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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Is A Voice For Men A Cult?

Lately I've been reading American Crucifixion by Alex Beam.  My fascination with the early history of the LDS Church is rooted in my genealogy: my mother's family were (and mostly are) devout Mormons and I was raised to take great pride in the fact that some of my ancestors were members of Brigham Young's first party of pioneers to settle the Salt Lake Valley.  My mother attended Brigham Young University on scholarship, where she met her first husband.  However, in her early twenties she divorced frivorced him to run off with my father, who she judged had better financial prospects.  (Turns out she judged wrong on that count, but what could she do, driven as all women are by the mandates of hypergamy?)  At the same time, she officially renounced her ties to the LDS Church. 

And so I was born to a mother who was deeply ambivalent about her religious heritage.  On one hand, she taught me that the LDS Church was a cult that was based on a bizarre doctrine; that the prophet himself was a fraud and a plagiarist; that polygamy was an evil institution that oppressed the women and exhausted the men.  On the other hand, she taught me that Mormon pioneers were the strongest, most admirable people that had ever lived, whose work and spiritual ethics and dedication to The Great Idea wrought a virtual Eden from some of the most inhospitable country imaginable; that they had been unfairly maligned, persecuted, and suffered because of the envy and bigotry of the Gentiles.

My mother's legacy has left me struggling with a lot of questions about my forebears.  My biggest question has always been, What compelled my ancestors to embrace such a cult?  What persuades anyone to join cults?  And why haven't I, despite my genetic predisposition (as evidenced by a serious flirtation with various religions) ever been remotely tempted to join a cult?

One of the most interesting revelations in Beam's biography is that Joseph Smith was not an entirely admired figure even within his own band of devotees.  His "martyrdom" contributed mightily to his subsequent idealization.  There was considerable dismay and criticism about Smith's revelations concerning polygamy ("celestial marriage"), and the principle was not shared outside the closest ranks for years (his wife Emma never acknowledged it).  Even his closest acolytes saw something sinister and self-serving in Smith's insistence that polygyny was God's will.  Yet they eventually accepted the commandment, and with varying degrees of enthusiasm, set forth to enter into plural marriages themselves. And later they embarked on many other dark chapters, including the political shenanigans that led to their violent expulsion first from Missouri, and then from Illinois, and later still, the infamous, long-denied Mountain Meadows Massacre.  No, it's not hard to understand why, after reading Beam's book, they were so hated and feared by the frontier residents who had first welcomed them.

Over the last century, the Church has sought to assimilate itself within mainstream Christianity although, Mitt Romney's campaign notwithstanding, it has a way to go to escape its early reputation as a cult, partly because its members persist in wearing "garments," baptizing by proxy Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and indulging in other undeniably odd and -- to many non-Mormons -- offensive practices, not the least of which is to control state politics in ways that clearly violate the will of the majority (and echo the behavior that got them burned out of Nauvoo back in 1844).

What Beam is unable to do is depict the powerful charisma I'd always assumed Joseph Smith must have had.  Aside from his bright blue eyes, and a certain way with the ladies (he was nothing if not persistent once he'd identified a likely romantic prospect), he seemed about as charismatic as an insurance salesman.  The majority of people who met him were impervious to his charms.  And, of course, a few people, including his father-in-law, positively despised him.  Perhaps personal charisma cannot adequately explain the success of cult leaders.

And so it was in this frame of mind that I found myself pondering the nature of cults, and wondering if we could fairly characterize various "manosphere" related communities (Dark Enlightenment and other neo-reactionaries, the weird "Christian submissive wife" networks of blogs) as "cults?"

I was watching local activist Lissie's (sworebytheprecious) telephone call with Dean Esmay last night, and it dawned on me: Dean Esmay was speaking like someone who was caught in a cult.  Of course, knowing that Esmay has a long history documented online of getting caught up in various forms of quackery (i.e., AIDS denial) probably informs my perception. His need to reach out to "the enemy" at 4 a.m., while at the same time evincing fear that he would be punished for doing so was striking, and may be why Lissie found the conversation so unnerving.  The paranoid notion that Esmay espouses that David Futrelle is a kind of "puppetmaster" (or "puppet") of a vast feminist conspiracy is also rather extraordinary: 


It's not hard to understand why Paul Elam, with his fierce, grizzled face and Old Testament-style rages, inspires followers to accept him as a kind of prophet, summoned from above to restore the patriarchy.  In the manner of most cult leaders, he rules his followers by alternately exalting or expelling them.  

