The ancient art of cult building is an intellectual foundation of modern day business marketing and political campaigning. We have mastered it down to a science. In business, we look for ways to persuade mass crowds to purchase our products and be loyal to our brands. Business models based on network marketing or multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes often rely heavily on cult building techniques to expand their base. In politics, dictators have got better and better at building a cult of personality, and even in democracies political campaigns take advantage of social engineering, vague language and emotional rhetoric to influence voting. In this light, I find Robert Greene’s essay outlining five simple steps to build a cult instructive.
People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf.
Step 1: Keep it Vague; Keep it Simple. To create a cult you must first attract attention. This you should do not through actions, which are too clear and readable, but through words, which are hazy and deceptive…To make your vagueness attractive, use words of great resonance but cloudy meaning, words full of heat and enthusiasm. Fancy titles for simple things are helpful, as are the use of numbers and the creation of new words for vague concepts. All of these create the impression of specialized knowledge, giving you a veneer of profundity.
Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual… Surround yourself with luxury, dazzle your followers with visual splendor, fill their eyes with spectacle. Not only will this keep them from seeing the ridiculousness of your ideas, the holes in your belief system, it will also attract more attention, more followers.
Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group… Create rituals for your followers; organize them into a hierarchy, ranking them in grades of sanctity, and giving them names and titles that resound with religious overtones; ask them for sacrifices that will fill your coffers and increase your power.
Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income… You must never be seen as hungry for money and the power it brings…By surrounding yourself with luxury you become living proof of the soundness of your belief system. Never reveal that your wealth actually comes from your followers’ pockets; instead, make it seem to come from the truth of your methods.
Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic… make sure your followers believe that are part of an exclusive club, unified by a bond of common goals. Then, to strengthen this bond, manufacture the notion of a devious enemy out to ruin you…If you have no enemies, invent one. Given a straw man to react against, your followers will tighten and cohere.