Striving to better yourself is a noble pursuit, and there are plenty of legitimate resources to help you navigate this journey. But how do you protect yourself against the unscrupulous shysters lurking in the shadows looking to exploit you at this vulnerable juncture?
Welcome to Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where Jordan and fact-checker, comedian, and podcast host David C. Smalley break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up, and debunk common misconceptions.
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday:
- Globally, the self-help industry brings in nearly $60 billion per year. But how much of this is generated by programs that actually help people better themselves?
- Under the surface, many so-called self-help groups are nothing more than cults that use coercive tactics — or even abuse — to keep their “customers” in line.
- These groups cultivate dependency among the flock while escalating the price of admission.
- A healthy dose of skepticism and genuine connection with the outside world will help guard against such exploitation.
- Therapy, research, and self-guided approaches are better bets for promoting genuine well-being.
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at email@example.com and let him know!
- Connect with David at his website, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and make sure to check out The David C. Smalley Podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts! If you like to get out of your house and catch live comedy, keep an eye on David’s tour dates here and text David directly at (424) 306-0798 for tickets when he comes to your town!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Personal Development Market to Touch Valuation of $59.8 Billion by 2028: 32% of the Global Revenue Comes from Skills Enhancement | Yahoo! Finance
- How I Ended Up in a Cult: The Dark Side of Self-Help | Unmistakable Creative
- Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism Is the Original (And Best) Self-Help Philosophy | Quartz
- Book Review: Self-Help Philosophy | Analytic Teaching
- Lifeforce Nutraceuticals | Tony Robbins
- Supplements | Chopra
- The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns | Mother Jones
- “I Cried Enough to Fill a Glass” | The Washington Post
- The Untold Story of Ginni Thomas’ Anti-cult Activism — After She Was ‘Deprogrammed’ | NBC News
- Sarah Edmondson & Nippy Ames | Surviving NXIVM Part One | Jordan Harbinger
- Sarah Edmondson & Nippy Ames | Surviving NXIVM Part Two | Jordan Harbinger
- Cults, Conspiracies, and Fantasies of Knowledge | Cambridge University Press
- Therapists Who Use State-of-the-Art, Non-Religious Methods | Secular Therapy Project
- 10 Signs You’re Probably In A Cult by Sam & Tanner | Medium
850: Self-Help Cults | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Airbnb for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show. Maybe you've stayed at an Airbnb before and thought to yourself, "Yeah, this actually seems pretty doable. Maybe my place could be an Airbnb." It could be as simple as starting with a spare room or your whole place while you're away. Find out how much your place is worth at airbnb.com/host.
[00:00:21] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger and this is Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where fact-checker and comedian David C. Smalley and I break down a topic that you might have never even thought about. We open things up, we debunk common misconceptions, topics such as why the Olympics are kind of a sham, why expiration dates on food are mostly nonsense, why tipping makes no sense and is possibly even racist, recycling, banned foods, toothpaste, chemtrails. Maybe toothpaste is racist too. I don't know.
[00:00:48] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of incredible people from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers.
[00:01:07] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, I suggest our episode starter packs as a place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on this show — topics like persuasion and influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, abnormal psychology, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or look in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:31] Today on this edition of Skeptical Sunday, the self-help industry is massive. There are books, there are videos, there are affirmation cards, there are retreats, there are crystals, there are crystal retreats. I don't know. Just naming a few things that contribute to the industry's astounding yearly global revenue of nearly 60 billion. Going to a wellness retreat, it does sound a little relaxing, but what's really happening at these events for these classes? What's really in the literature? Is this just groupthink nonsense? Is it really changing people's lives?
[00:02:02] On today's Skeptical Sunday, we explore the light and dark sides of self-help with comedian fact-checker David C. Smalley.
[00:02:09] David C. Smalley: Thanks, Jordan. Let's get cleansed. Are you ready?
[00:02:11] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wait. I am not letting you clean any part of me. That involves tubes going in places that are exit only. All right?
[00:02:18] David C. Smalley: Mmm. Okay.
[00:02:20] Jordan Harbinger: When I hear the words billion-dollar industry and guru together, I just wonder if the only one being helped is the guru, namely to our money.
[00:02:28] David C. Smalley: Yeah. So there's a lot to be wary about in the world of self-help, but it's complicated because, you know, some people, and I'm sure they're listening now, actually get genuine advice and some decent guidance from self-help practices.
[00:02:43] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:02:43] David C. Smalley: I'll be honest, as skeptical as I am in general, there are even some videos online that have actually helped me, so I'm not against all of it, you know?
[00:02:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I don't think PornHub counts as self-help, but again, it's literally therefore self-help.
[00:02:57] David C. Smalley: Okay. I wasn't talking about that, but, uh, yeah, I mean, you're right, it is. Really, there's a guy who has these videos passing around. I don't remember which social media I saw it on, but he has a video passed around where he's like, he just says, "Look, if someone gives you a gift and you refuse to accept it, who owns the gift?"
[00:03:14] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:14] David C. Smalley: And he actually asked the question to like a group of people or a person, and they're kind of confused. And he is like, "Think about it. Someone shows up with a gift for you and you say, no thank you. Who owns the gift?"
[00:03:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:03:23] David C. Smalley: And finally, people are like, "Well, I guess they still own the gift because I refuse to take ownership." And he's like, "Right." And it's an interesting thought experiment that he then applies to anger or shame or some external emotion. And he's like, "When someone attempts to make you angry, you can simply say, no, thank you. And then they have to keep it." It's a way of looking at controlling your emotions by not allowing others to force their anger into your being. So it's a good example of a decent G-rated self-help idea that comes from a guy who definitely plays the part of a guru. So it's not all bad.
[00:03:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Look, I'm not trying to trash all self-help here. I am hoping for more of a guru self-help cult takedown. Nothing wrong with learning and growing, and if it means dealing with some corny delivery here and there, so be it.
[00:04:12] David C. Smalley: And of course, I want to say too there, there's nothing wrong with someone finding wealth in a good product or service they offer. So just because someone is successful or making money at self-help, that doesn't mean it's a cult. That's not necessarily what we're addressing today, but with anything, blurred lines easily get crossed and advantage gets taken off the vulnerable people or those in need. And obviously, if you are openly admitting that you're requesting self-help, there's a vulnerability and that could be a good thing. But if there's a low point or something like that, definitely, you know, greedy people could swoop in and capitalize on someone like that.
[00:04:47] Jordan Harbinger: So is there a positive side?
