In this episode, I speak with sociologist Milton Bennett, director of the Intercultural Development Research Institute, and the creator of the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (also known as the “Bennett Scale”). I was introduced to Milton and his work by journalist Dahr Jamail, after a private discussion Dahr and I had about the dynamics of cults and "culting" within certain political groups, in particular between President Donald Trump and his base of supporters, as explored in Dahr's interview with Milton in the Truthout article 'Is There a Cult of Trump?'
What is a cult in the literal sense, and what is "culting"? As can be observed in the hardcore base of support for leaders such as Donald Trump, and other examples Milton is very familiar with, like the Rajneeshee cult in Oregon in the 1980's (explored in the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country), "culting" is a very specific form indoctrination, often with a central figure that is actively, whether consciously or not, building an unquestioning base of followers. The first step in the “culting” process is to aggressively recruit; the second is control, which “includes specifically controlling the boundaries of the group”; the third step is coercion — “the cult leader always uses the limitation of alternatives as a strategy”; generate a conversion process — “which is a fast, transformative experience, not a long-term development”; finally, the maintenance of the group after this conversion process is instrumental.* In the exploration of this topic with Milton, we inevitably lead into his broader work in defining the development of intercultural sensitivity and communication, as expressed in the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). As Milton explains, American society and culture is not, in a general sense, progressing toward intercultural understanding and sensitivity at all, and is in fact moving backwards on the scale, away from the third step of “minimization of difference” (which we have been stuck on, as Milton says) and toward step two and ultimately toward step one — “the denial of difference.” Trump, like all leaders that have engaged in this process, take advantage of the historical and sociological conditions of the societies in which they rise to prominence within, particularly ones that are in a state of crisis, ideologically or otherwise.
Professor Milton J. Bennett is the director of the Intercultural Development Research Institute, and is the creator of the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. Milton is an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Milano Bicocca in Italy. He holds a Ph.D. in intercultural communication and sociology and a Masters in psycholinguistics.
- Read Milton’s interview with journalist Dahr Jamail in Truthout: http://bit.ly/CultOfTrump
- Learn more about Milton’s work at the Intercultural Development Research Institute website: https://www.idrinstitute.org
- The songs featured in this episode are “Specters of the Future,” “Variations,” and “Être” by Nicolas Jaar from the album Space Is Only Noise.