Where does brainwashing occur today?

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.

4 Responses

  1. In the UK it has already happened, long before college.

    I think most of the heavy lifting is done by the mass media; but political correctness frames an increasing amount of the school curriculum as a basic assumption – deciding what gets studied, what gets taught.

    For example there is a heavy focus on climate change/ recycling stuff, US slavery and the Nazis going back into primary school – all favourite Leftist themes.

    (These topics were entirely absent from my education – except that I was taught about Nazis when aged 14 – interestingly I was also taught about the Russian and Chinese revolutions in the same class, in such a way that I became a keen communist supporter (Maoist) for a while – surely no accident, even then – 1973-ish.)

  2. One morning, I was working in the stables with two schoolgirls, (aged 16/17) who come to ride my horses and help out. They were studying the “Age of Revolutions,” for their History special subject and somehow we got onto the topic of Napoléon III.

    Yes, they knew all about Bonapartism & Napoléon III: “Stalemate in the class struggle” – “Bourgeoisie surrenders political power, in return for protection of its socio/economic power” – “Bourgeois ‘freedom’ is the freedom to exploit the labour of others for profit” – “The independent Executive – Its instruments the déclassé Bohemians of all classes” – “Professional army made up of the Lumpen proletariat” &c, &c

    It was like listening to children saying their catechism.

    “And who were their opponents?” I asked

    “The proletariat, in alliance with the revolutionary intelligentsia,” they replied, in chorus.

    “And the peasants?”

    “They had no community, no national bond and no political organization,” they intoned, as one.

    For their teachers, there is nothing to the right of the Socialist parties, except greed and eccentricity.

    This is Scotland, after all.

  3. Thanks for thinking my comment worthy of reposting, although I’m afraid it obliges me to stick my nose a little farther out of the cyber-closet and confess that my academic profession is not sociology. I am a cultural geographer by training and profession, which means I have a reasonable grasp of sociological thought, but am not a dues-paying member of the sociologist guild.

    My remark about college as brainwashing was meant to shift attention away from evangelizing professors and onto the social setting that makes students receptive to their evangel. Evangelizing professors certainly exist, but are by themselves necessary but not sufficient causes of radical change in student attitudes. They must present their ideas to students who are socially dislocated, and so in need of constructing, as quickly as possible, a successful social identity. Colleges do not, as a rule, employ all the programming techniques of cults, but they do employ a few.

    Freshman “orientation” might, for instance, as well be called freshman disorientation, at least so far as students recently removed from orderly homes are concerned. It’s not exactly planned, but this disorientation is frequently accompanied (as in cult initiations) with severe sleep deprivation, dietary irregularity, and sensed social isolation. With the subject “softened up” in this manner, the program of “conversion” proceeds with some combination of the following three strategies:

    1) “Challenging” (selected) beliefs, so that students are invited to view their religious and moral convictions “from the outside.”

    2) Indicating that certain beliefs have high status and others beliefs low status.

    3) Encourage “experimental” behavior, particularly of the sexual support, and then count on cognitive dissonance and rationalization to do the rest.

  4. Very well said. Though this is an old post I would just like to verify your hypothesis. What you describe sounds just like my experience. Get only a few hours of sleep, they will provide lunch to your group. Charismatic speaker comes in and has the prospective students do some sort of hippy social interaction thing. Lecture from orientation team and student representatives on how college will open your mind and introduce you to such a valuable variety of people (from all over the world!). Representative from the health center to tell you where to get your condoms, or where to go if you need to have your sodomite lifestyle affirmed. Finally you are made to sing all together your new alma mater. That’s just the transfer orientation. I can only imagine what it would be like for the freshmen who have to spend the whole weekend sleeping-over in the dorms.

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