[00:04:48] David C. Smalley: There are both positives and negatives. People should be discerning when they seek life coaching from these uncertified masters — we got into a little bit of that when we covered reiki — but self-help cults try to often mask themselves in like not just retreats, but sometimes they can creep into some exercise classes. They can creep into meditation groups or book clubs or motivational conferences, and sometimes even podcasts, to be honest.
[00:05:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, a podcast, of course. Just not this one, obviously. We're not a cult as far as you're concerned.
[00:05:20] David C. Smalley: Definitely not a cult. Of course not, Master Harbinger.
[00:05:25] Jordan Harbinger: Call me Vanguard, please. Continue.
[00:05:28] David C. Smalley: Got it. The self-help industry basically creates an entire language of buzzwords. And these buzzwords kind of seep into our daily conversations to help people avoid toxic relationships, help them to set healthy boundaries, and validate their safe spaces and things like that.
[00:05:45] Jordan Harbinger: That is a buzz sentence. So like you said, people can obviously get genuine help from these groups or meetings, but there's a line somewhere in giving them all your money. And it's funny because whenever we're talking about self-help groups or cults on the show, usually there's a kernel of like, this was a really good idea...sex cult. Or like, "This was really cool until I branded my va-jay-jay with a hot iron," which is a real example from the NXIVM cult that I talked about with my friend Sarah Edmondson and Nippy on this very podcast. So how does it go wrong?
[00:06:18] David C. Smalley: Okay, so no one wakes up and thinks they're going to be in a cult, right?
[00:06:21] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:06:21] David C. Smalley: So for me to answer that, I have to pull back the curtain on psychology a bit. In 1921, Sigmund Freud released a book called Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.
[00:06:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:06:32] David C. Smalley: To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time the term group psychology was used. And being a psych major myself, I got to explore a lot of these ideas. Both in college as well as hosting a podcast about religion and politics in the last 13 years. I got to dive deep into these ideas of groupthink and group psychology. And what we find is a group only really strengthens if it has opposition.
[00:06:57] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:06:57] David C. Smalley: I mean, if you're mad as hell about something and you're out there stomping around with a sign, but no one opposes you, there's really no reason for people to join If you're just out there yelling, like, "Breathing air should be free."
[00:07:09] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:07:10] David C. Smalley: We'd be like, yeah, I mean, it is. Do you know something we don't know? Is there a corporation that's trying to get in on this? But for the most part, nobody's going to join you in marching if there's really no opposition. You're just shouting facts or opinions and people just kind of move past you. So we have to feel persecuted. We have to feel attacked or marginalized in some way in order to gather and ultimately fight to be treated better in our own eyes. And fear can be a motivator, right? Of course, you know that. So, some groups are marginalized and they need to gather to make change, and that's real. And other groups manufacture this marginalization, right? And they use group psychology to bring people in and either fundraise or get reelected or start their own cult. So the overall idea of Freud's book is that group psychology becomes a successful tool when you get the individual to replace their own ego in exchange for the group's ego.
[00:08:07] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh, that's super interesting. Yeah.
[00:08:10] David C. Smalley: Think about it like this. Outside of the stuff that can make people fight a lot as far as religion and politics. Think about sports. You go to a Denver Broncos game, it's Mile High Stadium, there's no roof. It's 12 degrees outside, and you have guys with Broncos painted across their chest, right? One's got a B, one's got an R, they're freezing cold. They don't want to be outside in that situation, but they do it because the group's ego supersedes the individual's ego. So they're willing to do it. Take one for the team, so to speak, and do it, to support the team, to literally live up to what fan is short for, which is fanatic. That's the kind of group thing. That's a fun way to think about it. People go into it knowing it's going to be terrible, but they do it because the ego of the team is more important and it's just a fun thing to get into.
[00:08:59] And in addition to the fear or common interest shared by a group, another effective way of gaining followers is a secret language. So in cult psychology, this is known as loading the language. So if you're part of a group that appears to be a self-help oriented, but you notice some secret language or marginalization talk, or us-versus-them mentality, you may want to pump the brakes because there might be just a little more than self-help going on.
[00:09:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's interesting. The loaded language thing is always kind of a red flag, but it's funny you talked about the Broncos and the sports stuff, if you apply the ego and the fear, but like you said, to religion or politics or other marginalized groups or groups that are, I guess, LARPing as marginalized because it helps with group cohesion. That's how you end up with crazy Uncle Frank at the dinner table who's yelling about some political injustice. And the other side is a bunch of crazy psychos in our evil. And you're like, "How are you sacrificing your family for this random crap on the Internet? And what they're doing is they're replacing one ego with another, right? They're so tribalized. That the fake group on the Internet, on Facebook or whatever, means more to them than their actual immediate relationships, which are fractured and getting worse.
[00:10:08] David C. Smalley: Yeah. The sad part about it is these people who are doing that to themselves, they think they're doing the right thing.
[00:10:13] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:10:14] David C. Smalley: They believe that they're fighting evil, when in fact, more than likely what's happening is someone is taking advantage of their fear, taking advantage of them, and probably making a little bit of money on it somehow.
[00:10:25] Jordan Harbinger: For sure. Yeah, the grifter crap is real. All right, so give us some examples of how it can help. Are there benefits to this? Are there actual sort of positive benefits to any of this?
[00:10:35] David C. Smalley: Well, yeah. I mean, bibliotherapy, you know, which is the use of books and understanding a condition to improve your situation.
[00:10:42] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. I never heard that word before.
[00:10:44] David C. Smalley: You know, of course, again, I'm going to say not a doctor. I'm a comedian and podcaster, but—
[00:10:49] Jordan Harbinger: The opposite of doctors, we are.
[00:10:50] David C. Smalley: Quite literally the opposite of doctor, although laughter is the best medicine.
[00:10:54] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, riddle me that one.
[00:10:55] David C. Smalley: Maybe we're better than doctors.
[00:10:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:58] David C. Smalley: Because I studied psychology so deeply, I've actually talked to people a lot about what happens during a panic attack.
[00:11:03] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:11:04] David C. Smalley: I've met someone who goes, "Oh, I struggle with panic attacks all the time." Again, see your doctor, see your therapist, talk through your issues. But I can say that developing an understanding of what's happening inside the body during a panic attack can literally be life changing. So when you realize that it's just your body sending a false alarm, and what's happening is your blood vessels are literally constricting to slow blood flow and thereby slowing blood flow to the brain so you're not thinking clearly. And then, also while it's slowing your blood flow, it's pumping you with adrenaline, and now you have this fight-or-flight response, your heartbeat increases. You feel like you're under attack.
