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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)

Chapter 9 Fear as a Tool of Terror

The Fear of Living

In our era the fear aroused by human relationships is so strong that inertia and mental death often seem more attractive than mental alertness and life. Classical psychology often spoke of the fear of death and the great unknown as the cause of many anxieties, but modern psychological studies have shown us that the fear of living is a much greater, deeper, and more frightening one.

Living often seems beyond our power. Stepping out of a relatively safe childish dependence into freedom and responsibility is both hazardous and dangerous. Living demands activity and spontaneity, trial and error, sleeping and reawakening, competition and cooperation, adaptation and reorientation. Living involves manifold relationships, each of which has thousands of implications and complications. Living takes us away from the dream of being protected and demands that we expose our weaknesses and strengths daily to our fellow men, with all their hostilities as well as their affections. It requires us to build up useful defenses and then to replace them with others because we have to change our goals and our relationships. It expects us to be lonely in order to cooperate in freedom. It asks us to submit and to conquer, to adjust and to rebel. It robs us of our childhood slumber of satisfaction, and of the magic, omnipotent fantasies of our infancy. Living requires mutuality of giving and taking. Above all, to live is to love. And many people are afraid to take the responsibility of loving, of having an emotional investment in their fellow beings. They want only to be loved and to be protected; they are afraid of being hurt and rejected. We can see this clearly in the fact that so many people embrace so fervently all the limitations and frustrations of life that are offered them-the neurotic limitations of the usual prejudices or the totalitarian limitations imposed by power politics. In his book Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm describes clearly how the pressures of freedom, when they are not balanced by responsibility and understanding, can drive men into the totalitarian frame of mind and into surrender of their hard-won liberties. Such surrender is nothing less than a slow mental death.

Totalitarian leaders, whether of the right or of the left, know better than anyone else how to make use of this fear of living. They thrive on chaos and bewilderment. During unrest in international politics, they are most at ease. The strategy of fear is one of their most valuable tactics. The growing complications of our civilization and its administration make the impact of power politics felt more than ever before. When the totalitarians add to their tactics all the clever tricks that we have already discussedPavlovian conditioning, repeated suggestion, deconditioning through boredom and physical degradation-they can win their battle for the control of man's mind.

In the earlier chapters of this book we described in some detail the techniques by which man could be turned into a robot in the service of totalitarianism and some of the tendencies that operate, even in the free countries, to rob man of his mental integrity. It is important for us to realize that emphasis on conformity and the fear of spontaneous living can have an effect almost as devastating as the totalitarian's deliberate assault on the mind. Conformity and the fear of living rob the free way of life of its greatest asset in the struggle against totalitarianism.

Our human strength lies in our diversity and independence of thought, in our acceptance of nonconformity, in our willingness to discuss and to evaluate various conflicting points of view. In denying the diversities of life and the complexity and individuality of the human mind, in preaching rigid dogmas and self-righteousness, we begin gradually to adopt the totalitarian attitude we deplore. Delusion has never been the exclusive property of any one country, class, or group, and the totalitarian delusion, which in itself promotes menticide, can invade us from many fronts, from the right as well as the left, from the rich or from the underprivileged, from the conservatives and from the rebels.

Fear and intimidation have not only been the result but also the tools of mental coercion. Although there is as yet no unified theory of fear and anxiety, and we therefore do not know precisely why and how the development of these feelings leads to such dire consequences, it is important for us to understand what useful tools fear and panic are, and to see, through description, what these overwhelming emotions are able to do to people.

Most people think of fear reactions as hysterical expressions of desperation. But, as this chapter should make clear, fear and panic also have their paradoxical expressions in indifference and apathy, reactions which, just because they are less commonly recognized as fear-created, can be much more dangerous to the individual than a good hysterical cry. It is the hidden, silent fears that have such an impact on our social and political behavior. Fear and panic are reactions not only to overt danger and threat, they are also reactions to the slow, seeping intrusion of disquieting propaganda and the constant wave of suggestion to which we are all exposed. Fear is at work all around us, and often it throws its shadows where we least expect to find them. We may be acting out of fear without even knowing it; we may consider that our behavior is perfectly normal and rational when, in fact, psychology tells us that creeping fear may already have begun to work on us.

