|As the writer of a recent pop song lamented, perhaps inelegantly
but nonetheless perceptively:
To the person who penned those words, the cause for distress was not likely any aspect of the so-called "cult phenomenon." Still, they do sum up the dilemma the study faced as it attempted to evaluate allegations that the movements employ mind control techniques -- specifically brainwashing and hypnosis -- to convert and hold recruits.
Obviously, something has been happening. It is extraordinary to see recruits embracing radical new beliefs with suddenness and fervour and their self-sacrificing devotion to the groups. Perhaps especially in times such as ours, when secularism is said to reign and selflessness supposedly is rare, it seems it would require something more than friendly persuation to explain such conversions. But can they really be the products of mind control? Brainwashing? Hypnosis? Mental kidnapping? Psychological enslavement?
To a majority of anti-cultists, many of whom have undergone conversions themselves, there is no doubt. And the study must admit that their arguments have a compelling quality. The analogies they draw between classical mind control techniques and conversion practices of many cults, sects, mind development groups and new religions are strikingly apt in many respects.
In the final analysis, though, the study could not confirm that the groups' practices constitute actual brainwashing or hypnosis. And while the study believes the practices are designed to play heavily on the emotions and psyche, it could envisage no way of effectively legislating against their use.
There is no doubt, as far as the study is concerned, that most of the groups under examination do employ emotionally and psychologically taxing techniques in the conversion of recruits. Many of their practices clearly are intended to make recruits doubt relationships and activities of their past and press them to accept new, radically different beliefs and life-styles. It also is readily apparent that the movements employing such techniques are highly effective; people do change radically and certainly not always to their own benefit.
However, this description also fits many a religious, social, political, psychotherapeutic, fraternal, or other organization whose practices never have been considered to be beyond the range of the acceptable. The adherents of these organizations can manifest fanatical attachment, resistance to alternative views, and hostility to criticism. Their speech can become studded with the clichés of their groups and their time and energies consumed in service to their causes or leaders.
Does that mean that we must accept coercive practices by some movements just because other organizations employ them? Certainly not. It does mean, though, that we must be prepared either to restrain all organizations equally or somehow identify legislatively definable ways to differentiate between what the movements do and what others do.
The study doubts that society is prepared to do the former. It would not tolerate the wholesale prohibition of fire-and-brimstone revivalism, rousing political oratory, encounter-based psychotherapy, religious retread and asceticism, or other such emotionally and psychologically taxing techniques of persuation and conversion.
Nor could the study currently see any way of doing the latter. Even the ardent anti-cultists interviewed by the study, could not draw substantial distinctions between for examples, cultic milieu control and the rigours of a remote, monastic retreat. It was argued that there was a difference. The movements employed pressure tactics in battery while other groups used fewer and used them less intensively. But the study did not envy those drafting legislation who might have to define the point where the coercive pressure of persuasive or conversion techniques becomes illegal.
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