|Sex, Money, Mind Control: The Zendik FAQ...
||[Dec. 27th, 2011|05:00 pm]
...like you've never seen it at zendik.org.
[But first! An update - as of March 14, 2018 - on my Zendik memoir! Mating in Captivity, due out from She Writes Press on May 8, is now available for pre-order! Go here for signed copies; here to purchase directly from the publisher (and maybe discover other intriguing memoirs); here to support your local indie bookstore; and here to add another drop to the largest metaphoric river in the world. Also, please check out Kirkus's take on Mating in Captivity, in this starred review. May your reading experience be rich with insight!]
If you are...
an ex-Zendik who still believes
an ex-Zendik who no longer believes
a concerned friend or relative of a current or ex-Zendik
someone who's come in casual contact with Zendiks and is curious about them
...then this FAQ is for you. Please post, or email me (email@example.com) with, suggestions, corrections, comments, unanswered questions, requests for clarification, etc. I want this FAQ to be as clear and comprehensive as possible, and I welcome your help in making it so.
A note on sources: I lived at Zendik Farm for nearly five years, from fall 1999 through fall 2004. While there, and since leaving, I had, and have had, extensive conversations with members who lived there before I did, and members who left after I left. My own experiences, and these conversations, are the sources of my information. I do not claim to be presenting a historical portrait of Zendik Farm over the past four decades (though I do believe the patterns of coercion haven't changed much); rather, my purpose is to answer the questions, "What can I expect if I move there?" and "What's it like to live there now?"
AN UPDATED NOTE ON SOURCES (September 2, 2010): As you can see, the date stamp on this journal entry is December 27, 2011. When I originally posted this FAQ - in September 2008 - I dated it far in the future in order to ensure that it would remain easily accessible, as the top-most post in my blog. The above "note on sources" was written at that time, i.e., almost two years ago.
In the past two years, some aspects of life at Zendik have changed. Marriage is all the rage now, as is having babies. (Fawn was first to marry; most in the younger generation of Zendik women have followed her lead.) In addition to hawking magazines and CDs on the street, they sell paper-bead jewelry at fairs and festivals (profitable, I'm guessing, only because no one making the jewelry is paid a wage). Arol, though still as irascible and God-complexed as ever, has ceded some portion of her executive power to Fawn; Arol's nervous breakdown of a couple years ago seems to have hastened the process of hereditary title transfer. This past spring, Revel (Arol's boyfriend of ~11 years) left the farm.
I am not re-writing the FAQ to reflect these recent changes. Rather, I am letting it stand as a document detailing Zendik as it was during the period in which I knew it best. All cults experience sea changes during their life cycles; they must, in order to survive. (How do leaders account to adherents for the fact that, after x number of years, the world still has not been remade in the cult's image? Or the fact that the spaceship has still not arrived to take the faithful "home"? Or the fact that a tropical paradise has not been forged from the South American jungle? They reinterpret the mission, revise the suite of activities, juggle the social rules, and so on. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. As needed.) Despite the above-mentioned alterations and others, I have not encountered credible evidence that Zendik has become any more democratic or any less coercive. Most importantly, the Zendiks have demonstrated no advance in their level of self-awareness: They still have not addressed, with any degree of honesty, the criticisms and concerns put forth by ex-members. Until I see this sort of change occur, I can take no other claims of substantial change (for the better) seriously.
The FAQ is divided into the following sections:
If You Have a Loved One at Zendik
The Cult Question
Categories are listed in alphabetical order; for explanations of Zendik jargon words and phrases, skip to the "Language" section.
I’m an artist/writer/musician. I’ll have lots of time to focus on my art if I move to Zendik—right?
Wrong. You’ll spend all your time working, eating, sleeping, selling, dating, attending meetings, and raptly listening to Arol’s extemporaneous diatribes/speeches. If you do have free time you won’t necessarily spend it on your art, since you’ll soon be persuaded that your desire to do art is not necessarily consonant with “survival,” and in any case whatever artistic impulses you’ve brought with you from the outside world are “corrupt,” hence not worth indulging. Also, as you learn to stop yourself from criticizing Zendik, and disown your pre-Zendik life, you’ll have less and less that’s personal to express. Your artistic impulses will be encouraged in direct proportion to their usefulness in creating Zendik propaganda.
If everyone at Zendik is an artist, why are there so few contributors to the magazine?
The Zendik magazine is not a forum for diverse or personal expression; rather, it is a vehicle for Zendik propaganda. Wulf and Arol (the two perennially featured authors) have a far better handle on Zendik orthodoxy than anyone else does; hence, their voices dominate the magazine.
The Zendiks say they practice something called “life artistry”—what’s that?
A good idea, in theory. In practice, it’s a mechanism for dissuading the rank and file from pursuing personal art projects. Here’s how it works: If you’re a “life artist,” then everything you do—digging a ditch, cooking a meal, selling a t-shirt—is art. This means you can find total fulfillment in accomplishing whatever utilitarian tasks the leadership sees fit to set before you…and you do not require time or resources for any other form of creative expression, i.e., any pursuit that does not directly aggrandize Arol and her family.
What happens if I want to have a child while I’m living at Zendik?
