Bounded Choice

bounded choiceTitle: Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults

Author: Janja Lalich

ISBN: 0520240189


‘Cult’ groups are marked by a number of negative characteristics. These commonly include bizarre (and often self-contradictory) beliefs, onerous discipline  sometimes amounting to abuse and the requirement to virtually worship  ‘leaders’ who are often obviously corrupt.

This book proposes a broad theory to explain why people remain committed to these organisations (sometimes for many years) despite  their blatantly obvious failings.

The theory – “Bounded Choice” – proposes that ‘cult’ members gradually become embedded in a  social situation where common ideas are deemed unthinkable, and common behaviour to be wrong – a ‘thought-tight bubble’.

Once in this situation, people come to strange conclusions not because their reasoning is faulty, but because they are applying their reasoning powers to limited and faulty information. As computer scientists say about the use of corrupt date, “garbage in, garbage out”.The author illustrates her reasoning with examples from two movements, after describing the history of both:

  1. The UFO group commonly known as “Heaven’s Gate” whose members not only held very strange beliefs, but ultimately put them into practice in a tragic mass suicide
  2. The US “Democratic Workers Party”. Lalich was a member of this group for a number of years. After it collapsed, she reassessed her experience, and now sees it as a cult group complete with abusive guru. This experience informs her analysis and understanding.

The general reader will come across brief discussions of sociological concepts in the sections where Lalich  prepares her argument. These can be skipped over – the subsequent description of her explanation is in plain terms and illustrated with examples from the history of the two cult groups she focuses upon.