Political Cults

When did political parties become cults? I might have sort of a grasp on why this happened but I still wish it hadn’t. There was a time when quite a number of issues were not defined solely by cult doctrine. Whole months could go by without knowing the Democult or Republicult position on countless topics.

Be careful where you say this because people might be watching, but there was even a time when it was okay to like an idea espoused by one party right there alongside a belief of the other. A person could think it unwise to incur vast amounts of un-repayable debt while not caring at all about his friend’s choice of bedmate.

Let’s focus on the “why” since I said I had sort of a grasp on the reason. Money. The more you can get people riled up the more they can be upended to have their pockets emptied into the giant tin cup you have cleverly placed underneath them. The political season is now 100% of the time. There is never an off-season. Politics is ahead of spectator sports in achieving this milestone. The longer the season the more the participants get paid. Hence you don’t see football, baseball or any other sport saying, “You know, I think the season is too long.” Each additional idiotic empty-stadium bowl game is another payday and there is no reason to think that will end until people quit watching.

Same with politics.

Isabelle Roughol and Laura Lorenzetti Soper compiled a list of “50 Big Ideas for 2019: What to watch in the year ahead” and published it onLinkedIn. You had to get all the way down to idea number 37 to discover that “we will reach peak outrage.” Here is what they thought:

In the last couple of years, public opinion has been driven by “polarized tribes,” says Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism: “Outrage has been modified, optimized, personalized and, of course, monetized.” Outrage, like fear, is helpful in the short term but unsustainable in the long term, she says. “Many do not want to live in a state of semi-permanent outrage, they’re simply tired of it,” she adds. “And I believe increasingly, people are going to want to reclaim consensus, collaboration and shared values rather than polarizing ones.” While Bay is referring to the United States, any country where people discuss politics on social media will recognize a version of this. She points to a study by More In Common, which showed that 67% of Americans did not conform to partisan ideology or had disengaged from politics. They’ve been dubbed the “exhausted majority.”

Outrage is the glue that keeps each of cults together. They depend on it to make their followers feel like the in-group and brand the other cult’s followers as the enemy. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had been a young Republican media superstar, her rooftop college dance video would have been praised by the right and damned by the left, the exact opposite of today’s response. It was a college kid dancing. She might not have even known what Democrats and Republicans even were but she has triggered a divided response based solely on cult-approved dogma.

I’d like to differ with one word in the peak outrage big idea piece: “exhausted.” The 67% of Americans who do not conform to partisan ideology or have disengaged from politics are not exhausted they are pissed and they are pissed because the cults are delivering a crappy product.

Some weeks ago, I happened on a blogger called Arnold Kling. He sends out an email called “askblog” first thing each morning. I’d say about a third of them go straight over my head because Arnold Kling is a whole bunch smarter than me to say nothing of having a wildly better grasp of the subtleties of economics, political theory and philosophy, but I do understand most of them.

Here is an excerpt from a recent post called Social Justice and Moral Tribalism.

Sacred beliefs are ones that have been for moral reasons removed from the realm of skepticism and doubt because they’re viewed as too important to be subjected to these corrosive influences. Instead, sacred beliefs are effectively set aside from rational inquiry, which results in an expectation for them to be understood mythologically rather than literally, technically, or scientifically. The presence of sacred beliefs that cannot be questioned, challenged, or doubted—including their corollaries, even in minuscule ways—is a strong positive sign that a moral community is, in fact, a moral tribe.

I confess: cult is a nastier word than tribe.

Finally, we get to a recent David Brooks column entitled, “The Morality of Selfism – The Gospel of Saint You.” I don’t generally think of Brooks using sarcasm but here he does and the entirety of his column is worth your time. Here are two paragraphs that especially caught my eye.

First, you want to feel indignant all the time. Back in the old days morality was about loving and serving others. But now it’s about displaying indignation about things that other people are doing wrong.

When you are indignant, or woke, you are showing that you have a superior moral awareness. You don’t have to actually do anything. Your indignation is itself a sign of your own goodness, and if you can be indignant quicker than the people around you, that just shows how much more good you are!

With any luck, Americans will soon behave like Americans displaying our fickle tastes and short attention spans. The 67% described as “exhausted” (though I am sticking with “pissed”) might become 85% or 90% and the cults will vanish along with cable news and references to “the American people” and “our democracy.”

The Democult and Republicult are delivering crappy products and we should quit buying them.

6 Responses to “Political Cults”

Allan Keene, January 09, 2019 at 1:31 am said:

I have the pleasure of knowing and supporting the new Democratic Congressman from the Staten Island District in NYC….Max Rose, a 31 year old former Army Captain and Afghan Vet..A solid young man and like the other newly elected “youngsters”, our great hope for the future of politics..

The current crop of 70 plus year old something’s headed by our Bone Spur President are killing the country’s spirit and the greatness of our country..

I think that if we can survive Trump and the others we may if we are lucky arrive at a different place..

I am saddened that our generation of Baby Boomers ended up so ignorant and so tribal..

I believe that the new crop of young people
Offers us hope for the future..

I hope that we will live to see it..


Haven Pell, January 09, 2019 at 2:33 pm said:

Perhaps you’ll become a fan of LibertyPell’s one and only proposed Constitutional amendment? “If you can remember anything that happened in 1968, your night is over and you are ineligible for any elective office.”


James Wermuth, January 09, 2019 at 2:49 pm said:

Good question Haven. History suggests that the cult concept has passed through politics since Greko Roman civilizations. They were clever enough to link with teams of major and minor deities; if a concept did not come to fruition, blame Hebe for feeding Dionysus too much wine.
Perhaps a better question might be; what, if any, are the changes between today’s cults and those early governmental cults? Remember, they are the cults that formed the basis for our own Republic.


Haven Pell, January 09, 2019 at 2:53 pm said:

Thanks for the excellent observation.


C Griffin, January 09, 2019 at 10:52 pm said:

How about the Cult of the Pissed-offs! Let us hope that it will grow quickly and exponentially during this present ridiculous stand-off between bonehead President Bone Spur (Like that!) and the other team. I would imagine the thousands of laid off government workers would be happy to join that group.


Haven Pell, January 09, 2019 at 11:50 pm said:

I broke down and watched both speeches from last night. Since we only have 325 million people in this country, why is anyone surprised that those were the three best available to lead us? We need a whole lot more people to choose from if we are looking for anyone to make themselves useful.


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