According to New York Post, "guru in bling" convinced hundreds to castrate themselves. By text book standards, this guru has no control of information and has no way of enforcing isolation on followers, which makes his brainwashing technique even more astounding.

Following Bertrand Russell's empirical tradition in his "Power, a new social analysis," I'd appreciate it if someone can share some insight into the guru's power.

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    the obvious answer is cultural, i guess. i mean, i'm not saying that's insightful
    – user28474
    Sep 6, 2017 at 16:44
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    @DavidBlomstrom I thought of it being a better fit for Psychology or CogSci as well first, but I think the last paragraph indicates that the answer should argue from Russell's text, which clearly would make it quite a good fit for this site.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Sep 6, 2017 at 21:24
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    @DavidBlomstrom The cult leader you mention (Jim Jones) was actually based out of California I think. He took his people down on a retreat or somthing like that (to Jonestown?) and it was their final vacation.
    – Gordon
    Sep 6, 2017 at 22:24
  • @davidBloomberg That's right. That expression literally captured the group delusion which occurred, and it's still around today.
    – Gordon
    Sep 7, 2017 at 2:51
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    There is an interesting anthropology book from the late 60s called "When Prophecy Fails". I don't remember the author. It examined different religious groups through the ages where a large group of people followed a single person fanatically leading to their ultimate doom. Fanaticism is a religion unto itself. Sep 7, 2017 at 6:48

2 Answers 2


In the specific context you mention. Russell's view was that people who follow the powerful with blind obedience are doing so as a consequence of the same desire for power that motivates the leader. The only difference being that they have judged themselves to be incapable of leading (owing to intellectual or physical weaknesses) and so they use the only currency they retain (obedience) to benefit from a little of the power their chosen leader has accrued.

Response to such a theory was, however, far from supportive, with many critics suggesting that Russell had simply ignored the results from modern social psychology.

More clinical approaches still do not agree, ranging from the quite extreme views of psychologist Margaret Singer who considers cult leaders to be truly capable of 'brainwashing', to Simply blaming low-self esteem.

Interestingly for the critics of Russell's earlier work, psychologist Philip Zimbardo (of the Stanford Prison fame), later reached much the same conclusion as Russell, that it was the attraction of delegated power (together with the alteration of normal social rules) that caused people within cults to carry out whatever their leader requested.


It may be that the guru convinced his followers that this action would help them to attain to the Godhead, immortality and pure awareness. It would be the same argument as the Biblical 'If the eye offendeth, pluck it out'. No brainwashing would be required since it is quite an easy argument to make (assuming that castration reduces sexual desire and not just the birthrate), and quite easy to see some sense in it.

He wouldn't convince me since this drastic action seems like cheating to me. It is not an overcoming of desire but an admission of failure. But I can see how it might come about. Anybody who succumbs to brainwashing is not a truth-seeker, but we all have a tendency to fall-in with people who display great certainty and confidence.

To know what lies behind all this we'd have to know a lot about the situation so I don't think we can simply dismiss it as the brain-washing of a lot of people with low self-esteem. After all, the whole point of an authentic gurus' teaching might be said to be the fostering of low self-esteem (and high Self-esteem).

It all depends on the guru. Some are utter frauds and we have to be able to discriminate. It takes time to learn how to do this and meanwhile many of us are suckered in by absurd practices and doctrines. I once met someone who has two PhDs, one in physics, who spent thirty years following a fraud, even wrote a good book about it. It means nothing. There are always frauds about.

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