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Getting Out : Inside Out

Why did people stay in the group?

from Hunter - Sunday, July 14, 2002
accessed 1908 times

One of the first things I wanted to ask my parents after I left was, “why did they join, and what made them stay?” My parents are intelligent people and the fact that they would remain throughout the introduction of bizarre doctrine and practice was something I cannot understand. Yet, it seemed as much a puzzle to my Dad as it was to me when I posed this question.

The control that the group had on its members was something that I thought must have been masterminded, the rules, and restrictions, (ie. on films, drinking, music, clothes, restricted reading and regimented schedules, etc…) must have been put in place by someone knowing what the effect would be – who had studied such. Whether or not this is the case and if this was in fact Bergs plan of control the extent of which I don’t think we’ll ever know, but it’s a thought, and I think the closest I’ve come to a confirmation was an article that I came across recently. It clearly categorizes – in my opinion -- the components necessary to create the type of environment that we grew up in. If anyone had the same question you may find this interesting.


What Keeps People Involved in Social Movements?
Michael Hechter, 1987.
Principles of group solidarity.
University of California Press

Why do people join social movements? And, having joined, why do they continue to participate?

The rational choice model suggests that people get involved because of what they perceive the movements can do for them. But once people are involved, how should leaders of the movements keep members actively participating and contributing and prevent them from engaging in "free ridership"; that is, being members in name but not actually contributing anything to the cause?

One answer is that the leaders must get members and potential members to believe in the cause, to be committed to it out of personal, fervent belief. Another proposes that some sort social mechanisms are required to control behavior, resulting in members who are committed to the movement for reasons beyond personal belief in it's inherent worth.

In 1968 Rosabeth Kanter published an account of 30 American communal groups in the 19th century, including the Shakers, Utopia, Amana, New Harmony, Oneida, and the Order of Enoch. She showed that successful groups were more likely to have used mechanisms promoting commitment than unsuccessful groups (Kanter, 1968). In the 1980s John Hall reanalyzed her data, finding that four factors were strongly associated with a group's long-term success (Hall, 1983,1988):

- A common ethnic background and/or a foreign language spoken by the group's members.

- A spiritual hierarchy, with those in authority being of higher moral status than other members.

- Obligatory confession, in which one's transgressions might be pointed out before confession by other members or leaders.

- The wearing of uniforms, or special clothes that set group members apart from the rest of society.

An example might help make those characteristics more concrete: The Amish, a group that speaks German, has church leaders and elders, and dresses very differently than the "English," as Amish call non-Amish persons [systemites]. Children are not taught to speak English until they attend school. If one transgresses in Amish society, the punishment can be stunning, in which the transgressor is cast out from the Amish society and cut off from friends and family.

How can we determine the importance of such control mechanisms as the wearing of uniforms, the presence of spiritual hierarchy, obligatory confession, and common ethnicity or foreign language? Perhaps one or more of these control mechanisms are needed at first, to cement the bonds connecting the group members. But are they required on a continuing basis, or does belief in the cause, movement, or group take over?

If the success of social movements and intentional communities were dependent on the intensity of belief and commitment that arises from that belief, we might expect that as these groups get older the social control mechanisms identified by Hall would cease to be needed. In fact, the opposite has been found: In the groups that were the oldest and survived intact the longest, researchers found continuing high levels of the control mechanisms. Clearly, people experience their connections to these groups as feelings of commitment, and we know that group involvements cause transformations of personal identity. But Hall's study shows that these factors are less important than mechanisms of social control in maintaining group solidarity. It is the use of control mechanisms that accounts for the longevity of social movements and groups.


I can only assume that as time goes on the power of the groups’ "control mechanisms" that holds together its members will further weaken. Undoubtably however, one would think there would always be those that continue to find this lifestyle appealing. My simplistic method of explaining the choices of many such people; “ignorance is bliss”.

Although this does not explain why people participated in the cults' practices, I believe it does provide a measure of reason for the longevity of its existance.

Reader's comments on this article

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from iratepirates
Thursday, March 09, 2006 - 20:08

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

People stay in the group simply because they have no where else to go

1-no real education

2-no job skills

3-saying you where in a cult all your life isn't exactly a resume winner

4-you have no money since the "home" controls it

5-You never seen any of the outside world and what you think you know is that the "evil" system is out to get you

6-all your relatives and siblings are in TF

(reply to this comment)

From catuireal
Saturday, February 23, 2008, 04:57

We could name these six points "the inertial component for remaining in TFI". Specially for the 2nd gen it takes much more energy and effort to "make it" outside TFI then inside.(reply to this comment
From rainy
Saturday, February 23, 2008, 05:13

In some ways yes, but then you think that most of the 1st gen are at LEAST in their late 40s, and most of the 2nd gen who haven't left yet are in their 20s. So taking that into account it seems the 2nd gen still have more time to get some kind of job and maybe study, more time to save up etc. I think it may be harder for 1st gen to "make it".(reply to this comment
from Anthony
Monday, July 15, 2002 - 15:55

I had similar thoughts about the control mechanisms, but having never conducted academic research on this subject I wasn't sure about my conclusions, until now.
I found the movie rating system in the family particularly designed for this purpose. Remember that time in Memphis some idiot ( I think it was Dust) made us take that film back to Blockbusters for no good reason? It wasn't about the film, it was about him controlling us that day on his visit to the homes. And now they even have Jesus and Berg telling them what to watch. Well, thanks for the article.

(reply to this comment)
From catuireal
Saturday, February 23, 2008, 05:05

Censorship has a double purpose: controlling knowledge and information and stressing autocracy. But I don´t think leaders after sometime in charge give it a lot of thought... I stopped trying to figure out the reasoning behind superiors´ orders after a couple weeks in the group. It doesn´t have to make sense to accomplish its purpose - what´s most scary about it.(reply to this comment
From mad
Sunday, November 24, 2002, 20:28

Any young person who is still in that group either has 3 children, is in some position of "power" (by their warped definition, bulimic or still recovering from a mental disorder. Oh, lets not forget the puny, trampled ones who are just to scared to make anything of themselves.(reply to this comment
from afflick
Monday, July 15, 2002 - 13:18

I've been thinking about this for awhile now. It came to me suddenly (although belatedly) that all the adults surrounding me during my childhood were cult members. They, as we now often like to phrase it, had issues. I know my mother probably joined to piss off her very overbearing father and distant mother. My father, a former jock who is not the brightest crayon in the box, joined for the 'free': free sex, free food, free rent, free vehicles. I cannot say if these were the only reasons, or just contibuting factors, but it's hard to get my head around the fact that every adult who I looked up to in my youth, who I depended on, had emotional or physical lacks which brought them to the Family.
Certainly there were sacrifices that they had to make, for instance, not having the means to supply for their children. Not being able to buy new outfits, gadgets, etc. Having to walk a very tight, disciplined line in order to stay in favor with their leadership. However, the discipline and control they exerted over themselves and their children may have made them feel superior to those in the world who "gave in" to their lusty desires. Much the same as a Olympic swimmer may feel proud of his superior stamina and endurence in the pool.
Coupled with Bergs' constant remindering of how they were "it", it may have given them the drive they needed to stay in the cult. After all, preached Berg, they were unique, better than the church christians, more enlightened and dedicated than any other movement on the face of the earth. What more could they ask for?
(reply to this comment)
From neez
Tuesday, July 16, 2002, 07:17

u said it

You'd think "not having the means to supply for their children" would've been reason enough to think about rethinking their future location in life..
How much acid must one drop in order to gain the abiliy to abandon annoying human instincts at will?(reply to this comment

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