[00:11:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:11:40] David C. Smalley: When you're having a panic attack, your palms are sweating, you're breathing heavily, you feel like you're in danger. If you can stop and just take your own inventory and kind of go, "I know what's happening. I'm not thinking clearly because my blood vessels and capillaries are constricting. I feel like I want to run because adrenaline's pumping through my body. I'm having this fight-or-flight response, but it's not real. It's like a gazelle sees a lion jump out of the bush. It's got to just go. There's no thinking." That's why this biological process exists. It's a survival thing.
[00:12:10] Jordan Harbinger: I remember Eminem rapping about this. Yeah.
[00:12:12] David C. Smalley: Yes. With the weak knees as one of the symptoms. Yeah. So once you can take your own inventory and understand what's happening in your body, it's actually a little bit easier to talk yourself through something like that and to not let the panic attack control you.
[00:12:25] Jordan Harbinger: Gotcha.
[00:12:25] David C. Smalley: That's an idea of bibliotherapy. It's almost like a self-induced cognitive behavioral therapy.
[00:12:30] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:12:31] David C. Smalley: Or talk therapy where you're going, "Nope. My heart's beating because of this, not because of a heart attack. My palms are sweating because if it was a heart attack, this wouldn't be happening." And you can just pay attention to what's going on in your body. Take some deep breaths, and that's helped a lot of people actually stop a panic attack. And so that's an example of bibliotherapy, understanding something like that. You can use that with finding your inner peace. You can use that with conflict resolution. You can find forgiveness for yourself.
[00:12:58] Self-help groups will often teach you things like that. So, that's fine, but the problem is these self-proclaimed gurus who use some of those things, well, then tie them into their own culty practices and start leveraging your bank account as their power source to profit because you're so desperate and unknowing and you can't tell the difference between what's actually happening and when the manipulation starts.
[00:13:20] Jordan Harbinger: Right. The lines are so blurred that you don't know what's the thing that's helping me, and what's the thing where the guy says, "In order to take the next step, I must have full control over your bank account so that you don't have to worry about it anymore. It's a huge source of stress for you. Let me handle it."
[00:13:31] David C. Smalley: And by the way—
[00:13:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:13:32] David C. Smalley: Jordan, I'm sorry to interrupt, but to that point, they often do say that because the idea is you've ended up wherever you are because of your poor decision-making.
[00:13:41] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:42] David C. Smalley: You're making bad decisions. You've made bad calls in the past, so you should hand over the control to someone like me who's making good decisions. So that's spot on.
[00:13:52] Jordan Harbinger: I bet this has been going on as long as humans have existed — taking advantage of the vulnerable, it's almost like a trademark human or animal thing as well, I suppose.
[00:14:02] David C. Smalley: For sure. As far as recorded history, I mean, people believe that Jean-Paul Sartre.
[00:14:09] Jordan Harbinger: Fancy.
[00:14:09] David C. Smalley: He was actually known as the first self-help guru with his inspirational existential philosophy. Some of his works kind of read like self-help books, asserting that humans need to search for their own meaning and identity, which of course is a pillar in self-help ideology. But by building on some basic help-yourself ideas, these modern gurus are quite literally everywhere, even places you wouldn't really expect.
[00:14:32] I was getting a massage one time in New Mexico and the therapist was wonderful, and I kept hearing her take these huge deep breaths during the massage and then, forcefully exhaling, like she was literally, I'm face down and I'm hearing [breathing sounds]. And I'm like, I don't know what's going on, but she's one of the best massage therapists I've ever had in my life. So I kept hearing it. I just ignored it. But then she was done, she brings me this lemon water with like grass floating in it or whatever.
[00:14:57] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:14:57] David C. Smalley: She told me it would bring me closer to Mother Earth. By the way, she also happens to sell this by the biodegradable jar.
[00:15:05] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. But did you ask her about the breathing?
[00:15:07] David C. Smalley: You know, I did. I couldn't leave there just wondering for the rest of my life. So, she said she was inhaling the negative energy.
[00:15:14] Jordan Harbinger: I knew it.
[00:15:15] David C. Smalley: And sucking my damaged aura to then blow it out into the universe.
[00:15:19] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God. That's going to be my next jab. Suck my damaged aura, David. Suck it.
[00:15:25] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Suck my damaged aura and blow it out into the universe.
[00:15:29] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God, that's so weird.
[00:15:31] David C. Smalley: It was weird. I mean, but she was really good at it, so—
[00:15:34] Jordan Harbinger: At least, she wasn't moaning. Also, that would just be too much like, "Hey, you're enjoying this more than me. That's not fair."
[00:15:40] David C. Smalley: That would've become an entirely different massage session. The point is she had a lot to say about my mindset and of course, chakras and imbalance and how she could help me if I signed up for classes and joined her meditation group. And you know me—
[00:15:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:55] David C. Smalley: —I was tempted to ask if it came with weekly aura sucking, but—
[00:15:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:59] David C. Smalley: I just admitted to her that I thought it was all bullsh*t, that she did a great job on the actual massage, and I thanked her, and then I took a sip of my lawn clippings and I left. But like I said, these gurus are popping up everywhere from the instructors at SoulCycle classes or whatever. You know, they can make a motivational cult instead of just a workout group. And then you have massive leaders like Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra and other more litigious leaders that, you know what? A reference for your sake.
[00:16:25] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:16:25] David C. Smalley: But it's an easy niche to just want to help people, right? So many people say that, "I just want to help others." And I've seen people being helped by Tony Robbins. Deepak Chopra, I'm not sure of.
[00:16:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah. Maybe not.
[00:16:36] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Maybe not that one. But that's a different podcast, my podcast actually.
[00:16:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, exactly. I was going to say, I know who runs that podcast.
[00:16:42] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Anyway, people pay big to feel good. I mean, Alcoholics Anonymous, ayahuasca circles, and there are retreats for every ailment to aim to help people. But when you scratch the surface, it's all about big money. AA is free, sure, but the CEO gets over $370,000 a year.
[00:17:00] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:17:01] David C. Smalley: Not to mention seven of the 12 steps have to do with accepting a higher power or spirituality. So, get ready for that.
[00:17:08] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:17:08] David C. Smalley: And those weekly donations and supplemental materials can obviously add up. And an ayahuasca retreat is going to set you back several grand, depending on where you decide to go. And most wellness retreats are over a thousand dollars or more, and then you add on books and healing trinkets and supplements and crystals, it's an enormous investment in the one's own wellbeing, but they feel justified because they think they need it.
