Are you a cult?

It is common for people in conversations about intentional communities to wonder or even ask out loud “Is this a cult?” It is a good question which warrants investigation.  What we know about the people who live in cults is that they chose different lifestyles than the mainstream.  They live together. They work together.  They build their own culture and have their own internal rules, norms and agreements.  Visitors from the mainstream must conform to the cults rules while they are visiting.  They often have unusual sex practices.  They are often dismissive of the criticism they get from the outside.  If you look at it this way, my communities would certainly qualify.


These things, while often true about intentional communities, are not the problematic aspects of cult culture.  Where cults start to go bad is when they deny the autonomy of the individual and force behavior which is harmful and/or unfair.  If we look at the more problematic qualities which typify a cult, they are something like this:

  1. it has a living charismatic leader
  2. you give them all your money
  3. you are kept away from your old friends and family
  4. you can’t leave when you might like

This is not what the intentional communities i reside in are doing.  There are people who take leadership roles, but this is rarely based on charisma and is never totalizing.  At Twin Oaks you can give your cash assets to the community and when you leave you get them back (without interest).  Were we are real cult, that money would never come back.  Only our low disposable income (our allowance) gets in the way of visiting our friends and family, who are more than welcome to come and visit us.

questioning attitude

Let me dig into the last point: In a cult, you can’t leave when you might like to.  It is very easy to leave Twin Oaks and Acorn.  People might discourage you from leaving because they don’t want to lose a friend, or because they think no good can befall those who leave.  But we are not holding anyone against their will (and as a community recruiter, i can tell you the last thing i want around is grumpy communards who don’t want to live with us anymore.)

What is also true is that you can arrive at Twin Oaks and Acorn with no money and we will still seriously consider you for membership.  You buy a condo, you may not be able to sell it when you need to.  In fact lets tweak this list just a bit and see what we find:

  1. it has a living egotistical boss
  2. they pay you as little as they can
  3. they consume most of your time and energy, leaving little time to socialize with friends and family
  4. leaving feels difficult or impossible

You have likely guessed i am slipping corporation in for cult and finding many of these disturbing characteristics are present (in slightly different forms) by almost everyone’s employment situation.

Escape Captivity

Escape Captivity

cult job


[Edited by Vermin F. Cockwolf] April 1, 6:6 PM PDT


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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

5 responses to “Are you a cult?”

  1. santalorena says :

    In describing the Radical Faeries to a new friend recently, I worried aloud that we sounded like a cult. My Faerie friend sitting next to me said, “No, a cult has a charismatic leader; we have thousands of charismatic leaders.” Sums it up.

  2. dbmamaz says :

    yeah, a little late in my reading, but at my UU church today, the minister was talking about how we need to do a better job of getting the word out about UU . . . which I do a lot, on homeschool forums, actually . . . but then she asked if anyone else has had someone say “is that a cult?” it totally cracked me up – ppl have certainly asked me that about EW, but not about church?

  3. Logan says :

    One defining characteristic of a “cult”, can exist in even a secular, egalitarian, community. That would be conformity of thought. Free spirits can easily be made to feel foreign, for questioning memes, sacred cows, etc. Ideology can exist anywhere on the political spectrum. Thankfully, I haven’t seen this happen, but I know how easy it would be for it to happen. Freedom of thought; the last frontier. (Oh, I consider Acorn mighty free.)

  4. madgelma says :

    Hi Paxus! I lost track of you on Facebook after leaving that pit of soul-sucking hell, and I don’t have your email address, so thought I’d use this channel to check in on whether you ever finished reading Mating in Captivity and, if so, what you thought/how you felt about it. I’m over at, and emailable at madgelma[at]hotmail[dot]com. Best to you! And I agree that cults and corporations/industrial civilization have lots in common.

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