I like to throw around the word “cult”. I used it three times in last week’s letter. Who does that?

You don’t hear much about cults anymore. In the 20th century, between the New Age stuff and the Satanic Panic, just about everything got called a cult by somebody. But in the glorious far-future world of 02019, we’ve evolved to no longer need leaders, or faith, or drugs. We’ve left all that behind us.

Just kidding! I grew up in a cult.

Not as a child – my family are the most level-headed realists you could imagine, and they did an admirable job of herding me through the hazards of youth.

I found the cult when I was 19, tramping around the country with a head full of dreams and a backpack full of stank-ass choneys.

(If you’re wondering what kind of drug is a “stank-ass choney,” you’re not alone. It’s actually a vernacular term for “very dirty underwear”. Now you know the translation, you can go undercover among your “fellow kids”. Jump Street, but for hoboes.)

At nineteen I was role-playing the Summer of Love, hitching rides across America and looking for a better way of life.

I had had the sense, from a very young age, that everyone was lying to me. A Truman Show feeling. We live out scripted behaviors; the reasons we do things are deeply different from the reasons we think we do them. I wanted to discover another way of life. I found one.

(I wasn’t wrong, by the way. The Empire never ended. Everyone really was gaslighting me, and each other, and themselves. You’re not crazy, you’re human, and living in an inhumane society, and it sucks. Anyone who says different is faking it, but if I talk about it they’re going to medicate me into oblivion. All those smiling faces are actually painted on. The whole place is run by sadistic rodeo clowns. Sshh… )

So I went to a big anarchist party in the woods to meet up with some friends. Overall, very nice. Lots of free food. But, drum circles. But free food! I saw my friend from a distance, he saw me, and we ran in slow motion through a meadow to reunite.

“Come to this camp,” he said. “They have good coffee and I’m already making friends.”

That’s how easy it is to join a cult.

They had everything: the charismatic leaders, a married couple who each kept several lovers; a giant spooky house; a passel of homeless teenagers who came to learn mystical powers; a captive schizophrenic who could channel spirits. It was exciting, romantic even – from a certain angle.

I spent years with these people, on and off, before I really understood what was happening. They were doing behavior modification on people. Treating us scruffy teenagers like dogs, or rats. A flea circus.

It wasn’t even a secret. They would talk about it, teach us. We would teach each other. We learned to live as Magicians, beyond good and evil, masters of pure will. The attitude was, if you can manipulate someone, then you should . Even if they’re your friend, your ally, your lover. Always keep your mind shrouded in multiple layers of fake reality, so that other magicians can’t harm you.

So in the teaching, it’s always veil after veil. The guy would take me aside, tell me special things he thought only I could understand. He told me I was his protege. He told a lot of people they were his protege.

Being on the inside of something like that is very exciting. It’s that taste of power, of joining a trusted network of superpeople. It’s why everyone wants a letter to Hogwarts, or to be shoulder-tapped by some nameless agency. We all have the idea that we’re special and the world should recognize that.

Someone looks you in the eye and says “this is your call to adventure, do you want to be a hero or not.” How you gonna say no?

To be clear, these weren’t evil people. They were bad people, in the sense that a haircut can be bad: they weren’t good at being people. But they weren’t being manipulative fuckheads just for evil’s sake.

Everyone is the hero of their own story. They – we thought we were a radical underground wizard army, using our dark powers for good, combating the terrible things done by enemy magics. I guess I still do. I just write this letter about it.

Not all the groups at that gathering were cults cruising for victims, but most of them were. Any time the social norms are lifted and all the magical possibilities of human freedom open up wide, the harem-building guru daddies arrive with their menial ambitions.

This year, the norms of the world are dissolving. The parasites will swarm. Learn to recognize a cult before you get eaten by one.

Look for a charismatic sociopath, glib tongue and dead eyes. They decide what you can do and say, who you can talk to, who you have sex with. They remove you from your family and friends, the better to isolate your mind from reality. They recommend special diets and sex practices, controlling the powerful energies of the body.

(Wait: I just got a kitten last month. I took her from her family and locked her in this apartment. I reward her with food when she does what I like. And I won’t let her leave until her sex organs are removed. Am I doing a cat cult now?)

No dogs, no masters.

Thanks for reading,

– Max

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