[00:17:33] Jordan Harbinger: Now, while you are technically allowed to leave, I sure hope you don't, we need to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[00:17:38] This episode is sponsored in part by Airbnb. So we used to travel a lot for podcast interviews and conferences and we love staying in Airbnbs because we often meet interesting people and the stays are just more unique and fun. One of our favorite places to stay at in LA is with a sweet older couple whose kids have moved out. They have a granny flat in their backyard. We used to stay there all the time. We were regulars, always booking their Airbnb when we flew down for interviews. And we loved it because they'd leave a basket of snacks, sometimes a bottle of wine, even a little note for us. And they would leave us freshly baked banana bread because they knew that I liked it. And they even became listeners of this podcast, which is how they knew about the banana bread. So after our house was built, we decided to become hosts ourselves, turning one of our spare bedrooms into an Airbnb. Maybe you've stayed in an Airbnb before and thought to yourself, "Hey, if this seems pretty doable, maybe my place could be an Airbnb." It could be as simple as starting with a spare room or your whole place while you're away. You could be sitting on an Airbnb and not even know it. Perhaps you get a fantastic vacation plan for the balmy days of summer. As you're out there soaking up the sun and making memories, your house doesn't need to sit idle, turn it into an Airbnb, let it be a vacation home for somebody else. And picture this, your little one isn't so little anymore. They're headed off to college this fall. The echo in their now empty bedroom might be a little too much to bear. So whether you could use a little extra money to cover some bills or something a little more fun, your home might be worth more than you think. Find out how much at airbnb.com/host.
[00:19:01] Thank you so much for listening to Skeptical Sunday. Your support of our advertisers keeps everything going. All the discounts, all the deals, all the codes are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also search for any sponsor using the search box or the AI chatbot on the website as well. Please consider supporting those who support us.
[00:19:17] Now back to Skeptical Sunday.
[00:19:20] So these self-help gurus or masters or whatever, they sell these supplements and items directly. I mean, I've seen Alex Jones do it, right? He's like going on a rant about FEMA camps and he's like, "Buy my masculine vitamins to keep your testosterone up during the apocalypse."
[00:19:35] David C. Smalley: Exactly. That's how they make a lot of their money. You Google any self-help personality with the word supplement after it. They'll have plenty of products to choose from. There's Miracle Morning from Deepak Chopra. That's going to boost your energy. Tony Robbins' Lifeforce Nutra — how do you say this?
[00:19:52] Jordan Harbinger: Nutraceuticals? Yeah.
[00:19:53] David C. Smalley: Nutraceuticals, yeah.
[00:19:54] Jordan Harbinger: That's a buzz nonsense.
[00:19:56] David C. Smalley: Those pills will apparently make you the CEO of yourself.
[00:20:01] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me It says that. Tell me. It says that on the bottle.
[00:20:03] David C. Smalley: Oh, it does. I believe that's the whole pitch is—
[00:20:05] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, no.
[00:20:06] David C. Smalley: It'll make you the CEO of yourself. And then Joe Rogan, who none of us would consider a self-help guru, sells Alpha Brain.
[00:20:12] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:20:12] David C. Smalley: And of course, like you mentioned, you know, Alex Jones has his long list of supplements that I won't advertise here.
[00:20:17] So just a quick side story here. I have a research assistant, Michael, who helps me with some of these facts and links, and he was sending me some supplement ideas like, "Hey, do you want to include these?" And he put a little side note and he was like, "Hey, you should totally tell Jordan there's something called Bro Supps that Joe Rogan sells." And he was like, "And then tell him, you know, of course, that's not real." And so I just open a new tab and type in Bro Supps. It's a real thing.
[00:20:40] Jordan Harbinger: It really is? Oh, that's—
[00:20:41] David C. Smalley: It really is. And I call Michael, I'm like, "You're not going to believe this Bro Supps are real." And he's like, "Joe Rogan?" I go, "No, no, no. That has nothing to do with Joe Rogan, but Bro Supps are a real thing." He's like, "I thought it was so ridiculous. I didn't think it was even necessary to go fact-check that it wasn't a thing." It's a real thing. There are Bro Supps.
[00:20:58] Jordan Harbinger: Sounds like something from South Park.
[00:21:00] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:21:01] Jordan Harbinger: That would have to be satire.
[00:21:02] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:21:02] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh. Look, what about the actual groups? I know some of these groups can actually get pretty enormous.
[00:21:09] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so one of the bigger groups is Landmark. Landmark took in 19 million in 2021.
[00:21:15] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:21:16] David C. Smalley: They've received many accolades from those who've taken part in some of their self-help programs, but the fact of the matter is the Landmark is just a rebranding of the 1970s self-actualization philosophy, est. So est was the creation of Werner Erhard, who was literally a used car salesman. So they just rebranded.
[00:21:35] Jordan Harbinger: Are you besmirching used car salesman?
[00:21:38] David C. Smalley: Uh, yes. That's what I'm doing and I can because I was one in 1999.
[00:21:43] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:21:43] David C. Smalley: I learned the secrets at 19 years old. And if someone out there is thinking of suing, then of course not. I would never do that.
[00:21:51] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:21:51] David C. Smalley: In fact, this is for entertainment purposes only and the views expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of Jordan Harbinger or Jordan Harbinger Show, or David C. Smalley. So come at me, bro.
[00:22:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, good. Cover those bases.
[00:22:02] David C. Smalley: So look, when you're casting yourself as a self-help guru and you're selling used cars, it's not the best look. Warner changed his name to Jack Rosenberg. Then, he experimented with the big dog on the self-help block Scientology, which we should totally get into at some point. And Werner, Jack, or Sensei or whatever he was called, he had an epiphany and he started est and est was notorious for combative tactics and recruitment techniques, like admonishing his students and pressuring them to recruit new devotees. The controversies didn't stop there. 1985, actually, Werner Jack Santos, or whatever his name is, he changed the name of the group to the Forum after questions were raised over tax records.
[00:22:47] Jordan Harbinger: Taxes. Sounds like Sensei Jack didn't learn the biggest lesson from Scientology, and by the way, also—
[00:22:53] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:22:54] Jordan Harbinger: —it sounds like his original epiphany when he went to Scientology that he could actually just start his own cult and keep all the money. That sounds like the original epiphany to me.
[00:23:01] David C. Smalley: You're right. He didn't learn the biggest lesson, which would be to become a religion and just stop paying taxes.
