of Mind-control and basis for the statement that the vast majority of
scholars who studies the cult mind-control issue think that there is no
ground for such a theory.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Bernie)
Date: Sat, 31 Jul 1999 19:02:49 GMT
What is cult mind-control?
The cult mind-control theory holds that "cults" recruit
and maintain members within their group by annihilating their
power of choice or free will. The reason this is referred to here
as "cult mind-control" and not simply
"mind-control" or "brainwashing" is that
anti-cultists believe that cults can achieve this without the use
of physical coercion. Check any of the anti-cult sites for the way
they think this is achieved (deception, exhaustion, etc). Others,
among which the vast majority of scholars who studied this
question, think that there is no ground for such a theory and that
it merely amounts to a fear-inducing and superstitious belief.
On 31 Jul 1999 00:41:52 -0700 Warrior
1) What is your definition of brainwashing?
Basically, as used in the cult context: what annihilates the
power of choice or free will of others. Note that this is not
necessarily my definition (I hardly have a definition for
something that doesn't exist), only what has been used by
anti-cultists to justify their abuses. For example, from the
famous Ted Patrick interview with Play Boy Magazine:
PLAY BOY: "But, again,
aren't you the one who is abusing people's freedom? Aren't you
the one who is depriving them of their First Amendment
PATRICK: I will fight and die to protect the First Amendment.
That is what I am fighting for. I believe a person should have
the right to worship the way he pleases, but when someone
destroys your free will and your ability to think and takes
your mind, you don't have any more rights. They have destroyed
your human rights and your constitutional rights. And I
haven't broken the law. These people have been rescued, not
kidnaped, and we have a law of justification that states that
a person is justified in committing an apparently illegal act
in an emergency to prevent a greater harm, if it is the lesser
of two evils. We now have conservatorship laws to give parents
custody of their children when they are in that state of mind.
Those laws didn't exist before I started what I am doing.
For that matters, exact definitions for cult mind-control by
anti-cultists have been notoriously evasive. Diane Richardson
I'm not even going to try to
dig out Margaret Singer's definition of the terms she uses
interchangeably in her book -- brainwashing, psychological
coercion, and though reform. She devotes 30 pages of her book
"Cults in Our Midst" to the subject but fails to
provide definitions for any of these terms.
Indeed, Singer held a broad and evasive language in her
public writing, while stepping much further in court
(link doesn't work anymore)
While quoting her mentor Edgar
Schein, [Singer] largely avoided discussions of two key
issues: the necessary element of coercion involved in the
process of coercive persuasion and the issue of the overriding
of the free will of people upon whom the persuasive techniques
However, in her court testimony
she consistently moved beyond her published articles to assert
that social and psychological techniques had been used by the
new religions on their members, and that these techniques had
effected the members ability to think clearly and make
decisions, but went on to assert that, in fact, the end result
of the process was (a) the overpowering of the person's free
will in making critical decisions and (b) the group's gaining
control that was virtually total. Singer's articles offered
several possibilities of interpretation. One, the social
influence approach, accepted that new religions, just as other
groups, influenced members, and that cults simply did it
somewhat more. The other, known as the robot theory, from the
use of that term by Edward Hunter, suggested far more. That
the free will of the person had been inhibited and that they
actually remained a member of the group against their will
because they were controlled by the group.
While a cursory reading of
Singer's writings through the 1980s could reach the conclusion
that she was simply articulating a social influence approach,
the articles served to provide a foundation from which the
so-called "robot" theory could be asserted in court.
This latter assertion was essential if court cases directed
against new religions were to have a claim of action that
justified the multi-million dollar judgments that were being
sought. Thus, it was in the depositions and court transcripts
that what became known as the "Singer hypothesis,"
the application of the "robot theory" of
brainwashing to cults was largely articulated, and it became
necessary to consult these documents to create a full respond
to her thought.
Diane used Hassan's "definition" as a basis for her
arguments in April 1997. Maybe you should check this thread out,
available on DejaNews. It's fairly comprehensive. The whole
mind-control issue has already been debated to death right in
this forum, and most of it has been done in this April thread
(in addition of many others):
Leafing through Steve Hassan's
book, it's difficult to find a real definition of what he
means by the term "mind control." Here's the closest
thing to a definition I can find in his book.
From "Combatting Cult Mind
Control," p. 54:
"While cult mind control
can be talked about and defined in many different ways, I
believe it is best understood as _a system which disrupts an
individual's identity_. The identity is made up of elements
such as beliefs, behavior, thought processes, and emotions
that constitute a definite pattern. Under the influence of
mind control, a person's original identity, as formed by
family, education, friendships, and most importantly that
person's own free choices, becomes replaced with another
identity, often one that he would not have chosen for himself
without social pressures."
2) What is the source of your claim that
"the vast majority of scholars who studied this
question" think there is no grounds for cult mind control?
