The Dark Odyssey of Cult Philosophy

The 1990s were a period of rich, gothic, and hedonistic cultures, full of glamour and glitz. It was a time of media sensationalism, gossip, and garb and this could be witnessed via the emergence of the cult lifestyle. The turn of the 21st Century was ripe with con artists and scammers, ready to welcome naive and oblivious patrons into their vicious and toxic circles, creating a sea of cults.


Now, what exactly classifies as a cult? Could it be any group with a specific viewpoint they religiously believe in? What do movies like Indiana Jones, Rosemary’s Baby, The Seventh Victim, or even the trending auteurist show, Riverdale, tell us about cults in general? A cult is essentially a group of people who believe in something so out of norms and with such vigor that their entire axis of morality, ethics, and, right and wrong, is dislodged. Eventually, they actively try to inculcate more numbers into their ranks to further back their cause.


One such incident, which was the talk of the town for nearly two decades, was the emergence of NXIVM. Keith Raniere, a man with a past rife with problems, founded NXIVM in 1998. Keith was a firm believer and imposer of the concept of mere survival over actual living when it came to one’s life. An alcoholic mother, an absent father, and an early separation of the two had already premonitioned a psychologically troubled life ahead of him. Raniere built NXIVM as a proxy ‘Personality Development’ company, offering its clientele a range of self-improvement techniques, where in actuality, it was a sex-trafficking racket. This cleverly placed façade he put up for his operations was a straightforward way for him to weed out any strong personalities who might accidentally figure out what exactly was going on. He needed self-conscious people with minimal confidence and absolute faith in him and his beliefs, and through this strategic branding, that’s exactly what he got.


What set NXIVM apart was the media furor behind it, as opposed to the other cults in speculation, like ‘Love Has Won’, which claimed that a 45-year-old woman was the reincarnation of Jesus and Marilyn Monroe, or ‘Rajneeshpuram’, which preached an oxymoronic anti-religious religion, advocating sexual liberation. NXIVM gained an almost mythic status globally because of how much sensationalism the media put behind it. Additionally, it became a legend partly because of the mysterious self-development techniques that proved miraculous and its wildly influential associates.


NXIVM had famous actors, billionaire socialites, and even Mexican royalty in its ranks for much of its lifetime. These people were not only aware of the actual realities of this vicious affair but were, in fact, decision-makers. Naturally, such noteworthy industry leaders attracted a massive following, which directly funneled into NXIVM’s sex racketeering schemes. It was horrendously fascinating to witness the media as it stumbled through NXIVM’s entire journey. Instead of shedding light on the psychological ramifications the cult had on its clients, the media painted NXIVM as dark, mysterious, and a glorified inner circle of rich, entitled people.


Now, this naturally begged the question – why would such socially prominent and influential people not only endorse but actually head such a racket? Was it a classic case of getting high from a power dynamic? Or did they just enjoy ‘ruling’ a group of brainwashed victims?


Cults, in general, are always shrouded in an air of mystery and curiosities. They’re a treasure trove of deep dispositional patterns a psycho-analyst is itching to get their hands on. Many of the after-effects of being a part of any cult, be it NXIVM or your neighbor’s weekly ‘Cats are Lucifer in disguise’ meetings, have often been overlooked by the media in favor of a more dramatic take on cults. Stockholm Syndrome, a habitual acceptance of gaslighting, insomnia, depression, and many other destructive tendencies have been observed in former members, which are equally, if not more important than the actual workings of the cult, to understand and abolish cult culture finally. As a logically functioning race of the planet, we need to stop romanticizing toxic notions that further aid people like Keith Raniere by fuelling their self-indulgent fantasies.


Lastly, I wonder if we need to ask ourselves a fundamental question to figure out why cult culture was and is something of a reverie. Is there perhaps a side of us that enjoys curiosity so much that the cost is humanity’s degeneration?

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