[00:23:06] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yes, exactly. If you're going to copy Scientology, copy the stuff where they become a church, don't pay taxes, and then become a massive profit center. I mean, that's like the whole point.
[00:23:15] David C. Smalley: Right. So in 1991, he sold the company's technology, which is basically just those combative bootcamp style engagements to his employees.
[00:23:22] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:23] David C. Smalley: I guess, scream at people. And then, he left the country and then Landmark was born. They bought this, and it just rebranded into Landmark.
[00:23:31] Jordan Harbinger: All right. So I have to be honest, I don't hear a lot about education or training in there. I know a lot of show fans do enjoy some of the Landmark stuff and some very, not crazy, not culty people go to like one or two and they're like, "Yeah, it was useful." I think the problem is when people do non-stop Landmark stuff for five straight years.
[00:23:49] David C. Smalley: Right. So comedian Neal Brennan has this joke about terrorism. He's like so many people turn terrorism into racism when they see a few people taking Islam to the extreme and you know, blowing things up. And then they start saying racist things about everybody they know who's Muslim. And he says, you know, Neal Brennan's one of the co-creators of the Chappelle Show.
[00:24:09] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:24:10] David C. Smalley: One of his jokes is he mentions that and then he goes, "I want you to think about those guys as like, have you ever been to a Jay-Z concert? And you know, like two songs, 99 Problems, you know, whatever, Hard Knock Life." He's like, "But there's always that one guy in the aisle singing every word to every obscure song that Jay-Z's doing. And he's like, he's making eye contact with Jay-Z, hoping he sees him." He's like, "That's the terrorist." Most Muslims are just as bad at their religion as you are at yours. And he's got this whole riff that he keeps going about. It's hilarious.
[00:24:42] Jordan Harbinger: That's a good point. Yeah.
[00:24:43] David C. Smalley: And the same applies here, right? So you can get good things from Landmark and then you can completely just let it take over your life. And so this podcast has a purpose of just helping you be skeptical and pump the brakes and stop and think about what you're doing. And I know a lot of people do get help. Personal experience can go a long way, and at the end of the day, results are results. And many people swear by Landmark. But remember that just because something works, it doesn't mean that's the only way to attain those results.
[00:25:13] Okay, so another similar group is Lifespring for-profit human potential organization according to them. In the 1970s, a lot of people alleged that the group was a cult based on their coercive methods that prevented members from leaving, which I would say that probably qualifies them.
[00:25:29] Jordan Harbinger: That sounds like a little bit of a cult right there. You can't leave.
[00:25:31] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:25:32] Jordan Harbinger: All right, fine.
[00:25:33] David C. Smalley: Yeah. At least two lawsuits were filed in, settled out of court over wrongful deaths, actually.
[00:25:39] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. Deaths? Self-help turned deadly.
[00:25:42] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so the Washington Post covered a few cases in 1987. One case was about a man who couldn't swim. Arthur Barnett. He was told by Lifespring to jump into a river.
[00:25:53] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, no, I'm not laughing, but okay, I'm not laughing.
[00:25:56] David C. Smalley: Don't. And he drowned.
[00:25:57] Jordan Harbinger: No, that's terrible.
[00:25:59] David C. Smalley: I got to remember, I've told tons of people to go jump in a river. I had no idea I was a guru.
[00:26:04] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:26:05] David C. Smalley: There's a secret. You can laugh at that instead, right?
[00:26:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yes. That's what I'm laughing at. So was that their solution where he's like, "I can't swim in the lake." "I have an idea. Exposure therapy, jump in this fast-moving river.
[00:26:17] David C. Smalley: Well, so it wasn't just that he couldn't swim. He had a fear of water.
[00:26:21] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:26:21] David C. Smalley: And so their idea was it would help him face his fear of water.
[00:26:25] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm. I mean, not totally wrong, but also, not right.
[00:26:29] David C. Smalley: Here's how the Post writes it. They say Lifespring also settled the case of Arthur Barnett, a Portland, Oregon man who could not swim, but was convinced by his Lifespring trainer that he could overcome his fear of water by diving into the Willamette River. Barnett did it and drowned.
[00:26:44] Jordan Harbinger: God, well, he is no longer afraid of water. I'll see myself out.
[00:26:47] David C. Smalley: Wow.
[00:26:48] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:26:49] David C. Smalley: Do you want to give your email address now? This will be great for Feedback Friday, I think.
[00:26:53] Jordan Harbinger: Just keep going.
[00:26:54] David C. Smalley: Lifespring denied any responsibility, saying no one forced Barnett to jump into the river.
[00:26:59] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:26:59] David C. Smalley: Their actual quote was, "The training doesn't cause anything, but life causes stuff."
[00:27:05] Jordan Harbinger: Huh. Okay. This is poor guy. So I get the personal responsibility element here, but at some point, there's negligence involved and I've been to some of the intro seminars for a spinoff of Lifespring and it was full of coercive tactics. The instructors hated me. I never went back. I've told this story a few times on the show. I mean, it's just, yeah, these places all seem like the same crap with a different sack.
[00:27:28] David C. Smalley: Would you do ask a question or something?
[00:27:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I ask questions and not like belligerently, but even just not wholly swallowing the crap that was coming from the guy on stage or being like, "Does this make sense? And what happens about this?" They're just like, "Ah, this guy's thinking about what we're saying. We don't like that at all." Because they just want you to swallow everything.
[00:27:47] David C. Smalley: Yep.
[00:27:47] Jordan Harbinger: And they saw me talking to people who later got kicked out. One of the guys was a surgeon and his phone rang and they were like, "You have to leave." And he is like, "I'm on-call, I'm a surgeon." And they were like, "You have to prioritize." And he is like, "Okay, I'm going to prioritize the lives of my patients over a self-help seminar that's in a hotel by the airport." And they asked him to leave.
[00:28:05] David C. Smalley: Wow.
[00:28:06] Jordan Harbinger: And he was like, "Okay, you're crazy if you think this seminar's more important than the fact that I'm a brain surgeon at a hospital." Just stuff like that.
[00:28:13] David C. Smalley: That's incredible that they would put themselves above something so important and think everyone else is going to like that or think that it's good.
[00:28:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It was kind of one of those self-selecting things where they're like, if anybody agrees with this guy and not with us, they're not going to subject themselves to our authority.