Fear and catastrophe fortify the need to identify with a strong leader. They lead to herding together of people, who shy away from wanting to be individual cells any longer; they prefer to be part of a huge mystic social organization that protects against threat and distress, in oneness with the leader. This protection-seeking instinctual reaction is also directed against dissent and individualism, against the individual ego. We see in this a regression toward a more primitive state of mass participation. True, this process of ego-shrinking is the negative side of the back-to-mass reaction. Yet it stimulates a recognition of greater need for cooperation and mutual help. During the last war and the generally experienced emergencies many people became for the first time aware of the affective ties they had with their neighbors. At the same time, anxiety can inspire suspicion and the need for seeking scapegoats. It is the paradox of fear that it propagates warm feelings of immature ties and cold suspicion at the same time.

Although there is throughout the world a conscious trend toward overcoming fear and feelings of insecurity, there is also a less conscious countercurrent provoking new fears and anxieties and insecurities. Whether he is aware of it or not, modern man lives in an atmosphere of fear-fear of war, fear of the H-bomb, fear of totalitarianism, fear of nonconformism, fear of dissent. Fear has already begun to influence our behavior by the time we are aware of it. Once fear has penetrated the mind and stimulated fantasy, it begins to direct our actions, whether we want it to or not. We cannot eliminate all the thousands of stresses and fear-provoking situations in the modern world, but we can learn to recognize and understand some of the most common forms of fear reactions. In this way we can find a partial release from the tensions they create and can learn how to cope with them more effectively.

Our Fantasies About Danger

I remember vividly one sunny afternoon during the Second World War while I was still in Holland. I was playing tennis with some friends. We were all enjoying the satisfying exertion of our sport, but our enjoyment was somewhat marred by the players on the next court. They spoke the language of the hated occupier, and although attired in the same white sports clothes as we, they were obviously Nazi officers who were temporarily forgetting their delusion of conquering the world and were trying to relax like normal human beings. Suddenly we all heard the drone of planes and the sound of antiaircraft off in the distance. Then a group of lowflying Spitfires, our friends from England, came zooming by. My friends and I stopped playing, waved our rackets in greeting, and watched the planes maneuvering. Our neighbors reacted quite differently. They became panicky; one of them flung his racket from him and ran off, the others threw themselves, face down, into a ditch bordering the court. Objectively, we were all faced with the same danger of strafing from the English planes, but for the Germans these were enemy planes, while for us they were friends.

I'm sure it isn't necessary for me to add that after this occurrence my fellow Dutch citizens were forbidden to play tennis on that court. When, a year later, I had arrived by good chance in London, I found that every time German planes came over during the night, I had that same suspicious feeling the German officers on the tennis court must have had. It seemed as though every bullet and every bomb was meant for me. So great is the role of fantasy in fear that an enemy bomb may have a different meaning for us than a friendly bomb.

Fear may be defined very simply as an inner reaction to danger. This definition is deceptively simple, for as soon as we offer it, we are faced with a new problem: What shall we define as danger? Bombs, fires, earthquakes, and epidemics are easily recognizable as dangers. So are physical torture, direct totalitarian attack, and sudden economic collapse. But there are many subtle emotional dangers, too, arousing fearful fantasies and anticipations often combined with inner visions of doom and disaster. As our examples will show, these dangers are faced differently by different people. It is our personal attitude toward life and toward mankind that determines whether we consider a situation a welcome challenge or an unconquerable danger. Some people enjoy strict control and mechanical conditioning of their lives. For them, totalitarianism and thought control are not danger; they bring a kind of eternal day-sleep without responsibility. To these people, freedom is a danger, while dependence is a pleasurable safety. Others loathe any intrusion into their personal freedom and integrity and are continually on the alert to defend themselves against any external pressure-real or fancied.

Paradoxical Fear

Even when people are well prepared and trained to meet an anticipated disaster, such as imprisonment and brainwashing, the actual impact of the danger may provoke all kinds of defensive behavior. Overtraining may even weaken the person because the long anticipation allows all kinds of hidden fantasies to run rampant. In a minority of persons this may be expressed in such pathological fear reactions as complete nervous breakdown or utter paralysis. Every person shows a different mental threshold of resistance to danger, and this threshold may change day by day, depending on our physical and mental fortitude. As a rule, inexperienced troops do not immediately show pathological fear in combat; such behavior takes some time to develop. Paradoxically enough, fear reactions and moments of weakness often develop after the real danger has passed. When the tension of battle or the daily stress of life in the prison camp is over, and there is no longer any need to hide one's fears and to control one's behavior, many people let go completely and give free vent to all their anxieties.

In Dover, England, in 1944, the population suffered a kind of collective nervous breakdown when after the tension of four years of continual shelling by the Germans they heard only silence. The shelling suddenly stopped completely after the Allied troops swept victoriously across the Belgian coast. At that moment, many of the people of Dover broke down. It was as if the unexpected silence had brought them into a state of shock.

