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The seduction of cultism

Tuesday 30th August 2011

The seduction of cultism

My definition of a cult - an alliance of people who are entirely dependent on within-group support to maintain their single-minded and unwavering stances regardless of public opinion or facts. Dissent within the ranks about group canons and doctrines often results in ostracism, criticism, and ridicule. Cultism also involves the indoctrination of children and the proselytization of others to join the group to add seeming validity to persistently expressed dogma. Outside criticism of group beliefs are either met by scorn and insult, or a “dignified” silence to express contempt and disdain of those who might have alternative opinions. Total commitment to beliefs is demanded and must be met.

By that definition of cultism, and I have borrowed from many others who have studied cults carefully, trophy hunters clearly fall within the parameters.

Problems the hunter cult might meet from others are countered by a repeatedly emphasized explanation – hunting is conservation. The President of Safari Club International, a pro-hunting lobby, said “never apologize”. Members of the group receive status, recognition, acceptance and a new identity based on group membership – we are the tough, the bold, and the justified. We are the arbiters of life and death and bring home the proof of our courage and bravery having faced the most dangerous animals on earth. And we do so in the name of conservation, so our actions are justified. 

We all of us crave status and recognition and power in some way. Dressing up in khaki and running around Africa with a gun does it for some, and they are supported by organizations like SCI with recognition, prizes, and status. There are close to 60 SCI award categories, including: International Hunting Award, Hall of Fame Award, Diana Award (for women), SCI and Cabela’s Young Hunter Award, World Hunting Award Ring, Professional Hunter Award, Pinnacle of Achievement Award, Crowning Achievement Award, World Conservation and Hunting Award….And then the “lesser” awards like Gazelles of the World, Pygmy Antelopes of Africa, Wild Pigs and Peccaries of the World.

You get the point.

Louis Jolyon West (1924-1999), an American psychiatrist, human rights activist, and an expert on brainwashing, mind control, and violence had this to say:

"A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g…. powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of [consequences of] leaving it, etc.)…”

Walking around with a gun gives one a sense of power. Being allowed to legally use that gun and making a decision to take the life of an animal increases that sense of power. Buffalos, lions, leopards, elephants and rhinos are not called the “Big Five” for nothing. Within the hunting group membership, they are seen as the most dangerous and therefore the most indicative of hunter prowess and courage. The trophy brought home reinforces group membership and status. Information management will ensure that the hunter is absolutely convinced they have done well for conservation. Operators are careful to ensure that a trophy is admired and recognized with appropriate celebrations in the hunting camp. Membership groups then give awards and the equivalent of medals. Makes Joe Wannabee want to go right out there and do it again, does it not?

Will trophy hunters willingly make changes in their practices? They risk much in terms of the group pressures of their comrades in arms. So reform can most likely only be imposed on them from the outside, as that then saves face and allows them to shift blame. Perhaps a few brethren could then quietly and anonymously agree that sport hunting of lions is not really helping to conserve the species?


Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:55

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