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Date Posted: 07:32:13 05/14/04 Fri
Author: fellow christian
Subject: Brainwashing, Manipulation;The other side of the medal

Concerning the topics of "brainwashing" and "manipulation" I've looked around the web and came to an - for me - astonishing result. I realized that there is another side of the medal which I never heard of in this board. Now, since, most of you, pressumably, invest much more time in those issues than me, I whould have expected having heard about these aspects here too.

But nonetheless, let's come to the point. At first I looked at "wikipedia" for the term brainwashing. I read there about a "Brainwashing Controversy" and that finally,

"...Currently the concept of brainwashing is not used by most psychologists and social scientists, and the methods of persuasion and coercion used during the Korean War are not considered to be esoteric."

Now this was of course very interesting for my point of view and followed some external links on the bottom of the page. I came across a huge - in my terms - page, originally from professor Massimo Introvigne from Italy and the APA (American Psychological Association). Both conclude - in my own words - that there is no scientific term like brainwashing or "mind control" or "coercive persuation".

Let me just quote a large part of just one of the documents I found and let me know what you think, about those facts and if you knew about the controversy.

Here is the link of the article which I quote:

APA and Brainwashing: The Story and the Documents

Unfortunately for these conspiracy theorists, dozens of documents exist about the issue. A short review of the facts is now in order.

1. In the early 1980s, some U.S. mental health professionals became controversial figures for their involvement as expert witnesses in court cases against new religious movements, during which they presented their anti-cult theories of brainwashing, mind control, or “coercive persuasion” as if they were generally accepted concepts within the scientific community. In the meantime, in 1983, the American Psychological Association (APA) had accepted the proposal to form a task force called DIMPAC (Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control). Dr. Margaret Singer, the most vocal proponent of the anti-cult coercive persuasion theories, was asked to chair DIMPAC and report to APA’s Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility (BSERP). Singer personally recruited most of the DIMPAC members. They included, among others, Professor Louis J. West (arguably the most extreme anti-cultist among U.S. mental health professionals), and Michael D. Langone of the anti-cult American Family Foundation.

2. DIMPAC pursued its work for some years, whilst Dr. Singer and other professionals continued to appear as expert witnesses in court cases using their coercive persuasion and brainwashing theories. Dissatisfied with this continuing state of affairs, “on February 5, 1987, during its winter meeting, the APA Board of Directors voted for APA to participate in the [Molko ] case as an amicus” (American Psychological Association, Memorandum on APA’s activities regarding the Molko case, July 11, 1989, p. 1). Molko was a case pending before the California Supreme Court, involving issues of brainwashing and coercive persuasion with respect to the Unification Church. On February 10, 1987 APA joined other parties in submitting a brief in the Molko case. The brief stated that as applied to new religious movements, the theory of coercive persuasion “is not accepted in the scientific community” and that the relevant methodology “has been repudiated by the scientific community”. It would be difficult to state a position more clearly than that, and the brief also implied that, when applied to new religious movements, theories of mind control were uniformly regarded as “not accepted in the scientific community”, be they referred to as “brainwashing”, “mind control”, or - as Singer prefers -“coercive persuasion”.

3. Singer, and a number of her friends, complained that it was inappropriate for APA to remain in the Molko case because in doing so it was anticipating a verdict not yet rendered. In fact, the DIMPAC task force had not yet submitted its final draft report to BSERP and the latter, on behalf of APA, had not yet decided whether to accept or reject it. Bearing these arguments in mind, therefore, “the Board of Directors [of APA], in the spring of 1987, reconsidered its prior decision to participate in the brief and voted, narrowly, to withdraw” (APA Memorandum of July 11, 1989, p. 1). This means that “APA’s decision to withdraw from the case was based on procedural as opposed to substantive concerns. APA never rejected the brief on the ground that it was inaccurate in substance” (ibid., p. 2). When filing its March 24, 1987 motion to withdraw from the Molko case, APA cautioned that “by this action, APA does not mean to suggest endorsement of any views opposed to those set forth in the amicus brief” (ibid., p. 2). Summing up, in a brief filed in a court case in 1987 pursuant to a decision of its Board of Directors, APA declared that as applied to new religious movements, the theory of coercive persuasion “is not accepted in the scientific community”. APA subsequently withdrew from the case “based on procedural as opposed to substantive concerns” and “never rejected the brief on the ground that it was inaccurate in substance”.