This paradoxical fear reaction after danger has passed is important for us to understand. The totalitarian strategists know that during a period of temporary quiet and relaxation of tension, people lose their alertness and thus can be more easily caught in the totalitarian mental grip. In their strategy of terror they consciously make use of the psychological action of the breathing spell. As soon as we let go and drop the defenses we have built up against danger, we can be brought to swallow any strong suggestions. The totalitarians also, in their "Document on Terror," call the technique of taking advantage of such relief the "strategy of fractionalized fear:" In a quiet period between acute tensions, they can easily condition their victims' minds. Hitler used the Munich period of appeasement in precisely this way. During this time, his propaganda barrage was doubly effective.

Whether the reaction to fear and danger is immediate or delayed, most people show, under stress, behavior that can be said to fall into one of the following patterns:

1. Regression-loss of learned behavior.
2. Camouflage and disguise-the so-called "feign or faint" reactions.
3. The explosive panic-defense through "fight or flight"
4. Our psychosomatic conditioning-the body takes over.


Although most people are more or less acquainted with the concept of regression, of setting the cultural clock back, they are surprised, nevertheless, to see staid men and women lose their acquired habits of civilization in times of catastrophe and panic. I once treated an engineer who had been the victim of an earthquake in a foreign country. After the earthquake, he behaved completely like a baby. All kinds of treatments were tried, but none were successful; we were never able to change his childish behavior. He never found his way back to normal, adequate behavior. From that fateful day, he remained barricaded in his cave of escape. It was as if with one blow he had forgotten everything he had ever learned. He was no longer a grown man, a professional scientist. He was an infant. He babbled like an infant, he had to be fed like an infant. Another earthquake victim of whom I know, a professor of mathematics, was found in his garden after the quake was over, half-naked and playing with his child's toys. He completely rejected any recognition of the real emergency situation in which he found himself and regressed to a period of infantile irresponsibility. Such regressive behavior as a form of defense is encountered everywhere in the animal kingdom. When an organism is in danger, it drops its complexity and retreats to a simpler form of existence. When circumstances of living become too dangerous, some easily exposed multicellular organisms turn into well-protected, simple monocellular beings. This regressive process, called encystication may, for instance, take place when the organism is exposed to abnormal temperatures or abnormal dryness.

Man is subject to the same biological rule of defense. When life is too complex for him, he often turns the clock of civilization back and becomes primitive again. A sudden disintegration and breakdown of functions may occur. This form of regressive behavior is common in children. When they are frightened, they often revert to baby talk or to bed-wetting. In the bombed areas during the Second World War, many girls in their late teens started to play with their dolls again. Even seemingly mature, hypersophisticated men and women may display thousands of symptoms of this return to infantilism when fear attacks them. Their symptoms are not always as dramatic as the examples above; nevertheless, they are symptoms of fear. When grown people begin to stutter and to lose their daily decorum, when they take to carrying around special protective charms, when they invent stories about their magic invulnerability, when they boast more, eat more cake and candy, whistle more, talk more, cry more, and lose their formal stiff and staid behavior, they are acting out of fear.

During the Second World War, in the prison camps and the air-raid shelters, people really got to know each other, as do children in the playpen who have the simple intuitive gift of knowing whom they can trust. In our age of anxiety, we feel possessed by the same frightening shadows that once haunted the Stone-Age man, and we may react to them by acting more like our simpler ancestors.

Camouflage and Disguise

A different pattern is that of camouflage and disguiseplaying hide-and-seek with fate. This useful protective trickery is often seen in lower animals who temporarily acquire the form or color of their environment. It is just like military camouflage. Everybody is acquainted with the color changes of the chameleon, and there are many other animals which are able to change their skin or body form in times of danger. Yet many people are not aware that human skin, too, shows rudimentary attempts at camouflage. The phenomenon of goose flesh resembles the reaction of a frightened, bristling cat; sudden graying of the hair or discoloration of the skin, which is known technically as fear melanosis, changes our outer color.

During the Second World War, I went with a first-aid team to Rotterdam after the city had been heavily bombed. As we looked at the people, our first impression was that they were all wearing masks. Their skin was wrinkled and showed a typical camouflage reaction. They were all still badly frightened. It was as if they were in hiding from the tremendous hell of fire that had been thrown down on them.

