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Wokeness and the Structure of Cults


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James Lindsay

March 22, 2023

It has become relatively obvious that what goes by the term “Woke” refers to having been initiated into a cult. This observation presents a difficulty, however, because how can so many people be initiates into a cult without even knowing the cult is a cult? How can so many people uphold cult doctrine and praxis if they’ve never read the big theorists, like Marx, Marcuse, Freire, and Foucault? Doesn’t that suggest that something else entirely must be going on?

Cults always have a particular structure. They’re not homogeneous. In fact, they’re layered, sometimes more formally with an actual “leveling” system and sometimes less. In general, though, there are always three big-picture layers within any cult plus two categories of people outside the cult, making five types of people from the cult’s perspective.

Within the cult, the general organization can be split into three circles: initiates (“Outer School”), adepts (“Inner School”), and disciples and leaders (“Inner Circle”). Any of these three circles can be subdivided formally or informally, and something like initiation or promotion rites will typically mark passage from one level to the next, with those being more significant when crossing the boundaries between circles.

Importantly, the members of the Outer School (initiates) will typically know very little cult doctrine. They will be morally attuned to the cult and being made increasingly socially invested and committed to it. They do not have to have read any of the relevant cult doctrine or even have heard of the people who formulated it to act in ways consistent with the cult’s values, which they are learning to adopt and having reinforced for them socially. The initiate stage of cult induction is one of increasing psychological identification with the cult, its beliefs, and its practices. It’s also a period of learning the cult’s lingo and learning to speak like a cultist, which is, of course, a signal of fitting in. This awakening to cult identification in the Woke cult is called gaining “critical consciousness,” which is a belief that all of social reality is contoured by oppressive structural power dynamics that they have a duty to help overthrow by denouncing them with Woke criticism and Woke activism.

In contrast, the Inner School adepts will know the cult doctrine and will be growing in their knowledge and understanding of it. They will “do the work” or undertake the relevant “study” necessary to learn cult doctrine and theory, and they will, in turn, teach it to one another and to Outer School initiates, but only in comfortable, digestible ways. In this way, the practices, beliefs, morals, and values of the Outer School are shaped by doctrine that’s conveyed by the Inner School. “Doing the work” through “study” to become an Inner School adept mostly only proceeds after the moral, social, and psychological commitment to the cult is firmly established in an initiate (after they are critically conscious). That way, budding adepts are unlikely to reject and very likely to rationalize and accept the more distorted and grotesque features of the cult doctrine.

The Inner Circle is different and chosen from highly advanced Inner School members and, perhaps, opportunistically from among a population that doesn’t care that it’s leading a cult so long as it’s powerful and high-status there (that is, psychopaths). No amount of study, understanding, or development in cult doctrine will facilitate the transition from Inner School to Inner Circle or leadership. That’s done based on loyalty alone, often including guarantees of loyalty like blackmail obtained through the participation in an initiation rite to the highest levels. The Inner Circle may or may not be true believers in the cult, but they ultimately direct it, often in various ways for their own power and profit.


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