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Rape of the Mind - Chapter 9 THE RAPE OF THE MIND: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing, by Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D., Instructor in Psychiatry, Columbia University Lecturer in Social Psychology, New School for Social Research, Former Chief, Psychological Department, Netherlands Forces, published in 1956, World Publishing Company. (Out of Print)





The Child Is Father to the Man

The time has come to ask ourselves if it is possible that there is something in our own growth and development that may make us more vulnerable to mental intrusion and ultimate brainwashing. Are there, for instance, special coercive needs in us? What is communicated and taught to the child that may keep him a spiritual prisoner of his environment?

These are important questions and would require a thorough philosophic and pedagogic investigation. Nevertheless, for practical purposes, we may limit our attention to two different spheres of development: the influence of parents and the influence of certain social habits. The latter has already been investigated in the second part of this book. Indeed, I must repeat that in my experience all those who are educated under rules of too strict obedience and conformity break down more easily under pressure. During World War II when the so-called tough S.S. officers were interrogated after they had become prisoners, they readily surrendered their military secrets. Having lived for years under totalitarian command, they were just as obedient to the new commanding voices. Sometimes we only had to imitate the shouting voices of their masters and they would exchange their former boss for the new one. For them every command had become the automatic trigger for new conforming obedience.

In dealing with members of the Communist Party in this country, we had a comparable experience: the members were politically submissive and changed their obstructive party-strategy to an opposite set of tactics the moment Moscow ordered them to do so.

How Some Totalitarians May Develop

Increasing attention has been given to the various psychological motivations leading to political extremism and a totalitarian mentality in men and women who have been brought up in a democratic atmosphere, but who have voluntarily chosen to associate themselves with some totalitarian ideology. Psychologists who have come into contact with the totalitarian attitude and have studied those who are easily influenced by it agree, by and large, that in the free, democratic countries the option for totalitarianism is nearly always determined by an inner personality factor-frustration, if you will. It is usually neither poverty nor social idealism that makes a man a totalitarian, but mostly internal factors such as extreme submissiveness and masochism on the one hand or a lust for power on the other. Unsolved sibling rivalry plays a role too; I have treated several Nazi collaborators whose political behavior was motivated to some extent by the fact that they were older sons and could not stand the competition with their younger brothers. All these factors help to explain why the totalitarians everywhere can use their propaganda of violence to exploit resentment, hatred, racialism, and political fury. They know that they have only to play on these immature feelings of deprivation and dissatisfaction to bring people under a spell.

In my own experience, I have been amazed to see how unrealistic are the bases for political option in general. Only rarely have I found a person who has chosen any particular political partydemocratic or totalitarian-through study and comparison of principles. Too often man's choice of his political affiliations is determined by apathy, by family tradition, by hope for financial gain, or by other irrelevant factors. It is this lack of rational motivation that can make men more susceptible to totalitarian blandishments, even in a democratic community. I remember very clearly, for example, a Dutch physician with whom I went to medical school. He fell in love with the daughter of a Communist and eventually married her. At first he was disturbed by the conflict between his principles and his adoration, but gradually his principles gave in and he started to justify the party line. Later on I met him from time to time. He was an excellent doctor and a jovial fellow_, and he took our half-serious quips about his politics in good part. But the moment we began a really serious discussion, he crouched in his official defensive corner and became a different man-sour, mechanical, handing out ready-made arguments. During the war I met him frequently in the course of our common underground work. He had been completely dazed by Stalin's pact with the Nazis, but the moment Russia was invaded and became an ally, he started his aggressive robotism again. Not only was he a staunch fighter against the Nazis, but he insisted that his was the only way to fight. He lost his life on a dangerous mission for the underground, and I always had the feeling that it was in a way welcome to his latent suicidal feelings.