First, you need permission from Arol. If you get pregnant without permission, and Arol believes, for example, that the father might at some point leave the farm and raise custody issues, she may well order you to have an abortion. How you’ll be treated during your pregnancy is a crap shoot: Arol may chastise you for being lazy, or she may treat you (temporarily) as her favorite. How you’ll be treated once you’ve given birth, on the other hand, can be predicted with perfect accuracy: You will be cruelly and constantly criticized for how you are raising your child. Eventually, assuming you don’t leave the farm right after the birth, you will be separated from your child, on the grounds that you are an unfit mother. You (the mother) might be asked to leave the farm (without your child); you might be coerced into turning the child over to her or his father or another surrogate; you might be required to recommence going on selling trips. With the exception of Fawn (who has never endured a separation), and the possible exception of one woman who left Zendik within eight months of her child's birth, every Zendik mother has been forced to cede care of her child to someone else.
Why the insistence on separating mothers from children?
In order to maintain power, Arol needs every Zendik to be loyal to her, above all others. The bond between mother and child—quite possibly the most powerful bond there is—might weaken the mother’s (and, eventually, the child’s) devotion. Therefore, it must be broken. Also, when Arol was very young she was forced to give up her first child, a son, as she did not have the financial resources to care for him, and her family would not help. It’s possible that she is determined—consciously or not—to make all the mothers who are under her control suffer as she once suffered.
How are children treated at Zendik?
It depends on whose children they are. To an extent, all Zendik-born children are treated as demi-gods; the idea is that because they have not grown up in the “DeathKultur,” they are purer than anyone who came to the farm as an adult. They receive special food, they have their own computers, they are credited with being far more “hip”—and having a far better aesthetic sense—than your average grown-up. However: This special treatment only goes so far, for children not related by blood to Arol. If a child’s mother is someone other than Fawn, she or he is assumed to have inherited her or his parents’ “corruption”; therefore, she or he can be subject to harsh, often profane criticism, despite her or his protected status. Fawn’s children, on the other hand, do not receive “input”—as third-generation Zendiks, they are believed to possess a preternatural purity that exempts them from any accusation of wrongdoing. If, by chance, they should exhibit some less than savory behavior, that behavior is attributed to the “corruption” of the father.
How are Zendik children educated?
They are “home-schooled,” in a spotty sort of way. Their teacher(s) do not follow any accredited curriculum, or test them to see if they meet minimum standards for their age group. Also, their schooling is far from consistent, since Arol is liable periodically to strip members of their teaching responsibilities, on the grounds that they are getting an “ego jack” from “running their own show.” Generally, children raised at Zendik are less than competent at reading, writing, math, and other basic academic skills.
If one of Zendik’s goals is to preserve the ecology, why don’t they partner with other environmental groups, or link to them on their website?
Zendiks do not believe that any other groups are legitimate, or effective. They believe that they and they alone are capable of reversing ecological destruction, despite the fact that in the past four decades they have made no measurable gains in that direction. Also, “saving the planet” is merely Arol’s stated goal; her actual goal (which she may or may not be aware of) is to sate her desire for power and attention, and to secure a livelihood for herself and her blood family without having to work for it. (Yes, I understand that manipulating people is an intense and stressful occupation; what I mean is that Arol’s position lets her out of producing a good or service that is useful/valuable to the wider society.)
Do they at least make an effort to live ecologically?
Sort of. Each Zendik occupies less space than the average person, since (with the exception of Arol and company) they live in such close quarters. Also they grow much of their own food, eat organic, and manufacture biodiesel. However: They drive many miles a week, to sell their wares; they make no effort to “green” the manufacture or distribution of their products; they buy lots of cheap crap at stores like Wal-mart; they do not recycle. They believe their consumption to be justified—and others' consumption to be wasteful—since they are supposedly saving the planet, while others are not.
What about this revolution they claim to be starting—doesn’t “revolution” mean dramatic change? What kind of change do they expect to effect, by living on a farm and selling stuff on the street?
The Zendiks are experts at magical thinking. They believe that as they attain greater and greater levels of "cooperation" and "honesty," within their closed society, the blueprint for how to duplicate these gains is spreading to all humans everywhere, via an etheric web they call the “Infinite Psychic Field.” They also believe that each Zendik represents an archetype, i.e., is imprinted with certain primal psychological patterns; as a particular Zendik sheds more and more of her or his DeathKultur conditioning, and becomes more and more dedicated to the cause, she or he opens the door for all people of that archetype to make the same evolutionary gains.
What’s the food like?
The food’s great. It’s almost entirely organic, and, during the growing season, much of the produce is home-grown. Cows and goats provide milk, and the raw materials for homemade cheese, ice cream and yogurt. However: If you eat too much (in an attempt to sublimate your desire for control over your own life), watch out! Arol is likely to sneer at you for being fat, and demand that you go on a diet.
Here’s what Arol and Fawn had to say about weight gain at Zendik Farm, in 2004:
Arol: Everyone’s getting fat. Zendik women have never been fat.
Fawn: Yeah, and it’s philosophic fat.
Shortly thereafter, Arol demanded that we spend less money on food. She also demanded that all Zendik women begin counting calories, and consume no more than 1600 per day. This regimen didn’t last long, but I suspect other food controls have been instituted since then. Years ago, when Wulf was still alive, he picked a very low target weight for each woman (even the skinny ones), and put every one of them on a diet.
So people can eat whatever they want?
Well…no. Arol, Fawn and her kids can eat whatever they want. They have their own private kitchen, pantry and fridge, which one of their handmaids keeps stocked with such luxuries as steak and “square” ice cream. The rank and file are limited to what’s grown on the farm, and ordered in bulk (Arol or Fawn reviews all food orders). When I first moved to the farm, dried fruit and peanuts were kept in a 55-gallon drum with a lock on it (and many dents in it, from successful burglary attempts), and the rank and file were only permitted to eat peanut butter rice cakes on road trips; you know somebody’s a serious control freak when peanut butter is treated as a controlled substance.
