“In a dangerous cult, there is never a legitimate reason for leaving. Unlike non-cult organizations that recognize a person’s inherent right to choose to move on, mind control groups make it very clear that there is no legitimate way to leave. Members are told that the only reasons why people leave are weakness, insanity, temptation, brainwashing (by deprogrammers), pride, sin and so on.”
“Members are thoroughly indoctrinated with the belief that if they ever do leave, terrible consequences will befall them, their family, and/or mankind. Although cult members will often say “Show me a way that is better than mine and I will quit,” they are not allowed the time or mental tools to prove that statement to themselves. They are locked in a psychological prison.”
“In terms of Delphi…most of this does not apply” or so I said in 2007. In hindsight I realize I didn’t fully understand the pressure that could be exerted on those for whom validation and approval are important. It was not a “sin”, “temptation”, “insanity”, “and brainwashing by deprogrammers” or “pride” that those who threatened to leave Delphi were charged with. In most cases, they were accused of being “weak”, of “flouncing”, or of “running scared”.
When someone was driven off the server by constant or near-constant personal attacks, those who took part in those attacks would brag about having “gotten rid of” the person. Such individuals being driven off the server for “being weak” often became part of “The Delphi History Lessons”; attacking others was a condoned behavior to be encouraged in newcomers. This behavior helped them fit in, gain approval, and solidify their Delphi identity.
Otherwise some members did leave for normal reasons such as employment conflicts, health issues, and loss of internet or computer. Most of these reasons were more involuntary than voluntary. Employment commitments were not to be interfered with, and computer crashes or loss of internet connection was unavoidable depending on the circumstances. Family obligations were also off the table unless one discussed one’s family, and then it was subject for criticism.
Short, temporary absences were acceptable; being absent long-term and then returning on the other hand were another matter. When I left in 2002 there was no issue; when I returned three years later I was censured by a few factions because of that absence and thus missing a good chunk of “server history”. To be fair I also did not care for the lengthy “Delphi History Lessons” in my chat room, and made no bones about the fact, so I was censured for that too.
Grudges were important in Delphi because they served as justification for the kinds of antisocial behavior that had by this time become typical. They justified the hostilities between members and between factions. They justified the control issues and the myriad trust issues everyone could develop within seconds of someone making it clear their story was questionable or someone had the slightest doubt in a claim.
There was another reason for the “history lessons” though. The thinking, feelings, behaviors, the very control of information, the indoctrination process itself, all of it constituted something that had to be seen and experienced first-hand to be believed. To those who had been absent for a long-period or to those who were new to the Dark Forums subset of Delphi, “The Delphi History Lessons” seemed utterly ridiculous, but to those who were there they made perfect sense.
One had to experience it daily for about two years to really “get it”. It took that long to learn the ways and methods of how others were manipulating you and how to defend against it. Whether or not you really wanted to, and whether or not you ever chose to use those methods, you also learned how to manipulate others to the same effect and for the same kind of gain. If one chose to manipulate others it would take a long while for them to catch on; it was that unbelievable.
One was kept so busy with the intrigue on the server that blowing things out of proportion became normal. The indoctrination process on the server resulted in members being unable to see the forest for all of the trees. Ultimately, because the indoctrination process was so wrapped up in interrogative accusation and efforts to manipulate and control people; few people ever felt like anyone believed them about their experiences and perceptions of “truth” on the server.
Information was habitually controlled and every member’s point of view was dictated by the privileges granted them by forum owners and faction leaders. As alliances shifted and privileges were won or lost, the access to information was also won or lost. New information very often changed the entire context of different events; even ones we were involved in and thought we had previously had access to all of the information.
Abusiveness is a product of the dehumanization process and this too was part of the indoctrination process; “The Delphi Game”. Dehumanization is what individuals and groups do when they fear other individuals or groups, and they want to dominate and control them. Dehumanization is what governments and militaries do when they have internal or external “enemies”; and what religions do against rival religions; it can lead to torture and genocide.
Now we see the same abusiveness and dehumanization all over the internet; it’s rampant in social media, to the point where Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been forced to take punitive action against users for the spread of malicious or fake content. No one is constitutionally protected from the Rule of Law or the Government when they deceive, manipulate and intimidate others using computers and the internet. Same goes for social media.
In Delphi, the only real way out was to leave the server; for the longest time one could try to not play “The Delphi Game” but that only resulted in individuals getting played by “The Delphi Game”. Now, the only real way out of political and religious polarization is to quit your family, quit your friends, delete all of your online accounts, turn off your computer and television sets and unplug them both from the wall. But that won’t stop you from being played by this maelstrom of an indoctrination process.
Just like Delphi, just like any cult really, you are either participating in the indoctrination process or you are being played by that process; just like the pawn in a game of chess. In Delphi, my faction did stay but we also left the “Dark Forums Community” in order to do it. We found ways of sabotaging “The Delphi Game” so that we were no longer its victim. This involved questioning what we were told, refusing to account for ourselves to fake authority figures.
To clarify, this did not mean denying the authority of Delphi Forums Staff; it meant denying the authority of a couple of forum owners that paid the same yearly membership and forum fees everyone else did. We learned to discern between legitimate, real, authority figures and those who only claimed to be. In Delphi we told the fakers to get lost and they had no real choice but to get lost at that point; they overstepped themselves and everyone else knew it.
Today we aren’t talking one little old server; we are not even talking the internet. We are talking the whole nation, many other nations, and the stakes are a hell of a lot higher. We aren’t talking about a couple of jokers calling themselves “Elders”, we are talking about groups like Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, the Klu Klux Klan, White Nationalist Party, the Sovereign Citizens, and evangelical Dominionists all trying to establish their own personal worldview as the dominant one; all wanting control.
According to the 2018 Fragile States index these are the nations with indices above 99.9:
Nigeria. Guinea. Haiti. Iraq. Zimbabwe. Afghanistan. Chad. Sudan. Democratic Republic of the Congo. Central African Republic. Syria. Yemen. Somalia. South Sudan. For the people who live in these countries, there is no way out.
In 2017 the most worsened nations on the index were Mexico and Turkey. In 2018, it’s Qatar, Spain, and the United States. While the United States is far from being in the condition that South Sudan is in; or even Nigeria, it is still very much a cause for concern. We are not invulnerable. http://fundforpeace.org/fsi/
This post concludes the series on cults and cult indoctrination online, based on a previous 30 part series written for Delphi Forums members in 2007. I highly recommend Steven Hassan’s 2016 edition of Combatting Cult Mind Control, the series drew from the 1994 edition. If you have read all 30 parts, first, thank you, seriously, for taking the time and giving the posts your attention. If you have only caught a few, that’s okay, they aren’t going anywhere. Feel free to read the rest at your convenience. If you wish to leave feedback, offer suggestions or ask questions, shoot me a message. I like talking to readers.
***This is part 30 (and the final part) 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.