The Problems with Cults (Cult of Apple Redux)

On October 25, 2016 By pramitsingh Topic: Idea, Apple

Cults are the 'disease' of modern existence. Cults are everything that is wrong with this world. This thing that started with organized religion now finds its greatest manifestation in form of consumerism. In his last book, Kingdom Come, JG Ballard, a 'cult' writer' himself  (no irony meant, cult in the arts is allright) writes about consumerism being equal to fascism. In one interview, Ballard points out to the Fascist nature of football fans in England, the organized hooliganism in particular.


The point behind Consumer Cults/Fascism is simple: "My product is better than you and so I am better than you as well."

No more is cult to be identified only with weirdoes like David Koresh or Heaven's Gate and their zany jumpsuits. Or with Death cults such as Al Qaeda. Scientology has made fortune creating a cult out of a silly book and preying on insecurities of celebrities.

Environmentalism has also been identified with cults. Remember the cult of Gaia? The Gaia theory is of course given by James lovelock and has somewhat found its supreme manifestation in James Cameron's "Avatar".

Cults in Personalities spring around charismatic personalities, ultimately bestowing power and wealth on people whose only stand out feature seems to be charm.

However, I am most troubled with consumer cults. My life philosophy is, I will go for whatever works for me at any given time. I try to stay 2 kilometers away from anything a friend tells me to buy just because he bought it. Why does he need to justify his purchase by getting more people to buy the same stuff? Poor man. "I won't be part of any cult that would accept me." Sorry, Groucho.

I am troubled with consumer cults because the rise of internet, social media et all has made big businesses trying to creating consumer cults, crazy like horny goats.  You must surely heard about Seth Godin's book called 'Tribes' where he encourages companies to build a dedicated group of followers. This is a fine idea for startups wishing to rise above the crowd but it runs the risk of degenerating into unruly cabals. The rise and fall of social news site is an example. Special interest groups and cabals of users acting in unisonhave made the erstwhile useful site a haven for gross news and awful commentary.

One problem with consumer cults is that you will rarely find cults around sensibly priced things. The item must be expensive.

Example of overprices fluff: Harley Davidson, Tivo (when it was launched), Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Starbucks, Apple...

The Fashion industry has also managed to create cults around unwearable items of clothing. In fact, I am positive 'Cult Making 101' must be in every respectable Fashion Designing Course.

Regarding the Cult of the Mac, all the symptoms of careful cult-creation are there: Charismatic leader (Steve Jobs), Control (the App center, no outside batteries allowed etc.), and Secretive and Selective Information Release (most noticeable during new product release).

I know it is a heretical thought but Microsoft Windows has unintentionally done more good for this world than Apple has. People can pirate Windows easily. India became a software power on basis of pirated software. People run to code using all the pirated software they can lay their hands on. This will be the long-term historical assessment of the 20 year IT boom. Moreover, unlike Steve Jobs, Bill Gates is giving most of his money in charity. Some call it Microsoft buyers subsidizing Bill Gates' charity.

Coming back to the topic of Apple cult, ironically, even in India people make money and then they buy expensive closed systems like apple to appear cool.

Apple will often deflect all talk of being a cult and say “We are not a cult, we are a brand".

Nice one. Tell that to buyers of Apple products.

The fans line up for hours to be the first to get a new Apple product. A Hacker news commentator describes this as silly:

Mac fanboys are like the Goth kids of the adult world - they profess individual expression, but all act and dress the same.
It's amusing that a group that touts themselves as valuing individuality and creativity all use the same restrictive devices with very little choice.

Al Jazeera writes,

Of the 44 films that topped the box office for at least one weekend in the US last year (2009), Apple products were featured in 18 of them, making it the number one brand featured in US blockbuster movies in 2009.

Cults make You Conform. Cults will take away your individuality. Cults make you the same as other members. For all this, cults will take your money.

Cults succeed at it because they know that behind all our talk of being individuals, we all behave like sheep.

As this commentator writes,

The scene from the life of Brian comes to mind: "You are all individuals" chorus: "We are all individuals".

The problem with organized religion, as Bertrand Russell put it, is that "it hijacked morality". The problem with consumer cultism is that, with 24*7 help from the media-industrial-complex, it is hijacking cool.

Next time an Apple fanboy (like John Gruber) shouts to you "This is so ****ing awesome!", run. Always keep your mind open. Cults are so overrated.

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