Here is what David Futrelle has recently observed:

AVFMers are expected not only to accept Elam’s leadership; they’re expected to accept his distinctly non-consensus reality – a world turned upside down in which men are the real victims of domestic violence and rape and pretty much everything else, a world in which the Southern Poverty Law Center is a collection of evil bigots and his motley collection of misogynists is the true human rights movement of the twenty-first century. 

Like a lot of cult leaders, Elam keeps his troops too busy to think straight in a continual frenzy of pseudo-activism. AVFMers are forever brigading comment sections of newspaper articles and YouTube videos in little squads (AVFMers almost always travel in packs), all reciting the same few talking points.

Weirdly, the dynamics of internet discussions can actually reinforce this kind of intellectual conformity, much as Stalin’s control of the media did in his day. No, AVFMers can’t avoid being exposed to facts that contradict the shared (un)reality of their ideological bubble.

But in internet discussions you don’t have to be right in order to convince yourself you’ve won an argument. You just have to be loud and persistent and unwilling to ever give in. You don’t have to convince anyone else of your arguments so long as you convince yourself. MRAs don’t win many arguments on their merits, but they manage to convince themselves they win every one.

The trouble is that when they step outside of their regular stomping grounds on the internet, this strategy – so effective in generating ideological conformity amongst cult members – falls completely apart.

Like most successful cult leaders, Paul Elam has solidified his cult base by recruiting women.  "The Honey Badgers Brigade" are an integral part of his self-styled position as grand patriarch and prophet.  Cults cannot survive without female converts; they are the most fervent, loyal members and the most willing to sublimate their own egos to ensure the survival of the group.  Within any burgeoning religious or political movement, women are the worker bees, zealously serving the agents of their own oppression. Plus they bring the male converts on board! Although I have to admit paying $5000+ to be "love bombed" by typhonblue doesn't sound all that enticing... 

In fact, watching the Honey Badger Brigade, I am reminded of Mark Twain's visit to Salt Lake City as a young man in 1861.  Finding Mormon women not much to his taste, Twain remarked, "The man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure, and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."

24 comments:

  1. So Karen Straughan, Janet Bloomfield and Allison Tieman are like the Manson girls?

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  2. You're gonna get me in trouble, NPS.

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    1. So which one is Susan Atkins? Patricia Krenwrinkel? Squeaky Fromme?

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    2. Dean Esmay could be Bobby Beausoleil?

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    3. I don't want to know which one is Tex Watson.

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  3. I find the thinking housewife to be the most cult-like of all the blogs. Something about her writing style and persona. It's like the twins in the shining.

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    1. OMG Ella, I just popped over there and it's a veritable treasure trove of nuttiness! Two posts on the spiritual significance of household dust! One post dedicated to the notion that pizza (not the home-made kind, only the stuff that comes in a box) is "an anti-food." I can't wait to go back and savor it in depth. Only problem, you know it is going to trigger my own OCD big-time.

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    2. Household dust, like soylent green, is people. It's most shed skin cells

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    3. In my household, it's mostly parrot dander. That stuff gets everywhere.

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  4. Cinzia, may you do a post about special snowflakism and female dorkospherians?

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    1. I'd be happy to oblige, but please link me up.

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    2. Off the top of my head, just a scroll through any of jb, and such's blogs lol. Or the red pill women subreddit.

      Here's one: http://api.url2png.com/v6/P4DE5D1C99D8EF/623ea077c004fd1d4a73dba08e5eaf86/png/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fhbdchick.wordpress.com%2F2013%2F07%2F18%2Fchicks-dig-jerks%2F&max_width=550&viewport=1024x2000&fullpage=1&thumbnail_max_width=550

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    3. If you scroll through her gender related dealings, she either dosent live in reality or is REALLy socially inept :/ it could be a act though

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  5. "Is A Voice For Men a cult?" Lol this sounds like it's straight out of the Matt Forney advice on how to ruin someone's online reputation. I hope this was intended. ;) And to answer, yes. It is a cult.

