Do you struggle to find meaning in your life? Are you overworked and constantly broke? Do you wish you had better relationships with less conflict and more genuine love and intimacy?
What if I told you that you could solve all of your life’s problems and live a life full of abundance and freedom while surrounded by adoring friends and loved ones? What if I told you it was easy and you could even get started right now? Does that sound too good to be true?
Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s simple, and anybody can do it.
All you have to do is start a cult!
Yessir, you heard me right. You too can start your very own cult, TODAY, and begin reaping the benefits of the hundreds of mindlessly devoted followers who will lavish you with mindless adoration, financial gifts and gratuitous sexual favors.
No more money problems. No more stress or feeling overworked. No more loneliness. And you definitely won’t be lacking in the love-life department.
And the best part? It’s free!
No degree or certification required, you can start your very own cult today. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.
Don’t believe me? Here, I’ll start one right now and you can follow along at home!
STEP 1: CHOOSE A SET OF BELIEFS THAT CANNOT BE EASILY PROVEN OR DISPROVEN
All cults are based on some sort of faith in something being true, regardless of the evidence. So to begin, we must come up with a small set of beliefs that cannot be easily proven or disproven.
And considering how pretty much none of us ever know what the fuck is going on, this is surprisingly easy to do.
The obvious choices here involve deities and promises of the impending apocalypse and/or salvation, because seriously, nothing gives people a hard-on more than thinking the end of the world is coming and they’re one of the chosen few to survive it.
But to be honest, you can start building a cult around just about anything. Economic philosophies, political causes, conspiracy theories, gender norms, sports teams, diet and nutritional fads, animal rights, space exploration, the prophylactic uses of algae, the immorality of masturbation, even which direction you should wipe your ass.
All that matters is that you are making a major life/death statement which cannot be easily proven or disproven.
For sake of example today, I’m going to start a religious cult (because let’s be honest, those are the most fun). Let’s say that there is a gigantic cosmic manatee who lives in a distant nebula. This manatee birthed earth a few million years ago and maintains contact with us every couple millennia to help prevent the human race from destroying itself.
Now this is where it gets fun: The Great Manatee has recently chosen me as its latest prophet.
Can you believe it? Little ole me!
Yeah, I know you’re not surprised. But let’s just pretend you are.
Because not only am I The Great Manatee’s latest prophet, but The Great Manatee has shared some dire news with me. Yes, humanity is once again on the brink of collapse. Yet it is only through the Cleansing Grace of The Great Manatee that humanity can be saved and live as one.
Not bad, huh? Good luck disproving that one, you fucking skeptics. OK, let’s move on…
STEP 2: PRE-EMPTIVELY INVALIDATE ALL CRITICISM OR QUESTIONING
Now that your fledgling cult has a few core tenets, you need to find a way to protect yourself from the inevitable criticism that will be flung your way.
All you have to do is bake into your core tenets some beliefs that invalidate anything that contradicts the belief. This sounds complicated but is actually pretty easy to do.
Here are some examples:
- If you criticize the war, then you must support the terrorists. Therefore, your opinion is invalid.
- God created science to test our faith in the face of contradicting evidence. Therefore, anything that contradicts the Bible is merely a test of my faith.
- Anyone who criticizes feminist ideas or policies is sexist, and therefore does not deserve to have their ideas heard. (These are all examples of logical fallacies, something I briefly covered in this article.)
You get the idea. In the Church of the Great Manatee we’ll introduce a belief that all humans are inherently self-hating, self-destructive beings, and the only way to cleanse ourselves of our self-hatred is to accept the Cleansing Grace of The Great Manatee.
Therefore, any criticism of The Great Manatee, or his Latest and Greatest Prophet (ahem, that would be me) is merely the psychobabble of someone who clearly hates themselves and secretly wishes for the annihilation of the human race.
It’s pretty simple.
- Support for The Great Manatee = loves humanity and oneself.
- Criticism for The Great Manatee = hates humanity and oneself.
So who are you going to listen to?
STEP 3: FIND YOUR PEOPLE
Now that you have built an ideology that’s immune to criticism, it’s time to go out and find your first followers.
It’s a fact of human nature that people are most impressionable when things are worst in their lives. Hell, show me a poor and starving person with no prospects of improving his/her life and I’ll show you a religious zealot waiting to happen.