You mean at one time some Zendiks were so desperate for dried fruit and peanuts that they broke in to the barrel?
Yes. People come to Zendik with many dependencies, and many addictions: cigarettes, alcohol, pot, hard drugs. Once they arrive they’re required to abstain from every drug but caffeine and alcohol (and alcohol is only available rarely, and then in rationed quantities, unless you’re Arol’s boyfriend, in which case you may guzzle it at will in your studio and fool her into thinking you have a “blood-sugar” problem when in fact you’re a rip-roaring drunk). Hence, every previous addiction is sublimated onto food. Also, when you’ve sacrificed control over your life, and are unable to express any “negative” thoughts in relation to that sacrifice, you may find it expedient to stuff your face rather than face your feelings.
What are the living arrangements like? If I move there, will I have any privacy?
As far as I know, there are only two fool-proof ways to guarantee yourself more than a few minutes of alone time, if you’re a rank and file Zendik: Have a date with yourself, or do an enema. Otherwise, expect to be with others; expect to be interrupted. Expect to be impressed into service, regardless of any desire you might have to relax, or be by yourself. You will have your own “space,” that is, a bed and some shelves for your stuff, but you will not have your own room. You may or may not share a room with members of the opposite sex.
What do Zendiks do for fun?
They pitch each other into a chain-link cage packed with mountain lions, to see who’s “on” and who’s “out of it”…. Just kidding! Although, come to think of it, that’s a pretty good figurative description of Living Therapy. But that’s not what you wanted to know. You wanted to know about fun. Here’s the rundown:
They play World of Warcraft. I’m not sure if this started before I left or after, but my sources tell me it’s all the rage now. Why? Beats me. Maybe because Urs (Fawn’s firstborn) enjoys it. In any case, it’s close to mandatory now—it’s even possible to get “input” on how you play. But wait…if it’s required…does it really qualify as fun? Hmmm…you’d have to ask the Zendiks. My other theory as to why World of Warcraft is the Next Big Thing at Zendik is this: The Zendiks believe that if they triumph in the virtual realm, this will somehow translate (by way of the Infinite Psychic Field—see the section on “Psychic Phenomena”) into instant hegemony on the physical plane. Far-fetched? Yes. But only a little moreso than thinking you and your twenty-two minions are going to save the world.
When I lived at Zendik we also had alcohol parties (occasionally), with music and dancing. We ate ice cream (and other “treats” on selling trips). We played improv comedy games, and watched comedy performances (I doubt either of these entertainments is extant any longer, since three out of the four comedians have left, and the last one standing recently received a blow to the head). Selling could be fun, too—on the rare days when I got in the flow early, and made lots of money.
The Zendiks say they practice something called “Living Therapy”—what the hell’s that?
“Living Therapy” is the rubric under which Zendiks attack each other for perceived failings, and use those failings to diagnose areas of psychic/philosophic corruption.
Here’s a fictionalized example, complete with made-up names:
Shiso “brings up” the fact that Wasabi only made $300 selling in Georgetown last Saturday. Shiso theorizes that Wasabi was/is “out of it,” and was/is “a drag to be around” because he’s not “getting honest” about his jealousy: His current love interest, Nori, recently had a date with Tamari.
Wakame jumps in and says, “It’s not just that Wasabi’s jealous of Tamari—Wasabi’s totally unfriendly to men in general. He never lets on to the other guys how he really feels. Sure, he needs to start talking about his feelings—but he also better get to work on his bullshit philosophy.”
Sushi adds, “Yeah, I think psychically he’s trying to fuck with our survival because he’s competitive with Wulf. He’s trying to bring down what Wulf started.”
The rest of the group nods, murmurs agreement. Shiso turns to Wasabi and says, “Well, Wasabi, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Wasabi, who’s beet-red and choking back tears, answers, “I-I don’t really think—”
Tamari cuts him off. “Quit being defensive!” he says. “We’re your friends! We’re trying to help you! Why don’t you just take a deep breath and take the input!”
Wasabi starts sobbing in earnest, and stares down at his fingernails. The group moves on to its next victim.
Is Zendik a democracy?
Does it operate by consensus?
What’s the governing structure, then?
Dictatorship. What Arol says, goes. If the entire group, in a meeting, decides that X is the appropriate course of action, and Arol subsequently enters the room and "suggests" Y, then the group will instantly change its collective mind and vigorously agree that yes, Y is definitely the way to proceed.
Does Zendik have a hierarchy?
What does it look like? Who’s on top?
It looks like a pyramid, with Arol at the apex. Just below Arol is the level I refer to as the “aristocracy,” which includes: Fawn (Arol’s daughter), Zoe (father of Fawn’s first-born son, and the farm’s alpha male), Revel (Arol’s boyfriend), Erim (Fawn’s husband), and Fawn’s three children. At the base of the pyramid are the other fifteen members (to whom I refer elsewhere in this document as the “rank and file”). The status of the individuals within the rank and file shifts constantly, according to Arol’s whim.
What would you advise a new member to do, if he or she wished to rise in the hierarchy?
If you’re male, your best bet is to become Arol’s or Fawn’s boyfriend and/or have a child with Fawn. If you’re female, and looking to secure a position in the aristocracy, good luck—the best you can hope for is to rise within the rank and file by becoming a “power” seller and/or handing over a large inheritance.