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    1. And to answer, yes, it was intended. ;)

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  6. It also has nothing to do with not respecting women or with women wanting to be with jerks. It's because their lack of respect for women comes off as confidence in many social situations and any confident person who can hold a conversation is going to be more attractive than someone whose body language and general demeanor give them an air of inferiority and social awkwardness. In the long term, you'll find out whether someone is actually confident or whether they think their gender is better than yours, but in the short term they look the same and one is just as effective as the other in forging short-term relationships and attracting one night stands.
    That's not to say that all bros don't respect women, because that's also not true. Some are genuinely good people who have actual confidence, some are faking confidence until they have it but they aren't necessarily sexist, and some are sexist jerks who appear confident at first because they believe that you are below them. It sounds like OP's concerned that her brother is becoming the sexist kind.

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  7. Manuresphere groupies in a nutshell(reddit)

    My little sister used to be really into it, oddly enough. It was more or less that "I'm different than other girls! They're all sluts and I'm cooler because I'm nerdy" type thing? The best advice I can give is to sit him down and tell him why what he's doing is fucked up on a larger scale, rape culture, misogyny, that sort of thing. Help him realize that not only is he being a d-bag on a personal level but he's also perpetuating a lot of shit that's way worse.

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  8. Great post Cinzia. Have you ever read 'The 19th Wife' by David Ebershoff? It's a novel in part about Ann Eliza Young, a wife of Brigham Young who rebelled against and campaigned against the Mormon church and polygamy.

    Oh, and I would agree that AVFM is a cult. When Paul Elam buys an island is when we should really start worrying about the welfare of the misters.

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    1. I haven't read it yet, but I will now. If you're interested in the subject, I can strongly recommend "The Giant Joshua" which many consider the greatest novel about Mormonism (and some consider one of the greatest American novels). Also "The Peaceable Kingdom" by Ardyth Kennelly.

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  9. Very good post, though I think the hard core misogyny is more like an ideology than a classic cult. One of the features of a cult group is that its leadership try to cut members off from normal family and friends, which the red pill doesn't seem to do. Also, the thinking is circular and self reinforcing, which is more akin to superstitious thinking: e.g. women have no insight and any woman who disagrees is just demonstrating her lack of insight.

    My favourite example of this is the 'shit test', which is an unreasonable demand made by a woman, whose purpose is to make the man prove his alpha worth. Any woman who asks a man for anything, or who protests, or nags, or requests anything, is doing a shit test. There is no request or demand a woman can make that is not a shit test. e.g. "Please pay bills because the utilities are threatening to cut us off", Classic shit test, right there.

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    1. Ah, thanks for defining the meaning of 'shit test', that one's been bothering me for ages. So basically it's the belief that anything a woman does or says must be motivated entirely by a desire to provoke a reaction in the menfolk, as opposed to say, her free will? So when I ask Non Partner to do a bit of washing up before he goes to bed, I don't really want him wash his dishes, what I really want is for him to prove his manly credentials by forgetting to do it?

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    2. "One of the features of a cult group is that its leadership try to cut members off from normal family and friends, which the red pill doesn't seem to do."

      I have seen suggestions that Red Pill swallowers may have to endure the loss of their former friends, or hopes of "normal" social relationships. Remember the anger they heaped on Mark Minter when he married? And how embarrassed Bill Price was to admit to his readers he did, in fact, have a wife?

      Is it possible too that someone like Paul Elam doesn't have to discourage followers from maintaining ties to their families and friends because it's the very lack of such ties that make them vulnerable to the appeal of these ideologies?

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    3. Simpler def of "shit test:" any thought, feeling, or desire of a woman that reminds the man she is an obstacle between him and her vagina (IOW, any thought, feeling, or desire of a woman).

      h/t eddie

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  10. "Cults cannot survive without female converts; they are the most fervent, loyal members and the most willing to sublimate their own egos to ensure the survival of the group. Within any burgeoning religious or political movement, women are the worker bees, zealously serving the agents of their own oppression. Plus they bring the male converts on board!"

    Truth. They also up the cult leader's status in the eyes of his male followers. Win-win!

    Check justfourguys http://www.justfourguys.com/ for a selection of female manospheric groupies. It is interesting to watch them, as each has a distinct vibe, carving a special niche for herself in the group and taking great care not to encroach on that of others so as not to provoke jealousy; but they are all united by self-loathing misogyny and a desire to please their male counterparts (or masters, sometimes more accurately), often through desperate attempts at ingratiation ("oh, silly me, I misunderstood again -- thank you, Sir, for explaining it to me!" etc.), hints at their sexual receptivity, and unabashed ego-stroking.

    One predictable result of that dynamic, in addition to sexualized attention, is the special status of "real women" that the men bestow on these groupies.

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