JMSmith, who is an actual sociologist (while I just sometimes pretend to be one) objects to my use of the term “brainwashing” to describe any influencing of peoples’ attitudes by conditioning. On the other hand, he suggests a case where brainwashing proper is taking place today:
I would reserve the term “brainwashing” for one very specific means of inducing conviction, and not use it as an umbrella term denoting all non-rational noetic techniques. As developed in the USSR, brainwashing always aimed at political recantation and re-education, so that a brainwashed subject must undergo “conversion.” American children indoctrinated by years of television haven’t been brainwashed, since there never was a time that they consciously disbelieved what they now believe. The basic technique, as I recall, is to infantilize the subject, place him in circumstances of acute distress, and then introduce a “friend” whom the subject will wish to please. It basically plays on (a) fear of abandonment and (b) our disposition to “fit in” by believing what our friends believe.
I believe something like brainwashing can occur when young men and women go off to college. They are at first helpless, disoriented, and very much in the market for a friend. If “fitting in” with some new friends requires dramatic adjustments in their political, religious, and moral views, these adjustments will be made.
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