The sad and unfortunate truth is that it’s really easy to convince starving, desperate people of, well, just about anything you want them to believe. Dictators have been taking advantage of this for millennia. I mean, if an idiot like Pol Pot was able to convince Cambodian children to murder their own parents, how hard can it be?
It’s best to start preaching your message to people whose lives suck the most. The poor. The outcasts. The abused and forgotten. There’s a reason all of the major religions in the world have a history of sending missionaries to the poorest and most destitute corners of the globe: starving people are easy sells.
Jim Jones initially built his following by recruiting the homeless and marginalized minorities with a socialist message minced with his own (demented) take on Christianity.
The self-help industry took off among the disgruntled middle-class youth of the 50s and 60s who felt there was something deeply wrong with the world (it may have had something to do with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, who knows?).
Famous fascist dictators such as Hitler and Mussolini rose to power off the backs of the desperate masses in countries recently wrecked by war.
Even in the developed world, poor people regularly vote against their own interests in democracies across the world. You just have to get them pissed off about something with some clever marketing and maybe a black person or two.
But enough of that, let’s talk about me. If you’re unhappy with your life in any way, if you feel lost or forgotten, if you’re depressed or anxious or lonely or broke or undersexed, allow me to suggest to you the Cleansing Grace of The Great Manatee who can show you how to transcend your natural self-hating nature to find everlasting peace and harmony on earth.
Here, have a pamphlet. And a back rub. And come to our free introductory class on Thursday night. We’ll have waffles and donuts. We may lock you in a freezing conference room for twelve hours and scream at you until you finally agree with me. But trust me, it’s for your own good.
STEP 4: CREATE AN “US VS THEM” MENTALITY
Congratulations! You have your first followers! Sure, maybe they haven’t showered in a while or can’t remember what their last names are. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?
Now you’ve got to keep your followers energized and motivated. You can’t just let them loaf around and eat the free donuts you keep supplying. No way, Jose. We need to give them a reason to stay while simultaneously making them terrified to leave.
This is where you paint a really simple picture of them. There are those who get “it.” And those who do not get “it.” Those who do get it are going to save the world. Those who do not are going to destroy it.
Whatever “it” is depends on whatever belief you’re trying to sell. Jesus. Muhammed. Libertarianism. Gluten-free intermittent fasting. Sleeping in hyperbaric chambers and living off popsicles.
It’s not just enough to just tell your followers that non-believers are bad. You must demonize them. You must convince them that it is of the utmost moral importance that everyone who does not get “it” be stopped, no matter what.
You must scare the living shit out of your followers to do this. And sure, maybe you make up a thing or two along the way. But look, it’s worth it. You want to solve all your life problems, right?
It’s not just that vaccines cause autism. It’s that the medical and pharmaceutical industries are getting rich by destroying everyone’s family. It’s not that pro-choicers have a different view on the biological viability of a fetus, they’re soldiers sent by Satan to destroy good Christian families. It’s not that the climate change is a hoax, it’s a conspiracy launched by the Chinese government to slow the US economy and take over the world.
There’s no in-between here. There’s no argument. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. And in the name of the Great Manatee, those who are against us are doomed to a life of self-hatred and will inevitably destroy themselves and the world with them. They must be stopped at all costs.
That means dump your boyfriend, cut off your parents, sell your house and leave your kids in a dumpster somewhere. Come join us in our little commune in the countryside. We’ll give you waffles and back rubs and destroy any sense of identity you may have left.
STEP 5: PROMISE HEAVEN, DELIVER HELL
By now you’ve got a nice group studying a bunch of bullshit you made up, ignoring their friends and telling their families to fuck off.
Congratulations. You’re off to a great start.
But now it’s time to get serious.
The beauty of a cult is that the more you promise people salvation, enlightenment, world peace, a perfect happiness or whatever, the more they will fail to live up to that promise and blame themselves for it.
And the more they blame themselves for failing to live up to it, the more they’ll do any stupid shit you tell them to do.
Take all the internet marketing, make-money-from-home-in-your-underwear, pyramid scheme shit that’s been going on the past 10 years. Here you’ve got dozens of “gurus” online promising that they can teach you how to make a fortune from the comfort of your own home.
Ignore for the moment that you probably have no qualified skills, no experience, no real motivation, and basically no free time — because this fuck-ass with a website is saying he just made $7 million selling some 30-minute video and you can too.
