“There is no room in a mind control environment for regarding the group’s beliefs as mere theory, or as a way to interpret reality or to seek reality. The doctrine IS reality.”
“The most effective cult doctrines are those ‘which are unverifiable and unevaluable. They may be so convoluted that it would take years of effort to untangle them.”
“The doctrine is to be accepted, not understood. Therefore the doctrine must be vague and global, yet also symmetrical enough to appear consistent. It’s power comes from its assertion that it is the one and only truth: that it encompasses everything.”
“Since mind control depends on creating a new identity within the individual, cult doctrine always requires that a person distrust his own self. The doctrine becomes the ‘master program’ for all thoughts, feelings, and actions. Since it is the TRUTH, perfect and absolute, any flaw in it is viewed as only a reflection of the believer’s own imperfection. He is taught that he must follow the prescribed formula even if he doesn’t really understand it. At the same time he is told that he should try to work harder and have more faith so he will come to understand the truth more clearly.”
All quotes from Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan.
So, what was the “Doctrine” in Delphi; what was the “reality” of an online server circa 2000 to about 2009 when the last attempt at indoctrinating individuals to “The Delphi Game” ended? Remember the section about “loaded language”, cult jargon where cult concepts or “truths” can be expressed in a short-hand? Simple phrases that members in the group could use and the “truth” didn’t have to be explained? The “doctrine” was expressed as “It’s just Delphi.”
In those three simple words, vague and yet “global” in terms of all of the “Darks Forums” involved, is everything that could have ever been said, and usually never was, about the Delphi server. Every mind game, every sabotage, every betrayal of trust, every act intended to humiliate, every “fuck-over job”, it was all summed up in the phrase “It’s just Delphi”. It was expressed with resignation and acceptance even if it wasn’t completely understood.
You had to be there; trying to explain it is damn near impossible without the explanation turning into a “war story” or a “Delphi history lesson”. It couldn’t be explained in a single chat session, not even one that lasted from dusk to dawn. It took months, sometimes even years to try to understand what “The Delphi Game” was, and it had to be experienced first-hand to understand it. Trying to explain it to an outsider to the server was an exercise in futility; it was unbelievable.
Because the explanation does not make sense; it sounds like one hell of a fantastic, melodramatic, paranoid delusion. Yet, everything that happened as part of “The Delphi Game” did so with a symmetry and a very reliable sense of consistency. One could count on there always being someone playing the “good guys” and someone else shoved into the role of the “bad guys”. There would always be “shit-stirrers” and “demands for accountings”.
There would always be spies toting Delphi, Exodus, or IM logs to anyone willing to accept them and there would always be individuals willing to accept them and believe them to be unaltered; either out of naiveté or bias. There would always be those who had “trust issues” due to instances of character assassination who would not hesitate to engage in character assassination of their own. It was not a matter of people interpreting Delphi’s server “reality”.
It was never a case of hysteria, or delusion, people believing the worst about one another because of mental instability. People on this server came to know it was this way through first-hand experience, seeing it all happen, beyond all shadow of a doubt, unfolding as a process everyone on the server experienced whether they wanted to or not. In the beginning it seemed ordinary and typical if a little overly dramatic. By the end of it, everyone recognized it as a consistent pattern.
This pattern consistency led to a general impression of a “Delphi Master Plan” though in most factions it was a matter of debate on whose “Master Plan” it was. We all spent a great deal of time and energy pointing fingers at each other, and trying to collect “evidence” on our favorite suspects. Nobody was sure what the “Delphi Master Plan” was supposed to be, other than running individuals off the server, perhaps with the goal of shutting down the server.
Some speculated that perhaps the “Delphi Master Plan” was a covert Government experiment. Perhaps the experiment had run its course; the unwitting subjects no longer needed, were being chased out of the server virtual environment. Maybe we all should have looked at our Delphi Terms of Service agreements a little closer; see if there was anything in there that looked like an informed consent agreement. Crazy as it that sounds; Delphi is old enough for it to be plausible.
In 2007 I asked the members of Delphi reading the original blog “Is there REALLY a “Delphi Master Plan”? What do YOU think on that?” Whether one believed there was a “Delphi Master Plan” or not, there were two things about “The Delphi Game” that were frightening. First, it trained a group of people, most of who had never met offline and never would, to act, and react to specific stimuli with uniform behavior, emotions, and thinking. Second, it was predictable.
The members of Delphi were their own evidence of this: Take any forum in the sub-set of the Dark Forums of Delphi, owned by any forum owner and tended by any forum staff and/or faction members, and add a newly created, unknown profile to the forum’s visitor log. The behavior, emotion, and thinking would be predictable regardless of the forum or the individuals, at least in 2007. Even today they still somewhat persist to a lesser extent in those who remain.
All of the forum members converge to look at the strange profile on the visitor log; they click on it to open it, inspect the details and note the date of its creation. Immediately speculation starts between members, either through a chat program or through posts in a private folder in the forum. Everyone with a forum of their own, including visiting members of other factions, check the visitor logs of their own forums to see if the unknown profile has visited their forums too.
Speculation starts on how the unknown profile found any forums it visited; members attempt to piece together its trail through the forums by the time stamps of the visits. Everyone watches the visitor logs of all of the forums to see where the unknown profile goes next. If it unknown profile posts a message, the content of the message is examined by everyone; whoever owns the forum or is a member of the native faction will respond, and then further response is analyzed.
If the newcomer is friendly, it is usually engaged in by the natives in at best, a cautious and wary manner, to varying degrees of suspicion. If the newcomer is less than friendly, interaction can quickly become hostile. Likewise, the reception in all other forums the newcomer may visit will be determined by the nature of the relationships between the forum owners and factions; but at best, will be suspicious and wary if at any time any forum owner’s interaction is hostile.