What are Arol’s credentials? What qualifies her to be a leader?
Arol has read a few books on anthropology and religion. She has worked (in the outside world) as a stripper, an actress, and a copy editor. As a child, she ran with a gang in Hell’s Kitchen. She is skilled at raising plants and caring for animals. She does not have any training in caring for people.
Do the Zendiks have guns?
Yes. Most of the adult male Zendiks, and some of the adult females, possess firearms; Arol also owns a few rifles. None of these guns is used for hunting game.
Why do they have them, then?
To defend themselves, in the event of an attack. In my time at the farm, guns came into play twice, that I know of: In spring 2000, Zoe, who is short, escorted a much taller, stronger member off the farm at gunpoint, after this member had attempted to pack a camera that may or may not have belonged to him. In summer 2004, a few of the higher-ranking Zendik men guarded the perimeter of the property with rifles, after a neighbor’s jealous ex-husband injured her and killed her boyfriend, then escaped into the woods.
Do you think they’re the kind of cult that’s likely to go postal, or commit mass suicide?
No, I don’t. There’s no provision in their cosmology for life after death, so they have little to gain by killing themselves. I do however think Arol is capable of violence—she recently hit one of Fawn’s ex-boyfriends on the head, for something he said. Also Zoe, her right-hand man and the farm’s alpha male, has punched other members twice, that I know of.
How does Zendik provide for members’ health? Do the Zendiks have health insurance?
Zendik provides health care for higher-ranking members. When Arol was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2002, she traveled to an alternative treatment center in Mexico for therapy. The cost of the treatment—not including travel—was $25,000. The farm—i.e., the sellers—paid the money out of pocket. When a member of the rank and file falls ill, on the other hand, the farm does not pay for treatment; instead, the sick person is required to dun his or her parents for funds. With the exception of babies, who are covered by Medicaid, no one at Zendik has health insurance.
In general, how do Zendiks prevent/respond to accident or illness?
Zendiks believe that they can prevent accidents and illnesses by being “on,” (i.e., refining their vibes so as to repel negative events) and by erecting “psychic shields” around themselves. As for response: If the sick or injured party is Arol or Fawn, the illness or injury is treated, and that’s the end of it; if the sick or injured party is one of the rank and file, the group manufactures a “psychic” cause for the illness or injury, i.e., a way to blame the person for having attracted the illness or injury to her or himself.
The Zendiks believe in honesty, right? So if they tell me something, I can believe them?
No. The Zendik construction of “honesty” is not something you or I would recognize. Rather, it’s a tiered system in which truth flows up (from the bottom of the pyramid to the top), but need not flow down or out. That is, the rank and file are required to bare their souls to each other, to the aristocracy, and to Arol, but Arol is not required to disclose her thoughts, feelings and machinations to those below her. The aristocrats answer to Arol, but not the rank and file. Similarly, no Zendik, no matter how low on the pyramid, is required to be honest with any member of the “DeathKultur”; to the contrary, Zendiks—especially Zendik sellers—are encouraged to lie to outsiders, especially when lying might help them make money. Zendiks justify their penchant for deception with the claim that they are in a “war” to save planet earth; desperate measures and suspension of morality are justified in wartime. Also, they believe that everyone they cheat/lie to/steal from will ultimately benefit, when Zendik takes over the world.
One further comment: At Zendik, “getting honest” often equates either with abasing yourself or getting nasty. Arol regularly attacks and humiliates other members, and is honored for it; her followers mistake her unchecked venom for a noble devotion to truth. They strive to imitate her, in this respect, by attacking each other. Usually, the best survival strategy for the person facing attack is to “take it,” that is, grovel, admit wrongdoing, pledge to change, beg forgiveness. Any resistance to “input” is dismissed as defensiveness, and an inability or unwillingness to face and vanquish inborn “corruption.”
IF YOU HAVE A LOVED ONE AT ZENDIK
What can I expect if my son/daughter/brother/sister/friend/boyfriend/girlfriend moves to Zendik Farm?
You can expect your loved one to communicate with you less and less, as the weeks, then months, roll by. When you do speak with your loved one, you can expect either sullen reserve or brittle cheerfulness—you may get an update on the baby goats, or the next big selling trip, but you won’t hear an honest assessment of your loved one’s emotional state, and, even if her or his tone is noticeably dull or anxious, you won’t hear any admission that she or he is unhappy at Zendik. Mostly, your loved one will avoid contact with you, unless she or he wants something from you—money, usually, or a place for a selling crew to stay.
What can I do to help my loved one who lives at Zendik?
The most important thing you can do is stay in touch, and attempt to cultivate “rapport and trust” (in Steven Hassan’s phrase). Even though Zendiks are taught to believe that their “DeathKultur” families and friends are corrupting influences on them, it does still help current members to know that there are in fact people beyond the farm who love and care about them no matter what; should they ever get kicked out, or decide to leave, they will at least know they have somewhere to go/someone to go to.
The next most important thing you can do is educate yourself about cults, and how they work. The best and most up-to-date book I’ve read on how to extricate a loved one from a cult is Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, by Steven Hassan. Other valuable books are Combatting Cult Mind Control, also by Hassan, and Take Back Your Life, by Janja Lalich. You can learn the particulars of how Zendik works by making non-threatening, non-judgmental inquiries of your loved one; by visiting her or him at the farm; and by contacting former members. It is, of course, the purpose of this website to provide extensive background information on Zendik, but all the text in the world is no substitute for talking to a real live person.
