It takes a linguist…

There are too many lenses through which to make an analysis. One topic can be understood through a single discipline or an intersection of several. I like to intersperse non-fiction reading in which the author(s) has expertise within a given field and uses this knowledge to expand upon a common understanding. What I gain from this kind of reading I try to apply to analyses of fiction, art and other areas of life. It gives me purpose, it connects me to people and keeps me not too deep in the atrocious news cycles that drive so many into despair. In this issue of Bookisshh, linguist and author Amanda Montell takes a look at how religion and the mass departures from faith have produced cults, and cults have given way to cultish MLMs, that have provided the foundation for business models most specifically in the health and wellness domain. Warning—you will NEVER look at your yoga, spin or barre studio the same again or maybe you’ll just stay with the program for the social guarantees.. Enjoy!

Cultish: the Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell / Non-fiction

This book got a lot of praise initially and mostly by millennial people who are by far the most online scammed generation yet, but statistics are not yet collected on behalf of GenZ, so do leave space for alternative facts…

Montell is a well-credentialed linguist who studied at all the fine schools that people of high net worth or not would desire their child to attend and continue the family excellence for everyone to see during grocery store brags or holiday religious attendances. That is if families are still attending ritual ceremonies together because Montell shows that they’re not and that people are finding community in other places near equaling a religious experience, except better for one’s health and even comes with guilt for faulty practices.

Cultish is a work that pieces together studied, fact-checked, certified real and historic information coming from university experts, polling sources, print media, interviews, documentaries and first hand experiences. Montell’s note section catalogs her sources and it is clear that she has vetted them for her argument. Academia is good in this way..

Montell begins with the Protestant Reformation and the emphasis it placed on good works practiced and monitored within community to sustain values and quality of said community. She side-tours into various cults as she catalogs the disillusionment people were experiencing both with their church and state at various times during the course of this country founded upon a separation between church and state. Montell reveals the places where the disenfranchised landed which includes cults like Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, Synanon and Scientology. As Montell explores this journey she employs a template that utilizes linguistics to demonstrate how language centers communities, locks them in, and devastates them when people leave the fray. Further, Montell uses linguistics to show how these actions are systematized, replicated and connected to MLMs or Multi Level Marketers also known as Pyramid Schemes which are illegal in this country and yet they thrive today.

On the subject of MLMs she looks at Amway, Mary Kay, Arbonne, Tupperware among others and shows how these companies use the same tactics that cults do to indoctrinate people into the sales community, perks, positivity, gatherings and all. Montell makes clear who the targets are and how and why they are suckered in. She also shows what happens to people who leave and the devastating scars they endure.

Why is this relevant? The United States is still shuddering from the former presidential administration that was sponsored in part by cult of personality and factions and groups of orders, brotherhoods, and Qanon, an online huge cult community that integrates beliefs from cults who have gone before them but instead of collecting capital the currency is digital—data and immense space within the attention economy. The communities were crowd sourced online and within cult fitness studios. These practices continue within the ocean of social media via the influencing community further fragmented on TikTok. How does it all break apart, reinvent and regather? Algorithms…

Montell zeroes in on cult fitness groups such as: CrossFit, Soul Cycle and Core Power Yoga. Montell outs the CEOs for their extreme beliefs mostly reserved for top tier employees but trickle down to the members who are paying into franchises, being targeted to become teachers, paying big for the privilege and almost never gaining employment. The perk is community, unity, and exclusivity the last of which near canceled these businesses due to the lack of diversity and welcome for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled community and anyone else who didn’t message whiteness.

Her bottom line—calling out and canceling doesn’t get to the problem which is loneliness for most people. Calling out and canceling doesn’t facilitate catharsis, connection, and inclusivity. What calling out does do is educate people on the boundaries and requirements for cult participation. It gives a set of questions for people to ask themselves and others so they aren’t suckered in or can maintain control over their bodies, minds, time and choices. While all places potentially offer something good, there’s a balance and if it’s tipped there’s a consequence and for some this is devastating. It’s a tricky trek to not be marginalized and to not marginalize, but by understanding it can be done. Namaste, will you stay?

Fugitive Bikram Choudry is the subject of several civil suits alleging sexual assault and discrimination against racial and sexual minorities. Choudry fled to Thailand to avoid punishment and continues to teach there and in Acapulco.

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