Historical Source: Medication Into Submission; A Review of Mental Seduction and Menticide
This article takes an excerpt of an important book for both its historical context and it’s content. In the field of Mad Studies – an emerging area of study in academia which, although a part of formal education, extends well beyond its borders – the ideas presented in the book hold a high degree of relevance. In this book ‘Mental Seduction and Menticide; The Psychology of Thought Control and Brainwashing‘ by Dr Joost Abraham Maurits Meerloo, various notions of mental coercion are discussed in context with the dangers of totalitarianism and domination of the individual.
The author, formerly Chief of the Psychological Department, Netherlands Forces, writes from actual experience; he himself spent some time in a concentration camp, and his book is for the layman, not only for experts and scientists. Published in 1957, after experiences of the second world war and the interrogations which took place in it, we find a narrative which sits outside of our modern history – or at least distinct from it. The pharmaceutical industry had not grown to the size which it had, and so the industrial-medical complex was different in nature.
What follows is the introduction to the book followed by the verbatim chapter ‘Medication Into Submission’ as a historical source on the issues which may accompany a culture of using medications and interventions to alter behaviour. This is to prompt thought about our current context through review of literature produced further from our cultural bias.
This book attempts to depict the strange transformation of the free Human mind into an automatically responding machine —a transformation which can be brought about by some of the cultural under-currents in our present-day society as well as by deliberate experiments in the service of a political ideology.
The seduction of the mind and stealthy mental coercion are among the oldest crimes of mankind. They probably began back in prehistoric days when man first discovered that he could exploit human qualities of empathy and understanding in order to exert power over his fellow men. The modern words ‘brainwashing’, ‘thought control’, and ‘menticide’ serve to provide some indication of the actual methods by which man’s integrity can be violated. When a concept is given its right name, it can be more easily recognized — and it is with this recognition that the opportunity for systematic correction begins.
In this book the reader will find a discussion of some of the imminent dangers which threaten free cultural interplay. It emphasizes the tremendous cultural implication of the subject of enforced mental intrusion. Not only the artificial techniques of coercion are important but even more the unobtrusive intrusion into our feeling and thinking. The danger of destruction of the spirit may be compared to the threat of total physical destruction through atomic warfare. Indeed, the two arc related and intertwined. My approach to this subject is based on the belief that it is only by looking at any problem from several angles that we are able to get at its heart.
Medication into Submission
As we have already seen in the preceding chapters, it is not only the political and Pavlovian pressure that may drag down man’s mind into servile submissiveness. There are many other human habits and actions which have a coercive influence. All kinds of rumours have been circulated telling how brainwashees, before surrendering to their inquisitor, have been poisoned with mysterious drugs. This chapter aims to describe what medical techniques — not only drugs — can do to reach behind man’s inner secrets. Actually the thought-control police no longer need drugs, though occasionally they have been used.
I will touch upon another side of this problem as well, namely, our dangerous social dependence on various drugs, the problem of addiction, making it easier for us to slip into the pattern of submissiveness. The alcoholic has no mental backbone any more when you give him his drink. The same is true for the chronic user of sedatives or other pills. The use of alcohol or drugs may result in a chemical dependency, weakening our stamina under exceptional circumstances.
In the field of practical medicine, magic thinking is still rampant. Though we flatter ourselves that we are rational and logical in our choice of therapy, somewhere we know that hidden feelings and un-conscious motivations direct the prescribing hand. In spite of the therapeutic triumphs of the last fifty years, the era of chemotherapy and antibiotics, let us not forget that the same means of medical victory can be used to defeat our purposes. No day passes when the mail does not flood the doctor’s office with suggestions about what to use in his clinical practice.
My desk overflows with gadgets and multi-coloured pills telling me that without them mankind cannot be happy. The propaganda campaign reaching our medical eyes and ears is often so laden with suggestions that we can be persuaded to distribute sedatives and stimulants where straight critical thinking would deter us and we would seek the deeper causes of the difficulties. This is true not only for modern pharmacotherapy; the same tendencies can also be shown in psychotherapeutic methods.
This chapter aims to approach the problem of mental coercion with the question: How compulsive can the use of medical drugs and medical and psychological methods become? In the former chapters on menticide I was able to describe political attempts to bring the human mind into submission and servility. Drugs and their psychological equivalents are also able to enslave people.
Dependency on the Drug Provider
Not long ago I was asked to give advice to a couple who had had marital difficulties for a long time. Although at the time of their marriage the husband and wife were deeply in love, each had brought to his adventure of happiness the wrong emotional investment. She had expected him to be a kind of Hollywood hero, an eternal gallant, dedicated completely to her. He had been touched by her childlike dependency, but secretly he had hoped she would be mother, nurse and companion to him. As might have been predicted, neither partner lived up to the other’s expectations.
Both were bitterly disappointed — and neither realized what was wrong. After a while, the wife became a whining, complaining nag; there were daily scenes, arguments and recriminations. The husband began to seek solace away from home, with women he had known before his marriage. Soon thereafter, the wife found herself unable to sleep, and started to take barbiturates to bring herself the soothing forgetfulness of slumber. She became completely dependent on them and retreated into all kinds of vague bodily complaints which could be relieved temporarily by more drugs.
