Thursday, March 26, 2015

Anonymity

When first joining the COG, each member is either given, chooses, or "receives from God" their own "Bible name," although technically, it is not required to be a name strictly from the Bible. It was not unusual, in my time in the group, to meet people with such unlikely names as Hezekiah, Uriah, Sunshine, Charity, Dust, Miriam, etc. This new name was the only name the member was known by.

You can imagine the difficulty that people outside the group would have in trying to locate someone within the group. As well, people often changed their names, usually to accompany some sort of "spiritual breakthrough" in their battle against self and sin, which further complicated keeping track of others in the group. Furthermore, we were discouraged from keeping in contact with friends either within or without the group, as we were to put "our work for the lord" first above all other considerations. ("He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me," said Jesus in Matthew 10:37. Clearly friends fell quite low on the priority list.)

Once within the group, we were no longer bound by the constraints of social norms, but embraced the norms and morals of our new community. As I wrote already*, at first these seemed to be benign and conservative, but as time in the group continued, the mores were stretched beyond reason to encompass various unethical sexual and abusive behaviors.

Perhaps a bit of the anonymity members experienced with Bible names can be likened to the Ring of Gyges. Plato described this as a magical ring that could impart invisibility to its wearer. Would someone who could become invisible forego morality and use this power for selfish gain and commit crimes? If invisibility provided escape from social propriety, how would people behave?

As far as life in TFI/COG went, a lot depended on the individual. Some people went against the tide and retained more conventional morality - as much as would be allowed with its accompanying stigmatism of being an "old bottle" - one who was not "revolutionary" enough to accept the "new wine" and "freedoms" God had given to his chosen few. Others became unapologetic abusers of children and sexual profligates.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Disrespect for Science

In the cult, since "God's Word" was the ultimate authority, naturally it would follow that we pooh-poohed science - or rather, we used the literal writings of the Bible as the yardstick with which to measure anything scientific. If a scientific teaching squared with the Bible, then it was OK. "The world was created in 6 days because God said so," accordingly, there went evolution. With that the foundation of our beliefs, there was little room for rational thought.

Now we see a world where disregard for science has become somewhat of a popular trend. Scientific reporting in mainstream magazines, in the interest of "balanced reporting," often presents a scientific finding alongside one lone voice of dissent, giving each equal merit. The internet is filled with the opinions of "experts" who dispense their thoughts freely, and people accept them. Yet, charisma and confidence, as we know, do not correlate with competence.

Why this tendency? Why do people in general seem eager to jump on the bandwagon of anti-scientific beliefs? Why have even the opinions of celebrities become as accepted as that of scientists?

I wonder if perhaps it may have something to do with the way this generation has been raised. From my limited observations of parents in (particularly) the US, I noticed a distinct, and actually shocking, lack of respect for authority figures - teachers, coaches, even police - where parents would strongly contradict and argue with such people in front of their children. Of course, this attitude is consequently passed on to their children. 

I can see how such a feeling of disrespect, and its resultant perception that one knows as much or more than an authority figure (let's not forget the Dunning-Kruger Effect), will translate into adulthood as a generally elevated sense of confidence and disregard for things outside of one's belief system. 

One doesn't even need to be a cult member to have their brain addled by false beliefs and notions.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Unknown Unknowns

Daniel Kahneman, among other things, pointed out that the mind naturally works by going on what it sees and knows, but...

"There are unknown unknowns," as Donald Rumsfeld so famously said, and these are the things that we need to seek out. Obviously, the tendency of the mind to just look at what it sees and knows and go no further is crucial to cult loyalty, and reaching past that tendency is the only way out.

To quote Kahneman, "A mind that follows WYSIATI [what you see is all there is] will achieve high confidence much too easily by ignoring what it does not know. We focus on what we know and neglect what we do not know, which makes us overly confident in our beliefs."

Outside information "is routinely discarded when it is incompatible with one's personal impressions... In the competition with the inside view, the outside view doesn't stand a chance."

"It is therefore not surprising that many of us are prone to have high confidence in unfounded intuitions."

Thus, as a secluded and information-starved cult member, whose only source of outside news was weeks-old compiled and edited news articles supplied for our supposed convenience by cult leadership, I had no concept of the vast amounts of knowledge that did not come from the cult source. Of course, I talked with outsiders, but everything went through the filter of what I already "knew" to be true, i.e., my firmly held beliefs.

Thankfully, we now have the internet with its anarchy of knowledge and pseudo-knowledge to allow us to search out other sides to issues. IMHO, the internet was the undoing of the COG/TFI.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Redeveloping Intuition

One of the most influential social scientists of the 20th century, Herbert Simon, made an in depth study of intuition. He breaks it down as follows: "The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition."

Think of a chess master glancing at a chessboard in play and intuiting what the next play should be - information input and immediate response. This reaction has come from years of practice and pattern-recognition. My own intuition of how to behave in water comes from years spent in pools as a child; certain actions just come naturally. Likewise, the years spent memorizing and reading the publications of TFI, and being immersed in that society and mindset, have not been without their effect.

Someone's whose "gut reaction" tells them to make a certain decision is relying on what quickly comes to his mind. He doesn't consciously understand why he feels the decision is "right," but surely something in his subconscious is affecting his feelings.

More close to home, my certainty that the decision to join and remain in the COG was uncontested. Obviously, such intuitions should be questioned.

Of course, for physical tasks, such as sports, chess, etc., there is not necessarily a danger, and much to be gained, from following intuition. That's what practice is all about and what intuition is for - quick and correct reactions. If a tennis player had to consciously think about how to go about hitting the ball coming at him, he would never hit it. He has to rely on his intuitive senses.

On the other hand, for important decision-making, personal interactions with others, etc., there is great potential danger in relying on immediate emotional responses and initial "intuitive" reactions. I see now that it is crucial to think more deeply on such matters and consciously put aside my initial "gut feelings."

Knowing when using intuition is needed and when it is best to stop an think things through is one of the challenges of life. The instinct to impart more value and truth to things that readily come to mind is just one perilous and important human weakness to be aware of. I hope, that as my years out of the cult grow, I am building a new framework for my intuition of knowledge, mental patterns, and experiences.

"People's confidence in a belief [can be traced] to two related impressions: cognitive ease and coherence... but ease and coherence do not guarantee that a belief held with confidence is true." Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow   

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Trust, and the Lack Thereof

As I'm sure you would agree, trust is a crucial factor for a healthy relationship, as people's memories, by nature, in time become confabulated fiction. Without trust, we readily believe emotionally-laden negative things about events that occurred in the past.

It is self-evident that memory is colored by emotion. When a memory involves another person, which so many do, how we "remember" things depends a lot on how we feel about the person involved. If the relationship with that person was one of love and trust, then the memory is more benign or neutral. If, for some reason, we feel animosity towards that person, the natural fictionalization of memory becomes more dark or accusatory.

"You didn't let me do ...., " reports the disgruntled teenager. "You made me do ....," says the bitter ex-spouse. We can easily, and unknowingly, give up the responsibility of our own poor decisions because of the warping effect of emotion.

Where love is thin, memories are negative. Where love is strong, there is forgiveness and understanding.