There is a dangerous term that a handful of mass-media outlets are attempting to popularize a redefinition of, and that is the term “brainwashing”.
It has been used to vilify members of various religious movements, but now specifically targets my own religion, to infer that Scientologists who like Scientology did not decide such on their own free will, but instead were somehow involuntarily – and by some undefined, mystical means – put under a magical spell causing them to find their religion agreeable to them. Then, this same poorly-defined logic infers that only those individuals who have committed the requisite theft, physical abuse, sexual misconduct, or slander, are then “broken from the spell” and manage to “think clearly”.
The logic is insane and disingenuous, but it is being used in a calculated fashion by the media to shut down meaningful discussion and understanding of my religion. As such, I find it vital that people understand what this really is, and just why this term’s sudden popularity is dangerous not just for the witch hunts it engenders upon poorly-understood minority religions like my own, but for free-thinking people everywhere who have a belief of ANY SORT which is contrary to the mainstream media narrative.
It also leads to a dangerous climate for my family, my friends, and for anyone who has a belief which is contrary to the mass-media narrative.
What is Brainwashing? Is it real?
So, before we get into a discussion about just how ludicrous (and calculatedly evil) this entire re-branding of “brainwashing” is, let’s take a moment to understand what that term means.
In popular fiction, there are countless examples of mind-control techniques where the poor, unsuspecting good guy is forced to do the bidding of the evil overlord because of magical mind control. From Loki’s staff in the Avengers – where a simple touch of it to the chest would make you suddenly think everything Loki said made sense, to Jedi mind tricks in Star Wars where the wave of a hand could instantly affect the weak minded, it’s fairly well-ingrained in popular culture that – in fiction at least – it’s possible to magically change someone’s mind without their consent.
But in the real world, we don’t have Loki’s staff, or the Force. And, scientifically speaking, “brainwashing” is also not real. Brainwashing is a broad term for a psychological theory for mind control, made into partial reality by interrogation programs such as the now-partially-declassified MKUltra project run by the CIA, where it involves the systematic breaking down of someone’s ability to think and act independently, through the use of torture, sleep and food deprivation, as well as powerful drugs such as LSD. It would be highly and extremely illegal to attempt this in any country that I’m aware of, and I doubt that even any current military organization in any country freely admits that they do it.
Origin of the “Brainwashing” Hoax
The notion that “brainwashing” can be employed to unwillingly change someone’s view on something was actually originally promoted by none other than the infamous and thoroughly-discredited Margaret Singer, who tried to convince courts that there was something called “brainwashing” and that it was used by new religious movements (Hari Krishna, Unification Church, etc) to unwillingly recruit members.
However, this was thoroughly debunked as of the 70’s as being an utter hoax.
From religious scholar J. Gordon Melton on brainwashing:
It is this very idea, popularly called brainwashing, which had been discredited by the work of Lifton and Schein, and had never gained any scientific credibility. And was this very idea that she [Singer] had avoided stating in many of her published works, as had, for example Conway and Siegelman. Anthony appears to have been the first to note the gap between her published articles and her testimony, to gather the relevant documents, and to pursue the idea in several articles and court documents. […]
Previously Singer had claimed that her theory was primarily based upon the research on communist thought reform by Lifton and Schein. Anthony argued in his article that Singer’s testimony confused two different approaches to evaluating Communist Chinese interrogation and indoctrination methods which were actually antithetical to each other, i.e. the brainwashing paradigm which had been rejected by a consensus of qualified scientists, on the one hand, and the views of Lifton, Schein and other recognized experts on the other.
According to Anthony, the brainwashing paradigm was and is actually pseudoscience. It began as a propaganda ploy which was developed by the American CIA to counter Communist propaganda that clamed that Western POWs in Korea and civilian prisoners on the Communist mainland were converting to Communism. The “brainwashing hoax”, as it was referred to by one researcher, claimed that the Communists had invented scientific techniques of coercive persuasion capable of forcing people to convert to Communism against their wills. The essence of the brainwashing notion is that people are put into a hyper-suggestible altered state of consciousness through hypnosis, drugs, debilitation or other means, and then their worldviews are transformed against their wills through conditioning techniques.
Anthony demonstrated that Lifton’s and Schein’s research refuted the brainwashing paradigm in eight major respects. For instance none of their subjects actually converted to Communism at any point.
So, whilst communist POW camps may not have had any success in executing mind control experiments, the CIA certainly tried.
From Psychiatrist Dr. Colin A. Ross’s dissertation on the MKUltra and military mind control projects:
In a series of MKULTRA projects, the CIA paid a former Bureau of Narcotics officer, George White, to set up safe houses in San Francisco and New York that were decorated like brothels. George White then hired prostitutes to pick up johns at bars, bring them back to the safe house, give them LSD without their knowledge, and then have sex with them. The CIA officers watched the sex through one-way mirrors. The project documents state that the purpose of the experiments was to test the effects of LSD on unwitting subjects under field conditions that mimicked an interrogation of a foreign operative.
In one of the memos contained in the MKULTRA files for these projects, however, another purpose of the safe house operation is revealed. The CIA was actually testing the performance of “Jekyll-Hyde” identities they had created in the prostitutes. They wanted to see if they could make female spies or female agents with alternate controllable personalities. Another purpose of these experiments was to test the CIA’s Manchurian Candidate prostitutes under conditions that mimicked a field operation. The johns were given LSD as part of the cover for testing the CIA’s female Manchurian Candidates prior to their use in actual operations (the mission being to have sex with and extract information from targets). The recruitment of street prostitutes provided an additional layer of cover for the testing of the Manchurian Candidates, plus it provided free live pornography for the CIA officers.