You can find a very good summary of the historical background
for this controversy in the introduction made by Gordon Melton
to his upcoming book gathering the main documents about studies
conducted on this topic. The APA position, the Molko-Leal case,
and the Fishman case, have pretty much settled the issue
altogether at the academic and legal level.
Here are some excerpts from Melton's introduction to that
(link doesn't work anymore)
"As these opinions became
known at the end of the 1970s, they produced a storm of
comment and through the mid 1980s the issues were fully aired
at various scholarly gatherings, and a significant scholarly
consensus that the brainwashing model used by Singer and her
colleagues was woefully inadequate emerged. That consensus,
most clearly stated in the negative responses to the report
that Singer and her colleagues would prepare for the American
Psychological Association, would in turn be injected into the
court process in the late 1980s and lead to the rejection of
the "Singer hypothesis" by U.S. courts and a series
of reverses by the Cult Awareness Network and indeed the whole
anti-cult movement in the 1990s.
Through the early and middle
1980s, the brainwashing controversy generated hundreds of
papers and several books. After considering all of the
arguments put forth by the exponents of the Singer Hypothesis,
and listening to the counter arguments, one point of
overwhelming consensus had emerged, that brainwashing was an
inadequate model for understanding the dynamics operative in
new religious movements. That consensus was best stated in
several documents that appeared as the decade drew to a close
and was capped in the U. S. Federal Court decision in the case
of U.S. v. Fishman. The events leading up to Fishman were
launched in 1983 when the American Psychological Association
(APA), the major professional body of psychologists in the
United States formed a task force to study the theories of
coercive persuasion as advocated by Margaret Singer.
London drives home the failure
to provide supporting evidence of such a unique theory as that
offered by Singer and Ofshe, one that has been almost
uniformly rejected in the scientific literature. In this
regard, he conducted an independent search of the previous
fifteen years of psychological literature covering 1400
journals in 29 languages. His search yielded "no
empirical studies" supportive of her position and only a
modest number of speculative/ theoretical articles. London's
work drove another nail in the coffin into which the Singer
hypothesis had been placed by the APA and then by Anthony's
work. Echoing Anthony, he concludes most forcefully, "...
that what I have called the Robot Theory, meaning any theory
of social influence processes and/or irreversible social
influence processes and/or subversion of the will as a result
of these social influence processes, does not present an
argument which is generally accepted in contemporary
The APA documents further
stated the scholarly consensus of the inadequacies of the
coercive persuasion hypothesis as developed by Singer and
applied to new religious movements.
Since the late 1980s, though a
significant public belief in cult-brainwashing remains, the
academic community-including scholars from psychology,
sociology, and religious studies-have shared an almost
unanimous consensus that the coercive persuasion/brainwashing
thesis proposed by Margaret Singer and her colleagues in the
1980s is without scientific merit. To date, no one has come
forward to refute the arguments, especially those advanced by
Dick Anthony a decade ago, nor has the situation that Perry
London found concerning articles providing an empirical base
for the theory been reversed. Through the 1990s, it has been
difficult to locate any scholar in the English-speaking world
who has been willing to attempt a defense of it, and even
Singer herself has appeared to back away from her earlier
position. After the fall of the Cult Awareness Network, only
one American organization, the American Family Foundation,
continued to offer any support for the coercive persuasion
argument. Early in 1999, a second organization, The Leo J.
Ryan Foundation, has emerged to fill the vacuum left by the
former CAN. Almost all of the small cadre of scholars in North
America who have persisted in their belief in the brainwashing
theory are affiliated with one of these two organizations.
3) How many scholars did you study in
order for you to conclude, as you apparently do, that a "vast
majority" reject a belief in brainwashing?
I didn't count, but I am ready to bet it's more than you :-)
I have been reading on and off various things for the last 20
years. Maybe if you check the various mind-control related
documents and threads I have webbed on my site, you may have an
idea (and more is to come).
4) In other words, what is the total
number of scholars who have studied this subject, and what is the
total number of scholars who do not accept the existence of
brainwashing as you define it in number one?
From what I read it's the overwhelming majority, although I
doubt anyone has the precise figures. My estimate would be
something along 20 to 1, or much more. See the comments of
Gordon Melton right above, more precisely the London't study.
And if you cared to investigate the issue yourself you would
find that there are plenty of documents available to support
this point. Again I quote Diane from the mind-control thread of
My sources of information right now are all taken from the
shelves of Bobst Library, New York University's main library.
I could probably post excerpts from 200 paper debunking the
"mind control" theory for every one paper supporting
it. Even that ratio is wrong . . . perhaps it's more like 2000
debunks for every supporting paper.
5) Do you know whether the "vast
majority" define brainwashing the same as you define it?
The definition around which the debate centers is the kind
that have been used to deprive cult members of their rights,
i.e., the Robot Theory. That's what I use. It's the definition,
explicit or implicit, that has been used by anti-cult activists
to justify their actions, and the one tackled with by those who
debunked their theory.