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Posted on Jul 29, 2019

Cultish thinking exists across the political spectrum: Column

By Rich Elfers

When I was 18, I joined a cult. I joined because I was looking for certainty and security. I didn’t want to make mistakes, so I gave my will and my mind over to the cult leader whom I viewed as infallible. Today, I see cult-like thinking and behavior all around me. It’s there whenever I watch the news or read the newspaper. Cult behavior is found on both sides of the political spectrum, but it is especially prevalent on the right at this time in history.
I see cult behavior when a leader or his followers attack someone, not because of their beliefs, but because he/she dares to question the leader’s behavior. The attack focuses on the person, not the issue of disagreement. It seems that the leader can do no wrong and that criticizing his behavior in any form is beyond the pale. This is an example of deflection rather than rational disagreement.
I also see extreme behaviors on the left. There are two Democratic factions. One faction supports the moderate and patient approach as seen through the words and actions of Sen. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Joe Biden. The other faction is further left and is more impatient and reactive. They feel that the only way to deal with our president is to go to the more socialist side, not caring that, in the eyes of the right, socialism is equated with evil. If the Democrats want to win the 2020 election, they’re going to need the help of the moderates and independents.
Neither party can win in the 2020 election without appealing to moderates and independents. That’s why Biden leads in early polling with Democrats. But, based upon statistics, Trump’s divisive comments about four colored U.S. representatives will not appeal to the moderates and independents. How President Trump plans to win with this approach baffles me.
When I was in the cult, I tended to see the world in stark black-and-white terms. There was no middle ground for me. It was a sign of my immaturity. Stress on both sides of the political spectrum tends to drive people to polar extremes.
My experience in the cult was the more insecure and uncertain I was, the more dogmatic and unbending my thinking became. Post-cult, I became very conscious of those dogmatic tendencies as a clear indication I was feeling very fearful. I see similar statements of dogmatism peppered throughout the press reports that bring back many memories. I don’t see much self-awareness from either the left or the right.
We are a nation of people riven by our uncertainties. Self-awareness and humility are the only real cures for either side on the road to election victory. From my cult experience, being able to live with ambiguity is a sign of maturity. It is not easy, but it is the only realistic route to wisdom.

Rich Elfers is a columnist with the Courier-Herald in Enumclaw, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor. He can be contacted at richelfers@gmail.com.