So you give it a shot. You give this scumbag some money and then you spend the next three months making a website and guess what, nothing happens.
But whose fault is that? Surely not theirs! After all, they said it was so easy!
So you go find some other fuck-ass, and this one apparently made $13 million dollars selling a couple PDFs riddled with typos that were mostly plagiarized. “Surely, THIS guy knows how I can make money,” you say to yourself.
Rinse and repeat.
You see this cycle of desperation in all sorts of places: fitness plans, political activism, self-help seminars, religious practices, financial planners, visiting your mother on holidays – the more you do it, the more you’re told you need to do it to finally experience the satisfaction that you were promised. Yet, that satisfaction never comes.
Look. Time out for a second. Let me be the one to break some bad news to you:
Human suffering is like an onion. Every time you peel back a layer, there’s more tear-jerking smelly shit underneath. Then you peel back that layer and there’s another one. And then another. And another. On and on.
There are a lot of people out there who make a lot of money claiming they can peel back the last layer of The Suffer Onion for you and you’ll be done with it. But the truth is that there is no last layer. The layers are endless. And that’s how all these fuck-asses stay in business so long.
Seriously, if someone could solve all of your problems for you, they’d go out of business by next Tuesday. And then we’d have nuclear disarmament and solve world hunger and cure AIDS and sing that cheesy Michael Jackson song with all those celebrities with funny hair:
Anyway, the only exception to all of this is, of course, The Great Manatee. The Great Manatee can solve all of your problems. You just have to give me like $3000 or so. Preferably in cash. Then I’ll tell you to wash my kitchen floor for a week. You’ll still feel like shit afterward, so I’ll blame you for being a self-hating human and not allowing the BOUNDLESS FUCKING LOVE OF THE GREAT MANATEE INTO YOUR HEART (I’ll even scream like that in all caps), and then demand you give me another $3000 just for the inconvenience. After that I’ll make you wash my car and buy my groceries for a year. We’ll go around and around like this until finally one of two things happen:
A) You have an absolute psychological meltdown and start clawing at your own face screaming: “CLOWN MAKES A HAPPY FACE, CLOWN MAKES A HAPPY FACE.” I’ll then call this a “spiritual breakthrough” and convince you that you’re actually somehow better off because of it. (You’re welcome, by the way.)
B) You will eventually lose The Faith, take whatever fragile ball of mental health you have left and go home, a broken and emotionally scarred person. With a lot less money in your bank account.
Either way, I win. Or, err, I mean, The Great Manatee wins — Humanity wins! Uh, yeah, humanity wins, that’s it. Yay, humanity.
STEP 6: PROFIT
And this is the best part. Now that you’ve got your little following of helpers giving you their money and cutting your grass, you can finally have everything you ever wished for!
Want a dozen sex slaves? Just say the word. Make up a scripture. Tell them that Stage 6 of Manatee Enlightenment can only be found in The Prophet’s sperm or something.
Or if you built your cult around giving stock tips or convincing people to invest in gold (because the collapse of the global economic system is always just around the corner, duh), you can convince them all to buy a piece of worthless land in rural Chile for you. You know, because freedom (again, this actually happened).
The opportunities really are endless.
No more loneliness. No more relationship problems. No more financial woes. You can fulfill your wildest dreams. You just have to trample on the hopes and dreams of a few (thousand) other people to get there.
Yes friends, this is the American Dream, your manifest destiny made reality. You worked hard for this. Therefore you deserve all of the benefits without any meddlesome social concerns or pedantic arguments about ethics or whatnot. Besides, if you spout this bullshit long enough, you’ll start believing it yourself. And that’s all that really matters, right? What you believe.
THAT’S THE WAY OF THE WORLD
This may all make you laugh. It may make you cry. It may make you want to beat me over the head with a tire iron. But the sad thing is that nothing that I have described in this article so far is particularly extraordinary or uncommon. It happens all the time. It’s happening right now.
We’re humans. We all need to buy into belief systems on complete faith. We all need to feel some form of an “us vs them” mentality. We all want to believe that eternal happiness, salvation, utopia, enlightenment or whatever can be achieved in our lifetime. And we all have this unnerving feeling that everything we love and appreciate will one day collapse and be taken from us.