4. The Molko brief was only one of the documents presented in 1987 in which APA declared that, as applied to new religious movements, the theory of coercive persuasion is not scientific. In fact, although Singer later claimed that all drafts were still provisional and that she needed more time, by the end of 1986 APA's BSERP had submitted the latest draft of the DIMPAC report both to internal reviewers and to two outside academics, namely Dr. Jeffrey D. Fisher and Dr. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. The latter was, and is, well-known for his lack of sympathy towards “cults”. On May 11, 1987 BSERP released a Memorandum, on behalf of APA, evaluating what it called the “Final Report of the Task Force”. The DIMPAC report was rejected because it “lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur”. The Memorandum contains five paragraphs plus enclosures, the latter including reviews by two BSERP members and two external experts. A version of the BSERP Memorandum was filed in different court cases, and was so widely circulated that, according to Singer herself, it could be regarded as having been “publicly distributed” (Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe, Summons in the case against American Psychological Association and others before the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Alameda, January 31, 1994, n. 110, p. 31). This version includes the two external reviews. The two internal reviews were not part of the document as “publicly distributed” although one, by Dr. Catherine Grady, was later quoted in a court case. Dr. Grady concluded that the techniques asserted by the task force as used by religious movements “are not defined and cannot be distinguished from methods used in advertising, elementary schools, main-line churches, AA and Weight Watchers”. References to “harm”, Grady wrote, were “extremely confused”: “It’s all unsubstantiated and unproved newspaper reports and unresolved court cases. It’s not evidence”, she said. External reviewer Jeffrey D. Fisher, of the University of Connecticut, wrote that the report was “unscientific in tone”, “biased in nature” and “sometimes (...) characterized by the use of deceptive, indirect techniques of persuasion and control - the very thing it is investigating”. “At times, the reasoning seems flawed to the point of being almost ridiculous”. The historical part on “cults”, Fisher wrote, “reads more like hysterical ramblings than a scientific task force report”. DIMPAC criticized the use by scholars of “new religious movements”, and insisted that “cults” should be used. Fisher commented that this was “some of the most polemical, ridiculous reasoning I’ve ever seen anywhere, much less in the context of an A.P.A. technical report”. Since Singer had contested the other experts from the point of view of their bias in favour of “cults”, Beit-Hallahmi’s review was particularly important. (Although, quite ridiculously, Singer later stated that “upon information and belief, Beit-Hallahmi had at the time established an academic reputation of being protective of the type of coercive psychological cults whose abuses DIMPAC had been charged with investigating”: Singer & Ofshe's Summons in the Alameda County case, n. 105, p. 29). The Beit-Hallahmi review, dated February 18, 1987, asked: “What exactly are deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control? I don’t think that psychologists know much about techniques of persuasion and control, either direct or indirect, either deceptive or honest. We just don’t know, and we should admit it. Lacking psychological theory, the [DIMPAC] report resorts to sensationalism in the style of certain tabloids”. Beit-Hallahmi’s verdict was clear: “The term ‘brainwashing’ is not a recognized theoretical concept, and is just a sensationalist ‘explanation’ more suitable to ‘cultists’ and revival preachers. It should not be used by psychologists, since it does not explain anything”.

5. Thus, for the second time following the Molko brief, APA stated in 1987 that brainwashing or coercive persuasion theories, when applied to new religious movements, are not scientific. To state that a report “lacks scientific rigor” is tantamount to saying that it is not scientific, and to state that brainwashing “is not a recognized theoretical concept” but, rather, “a sensationalist ‘explanation’ more suitable to ‘cultists’ and revival preachers” is even worse. It simply will not do to claim that APA’s BSERP rejected only the DIMPAC report, in particular, and not the brainwashing and mind control theories as applied to new religious movements, in general. The DIMPAC report is a faithful and comprehensive representation of the brainwashing and mind control theories as applied by the anti-cult faction to new religious movements. It would also not do to state that BSERP unfairly evaluated a provisional draft of the report. 1986-87 correspondence shows that the text was the “final draft of the report, minus the reference list” (letter from Dorothy Thomas, executive assistant at BSERP, December 29, 1986). In all fairness and in my own personal opinion, the DIMPAC report also includes some valid sections, particularly those on the history of what scholars of the New Age call seminar religion or culture (and which DIMPAC prefers to call "Large Group Awareness Training", or LGAT). Its main thrust, however, is the standard anti-cult idea that cults are different from genuine religions, and that they should be referred to as "cults" rather than "new religions" or "new religious movements". To use the latter terms would result in "an attitude of deviance deamplification towards extremist cults, and a tendency to gloss over critical differences between cultic and non-cultic groups" (DIMPAC report, p. 13). "The term 'cult' as employed henceforth in this report is intended to mean 'totalist cults'" (ibid., p. 15). A "cult" is defined by DIMPAC as "a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive dedication or devotion to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative (i.e. deceptive and indirect) techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community. Unethically manipulative techniques include isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgement, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc." (ibid., p. 14). In short, "cults" are likely "to exhibit three elements to varying degrees: (1) excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment by members to the identity and leadership of the group; (2) exploitative manipulation of members, and (3) harm or the danger of harm" (ibid., p. 14). Cults are not distinguished from religions "for their professed beliefs" but "by their actual practices" (ibid., pp. 14-15).