[00:28:26] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:28:27] Jordan Harbinger: So we don't want them here. Another girl that got kicked out that I was talking to, which is probably another reason I was on their list, this woman had said, "Can you let us go earlier than 2:00 a.m.? You all said this is going to be until seven or eight. I've got little kids at home." And then she just was never seen again after that. She left. Because they were like, "You can't disrupt the flow. You're not in charge here." And she's like, "I know I'm not in charge, but like I have childcare." And they just gave her endless amounts of crap. So I think she just went home and was like, "Screw these a-holes." Crazy.
[00:28:55] David C. Smalley: Well, that Post I was talking about also reported that in 1983, Lifespring actually won a verdict in the case of Florence Simpson, a Philadelphia woman who said that Lifespring should have warned her of the emotional stress that could result from the training.
[00:29:10] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:29:10] David C. Smalley: And Lifespring argued that Simpson should have heeded the company's instruction — and this is their argument — people with psychological problems ought not take the course. So apparently, it's self-help, unless you have problems.
[00:29:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:29:25] David C. Smalley: The jury found that Simpson's prior psychological problems made it impossible to determine whether Lifespring had been the one to injure her. So Lifespring won.
[00:29:35] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. I'm sympathetic to both sides here. At least both arguments I should say.
[00:29:39] David C. Smalley: Sure.
[00:29:39] Jordan Harbinger: But the way you phrase it is really funny, like it's self-help, unless you have problems, in which case, don't come to us. We're self-help. We'll change your life. Nope. But not like that. This is a good little circular bit of logic here. We can help you. Unless, of course, we damage you in the process of helping you, in which case we cannot help you at all. And you should not have come here for help in the first place. That's your fault. That one's on you.
[00:30:00] David C. Smalley: Exactly. They also allegedly caused another death in an asthmatic woman who was told her asthma was all in her head. She died of asthmatic exacerbation. The list goes on like a lot of these leaders and gurus, a founder of Lifespring had felony convictions in his past. His were mail fraud, and I think he was unsuccessful in his attempts to get the felony charges expunged. He then even like requested a pardon in the 1980s from Reagan.
[00:30:26] Jordan Harbinger: Huh?
[00:30:27] David C. Smalley: A well-known Lifespring member-turned anti-cult activist is one Ginni Thomas, the little bit shady wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
[00:30:37] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yeah.
[00:30:37] David C. Smalley: Ginni Thomas recounts publicly about Lifespring's use of body shaming and being put into explicit situations for the good of the self. She went to a cult de programmer and still struggled for months to get out of Lifespring's clutches.
[00:30:52] Jordan Harbinger: So this is the Ginni Thomas, isn't she also associated allegedly with QAnon and other sort of fringy, creepy culty stuff?
[00:31:00] David C. Smalley: Yeah, allegedly. I guess maybe she needs more deprogramming.
[00:31:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, sounds expensive.
[00:31:05] David C. Smalley: So cost is a big con when it comes to these things and one that gets more and more expensive, the more and more you get sucked into a class, a group or a cult promising self-help. So the thing is, the leaders of these classes and retreats have little to no training of certifications. They produce this false sense of wellbeing. They exploit the most lost members of society. And there have been multiple accounts of sexual abuse, of course, at these events and retreats.
[00:31:34] Jordan Harbinger: All right, we're going to take a quick break. Just remember in the meantime, the entire world is against you, and the only person that can save you is me. We'll be right back.
[00:31:41] This episode is sponsored in part by Airbnb. We used to travel a lot for podcast interviews and conferences, and we love staying in Airbnbs. We often meet interesting people. The stays there are more unique, more fun. One of our favorite places to stay in LA, a sweet older couple, their kids moved out. They've got an in-law unit in their backyard. We used to stay there. We used to book that place every time we flew down for interviews, and it's great. They had parking, they had snacks. They would bake banana bread for me because they knew I liked it. They listened to this podcast, which is a great way to become one of my favorite people. So maybe you've stayed in an Airbnb before, you thought to yourself, "Hey, this seems pretty doable. Maybe my place could be an Airbnb." We built one in our house with a separate entrance because we thought we would utilize the space. It could be as simple as starting with a spare room, your whole place while you're away. You could be sitting in an Airbnb right now and not even know it. Maybe you live in a city with a music festival, an epic sporting tournament, and that noise isn't your cup of tea, get out of town. Make a quick getaway. Leave the chaos behind. Meanwhile, Airbnb your home, earn a little extra cash while you're at it. Or maybe you're in the work-from-home club and now you're back in the office. The home office is well equipped, ready for use, so it doesn't have to sit there and gather dust, turn it into an Airbnb, earn a neat little sum on the side. So whether you could use a little extra money to cover some bills or something a little more fun, your home might be worth more than you think. Find out how much at airbnb.ca/host.
[00:32:58] All right, we're back to Skeptical Sunday. Remember, all the deals, all the discount codes are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Support those who support the show.
[00:33:06] Now for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:33:10] No surprise with the sexual abuse stuff. It reminds me again of one of our recent episodes about NXIVM which turned out to be a bit of a sex trafficking cult. I mentioned that episode earlier in the show with Sarah Edmondson. So go have a look for that. And that was episode 770.
[00:33:24] All right, so what about accountability? Did these chickens ever come home to roost here or what?
[00:33:28] David C. Smalley: So, I mean, you're an adult. You sign waivers, you join willingly. These are private companies or members-only programs. They have a ton of money. They get the best legal experts to help them walk that line, and occasionally there is accountability in the form of settling out of court and maybe some hush money, but then they just rebrand and continue the same bullsh*t. It's heartbreaking actually.
[00:33:48] Jordan Harbinger: Do you think anyone has ever helped completely? I know that's hard to quantify.
[00:33:52] David C. Smalley: Yeah, it is. It's hard to pin down, but people keep going back to these groups and organizations, but they're never told, "Hey, you're all better now. Go live a healthy life."
[00:34:00] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:34:00] David C. Smalley: You know, done. You completed it. So what people need to think about is every company wants return customers. So it's a bit of a conflict of interest for them to make it so that you never have to come back which begs the question, are they doing a cigarette trick where they get you hooked and making you dependent on them for continued success? Stop and think about this. It's like unhappy people can so easily be taken advantage of and coerced to throw their money into the void of self-help, right? So, life is constant self-help. I mean, we're all trying to make the best of it. The extreme of these self-help cults convinces those searching for meaning, that genuine happiness is just a few purchases and experiences or books or lessons or classes away. And a lot of this self-help philosophy presents itself as secret knowledge, like the famous self-help bestseller of the secret.
[00:34:50] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh. Yeah.
