Recently, I published an essay describing the structure of cults, particularly the Woke Marxist cult. I explained that cults have an internal structure in three types of layers: an “Outer School” of low-information initiates, an “Inner School” of informed adepts, and then one or more “Inner Circles” of disciples, leaders, and directors. At the end of that essay, I promised to elaborate on the workings of these various levels in greater detail, to which I am now turning.
Before elaborating, to make an important note, the internal structure of cults can be quite formal or quite informal and vague. In Wokeness, the structure of the cult is extremely vague because it is not a formal cult. In fact, it’s almost wholly decentralized, which leads it to be described as a “mind virus” at least as often as a cult. Thanks to the influence of Paulo Freire and the development of Critical Pedagogy in education from his work, Woke can be taught merely as an attitude of dissatisfaction and disposition toward finding oppressive systems everywhere and denouncing them (and the people who “support” them). Anyone can learn that without learning almost anything, and then suddenly there’s “racism” in literally everything. In Woke, there’s not necessarily any particular first initiation rite one must pass through like with various fraternities, for example, and the distinctions between what function like “levels,” especially in the middle part of the cult structure, is almost entirely ambiguous, even though it can be discerned. Do not let this fact distract you from the general discussion.
This isn’t to be confused with the delivery mechanism of the cult doctrine, which can also be quite formal or informal. In Woke, unlike with secretive fraternal orders, it is both at once. There are formal trainings like people suffer at work or school, educational programs at every level (pre-K, primary, secondary, and college), and various seminars and programs people can sign up for or be made to sign up for, say as “professional development.” There’s also entertainment, social media, interaction between family, friends, and associates, and just everyday culture, all of which are quite informal in their delivery of Woke themes, theory, and practice.
Most of the cult consists of followers who are emotionally, socially, psychologically, and/or morally committed to the idea of the cult and the “communities” it fosters without actually knowing much cult doctrine, if any. This group is the Outer School. The goal of the cult is to make the uninitiated want to join the Outer School and then to increase interest, commitment, and a sense of identity among those who have been initiated. The Outer School carries most of the water for the cult, especially in terms of resources (including human capital). Its commitment is usually social, moral, or hopeful (to grow in the fruits of the doctrine), and the deeper layers of the cult have the objective not only to direct the Outer School members but also to strengthen those commitments. They are, in some sense, like the children of the cult, whether literally children or legally minors or not.
To bring this “thought reform” into the cult doctrine, which Mao Zedong referred to as “remoulding” and his CCP prisons called “brainwashing,” members of the Outer School are subjected to a period of alternating affirmation, acceptance, criticism, and struggle. As Mao explains it, first, there must be the “desire for unity” (with the cult). Ironically, this begins with a period of alienation: being made to feel as though you don’t fit in with the social group around you or the current of society as it progresses in some new direction. Wanting to fit in is a powerful motivator, and when that feeling of alienation is strong enough, acceptance and affirmation will flood a person with desperately wanted good feelings and the illusions of friendships and social bonds. Acceptance and affirmation are commonly used to create the initial social and moral commitment, along with interest, in the earliest phases of initiation.
This alternating cycle of alienation and affirmation is then continued with increasing intensity once inside the cult structure in the “criticism” phases, which are meant not only to criticize you for failing to live up to the cult expectations but also to teach you to reflect upon yourself and criticize yourself in the same way. Woke praxis has been described as a “lifelong commitment to an ongoing process” that includes “self-reflection,” “self-critique,” and “social activism.” What this does is creates, exploits, and channels a shame and guilt spiral into aims the cult finds productive. As explained by Robert Jay Lifton in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, the impact of this abuse on the psyche is profound.
Not only did making these accusations increase their feelings of guilt and shame, it put them in the position of subverting the structures of their own lives. They were, in effect, being made to renounce the people, the organizations, and the standards of behavior which had formed the matrix of their previous existence. They were being forced to betray—not so much their friends and colleagues, as a vital core of themselves. (pp. 68–69)
In destroying your own vital core, the cult supplies you with a false one. The process of cult induction from initiation forward drags its victims through this pattern again and again so that it can destroy the individual and turn him into a cultist.
But it is only after commitment is achieved—through social isolation, moral reorientation, exhortation, and extortion, psychological manipulation, etc.—that the “desire for unity” will be transitioned into criticism and struggle. Mao’s full transformative formula, which he openly bragged about, was “unity – criticism – unity.” Once the desire for unity (with the cult) is established, criticism begins. Initiation is over and how the process of cult deepening starts on suitable members. As indicated, this is done by repeatedly subjecting initiates to hazing-type circumstances in which they are criticized for the flaws in their comprehension of the cult doctrine, shortcomings past and present, outside relationships, etc., and in which they are called to account for them, repent of them, or otherwise strongly increase the moral, emotional, social, and psychological commitment (and dependency upon) the cult. The message is simple: “we would have unity, the exact unity you claim to desire, but you’re too problematic and need to do better.”
