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A Year of Living Positively -Day 27

I fell better today, although I feel more tired again this afternoon. The congestion has been under control, but the eyes quite watery. I hope I will be able to get through the dental appointment tomorrow afternoon when, at long last, the permanent crown is to be affixed.

After the civic employees' closing ceremony, I had some time on my hands but I did not want to sit in my freezing office, so I did some errands.

For one thing, I got my tall dress boots re-soled by the campus cobbler. He did a good job. I'm sure he quoted me 15,000 won a few times, but when I took out my wallet and was counting, and checking the amount to pay again, he indicated 25,000 won. I paid it, although I know he went back on his original quote. Being a cobbler and sitting in that little hut for most of the day can't be fun, and I'm sure his income is quite low, so I did not protest the second quote. My income isn't so tight, and it beats buying completely new boots.

While I was sitting listening to the speeches of the ceremony, my mind wandered because I could not understand very much. I found myself reflecting on the co-worker relationship at this workplace. People are mostly cheery and polite, but not close and they do not work together well. I think that is because of the credo of individualism, aside from the politics and competition among teaching staff at educational institutions for which they are notorious.

The Western culture, particularly the American and Canadian ways, are strongly individualistic, especially among men, as we all know. I see this as a big problem preventing social movements from succeeding in raising the quality of social relations and preparing for transformations that could lead to more developed democracy, better social justice and social equality. It's very frustrating.

For example, there have been times when getting together and speaking as a voice could have brought about improvements to our working conditions. There were instead some setbacks because people were to fearful and set about attacking each other instead of agreeing on common goals and methods.

This reflection brought to mind a discussion I was involved in at the New Year's Day dinner. One young guy kept bringing up existentialist questions, which amused us though we didn't pursue dialogues on these questions because his pessimism only highlighted what could never be resolved, and kept bringing him around to death. At the table, however, we responded to his remark that there is never any change. We refuted this general absurd statement, until we figured out (he did not articulate it himself) that he was talking about the persistence and resilience of the global capitalist system. I won't summarize our discussion, because it would not be relevant here.

What was interesting was how the conversation turned to a discussion of cults. I objected to any religion being understood as a cult. Some participants in this discussion implied that groups with any guiding set of ideas were cults, and the leaders therefore not to be trusted. (The examples were any religion or government, particularly communist governments. (Hoh-hum!) They thereby answered their frustration about the question as to why any successful consolidation of movements strong enough to oust the capitalist system has yet to occur. 

That is this. On the one had, they bemoaned the lack of success in vanquishing capitalism, but, on the other hand, they expressed fear and reluctance about the formation of groups that share ideas and practices.

I just want to focus on this misguided idea and fear of cults here. I looked up the Online Oxford Dictionary's definition and am pasting it here below.

  • 1.a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object:the cult of St Olaf
  • a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members:a network of Satan-worshipping cults
  • a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular thing:the cult of the pursuit of money as an end in itself
  • 2.a person or thing that is popular or fashionable among a particular group or section of society:the series has become a bit of a cult in the UK[as modifier]:a cult film

 This definition thus states that it is either worship of a persona or object, or a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular thing, or a small group sharing religious beliefs or practices generally seen as strange or operating by domination over the group by the greater community. By this definition, all religions are not cults. 

By the same token, then, a group is not necessarily a cult. Indeed, let us ask what makes a group a group and how it is distinguished by others. Sure, we would have to say the people and what they have in common. They might share a world view and way of life, and agree upon the same rules, which must be based on common assumptions. If that is the case, then we can label the group a culture, or at least a sub-culture. 

A group is not necessarily a cult. Nor is a culture a cult. A shared ideology and act of sharing it does not make a cult. When the word "cult" is applied to business life or politics, it usually is used a pejorative term to describe how a clique with an overbearing leader appear in these situations. The small group is seen as having blind devotion to the leader or a symbol or an idea. That would be cultish.

Whether people are conscious of it or not, they belong to groups within a social order and share thoughts, practices and goals. Labeling religions, or particular social orders or cultures or any group a cult just because some of the things they do and think are shared together and share some is absurd. 

This kind of talk of cults is post-modernism misapplied and misconstrued, and feeds belief systems such as anarchism. With the strong belief in individualism, which leads to beliefs in ultra-democracy, such talk nurtures fear, incessant criticism and blame against factions who are trying to organize. I've seen this time and time again in Vancouver where great efforts and coalescing have been destroyed over and over. 

I think that more successful outlook, one that would invite and build cooperation, would be to see the merits in ideas and work where there is merit to be demonstrated, and to negotiate concessions and list of issues. There would then have to be common understandings of the issues and common calls to action made. That would not necessarily take away in anyway the individuality of the participants, or compromise their identities or preferences or personal lifestyle, or even their own ideologies.

Let's think positively and get together to make change happen!

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