6. As Singer herself admitted, the rejection of the DIMPAC report was “described by the APA as a rejection of the scientific validity of the theory of coercive persuasion” (M. Singer and R. Ofshe, Summons of January 31, 1994, n. 110, p. 31), inter alia in subsequent court cases. This rejection played a crucial role in the Fishman case of 1990, a landmark decision in which testimony about mind control was not admitted in a case involving the Church of Scientology. Fishman included a careful review of the whole controversy, and accepted critical claims that anti-cultists were, in fact, and contrary to what they claimed, misquoting and misusing Lifton’s theories of Communist thought reform (for crucial differences between the anti-cult mind control theory and Lifton’s original thought reform model, see Dick Anthony’s Ph. D. dissertation, “Brainwashing and Totalitarian Influence: An Exploration of Admissibility Criteria for Testimony in Brainwashing Trials”, Berkeley 1996). Gandow writes that the APA 1987 Memorandum simply says that “BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue”. This is the fourth paragraph of the May 11, 1987 Memorandum, which Gandow conveniently omits to inform his readers was preceded by three other paragraphs directing attention to the enclosures, and stating that the DIMPAC report “lacks scientific rigor”. What, we may ask, is “this issue” mentioned in the fourth paragraph on which APA's BSERP claims to lack “sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position”? Sentences should be interpreted within the context of whole documents, and documents include enclosures. Surely, the issue on which APA’s BSERP is not “taking a position” cannot be the DIMPAC report, because the aim of the whole document was precisely to take a clear stand on the report. Neither can it be the coercive persuasion or brainwashing theory as applied to new religious movements, since it formed both the very content of the DIMPAC report and the subject matter of the external reviewers' wrath presented in the enclosures. When one reads the enclosures and considers the whole controversy, it becomes clear that the issue not resolved by the 1987 Memorandum is the much larger issue of unethical behavior and misrepresentations in persuasion processes, a problem not exclusive to the field of new religious movements or "cults". Unethical behavior and false representation may occur quite independently of any brainwashing, coercive persuasion, or mind control practices, both in religion and in psychotherapy. Beit-Hallahmi, in his review, for instance stated that “psychotherapy as it is practised most of the time (private practice) is likely to lead to immoral behavior (…). I have no sympathy for Rev. Moon, Rajneesh, or Scientology, but I think that psychologists will be doing the public a greater favor by cleaning their own act, before they pick on various strange religions”. It is on larger issues of this kind, rather than on brainwashing as allegedly practised by new religious movements, that BSERP experts disagreed among themselves, and BSERP was not in a position to reach a definitive conclusion. This, by the way, is the same position I took when giving evidence before the German parliamentary commission. I stated then that, while the common anti-cult brainwashing or mind control theories have been largely rejected by the scholarly community (with few exceptions), forms of persuasion or influence based on false or otherwise unethical representations continue to exist within some of the new religious movements, and that they constitute serious problems. Again, misrepresentations are rather different from brainwashing.

7. APA thus declared not once but at least twice in 1987 that “the theory of coercive persuasion is not scientific” and that it “lacks scientific rigor”. The statement I made before the German commission that the American Psychological Association had rejected the brainwashing/mind control theories in 1987 insofar as they applied to religious movements, on the basis that they were not scientific is, therefore, perfectly accurate. It is, in fact, almost identical to Singer’s own statement that the rejection of the DIMPAC report was “described by the APA as a rejection of the scientific validity of the theory of coercive persuasion”.


Some other probably very interesting places to visit:

http://www.cesnur.org/2003/brain_conv.htm (lengthy article)

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