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Is Conversion Voluntary?

Study of Mind Development Groups, Sects and Cults in Ontario

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PREFACE
INTRODUCTION
HISTORY
DEFINITIONS
THE PHENOMENON
DEPROGRAMMING
THE DEBATE
ONTARIO
RECOMMENDATIONS
CONCLUSIONS
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Forewords
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Brainwashing and Hypnosis
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Is Conversion Voluntary?
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Same Problem with Hypnotism
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Conclusion
qnote.gif (173 bytes) Health
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qnote.gif (173 bytes) Threat to the Family
qnote.gif (173 bytes) Deception and Fraud
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Deprogramming
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General Conclusions
Even if it were possible to draft these kinds of legislative distinctions, though, another issue would put the legitimacy of the effort in doubt. There still would remain the vexing question of how far a recruit is brainwashed or hypnotized into conversion and how far he is acting on free will.

As Dr. Saul Levine suggests in the report on his sub-study, there is ample reason to believe that the movements are not required to use much persuasion in many, perhaps most, cases. In these instances, those who join the groups are well on their way to conversion to an undefined something before they come into contact with specific movements. In any attempt to apportion responsibility for a conversion, Dr. Levine says:

The confounding factor may be the initiative or convert himself... in all the cases we have examined, members before joining were characterized by having significant voids in their lives. They experienced alienation, demoralization and low self-esteem, and many were looking for answers to life's perennial dilemmas. A group which fills these voids and promises answers, attracts these particularly disposed individuals. But the crucial ingredient is the predisposition... The conversion experience is a revelation to these individuals... Because of their extreme need to believe and belong and to feel good about themselves, the group may have to do very little to convert new recruits. They almost do it themselves... that control is often self-generated.

Quite aside from questions of whether conversion is self-induced, opinions of clinicians interviewed by the study varied considerably about the extent, if any, to which the groups were capable of depriving recruits of their free will. Some believed the groups were fully capable of suspending the individual's capacity for critical judgment and free choice. Others believed the individual could never be robbed of his rationality and freedom of choice nor, by the same token, relieved of responsibility for what happened to him. Still others felt that at some indistinguishable point, which probably varies from one individual to another, some practices might have the effect of negating freedom of thought and action.

Are brainwashing and hypnosis facts in the movements, then? Or are they inappropriate images that a former member and his family might use to divest themselves of responsibility for an embarrassing episode? The study has no conclusive answer to these questions, for there seems to be no firm consensus on them even among those schooled in the study of the mind.

For now, the study can acknowledge "brainwashing" only as a highly colourful and intriguing metaphor for what happens, not only in movements examined here, but in many other high-pressure organizations with stirring causes and charismatic leadership. Even the parallels that Robert J. Lifton and others draw between classical brainwashing and the movements' practices fail to demonstrate that the two are anything more than analogous. As Dr. Levine notes, each characteristic of mind control established by Lifton is open to broad interpretation. "They do not lend to concise measurement," he adds, "and one is still left with a controversy as to whether brainwashing is being practised by the cult."

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Because of their extreme need to believe and belong and to feel good about themselves, the group may have to do very little to convert new recruits. They almost do it themselves... that control is often self-generated.

 

 

 

 

Are brainwashing and hypnosis facts in the movements, then? Or are they inappropriate images that a former member and his family might use to divest themselves of responsibility for an embarrassing episode?

 

 

For now, the study can acknowledge "brainwashing" only as a highly colourful and intriguing metaphor for what happens, not only in movements examined here, but in many other high-pressure organizations with stirring causes and charismatic leadership.

 

 

 

Even the parallels that Robert J. Lifton and others draw between classical brainwashing and the movements' practices fail to demonstrate that the two are anything more than analogous.

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