Customer Reviews


4 Reviews
5 star:
 (2)
4 star:
 (1)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and important
This is an excellent and important book. The concept of 'bounded choice' is a valuable one and can be applied to many situations outside of cults. The majority of the book is taken up with an examination of two contemporary cults -Heaven's Gate and the Democratic Worker's Party (DWP). The Heaven's Gate members, of course, gained great fame when the majority of the cult...
Published on February 20, 2006 by Joseph Davis

versus
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A for effort
Janja Lalich combines academic rigor with her own deeply felt attempts to make sense of her personal experiences in the cultlike Democratic Worker's Party in the book Bounded Choice. The gist of it is that otherwise reasonable people find their options narrowing after they make a commitment to a cult, and soon those options can dwindle to simple obedience. Thus,...
Published on July 23, 2006 by Daniel H. Bigelow


Most Helpful First | Newest First

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and important, February 20, 2006
By 
Joseph Davis (Calgary, Alberta Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is an excellent and important book. The concept of 'bounded choice' is a valuable one and can be applied to many situations outside of cults. The majority of the book is taken up with an examination of two contemporary cults -Heaven's Gate and the Democratic Worker's Party (DWP). The Heaven's Gate members, of course, gained great fame when the majority of the cult committed a mass, ritualistic suicide in 1997 in response to the appearance of the spectacular Hale-Bopp comet. The cult had been in existence since 1975 and had been quietly percolating underground for more than 20 years. I can remember when they were first mentioned in the papers in 1975 and had assumed that they had disbanded after the failure of the predicted spaceships to come and take them away. I had not heard of the DWP but was aware of the cult-like aspects of the Marxist-Leninist belief system. Lalich shows how both of these cults, though different in significant ways, operated within an effective and extremely confining framework consisting of charismatic authority, a transcendent belief system, systems of control and systems of influence. By the end of the book, it is much easier to understand how difficult a member would find it to question participation in such an extreme group and come to the reasonable decision that it would be much better to leave.

The author deserves a lot of credit for having the courage and academic rigor to write compellingly about a phenomenon that affected her personally in so powerful a way. As she clearly states, more needs to be done. This is an area important to the very future of mankind. The argument can be made that the most powerful nation in the history of the world (the United States of America) has re-elected its very worst president for a second term because the electorate was in a situation of bounded choice -bounded choice in the sense that the U.S. mass media were either toxic, pro-Bush-regime cheerleaders (Fox network, Limbaugh, etc.) or nervous, wishy-washy bystanders, who would perish before they would ask a question that might earn an attack from the right. How can a people make a reasoned, informed choice when the boundaries are so circumscribed? (This is much easier to see from up in Canada, because, although our media are far from perfect, they still function for the most part as gatherers and disseminators of information, as opposed to sellers and promoters of propaganda.)

The book does have flaws though. The writing in general is fine, but tends towards sociology-ese in theoretical sections. From the point of view of a story, it would have been interesting to explore what the leaders of the Heaven's Gate cult did on a daily basis. Did they watch soap operas? Did they meditate? Did they read detective novels like Marlene Dixon? They certainly were secretive and so maybe this information is not available. Did they have a sexual relationship? The cult discouraged such 'human' relations, but the leaders were hypocritical in other areas, so they could have been sexually active together. What efforts did family members make to rescue their loved ones from the cult? The book does not really explore this. In the DWP, the power of Marlene Dixon's second in command 'Eleanor' was a big part of Dixon maintaining control over the middle level of leaders. Yet when Dixon is overthrown, Eleanor is not even mentioned. Did she finally gain some insight and take part in the coup, or was she not included in the plotting, which occurred while Dixon was out of the country? Not addressing this is frustrating and puzzling to the reader. Also, what became of Dixon after she was kicked out of her own cult? The author leaves the reader hanging. While this may not be important from the point of view of analyzing the workings of the cult, it would have been very interesting to know what became of such a malignant bully.

A major disagreement I have with the book is its exclusive portrayal of cult power as coming from the four lynchpins of bounded choice -charismatic authority, a transcendent belief system, systems of control, and systems of influence. While these mechanisms may explain why some people find they cannot make a reasoned decision to leave a cult and thus become true believers, it doesn't explain the mystery of why they would be attracted to, and make the crucial decision to join and stay in, a cult in the first place. We are not talking about joining the neighbourhood tennis club here. We are talking about supposedly normal, rational people choosing to believe that, in one case, the two strangers talking to them are really from another planet and will be soon calling for spaceships to come and take them, and the rest of the worthy, to a new level of existence, and, in the other case, that the most successful and materialistic nation of all time is ripe for a proletarian revolution based on radical Marxism-Leninism and that this revolution will be led by, as described in this book, a slovenly, obese, alcoholic ex-professor with a poor history in academia. Something is missing here, and that is an analysis of the psychological make-up of those choosing to follow such questionable leaders and causes. I believe critical factors are an individual's ability to question authority, critical thinking skills and the ease with which one can suspend such skills, and fantasy proneness. Lalich would like us to view cult members as 'For the most part...giving and idealistic, hardworking and loyal, trustworthy and loving. They are people who yearn for a better world - here or in the hereafter. Is that so bad?' I can't help thinking that the author is looking to rationalize her own ten wasted years in a bizarre, nasty offshoot of world communism. She goes on to say 'People who try something new, something different, are pioneers.' The DWP pioneers? Hardly. Rabid Marxism-Leninism isn't new. We've been down that road before with the likes of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, mass-murderers all. Flaky UFO cults are also not new, as the author confirms with her mention of the cult studied by Festinger. No, this phenomenon is not new, but people who should know better are still at risk of being absorbed into strange cults. The author again says '..we should not forget or deny the courage, endurance and strength of will it takes to step into the unknown.' How about not forgetting gullibility, masochism, fear of admitting a huge mistake and fear of making the right decision (which would be to leave and start again)? Why are some people more susceptible than others? I suspect cult followers are flawed in specific areas, perhaps through upbringing or circumstance -perhaps through genetics, or some combination of both. Clearly more study is required. But to try to explain cult phenomena by giving all of the credit for their success to their admittedly powerful structures is to be naïve in the extreme. No, everybody is not as vulnerable to being taken in by a cult as the next person. The author is very reticent about revealing her own upbringing, which I found suggestive. Maybe events in her early history would help explain why an obviously intelligent person would get involved in, and stay in, such a negative, joyless little gulag like the DWP for so long. There is some indication that she may have been just lonely.

