The Vow – the HBO DocuSeries about Nxivm

At times, I have referred to “School” as Cult Lite. This docu-series depicts Cult Heavy, i.e. NXIVM, a group that pulled out all the stops when it comes to the worst abuses. But what makes this show worth watching is that the filmmakers wanted to get beyond the salacious details.

You see, Cult Heavy and Cult Lite used exactly the same emotional and social manipulation. And the most important thing to understand about cults is how these parasitic groups leverage our natural social and emotional wiring for selfish gain.

Cult Heavy generated a lot of attention when the New York Times broke the NXIVM story — a cult leader that touted women’s empowerment while simultaneously trafficking some of the members and, in the most sensational cases, branding some of them. Last June a court convicted Keith Raniere of multiple crimes and his sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 27th.

Yet The Vow’s producers recognized that, while salacious details garner attention, they obscure the most important message: how impressionable and vulnerable we are.

Humans are hardwired to seek acceptance and community. Con-artist over the centuries, those with well-honed radars for vulnerabilities, have used this wiring for selfish gain. We need to both understand those vulnerabilities and recognize when to say no, or run away, or tell a manipulator to fuck off.

So, for what it’s worth, if you want to understand how cults work, if you want to protect yourself and those that you love from selfish and abusive people, I recommend watching The Vow.

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