Sunday, May 15, 2016

On Cults

Put together a group of 100 people. Give these 100 people one relatively controversial topic. Maybe it's abortion, the existence of god, the uses of affirmative action, the progressive income tax, the flat tax, the use of prisons and the police, or the right to burn a country's flag. It's understandable, and I would say acceptable, for all 100 of these people to have the exact same opinion of this particular controversial topic, to feel emotional about the subject, and to believe in the exact same remedy to the problem if a remedy is needed.

Now give these 100 people two controversial topics. If they still have the exact same opinion, feel emotional about the subject, and believe in the exact same remedy...that is still okay. It is possible and acceptable for 100 people to have the exact same opinion on two topics and to respond similarly.

Give them three topics, then four, then five, then 10. If they respond in the exact same way to 10 controversial topics, we should start to worry. These 100 people may not be thinking for themselves. They may be developing a fundamentalist system whereby every question, no matter how ambiguous, must have a definite answer. They may be creating a group that discourages dissent.

20 topics. 40 topics. 100 topics. 1000 topics...

Now you might say that certain movements are so clearly righteous that it is perfectly acceptable for such a large number of people to hold the exact same opinion on these subjects. The histories of the best movements, like say the civil rights movement, with its many often embittered factions, suggest otherwise.

I don't think I have ever been in a room of more than five people who share my opinion on even 10 controversial topics. If you have been in such a room, we probably aren't friends.

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