On Cults, Language, and Social Science
What makes cults so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Author and journalist Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has.
Our culture tends to provide incomplete answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with mind-control wizardry. In Amanda’s latest book, Cultish, she argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive and shadowy ways, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.
Through juicy storytelling and original research into the curious social science of power, Amanda exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities cultish, revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds.
Join Amanda for a conversation about influence, the social science of cults, and how to recognize the language of fanaticism all around us.