If you've ever been accosted in the Square by a Moonie, someone who was an inconspicuous student at Boston University, or if you've ever stood transfixed as a horde of orange-robed, bald-headed gents chanting "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna," ran by you on the street, they you've come face to face with one of the most significant, widespread, and least-understood cultural phenomena of 1970's America--personality snapping.
Snapping is a word coined to describe the sudden, drastic alteration or even total transformation of personality that apparently occurs in mass psychological therapies and spiritualistic cults like est, TM. Hare Krishna, the Moonies, Scientology, the Born-Again Christian movement, the Children of God, the Love Family, and so forth. An interested observer goes to a cult meeting, becomes convinced, and the effect is as if someone had reached out and changed the channel on his mind's television screen--snap--and now he gets channel 12 instead of channel 5. To reach him, you have to broadcast on new frequency.
Authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman '73 have undertaken a monumental task, that of investigating dozens of cults and movements to discover just what snapping is, why it occurs, the implications for our society and our theory of the mind, and perhaps most importantly, whether it is a threat to freedom that should be fought or an historical moment of widespread social transcendence that should be welcomed.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the authors have limited their study to only part of that huge field of data. However, by doing so they have biased their results and have missed what is probably the more important half of the story--a direct examination of those transcendent experiences. Given the assumptions the authors, held at the outset about their object of study, the conclusions of the book are all too predictable.
Conway and Siegelman thought the dark side of sudden personality change was obscured by reports of the transcendent, cosmic, revelatory and eestatic experiences many people had as a result of meditation. LSD, or whatever. They have set out to illuminate the negative aspects of the phenomenon--and come up with scare stories of brainwashing, mind control, Manson murders, Son of Sam shootings.
Conway and Siegelman stack the cards by only interviewing people who have adopted cults and then been "deprogrammed," including Mansonite Leslie van Houten), as well as professional deprogrammer Ted Patrick, and parents and friends of cult member to show that the movements are using sophisticated psychological techniques to induce a mind-numbing, thought-silencing submission among their subjects.
Bias of Experience
Not one interview with anyone who has really had a transcendental experience graces the pages of this book. No discussion of the great Eastern religions that lie behind the cults appears. Not one sentence on the possible alternative interpretation of the cult movement is found--no hint that maybe people are happier and more attuned to the world as ascetic missionaries than a citizens in Consumer America. And by tacitly equating the mass-therapies and pseudo-Eastern movements with all the deeper social currents flowing towards mystical experience, spiritual integration and consciousness-expansion, Conway and Siegelman do a great disservice to the growing segments of society that are seeking more than our culture can
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