People who intimidate others for speaking freely are getting a lot of ink on today’s front pages. Somewhere on one end of the spectrum are college students who agitate to fire professors and administrators who aren’t enough in line with politically correct agendas. Then, way on the other end of the spectrum, the death cult called ISIS executes those it perceives to be out of line with its agenda.
Obviously, it runs a wide gamut. But if we’re honest, we can see that these cases represent different stages along the same well-worn path of tyranny. The dynamics are similar wherever there is obstruction of the free exchange of ideas. They include: using silencing tactics to achieve conformity of thought; blind rage and intolerance towards any ideas that diverge from the agenda; and all-out efforts to eliminate perceived enemies.
But the visible actors who are shutting down freedom seem not to be free agents themselves. They act more like recruits whose behavior has been conditioned through political correctness, an effective behavior modification tool. It’s been entrenched for decades in the West, in education, media, and pop culture. With terrorists, we know that indoctrination is far more direct.
Either way, messing with your mind—or coercive thought reform—is a common denominator of any agenda that depends on shutting down real conversation. Whatever the grievance du jour, it serves mostly as a distraction from the main goal: collectivist conformity that ends up empowering an elite. Campuses are prime recruiting grounds.
Indeed, there seems to be a lot of mind-hacking going on. One example is how elites from the divestment movement recruit and mobilize college students to agitate for them and shut down free speech. The National Association of Scholars just put out a report on that, which is cited in Joy Pullmann’s insightful Federalist article, “The Anti-Speech Agitator’s Handbook.” Can we at least start trying to understand how mind-hacking works on us?
Your Mind Is a Target
One reason the situation has gotten so dire: there has been virtually no public awareness about how to keep our minds free from undue influence. The public has been in the dark for a long time about how coercive persuasion works and our susceptibility to it. In the meantime, we obliviously subject our brains to ever more influences through tech devices that stream all manner of “information” to us 24/7.
It didn’t have to be this way. More than 30 years ago, in the wake of much cult activity, the American Psychological Association (APA) actually set up a task force to improve public awareness about how coercive thought reform works. But, in the end, the APA decided on the advice of outside “experts” to dismiss and suppress that task force’s report. I’ll say a bit more on that DIMPAC report below.
In the meantime, absent such self-awareness, people seem to have become increasingly susceptible to agitators, demagogues, and propagandists. The politically correct college campus is probably the most unsafe place for free minds today. One case in point is the recent invasion of a library on the Dartmouth College campus in which agitators harassed and smeared students who did not join them.
The obvious intent of that stunt was to cultivate more conformity of thought, fueling more mass delusion.
Student agitators are not the root of the problem, though. They seem more like victims of coercive persuasion since universities stopped valuing independent thought for conformist thought. They’re easy targets for mind-rape by the elites and lobbies who can use them for mass mobilization behind various agenda items. We can now see the student agitators acting as deployable agents for hacking the minds of others. Kind of like a Borg.
To resist this (submission is futile) we must first be aware of our own human susceptibility to coercive thought reform and mind manipulation. So, where to start?
Ten Resources to Jumpstart Conversations about Mind-Rape Prevention
Why not start a mind-rape prevention book club? Students who wish to retain their sanity on PC-conditioned campuses should be especially interested in exploring this. But everyone should try to learn how to fight mob psychology either on their own, or, ideally, in conversations with others.
Below is a very select list of books and other materials that can help to inoculate the mind against mass delusion. None of the titles are recent. That’s partly because I’ve found the greatest clarity and respect for independent thought in material written decades ago.
1. “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside,” by Doris Lessing (1986). “How is it that so-called democratic movements don’t make a point of instructing their members in the laws of crowd psychology, group psychology?” Bingo! That’s a key question at the center this 77-page essay series that looks at the debilitating effects of groupthink on human happiness and well-being.
Lessing (1919-2013) was a famous icon of feminism, a Nobel laureate, and a strong opponent of totalitarianism. In this book, she suggests that power elites actually hoard knowledge about thought reform techniques to advance their own agendas. To that I say “bingo” again. Lessing is a thoughtful antidote to help individuals resist groupthink and influence others to do same. This book would be an excellent choice for on-campus circulation.
2. “The Rape of the Mind: the Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing” (1956). This book cracks the code on groupthink. Dutch psychiatrist Joost Meerloo wrote it after the Stalinist show trials resulted in high-level Soviet officials confessing to crimes they did not commit, even asking for their own executions. Meerloo analyzes with the sharpest of insights “the methods by which systematic mental pressure brings people to abject submission, and by which totalitarians imprint their subjective ‘truth’ on their victims’ minds.” This is the book that prompted me to write my Federalist article “How to Escape the Age of Mass Delusion,” which Rush Limbaugh discussed at length on his show in June.
3. “Cults in Our Midst,” by Margaret Thaler Singer (1995). Singer (1921-2005) explains how coercive persuasion causes people to do things they would have never dreamt about had they not fallen under its influence. Singer zeroes in on “the packaging of the influence techniques of coordinated programs of coercive influence and behavior control.”
The tactics of a thought reform program are organized to do three things: destabilize a person’s sense of self; get the person to alter his or her worldview and accept a new version of reality; and develop dependency in the person, turning him into a deployable agent for the controller or the agenda.