Some minor quibbles. The Manchurian Candidate may indeed be a Red-bating movie but it wasn't part of the 'Red-scare movies of the 1950s' because it came out in 1962. Also the author should know that schizophrenia has nothing to do with 'split personality' (page 19), whatever that is.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A for effort, July 23, 2006
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Janja Lalich combines academic rigor with her own deeply felt attempts to make sense of her personal experiences in the cultlike Democratic Worker's Party in the book Bounded Choice. The gist of it is that otherwise reasonable people find their options narrowing after they make a commitment to a cult, and soon those options can dwindle to simple obedience. Thus, "bounded choice." She explains the mechanisms behind bounded choice with reference to the DWP and the Heaven's Gate cult and she draws parallels between their command structures.

Lalich's sketches of the cults are interesting but cursory and marred by frequent use of conclusory language to gloss over details (for instance, she refers often to the Heaven's Gate cult's tendency to go on "bizarre diets" without ever describing them, and she accuses DWP head Marlene Dixon of writing increasingly incomprehensible communiques without quoting from them). But there is enough basic information for Lalich to get her thesis across, which is, after all, the point.

I am not sure she convinces me of her thesis, though. It seems awfully general to me in its broadest strokes. Sure, choices narrow once one commits -- that's true of everyone, all the time. And the basic mechanisms she cites -- charismatic leadership, transcendent ideology, and implicit and explicit social controls -- are equally general, especially in her interpretations. "Charisma" has to be defined very broadly to encompass both the magnetic leaders of the Heaven's Gate cult and the drunken and abrasive leader of the DWP, and, eqally, "transcendent ideology" can mean anything if both Heaven's Gate's apocalyptic supernatural beliefs and the DWP's attempt to form a political cadre to hasten Marx's communist revolution count. It's true that anything you put your heart and soul into can be considered transcendent, but that defines the term so generally it's no longer useful, if you ask me. The "social controls" mechanisms are equally general.

Lalich tries to make a virtue of this generality by pointing out that her theory is broad enough to encompass political terrorism and erroneous foreign policy, or, for that matter, anything bad that people do. I even noticed that personal charisma, a demand for total commitment, and social control mechanisms would explain the dynamics of a violent domestic relationship as well as they explain cultic behavior. But Lalich seems unaware that her framework and terminology could also be stretched to fit not just bad, but also good, social situations -- for instance, British steadfastness in World War II.

So what I think happened is that in her attempt to include all cults within her framework, Lalich created one so broad that she accidentally described general human behavior instead of separating out cult behavior. It's an interesting framework and there is a certain value to it, and it is clearly the product of deep thought and study; I'm just not sure it does what Lalich wants it to do.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Great Information About Cult Mind Control, September 28, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
If you are looking to understand cult mind control, you will want to read this book. Janja Lalich, a professor of sociology, is herself a mind control cult survivor. She was in a political cult called the Democratic Workers Party, a radical leftist group. She writes with great insight into the dynamics in high demand groups. I found it hard to put the book down because I was engrossed in the story line and at the same time learning so much. (The book also covers the Heavens Gate cult.) Compared to other books on the same topic: this book is more academic in tone than some others that I have read on the topic and provides a thorough history of the two cults I have mentioned. I think the book is used as a text book for sociology classes. Great depth of research. This isn't a book on how to get a loved one out of a cult, but it gives you so much insight into the group dynamics! Well worth reading!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Very insightful; should have been 1st book I read instead of the 15th!, May 24, 2013
By 
Totalism Researcher (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The author presents similarities between the cult she was a member of and Heaven's Gate. Not only is this information helpful, but it is the first I have read to introduce the concept of the interrelatedness of individual to group. A very common theme among cult members that one will hear is "I make my own decisions" a/o "no one tells me what to do". The "brainwashing" phenomenon is as much an internal process as it is external.

This book is well written and worth the price.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults
Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults by Janja Lalich (Hardcover - September 15, 2004)
Used & New from: $16.89
Add to wishlist See buying options
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.