In other Nazis and Communists, both, I have seen dramatic examples of how personal resentments, outside the suffering of real injustice, can lead a man to the side of the rebels. Some of these people were the type who simply submitted passively to a movement stronger than themselves-men and women whose ideology was a reflection of whichever side had caught them first; others were motivated by the need to vent their own personal anger and resentment in some direction and used political action to satisfy this need. But if we are to come to any real understanding of the internal factors that lead a man to adopt a totalitarian ideology, we must dig a little deeper than this and must give our attention to some basic roots of this problem.

The Molding Nursery

One of the important things we have learned from modern psychology is that the roots of many of our adult attitudes and problems lie far back in the seeming quiet of the nursery and childhood years. The infant's life may appear to be placid and uneventful, but from the moment he is born he hears thousands of rumblings both from inside his own mind and from the world outside. In his mother's womb he knew neither warmth nor cold, now his skin transmits these sensations to him. As he lay protected in his mother's body, he did not have to breathe, eat, or excrete; now he must do all these things himself. He needs help in doing them, he needs protection, and for this protection and help he must rely on those grown-up giants, Mother and Father. He is utterly and completely dependent, unable by himself to find adequate responses to his needs. There he is, with his pitifully limited means of adaptation, with his minimum of innate patterns of action. Warmth, food, and love, things which he needs to sustain his life, come to him when he does the "right" thing-and the right thing is the learned, civilized thing, not the instinctual, primitive thing. The giants, his parents, make demands on him-they begin to mold him according to their own habits, and the infant must submit to all these external demands in order to get what he wants and needs. He must follow the hundreds of subtle, incomprehensible educational rules in order to be paid back with the affection and protection on which he is so dependent. All of this transforms him into a more or less conforming being. His parents' morality is, as it were, sucked in and becomes an ever-present force inside him. He is imprinted with all kinds of habits which serve to condition him into the particular form of adaptation his parents and his society think good for him. The forms his adult behavior will take are foreshadowed by the forms his parents' behavior take. The patient mother imprints patience on her child; the anxious, compulsive mother imprints tensions on hers.

The child who is brought up in a loving environment will develop inner pictures of love and affection and will be better able to accept all the restrictions his parents impose on his freedom, all the rules they lay down. He will accept timetables, toilet training, parental confusion, without too much inner protest even when his needs run contrary to these social demands. He may want to be fed at a time when, according to his schedule, he should not be hungry. He may want to sleep when his parents want him to be awake. Society demands of him that he learn to postpone his own gratifications, and he will react to this demand in a manner contingent on his own sense of security in his parents' affection. Having to wait for food, not being allowed to suck any more, having to control his need to excrete-all of these require the child to make new and difficult adaptations. His urge for immediate and unconditional satisfaction of his needs has to be transformed into something much more complicated-a whole pattern of learned responses.

It is not important for us to describe here the different ways in which these early cultural obligations are met by the child. But it is important to understand that the cradle and the nursery change and recondition the innate natural responses of the unsocial, primitive child to mold him into an adult, who may be left from his childhood a legacy of frustrations stemming from this molding process. Individual problems are caused by individual patterns of child-rearing; these very patterns are themselves to some degree the product of the cultural traditions in which they are rooted and the mores of the community into which the child is born. 1'o the degree that our society imposes on children frustrations and restrictions for which they are neither biologically nor emotionally ready, to that degree our culture paves the way for adult behavior problems and for neurotic attitudes of submission or aggression, which may find expression in allegiance to some totalitarian group.

Conditioning a child into a servile and submissive attitude, for example, may start when parents rigidly imprint automatic rules of conduct on the infant. They may make a time maniac out of him or a cleaning automaton. They may compel him to speak too early or to be silent when his voice itches to burst out of his throat or to sleep when his body is throbbing with the energy of wakefulness. Such parents impose on their child a constant feeling of guilt-he feels disturbed and unhappy every time he does not comply with their demands. And at the same time they force him to love them even when they are disagreeable. They may compel him to apologize for behavior which seems to him to be perfectly acceptable; they may demand that he confess to crimes which do not exist as crimes for him at his age. Some techniques of brainwashing can be seen at the cradle; the parents may cross-examine him, tie him to their apron strings, or keep him constantly under their eyes. With their solicitous attention they never leave him alone to enjoy feeling of being secure with himself. The helpless child in such an environment becomes emotionally insecure; in exchange for more borrowed security, he becomes more conforming and submissive, although this conforming behavior covers up tremendous inner protest and hostility.