There is a psychological parallel to these physical reactions; it is called the "feign or faint" pattern. Actual psychology looks at both reactions, feigning and fainting, as a passive retreat from reality. This reaction is comparable to shell-shock or battle neurosis, the study of which is one of the most absorbing chapters of medicine. Soldier and civilian alike can go into a state of mental paralysis. In such a state the victim becomes apathetic; he is unable to talk or to move. No dangerous reality exists for him anymore. He looks dead; only his frightened, burning eyes seem alive. This death attitude or cataleptic reaction often has a completely terrifying effect on bystanders. There is nothing so contagious as fainting in any crowded place.

It is of the utmost importance to realize how passive, paralyzed, indifferent, and submissive people can become under circumstances which should demand the utmost activity. The totalitarians are making use of man's passive reaction to terror when they put their prisoners into huge concentration camps with only a few guards; they are gambling that the reaction of passivity will keep the victim from rebelling or trying to escape. Like the bird which stands stock-still when the snake approaches, man may surrender passively to what he dreads and fears in order to get rid of the tension of anticipation. The thief who surrenders to the police because he cannot stand the tension and insecurity of not knowing when he will be found out is an obvious example.

A psychological camouflage reaction lies behind emotional shock and silent panic-the mental paralysis that overcomes some people when they can no longer cope with the circumstances in which they find themselves. Passive surrender to what he fears is one of man's most common reactions to sudden danger; it is not limited to pathological personalities. It occurs much more frequently than wild and overt panic, and displays itself in numerous subtle behavior mechanisms. People may escape into complaints about physical disease. They may take refuge in "very important" pseudo-tasks and hobbies. They may deny real danger in a seemingly self-securing complacency. They become obstinate and disobedient; nothing can activate them. They are not interested in politics, they say. Some will try to sell to themselves and others the paralyzing theory of hopelessness and the inevitability of doom. But don't talk about the nuclear bomb! Others will throw themselves into the oblivion of excessive drinking or hide themselves in long, pointless conferences. Every man has his own psychological Maginot line-a mental fortress that he believes inviolable. We used to call this the ostrich policy-and the ostrich policy is one of the most dangerous strategies in the world. Beware the totalitarian who preaches peace; his intention may be to push the world into passive surrender to that which it fears.

The cult of passivity and so-called relaxation is one of the most dangerous developments of our times. Essentially, it too may represent a camouflage pattern, the double wish not to see the dangers and challenges of life and not to be seen. We cannot escape all the tensions that surround us; they are part of life, and we have to learn to cope with them adequately and to use our leisure time for more creative and gratifying activities. Silent, lonely relaxationwith alcohol, sweets, the television screen, or a murder mysterymay soothe the mind into a passivity that may gradually make it vulnerable to the seductive ideology of some feared enemy. Denying the danger of totalitarianism through passivity, may gradually surrender to its blandishments those who were initially afraid of it.

Explosive Panics

Most people are far more familiar with the explosive motor reactions we call panic and stampede than they are with the other fear reactions. This is what we call mass hysteria, the chacun pour soi reaction. The baby has its temper tantrums, and older people have their uncontrolled fury and "fight or flight" reactions. Although we usually think of the word "panic" as describing such phenomena as the hysterical stampede out of a burning theater or the flight of whole populations in terror, there are many subtle steps that lead from the first symptoms of unrest we all feel when something is threatening, to the great outbursts of crying and running and fighting we see in severe panics. Man shows many forms of panicky, frenzied behavior-epileptic fits (as in trench or war epilepsy), fury, rage, self-destruction, criminal aggression, running amok, deserting from the army, rioting, uncontrolled impulsiveness, breakneck speed in driving. A soldier in a state of panic may behave like an angry child. He may attack his friends or shoot at the members of his own troop. In panic, civilians may begin to cry, shout, walk aimlessly about wringing their hands. Or they may shout and scold or cry for help. The panicky person spreads panic; every time he shouts, he incites others to run. Panic is never a queston of crude strength or failing energy, but rather of lack of inner structure, of a failing capacity to organize. The panicky leader hesitates to use the powers entrusted to him.

The child with temper tantrums lies deep within all of us. The more mysterious and unaccountable the danger, the more primitive our reactions may be.

Riots, furious mass movement, and outbreaks of criminality serve to increase fear and panic, and thus can be used to deepen man's sense of insecurity and further his passive surrender to the totalitarian environment. Any terroristic regime compels its victims to repress their reactions of rebellion and anger. The more these reactions are repressed, the more the victims develop tremendous inner rage, which must bide its time and wait until it is permitted some socially sanctioned form of explosion. War is often such a universal panic, a mass discharge of accumulated internal rage. Here, too, the inner fears of mankind are discharged in mass destruction.

