By Jackson Hale
I sometimes feel like I don’t have much in common with those around me. How do I develop better relationships?
-Seeking Close Bonds
Hello Mister, Miss or Missus Bond! Also hello audience, and welcome to Forward All Inquiries! You know what this is by now I’m sure but this is a place where I give people advice! And settle their disputes. Also this is an exercise in doing light research. So this one is a tad long, forgive me.
But Bonds, I hear exactly what you are saying. You want to start a cult.
I know what you are thinking.” Yes, I totally want to start a cult. It’s the only way to ensure that I am absolutely satisfied with the relationships of those around me.” And I understand where you are coming from. A cult is a great way to ensure people with lots in common meet!
Note: I did my research on this stuff, so if you are wondering why i am talking about cults and stuff, i promise this isn’t something i have planned for my future…yet…
Cults are small social formations that are roughly analogous to what economists would recognize as “club formations”. Club formations are small economic units who are very strict. Clubs trade club goods, which are goods produced for the use of club members by club members. In a club formation, all members contribute to the production of club goods. If there is a “free rider” or a member who consumes the club goods without producing, the club has the ability to remove that individual from the club. Strict, see?
Think of a club in the real physical sense as 1) a ship at sea, or 2) as a band of fur trappers on the frontier (like in The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio. He sleeps in a horse, it won an Oscar, y’all). If one member doesn’t carry their weight, and doesn’t assist in the production of club goods (not sinking and animal skin respectively) the group can choose to remove the problem person from the equation. Furthermore, clubs find themselves in very intense environments.
So, what does this have to do with cults? Everything!
The club good that a cult needs to produce is a type of “social currency”. The thing about social currencies is that they obscure the real means of relation. That is Marxist talk for lots of complicated junk, but let’s say that it means roughly it gives your believers a way to rationalize themselves. They are poor? Rich in Life. Their family is sick? Healing through the power of belief, or they die and dead people are notoriously hesitant to complain.)
But in order to start producing the religious worlds newest commodity, you have to develop a core set of beliefs. And the best way to do that is step 1) decrease the size of the group.
Starting out, you will want a few people who can dedicate a fair amount of time to the needs of the cult. If there are too many people, you will find that one or two acolytes are just around to hang out, but won’t work on the important things like leadership – and won’t show up to the cult cabin parties.
Furthermore, a small group may at first feel lonely, but once the group starts producing really interesting and compelling club goods, outsiders will want to join. And (I bet) it will feel good, but remember: DON’T LET THEM IN RIGHT AWAY!
Having this initial small group allows an intensity and an intimacy that will allow your group to thrive. This is a great way to get your main group of true believers. But once you start thriving, you will want to start growing. So instead of letting any old so-and-so in, you need to develop a system by which you can ensure new members are going to both be receptive of the things you say, and willing to work hard for your new cult. So to Step 2.
You need to design the method by which new people will join your cult. Make sure that new members can handle the strict production schedule your group will demand. For example, you can do the classic “read these books and take a strenuous and psychologically demanding test”. Look at Scientology, for example. People have to go through something similar to therapy that involves giving the church your deepest darkest secrets.
As you can see, these strict membership requirements mean that your cult will be able to take in very motivated people who are receptive to the message your club produces, whether or not they might want to be. You want to be around people you have things in common with? Here you go, kid.
Now ok, I know you are thinking: while technically in creating a cult you have also created a narrative that people are responding to and adopting, in real life it’s different because you want to connect with people with what you have in common. But I would say that when you look for things you have in common with others, you are still telling a story about who you are and the things you value. So either way, you are connecting to others through a narrative you have manufactured, yeah? Who cares if it’s a lie?
And this leads me to step 3) Seek to keep an economy of scale by continually creating tension with the environment. Let’s face it, it is much easier to keep a group together when they are placed in contrast to another group. As your cult grows, make sure to keep enough tension with the outside world that any disagreements within the group are less important than those jerks outside! And this may mean straight up lying about stuff.
If I may suggest so, find a behavior that your group can say is immoral. Your belief system will be complex enough that you can choose any behavior really. Abortion, nude pictures in magazines, immigrants, whatever! Remember, you’re not actually trying to create a conversation with people, you are trying to create the appearance of conflict! And as a cult, you are in the rare position to make crazy claims for the sake of negative attention.
Your members will see the negative attention and it will make them feel justified in the crazy things. Your believers, if you designed the way to join up correctly, will be unshakable in their convictions! Be sure to reaffirm the belief system and educate old members through weekend retreats and a great big compound!
Lastly, religious groups have to compete for the same segment of the population. They have to produce a good that others want, and their good will be compared to that of other religious groups. That means that there will be petty fighting about all sorts of crazy stuff. For example, look no further than how Happy Science and Aum Shinrikyo were always protesting one another and always handing out flyers about how much of a jerk the other one was. (those of you familiar might notice that Happy Science won out in the end there).
Now, at this point, you might ask yourself: is this an ethical thing you have done?
Eh, who cares? Didn’t you want to be around people you had things in common with? If you wanted to be a person who wants everyone around you to bless you with their individuality, probably you wouldn’t start a cult, right?
But, to answer your original question sincerely, you probably won’t have real meaningful relationships if you are too focused on what you have in common immediately. The real important things that matter if you have in common or not wont really come until you know a person for a while. Even cults understand that in order to make members who satisfy the needs of the group, they have to work with that person!
But if you want a relationship where you feel confident that the other person thinks of you in a way you’d find satisfying, you should knock it off! Satisfaction is the result of a positive relationship, not the goal. And People pleasing ain’t no kind of way to live (I have always heard).
Instead, try to deepen your understanding of those around you by learning about what makes them special. Everyone’s special, yeah? From here, you can learn all sorts of new things about yourself and what you like. If the problem is that you have nothing in common, I would say that that’s maybe not true and that also you should use that as an opportunity to grow! Ask them about their likes, and see if their passions don’t convince you a little bit. And hopefully your interest in them will turn into them being interested in you.
PS: If those people around you are mean and have no interest in you because they are mean, you are great, and I mean it.