Blog: What is Mind Control? - 2017-04-27
Hey everyone. I've been talking about Scientology and destructive cults for some time now and we have discussed the concepts of undue influence, coercive persuasion and mind control or brainwashing, but I've never really dived deep into this and talked about what this is and isn't. As Justice Potter Stewart famously said about hard core pornography, it's hard to define but you know it when you see it and the same might be said for brainwashing. But is it really so easy to see and understand? Are there pitfalls in talking about it vs free will and an individual's rights to decide and choose what is best for his or her own life? What is the dividing line between personal choice and mind control?
The term brainwashing comes from the Chinese term xinao, which literally means "wash brain" and refers to the idea of cleansing or purifying a person's thoughts so they are right thinking and therefore right acting. The first serious studies of this subject were conducted in the early 1950s, the most famous and public of them written up by Robert J. Lifton in his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study in 'Brainwashing' in China which fed into the then-popular notion of the creation of a Manchurian candidate. Those were the Red Scare days when McCarthyism had taken strong hold in Washington and anyone and everyone could possibly be a Soviet or Communist spy. Brainwashing was a theory which explained how POWs during the Korean War could be made to issue public statements against their country of origin and the government they were fighting for. The theory soon proved to be a fact when the techniques of overt and covert manipulation were broken down and examined more closely.
Lifton's book was published in 1961 but five years earlier, the US Army had concluded that brainwashing was not really a thing. This was very surprising since the Army's report shows that it most certainly was a thing. In the pamphlet entitled Communist Treatment of Prisoners of War - A Historical Survey, Senator James O. Eastland comments in the introduction about the commonality of experience between Russian, Chinese and Korean POWs and how the Geneva Convention was routinely violated in their treatment since the POWs were considered political pawns more than human beings. The report itself states: