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STRANGE QUESTION IT IS, BUT CAN BUSINESS SUCH AS WAL-MART HAVE ASPECTS OF CULT?
A cult is a circumstance in which a set of persons is ensnared in a small world with a strictly uniform view and often a particular style of language (at least when they speak with each other). Usually, they also have a fervid belief in a common theme, person, or belief -- and an "us against them" attitude.
Not every cult fits that description. For example, there is the cultus of the Blessed Mother. That's how the Vatican even refers to it, and it's a good one (as long as it is not a sub cult dedicated to a deceptive apparition). The bad cults are cults in which members are ensnared to the total exclusion of the rest of the world or otherwise drawn into a style of living that is peculiar and negative. We think here of the kabbalah, or Scientology.
More than anything, one can feel a "spirit of cultism."
This is harder to define. There is a spiritual blinding and binding and an attraction that has a strange radiation.
Many religious groups are quasi-cultic, and so are other constructs of our social system.
The common thread: negative cults create an attitude of us-against-them, "we're the only ones right," and imbalance. There is copying, dittoing, a loss of identity.
There is darkness. Fanatical sports fans can be cultic, as can fanatical devotees of music. There are cults around politicians as well as TV, movies, or radio shows. The question we pose this week: can there also be financial cults?
We think the answer is yes (with mammon as the God), and note the cult of Wall Street. Is that a possibility? You discern. What about businesses?
Here we would focus on Wal-Mart. Is it a quasi-cult?
It seems like a startling question -- and maybe it is. Perhaps it is wild to even begin to view it as such.
But cults often carry a fervor, and in that regard Wal-Mart bears scrutiny. That's because it is the biggest and most successful chain of stores in the history of the world and one that sometimes seems to carry a certain curious charism.
No less than BusinessWeek has described the retailer as "a cult masquerading as a company." Too harsh?
There is not only the magnetism (which could be explained by the simple variety and low cost of items it sells, of course), but the manner of employees.
We're not talking about the rank and file. Where not speaking of those who scurry down the aisles with the "How may I help you" on their backs.
We're speaking about management.
It perturbed us a bit to watch a recent television documentary that focused, among other things, on how regimented -- almost programmed -- Wal-Mart management can seem: required to awaken at unusually early hours for conventions, forced to share rooms in inexpensive motels (even the CEO), and drawn into chants that go beyond those of a sports arena (Give me a 'W'; give me an 'a'; give me an 'l'...). It is a bit like a tent revival.
"I work for Wal-Mart," wrote one man on the internet. "It's my first job, and I have held it for almost a year. I was subjected to Wal-Mart 'training' (brainwashing) in August of 2000. Over time, it has come to my firm belief that Sam Walton is a cult leader in the Wal-Mart religion."
That may be a bit strong (or said facetiously), but there are other such complaints on the internet, some satires, some more serious. "Along with morning meetings and consistently being told how much you mean as an individual to the company, by your recruiter, management and the general population you feel an inclusiveness that is hard to describe," said another former employee. "Before the end of each meeting the feeling, gets closer to being accepted into a religious organization or sorority, and when you are accepted, in some way you sincerely begin to believe what you are being told is that you belong to a new family. 'The Wal-Mart Family' You begin to believe that 'The Wal-Mart Way is the better way, the only way."
This happens with many organizations. Us against them. The chosen. With Wal-Mart, there are even the ten rules or principles or "commandments" for business success.
Managers "cast their jobs in almost missionary terms," said a report on CNN with ironic language.
And it is said by some that there is that cult-like respect for the founder.
Certainly, it is part of the new American religion called consumerism.
Does that make it an actual cult?
Hardly. And Wal-Mart has done some good. Most recently, it has led the toward less ecologically-harmful products.
But there is that intangible:
Somehow this huge remarkable company has to lift a certain oppression and frenzy and aura that seems as common to its stores as the signs that say, "Low prices, always."
[see also: Businessweek and The Walmart cult]
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