We see this kind of initiation taking place in Wokeness, for example, in workplace, institutional, and school “DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion),” “unconscious bias,” “sustainability,” and other training sessions, which are often a mandatory job requirement. These introduce the doctrine and force people to take place in a pathetically bureaucratic initiation rite that often includes struggle sessions, confessions, evocative presentations, and more. Criticism about “structural racism” or “unconscious homophobia” or any other number of thought-crimes is usually a part of the affair, and reflection, confession, and pledges to “do better” are often present, if not required, of participants.
“Unity” takes on a number of names, not just literally unity. It might be “social justice,” “racial justice” or “an end to hate.” It might be “environmental sustainability” or “climate justice.” It might be “equity” or a “sustainable and inclusive future.” It might be “liberation” or “socialism,” but in all cases you are the problem because you aren’t doing better enough. You aren’t doing the work, so unity is impossible—because of you. You and also them, the outsiders who haven’t been converted yet, and the enemies who refuse to and must be demonized for their refusal. But you have to leverage your desire for unity to engage in that “lifelong commitment to an ongoing process” of “self-reflection, self-critique, and social activism” as the remedy for this shameful personal failure. This is how it works.
Obviously, these cult dynamics aren’t something someone would just take. They have to be leveraged socially. It has to matter to who you are and who you are to your peers or you would never tolerate any of it. In analyzing the way this phenomenon played out in practice in CCP thought-reform prisons in the 1950s in China, Robert Jay Lifton indicated that the social milieu brings upon the person a tremendous psychological and social pressure while offering only a few ways to resolve the tension. The pressure not only to confess to crimes only visible from “the people’s standpoint” (the cult view) but more specifically to want to confess as a means of resolving the psychosocial pressures put upon you are emphasized. The treatments as such are often sold as “help.”
In the Woke cult, this desire for unity into criticism pathway applied to members of the Outer School may also be completely informal, apparently socially organic and spontaneous, with friends and family members “calling out” their less-Woke associates. It doesn’t have to take place in a captive-audience DEI session at work or school. The process and phenomenon are the same, even when diffuse and undirected. In this case, an initiated person rather than an adept (e.g., paid consultant or corporate political officer) facilitates the same pathway: first, make them desire unity (or peace, or getting along), and, second, make that only be possible by renormalizing to the cult view about racism, transphobia, or some other vector of Woke manipulation. There can be no unity with a “racist,” and you can’t stop being “racist” until you want to be “antiracist” and start the “ongoing process” of “self-reflection” and “self-critique” that will ultimately transform you. Shame and humiliation are key tools in this process. The people doing this do not have to know virtually any Woke Marxist ideology or even that there is such a thing, but they’re following its moral strictures nonetheless because those can be learned without reading a single page of “the work.”
That implies someone knows the Theory and is somehow channeling it into people. It’s true, and it happens in a variety of ways. It’s diffused into society through entertainment, mass media, and public displays. Adepts are behind this. It’s taught in schools, explicitly and implicitly, by Inner School adepts posing as teachers and other teachers who are sometimes Outer School initiates and sometimes are just forced to go along with the programming, conscious of the problems with it or not. From there it bubbles up into society as thought-reformed young people interact, create, and put pressure on each other, parents, relatives, and other members of society. It’s also forced upon people in workplace training sessions led by Inner School adepts that function effectively like prisons, though with a lower adoption rate than through other means. Every bit of this infection of society is informed by the Inner School adepts and socially enforced by the initiates who have already been taken in on it.
Learning the Theory yourself and becoming an Inner School adept in the cult is something mostly done by people already committed to it through the above processes. The first grip the cult has on people is moral and social. That proceeds through the above alienation, criticism, affirmation cycles into the psychological domain through vitiating the essential core of initiates’ identities and replacing that core with the cult moral and linguistic frameworks. If you feel like a cultist and talk like a cultist, you’ll start to identify as a cultist. Only after the commitment is made personal through this process will studying the doctrine be likely to stick, outside of rare cases in which people “find a voice” for things they already feel in the literature. Primarily, moral commitment is followed by social commitment is followed by psychological commitment and is then sealed through study, which teaches the skill of cult apologetics to close off any avenue to doubt. Theory becomes a set of elaborate, complicated rationalizations for why the cultist should stay a cultist despite literally everything in the world saying otherwise.
