Friday, January 21, 2005

A Common Manipulative Strategy

"A common manipulative strategy used by the leaders in this study [Len Oakes' "Prophetic Charisma"] 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 [read here: "student's"] personal insecurity. In this technique, the leader observed the process of an opponent's conversation and identified some point of hesitancy 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 knew little and would have been unable to detect such a mistake.

Rather, it was more likely to be some personal unsureness on the part of the opponent that the leader's exquisite social perception targeted. In some way, often by metacommenting, the meaning of whatever the insecurity involved was exposed. Typically, what was said was an observation that the opponent seemed "a bit steamed-up about this" [read, e.g.: "you have a charge"] or was "finding it hard to say what this is all about" [read: "you're not being clear"].

In this way the opponent was invited, sympathetically and seductively, to expand upon the very point of weakness. ...This usually led to a further exposure, and then another, 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, the other person being glad to have the subject changed to how he might redeem his soul or whatever."
[Or, in Andrew's case, more often it led to ridicule, condemnation, and, ultimately, extreme hair loss and another grueling sadhana.]

--------------quoted from Prophetic Charisma by Len Oakes, pages 89-90 (Syracuse University Press 1997).

-with thanks to laffnowl for this quote

-QUESTION: How many former (& current) students of Cohen recognize this strategy???


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes – a very common manipulative strategy! What you are talking about was Cohen’s m.o. He perfected it to a masterful degree. The way he used it was nearly impossible to detect while you were there as a student. His attacks on us students seemed so accurate – due as you say to the “leader’s exquisite social perception.” Wow, that’s Cohen, perceptive and undermining like all hell. He was quite proud of his ability to get under someone’s skin and cause them great fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. I often overheard him discuss with a relish the holes in people’s façades, and how he had “gotten them.” He once famously sent $3000 worth of flowers with “thank you” notes as a dig to a publisher who had turned him down.

But he refined this technique by adding another powerful element: flattery. That was the other side to a perfect one-two punch. Here’s how it works: First the aspiring student comes to some lectures, and gets impressed by Cohen’s presence and the powerful way in which he can get a grip on a crowd. Some would call it shaktipad, in hind sight I call it a good con man at work. Anyway, suitably impressed, the beginning student spends more time around the group, comes to the centre, asks to participate in more functions. Eventually that results in Cohen taking personal note of the aspirant, and some small contact begins...fueling the aspirant’s thirst for more (or for the luckier ones, it sends a warning message and they don’t return.)

As you come more and more into Cohen’s orbit, he will begin paying more attention, and he will find some way to flatter you. He will ask about your life. Show interest. “Wow, he cares about me, he’s interested in my life, sees my talents!”

So the game begins, and you can feel built up and recognized in a very powerful way. In his own teaching he describes how at this point the new student can feel a vast intimacy and trust for the first time ever. Once this hook is set, you are along for the ride. For me it lasted ten years.

Over this long haul, I witnessed and experienced personally countless episodes of both building up –flattery; and the awful other side – manipulation and undermining. A smart and creative woman might get to serve meals to the teacher, or she might be invited to write or edit for his magazine. A strong athletic male would get compliments on his physique, get invited to watch boxing videos with the teacher and hang out with teacher and other close male intimates… But no one, once deeply involved, was spared the abuse – not even his closest and most favorite. Once displeased, Cohen’s wrath could send a student to live on another continent, could unleash a terrible tongue lashing, could bring out embarrassing references to one’s sexual history in front of other students, could get one’s face slapped by another student -compliments of Cohen, could result in one being branded as deviant or in being given a new name designed to continually embarrass and remind one of the guru’s ultimate power over one’s life.

Cohen has a way of reminding you that he knows your secret, and that he will not hesitate to exploit it when needed. For example, he would sometimes overpower a student with mention of the person’s past misdeeds, indiscretions or embarrassing facets of their sex life. That person would be made to feel utterly adrift, humiliated in front of others, standing on nothing more than quicksand while trying desperately to regain equilibrium. He frequently dispatched some of his more confident students to meet with and further confront the frightened, confused, and very upset individual – and thereby making others of us complicit in the crimes. This often took place in the “men’s and women’s meetings” – which he has referred to as a “noble forum.” The place we had come to in life which had seemed most safe and most “enlightening” had gradually or suddenly turned into the most frightening and least safe place imaginable. But by now one was totally involved and couldn’t imagine a life without Cohen and his community. Thus began the often very lengthly and wrenching process of doubt and departure.

In the days, weeks, months, or even years ensuing this mistreatment and undermining, the person was often confronted with how poorly they were doing, and accused of “letting Andrew down.” Sadly, for those I observed, they were ultimately defeated by the humiliation, and left in a state of either total confusion or else with the conviction that they didn’t have what it took to live the “demanding holy life.” No one ever left with a healthy sense of self trust intact. And more sadly yet, a small number of these departees still have not found their self respect and the sense of personal independence and freedom. That’s how severe were the undermining and confusion instilled during those years.

Thank you for doing this blog – It is a courageous effort to bring out the facts, and to help all of us who’ve left the Cohen cult get some perspective, and to begin the healing.

Sunday, 23 January, 2005  

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