Terminology note: Today Mind control or brainwashing in academia is commonly referred to as coercive persuasion, coercive psychological systems or coercive influence. The answers below are derived from the work of from Dr. Margaret Singer professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley the acknowledged leading authority in the world on mind control and cults.
Groups that exhibit great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and demand an unquestioning commitment may potentially rationalize using the "means" of coercive persuasion to advance the "ends" of their group.
Groups which use coercive persuasion often involve selection and culling techniques to identify the most suggestible or malleable, and to isolate and remove the least suggestible or malleable. Some large groups have detailed manuals to train designated specialists in sales or recruiting on who are the best targets. Others use psychological testing to isolate the easiest subjects to manipulate. The subjects easier to influence are usually young, trusting, gullible, and non-critical people from protective backgrounds or people who may be particularly vulnerable because of some recent unsettled transition.
In this highly calculated process, the rejects are likely to be individuals who have easy access to accurate, critical, or counterbalancing information. Insolent, self-centered, street-wise, highly critical or recalcitrant individuals are generally culled out because they are too labor intensive, difficult, and cost ineffective.
It is possible to distinguish dangerous groups that use coercive persuasion from peaceful persuasion groups by de-emphasizing their coincidental similarities and focusing on the methods of coercive persuasion. The beliefs of any group are no clue to whether it uses coercive persuasion.
To decide if a coercive persuasion program was responsible for an observed change in behavior, it is necessary to determine
- if the subject individual held enough knowledge and volitional capacity to make the decision to change his ideas or beliefs, and
- if that individual did in fact adopt, affirm, or reject those ideas or beliefs on his own.
All that should be examined is the behavioral processes used, not ideological content. For example, one does not have to examine the truth or falsity of communism to find that an individual was subjected to a program of brainwashing. One needs to examine only the behavioral processes used in the "conversion." It is not necessary to question the beliefs of an individual's faith or have them explain it rationally.
Each alleged coercive persuasion situation should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The characteristics of coercive persuasion programs are severe, well understood, and they are not accidental.
It may be possible to think of benign or less severe examples of any of the "seven tactics" which by themselves may not be coercive. But random individual examples do not exemplify the comprehensive criteria that need to be present to decide that a planned program of coercive persuasion was used.
The relationship between the person and the coercive persuasion tactics is dynamic in that, while the force of the pressures, rewards, and punishments brought to bear on the person are considerable, they do not lead to a stable, meaningful, self-chosen reorganization of beliefs or values. They lead to a coerced compliance and a situationally required rationalization. To maintain the new attitudes or "decisions" and sustain the rationalization, the program must be applied almost continuously. While a squirt gun might be a benign example of a gun, it would not be included under regulations designed to protect the public from handguns. Likewise, religions which use peaceful persuasion have nothing to fear nor would they be affected by the regulation of coercive persuasion.
What Are The Main Variables Which Cause Some People To Be Affected Less Than Others In A Coercive Persuasion Program?
Not all tactics used in a coercive persuasion program are coercive. Some tactics of an innocuous, alluring, or cloaking nature will be mixed in. Coercive persuasion is sufficiently effective to assure the recruitment of many of those approached and to retain many of those enlisted. But not all individuals exposed to a coercive persuasion program are effectively coerced. Coercive persuasion is not magic nor is it so technologically developed that it is infallible. Individual personality, suggestibility, genetic physiological and psychological strengths, weaknesses, and differences, and life experiences all make a difference. These variables interact with the degree of severity, continuousness, and comprehensiveness of the coercive group's practices. All of these factors determine the program's effectiveness and the degree of damage caused to its victims.
This is not to suggest that only weak people are influenced by coercive persuasion programs. A common misconception is that the victims were from bad families, were weak, or did something that was responsible for getting them into that situation.
No one "joins a cult." People recruited into destructive groups think they are doing something else, something beneficial and worthwhile. Anyone can be recruited given the right sales pitch and the right conditions in one's life. We are all potential victims. The convenient rationalization that the person himself was responsible for bringing on the harm allows one to feel different from the victim and somehow more in control and safer from such random harm.
It is very hard for former members, especially high level and long-term members, to admit they have been thoroughly deceived and speak up about what they know. The group has rocked and tranced them into believing that they are totally and completely responsible for everything that happens to them and the group is never responsible.
The result is victims tricked into believing they were completely responsible for their decision to get into Scientology so they blame themselves. Sometimes they are completely unable to conceive that they have been had. They might deny they have been fooled, because that would make them a tremendous fool on the most major decisions they had made to this point made in their lives, or they deny that they have been hurt because it's too hard to face that pain.
To mistrust one's own major decisions and perceptions of reality is frighteningly close to that ultimate terror: insanity. Without the information that was unavailable to them in the cult and professional counseling, this level of denial of past reality is difficult to overcome.
The trap is not an accident. Along with other such tactics, cults deliberately inculcate self-protecting, secrecy insuring, and liability redirecting catch-22 denial mechanisms into their members. The organization is always right, the individual always wrong and responsible, bad things happen to those who break the code of silence, etc.
Why Haven't More Former Members Spoken Out And Become More Active In Educating The Public And Stopping The Abuses?
Most victims do not get the information and counseling they need to combat the thought reform and phobia induction they received in the cult. They need information to know that there is reason to speak out and perhaps counseling to become strong enough mentally to speak out. Those who have been in for years probably have impaired or at least unpracticed critical thinking faculties, and so may continue to believe as good victims are supposed to believe, that the cult is always good and right and they are always bad and wrong.
While suggestible in trance they were thoroughly tricked into sincerely believing it was all their responsibility. They are victims who do not know they are victims yet. This is the rule with thought reform victims rather than the exception.
Former members who have been around for a while fear what happens to defectors and the families of defectors who stand up. It's not worth it to them or they believe someone else will take responsibility for them for the continuing pain that the cult causes in people's lives. Many are so burned and burned out on the organization that they can face no more of it.