Brainwashing, or thought control, is a method used by false schools, destructive mind control cults, and other forms of sham religion to exert control over their members. An important part of the work is to recognize and avoid this in yourself and others.
Anyone can become subject to brainwashing. The presence of one or more of the characteristic errors on the way prepares the ground for, and increases your susceptibility to, this loss of individual self-control and the loss of the possibilities of your higher inner development.
Often when you meet someone who is suffering from brainwashing or thought control, and you ask them about the group they are involved in with skepticism, they will cheerfully ask you if they look like they are brainwashed; but in most cases, if you ask them how to recognize someone who is brainwashed, they will be unable to tell you. If they can, they may still be unable to see their own brainwashing due to the presence of buffers. The term `brainwashing' comes from the Chinese language xi nao, which means literally wash brain, that is, `purify thoughts'.
The presence of any of these errors makes the group a candidate for classification as a destructive influence. When you come across such a group, proceed carefully and do not overestimate your own ability to remain free from its influence.
- The standard reference work on brainwashing and mind-control is by Robert Jay Lifton, MD, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China.
- Other useful cult information links are available in the Fourth Way Café
Group seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads and writes, experiences, and expresses), but also in its penetration of his inner life over what may be called his communication with himself; creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.
No-holds-barred extensive personal manipulation, seeks to provoke specific patterns of behaviour and emotion in such a way that these will appear to have arisen spontaneously from the environment; this planned spontaneity assumes a near-mystical quality for the person manipulated.
Divides the world of experience into two (formatory): pure/impure, absolutely good/absolutely evil, us/them, school/`life'; everything contributing to the state of impurity/evil/them/`life' must be searched out and eliminated; creates environment of guilt and shame.
Spoken or implied demand that one confess to crimes one has not committed, to sinfulness that is artificially induced, in the name of a cure, or `work', that is arbitrarily imposed; exploitation of vulnerabilities.
Maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as the ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence; evident in the prohibition (explicit or implicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, in the reverence demanded for the originators of the teaching, the present bearers of the teaching, and the teaching itself; while thus transcending ordinary concerns of logic, however, it makes an exaggerated claim of airtight logic, of absolute `scientific' precision.
Uses language characterised by the thought-terminating cliché the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed (formatory phrases).
Subordination of human experience to the claims of doctrine, evident in the continual shift between experience itself and the highly abstract interpretation of such experience, between genuine feelings and a spurious cataloging of feelings; produces a peculiar aura of half-reality in the environment, at least to the outsider.
Draws a sharp line between two groups (formatory): those whose right to existence can be recognized (e.g. `school' people), and those who possess no such right (e.g. `life' people); but declares that by entering the thought reform environment, such `life' people can make themselves over into `school' people.