As both Lifton and Mao make clear in their various materials, progression from the Outer School to the Inner School is a matter of “study.” It’s also one of action, namely “praxis,” which is a fancy word that means putting the cult doctrine into practice and shaping your life’s activities around it. So, after enough criticism and struggle, you will want to start “doing the work,” which is your initiation rite into the Inner School of the Woke cult. You’ll study the theorists and maybe their antecedents, especially the pop-theorists, read lots of their books, watch their videos, and deepen your understanding of the issues from the cult perspective. Or, maybe you’ll learn about these things in schools or your college classroom. When you become conversant in the basic theoretical worldview—that is, the roots of the cult doctrine—you have graduated from the Outer School into the Inner School. The axis here, in the vague realm of the decentralized Woke cult, is one of being student, scholar, activist, and/or organizer.
Some people think because the Outer School of the (Woke) cult carries almost all of its water and only the Inner School members really know anything about the theory, and only the “scholars” and “organizers” among those actually know the antecedent theory, that the theory itself isn’t that relevant to the cult. This is wrong. The theory is the cult doctrine. The Inner School members, who are adepts, largely end up directing and facilitating the criticism, struggle, affirmation, and acceptance cycles mentioned above. These not only solidify and consolidate those in the Outer School but keep their ideas and activities in line with the doctrine.
Most of your life as an adept in the Inner School is devoted to study of theory and application of praxis, according to your understanding, but you’re still subject to the criticism and struggle cycle as you grow in cult doctrine. Again, not only does this keep you on the “right” path according to the cult, it also continues to deepen your psychological, social, and moral commitment to the cult. It also serves as a useful lesson for others, especially initiates, who might waver. The purpose of “study” is to develop an intellectual commitment on top of those other commitments to the cult doctrine, which will also enable you to reframe and rationalize away contradictory information, ideas, and evidence, or to subsume it skillfully into cult doctrine.
Only the most committed and loyal members of the cult’s Inner School have any chance of progressing into the outer circuit of the Inner Circle; that is, to become disciples. Disciples are very few in number relatively speaking because they will actually start to learn the real purposes of the cult and its “mysteries.” Only the most committed, most interested, and most useful members will ever have a chance to learn these mysteries, but they will primarily be selected for their loyalty, ability to keep secrets, and willingness to provide guarantees of those traits. There very well may be an initiation rite that might also involve generating blackmail on you so that you remain a safe keeper of those secrets, purposes, and mysteries even if you come to waver later.
While the Inner School advances most of the cult’s theory and activism, the Inner Circle actually advances and directs the cult’s activity, usually for their own glorification, benefit, enrichment, and power. They’re the directors and producers of the cult’s Truman Show. They use the Inner School members and exploit the Outer School initiates to achieve their aims. Mao explains this clearly when discussing intellectuals and businessmen in 1950s China, who by a few years into his CCP-run regime in China were almost all committed to the idea of socialism (initiates, Outer School) but that only a few were becoming Communists (adepts, Inner School), though more would follow through diligent and right study. Party members (disciples, outer Inner Circle) will be chosen from among those in various domains, and some will become Party officials (leaders, inner Inner Circle) depending on their skill, utility, commitment, and loyalty, perhaps inter alia.
With regard to Woke, most Woke people are Outer Circle. They’ve morally accepted the idea of a “just and equitable” or “sustainable” society, but they don’t know they’re practicing Neo-Communism. The longer they are in, as their commitment rises, the more study they will begin to do. These will become students, scholars, activists, organizers, and consultants; they’ll recruit “co-conspirators” in institutions like schools from among higher-level Outer Circle initiates and create pressures that sway, manipulate, and lead the Outer Circle to follow the cult doctrine and increase commitment and understanding of it. The leadership is more vague, and, as with many cults, may not be veridically Woke themselves. They are operatives working in the large organizations that fund and promote Woke initiatives, which they can use to their advantage whether they agree with the ideas and premises or not. Entities like the World Economic Forum and United Nations, for two examples, push these initiatives vigorously, as do many others, often will billions of dollars behind them.
Understanding that Woke is a cult and is structured like a cult—with its closest parallels in Maoist Communism—is crucial to understanding it and formulating our responses to it. It’s very difficult to make sense of the behavior of our captured friends and family without realizing how they have been captured and how they’re being kept. It’s challenging to tie what seems to be (and is, in a very real way) highly esoteric Theory to people we all know haven’t read a word of it and couldn’t name almost any of the relevant Theorists. It’s not clear how this thing gets the kind of funding and strategic coordination that it gets from a bunch of people who don’t quite seem to be the type for that kind of high-level executive activity. It’s confusing why people who get pulled into this way of thinking about the world can very quickly let it color and contour their interpretations of everything they experience in the world, which is a feature of ideological totalism. All of this becomes clear, however, when we understand that it is a cult and how cults are structured.
Woke is a cult. Being woke means having “critical consciousness,” which means your understanding of the world has been reorganized through Critical Theory. Critical Theory, which is shorthand for Critical Marxist Theory, is the doctrine of this cult. Doing something about it begins with rightly understanding these facts, and doing something about it is absolutely necessary.