We Lost Our Daughter to a Cult
Our case is typical. An intelligent, young adult daughter, possibly on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, involved in social justice issues, suddenly professes a new supernatural belief. We, the parents, scramble to understand, but simply don't accept this new faith as "true." A few months of wary communication follow, then all contact is cut-off.
What the hell just happened?
We lost our daughter to a cult.
We didn't see it coming. Sure, there were always the social issues—she didn't seem to make close friends in high school, and also seemed to lack close friends in college. People seemed to know and like her, though, especially adults. She did well in college, and held a campus job. Later, we found out she did indeed find a new group of accepting, friendly people to hang with. They even had regular meetings on campus. Her new friends really seemed to love her for her authentic self. She finally experienced the thrill of group acceptance. She never mentioned this to us.
She was still doing well as a student. Even though there were some warning signs in retrospect, we thought this was just typical young adult stress and she would learn to handle it. At some point, we can't keep catching them. Kids need to skin their knees, but hopefully not get a concussion.
Then came the pandemic. Looking back, we see what could have been different, but we will never know if the outcome would have changed. Locked down in a room with nothing but an unfiltered internet connection, the new information systems went to work on her.
At first we sought to use facts and figures to convince her. In hindsight, we now realize how foolish this was—when one converts to a new religion, the convert won't engage in an honest debate. We tried to keep open minds. But one bright line we immediately drew—we would never support self-mutilation, which seemed to be a key aspect to this new cult. And that is where she chose the cult over her family.
By now it should be clear we are talking about the transgender cult. And we keep saying "cult"—but is this really a cult? Here are some definitions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult#Destructive_cults, "a highly manipulative group which exploits and sometimes physically and/or psychologically damages members and recruits." Also, people in cults show "behavioral and personality changes, loss of personal identity, cessation of scholastic activities, estrangement from family, disinterest in society and pronounced mental control and enslavement by cult leaders."
The situation checks all the boxes but one—there are no cult leaders. So this can't be a cult, right? Unlike, say, fundamentalist groups, this campus group didn't have a clear central authority figure. Isn't that the hallmark of a cult?
Technology has recently enabled destructive cults to arise that have no single authority figure. The authority is now "likes" and upvotes. No single person determines what is presented to the cult member as truth, it is the judgement of an anonymous, terminally online and unwell collective. The collective is enabled by social media.
And what are "social media" companies? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and so on. Despite the description, these aren't social media companies. They are mining companies. All of them have vast industrial infrastructures which mine human attention for advertisement revenues. And they optimize for the most effective and efficient mining without regard to any environmental side-effects.
Like real mining companies before regulation, they produce severe environmental damage. They are dumping untreated waste into our information rivers, and polluting the very information air we breathe. Unlike real mining companies, regulations haven't caught up with them. And also unlike real mining companies, the waste is addictive and insidious, like cocaine in soft drinks.
Is it any wonder our kids are getting sick?
This isn't the only new cult people are dealing with—we can get insight from the misery of others. For instance, Mike Rothschild's book, "The Storm is Upon Us", is about the Q-Anon distributed online cult.
From Chapter 13, "...How to help people who want to get out of Q":
"Cultic movements like QAnon substitute good feelings of like-minded strangers and the dopamine hits of hating the things those people hate for the ups and downs of personal relationships. They blast away the possibility of strenuous debate or disagreement with someone you love, preferring to create a world where those who don't feel the same way are the enemy, meant to be either destroyed or cut off from contact."
Seems about right. What does he have to report from the collected wisdom of cult experts? Here is advice from that chapter, paraphrased:
* Family and friends are mostly powerless to help until the person is ready to change
* Stay in touch if possible, but on your terms. You don't have to pretend to share their new beliefs.
* Try to unplug them from the internet (i.e. get them away from the toxic sludge)
* Understand it won't happen overnight - disengagement is a process
* Do not use outdated terms or concepts (like brainwashing, deprogramming, etc.)
* Do not mock or belittle
* Do not attempt to debate or debunk
* Do not give up if it matters to you
So we wait for the concussion to heal.
A close friend told us recently: this is just getting started. Your time horizon is going to be years.
Unfortunately, he is probably right.