When parents do not permit a child to express his instinctual needs openly and directly, they force him to look for other ways to express them. If during his early training-which may start on the day of his birth-the infant encounters endless restrictions to the direct expression of his needs, he will try to communicate these needs in indirect ways-through tension, restlessness, and crying. Instead of being able to use natural outlets for his instinctual drives, the child is permitted and conditioned to act only through suppression and control of the drive. In his struggle to bring the drive under control in order to please his parents, the child's natural means of expression may become inverted. Instead of expression, he acquires repression. This is where the roots of such adult behavior as abject submissiveness and the urge for conformity lie. The groundwork for this masochistic pattern of giving in is formed in infancy. Submission and confession are the only strategies possible for the child in a world that is too overpowering for him to handle. Inner rebellion, hostility, and hatred must be expressed in a paradoxical way. The child's rigid silence is proof that he wants to cry and yell. He may reproach and attack the hostile world indirectly, through magic gestures, clownish behavior, or even epileptic fits. Compelled to suppress his instinctual needs and his means of achieving their gratification, he may conceal their existence even from himself. Surface conformity becomes his only means of communication, and when this happens words and gestures acquire a concealing function. He never says what he means, and gradually he doesn't even know what he means.

The carry-overs into adult life of this kind of child-rearing are obvious. Trained into conformity, the child may well grow up into an adult who welcomes with relief the authoritarian demands of a totalitarian leader. It is the welcome repetition of an old pattern that can be followed without investment of new emotional energy. Trained previously to divert his aggression to scapegoats, he may now displace his hidden resentments against his parents' rules and regulations toward society as a whole. Or he may find release for them in the wild explosion of pent-up aggression which is exemplified by the lynch mob or by Hitler's storm troopers.

Other forms of parental behavior also have their effect on the child. If the child is trained precociously in habits that would otherwise develop spontaneously at a later age, he may show all kinds of distortions in his natural behavior. The example of the effect of precocious toilet training is common, but there are many other parental commands that can have the same effect on the child. The way the child is clothed or the parents' constant demand that he always be quiet, asleep, and motionless are equally valid examples. When any command is too strictly applied before the child is able to cope with it, it exerts an enormous frustrating influence. What was enforced on the child by some outside power becomes an inner, automatic rule, a compulsion. Let us return to the toilet training example for a moment, though it is only one single part of the whole pattern of training. The child who is trained to control his need to excrete at too early an age learns to keep himself clean and constipated under all circumstances. His body learns how to control itself automatically, but somewhere inside him the child feels contempt for those who have forced him into this behavior. He may grow up to be a chronically hostile adult, ripe for the appeal of some hostile ideology. In less severe cases, the conflict between outside prohibitions and the inner need to let go may create a continuing pattern of inner insecurity. Or it may lead to constant querulous resentment, which can be easily utilized by any would-be dictator.

What we have to emphasize is this: the earliest web of communication between parents and child takes place on what psychology calls a pre-verbal and unconscious level. There is contact without words. The mother transfers her moods directly to the child; he senses and catches her feelings. The child also transfers his moods to her; she feels his pains and joys almost as soon as he does. This sensitivity of the infant makes him react with great intensity-he is profoundly aware of his parents' feelings. Such negative parental factors as anxiety, insecurity, infantilism, mutual disharmony, neurotic love, poverty, the struggle for existence, and compulsive tyranny have an enormous effect on the child. Not long ago I treated an infant who refused any offer of handling or feeding by its mother. The infant "knew" that the mother had a deep-seated hostility against it; it felt her aversion and rejection.