[00:34:51] David C. Smalley: So for some, it's harmless entertainment. For some, you can get a little bit of help. For some it's beneficial. But others are susceptible to dangerous groupthink, and it's the same mentality that sucks people into conspiracy theories or religions or cults or whatever, and that can lead to a detached reality.
[00:35:09] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, but you said there are positive outcomes.
[00:35:11] David C. Smalley: Absolutely. So just like with religions, positives can come from it, right? Even if it's not the only method of obtaining that result. So, certain methods of self-help can help people in beating addiction, for example, which is a beautiful thing. But maybe they've transferred their addiction into whatever self-help ideology they've fallen into. There are people who have traded food addiction for a jogging addiction, and yeah, they lose weight, but now their feet look like peeled potatoes. People reap results, you know, but there are unsuspecting individuals who fall into these self-help traps that are expensive and create fresh problems in their lives. And it's just like anything, the extremes are definitely harmful.
[00:35:50] Jordan Harbinger: What are the alternatives? Other alternatives.
[00:35:52] David C. Smalley: So that's where there needs to be a sort of self-help plan, a self-self-help plan, if you will.
[00:35:58] Jordan Harbinger: Got it. Right.
[00:35:59] David C. Smalley: Meditation is great, right? But anyone can do it for free anywhere after learning the basic tools, group meditation is fine, but attachment to anything goes against the entire purpose. Some people say they do it to make themselves accountable and force themselves to do it if they've got a meeting on their calendar and a place to go, and people who depend on them. Those things are all good, but sometimes you can get sucked into groupthink when you're just trying to help yourself. Demonized self-help groups aren't too different from the less harmful ones. I mean, you could shell out 20 bucks for a self-help book, but you have to be wise enough to research the best ones to read it. And then not pay for some brainwashing material. And then sometimes it's going to start with something that's decent and good, and then you find yourself slipping into it by accident. That's the ultimate issue here. It's a slippery slope, right? You start something good, you agree with the main points, and then you find yourself doing something that you would never otherwise have done five years ago. Of course, as alternatives, therapy is always a good one.
[00:36:55] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:36:55] David C. Smalley: Especially secular therapy to avoid being coerced into any sort of belief system. And I'll say here, seculartherapy.org is a great source to find a therapist that fits your needs.
[00:37:06] Jordan Harbinger: What can we say about an industry that relies on unhappy and lost individuals?
[00:37:12] David C. Smalley: Yeah, look, I mean, the way it breaks down is self-help retreats and programs lure you into this idea that enough time away from the real world and enough self-love will dissolve this discontented part of yourself. But in fact, it just ups the need for the retreats. It's like money or the chiropractor.
[00:37:30] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:37:31] David C. Smalley: You know, it's never enough. There's no end that satisfies whatever you're searching for. What people are left with, whether it's their dependence on SoulCycle or their book club or meditation or whatever, weird fat exercise class or crystal healing or expensive retreats, none of that really completely ever develops strong coping skills for the real world or what you're really going through rather than distractions. You need to look for solutions, and I think you can find that in therapy. In fact, these groups can sometimes do the opposite. You can become disconnected from the world with this group of people doing the same self-help thing. And then when you get back to the real world, you can be more depressed than ever without the skills to deal with what happens in the day-to-day. So you end up throwing more money into the void of self-help over and over, and you become this perpetual money machine for these so-called gurus.
[00:38:18] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah. No one wakes up one day and says, I want to join a cult. This is obviously a slow burn. It's the boiling frog thing, and it happens to people really who don't think it'll ever happen to them. And I know that a lot of people think, "Oh, you have to be dumb to get sucked into a cult. You really don't." I mean, I've said that on the cult episodes of the show, many times you find yourself there with people who all should, in theory, know better, but also don't because you're being manipulated, right? You're slowly being boiled. So what do people look for to make sure they're not slipping into something more sinister if they're at a self-help session? Because again, these things have their place, but how do you know if you're now getting recruited into something weird?
[00:38:54] David C. Smalley: So I have notes here from medium.com. They published an article back in 2018 called 10 signs you're probably in a cult, so this is what people should look for. I'll go through them quickly.
[00:39:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:05] David C. Smalley: Number one, the leader is the ultimate authority. So if you're not allowed to criticize your leader, even if the criticism is true, you're probably in a cult.
[00:39:12] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:13] David C. Smalley: Number two, the group suppresses skepticism. If you're only allowed to study your organization through their approved sources, there's a huge flag.
[00:39:22] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, right. Scientology, for example, doesn't allow you to consume media about Scientology. That's not from Scientology. That's a big rule.
[00:39:31] David C. Smalley: Exactly. The group delegitimizes former members, like you were talking about people being kind of ostracized.
[00:39:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:38] David C. Smalley: If you can't think of a legitimate reason for someone leaving your group, It might be a cult.
[00:39:43] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:39:44] David C. Smalley: You should be able to say, that person left for this valid reason, but I disagree with them, so I'm going to stay. If you can't even fathom a legitimate reason, there's a huge sign.
[00:39:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Scientology does this too, right? If you leave, you're considered a suppressive person, which means you're against Scientology and everything it stands for and nobody's allowed to associate with you anymore. Yeah, that's culty.
[00:40:02] David C. Smalley: Number four, the group is paranoid about the outside world. So cults thrive on conspiracy theories, catastrophic thinking, and persecution complex as we can see this with the recent political shifts and political cults out there, the whole QAnon stuff, paranoid of the outside world. Everyone out there is trying to kill you. That's another huge red flag.
[00:40:21] Number five, the group relies on shame cycles, so if you need your group in order to feel worthy, loved, or sufficient, that's a huge red flag. The article explains this one by saying, cult leaders trap members in shame cycles by imposing abnormally strict codes of conduct, usually prescriptions about diet, appearance, sex, relationships, and media. Guilting members for their shortcomings, and then positioning themselves as the unique remedy to the feelings of guilt, which they themselves created.
[00:40:54] Jordan Harbinger: I'm pretty sure you just described every religion, but okay. Like every single one.
[00:41:00] David C. Smalley: Shame is big with the religions, for sure.
[00:41:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, man.
[00:41:04] David C. Smalley: Number six, the leader is above their own rules.
[00:41:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:41:07] David C. Smalley: If you're held to a different moral standard than the leader, you're probably in a cult. So if the leader can get away with things, but they tell you that that's bad for you, huge red flag.
[00:41:17] Jordan Harbinger: Right. You have to be celibate but I can bang everybody's wife.
