Is the Hasidic Community a Cult?

  • G Chung
    Posted at 00:35h, 01 July Reply

    You lost me at your exceedingly disingenuous “take-down” of the BITE model. Simply put, the model is meant as helpful guidance for those trying to identify groups that are exerting undue influence on their members – with emphasis on the word “undue.” Of course, all societies display some of those qualities some of the time, just like nearly everyone occasionally experiences many of the criteria listed in the DSM used to diagnose mental illness. But just because I sometimes get distracted, overly enthusiastic, or even a bit grandiose doesn’t mean I have bipolar disorder. The mere presence of those qualities is not sufficient – to be called a “disorder,” they must rise to a level of severity that causes the patient distress or impairs their ability to function normally. By the same token, the aspects of life at Brooklyn College might, if you squint, bear some resemblance to the BITE criteria, but they most certainly do not approach the level of totalizing pressure that would qualify them as an “undue influence.”
    I think it’s actually illuminating to address the way you applied the model point-for-point:
    1) Behavior control – Yes, Brooklyn College, like every educational institution, requires certain standards of conduct from its students. But does mandating attendance and proper attire really constitute an undue burden on the student, or is it simply a necessary requirement that’s reasonably tailored to advance the school’s educational mission? Moreover, Brooklyn College’s rules don’t presume to follow the students outside of class, and it’s that respect for the boundaries of their private lives that keeps them from becoming an undue influence. Contrast that to the way a real cult operates, in which nothing is private and every aspect of a follower’s life is open to examination and scrutiny by the ones who make the rules.
    2) Information control – A textbook, or a required reading list for a class, is not the same as information control as understood in the BITE framework. It only becomes information control when the institution tries to withhold or discourage access to information. On the contrary, Brooklyn College offers its students a big library and open Internet access, and no student will ever be punished for reading the wrong book or seeking out information that isn’t “curated.” Excluding information (or branding any facts “heretical”) would be anathema to its educational mission. Frankly, your failure to grasp this point makes me wonder whether you were taking the exercise seriously.
    3) Thought control – At their best, liberal arts colleges like Brooklyn College exist to foster critical thinking. While I’m partially sympathetic to the complaints that certain sectors of academia have given themselves over to a type of ideological groupthink, the fact remains that, as an institution, Brooklyn College does not mandate adherence to any doctrine in order to be a full member of the community. Exposing students to a range of ideas does not constitute “brainwashing.”
    4) Emotional control – Again, there’s a big difference between the type of inevitable stress that people experience under academic pressure and the type of deliberately manipulative, often sadistic abuses that true cults employ. Intentionality is key. At school, the stress many people feel is an unavoidable byproduct of a rigorous curriculum in which learning is always the ultimate goal. In a cult, the stress is an end in itself. It keeps adherents fearful and constantly seeking approval/avoiding the wrath of the authority. There is no larger goal other than control.
    It’s clear what you were trying to accomplish with this comparison, but it didn’t work nearly as well as I think you hoped it would. Just because you found a way to strain the meaning of the BITE framework to fit Brooklyn College doesn’t make the model invalid, overbroad, or absurd – it just means you applied it in bad faith. The only conclusion I was able to come away with after reading the essay was “Methinks she doth protest too much.”

    • Frieda Vizel
      Posted at 11:28h, 01 July Reply

      The BITE model is nonsense. I might have given it a half assed tongue on cheek refutation, but look up the academia on it; it’s basically in the category of pop culture almost like enneagrams and astrology and other rough categories that you can stretch as you see fit.

      Now that I think about it, the real fault with the BITE model is that it’s premised on the theory that cults are about CONTROL. This is what’s wrong with American views of cults: the myth is that cults are all about CONTROL. People think of it in terms of some kind of nefarious, strict repression of freedoms, all about powers to limit. This is the idea most people have in their heads when they think of cults, and it makes them say “well hey, I don’t like control, so I’m not susceptible, ever.”

      But as the world is getting more and more fanatical, close minded, mobbish, it’s clear that the majority would easily be recruited to cults. And that’s because the foundation of cults isn’t about control, which is the BITE models haughty declaration, but it is about connection, meaning, in-group, support, reliance on something else, group energy, and so on. Detrimental social movements are extremely appealing to humans for many reasons, and they have a lot to offer while they also do a lot of damage. When people don’t recognize its appeal, they have no idea that they are being drawn in.

      We are living in a time in history where people are conformist to an extraordinary degree (think Covid and all that entails, woke culture, social media) and the danger of the cultish mob is real, real, real. Most people will one day deny having been nasty lockdown snitches, but they don’t recognize their cultish behavior because they imagine some BITE model boring and miserable control and their virtue signaling high doesn’t raise any alarms.

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