But the infant accepted food and affection from everyone else. The interplay between parental attitudes and child development starts at birth.

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of a distorted growing-up may be seen in one case I treated during the Second World War when I was asked to do a psychological study of an alleged collaborator with the Nazis. This man, who was in England when I saw him, said that he had left Holland, which was then occupied, because he no longer agreed with the German conquerors. When he arrived in England he was, as a matter of careful routine, put in a home for people under investigation as suspected spies. From here, he was very soon taken to a mental institution because of his strange behavior. He was not actually psychotic, but he did have great difficulty in relating to other people. When I went to interview him, it became apparent to me that he was completely confused. He babbled so much that it was almost impossible to understand him. I asked him about his childhood. It was not easy for him to speak about it, but he finally told me something of his background. He was an only child. His mother had been the dominant member of the family, actively working in scientific research. His father, a weak, nebulous figure, had seldom been at home; in his job as the manager of a large firm, he had traveled a great deal. On the rare occasions when the father was at home, the patient remembered long silences between his parents, his father only occasionally protesting against his mother's constant stream of directives. Sometimes the boy joined with his mother in criticizing his father's detachment and lack of interest, sometimes he turned to his father for love and help against his mother's smothering behavior. But he was mostly lost and alone at home. In his late teens, the boy developed some homosexual attachments, in which he played the passive, submissive role. But he only came alive mentally after one of his friends made him attend a fascist rally. The show of strength and aggression excited the boy enormously and even aroused sexual sensations in him. He joined the fascist group, to the great dismay of his parents, but he was never very active in party work because the party did not provide him with the guidance and love for which he yearned.

After the Nazi invasion and occupation, the party demanded that he be more active as a collaborator with the Germans. Now his conscience bothered him, and he became ill and developed all kinds of stomach ailments which were, to a psychiatrist, obviously emotional in origin. He was not, however, strong enough to withdraw from the party completely. He felt caught between two opposing dangers-the party and treason. The childhood struggle began all over again; he felt himself unsafe with either father or mother. So he decided to flee the country because he had a vague feeling that this would help him get away from his conflicts.

Once in England, in the asylum, he felt completely contented. He simply did not understand the serious nature of the accusations that had been made against him. When I spoke to him about world affairs and his political activity, he fell into silence. He did not remember any of the details of his political behavior. It was as if he had lived in a dream since the moment he ran away from Holland. It is entirely possible that the enemy had used him as a tool, but at the time I saw him he was only a near-psychotic, fear-ridden young man. He remained in the institution for the duration of the war.

One thing stands out clearly in this case (aside from its complexity as a pathological phenomenon) and that is the young man's continual search for male authority. This search for spiritual backbone is very common among people who develop totalitarian attachments.

The Father Cuts the Cord

Psychological studies have shown us over and over again that the child's attitude toward the parental authority, with all its subtle internal complications, plays a primary role in determining how he will handle his hostilities-whether he will learn to cope with them or whether he will direct them toward destructive aims. As we said earlier, parents and family form almost the whole environment of the child during the first years of its life. They condition the foundations of his future character. And in the family it is the influence of the father that determines whether the child will stick to its strong natural ties with its mother, to its dependency needs and its needs for protection, or will step out of this maternal realm and will form new ties with new people. The father is the first one who cuts into the essentially biological relation between mother and child. He is what the psychoanalyst calls the first transference figure, the first new prototype to whom the child can transfer its expectations of gratification, its feelings of relatedness, of satisfaction, of fear. This first new trial relationship with the father giant may become the conditioning prototype for every subsequent social relationship.

The child's initial relationship with its mother is purely biological and symbiotic. The womb is replaced by the crib. The mother is the know-all and do-all. Psychoanalysis describes the child's relationship with its mother as one of oral dependency because the helpless infant is completely dependent on the food, care, and warmth the mother provides. The little human being's dependency need lasts longer than that of the other animals. It is this fact that makes man gregarious, dependent on cooperation with others.

