Cults Part 2: Mind Control and Brainwashing.
Cults Part 2: Mind Control and Brainwashing.
One of the quickest accusations for many pundits to reach for is the one of Brainwashing. The word has been so overused that it has almost lost all meaning. Indoctrination is another accusation that has become like a meaningless buzz word used to describe a school of thought that people disagree with. We hear people talk in such ways that “We were all brainwashed as children to go to school and learn our lessons” or that “We should not allow any form of indoctrination exist as it is oppression.” The problem with such broad sweeping statements is that they also include the very tools that people are using to mount their attack. Language, Mathematics and Logic are all doctrines that must be taught in a formal often rigid manner of rules and regulation. People are indoctrinated by learning the times table but few would argue that it is oppressive mind control. Rather it would more reasonable to argue that learning mathematics is liberating minds from ignorance.
So what does this little intro have to do with Oppressive Cults, brainwashing and mind-control? It is the issue of perception that we must address. The word Brainwashing creates perceptions and mental pictures that few other words create. We are instantly presented with concepts of mindless human zombies acting in ways that are beyond their conscience control. Like the Manchurian Candidate a signal or a sign can cause a person to suddenly and helplessly become a homicidal maniac. We also have the ending of the novel 1984 where the protagonist Winston is like a broken horse willing to give loyalty to Big Brother. In the news we have heard about Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by terrorists, abused terribly for months and then later seen helping the same terrorists rob banks. Even when the small cell of terrorists was arrested Patty was still waving and cheering for them. These examples have all made their way into the folk law about brainwashing and mind control.
The term Brainwashing came during the Korean War where the Communist North Koreans would apply what they considered methods of cleansing minds from error. Prisoners of war who came back from such treatment were sometimes shattered and in other cases took years to recover. Many would condemn their country and betray their friends whilst putting up the image of being a model Communist. There have even been cases of US soldiers defecting to North Korea and continue to live their today. Out of this new mysterious tactic came the hysteria that any human mind could be broken, just as horses are broken. Brainwashing took on an almost supernatural persona in popular culture. Yet the reality of mystical room where a spell was scientifically caste over a helpless person never existed. Rather it was a very simple and easy to apply set of ploys. The prisoners of war were treated poorly with few privileges and a harsh life. They were constantly being reminded that they were there because of someone in their government. They were offered no work to occupy their time and so many of the disciplines necessary for a military unit to operate as one broke down. The key factor to destroying the line of command was to encourage soldiers to inform on each other to the North Koreans. It did not matter what it was, any petty little issue from taking too long to wash to stealing food was to be informed on. Yet the Koreans did not punish the offender rather they gave a small but obvious reward to the informer. They understood well that this would create a culture of distrust that would build up to deep resentments amongst the prisoners. Before long you would have whole unit who hated each other more than they hated the Koreans. Is it any wonder that those who were most alienated suddenly found that the continual Communist indoctrination started to make some kind of sense. It made sense because that was the only path of sanity and social inclusion the prisoners were being offered. On one hand hunger, bitterness and loneliness and on the other, a group of people who wanted you. Did they?
Oppressive Cults engage in similar kinds of behaviour in order to have their recruits accept notions that would not otherwise accept. The term used for the theoretical breaking of a human mind is called Catharsis. In some ways this has been achieved in certain cults with varying levels of success. Like the North Koreans the level of trust for what the subject holds dear is destroyed and the same time the trust of the cult is offered as the only answer. Some cults will make the subject exhausted with long days of meditation and reduce their sleep down to few hours. Others make people meditate for up to twenty hours a day to create long periods of mental inactivity. The Orange People were known to used have hours of breathing exercises that caused hyperventilation. Fear is another factor designed to play heavily upon people. The candidate’s fears are amplified with a list of paranoid conspiracy theories: World War; Alien Invasions; Contaminated Water and even Financial Crash can be used as a psychological bogey man. Human contact is extremely important to everyone, so by controlling a person’s contacts they can become very susceptible to manipulations. Public confessions about secret desires and dreams are recorded then the threat of disclosure can be used. Insiders who left Scientology have reported that it keeps records of its audits to use for future reference if someone tries to leave. The whole point of these exercises is to break down a person ability to think critically and question the concepts that they are being fed.
Few people would rationally accept handing over all their money to a small group of people that claim to be in touch with aliens. Yet when people are tired, hungry, lonely and confused they are in a state of abnormality they may yearn to see normality at any price.
From what I have read there seems to a consensus that the classical Manchurian Candidate brainwashing is not the reality. Patty Hearst failed to convince a jury that she had been completely brainwashed and was found partially guilty for her own actions. The old saying that “once a person is brainwashed they are forever mine for life” has no objective examples. Even the CIA who experimented with such matters some decades ago lost hope in its effectiveness. The Stalin era of false confessions seem like spectacular proof but many were deceived into believing that the public confession would buy freedom. Instead many were shot or hanged to prevent them from retracting the confessions.
Brainwashing and Mind-control can be understood reasonably simply, we should not be surprised of its simplicity because sometimes people of no great intelligence have formed cults and applied it. Some methods that could be used are:
Deception is the key: L Ron Hubbard once wrote “The easiest way to control someone is to lie to them.” Hence you will find that at the seat of most brainwashing is a lie that can be disproved.
Intimidation and Fear: Even minor indiscretions are exaggerated as being terrible sins. Public confessions are designed to gather dirt that can be used later. Direct threats and intimidation can also be applied, even murder.
Dependency: Other Cult members can give and take attention to reward and punish behaviour. The ‘silent treatment’ verses the ‘love bomb’.
Alienation from society: Members can be told what to read; what to watch on television; what to listen to on the radio and even who to talk to. Language is another way of limiting thoughts. Orwell referred to Newspeak was Big Brother’s way of controlling thought by limiting the available words to think with. In a similar manner many cults create in internal jargon that is designed to limit thinking to prescribed subjects. Language can also be used as a way of enforcing alienation from society because the members are encourage to speak in a jargon filled soup that outsiders find baffling.
Desensitised: Along with fearing the outsiders many cult members are taught to hate certain groups or people. Charles Manson had a deep hate of non whites and hoped that his killing spree would start a race war “Helter Skelter“. The Scientologists refer to the media that does not support them as the ‘Wog Media’. They also have a pathological hatred of psychiatrists. Some cults try to find enemies from the past and create conspiracy theories. David Koresh stocked weapons but he was not the only cult to do so.
The question of Mind Control and Brainwashing will always remain controversial. Yet most of what we think it can do is achieved through deceptions and a person being too confused to think critically.