You can also get professional help. You may want to hire Steven Hassan or another exit counselor/thought reform consultant to help you come up with a plan for how best to reach your loved one. Hassan gives detailed information about this option in Releasing the Bonds.
Finally: Don’t give up hope, no matter how long your loved one has lived at Zendik. Some ex-members have rejoined society, and created fulfilling lives for themselves, after spending ten, fifteen, twenty years at Zendik. Also: The odds are on your side. Of the hundreds of young adults who have been recruited by Zendik, only fifteen still live there (the other eight either helped start the place, or were born there).
What happens behind the scenes, when I come to visit my loved one at the farm?
Before you arrive, your loved one will strategize with others in the group, to figure out how she or he can minimize her or his time alone with you. While you’re there and/or after you leave, Arol will most likely make disparaging remarks about you to your loved one—she will use information given her, and behaviors she observes firsthand, to illustrate your “corruption.”
I’ve noticed that the Zendiks do a hell of a lot of swearing—I’ve never heard “fuck” and “shit” so constantly and creatively used, to do so many different grammatical tasks…what’s up with that?
Cult members strive to imitate their leaders. Arol has a notoriously foul mouth (part of her “off the cuff” communication style), especially when she’s angry. Also, it’s in Arol’s interest that her followers should speak as crudely as she does, since constant swearing obviates the need for precise articulation, and thereby helps curtail critical thinking. For example, if someone asks, “How are you doing?” and you respond, “I’m fucked up,” or, “I feel like shit,” you don’t have to search for appropriate descriptors of what exactly is bothering you, or what’s causing you to feel as you do. The use of loaded language, i.e., jargon words and phrases, also functions as a thought-stopping mechanism.
Can you give some examples of Zendik jargon, and explain what they mean?
Sure, I’d love to. Here’s a lexicon of Zendik-speak:
“Square” means conventional, or normal. Anything not created at or consonant with Zendik—cheese, a behavior, a relationship—can be labeled/denounced as “square.”
“Get into your life” means, “Forget about your failed love affair—or whatever else is bugging you—and get back to work.”
Being “affirmative” means vanquishing “negativity,” i.e., critical thoughts about your current situation or about Zendik, and, again, getting back to work.
“Take the bus home” is the worst threat (short of, “Leave the farm”) that can be leveled against a Zendik seller. It means you’re being such a “drag” on the street that your crew would be better off if you took a bus back to the farm, in disgrace, to face an uncertain fate.
“Get an apartment” is the relationship equivalent of “Take the bus home.” It means that your love affair is so “square,” so dissonant with Zendik philosophy, that the farm would be better off if you left, and conducted it in the DeathKultur.
“Running your own show” is BAD. It means wanting/attempting to complete a task in your own way, or by yourself. It can also mean initiating a project of your own, without permission.
“Hanging in” means staying at Zendik no matter what—no matter how much “input” you’re getting, no matter how miserable you feel. Supposedly, everyone who “hangs in” will eventually achieve enlightenment.
“Input” means criticism, generally not of the constructive kind; it tends to induce shame and humiliation in the person being criticized.
“Box” means “vagina.” (“Cock” is the favored designation for “penis”—assonance, anyone?)
“Balling” means having sex.
“Making it” also means having sex.
“On” means aware, alert, making money.
“Out of it” means unaware, upset, “fucked up,” sad, depressed, preoccupied, not making money.
“Out” means a period of time spent away from the farm. While an “out” may be acknowledged as necessary, in hindsight, as a means of mowing down “fantasies” that were keeping the person from committing to Zendik, the need to take one is usually condemned as a sign of weakness, even betrayal.
To “escape” is to engage in an activity you shouldn’t enjoy but do, thanks to your “corrupt” upbringing in the “DeathKultur” (watching a movie, listening to “square” music, etc.). The purpose of “escaping” is to take the edge off so you can return, refreshed, to your “revolutionary” lifestyle.
“Survival” is any activity Arol deems necessary; hence, flub-ups as diverse as crashing a car, making too little money on a selling trip, or failing to answer the telephone, can all be condemned under the heading, “fucking with survival.”
A “Warrior” is anyone who lives at Zendik (and is battling to save planet earth from the “spoilers,” or “normals”); all others are “civilians.”
Getting “ego-jacked” means feeling good about something you personally have accomplished; should you be accused of this, you will almost certainly be prohibited from continuing to pursue the activity in question.
Who owns the Zendik property?
Arol owns Zendik Farm; Fawn will inherit the farm when Arol dies.
How do the Zendiks support themselves?
They sell their magazines, CDs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and novel (yes, that’s “novel,” singular) on the street, at concerts and rallies, and on their website. They telemarket t-shirts and sometimes bumper stickers to stores all over the U.S. (often neglecting to tell the buyer that both items feature their website; always neglecting to explain precisely what kind of operation the t-shirt sales are supporting). They appropriate whatever funds members have access to: grants, inheritances, savings, college funds. They’ve also taken out two mortgages on the property, and they juggle many credit cards. If you leave, and they possess a credit card in your name, they may well continue to use it; they’ll stop when you sic your lawyer on them, but not before. They also get a huge de facto donation every year from the American public: as an “educational non-profit,” they do not pay taxes.
Wait…Zendik is a non-profit? How does that work?
It doesn’t. Here’s what the IRS has to say about “charities and non-profits”:
To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual…. A section 501(c)(3) organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, such as the creator or the creator's family, shareholders of the organization, other designated individuals, or persons controlled directly or indirectly by such private interests [emphasis mine].