This is normal. This is to be alive. And this is what pushes us to adopt such cultish mentalities.
Because as much as I joke about it, this really is the solution to all of our life’s problems: our faith in the beliefs that define us and bind us to those around us. We rely on these dogmas to get us through the day and to get us through life in one piece. Whether it’s the big J-Man or Mohammed or empirical skepticism or blind hedonism, these fundamental beliefs align us and form the basis of all of our life’s values and decisions.
As Nietzsche said, “He who has a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘what.’”
Like it or not, the majority of human history has operated through a series of cultish forms of organization like this — whether it was an irrational loyalty to a king, a race, a nation or a creed, humans have spent most of history slaughtering each other and subjugating themselves in these kinds of sickening ways. What we see today are merely the echoes of the same bloody song played out throughout the millennia.
The people who organize these horrible cults — Jones, Mao, Hitler, Stalin, even Uncle Charlie Manson — they aren’t some sinister masterminds who outsmarted whole swaths of people. Rather, they simply managed to appeal to our baser instincts, to leverage the psychological flaws inherent in our nature and then capitalize on them.
OUR ONLY DEFENSE AGAINST OURSELVES
Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Voltaire believed that, as humans, the only way to combat our inherently cultish nature was to exercise our use of reason in wide scale decision-making, and that tolerance, pluralism, and inclusion were inherently better values than the alternatives.
It’s upon these ideas that pretty much the entire modern world was founded and they have survived, despite the fact that they are consistently attacked both from within and without their own societies.
Today I invented a ridiculous cult religion centered around a galactic uber-manatee that communicates with me telepathically, sharing with me the unfortunate truths that humans, by their very nature, are self-hating and self-destructive. And that it’s only through accepting the Cleansing Grace of The Great Manatee that a human could achieve a state of self-acceptance and self-love.
As the old saying goes, every joke is only half made in jest. The Manatee thing is ridiculous, but the message is not.
Humans have not evolved for tolerance, acceptance or even happiness. We have evolved for survival of the fittest. And our natural instincts are inherently combative and destructive. It’s only through the achievements of reason and intellect that we, as a species, have been able to stop slaughtering each other long enough to build a functioning society with things like democracy, open markets, and beach houses. In a sense, we’re the only species that became smart enough to choose what the next step of its evolution should be.
Psychologically speaking, we are inherently self-hating. This is a fact. As children, we all internalize our traumas and disappointments and failures to be wholly representative of our own self-worth. And because we all experience trauma, failure and disappointment, we all, to varying degrees, grow up feeling somewhat awful about ourselves. This is not a bug, it’s a feature of human evolution.
We are evolved to be miserable and insecure to a certain degree, because it’s the mildly miserable and insecure creature who is going to do the most work to innovate and survive.
We are also inherently self-destructive. Even if you don’t believe in The Great Manatee, history bears this out fairly conclusively.
Because the easiest way to accommodate the fear of our own unworthiness is to declare the unworthiness of others – the unworthiness of those who look different than us, act different than us and believe different than us.
Again, I know it’s totally facetious, but just bear with me for a moment – let’s just pretend that a manatee actually really does talk to me in my sleep, and I actually do kind of wake-up in this sleep-walk, trance-like state and write articles like this in my underwear – let’s just suspend our disbelief for one moment and pretend that actually kind of happens (Editor’s Note: This totally does not happen.).
The only real way out of our own self-hatred and self-destructive nature is not declaring how right we are, but rather in accepting how wrong we are. It comes in questioning those base instincts, those knee-jerk judgments. It comes in the courage to question our most closely-held beliefs and fight against the tyranny of our own certainty.
And paradoxically, it’s out of this new uncertainty that the rays of self-acceptance shine through.
This is the Good News of the Cleansing Loving Grace of The Great Manatee. And I bring it to you as a form of liberation.
Surrender yourself to the manatee, let him guide you through the pain of self-doubt, let him help you admit your failures, allow him to hold you against the rushing tides of uncertainty and insecurity, to shield you from the horrors of bigoted biases and irrational urges.
If you’d like to learn more, sign up on my email list below. Seriously, we have waffles. And free PDFs. And I may ask you to clean my kitchen occasionally.
But trust me, it’s for your own good. And the good of humanity.
Mark Manson is an author, blogger and entrepreneur who writes at markmanson.net.