The evolution of a charismatic leader.
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12-06-2011, 12:19 PM
The evolution of a charismatic leader.
Right forum? Not sure. Moderator -move if you like.

There is this story I've been watching...A couple of years ago I was on the C&O canal in MD. I saw a guy there with 2 Great Pyrenees dogs, one wearing a backpack. Now, I like dogs more than I do people, & my dog wears a backpack, so I toddled right over & said hi. Turned out this guy was walking with his dogs all the way from Texas to Boston as part of an effort to change laws on how human cancer drugs could be used on pets. I used to work in animal medicine & I could see the worthiness of his cause. I got his name & followed him on facebook. I thought he was some lone guy doing his little mission, but once I got on fb I realized he had a huge following, as well as a tight support network, who'd find places for him to crash & shower, send him food, & set up interviews along the road. Most of his posts were of the picture of the dogs in the tent variety, or stories of cops rousting him until they heard his story, then letting him camp overnight. I enjoyed watching this, his was a good cause, & I admit some part of me wished I could just sling on a pack, take my dog, & spend my days wandering thru the dappled sun.

His trip ended about a year ago. By this time he had about 5000 fb friends. He immediately posted a long entry about how he'd been waiting to say this, but that he had been speaking with god, getting messages directly from god, that he knows god has a special mission for him. Wow. I had no idea that many of his fbfds were hyper religious. After that, Luke's posts were always highly intimate of his thoughts, & very adoring of god. His fbfds were like alcoholics in a gin factory - so many directions to go in at once they could barely choose. They could not say enough good stuff about god, Luke, & the clear relationship between the two.

I find this very interesting to observe. I feel like I have a front row seat to the psychology of a charismatic leader & his followers. He now has people offering to host him wherever he goes, offers to loan cars, does he need food. I'm sure people send him things. He now has such a tight & intimate relationship with his core followers, who I define at the people who visit his blogs, read all his posts, scan his page, attend his events, & respond to his fb comments, that he now has this dynamic in which he can post any tormented thought & there is a wave of prayers, of reassurance that he is on god's path. And it's given permission for these dog loving fans to include their pets in their religion. I can't tell you how many times I've seen "in the arms of the angels" posted for yet another dying pet.

I have nothing against Luke per se. I think his cause was entirely worthy. (FYI trying to change US law so trial cancer drugs can be used on pets, as is allowed in Europe.) But wowzer! this thing he has going on now is wild. The story intensified when, just after his finish last year, he found out one of his dogs has cancer. I only read the posts that come up when I'm on fb, I don't check his page, but it looks like it's been a hard time. Lots of treatments. the other day the dog's eyeball ruptured & had to be removed. Luke posted that he's taking his dog to some mountain spring that is reported to be magical. He says god has done things in his life no one had seen or can imagine, so it's worth a try. Needless to say, despite the word "magic", people were right there encouraging him to go. I don't know how he can watch his dog die part by part & still bliss out at the thought of a loving god. I don't know why he thinks going to a magic spring might make him worthy, if walking 2000 miles did not.

But beyond that - I think if he were malevolently manipulative, he could absolutely start his own church. He is charismatic, he has become comfortable with sharing his most personal struggles & the times he doubts god, he invokes the help of others while he goes on for a higher cause. And something about this has tapped in to thousands of people who would do just about anything for this guy, as long as it's under the umbrella of the work of the lord. These followers have such emotion, such need. This is fascinating & kind of scary. Scary because his most starry eyed followers are all there voluntarily. And that makes me feel (temporarily) less than hopeful when I ponder our efforts at encouraging reason. People are absolutely eager to embrace these fairy tales.

Every time you say you don't believe, Jesus rips the wings off a fairy. - SkepticalParenting.com
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12-06-2011, 10:46 PM
RE: The evolution of a charismatic leader.
Hey, EML.

Some really great observations. I think you've answered some of your own questions already though. Very good post.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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13-06-2011, 12:49 AM
RE: The evolution of a charismatic leader.
Great story EML. This guy is harmless enough, other than for that he may cause dogs unnecessary suffering by prolonging their second rate lives with chemotherapy, which, by the way would also impecuniate their owners.

If he did start a religion, chances are there would soon be trouble. He would likely start having sex with some cult members, or their daughters, or their sons. He would probably start squirrelling away funds into his own pocket. As the cult grew bigger, jealousy and factions would develop resulting in infighting. A firm hand would be needed to stop it imploding. The dogs would be forgotten in the struggle for power and
money. The "true believers" would be milked for all they're worth. As soon as your man passed he would mythologised, all his faults forgotten, and his story aggrandised.