Zendik is in fact “organized and operated” solely “for the benefit of private interests,” i.e., Arol (the creator) and her family. The “Zendik Farm Arts Foundation” is a fiction; a more appropriate official designation for Zendik would be “The Wulfing Family Trust Fund.”
What happens if I inherit money while I’m living at Zendik?
If you’re Arol, and your father dies, and you inherit $60,000, you call a meeting and let the rank and file know that they better not plan on taking a vacation anytime soon, because this is money is yours, to spend as you please. Maybe you’ll use it to buy a diamond ring, or some other luxury item you’ve always wanted. If you’re not Arol, and you inherit money—you better give up the goods, pronto. You might use a fraction of the money to buy a newer, better version of some piece of equipment you use frequently—say, a video camera—and donate the rest outright. Needless to say, you will not be taking the video camera with you, should you ever leave. (See the section on “Guns,” above.)
What happens if I’m receiving SSI, or some other form of unearned monthly income, while living at Zendik?
You will be hounded, periodically, to arrange your finances such that all your money goes straight to Arol. You will be told that your having an alternate means of support is preventing you from fully committing to Zendik, hence stunting your “evolution.”
What happens if I bring a vehicle with me to the farm?
You sign it over to Zendik, and it gets named after you. If you don’t do this fairly quickly, you will be issued an ultimatum: Give Arol your wheels, or drive away on them.
If, as a Zendik, I want or need something beyond basic food and toiletries—a new toothbrush, say, or a pair of socks—how do I go about getting it?
If you’re Arol or Fawn, you get in your car, drive to town, and buy it; or you get out your credit card, get on the Internet, and buy it. If you’re one of the rank and file, you put it on the shopping list; if you’re lucky Fawn will decide your request is legitimate, and it will be filled on the next shopping trip. If not—tough.
When long-term members leave, do they receive a share of the group’s assets, or any kind of allowance to assist them as they reintegrate into the outside world?
Members who leave do not receive a share of the group’s assets, no matter what they have done to help accrue those assets. One member, who had donated a couple hundred thousand dollars to Zendik, was given a failing minivan as a going-away gift. Other members have received one-way bus tickets. I gave the farm $13,000. Just before I was dropped off at the highway I asked one of the other members if I could have some money. She asked, “What do you need money for?” “Food,” I said. She (grudgingly) went to Arol and got me $10.
What’s up with the weird names?
When Larry Wulfing and Carol Weinberg/Merson/Wulfing became “revolutionaries,” back in the ‘60s, they struck their first blow at the establishment by changing their names to Wulf Zendik and Arol Wulf (nowadays, Arol goes by “Arol Wulf,” “Arol Wulfing,” or “Arol Zendik”). Zendiks believe that adopting a new name helps you transcend your “corrupt” ancestry and upbringing.
Why are there so few Zendiks? It seems like the population of the farm just keeps shrinking and shrinking….
Yes, Zendik’s numbers have been shrinking steadily, for some time now. In winter 1999, there were almost seventy people living at the farm; now there are twenty-three. The population has decreased by two-thirds, in the past eight years. I divide this exodus into two main stages: North Carolina and West Virginia.
Between 1999 (the year Wulf died) and 2004 (the year the farm moved from North Carolina to West Virginia) about thirty-five people, or half the 1999 peak population, departed Zendik. During this period, Arol was consolidating her power. She was purging old-timers whom she feared might challenge her. She was also asserting direct control over the rank and file; previously, she had controlled them indirectly, through her inner circle. Rather than sending surrogates to give “input”—or simply trusting her inner circle to keep those below them in line, as per her desires—she began to criticize each member personally. This change in dictatorial style made it difficult to remain at Zendik unless you were truly dedicated; it became harder and harder to fly under the radar (that is, escape frequent public humiliation) by working hard and keeping quiet. There was, however, still a spatial escape valve, as long as the farm was in North Carolina: The fact that the population was spread out in seven separate houses at least made it possible to hide out in your room occasionally, to retreat from Arol’s rule while you were sleeping. This escape valve was shut off when all thirty-five Zendiks moved into one big mansion on two hundred twenty-seven acres in West Virginia. There, Arol’s presence became pervasive; even temporary respite was no longer an option. In the year or so after the move, another ten people left, bringing the population down to about twenty-five. And no new recruits arrived to replace them: The farm in West Virginia is much harder to get to; you don’t show up there unless you’re hell-bent on checking out Zendik. Also, the few visitors who do show up tend not to receive much attention, since many Zendiks would rather play World of Warcraft than welcome newcomers. Finally, the abundance of negative Internet commentary on Zendik has made it far easier for potential visitors to get an advance inkling of what they might be getting themselves into. The last arrival to stay and become a committed member moved in about five years ago. As of July 2008, after three births, a few more departures, and the return of a former member, the population stands at twenty-three.
Now, just for fun, I’m going to do a demographic analysis of the current crop of Zendiks, to see what it can teach us about Zendik’s narrowing appeal:
Of the twenty-three current Zendiks, eight either were born at the farm or helped start it, i.e., either are exploiting the cult arrangement (Arol) or had no choice about joining. Only fifteen are adults who chose to move there. Of these fifteen adults, five are men who are or have been Arol’s or Fawn’s boyfriend (three of these five have had a child with Fawn), and four are women with children born at Zendik. So the farm is home to only six adults who were not born there, don’t have children born there, and have no past or current romantic involvement with Arol or Fawn. (I suspect Arol keeps these six around primarily for their money-making capabilities; at least five of them are accomplished sellers.) More and more, Zendik is becoming a place where only those with blood (or at least fluid-exchange) ties to the monarch survive.