The father brings a third person, who has no part in this relationship of biological dependency, into the life of the child. When he cuts into the child's relationship with its mother, he is cutting the psychological umbilical cord just as the doctor cuts the physical one when the infant is delivered. First, he gives the child the opportunity to transfer feelings and expectations to him; later, he brings the child more actively outside the maternal realm and teaches him more and more about social relationships. The specific role of the father as a transference prototype is not so simple as it seems to many fathers. Father is not merely a toy with whom the child can occasionally play. The child needs to identify with this giant who lives with him and with Mother; he wants to become familiar with the giant, he wants the giant to become part of his world. The child wants more than this-he wants to be gratified by Father so that he can love Father as much as he does Mother. But the child will transfer some of its love and emotional investment to Father only if it sees something of Mother in him. Father can do the same things Mother does-he can feed the child, can solace him, can take care of him-and thus the child can maintain a feeling of gratitude and affection toward this third person. This transference of feelings can only take place, however, when the relationship between the parents themselves is tranquil. How can the child identify with and love his parents when they are in constant conflict with each other?

This picture is, of course, something of an oversimplification. There are mothers who behave like cold, distant fathers, and fathers who behave like warm, cuddling mothers. There are grandparents or adoptive parents who can take over. There are many mother or father substitutes. But this is not my point. My point is that in every situation there must be some individual who can become the conditioning prototype for the child's relationships with new beings. This first person is most likely to be the father, and it is he who changes the child's biological dependency into a psychological relationship. When there is no father figure, or if the father is too weak or too busy or is denying and tyrannical toward the child, the result is that the child's relationship with and dependence on the mother remains strong and lasts too long. Consequently, the child's need for social participation and for gregarious ties with others may become to him a consuming need. As an adult he may be willing to join with any social group which promises him support and reassurance. Or his unconscious resentment against the father who did not help him to grow up and become independent may be diverted into a resentment against other symbols of authority, such as society itself. Either way the child may be headed for maladjustment and for difficulties. Either way the child may grow up into an immature adult.

In a study on living by proxy, I described the arrested emotional development that results when the father does not play his proper role or is not present. A child brought up in such an emotionally defective atmosphere searches continually for strong figures who may serve as a proxy for the normal relationships the child would otherwise have had in life. I have treated several cases of homosexuality and other forms of arrested development, both in men and women, which were almost directly attributable to the too strongly tied, symbiotic life with the mother which results from such an environment.

In the building up of man's awareness of an independent self and the establishment of his ability to have easy, relaxed relationships with his fellow men, the father, as the natural

chief and protector of the family, plays an important role. He cuts the cord. He may condition the later pattern of dependence and independence. His potential psychological dominance can become a blessing or a curse, for the child's emotional attitude toward its father becomes the prototype for its attitudes toward future leaders and toward society itself.

We saw this clearly in the case of our "spy" who had never had a strong male guide in his life. Many of the people I investigated, who had chosen to identify themselves with aggressive totalitarian groups, had this problem. For such people, the totalitarian party became both the good father who accepted them and the proxy which gave expression to all their hidden and frustrated hate. The party solves, as it were, their inner problems. Parental conflict in early childhood, inconsistency, and a threatening, unloving attitude toward the child pave the way for rebellion and submission, and a repetition of this pattern later in life. The wish to break away from the family pattern may lead to rebellion, but the particular form the rebellion takes depends on what political movements can modify and channelize the person's resentment.

This does not mean, of course, that there is not a hard core of totalitarian-minded people, nourished in the cradle by the dogmas of their totalitarian parents, who give themselves to their party tasks because they have never known a different world. According to Almond, these types are found particularly in our Western world among high-echelon extremists. They take in the totalitarian form of socialism with their mother's milk; they are members of an increasing group of hereditary totalitarian conformists. Here, no father rebellion is needed to become an extreme revolutionary.

