Cultish is what Amanda Montell calls the unique language used by cult groups and leaders.
It’s used in the form of acronyms, repurposed words, made-up language, or mantras.
This book doesn’t necessarily talk about the psychology of cults. Instead, it talks about the language of cults about the commonalities that make people buy in, that persuade people that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
The language of cults, she explains, goes beyond just words. It includes how they dress, which foods they eat, with whom they socialize, which deities to worship, and how they communicate.
We see dissections of the usual suspects and what makes them fit the cultish formula, including Jonestown, Heavens Gate, and Children of God.
But Montell also discusses cultish patterns in other, less obvious places, such as CrossFit, Peloton, YouTube shaman Teal Swan, MLMs such as Amway, and even the cultish language of some corporate workplaces to force workers into conformity.
Somewhat embarrassingly, I must admit I’m guilty of buying into many of these Cultish practices. I whoop along with video exercise instructors. I use the word “sunset” as a verb at work. Unironically!
Unravelling the mystery
So how do people keep getting sucked into cults? Well, the answer is a little more complicated than you might think. It’s not a matter of finding those of weak will and slight intellect. It’s easier to brainwash people who are a little more strong-willed. Those who are optimistic and searching. Who seek something more and might be more likely to buy into the language used by the cults to elevate it to a higher level.
There’s also the exclusivity of the language. The way they use words puts the “cult” in “culture.” Speaking the language makes you one of them. And there’s undoubtedly an us versus them vibe.
Sunken costs also can’t be ignored. The phrase “in for a penny, in for a pound” helps explain this phenomenon. Once you’ve put enough time, money, and emotional energy into something, it’s hard to turn your back on it at that point. So there’s always the thought that if I just invest a little more, I will reach what I’m searching for.
Some also fall for the relief of having someone figure out life for them. Life is hard sometimes, so it’s tempting just to follow that formula when a cult guru claims to have the key already.
Not all cults are evil. If it serves its people, it’s probably not too bad. If the practice serves its leader, watch out.
Cultish is a fascinating book with a fresh look at a familiar subject.
Clip credit: Heaven’s Gate Used ‘Loaded Language’ To Indoctrinate People | Deadly Cults Highlights | Oxygen | YouTube