[00:41:20] David C. Smalley: Yeah, including yours. And in fact, if you don't bring me one, you're going to stay on a lower level. And they usually say that by convincing you that they've reached some form of enlightenment that you have yet to reach—
[00:41:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:41:31] David C. Smalley: —to justify why they're able to do things you're not.
[00:41:34] Number seven, the group uses thought reform methods. So medium.com says this shows up as indoctrination or brainwashing, which is the process through which all cults slowly break down a person's sense of identity and ability to think rationally. So behaviors like excessive fasting, prayer, hypnosis, scripture reading, chanting, meditation, or even drug use, like the ayahuasca stuff—
[00:42:00] Jordan Harbinger: Ah.
[00:42:00] David C. Smalley: —can also be used to increase a person's vulnerability to the leader's suggestions. And they go on to say, and I'm quoting from the article here, "The hallmark of indoctrination is the use of thought-terminating cliches. Platitudes, like "follow the leader" or "doubt your doubts" are regurgitated over and over so that members don't have to critically analyze complex issues."
[00:42:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:42:25] David C. Smalley: Now we've heard those before. Let go and let God.
[00:42:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:42:28] David C. Smalley: Right. ACAB meaning "all cops are bad," right? Only God can judge me. Let's go, Brandon. Lock her up. It's easy to avoid complex issues. If you can just repeat a quick little cliche and get out of critical thinking.
[00:42:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I've talked about that on the show before. Thought-terminating cliches are very, very common in pretty much every cult because there's always going to be people from the inside or the outside that question things. If you think about things too long, you come to the inevitable conclusion that something is either bad or kooky or culty. One of them, I guess, Steven Hassan, we did a bunch of cult episodes together. He is a PhD in cult psychology, and when he was in a cult, the Moonies, one of the things that he had to do, and this is so ridiculous, just thinking about it, if his parents, for example, said something like, "Hey, we're worried about you. We think you're in a cult." He had to sing a song and close his ears so that he couldn't hear what they were saying. Can you imagine talking to a grown-ass man? And you're like, "Look, we're worried about you." And he is like, "LA, la, la, la," like a little child, like a toddler. And he had to do that. And that sort of worse than a thought-terminating cliche, but it serves the same purpose.
[00:43:32] David C. Smalley: If they can convince you that the people trying to help you are the evil ones—
[00:43:35] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:43:36] David C. Smalley: —then you think you're doing it for your own safety.
[00:43:38] Jordan Harbinger: Exactly. Yeah. It's like a magic song to keep them away. Yeah. Crazy.
[00:43:42] David C. Smalley: Number eight, the group is elitist. So the solution to all the world's problems are inside this cult. They've figured everything out. That's the idea. Cults often see themselves as enlightened, the chosen ones, the prime organization tasked with radically transforming the world. If your group suggests this, you might be in a cult.
[00:44:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:44:02] David C. Smalley: Number nine. there is no financial transparency.
[00:44:05] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:44:06] David C. Smalley: A group that refuses to disclose its finances is a huge red flag. Ethical organizations have nothing to hide.
[00:44:13] Jordan Harbinger: Right. And I know it's like people are like, "Well, what about private corporations?" That's the thing. This isn't a company, right? It's a group that's for self-help. So, It can be a company. You don't necessarily need to know where every dollar goes, but if it's like the company, "We don't have money," or the group, "We don't have money. You need to donate. You need to donate. You need to donate." But the leader has 16 Rolls-Royces. You're like, "Wait a minute, something's going on here. We have to eat rice and beans and farm are own food. And this guy has his own jet."
[00:44:37] David C. Smalley: And by the way, for the company aspect, if you walk up to your boss and say, "I'm not happy here, I'd like to quit." And they say, "No, you're not at a company." Okay, that's not a job.
[00:44:47] Jordan Harbinger: You are enslaved.
[00:44:48] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:44:48] Jordan Harbinger: Correct.
[00:44:49] David C. Smalley: Number 10, the group performs secret rights. If there are secret teachings or ceremonies or handshakes that you didn't discover until after you joined, huge red flag, you're probably in a cult.
[00:45:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, look, there's more to it, of course. This is a great little checklist. We have a whole playlist full of cult shows for people who want to really deep dive on this subject, jordanharbinger.com/start is where people can find them. Probably done at least half a dozen hours on cults. Probably more like twice that. So yeah, we've done a lot, a lot on this fascinating subject.
[00:45:21] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so I'll just close by telling people, look, eat of veggies, drink lots of water. You want self-help. Walk a little bit every day. Talk about your problems, ideally with a qualified and licensed therapist, and be kind and forgiving every chance you get.
[00:45:34] Jordan Harbinger: You know, you're starting to sound a little bit like a self-help guru, Dave.
[00:45:37] David C. Smalley: Let's go make some Bro Supps pills.
[00:45:39] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks, David. Appreciate it.
[00:45:41] David C. Smalley: Thanks, Jordan.
[00:45:43] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you so much once again for listening. All topic suggestions, firstname.lastname@example.org and if we're way off on something, well keep it to yourself because we're infallible.
[00:45:51] A link to the show notes for the episode can be found at jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. You can find David Smalley at @davidcsmalley on all social media platforms, at davidcsmalley.com, or better yet, on his podcast, the David C. Smalley Show. Links to all that in the show notes as well.
[00:46:12] I heard you have Deepak Chopra coming up, Dave.
[00:46:14] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and of course, Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions are our own. And I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. Do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. Remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. And if you found the episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it, especially somebody who's maybe dipping their toes in the culty waters. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:46:50] You are about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show with a retired chef that somehow infiltrated the illicit North Korean arms trade.
[00:46:57] Ulrich “The Mole” Larsen: There was a meeting where people can come and see how North Korea is the propaganda way. It was like three hours praising Kim Il-sung by what he did for the country.
[00:47:09] When people ask me how is it to go to North Korea, well, it's quite difficult to describe because it's like your whole body is on overtime. You know you are being followed. And what do I say and what do I do? How do I react to things?
[00:47:24] I'm going to the US to meet up with a CIA agent. I was like, wow. And I find out how an agent thinks. One of the most important thing he taught me was to be a perfect mole or undercover agent is that you have to be 95 percent yourself and then five percent mole. The last five percent is the one who observed. And I was really good to networking with people without people actually know I was networking with them. Everything was recorded, so I just literally took the pants down on a whole regime exposing their weapons program. It's a never-ending story.
[00:48:01] Jordan Harbinger: For more on Ulrich “The Mole,” a Danish chef and family man wound up working undercover in North Korea to expose its illicit arms trade, check out episode 527 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
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