If Amanda Martell starts a cult, this girl is joining. Cultish by Amanda Martell was beyond fascinating and don't even get me started on this cover (Ah-mazing.) This isn't your typical true crime narration of Jonestown and the Manson family. Cultish is all about how language is used as the ultimate form of power with cultish groups, ranging from the sinister ones we immediately think of when we hear the word "cult" to the workout gurus and social media influencers we see all over Instagram and Tiktok.
Cultish is split into six sections that cover sinister religious cults (like Jim Jones "Jonestown" and Heaven's Gate,) Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) schemes, fitness centers (such as CrossFit and SoulCycle,) and more. I personally find religious cults very interesting, so that section was intriguing to me, but the MLM section was incredible. Who hasn't seen friends and family get wrapped up in MLM schemes like LuLaRoe, Younique, Mary Kay, Herbalife and Amway? Heck, I remember for a moment in time considering being a LuLaRoe consultant. If Montell wrote a book solely about MLM and pyramid schemes, I would buy it in a heartbeat.
There were also sections about Scientology and QAnon that were gripping, but scratched the surface, leaving me wanting to learn more about them. Montell focuses more on how these groups use language to recruit and maintain membership, as opposed to their general beliefs and practices. A part that stuck out to me was Montell interviewing a former Scientology member who gave her an example conversation between two Scientologists. As someone who is almost completely unfamiliar with this religion, it was eye-opening to read. I had zero idea what they were discussing and what most of the words meant. It really hit me how some of these leaders can take the English language and manipulate it in a way to make their members feel exclusive and like they are a part of "something."
If you are a fan of true crime, linguistics, and psychological research, give Cultish a try. Even if you aren't, I encourage you to read it as well because Montell does a great job of breaking down this information in a way that readers with various knowledge levels on the subject can understand.
5 stars (LOVED it)
(Too many to count! I could have highlighted this entire book.)
"The reason millions of us binge cult documentaries or go down rabbit holes researching groups from Jonestown to QAnon is not that there's some twisted voyeur inside us all that's inexplicably attracted to darkness....We're scanning for threats, on some level wondering, Is everyone susceptible to cultish influence? Could it happen to you? Could it happen to me? And if so, how?"
"What techniques do charismatic leaders use to exploit people's fundamental needs for community and meaning? How do they cultivate that kind of power? ... The real answer all comes down to words. Delivery."
"There is no good cult/bad cult binary; cultishness falls on a spectrum....groups toward the destructive end use three kinds deception: omission of what you need to know, distortion to make whatever they're saying more acceptable, and out-right lies."
"Ultimately, the needs for identity, purpose, and belonging have existed for a very long time, and cultish groups have always sprung up during cultural limbos when these needs have gone sorely unmet. What's new is that in this internet-ruled age, when a guru can be godless, when the barrier to entry is as low as a double-tap, and when folks who hold alternative beliefs are able to find one another more easily than ever, it only makes sense that secular cults-from obsessed workout studios to start-ups that put the "cult" in "company culture"-would start sprouting like dandelions."
"Creating a special language to influence people's behavior and beliefs is so effective in part simply because speech is the first thing we're willing to change about ourselves....and also the last thing we let go."
"Language doesn't work to manipulate people into believing things they don't want to believe; instead, it gives them license to believe ideas they're already open to."