Notes On Law 27: “Play On People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult-like Following”

48 Laws of Power
“The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own.”
– Frank Zappa

1.) Introduction – Summarising The Law
2.) Notes On The Law
3.) Relevant Reading

1.) Introduction – Summarising The Law:

The need to believe in the improbable and the idealistic is a common source of passion and comfort for the unfulfilled. Gullibility is profitable, particularly if it can be sustained, hence the lucrativeness of cults.

Law 27 touches upon the single aspect of the human psyche that dictates the form of all human thought and action, as well as the movement of capital that accompanies it – belief. This is why ideology, marketing, subculture and religion all frenetically compete to influence the people with their various interpretations of reality, for those who buy into their views reward them politically and financially.

Belief and gullibility are inextricably intertwined, for gullibility finds its root in greed, escape, and the want of happiness. All minds are suggestible, it is just that some are convinced to a greater degree and with less effort than others.

Remember, to form a cult is not to merely impress a mind, but rather, to capture it by defining the very filter with which it interprets its surrounding reality. If you can sustain a delusion and extract a regular tithe from your followers, wonderful. If not, you’ll be forced into a nomadic lifestyle in the unending pursuit of fresh marks.

2.) Notes On The Law:

  • A following is the cultural embodiment of an army, your most zealous followers will preserve your reputation by fighting your detractors.
  • With a following in tow, the enforcement of your will becomes automated. Your followers will act as relays for your ideas, pushing your agenda and converting others to your cause. Like any good business, a successful faith outsources proselytisation to its most fervent pawns.
  • People are blessed with the ability to adapt to a harsh reality, but cursed with a need to believe in delightful implausibilities.
  • The allure of the unreal is the grace of transcendence, fantasy bestows escape from mediocrity, and it is in this desire gullibility finds partial form.
  • Cult creation relies on a central point of worship, a person or thing that symbolises a group’s shared values. Cult leaders appear to be the living personification of the ideals, norms and values that the wider group holds dear.
  • In the absence of religion there is a power vacuum, the people’s need to believe remains, but the cult which previously sustained the need is absent. As such, people turn to smaller and less ancient cults, swapping religion for ideology in the unending quest to understand a cold world and experience a better tomorrow.
  • The gullible outsource their agency to faith, rationalising failure as fate.
  • The greater your number of followers, the easier it becomes to acquire new ones; this is preselection at work.
  • A sophistic charlatan is infallible to his cult, misfortunes are rationalised around him rather than attributed to him.
  • In groups, people are more emotional and less capable of reasoning – see mob mentality.
  • In the midst of a mob, passion is contagious and a naysayer’s doubt is quickly dispelled by riled up sycophants.
  • Crowds can be molded into followers, and followers can be molded into cultists. It is in a cult leader’s interests to have stupid followers, because they are more passionate and contagious in their conversion of non-believers, incapable of thinking critically they are less likely to question the leadership. [See Law 21 – Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker.]
  • Real power is garnered by appealing to the wishes, opinions and preferences of the uneducated masses; it is not earned by appealing to the reason of an intellectual minority.
  • Inculcate an optimism bias by conflating desire with probability of outcome. It is easier to misrepresent probability when the objective is desired and the want to believe is present, one only need invent a rhetorically plausible methodology to sway the gullible.
  • By rationalising backwards from a desire, optimism bias can be created by customising a narrative to fit desire as opposed to observing the material facts and planning in harmony with them. The prior form of reasoning is a top-down approach driven by dogma and unconcerned with probability, the latter is a bottom-up approach driven by a cost-benefit risk/reward analysis pegged to probability. The gullible reason with the prior, the rational with the latter.
  • To create a cult you need to bring attention to yourself, the best way to gain attention is to make large but vague promises.
  • Emphasise the sensual over the intellectual, make your ambiguity attractive by using invigorating and passionate language, you can even make up new words to explain vague concepts. Employing language in this way makes people think you’re a type of sage full of insight and expertise. Be elaborate, visual and descriptive in your language, for this is far more compelling than explaining the mundanities of a thing.
