Some thoughts as I watch the National Geographic channel: Right now a show is on about cults. It's a documentary trying to make sense of some puritanical community somewhere in New Mexico or Idaho. A new-age, fire and brimstone, "the world's going to hell", kind of place-- gated entrances, trailers, over-all's, beards and bonnets; and vacant stares.
While I watch, I find three things interesting about cults. Two of these things take the form of questions: one with a simple answer, the other more complicated. The third thing is just an observation.
One: why does someone become a cult leader? This is the question that I think has a simple answer. As far as i can tell, someone becomes a cult leader because they are crazy. This is an important point to make only because it hooks into the more complicated, following question.
Two: how do "normal" people end up following an insane person? Why would they abandon their personal freedoms-- sacrificing themselves for a lunatic? There's the typical response: something about people being vulnerable when girlfriends break up with them, or when someone dies, etc, etc. I do believe change and crisis causes people to act irrationally-- most however, don't join cults when a spouse leaves or when they find a strange mole. Instead they read Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul, watch the Secret and take a Zoloft-- they do stuff that's ridiculous but nontheless benign. The only thing I can come up with is this: rationality is learned and humans are innately nonsensical and reflexive... And, as in the case of cults, some of us return to our old habits harder and more quickly then others.
Now the question is: how does someone decide to join a cult as a opposed to, say, learning the healing power of magnets or crystals? In short, I suppose we're all susceptible. Each one of us has immense, cavernous vulnerabilities somewhere in our brains just waiting to be manipulated. And so perhaps it's just the luck of the draw. The flip of the coin or roll of a dice. Maybe when the moon lines up just so and the right sermon is spoken, any one of us could glaze over and start following a sociopath. In other words, we'll all bow and bend to a zealous idiot given the right circumstances-- the right social alchemy.
To this point: history is littered with cults and morons following them. History is littered with murder, racism, rape and genocide-- every form of violence and oppression imaginable-- these things are the rule of humanity, not the exception. Why do we suffer and hurt others? We, as humans, will sooner manufacture mystical meanings and answers in tea leaves then utilize deduction and reasoning. As a collective, we choose to remain conceptually powerless-- decidedly unable to understand our actions and therefore helpless to stop our innate violence-- "terrible things are just God's will", we tell ourselves as we rape and plunder. The ability to think analytically-- we abandon that complex mechanism the very instant we encounter scariness-- any time things become a little less predictable. And just like it's unrealistic to expect a monkey to juggle without being taught, perhaps too, it's unfair and unrealistic to expect people to behave with any sort of rational compassion. If it's not inherent then it needs to be taught. So, on second thought, this answer is simple too. I am naturally stupid but so are you.

Three (it might be redundant): uncertainty and momentary crisis is so reprehensible and repugnant that, as history shows, we'd rather follow a snake-oil salesman-- chaining ourselves to someone's crazy, cockeyed confidence. Abandoning sensibility to feel no fear. That's strange and interesting. Btw, yes I know most of my sentences are incomplete.