Debunking the Myth of Mind-Control
Develops the notion that there are many more valid alternative explanations for cult involvement than mind-control or brainwashing and mentions the fact that most ex-members who believe they have been victim of mind-control have been indoctrinate in the idea by anti-cult activists.
Diane Richardson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
08 Apr 97
Joe Harrington <email@example.com> wrote:
>Thanks for posting this excellent review and it certainly call into question the validity of Steve Hassan's followers and proponents of "mind control" theories etc.
Here's another one, Joe. This one comes from "America's Alternative Religions," edited by Timothy Miller (State University of New York Press, 1995).
Why Do People Join?
What is the underlying appeal of the alternative religions? That question has as many answers as alternative religions have members. Some join out of intellectual assent to the group's principles. Some are idealists who see particular groups as good vehicles for improving society. Some join because they like the people they have met in a group and feel at home there, just as they might join a mainstream religion for that reason. Some join communal movements for the security they offer. Many simply join experimentally, checking out life's options, which helps explain why alternative religions' attrition rates are so high. It stands to reason that most converts join for some personal gain; many point to benefits they have received from membership, ranging from improved health (often in the form of escaping drug dependency) to education and self-improvement to a sense of warm community to -- not insignificantly -- profound spiritual experience.
Many anticult activists allege that recruits often join "cults" because they are subjected to brainwashing, to some sort of mind control. While it is true that religions of all types (especially conversion-oriented evangelical Protestantism) use psychological pressure to try to induce persons to join (what is more anxiety producing than the threat that one will suffer eternity in torment if one does not join a particular religion?), there is no evidence that most alternative religions use, on a systematic basis, conversion techniques more intimidating than those generally accepted as legitimate in more conventional religious circles. Moreover, it is of significance that the typical former member of an alternative religion who alleges that he or she has been psychologically abused by the "cult" typically left the group via deprogramming -- an admittedly intense use of sophisticated psychological tools and techniques designed to induce one to change one's mind and behavior. As Eileen Barker has put it, some of them are "taught, while undergoing forcible deprogramming, that they were brainwashed."
Certainly those who convert have some predisposition toward joining. Alternative religions often recruit among the young, whose lifeways are not yet firmly established and who are therefore open to new ways of thinking and behaving. Victor Turner and others have emphasized that the initiate joining a new religion or making other comparable life changes is in a state of liminality, of transition. A person unsure about his or her future (one nearing completion of college and not sure what will follow, for example), or one who has gone through a major life transition (the breakup of a serious romance, for example), may be more open to a dramatic change of direction in life than one who is more settled. The fact that one is predisposed to a life change prior to conversion, however, hardly means that the conversion process itself necessarily involves ethically repugnant levels and types of psychological pressure that could be deemed mind control. James T. Richardson, after surveying a wide variety of scholarly and popular literature on the subject, has concluded that
proponents of the brainwashing thesis. . . have not produced . . . hard evidence to support their position. From our perspective, the burden of proof is on those who proffer the brainwashing hypothesis. Until such evidence is forthcoming, we shall place confidence in the rapidly accumulating body of data which yields a more complex, if mundane, explanation for the affiliation and disaffiliation processes.
Many of those who allege mind control also decry the alternative religions for "totalism," for orchestrating virtually the entire lives of members. Certainly something like totalism exists in some religions, to some extent; as Bryan Wilson has written:
New religions tend to set spontaneity, immediacy, and sincerity over against the cultivated and measured responses of conventional religion. They call for total allegiance rather than more regular and regulated religious observance. Thus they mobilize enthusiasm at a level which is not usually attained in traditional religion and which, when it does abnormally occur there, is a source of embarrassment to other believers, with their moderated expectations concerning religious performance.
Wilson goes on, however, to note that religions tend to have problems maintaining such intensity, that they soon are forced to undergo the phenomenon of routinization and emphasize stability over ecstasy. In any event, it is worth noting that the most sustained example of "totalism" in the Western world has been Catholic monasticism, which demands obdience, voluntary poverty, total sexual abstinence, and lifetime commitment. The life may be intense and dedicated, but by no rational standard are most who choose to undertake such a path abused.
The brainwashing/totalism controversies aside, one can no more attribute conversion to a single cause than one can say that all married persons decided to get married for the same reasons. Humanity is more complex than that. Moreover, the world of alternative religions is a world of amazing diversity; groups differ enormously, and their appeal to specific persons varies widely. The peculiar chemistry of a particular individual and a particular group is different in each case.
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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