The Body Takes Over

The great group of psychosomatic reactions, although they are no mystery, are more difficult to explain. Let us look at an example which may make this phenomenon more clear. In my home town in Holland, after a few bombardments during the Second World War, an epidemic of bladder disease broke out-at least that was the first explanation. People suffered from the need to urinate so often that their sleep was disturbed; almost no one had a full night's rest. For a short time, there was a boom in the practice of urologists. Then psychiatrists were able to explain that this urge to urinate was one of the first reactions to fear. The victims had only to think back to their childhood and to recall their bodily reactions before taking examinations at school to see what was happening. Increased urination may be described as one of the tension-reducing devices of the body. The body may react to danger and panic with a variety of physical symptoms. Perspiration, frequent urination, heart palpitations, diarrhea, high blood pressure are only a few. We know that many of these reactions are related to the body's mobilization of specific defenses against threatening dangers. The specific ways in which bodily diseases related to fear and anxiety develop are conditioned largely by the individual's personal life history, especially his development during childhood. The infant whose early tensions and yearnings were drowned in milk and pablum will grow up into an adult who tries to fill his mouth again as soon as something threatening occurs. Overeating has become for him a fear-allaying device. In the process of rearing the child, the parent unwittingly train certain of the child's organs to react to the tensions of life.

Because man has many bodily organs, he can show a tremendous variety in his physical and emotional responses to threats, both from without and within. Psychosomatic medicine distinguishes between different character types in terms of the different organs which respond to outside stress or danger. There is the ulcer type, the asthma type, the colitis type, the heart failure type. Each of these types shows a different reaction to the same battle-the battle against fear. Feelings of social tension may be expressed in various organic diseases. In acute fright, however, certain organs of the body more commonly react than others. As we saw in our earlier example, the need for frequent urination is a nearly universal reaction to fright. The "upset stomach" is another almost universal fear reaction.

During the Second World War, a medical team looked in vain for the bug causing an unknown intestinal disease among American soldiers who were preparing to land on one of the enemy islands in the Pacific. The doctors and biologists searched and searched; they found nothing. The mysterious disease vanished, as suddenly as it had appeared, after the invasion began and the soldiers were able to discharge in action the tension of waiting f or the invasion. These men were not strange or abnormal in any way. Even when one consciously accepts the challenge of danger and is prepared to face it, counterforces in the body may defeat the mental effort. The mind wants to be brave, but the body escapes into disease. Consistency of child-rearing, emotional security at home, and lifelong conditioning to acceptance of the various challenges of life-all these are the factors that determine how we will react when we are put to the test.

In their treatment of panicky soldiers during the last war, psychiatrists gave some of their time to an explanation of these various danger reactions. As the victims began to understand their reactions and saw how common they were, they took the first and most important step toward cure. No longer were they so afraid of their fears; no longer were they in such dread of cowardice. It was important for them to know that what had reduced them to the level of helpless childhood was part of a universal pattern of defensive behavior. As they understood this, they became less afraid and ashamed of their own private fears. They knew that their bodies were reacting like many others, and they became able once more to accept their duties quietly and with better control. Stamina and resourcefulness depend as much on self-knowledge as they do on the help and support we get from others.

In times of stress and calamity, people begin to probe for the vulnerable spots and weaknesses in both their friends and their enemies. This testing goes on constantly during a hot war, but it happens during a cold war as well. The cold war exerts a continual pressure on human imagination and mental fortitude and is the cause of many peculiar escape reactions or bodily reactions.

Whenever fear and danger confront him, man has to make a choice: Shall he indulge in unchecked fury? Shall he concentrate upon self-protection? Or shall he accept his responsibilities? The fear reactions we have described show how the primordial impulse to self-protection (misguided though it may be) can break through all our civilized defenses. Only training and conscious preparation for danger, both inner and outer, can give a man strength to hold these reactions in check. This training starts within the nucleus of the family and is supported by the example of a peaceful, free community. These are the first teachers in the constant battle between inner fear and outer danger.

Those who are in danger of being brainwashed can be helped simply by making them familiar with the facts. Foreknowledge has a partial protective function, and this belongs to the best security we can give to them. It takes away the weakening influence of anxious and mysterious anticipation. With this aid, their mental vulnerability is then furthered by innate inner strength, by the example of good rearing, and by the challenge and opportunity their society gives to them.

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