Mind control (also known as brainwashing, reeducation, brainsweeping, coercive persuasion, thought control, or thought reform) is a controversial pseudo-scientific theory that human subjects can be indoctrinated in a way that causes “an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations. In this context, brainwashing refers to the involuntary reeducation of basic beliefs and values”.
Theories of brainwashing and of mind control were originally developed to explain how totalitarian regimes appeared to systematically indoctrinate prisoners of war through propaganda and torture techniques. These theories were later expanded and modified by psychologists including Margaret Singer and Philip Zimbardo to explain a wider range of phenomena, especially conversions to some new religious movements (NRMs). The suggestion that NRMs use mind control techniques has resulted in scientific and legal
Other theories have been proposed by scholars including: Robert Cialdini, Robert Jay Lifton, Michael J. Freeman, Daniel Romanovsky, Kathleen Taylor, and Benjamin Zablocki. The concept of mind control is sometimes involved in legal cases, especially regarding child custody; and is also a major theme in both science fiction and in criticism of modern political and corporate culture. However, in the view of scholars, the theory of mind control is not accepted as scientific fact.
KOREAN WAR AND BRAINWASHING
The Oxford English Dictionary records the earliest known English-language usage of brainwashing in an article by newspaperman Edward Hunter, in Miami News, published on 7 October 1950. Hunter, an outspoken anticommunist and said to be a CIA agent working undercover as a journalist, wrote a series of books and articles on the theme of Chinese.
Hunter and those who picked up the Chinese term used it to explain why, during the Korean War (1950-1953), some American prisoners of war cooperated with their Chinese captors, even in a few cases defecting to the enemy side.
The U.S. military and government laid charges of “brainwashing” in an effort to undermine detailed confessions made by military personnel to war crimes, including biological warfare.
After Chinese radio broadcasts claimed to quote Frank Schwable, Chief of Staff of the First Marine Air Wing admitting to participating in germ warfare, United Nations commander Gen. Mark W. Clark asserted: “Whether these statements ever passed the lips of these unfortunate men is doubtful. If they did, however, too familiar are the mind-annihilating methods of these Communists in extorting whatever words they want.
KOREAN WAR BRAINWASHING DEBUNKED
In 1956, after reexamining the concept of brainwashing following the Korean War, the U.S. Army published a report entitled ‘Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War’, which called brainwashing a “popular misconception”.
The report states “exhaustive research of several government agencies failed to reveal even one US POW captured by North Korea were brutalized with starvation, beatings, forced death marches, exposure to extremes of temperature, binding in stress positions, and withholding of medical care, but the abuse had no relation to indoctrination “in which North Korea was not particularly interested”. In contrast American POWs in the custody of North Korea’s Chinese Communist allies did face a concerted interrogation and indoctrination program.
When an American soldier was captured by the Chinese, he was given a vigorous handshake and a pat on the back. The enemy ‘introduced’ himself as a friend of the ‘workers’ of America … in many instances the Chinese did not search the American captives, but frequently offered them American cigarettes. This display of friendship caught most Americans totally off-guard and they never recovered from the initial impression made by the Chinese. …
After the two academic studies of the repatriation of American prisoners of war by Robert Jay Lifton and by Edgar Schein concluded that brainwashing (called ‘thought reform’ by Lifton and ‘coercive persuasion’ by Schein), if it occurred, had at worst a transient effect. In 1961, they both published books expanding on these findings.
CIA MIND CONTROL PROGRAM
In 1999, forensic psychologist Dick Anthony concluded that the CIA had invented the concept of ‘brainwashing’ as a propaganda strategy to undercut communist claims that American POWs in Korean communist camps had voluntarily expressed sympathy for communism.
He argued that the books of Edward Hunter (whom he identified as a secret CIA ‘psychological warfare specialist’ passing as a journalist) pushed the CIA brainwashing theory onto the general public. Succumbing to their own propaganda, for twenty years.
AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION REJECTION OF BRAINWASHING
Margaret Singer, who also spent time studying the political brainwashing of Korean prisoners of war, in her book ‘Cults in Our Midst’, describes six conditions which would create an atmosphere in which thought reform is possible.
Before the taskforce had submitted its final report, the APA submitted on 10 February 1987 an amicus curiæ brief in an ongoing court case related to brainwashing. Although the amicus curiæ brief written by the APA denies the credibility of the brainwashing theory, the APA submitted the brief under “intense pressure by a consortium of pro-religion scholars (a.k.a. NRM scholars)”. The brief repudiated Singer’s theories on ‘coercive persuasion’ and suggested that brainwashing theories were without empirical proof.
NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS
In the 1970s, the anti-cult movement applied mind control theories to explain seemingly sudden and dramatic religious conversions to various new religious movements (NRMs). The media was quick to follow suit, and social scientists sympathetic to the anti-cult movement, who were usually psychologists, developed more sophisticated models
Over the years various theories of conversion and member retention have been proposed that link mind control to some new religious movements (NRMs), particularly those religious movements referred to as “cults” by their critics.
Philip Zimbardo discusses mind control as “the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes”, and he suggests that any human being is susceptible to such manipulation. Another adherent to this view, Jean-Marie Abgrall was heavily criticized.
OTHER AREAS AND STUDIES
Joost Meerloo, a Dutch psychiatrist, was an early leading proponent of the concept of brainwashing. His view was influenced by his experiences during the German occupation of his country in the Second World War and his work with the Dutch government and the American military in the interrogation of accused Nazi war criminals.
He later emigrated to the United States and taught at Columbia University.
His best-selling 1956 book, The Rape of the Mind, concludes by saying: “The modern techniques of brainwashing and menticide-those perversions of psychology-can bring almost any man into submission and surrender. Many of the victims of thought control, brainwashing, and menticide that we have talked about were strong men whose minds and wills were broken and degraded.
In Italy there has been controversy over the concept of plagio, a crime consisting in an absolute psychological – and eventually physical – domination of a person. The effect of such domination is the annihilation of the subject’s freedom and self-determination and the
In 2003 forensic psychologist Dick Anthony said that “no reasonable person would question that there are situations where people can be influenced against their best interests, but those arguments are evaluated on the basis of fact, not bogus expert testimony.”
In his 2007 book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, social psychologist Robert Cialdini argues that mind control is possible through the covert exploitation of the unconscious rules that underlie and facilitate healthy human social interactions. He states that common social rules can be used to prey upon the unwary. Using categories, he offers specific examples of both mild and extreme mind control – both one on one and in groups.
In 2009 historian Daniel Romanovsky wrote about what he called “Nazi brainwashing” of the people of Belarus by the occupying Germans during the Second World War, which took place through both mass propaganda and intense re-education, especially in schools. He notes that very soon most people had adopted the Nazi view of the Jews, that they were an inferior race.
In the 1950s many American movies were filmed that featured brainwashing of POWs, including The Rack, The Bamboo Prison, Toward the Unknown, and The Fearmakers. Fraser A. Sherman comments: “The possibility that advanced psychological techniques could reprogram people’s minds became a permanent part of pop culture.” Forbidden Area told the story of Soviet secret agents who had been brainwashed, through classical conditioning.
The concept of brainwashing became associated with the research of Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov; which mostly involved dogs, not humans, as subjects.
Mind control has proven a popular subject in fiction, featuring in books and films such as The Manchurian Candidate (1959; film adaptation 1962) both stories advancing the premise that controllers could hypnotize a person into murdering on command while retaining no memory of the killing.
As a narrative device, mind control serves as a convenient means of introducing changes in the behaviour of characters, and is used as a device for raising tension and audience uncertainty in the contexts of Cold War and terrorism.
Mind control has often been an important theme in science fiction and fantasy stories. “Mind control is such a powerful image that if hypnotism did not exist, then something similar would have to have been invented: the plot device is too useful for any writer to ignore.
CORPORATION MIND CONTROL
Modern corporations are said to practice mind control to create a work force which shares the same common values and culture. Critics have linked “corporate brainwashing” with globalization, saying that corporations are attempting to create a world-wide monocultural network of producers, consumers, and managers.
In his 1992 book, Democracy in an Age of Corporate Colonization, Stanley A. Deetz says that modern ‘self awareness’ and The idea of mind control also appears in political rhetoric as an explanation why others hold contrary views. For example, the conservative blog Brietbart.com frequently uses the term liberal brainwashing to criticize a perceived lack of conservative scholars in American universities.
The popular notion of brainwashing has influenced attempts at legislation against various new religious movements. In 1983 the state legislature of Nevada saw several bills were introduced to attempt to limit the influence of a range of new religious groups.
PROJECT MK ULTRA
Project MKUltra – sometimes referred to as the CIA’s mind control program – was the code name given to an illegal program of experiments on human subjects, designed and undertaken by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations and torture, in order to weaken the individual to force confessions through mind control. Organized through the Scientific Intelligence Division of the CIA, the project coordinated with the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps.
The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and officially halted in 1973. The program engaged in many illegal activities, including the use of unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy.
MKUltra used numerous methodologies to manipulate people’s mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
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