The sense of wanting to belong is powerful, innate. We don’t what to feel left out, or left behind. It happens when we’re kids, hoping we won’t be picked last, or left alone in the lunchroom. And through to adulthood, as we hope to get invited to the right party or the right club. In the drive to belong, we have a tendency to ostracize the other. Sometimes not realizing, the other might well be us.
The really scary thing about all this is that something of the Us vs. Them mentality is common not only to cults and fringe groups but also to many, many far less fanatical political, religious and academic factions, to professional organizations, to groups of friends. “Othering” is a human feature, not a cult one. Whole countries foment this feeling, and we call that “nationalism.” I’m not talking about a Lacanian thing here, exactly, but rather the simple fact that there are many groups where assent is the price of entry, and if your assent should fail, so will your membership. The salient point being that once a member, it is liable to hurt if you should leave the other members; if it costs you too much to leave them, you might not, not even if you no longer agree with them, and you have to keep your disagreement a secret. This may be true whether the original dogma comes from L. Ron Hubbard or Joseph Smith, Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann, Peggy Noonan or Judith Butler. The content of the beliefs can become immaterial in the face of the power of belonging.
(hat tip…and really sorry it’s long, but it has to be…)