But understanding the above, I’m sure you can see one very important point:
Reading a book and then carefully evaluating whether it makes sense to you is not “brainwashing” nor can you possibly classify it as “mind control”. It is “READING A BOOK”, for Pete’s sake.
The vast majority of people who come in to Scientology read a book about it before ever stepping foot in a Scientology church. Others might get introduced by a friend, or brought in by family. But even in that case, even setting foot in a Scientology church does not (of course) make you a Scientologist.
The definition of a Scientologist, from L. Ron Hubbard’s book, Scientology: A New Slant on Life:
“One who betters the conditions of himself and the conditions of others by using Scientology technology.“
Meaning, you’re not a Scientologist at all unless you’ve – all on your own – studied a Scientology text, read it, thought about it, decided if it makes sense to you, tried to use it, found it works well for you, and decided – “Hey – this works pretty well! I think I’ll keep doing this.”
Until that point, you aren’t a Scientologist, no matter what family you were born into.
So, as you can see, the brainwashing myth is sort of falling apart, but let’s dissect this further.
Comparing Supposed Aspects of “Brainwashing” with Scientology
The actual act of what happens in any Scientology organization consists of one of three things:
- Reading books, by yourself, to yourself.
- Taking a course, on which you dictate the pace, and don’t finish it unless you are personally satisfied that you learned something, and can actually apply the material well in your life, and
- Counseling, which we call Auditing, where a Scientology auditor asks you carefully-worded questions, you then think about the answer, and you tell the auditor your answer.
The above can all be personally verified by ANYONE. Anyone reading this article is 100% able to walk into their local Scientology church, and get a tour through every last space and closet in the church, and personally see the spaces and activities listed above.
So, that being said, let’s do an informative comparison between brainwashing, and Scientology, and see what we come up with:
|Where it is done||Secret intelligence facilities that you aren’t allowed in, military prisons, brothels and CIA safe-houses, and in Star Wars by force-sensitive aliens.||Churches of Scientology that are open to the public for a complete tour.|
|How it happens||You’re a political dissident, illegal detainee or are otherwise held against your will by an intelligence organization and subjected to this.||You decide to read a book, and see if it makes sense to your or not.|
|Are drugs involved?||Powerful and highly-controlled / illegal drugs are employed to break down the subject’s willpower and ability to think coherently.||
|Sleep deprivation||Intense and medically-damaging sleep deprivation is an integral part of brainwashing and breaking down the subject.||Scientologists are required to get proper rest and to be well-fed before doing any Scientology services. If you come sleep-deprived to your local church for study or for counseling, you get sent home to go get proper rest.
Fun fact: It’s actually explicitly called-out in Scientology ethics & justice codes that those staff members supervising the study and counseling progress of parishioners MUST ensure those participants have sufficient food and sleep. Since the very beginning of the religion, it was found to be of such importance to the effectiveness of counseling, that Staff who allow participants to partake in Scientology auditing on insufficient sleep risk not only their jobs, but risk being expelled from the church. It’s that important.
|Use of torture||Physical harm is an integral part the technique of brainwashing.||People who dislike reading books might consider extensive reading to be “torture”. But for those of us who like to learn, there’s zero parallel here.
Scientology training involves sitting in a room and studying, and then practicing what you studied.
Scientology auditing generally involves sitting in a room or (sometimes) walking about, with the auditor never even touching the person being audited.
Further, even in matters of ethics and justice, staff are strictly and explicitly forbidden from inflicting any method of physical harm, and any perpetrator doing so would risk being expelled from the church.
Food for thought: It is an interesting corollary that in 30+ years in Scientology including 10 years as a staff member, the only instance where I’ve ever even HEARD of someone hitting someone else in a Scientology church, it was by the very people who are now accusing people of physical abuse in the Church.
|How your “mind is changed” for you||Willpower systematically broken down over a period of weeks or months by beating, drugs and sleep deprivation to where you’ll believe just about anything.||You read a book and think about it carefully and then decide if it makes sense to you.|
Dangers of Using the “Brainwashing” Epithet
For the same reason we remain sensitive to other racial and social slurs bandied about by media and celebrities, we must absolutely be aware of what people are trying to do when using the term “brainwashing”.
To illustrate this, what if the media popularized the use of the term “rape” to describe “any time there’s an amorous advance someone makes that we want to call attention to.”
Then, “Joe asked me out again, tonight” becomes “Joe raped me again tonight.” Or “I decided I wanted to start dating her” becomes “I got raped by her”.
Obviously this would create not only a false characterization of what’s actually happening, by the complete misuse of the term “rape”, it would also serve to desensitize the public to the actual practice of “rape” which is a dangerous and evil activity, and one which is a factual problem.
There is an actual problem regarding military psychiatrists and the clandestine intelligence agencies using powerful drugs and torture techniques to experiment on people in an attempt to forcefully change their beliefs or modify behavior. This is something people positively should be incensed about. However, then misappropriating the term for their criminal behavior and then applying it to a religious movement is calculatedly evil, and not an innocent slip-up at all.
So, next time you or someone around you uses the term “brainwashed”, refer them to the above, and figure out what it is you are actually trying to say. If the media succeeds in demeaning every educated dissenting opinion as being the result of “brainwashing”, they really will have created the Orwellian 1984 situation that we’re all trying so desperately to avoid.