Updated: There is a cult called Nxivm in the current news, and I would not count this as a successful cult or commune as the details are horrifying. Clearly this is not a harmless or friendly cult. I read about how the cult worked in the Hollywood Reporter and it was more like Scientology then like a commune. I am not going to consider these larger organizations, as part of scope of my blog. This post is about people who come together to share living arrangements and expenses voluntarily as part of a hedge against poverty and homelessness ie a hippy type commune.
I wonder how many cult leaders never tell their followers to murder people and therefore slip below the radar? Has anyone done a study of this? I think they are out there, and don’t want to be found. Father Yod, for example, had a successful cult more or less. (I am defending successful as avoiding murder or suicide.) The problem he had, I read, was how to support the members of the cult. Maybe the stress of it caused him to sort of commit suicide by hang gliding. The more difficult the economic times are the more people would like to join a cult and be taken care of, but unless the cult has an outside source of income or can entire wealthy backers or members to join or get involved that cult will fail. Even most churches can be seen as a cult. The members of the church support the leaders, while the leaders only provide emotional and spiritual support to the member. The members go out and work jobs to support the leaders.
Suzanne Somers can even be seen as cult leader now, and not an actor anymore. She sells diet and beauty products. She began with the Thigh Master. People send her money for products to help them be attractive, and that money supports her. The joke is none of this works. The products sold don’t really help, but the comfort she provides to them in someway makes up for the lack of effectiveness of her products. I was dazzled by her as young teenager watching her on Three’s Company.
David Foster Wallace mentions in Infinite Jest that addicts who want to quit drugs sometimes try to find a cult to brainwash them out drug addiction. I don’t think this ever works very well. It’s hard enough to support stable working members of the cult, much less drug addicts or burn out who can’t or won’t work.
Another consideration is the lifestyle of the leader. If he is willing to not live very extravagantly, he or she, has a much better chance of making a success. Cult leaders seem to be mostly male and their taste for the high life tends to increase as time goes on.
The more money the leader spends on things like luxury cars, the less money to support the members. A good cult leader will live on a budget to set a good example for his followers about not wasting money. And he can’t just take everyone, he has to pick viable members for the cult, if it is to survive.