We are all a bunch of cults
Think our technologically advanced society is leaving the world of ignorance, superstition, and rituals behind? Think again, suggests Colin Montgomery
'You absolute cult!”
Rogue pronunciation aside, I do mean it as an insult. For this c-word is - unlike the most direct of all Anglo-Saxon profanities - if anything more offensive to the ears. At least it would be, if those ears were open and led into a brain still blessed with critical faculties.
“Did this twat just write off humanity as an unthinking mob, full of fury, rage, and intransigent tribalism,” Why yes. Yes, I did.
And what of it? Jesterish grand-standing aside, there is a point here – and I’ll get to it. But what if I did suggest that in place of serious debate, intellectual enquiry, and discursive analysis of all of the world’s woes, leanings, theories and potential solutions, we have one big massive cult?
I’d be shouted down as the latest in a long line of Bacofoil tinfoil hat wearers. But that too would be proof I’d not just hit the bullseye but taken it out, dressed as the late Jim Bowen, and wooed it with the promise of a comprehensive set of encyclopaedias.
Indelicate metaphors aside, I throw down the gauntlet. Tell me I’m lying if you think the idea that the ‘more advanced’ we supposedly become, the more we revert back to siloed cults of thinking, each with its own rules and rituals, is wrong. And they do so for a reason I’m going to elaborate on, probably in the last couple of paras. But yeah, I could line them up Usual Suspects style right now, and you’d recognise each and every one.
There’s the ‘This is My Identity and I Shall Accept Nothing That Encroaches on Said Identity’ Cult. There’s the ‘I Believe in Project Britain No Matter How Idiotic, Deluded and Clearly Damaging Brexit has Been Proved to Be’ Cult. There’s the ‘So-Called Independence Will Immediately Solve All of Our Problems and Make My Life Better – And If You Don’t Share Said View You Can Be Easily Dismissed as a Traitor or a Unionist Spy or Something’ Cult. Oh, and not forgetting, the ‘Please Don’t Threaten My Carefully Cultivated Universe View with Inconvenient Facts’ Cult. This is shaping up to be quite the paragraph, don’t you think?
About now, pens are being sharpened, teeth are being gritted, and dartboards are being embellished with this very page, torn out in a fury no doubt. And that again, merely confirms what I’ve just written. Cultishness brooks no dissent. It would rather perform contortions to protect its carefully guarded and much-cherished truths. Letting light in is verboten. As is even the slightest notion your belief system may not always be exactly 100% accurate.
This is what we’ve come to. Sticking fingers in ears. Shouting “La La La.” Attacking anyone who disagrees with us. Rounding on them. Hazing them. Othering them. Shutting them down. I guess it’s easier that way; life is so simple when you’re always right. It’s just too much effort to have to accept flaws or do anything other than use logical fallacies to escape scrutiny of them. For clarification, I’m not talking about allowing hate speech to flourish or giving platform to fascist rabble-rousers – sometimes, you need a response like Cable Street.
But existential threats met with righteous force aren’t the same as cultish refusal to engage in any other reality but your own. Which brings me to the conclusion of this savagery…
I liken the offending cultishness sketched above to the cargo cults of old Melanesia, born of Millenarian zeal, and a futile yearning for better times. The notion acted out by some indigenous islanders on remote archipelagos abandoned by the Americans in the South Pacific after the war, that waving flags on fake air strips as the air force ground staff who’d departed had done, could bring back the goods, prosperity, and status they felt they had lost forever.
A colonial sneer? Nah, it’s all there in history. Written and recorded dispassionately from an anthropological perspective. But just to convince you I’m no supremacist, it’s no different here in the supposedly ‘sophisticated’ West.
As I write this, a new king will be crowned in a ceremony with baubles, invocations, chants, and rituals that are rooted in a glorious past. To some, they are just that; echoes of times gone. But to some others, they will be voiced, fetishized and celebrated as harbingers of another golden age. Or the certainty of one’s status in a world of artificial nations that have emerged from rolling, ceaseless chaos.
Similarly, like cargo cults, today’s acolytes of any/all tribes (political or not), carry out their rituals, wave their sticks, and create their idols – be that through positions taken, badges worn, worldviews formed, or behaviours acted out and endorsed.
Critique, nuance, or ambiguity is their enemy. Only cultish certainty will secure them a better future – and even protect it from being encroached upon by alternatives. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity.
Yep WB, sorry to say you were right all along... ■
The cargo cults of Melanesia built satellite dishes, aeroplanes and goggles out of wood and straw, hoping God would deliver like the Americans in World War II