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Debunking the Myth of Mind-Control

Robert Jay Lifton

Robert Jay Lifton is mostly known for two books. One, fairly recent, "Destroying the World to Save It" (1999), delineates the seven criteria that make a religious or political group dangerous. This is most relevant to the World Trade Center tragedy of Sep 11, 2001. The other book, which Diane Richardson analysis herewith, "Thought reform and the psychology of totalism" (1961), deals with the eight criteria of  "thought reform", a concept which has been grossly distorted and exploited by anti-cultist in support for a primitive "brainwashing" theory that Lifton himself has denounced and called a "demonology" in disguise.


Even though they make a heavy use of Lifton's eight criteria, what anti-cultists like Steve Hassan, Margaret Singer, or Rick Ross call "mind-control" is not supported by Lifton, nor by his book, which is what Diane Richardson exposes here. This also has been otherwise discussed in scholarly papers.

The WTC tragedy can be explained in terms of religious indoctrination and care must be taken not to 1) make an amalgam with all Muslim teachings which ignorant outsiders try to do to lump together fanatical groups with the more mainstream peace-loving majority of believers and 2) make an amalgam with phobic and supersititous claims of "brainwashing" and "mind-control" heavily promoted by anti-cultists in their attempt to lump relatively innocuous minority religious groups with more fanatical and dangerous ones.

 

Usenet post from the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.

Source: Lifton's "Thought Reform & the Psychology of Totalism": A Critique

Diane Richardson <referen@bway.net>

12 Apr  97

Message_ID: <5ip3ge$25l@lois.zippo.com>

Martin Hunt has posted names of a number of researchers and asked me to post excerpts from their works. I have recently been reading Robert Jay Lifton's "Thought Reform & the Psychology of Totalism" (Norton, 1961). This book is often cited as the seminal work in the development of various "mind control" theories (namely, those of Singer and Hassan). At the end of his book, Lifton presents eight criteria which he suggests can measure the amount of "totalism" present in any environment. Some (but not all) of these criteria have been adopted by Singer and Hassan as their own criteria to determine whether or not an organization should be labeled a "dangerous cult."

Since the book is lengthy (510 pages), rather than post the entire book, I offer this critique.

General Observations

This book was not at all what I expected it to be. Lifton describes himself as a "neo-Freudian," and a large part of the book delves into the childhood experiences of the various people he interviewed. Lifton attempts to relate each subject's coping skills while in a "totalist environment" to the patient's childhood experiences -- especially the relationship to father and/or mother.

Lifton presents a series of case studies. Surprisingly, none of his patients were military prisoners of war. Lifton interviewed a total of 40 subjects. He presents detailed case studies of eleven of these subjects in his book. These case studies consist primarily of personal histories and might make entertaining reading for those pf a voyeuristic bent.

Lifton's 40 subjects fall into one of two groups: 25 Western civilians imprisoned in Chinese jails and 15 Westernized Chinese intellectuals who fled mainland China to refuge in Hong Kong after having had some experience with Communist "re-education colleges."

The Western Prisoners

Lifton deals with the experiences of the Western civilians and the Westernized Chinese in two separate sections of his book. I will comment upon both.

All of the Western civilian citizens incarcerated in Chinese prisons became Lifton's subjects after they were released from prison and transported from China to Hong Kong. The majority of the 25 released civilian prisoners were missionaries (13); also represented were businessmen (4), journalists (2), physicians (2), a research scholar (1), a university professor (1), a sea captain (1), and a housewife (1).

NONE (that's right, not one) of these subjects was successfully "converted" to Communism. They all related experiences of how they learned to "play the game." Learning the rules of the game was more difficult for some than for others, but in the end they all learned.

The rules of the game were: invent a criminal activity, admit to criminal activity, confess your crime, repent, participate in group study, reflect on your life and invent even more crimes, confess to those crimes, repent, pretend you've been redeemed, get released from prison and go home. The big catch, and the part most difficult for the Westerners to adjust to, was that the invented crimes had to sound believable and the pretended confessions had to sound real.

A few of the Western prisoners had more difficulty than the rest in learning how to play the game. These Westerners received more severe treatment (beatings and torture) than others who caught onto the game early and played their assigned roles well. A couple of the Western prisoners told Lifton that they went through brief periods when they were unsure if they actually *were* criminals, but none of them embraced Communism because of these doubts.

Other prisoners stated that they developed a new sensitivity about the poor, the uneducated, the "masses," which they'd never thought about before their incarceration. This is the closest to "thought reform" that any of them underwent.

Several of the prisoners went through what might be termed "nervous breakdowns" while in prison. Since of they were subjected to severe torture (one had his back broken and received minimal medical treatment) and prolonged interrogation, the "breakdowns" appear to be a reaction to physical abuse and abysmal living conditions rather than efforts at "thought reform."

All-in-all, the stories told in the book make for an interesting read. None of the stories demonstrates that Chinese "thought reform" methods were effective at converting prisoners into good Communists. In fact, thought reform was a total failure. Rather, the stories demonstrate the incredible resilience of humans in the face of inhumane treatment.

At this point, nearly halfway through the book, I began wondering when Lifton was going to show the Communists' successful use of thought reform techniques. He identified the techniques utilized by the prison guards and interrogators, but failed to present a single incident when these these techniques were used with success.

I decided that Lifton would present successful applications of thought reform measures in the next section of his book, which contained his interviews with Westernized Chinese intellectuals. I'll report on that section in my next post to this thread.

Diane Richardson
referen@bway.net

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Defense Introduction - Announcement - William's Sins Bainbridge - Timothy Miller - Hunts Attack - Robert Jay Lifton - Pattern of Defense - Loaded Language - Margaret Singer - DSM -1V - Clark's Defense -Kaplan and Saddock - Sociologist Vs Psychologist - Milieu Control - Hugglung's Reaction  Salibo on Singer - APA Statement - The Rabbits Foot



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This web site is NOT created by a Scientologist. It is created by a Scientology EX-MEMBER who is critical of Scientology. However, this ex-member is ALSO critical of the anti-Scientology movement. This does not make him a Scientologist, nor a defender of Scientology.

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