What’s the Zendik model of causality—how do they explain what happens in the world around them?
The Zendiks believe in something called “Psychic Cause and Effect”—otherwise known, elsewhere in the New Age, as “The Secret” or “The Law of Attraction.” According to the law of “Psychic Cause and Effect,” everything that happens to you results from a conscious or subconscious desire on your part—to quote Wulf, “You attract to yourself what you are.” So if you “vibe into” getting “popped” while selling, you subconsciously wanted to be reprimanded by a daddy figure, or you subconsciously wanted to quit selling, or you subconsciously wanted to “fuck with survival.” According to Arol, everyone who died on 9/11—terrorists, building occupants, airplane passengers—was participating in a vast psychic conspiracy, that is, subconsciously arranging their own deaths. In other words, according to Zendik, every one of those people wanted to die.
You’ll notice that both examples I’ve given to illustrate “Psychic Cause and Effect” involve negative events. There’s a reason for this: When bad things happen at Zendik, they’re attributed to the individual’s bad “vibe,” or bad “philosophy”; when good things happen, they're generally attributed to the righteousness of the group, and the cause.
When I give money to a Zendik seller, where does it go? What is it used for?
It goes straight to Arol or Fawn. At the end of every selling trip one seller bears the bag of cash—like a sacred offering—to the royal chambers. Thereafter it is used to buy food, toiletries, building supplies, animal feed, electricity, phone service, blank t-shirts, and so on. It is also used for mortgage and credit card payments…and for whatever else Arol and Fawn feel like buying, for themselves and Fawn’s children. Those who make the money have no say in how it’s spent.
Do Zendik sellers have quotas, i.e., is each seller required to make a certain amount of money every time she or he goes out?
No, there’s no articulated quota. However, there is a general understanding of what kind of take is respectable and what kind of take isn’t. When I first moved to the farm, in 1999, $200 (per person, per day) was respectable, for an average street scene. By the time I left, in 2004, $300 was respectable; anything less was likely to win you a nice chunk of “input.” (I'm guessing that the bar is resting at about $400 nowadays.) Also, what’s considered good enough varies from scene to scene, and is determined, in part, by how the rest of your crew does—if you make $300 at Ozzfest, and every other seller makes $600, you’re going to have some explaining to do.
What scenes/events are most lucrative for Zendik sellers?
It used to be that Ozzfest and large music events were Zendik’s biggest moneymakers; nowadays, thanks to the popularity of the “Stop Bitching/Start a Revolution” t-shirts, rallies and protests have superseded concerts and festivals. At the March for Women’s Lives, in April 2004, fourteen sellers averaged $1,000 each; the record for largest take by a single seller in a single day—$3,000—was set more recently, at another rally.
What’s an average selling day like?
You rise at seven or eight, after sleeping sardine-style on the floor of a stranger’s house or apartment for about four or five hours. You shower, cook and pack food, clean and ice coolers, clean and organize the van, load selling bags. You drive to your selling spot. You start selling sometime between eleven am and one pm. If it’s freezing cold, you keep selling. If it’s scorching hot, you keep selling. If it’s raining, you keep selling. If you’re exhausted and miserable, you read an “Affirmative Life” quote, tell yourself, “It Is All Attitude,” and keep selling. You sell till midnight, or one, or two, or three, depending on the scene, depending on when the last drunken barfly or concert-goer staggers to her or his car. Then you get in the van, count your money, and hand it over to whoever’s in charge of the cash bag for the trip. If you’ve done well, you go to bed exhausted but relatively calm (unless you’ve been accused of getting an “ego-jack” from your success); if you’ve done badly, you go to bed exhausted and terrified, praying, May morning never come. Because when morning does come your crew will accuse you of some psychic crime or other; you will grovel, beat your breast, plead “guilty,” and wait anxiously for further “input” from Arol or Fawn, as a senior member of your crew makes the obligatory phone call home. You will then spend the next selling day attempting to redeem yourself, so you can at least return to the farm feeling like you haven’t lost your right to belong to the human family. You may or may not succeed.
Do the Zendiks have orgies?
They may have had orgies in the past, but they didn’t when I was there, and so far as I know they don’t now.
Damn! That’s disappointing. I thought they were hippies! Do they at least practice free love?
“Supervised love” is a better term for it. Any two people wishing to have a date (that is, repair to a designated “date space” to have sex) must first inform the group of their plans; the group may or may not approve. Afterwards, the couple may be required to “communicate” the details of the encounter to the group; Zendiks believe that couples who keep their sex lives to themselves are condemned to “implode,” go “square,” succumb to their conditioned corruption.
You mean Arol has to ask the group’s permission every time she wants to have sex with Revel?
No. Arol and Fawn are exempt from the requirement to “communicate” with the group about their sex lives. In my five years at the farm, Fawn had two dates with men who were not her main squeeze. After those dates, she publicly assessed their respective performances, focusing on their shortcomings; the two men were not asked, and did not volunteer, their opinion of her sexual prowess. Otherwise, neither she nor Arol every discussed her sex life in public.
What’s the tenor of these discussions about sex? Are they friendly and supportive?
At times, they can be supportive; it’s possible that the group might provide a troubled individual or couple with a “way to go.” However, in most instances, discussions of people’s sexuality—which tend to be crude, profane, and graphic—leave them shamed and humiliated, and act as launching pads for attack (i.e., articulation of a particular aspect of a member’s sexual “corruption” balloons into a more generalized condemnation of the person). While (so far as I know) children do not generally attend sex meetings, they are not shielded from these conversations, which can occur at any time, in any context.
