How much of our mind is our own?
Margaret Singer, pioneer in the study of cults, chaired the Alberta Psychological Association (APA) Task force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC) from 1983-1987. The final report of this task force was rejected by the APA, and has not been published. The APA noted that the brief characterized the theory of brainwashing as not scientifically proven and lacking scientific and methodological rigor.
The APA has since dismissed the use of the word "cult" and switched to the term "new religious movements". This study of new movements focuses on how our society reacts to these new influences and I think, does not distinguish those groups that use coercive methods to recruit and retain members.
I don't think the use of coercive methods has been seriously studied since. One must wonder also if an ethical study could be performed, considering how badly these experiments can go wrong. (Stanford prison experiment - Zimbardo).
I think the court system, which bases freedom on our ability to make up our own minds (free will), does not want to consider how often our choices are influenced by outside forces. What are we if we only have the illusion of free will? Automatons? If we are so easily coerced, how can any criminal be found guilty? He was captivated by undue influence.
In defence of academia's stance, Loftland lived with and studied the Unification Church in the sixties and noted that the recruitment efforts were largely ineffective (sound familiar)? If brainwashing were so large an influence in our lives, shouldn't such activities have a more effective recruitment rate? (Becoming a World-Saver...", Loftland).
I wonder if rather, the typically intensive recruitment efforts of NRM's are first to maintain control over existing members through busywork, and secondly to locate those one in a thousand who are vulnerable to their message.
There is control going on, and those who are living with the effects can attest to their power. There is a powerful sense of "awakening" once the doctrinal house of cards comes falling down.
Interesting serendipity. I'm amazed how often you and I seem to be considering the same subjects!
Last night I finished reading David Eagelman's book, Incognito: the Secret Lives of the Brain.
One of his main theses is that free will is largely overstated and may not exist at all. While I find myself unconvinced that free will is just an illusion, he nevertheless raises a number of very interesting points by citing numerous cases where an individual's personality was drastically changed by tumors, brain injuries, drugs and/or alcohol.
A neuroscientist by profession and professor at Baylor College of Medicine where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action, David has a very conversational and entertaining writing style making this well researched work an easy read.
Most of what you do, think and believe is generated by parts of your brain to which you have no access. Here's the surprising story of the non-conscious brain and all the machinery under the hood that keeps the show going.
Here's a blurb from the dust jacket:
"If the conscious mind--the part you consider you--is just the tip of the iceberg in the brain, what is all the rest doing? Neuroscientist David Eagleman plumbs the depths of the subconscious brain to illuminate surprising questions: Why can your foot jump halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead? Why do strippers make more money at certain times of month, even while no one is consciously aware of their fertility level? Is there a true Mel Gibson? What do Odysseus and the subprime mortgage meltdown have in common? How is your brain like a conflicted democracy engaged in civil war? Why are people whose name begins with J more likely to marry other people whose name begins with J? Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? Why did Supreme Court Justice William Douglas deny that he was paralyzed? The subsurface exploration includes waystops in brain damage, drugs, infidelity, synesthesia, criminal law, the future of artificial intelligence, and visual illusions--all highlighting how our perception of the world is a hidden and awe-inspiring construction of the brain."
That book just made my read list.
Perhaps this is why I had such an "aha" moment reading Haidt's "The Righteous Mind...." The reasoning portion of our mind is slow, deliberate, and a newcomer. Often it is purposed to come up with excuses for what we do, coming from our vast unconscious of impulses, drives, and feelings.
Good, you'll enjoy it. Like I said, it's an easy read.
In many ways it reminds me of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. Eagleman even cites Kahneman's work in a few places.
Kahneman's work is a much more intensive book and written at a more academic level, although one need not be a Nobel Prize winning economist to understand it. It also weighs in at 499 pages compared to 290 and in a larger font.
I know you've read/been reading Pinker's Better Angels. I'm about 1/3 of the way through that. It is fascinating the amount of overlap between these three epic works. They are clearly writing about different subjects for different reasons--one's a neuroscientist, the other an economist and the third a professor of psychology--but the common themes and threads are many and fascinating to observe.
The reason for the relationships is obvious of course, our history as a species and our current behavior are all influenced or controlled to a large degree by our biology. How much freedom we have to rise above that and exercise free will and actually become a better angel is an unasnwered and perhaps unanswerable question. On one hand, we have clearly changed. And yet, humans are still a violent race susceptible to manipulation and control. We aren't very good at being logical and our senses can easly be fooled.
It's a conundrum.
I'm actually writing a paper which is due at the end of next week on the subject of Personality and Crime for my MAED course. This is why I read Incognito. Eagleman had some great insight on neurobiology and criminal tendencies. As a teacher I'm not so much concerned about rehabilitation or recidivism; my focus is on what, if anything, I can do to contribute to prevention.
I can shoot you a copy when it's done if you'd like.
While I can understand why the APA has dismissed the use of the word "cult," I cannot for the life of me understand the switch to the term "new religious movements".
Many of these NRMs are NOT high-control, authoritarian groups which was the implication of the word "cult," and a lot of them aren't "new"!
For a bunch of smart people, they really seem to be dropping the ball on this subject. I wonder why?
I really hate to sound like a paranoid conspiracy nut, but sometimes I do have to wonder how much certain groups like Scientology, the Moonies, or even the Watchtower have infiltrated, co-opted or blackmailed things for their benefit.
Well Londo, you know what they say:
- “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.” ― Joseph Heller, Catch-22
I've mentioned here before that I don't believe in free will. It's just a pair of words that form an imaginary concept. I can't disprove it any more than I can disprove that there's an invisible ogre standing in a corner of your room. But how exactly would free will work, without a God-imbued magical black box in our brains that subverts cause-and-effect? We take in input, we process it, and produce output. Computers do it, and no one wonders if they have free will.
I don't think this undermines the basis of justice and punishment. People who are dangerous need to be removed from society so they can't hurt more people, regardless of whether they can help themselves. People who do a bad thing need to be punished to provide the impetus to change their ways, regardless of whether it's a conscious choice or because even a snail knows to stop doing something that hurts it.
Oubliette, I agree that the concern really is with high control groups, not new fringe religions/movements, many of which are harmless.
I would be most interested in your paper.