Very Helpful Book -Prophetic Charisma by Len Oakes
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: August 15, 2003 12:37AM

asked whether there is such a thing as 'Guru U'. This book answers that question. There isnt an offical Guru U/Hogwart Academy but it appears that many gurus follow a rather typical developmental trajectory. Here is a copy of a review I wrote for someone else

Prophetic Charisma by Len Oakes.* He traces how charismatic leaders develop, their special narcissistic mindset, and how they acquire their skills. His book would be especially helpful for exit counselors and also to journalists who interview cult leaders, and attorneys who may have to cross examine leaders in court or when taking depositions. However, Oakes studied only leaders who used charismatic interpersonal relationship as the medium of influence. He did not examine leaders who work through the LGAT format. The book is written for academics and clincians, but is readable with a bibliography that goes up to the mid-1990s.

I had repeated shocks of recognition as I read this book. Oakes is able to convey the uncanny impression cult leaders make, gives precise descriptions of their cognitive quirks, emotional blindspots, and sees all this as ways the leaders compensate for an impovrished inner life. I think this material would be especially good for anyone who must question a leader and be able to persist in that line of questioning despite the leader's attempts to invalidate, bluster or evade.

(*I got my copy from [] about 3 weeks to arrive.)

Oakes is a clinical psychologist, based in Australia. He was a member of a community led by a charismatic leader, eventually left, but remained on sufficiently good terms that he was able to live at the community while in graduate school and interviewed that leader and about ten other charismatic leaders.

He is able to convey how fascinating these people are, but that underneath the facade of power, they are desperate to avoid narcissistic collapse, and were driven to develop a high degree of social insight-and manipulative skills. At the same time Oakes gives precise descriptions of the leader's manipulativeness, their essential emotional coldness and the way their arrogance often leads them and their groups to destruction. Oakes is compassionate, an excellent observer, but he does not let these people off the hook. In a way Oakes continued the legacy of Leon Festinger who combined participant observation and social psychology when he did the research on a UFO group described in his 'cult classic' When Prophecy Fails.

Oakes concentrated on groups centered around a leader, rather than a personal change technology. Thus, he has little to say about thought reform but a great deal to say about how personal relationship and charisma is used to fascinate and recruit. His take is that both the leaders and their followers came to each other to satisfy covert needs.

Oake's take is that the leaders all suffered from narcissistic personality disorder. He gives a great overview of the theoretical material concerning narcissism and is especially good at tracing how these people become driven to transform personal deficits into a quasi-feral talent for reading and manipulating people. If you read him, he will prepare you for the eerie impression these leaders make, gives insights into how thier minds work. His description of 'thinking in cliches' as a way to seem omniscient was especially fascinating.

And Oakes also mentions that always, the leaders have spent time acquiring skills in a variety of occupations that eventually prepare them for the role of prophet and equip them with the 'job skills' needed to run a community and play baby sitter to followers. These people do not spring from nowhere.

Here is a choice quote:

`A common manipulative strategy used by the leaders in this study was an argumentative style that was calculated to subtly shift the ground of any discussion from whatever matter was being talked about toward some area of an opponent's (or prospective Landmark recruit's--my parenthesis) personal insecurity. In this technique, the leader observed the process of an opponent's conversation and identified some point of hesitency or uncertainty. This was not always a flaw of logic or an error of fact; the conversation may have been on some topic about which the leader (or landmark recuiter!-my note) knew little and would ahve been unable to detect such a mistake. Rather, it was more likely to be some personal unsureness on the part of the opponent (potential Landmark recruit) that the leaders/recruiter's exquisite social perception targeted. In some way, often by metacommenting (Oakes means commenting about your manner of saying something, rather than responding to what you have said--my note), the meaning of whatever insecurity involved was exposed. Typically what was said was an observation that the opponent seemed "a bit steamed up about this" or was "finding it hard to say what all this is about." In this way, the opponent was invited, sympathetically and seducatively to expand upon the very point of weakness. Or the leader(recruiter) claimed not to understand what was meant at a particular point, perhaps even saying the opponent was not making sense. This usually led to a further exposure (confessional of personal weakness or perplexity-my note) until the opponent stumbled over his words and began to look uncomfortable. At this point, a well timed, dismissive glance from the leader was all that was needed to intimidate...'

(Oakes pp 89-90)

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