Gullible, unconfident people need a guru because they are too weak or too lazy to work things out for themselves. Hence Jesus...the generic default solution to the lazy man's search for meaning.

Thanks for your contribution
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13-06-2011, 06:16 AM
RE: The evolution of a charismatic leader.
Hey, Mark.

Mark Wrote:Gullible, unconfident people need a guru because they are too weak or too lazy to work things out for themselves.

I think that that's too cynical a view. I don't like theories that are based on things as intangible as weakness or lazyness. It's too generic a label and, I find, really destructive. The idea of charismatic leadership and the powerful psychology behind it is far more useful and informative, I find.

I think my favourite charismatic leader has to be Raël, leader of the best Atheist cult ever. The Raëlians. Aliens and sex? Sign me up! Who do I make the cheque out to?

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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13-06-2011, 06:46 AM
RE: The evolution of a charismatic leader.
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13-06-2011, 01:25 PM
RE: The evolution of a charismatic leader.
As I watch his posts & his following coalesces, the 2 most striking qualities are

1-people are so eager to agree with any pro-god-related comment.

2-even tho this is not a group but rather a collection of posters from all over the country, they have no tolerance for attitude outside what has developed to be the norm. I rarely comment on his posts. One time I said something supportive but it was gently worded to encourage him to follow his instincts...I can't remember...but it wasn't what everyone else was writing about trusting god. To give him credit, he thanked me for my thoughts. Several of his followers tho just bashed the hell out of me because I'd suggested as mildly as I could that there might be options that didn't include god.

I look at how eager people are to throw themselves at the feet of a religious leader. And I think about how the group reacted to any dissent- to turn & snap furiously like a wild dog pack disturbed at the kill. I mean, once one person tells you just leave our god alone, others echo, then more & more as that sentiment is approved.

I am thinking of a clip I saw during Palin's run: a young couple & their baby. The man's eyes wide, saying Sarah Palin was a messenger from god. People really do want to believe. How much does religious fever echo the brain chemistry of being in love? Besides the comfort of being part of a group, there must be powerful chemical rewards for belief.

It's also interesting to think about how this group developed. Because someone could use this template &, on purpose, create a self-selected group of ardent & faithful xtian followers. He started with a non-polarizing idea most everyone can get behind (dogs should have access to advanced cancer txs, sure why not), & tied it to a strong emotional component (dog lovers really love their dogs.) His original motivation was the death of one of his dogs; by the end of the trip, after seeing so many sick dogs, the motivation had become that he is on a mission from god. This is a useful leap for his purposes, since it generalizes the problem beyond that of his own private relationship with a long dead dog. And it gathers in those people who are already deeply emotional because they, too, think of their dogs as family members. And by their support, they too become part of his mission from god! Ah. There is it.

Every time you say you don't believe, Jesus rips the wings off a fairy. - SkepticalParenting.com
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13-06-2011, 01:47 PM
RE: The evolution of a charismatic leader.
Great post. Interesting story.

To go along with how you said people were so eager to help or comment, I believe it's because what he says and what he was doing reaffirm in their minds that what they believe is true, that what they are doing is right. And the same is true for when someone outside of that belief structure comments in a non god orientated way, it to them devalues their beliefs, it makes them feel like they might not be right, it scares them. A whole life dedicated to a god and a way of thinking is a big thing, especially if it was for a fairy tale. It makes people touchy, more so than anything else other than ones own children. Some even more unfortunately.

It works both way too, like if someone does something horrible in gods name the religious are super quick to explain how that person was definitely not one of them. Case in point Hitler who used god and the bible to further his plans for domination over europe. Whether he was a god loving christian is debatable, what isn't is how he used religion to kill. It definitely is a good study of human behavior. We all want to be part of a group, and that need is where I think religion came from. If only we could learn to separate that belief structure from being moral. Instead of people jumping on you for not saying praise allah, they should understand that whether you believe or not you are there supporting the same cause. But that won't happen. Ever in life. Period.

It's nice to see that when this Luke character started FB worship time you didn't discriminate, thereby abandoning him to his minions. I would not have done the same, I may have stuck out the cause but I would have abandoned the leader. Good for you. Before you ask I would have left him because I have a hard time with religious figures leading anyone. Too dishonest.

"I think of myself as an intelligent, sensitive human being with the soul of a clown which always forces me to blow it at the most important moments." -Jim Morrison
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