Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Qualifying "Creepy": Cults and Cognitive Dissonance

Relativity (Escher)
A few years ago, I took the dialogue from the script of The Matrix film and changed some of the language to fit a spiritually abusive situation – to describe that splinter-in-your-mind feeling. You know something seems to be “off,” but you're not sure what it is. The only thing that you can really pinpoint as “off” at the very start of it is your feeling for which you have little evidence.

Let's exaggerate things a bit with an obvious example of something somewhat related to the splinter in your mind.

If we are reasonably mentally heathy, we have a sense of optimism. For some of us who have been through trauma, our optimism (which might be too strong of a word) may only be a search for reasons to get out of bed in the morning. When coping with all that we must to get through life, we take much for granted, and our level of optimism or lack thereof dictates the ease with which we trust the subtle or obvious cues. When others use that which we take for granted (the shortcuts of assumption) against us for their gain and at our expense, these shortcuts become “Weapons of Influence.”

If you chose to watch this video, as you do, consider that the expectation that a minister to be ethical (or just as ethical as you would expect any human to be) as something reasonably healthy (hint #1). Here, the splinter-in-your-mind has been exaggerated to a 2 x 4 stud that you'd find in the lumber aisle at Home Depot, except that the setting isn't the lumber aisle (hint #2).

I love this depiction as an exaggerated analogy to a spiritually abusive leader. “I feel fantastic, and I seem fantastic?” Robots don't feel, for one thing. That voice even has vibrato, and pieces and portions of it sound human, but I can tell that it's not. What if the difference was just subtle enough to seem human, but I couldn't tell? What if I could only hear the voice of the robot but couldn't see visual evidence to help me to confirm why the voice didn't always seem “right”? The sound doesn't match the source. The source doesn't match the message. The message itself cannot be true. The static figure looks human-like, but static figures don't “behave.” The figure in this video does.

Whether a manipulative minister intentionally tries to misrepresent the truth, or whether they're just lying to themselves, not everything about them adds up. Either the message doesn't match the context, or the emotion expressed, or something subtle about their expressions or behavior seems inconsistent or incongruent. When misrepresenting the truth, that minister falls short of our reasonable expectations of a minister as an expert or an authority on ethics. What if they become so abusive that they actually fall below our reasonable expectations of what we might call common human decency? Does not something about them become less than human?

Imagine how fascinated I became when I saw this graph of the “uncanny valley” which specifically gauges “creepy” deviation against the standard of human likeness. Francis T. McAndrew and Sara S. Koehnke offer this spectrum in their discussion of what constitutes creepiness from the perspective of social psychology. It dovetails nicely with that which Philip Zimbardo describes concerning the disguise of the expressions of the prison guards in his famed Stanford Prison Experiment, something he notes as a precipitating factor involved in evil behavior. 

This element of deindividuation by obscuring eye contact and facial expression can also be found in William Golding's book, Lord of the Flies. Ambiguity about identity and genuine expression in communication makes for confusion. Steven King classifies creepy as the terror variety of fear which comes about because of this type of ambiguity and disorientation.

Doesn't cult involvement demand a type of death of the true self when personality and preference must buried?

Hmmmm....  Creepy.