.
Yet conservatives cling to their economic dogma with utter conviction. No matter how much visible damage is done by de-regulation, lowering taxes to unsustainable levels, and favoring anti-competitive corporate behavior, conservatives will insist that we need more of these policies, not less.
That’s the practical definition of dogma.
Second, conservatives follow charismatic leaders. A few strong personalities deliver the conservative dogma to the masses all day, every day over Fox News, talk radio, and endless best-selling hardcover books.
For most of us, it’s hard to find much charisma in the egocentric Rush Limbaugh, the bombastic Bill O’Reilly, the totalitarian Ann Coulter, or the irrational Glen Beck. Conservatives, though, are endlessly entertained by irrational, egocentric, totalitarian bombast as long as it reinforces their dogma.
Think of these conservative pundits as delivering sermons to their cult and you’ll understand their appeal to that segment of the population.
This brings us to the third characteristic of a cult. An in-group is established which self-identifies and distinguishes itself from everyone else at every opportunity.
This is pretty obvious. Talk to a conservative and he’ll identify himself as such almost immediately. Chances are that he’ll say, “I’m a conservative.” If not then he’ll start spouting conservative dogma in response to almost any statement you make.
You: “Nice day today.”
Con: “Not as long as Obama is destroying the country.”
The clearest indication of the strength of the conservative in-group mentality is their insistence that there is no middle ground. “If you aren’t with me, you’re against me.”
This means that any label applied to people who are not conservatives is automatically an insult. Conservatives consider liberal, socialist, and progressive to be slanders. And they apply those slanders to anyone who is not in the cult, no matter what position he takes on any individual issue.
Cults do not tolerate free-thinking or reasoned dissent.
The dichotomy between the in-group and the out-group is all-encompassing. You can’t agree with them on some policies and not others. If you are not 100 percent conservative, then you are not in the cult and you are one of the bad people.
Once people, rather than ideas, are placed into one category or the other, the classification generalizes to every behavior, attitude, and idea. If you’re not a conservative, you cannot be patriotic, moral, or decent. You have no place in their America.
At this point, the conservative has only two options: to convert you or to abandon you.
The fourth characteristic of a cult is that its members proselytize. This is why it is so difficult to talk to conservatives. You think that they are interested in rational discussion, sharing information, learning, figuring out the truth. That is the purpose of intellectual discussion, right?
Not for the conservative. His purpose is to induct you into the cult. That is why the conservative’s conversation consists of sound bites: bits of rehearsed dogma, irrelevant factoids that sound “truthy”, and a boat-load of name-calling.
He will tell you about his other conservative friends and will recommend that you start listening to conservative pundits on TV and radio.
His meta-message is that he will be your friend only if you agree with him; that you will feel wonderful if you agree with him; and that you will be a better person if you agree with him.
His only objective is to recruit you because every cult needs more members.
The final characteristic of cults is that their followers tolerate exploitation by the leadership. The leaders and the powers behind the leaders create and maintain cults for their own benefit. That is obvious to everyone but the members of the cult.
Cult members donate, tithe, and give the profits of their labor to the leaders. L Ron Hubbard lived on a yacht in the Mediterranean Reverend Sun Moon lived in a palace; and so forth.
Who profits from the conservative cult? The answer is so obvious, it hardly needs to be stated. America has never had such a wide disparity between the wealthy and the average worker. It has the worst economic mobility of any industrialized country. The rich really are getting richer while the rest of the country is getting poorer and poorer. The Great Recession didn’t reduce the wealth of the elite at all; it made them wealthier.
The conservative masses not only tolerate these conditions, but keep pushing for more of the policies that created them. They can only do that because they are true believers in the dogma of their cult.
If you are not a conservative, I hope that this perspective will help you understand people who are. And if you are a conservative, no problem, you didn’t read past the first paragraph of this essay. Cult members never read or listen to anything that contradicts their dogma or criticizes their leaders.