Singer warned that cult techniques “should be studied and revealed so that citizens can be taught countermeasures in order to avoid being exploited by such groups.” She also warned: “The psycho-technology of thought reform is not going to go away… Education, information and vigilance are constantly needed if we are to keep us, and our minds, free.” (For more, see this Federalist article on the case of Patty Hearst.)
4. The APA-suppressed DIMPAC report. DIMPAC stands for “Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control.” In the aftermath of so much mind control and cult activity in the twentieth century—which seemed to culminate in the 1978 Jonestown massacre—the American Psychological Association assigned cult expert Margaret Thaler Singer to head up a task force that would assess the situation and provide recommendations to the APA. This included promoting public awareness to help ordinary Americans learn more about the tactics and methods of coercive persuasion.
However, after the report was ready to go, the APA decided to dismiss and even suppress it, on the advice of outside “experts,” one of whom derided the whole idea that people can be brainwashed. The DIMPAC report is extremely difficult to locate on the Internet. I’ve linked to one (incomplete) copy of it here.
5. “The Manipulated Mind: Brainwashing, Conditioning, and Indoctrination,” by Denise Winn (1983). This book is a fantastic primer. You’ll come away with a clearer picture of the vulnerability of the human mind to harmful influences. In just over 200 easy-to-read pages, Winn gives you key insights from the giants of mind control research and famous experiments on social conformity, such as those of Solomon Asch.
For young adults, Winn’s book promises a lot of insights about how others can use their their insecurities, deep feelings, and “learned helplessness.” Once we become aware of how propaganda uses our buried resentments and hurt feelings, we are less likely to become unwitting agents for those who seek to close our minds to separate us from others and use us. In her preface to the 2000 edition of the book, Winn felt that her original case still held. I would say even more so today.
6. “Influence,” by Robert B. Cialdini (1984). Cialdini has been a professor of both marketing and psychology. He’s also been described as the “godfather of persuasion.” His bestseller, “Influence,” is filled with amazing insights about how people can be manipulated. He identifies six “weapons of influence:” reciprocation, scarcity, authority, consistency, consensus, and liking. It is worth mentioning that Cialdini was one of the leading social psychologists who worked with the Obama presidential campaigns.
7. “The Undiscovered Self,” by the renowned psychotherapist Carl Jung (1957) is a very slim volume—basically a long essay—packed with insights about how manipulating the human psyche ends up empowering the mass state and destroying individual freedom.
Here’s an excerpt: “The mass State has no intention of promoting mutual understanding and relationship of man to man; it strives, rather, for atomization, for the psychic isolation of the individual. The more unrelated individuals are, the more consolidated the State becomes, and vice versa.” Jung warned that we must build self-awareness—we must understand our psychological vulnerabilities—if we are to resist the machinations of the mass state in modern times. I fear it’s a warning that has gone unheeded for far too long.
8. “We,” by Yevgeniy Zamyatin. “We” is a novel of dystopian fiction, smuggled out of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. It’s the book that inspired George Orwell to write “1984.” It would make an amazing book club choice for lively discussion.
It’s the story of mechanized life in a total surveillance state. The action takes place in a future in which humans are just pieces of the great collective “We.” Individuals and “private children” are so yesterday. Man has been freed from the burden of freedom, under the watchful eye of their Benefactor. The narrator, D-503, is the builder of the “Integral,” a spacecraft intended to bring this mechanized society of clockwork “perfection” to the entire universe, in Borg fashion. But there are pockets of resistance in the One State. “We” is a story that illustrates the inextricable link between utopia and terror.
9. NJ Safe and Sound is an organization intended to guard against family separation through the cult technique known as “predatory alienation.” I include it here as a potential resource that sheds another angle of light on coercive persuasion.
The focus is how groupthink (particularly that of cults) and indoctrination takes its toll on family life and often ruptures relationships. The website is filled with information about how to arm loved ones against being targeted and exploited. Of special interest is their pamphlet on “How to Recognize a Mind Hacker.” I also list this resource because it includes a general reading list of books and articles about undue influence and thought control.
10. “The Power of the Powerless” (1978) is an extraordinary essay written by the Czech playwright, dissident, and later president Vaclav Havel (d. 2017). In it he explains how freedom from the bonds of totalitarianism and groupthink must come from “the hidden sphere,” which means private life, private conversations, and personal relationships. From that sphere, change reverberates outward as a ripple effect.
Havel’s essay is long and sometimes dense, but it’s filled with amazing stories, such as how a green grocer can change others’ perspective simply by removing from his window the shopworn sign that is a slogan of support for the regime. (Mollie Hemingway provided a wonderful analysis of Havel’s green grocer example in her Federalist article about the forced resignation of Brendan Eich.)
In these times of growing confusion and delusion, we must try to learn all we can about how to keep our minds free from coercive manipulation. Let’s recognize political correctness for what it really is: a political tool to imprison us into conformity of thought. The PC-induced “safe spaces” on campuses amount to nothing more than Pavlovian conditioning chambers. Sane spaces—places that allow real learning and real relationships—are what people really need, because without free expression, there is no diversity.