If the exchange is hostile enough, rival factions will send one another warnings about the newcomer, along with any intelligence gleaned and suspicion regarding who it might really be (all brand new unknown profiles are automatically suspected of belonging to an established and known member, and usually suspected of being the rival of whichever forum it shows up in). What were some other ways in which members acted and reacted in a uniform manner?
Intolerance of friends and especially faction members spending time on the server chatting with “enemies”; such friendliness across factional divides were often grounds for dismissal from one’s faction and possible reprisal from any faction willing to perceive the situation as an insult. Intolerance of individuals perceived as asking too many questions about a specific faction, either of that faction’s members, or of rival factions that might be willing to “dish dirt”.
Intolerance of lurking; either on a forum’s message boards without posting any messages, or lurking in chats for long periods of time without interacting with those present or otherwise contributing to the conversation. Asking too many questions and lurking would be quietly tolerated for a brief period of time but usually resulted in the individual being challenged, interrogated on their intentions and then removed from the forum.
And of course, events and situations that would occur between other factions, where one or both sides would seek your support in the arguments. Sometimes such situations were deliberately orchestrated; neither side would necessarily provide all of the details; usually their own roles were heavily sanitized in the telling while the focus was on what the other faction did to them. This resulted in something strongly resembling the Cold War and McCarthyism; no joke.
One of the more esoteric doctrines that survived from the dark spirituality forum (and other spirituality and religious forums) was a belief in psychic vampirism, and the subsequent “cultivation of psychic paranoia”. Some members claimed psychic vampirism was real; and some of them claimed to be psychic vampires themselves. Some members claimed they could use real war tactics on members, others that they could hack other members’ computers.
This often led to whole factions and groups of factions making accusations of psychic attack and claiming to be the victims of it. The claims of “real war tactics” were bullshit; the person making that particular claim could quote The Art of War but otherwise could never prove to anyone who had the text that he actually understood it (though he proved convincingly that he did not understand it at all). Claims of hacking were a different matter but could still cause hysteria.
This made for exploitable scare tactics especially with individuals who were particularly gullible or had a natural inclination toward paranoia. These tactics were also useful for frightening people into isolating targeted members in an effort to drive them into quitting the server. It was a server where members could spend several hours at a time, six to twelve hours a day on average; sometimes a headache happened due to long hours in from of a computer monitor. Sometimes being really tired just means you need to sleep; but these were “symptoms” of “psychic attack”.
Delphi is an internet server; short of demanding large amounts of undivided attention from its members, it was not really able to “suck up all the energy” from someone. Other people really couldn’t go there and “feed” off of message board or chat room text “energy” either. But making such claims enabled individuals to claim that rivals had targeted them with intent to cause real harm; gain sympathy, and instigate fear and anger at the rivals.
If on the other hand you questioned the claim of psychic vampirism, if you asked someone how long they had been signed in to the server that day, staring at the computer screen, you might get accused of being the psychic vampire. My favorite was those who claimed to be the victims of a psychic vampire, but also claimed they were psychic vampires. Question them and you might not only get accused of being a psychic vampire, they might threaten to give you a “headache” too.
In 2007 I said to the remaining members of Delphi’s Dark Forums, including my own faction: “Think on each of the points in the last few paragraphs; how do you react? Why? Did you think and act like this when you first arrived in Delphi? How long did it take for you to start? Did you resist any of it? If so, what happened afterwards? Remember, you don’t need to answer this. Just think on it.”
Today, there are a lot of groups in which the “doctrine IS reality”. Many of these doctrines are deliberately difficult to understand, they are purposely incomplete. They cannot be evaluated because they are infallible; unprovable. This condition is being made much worse on a much larger, society-wide scale. Truth may be fairly subjective, but facts make the subjective, objective; or at least that used to be the case before facts began to be discredited.
The doctrines are themselves a mess of confusion and contradiction; they demand acceptance over understanding. Some of them promote magical thinking, superstition, apocalyptic beliefs, and conspiracy theories. Magical thinking, superstition, apocalyptic belief and conspiracy theoriesundermine and sabotage fact-based knowledge. Fact-based knowledge is the foundation on which all civilizations depend.
We each have to examine our own world views; where do they come from? Do they come from our family, our friends? Is there a doctrine to our reality that we are told cannot ever be questioned, that the doctrine is perfect, that if it does not seem perfect, it is because we fail to understand it? Is the doctrine the beginning, the end, and everything in between? Is it beyond the ability to test or prove? Must it be taken only on faith, and only understood with experience?
Is there sanctions and punishment for questions, doubt, or disbelief? Is it a transgression to question, doubt, or disbelieve and would you be judged socially, intellectually, spiritually, or morally inferior, or corrupted by evil? Is the doctrine a matter of “common sense”, as in, if you don’t live by it and know it to be true, you don’t have any common sense? Is it important that you do your part to instruct or defend the doctrine? Are you evaluated on your performance?
Will the world end if you fail to convince others of the rightness of your doctrine? Will you and everyone you love go to Hell if you fail to believe in the doctrine?
***This is part 21 of a series of posts on cults and cult indoctrination online. It will focus on the book that played such an integral role in ending the indoctrination process on the Delphi Forums server; Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan. This series will be heavily revised and updated; the purpose is to show that Delphi is not unique.
The same process occurs elsewhere on the internet; Al-Qaeda and Islamic State did not invent it; they did not even innovate it. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, none of these sites were first to find themselves the vehicles of fake news, propaganda, or truth decay. There are much bigger cults out in the world; awareness is key to stopping the cycles.