Q: Why do people join gangs, cults and grassroots groups?

August 2, 2010

A: Neoliberalism.

From David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism:

Stripped of the protective cover of lively democratic institutions and threatened with all manner of social dislocations, a disposable workforce inevitably turns to other institutional forms through which to construct social solidarities and express a collective will. Everything from gangs and criminal cartels, narco-trafficking networks, mini-mafias and favela bosses, through community, grassroots and non-governmental organizations, to secular cults and religious sects proliferate. These are the alternative social forms that fill the void left behind as state powers, political parties, and other institutional forms are actively dismantled or simply wither away as centres of collective endeavor and of social bonding. (171)

Back in college, I attended two summer seminars sponsored by the “good” Objectivist collective — the Institute for Objectivist Studies (now the Atlas Society) — which is how I’ve met Will Wilkinson, Bert Ely, George H. Smith and Barbara Branden. (I didn’t meet Nathanial Branden. I only sat next to him.) It was the “good” one because nobody there would yell at you for disagreeing with Rand. They would just think you were weird.

Anyhow, one of the talks I attended was about privatization of social security in (I think) Argentina, by someone who had played an instrumental role in the transition. To that point in my life, it was probably the most uplifting thing I had ever heard. I could almost get choked up remembering it now, even though my politics have done a 180.

Join us next time for more Shocking Confessions.

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One Response to “Q: Why do people join gangs, cults and grassroots groups?”


  1. […] are fetishized; and in which our ability to find solidarity and meaning in one another has been corrupted, leading some of us to cling to crazy ideas like the […]


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