I don't want to pick on either North or South Korea. I wrote on North Korea and the religion of Juche now I'm writing on some Korean cults or cult-like organizations. But this is a coincidence.
Speaking of North Korea:
Cultlike groups aren't confined to any one type of people. The U.S. is an utter hotbed of these groups. I only want to understand a bit about how people control others, how a nexus of social control springs up. And just the general weirdness of humanity.
I am speculating wildly and feel a bit guilty about that. I feel guilty because it is so much more fun to speculate than actually know what I'm talking about.
And I feel sad that I can't get a job where I get to make shit like this up all the time, read books about random weird things I'm not an expert in and write about that. Instead of having accountability for what I say.
I've always been curious about cults and have known a few people in them. What reminded me how fascinating cults are was the coincidence of finding a brochure about 'Maum Meditation' at my local cafe.
I know nothing about it except that (1) They mention their leader/founder often in the pamphlet. They also mention his many, oddly titled books. He was South Korean.
(2) The pamphlet is very fancy and expensive.
(3) They promise you perfect bliss and happiness.
This last one is a tip off, I think. However, I don't have any evidence to suppose they are a true cult rather than some heavy-handed self-help organization trying to part us from our money.
Some years ago a 'yoga studio' opened up in the neighborhood of the town where I lived. It was called Dahn Yoga. I paid money and went because I thought it was a normal yoga class.
Dahn Yoga wasn't a cult, exactly. A sort of 'cult lite,' a bit like Amway. I actually enjoyed the bouncing around you do there, which had nothing to do with yoga. It too was started by a South Korean. But it wasn't worth the bucketloads of cash I would have had to pay to do it regularly.
There was a local debate about whether it was a cult but it was inconclusive. It's rather difficult to say precisely what a cult is. It involves a personal control, unlike the control of culture, the standard groups, and it is organized to benefit to a ridiculous degree one very small group of people and completely fleece everyone else. Sort of like an investment bank, actually.
In some cases, you do know a cult when you see it. I see no need to fuss over the borderline cases.
Dahn Yoga had many extremely attractive, young scarily enthusiastic salespersons who would try to sell you memberships of ever-increasing cost. They promised something called 'brain respiration.' They promised a lot of things. The usual things--peace, inner bliss, enhanced cognitive functioning. They promise, like all scams, something close to personal perfection and alleviation of suffering.
I ended up, as part of my first class payment, with one of the founders' books, full of platitudes, pointless snippets of advice, promises of personal perfectibility.
Given how often cult leaders and despotic dictators self-publish, you start to wonder if that's not the whole point. To see their name in print.
Here's the puzzling thing: Are we so very unhappy, that we can be fooled like this, time and again? And why? Most of us here in the United States have almost everything we need. What are we missing, exactly?
If there's one thing I am trying to teach my kid it is this: If anyone tries to sell you anything or involve you in anything that promises to make you better than you are now, to alleviate all your troubles and smooth away all your sorrows, then they are almost always lying to you.
I mostly try to get her to see how this works in ordinary advertisements. In their own way, this is how capitalism gets us to shop. It's necessary for belonging. Buying crap you don't need is not really optional--you have to do it. To utterly refuse, e.g., during adolescence or college is to risk not finding love and few can (or even should) take this risk.
The most fascinating thing to me about the salesmenship of happiness is that the intense desire I have for something makes me much more receptive to the absurd results I am being promised. If you show something almost impossible to achieve, but which everyone desperately wants, the thing sells itself. The person's desire takes over and the salesperson doesn't much need to explain how they are going to get the longed for item. The initiate will discover for himself, etc.
When I was young, my hobby was going to the library. And at the library I would meet all kinds of weird and somewhat interesting people. There was a very dumb communist I used to argue with. And then there was this exceedingly sweet Moonie I used to talk to. I noticed even then he seemed happy, at peace. But I didn't want that happiness, I didn't want that peace. Like most people, I'd rather be tormented than give up my autonomy.
But that is strange, in a way. We want happiness, but most of us don't want it that much. We'd prefer freedom. And I wonder how often these are at odds.
The term 'Moonie' is actually a derogatory term. It is called the Unification Church and I'm not sure what the followers are called.
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon was in fact a North Korean who had a vision at 16 that he should be a Messiah like figure, later went to South Korea, and somehow (I need to find out how) managed to start this highly successful religious group.
The one thread I see between him, Kim Jong Il, the Maum Meditation guy and the founder of Dahn Yoga is the claim that the person had some sort of vision, some type of special knowledge, a recognition of something that can save humanity forever.
So that's another thing to teach my kid: People can know facts. They can know scientific theories. They can even have a better view about how to treat other people. But closely examine other people's promise to know something amazing that you don't, especially when they are telling you how to live.
Here there, is another intense desire we have: The desire for someone who has all the answers. I really think that plays a partial role in the success of the cult of personality totalitarianism.
This is strange. Why do humans tend to want this? Even I have fantasies of some Deus Ex Machina spaceship aliens coming down and saving our asses at the last minute from global warming, peak oil, overpopulation and our general fucked-upness.
I guess if you were being Freudian, it's all kind of obvious---some sort of wish to be transported back to infancy, or whatever's close to infancy.
If you were being existentialist, it's about our need to eschew responsibility, our desire to evade choice.
I'm actually just full of shit here probably.
Naturally, we're supposed to love freedom. That's a long story--why freedom is better than the bosom of a benevolent leader who always provides. Well, maybe not such a long story.