"...A basis for answering the ever-recurring question: "Isn't this just like 'brainwashinG'."
"A discussion of what is most central in the thought reform environment can lead us to a more general consideration of the psychology of human
zealotry. For in identifying, on the basis of this study of thought reform, features common to all expressions of ideological totalism, I wish to
suggest a set of criteria against which any environment may be judged - a basis for answering the ever-recurring question: "Isn't this just like
The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human
communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the
outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may
speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984."
(subject/victim) "Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth (and having the need to dispel any possible inner
doubts of their own), they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this "truth." In order to be the
engineers of the human soul, they must first bring it under full observational control
Ideological totalists do not pursue this approach solely for the purpose of maintaining a sense of power over others. Rather they are impelled by a
special kind of mystique which not only justifies such manipulations, but makes them mandatory. Included in this mystique is a sense of "higher
purpose," of having "directly perceived some imminent law of social development," and of being themselves the vanguard of this development. By thus
becoming the instruments of their own mystique, they create a mystical aura around the manipulating institutions - the Party, the Government, the
Organization. They are the agents "chosen" (by history, by God, or by some other supernatural force) to carry out the "mystical imperative," the
pursuit of which must supersede all considerations of decency or of immediate human welfare. Similarly, any thought or action which questions the
higher purpose is considered to be stimulated by a lower purpose, to be backward, selfish, and petty in the face of the great, overriding mission.
This same mystical imperative produces the apparent extremes of idealism and cynicism which occur in connection with the manipulations of any totalist
environment: even those actions which seem cynical in the extreme can be seen as having ultimate relationship to the "higher purpose."
When trust gives way to mistrust (or when trust has never existed) the higher purpose cannot serve as adequate emotional sustenance. The individual
then responds to the manipulations through developing what I shall call the psychology of the pawn. Feeling himself unable to escape from forces more
powerful than himself, he subordinates everything to adapting himself to them. He becomes sensitive to all kinds of cues, expert at anticipating
environmental pressures, and skillful in riding them in such a way that his psychological energies merge with the tide rather than turn painfully
against himself. This requires that he participate actively in the manipulation of others, as well as in the endless round of betrayals and
self-betrayals which are required.
But whatever his response - whether he is cheerful in the face of being manipulated, deeply resentful, or feels a combination of both - he has been
deprived of the opportunity to exercise his capacities for self-expression and independent action.
In this manner, the universal psychological tendency toward "projection" is nourished and institutionalized, leading to mass hatreds, purges of
heretics, and to political and religious holy wars.
The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human
The assumption here is not so much that man can be God, but rather that man's ideas can be God: that an absolute science of ideas (and implicitly, an
absolute science of man) exists, or is at least very close to being attained; that this science can be combined with an equally absolute body of moral
principles; and that the resulting doctrine is true for all men at all times.
Since the distinction between the logical and the mystical is, to begin with, artificial and man-made, an opportunity for transcending it can create
an extremely intense feeling of truth."
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism
The University of North Carolina Press/Chapel Hill and London
By Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.
b-Facinating excerpt from book