Wait a minute…sex meetings? What are those?
Those are gatherings at which members bring up their sexual problems, in order to get “help”/criticism from the group. In my experience, Fawn and Zoe usually officiated, and dispensed the lion’s share of advice.
What qualifies Fawn and Zoe to act as sexual counselors?
According to the Zendiks, Fawn is sexually enlightened because she was raised by Wulf and Arol, who were sexually enlightened; Zoe gleans his sexual cache from the fact that he was Fawn’s first serious boyfriend, and fathered her first child. Before joining Zendik he was a gang member in Los Angeles. Neither of them has a degree or any kind of training in counseling.
Do Zendiks practice birth control?
Yes. They use the “rhythm” method, that is, they attempt to time sexual intercourse when the woman is not fertile. This means that before every date the woman must get “specked” (i.e., allow another woman to examine her os, using a speculum, and check the texture of her vaginal mucus). The woman who does the specking then decides, on the basis of this evidence, whether the woman having the date can have intercourse without a condom, with a condom, or not at all.
Who decides whether an unintended pregnancy—or any pregnancy—will be terminated, at Zendik?
Arol sets the parameters of the abortion discussion. In some cases, Arol has told the woman it’s entirely up to her; in other cases, Arol has demanded that the woman have an abortion, even though she didn’t want to.
Do new members get tested for STDs, before having sex at Zendik?
Yes, they get tested for all the standard STDs—except HIV. According to the Zendiks, neither AIDS nor the HIV virus exists.
How do the Zendiks feel about homosexuality?
The Zendiks believe that homosexuality is unnatural. While homosexual desires may be worth indulging as a fantasy—a thing to get out of one's system—it's not an appropriate orientation for a mature human being; an individual may reach completion, under the terms of the "protoneutronic principle," only by forming a union with a member of the opposite sex. In a chapter titled "Faggots," in his novel A Quest Among the Bewildered, Wulf details his pity for those who never "get back to vagina": "[S]ometimes the gayness seems like sadness--and of course the very fact of their homosexuality is a vaginal denial--denying the vagina, you deny your source, and thereby yourself; and into this impossible paradox any fairly adjusted overt homo has twisted the frame of his days."
THE CULT QUESTION
Is Zendik really a cult?
Yes. “Cult” is the pattern that best describes Zendik. It is not a new religion (Zendiks venerate their human leader, not God or a set of principles), an artists’ commune (Arol alone controls money/land/resources; most members are discouraged from developing personal artistic interests), or an activist group (they do nothing concrete to preserve the ecology; nor do they join with/support other groups who are doing something).
Okay, so how do you define a cult?
My working, sound-bite definition of a cult is this: A group of people in thrall to a leader who uses fear, false hope, and magical thinking to exploit and control them. Robert Jay Lifton and Margaret Thaler Singer, both psychologists and students of thought reform, have composed lists of characteristics common to destructive cults, to which you can find links here. The simplest and most accessible description of the cult pattern that I’ve come across appears in sociologist Janja Lalich’s book, Take Back Your Life. You can view her list of "Cult Characteristics" here.
Why/Under what circumstances do most people leave Zendik?
Many people who leave Zendik get kicked out; committed members who leave of their own accord often do so after enduring a long period of intense “input,” or criticism. They reach an extreme of physical and mental exhaustion that makes it impossible to continue.
I thought cults did their best to keep people in—why would Zendik want to get rid of its members?
It is in fact common for cults to kick out members who have become liabilities. Cult leaders want to exploit their followers’ youthful energy and enthusiasm; they do not want to support them through hard times, or nurse them through illness, injury or old age. Arol identified me as a liability—and had me dismissed—after a string of very bad selling days. One long-term member was asked to leave when the father of her child threatened to expose Zendik wrongdoing in a custody lawsuit. Another member was told he ought to take a vacation after he’d been lying sick in the basement, unattended, for a few days.
Also: Arol keeps people at Zendik not through force, but fear. She leads them to believe that they have no alternatives—if they leave, they’ll never have a real friend, or do work they enjoy, or make great art, or contribute to their culture. In short, they’ll be miserable. Periodic purging serves to reinforce the loyalty of those that remain—it reminds those who are still there that they’d better redouble their efforts to please her, if they don’t want to be next, if they don’t want to be cast out into the “DeathKultur.”
So when your average Zendik isn’t out selling, what’s she or he doing all day?
Working. Cooking, cleaning, building, tending animals, cutting firewood, tending the garden, silk-screening t-shirts, folding t-shirts, ordering food, running errands, and so on. You work from the time you wake up (which is not up to you) till the time you go to sleep (also not up to you). Unless you’re in a meeting, getting or giving “input,” having sex, exercising, or eating.
Do people get to choose what work they do?
Sometimes. However, if you too consistently work in any one area and/or display a penchant for innovation/independent thought in that area, you’re likely to be pulled out of it, on the grounds that you’re getting “ego-jacked” or “running your own show.”
What if I arrive at the farm with skills in certain areas—am I likely to be able to apply those skills?
Possibly—but it’s more likely that you’ll be told that all you’ve learned in the “DeathKultur” is “corrupt,” and that, if you’d like to work in your area of expertise, you’ll need to start from scratch, i.e., you’ll need to “apprentice” to the Zendik way of doing things.