  • A Machiavellian uses science to manipulate rather than educate, borrowing the authenticity of scientific factuality and perverting it to lend plausibility to the bogus. Such a thing can be achieved through the employ of falsified data, the deliberate misinterpretation of findings and statistical misrepresentation.
  • One must balance ambiguity against specificity, being careful not to utilise too much of either. Too much ambiguity makes you untrustworthy, whilst too much specificity will obligate you to promises and expectations that run counter to your interests. To condense the idea into a maxim: be vague, but not empty. [See Law 20 – Do Not Commit To Anyone.]
  • Keep your ambiguous promises simple, most lack the patience to try to understand something and want a simple solution for their problems. Promise a simple solution without being too specific, and you will appear revolutionary, greatly bolstering the numbers who join your ranks. [See Law 21 – and Law 08]
  • Boredom and scepticism are a threat to the narrative you peddle, sceptics will expose you and the bored will desert you.
  • To prevent abandonment and clear thinking, overwhelm the senses. Attack smell, sight and sound, using theatricism to bewilder and entice.
  • Emulate the form and structure of religion to give your cult power, create rituals and ranks with religious overtones and be sure to require sacrifices from your followers. You must be careful with how you ask for sacrifice, as you do not want to seem greedy. Offer your service for free, but require a type of emotional sacrifice or point to a grand social cause that will inevitably necessitate the donation of money or possessions. By asking for nothing directly, you only seem more magnificent.
  • Behave like a prophet, speak in proverbs and quote profound observations to give yourself an air of authority and mysticism.
  • No matter how rich you become from your cult, you must be careful not to seem greedy.
  • When you become rich from your follower’s contributions, surround yourself with luxury, but disguise how your income was earned. Attribute your wealth to the beliefs your cult espouses, rather than the donations it receives from it members. Surrounded by opulence, your followers will naively believe they can be as prosperous as you if only they believe more fervently and do as you do.
  • Utilise the polarisation strategy, create a very strong us-vs-them mentality, promote the benefits of the cult whilst warning your followers of the deviousness of those who do not follow the same path. By feeling like they’re part of an exclusive group, the bonds between your followers will be strengthened whilst outsiders who could expose the cult will be dismissed because they’re distrusted. This is vital to retaining followers and preventing competing ideologies from encroaching on your power base.
  • The importance of the polarisation strategy cannot be emphasised enough, if you have no enemies, invent a fictional one. If anybody causes you trouble, accuse them of being said fictional enemy.
  • Leverage mystery and imagination (1) – hint at a grand achievement or difficulty indifferently and without fully explaining it; this will provoke people into thinking you’re better than you really are. People will think you’re special as your nonchalance to the spectacular implies great fortitude. As they ask for greater detail, refuse or redirect, let their imaginations take control, and hyperbolic tales of your exploits will be concocted by your follower’s awe.
  • Leverage mystery and imagination (2) – Think of it like this: initially you garner a following with grand and outlandish claims. With a following built, you switch from outrageous to humble, leaving breadcrumbs for the awestruck who inflate your deeds and regale grand tales of your exploits. When the people are promoting and defending you, you need do neither to any great degree. For now you enjoy the luxury of elitist humility, minimally affirming questions about your successes with a quaint and sophisticated dignity. – [See Law 34 – Be Royal In Your Own Fashion.]
  • Granting your followers one of their wishes by having them engage in a ritual first only furthers their belief in your cult, attributing success to the ritual rather than the mundanity of human action.
  • Your beliefs and practices should provide comfort to your followers in an uncomfortable world, in doing so, you augment their desire to believe in you and your ideas.
  • Appeal to emotion rather than reason and you will be justly rewarded, appeal to reason rather than emotion and you will be unjustly punished.
  • Identify something that makes a person believe with passion, and they will rationalise a framework around it, crediting you as a prophet or genius for initially introducing them to it.
  • Generally speaking, women’s need to believe is greater than man’s, as through mechanism of vitiated reason there is greater gullibility.

3.) In Closing / Relevant Reading:

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The 48 Laws of Power
The 33 Strategies of War
The Art of War

The Art of Worldly Wisdom
The Craft of Power
The Prince