But the bulk of the totalitarian-minded in the democratic societies are men and women who are attracted to this destructive way of life for inner emotional reasons unknown to themselves. My own experiences with both Communists and Nazis during the Second World War has shown me this truth over and over again. In Holland, as in the other Nazi-occupied countries, the Communists and their sympathizers fought bravely with us in the underground as our temporary companions. Even during that time of national crisis and terror, they were never free from bitter reproach and resentment toward us. They insisted that their ideology was the only correct one and showed, sometimes openly, sometimes covertly, that when the Nazis were defeated, they would renew their struggle against the social order. Let me give just one example to illustrate this point. One of the Communists was a very brave physician (not the same man about whom I spoke earlier). He had killed a Nazi leader, and later he himself died a horrible death. Here was a grown man who had never been able to overcome a certain adolescent self-righteousness and aggressiveness. On the very night when, in deadly peril, he sought refuge in my home, he felt compelled to engage me in a long theoretical political discussion with him, full of bitterness. He disdainfully reproached the other resistance groups because they did not share his political views. His views and ideals, I must say in all justice to him, seemed sincere to me, but he was filled with so much unresolved hostility toward the government of his fatherland that he was ready at all times to overthrow it. The core of his fallacious reasoning I found was the confusion about ends and means in the struggle for social justice. For him, tactics and strategy had become more important than the final aim of peaceful coexistence between men on earth. His violent death-after murdering an S.S. officer-was partly the result of the fact that he pursued tactics beyond the strategic needs of the moment. True, in the end he gave his life for his ideals and for his native land, but up to the end he carried a bitter grudge against all those who were not in complete agreement with everything he thought and felt. It was that personal grudge and hostility which led him to bad planning and his ultimate fate. Most of us are not clearly and completely aware that alongside our wish to be good, adjusted citizens, we also have hidden wishes to violate our allegiances to the social formation of which we are members. These wishes are not based on reason and intelligence; they are purely emotional. They are founded by the ways we have been brought up, by our relationships with our parents, by our educational system, by our attitudes toward ourselves and toward authority. But all men who adhere rigidly to any set of political convictions, and especially those who have embraced some totalitarian ideology, believe that their attitudes emerge from rational conviction and are the result of normal intellectual development. They insist that those who do not agree with them are committed to a stuffy, outmoded way of thinking. They cannot see their own vengeful and disloyal attitudes as something asocial and abnormal.

To the psychologist, it is eminently clear that these attitudes have their roots not in intellectual conviction but in some deep-seated emotional need. I have often seen cases where this blind, rigid allegiance to a totalitarian ideology was actually a defiant rebellion against a compelling inner need to grow and to change and to become mature. In these people, the selection of a special political party was only a substitute for their need for dependency. Ideologic stubbornness is often tragic because it may cover up basic neurotic reactions that may lead to self-destruction. One of my patients was a young woman whose ultra-left beliefs were a defense against her hidden incestuous feelings toward a reactionary father. It took protracted therapy to bring her to an understanding of the real nature of her difficulty and to get her to see that there was nothing shameful or disgusting about the infantile love and resentment she was trying to conceal through her political behavior. The need for authority, when it is not understood, and the confused resistance to authority are the roots from which the totalitarian attitude may grow. Whenever the father-leader fails, he sets up a pattern of future trouble with authority. Instead of a mature relationship with his fellow men, the child becomes an adult who is forced to choose the tyrannical totalitarian tie to keep his inner tensions in check.

Whenever there is parental conflict, the child grows into an adult burdened with conflicts who may be eager to accept the simple solutions totalitarianism offers. Whenever there is parental compulsion, which gives the child no chance to develop its own attitudes and evaluations, the child grows up into a conforming adult, whose entire life may be spent in a search for outside authority, for someone to tell him what to do.

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