When the husband first discovered this, he was appalled. But gradually he noticed that the drugs seemed to modify and ease the discord of their relationship. Under almost constant sedation, his wife was no longer a shrew. Indeed she was no longer even interested in him. He discovered that he had much more freedom and could spend his evenings and holidays as he chose, as long as he provided her with the wherewithal for those magic pills that had restored peace to their home. But one night the wife took an overdose of barbiturates, and it looked almost as if she had attempted suicide. This nearly fatal occurrence aroused all the husband’s guilt feelings, and he sought medical and psychological help, in an effort to discover what had gone wrong in the marriage of two people who had felt so much initial love and goodwill.
This is only one of many cases in which the sleeping pill and drug habit covers up deep-seated, unspoken unhappiness. The growing dependency on easy escape into a soft and mild-appearing sedation and oblivion is an evil we must recognize. The general increase in the use of sleeping drugs is alarming, and the number of suicides resulting from barbiturates is growing every year. Nor can we look at such a phenomenon as simply a medical problem.
Dependence on alcohol, barbiturates, drugs, or other soporifics indicates latent and overt social fear and anxiety, and the need to escape from reality. Drugs seem to their users to be miracle tablets which provide a passive and magic solution to all problems, and bring them to a point beyond the boundaries of the real world. The leader of a gang, who is able to provide such drugs for his members, is sure of their servility.
The Search for Ecstasy Through Drugs
Among drug addicts of all sorts we repeatedly encounter the yearning for a special ecstatic and euphoric mood, a feeling of living beyond everyday troubles. ‘Thou hast the keys of Paradise, O just, subtle, and mighty opium!’ Thomas De Quincey says, in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Although the ecstatic state is different for each person who experiences it, the addict always tells us that the drug takes him to the lost paradise he is looking for; it brings him a feeling of eternal euphoria and free elation that takes him past the restrictions of life and time.
In the ecstatic state, man rearranges the universe according to his own desires and, at the same time, seeks communion with the Higher Order of things. But the ecstatic state has its negative as well as its positive aspects. It may represent the Yogi’s mystic feeling of unity with the universe, but it may also mean the chronic intoxicated state of the drunkard or the passion of some manic psychotic states. The feeling may express the intensified spiritual experience of a dedicated study group, but, on the other hand, it may be encountered in the lynch mob and the riot. There are many kinds of ecstasy — aesthetic ecstasy, mystic ecstasy, and sick, toxic ecstasy.
The search for ecstatic experience is not only an individual search, it often reaches out to encompass whole groups. When moral controls become too burdensome, whole civilizations may give themselves up to uncontrolled orgies such as we saw in the Greek Bacchanalia and the contagious dance-fury of the Middle Ages. In these mass orgies, artificial stimulants are not necessarily used.
The hypnotic influence of being part of the crowd can induce the same loss of control and sense of union with the outside world that we associate with drugs. In the mass orgy the individual loses his conscience and self-control. His sexual inhibitions may disappear; he is temporarily relieved of his deep frustrations and the burden of unconscious guilt. He endeavours to re-experience the blissful sensations of infancy, the utter yielding to his own body needs and desires.
The ecstatic participation in mass elation is the oldest psychodrama in the world. Taking part in some common action results in a tremen-dous emotional relief and catharsis for every individual in the group. This feeling of participation in the magic omnipotent group, of reunion and communion with the all-embracing forces in the world, brings euphoria to the normal person and feelings of pseudo-strength to the weak. The demagogue who is able to provide such ecstatic release in the masses can be sure of their yielding to his influence and power. Dictators love to organize such mass rituals in the service of their dictatorial aims.
Ever since man has been a conscious being, he has tried from time to time to break down the inevitable tension between himself and the outside world. When mental alertness cannot be relaxed now and then, when the world is too much and too constantly with him, man may try to lose himself in the deep waters of oblivion. Ecstasy, drugged sleep, and its fantasies and swoons of mental exaltation temporarily take him beyond the burdensome effort of keeping his senses and ego alert and intact. Drugs can bring him to this state, and any addiction may be explained as a continuing need to escape. The body co-operates with the mind in this search for an evasion of life, and drugs gradually become a body need as well as an emotional necessity.
In criminal circles addicting drugs like cocaine or heroin are often given to members of the gang in order to make them more submissive to the leader who distributes them. The man who provides the drug becomes almost a god to the members of the gang. They will go through hell for him in order to acquire the drug they so desperately need.
In the hands of a powerful tyrant, this medication into dependency can become extremely dangerous. It is not unthinkable that a diaboli-cal dictator might want to use addiction as a means of bringing a rebellious people into submission. In May 1954, during a discussion in the World Health Organization, the fact was disclosed that Communist China, while forbidding the use of opium in her own country, was smuggling and exporting it in great quantities to her neighbours, who have consequently been compelled to carry on a constant struggle against opium addiction among their own people and against the passivity which results from use of the drug.
At the same time, according to officials of Thailand who made the charge and who requested U.N. aid, Communist China has been sending all kinds of subversive propagandists into Thailand. Thailand charged that the Chinese were using every device they know to infect the Siamese people with their ideology: brain-weakening opium addiction, leaflets, radio, whispering campaigns and so on.
The Nazis followed a similar strategy. During the occupation of Western Europe, they created an artificial shortage of normal medicaments by halting their usual export of healing drugs to the ‘inferior’ countries. However, they made an exception in the case of barbiturates. In Holland, for example, these drugs were made readily available in many drugstores without doctors’ prescriptions, a situation which was against customary Dutch law. Although the right therapeutic drugs were not made available for medical work, the drugs which created passivity, dependence and lethargy were widely distributed.
The totalitarian dictator knows that drugs can be his helpers. It was Hitler’s intention, in his so-called biological warfare, to weaken and subdue the countries that surrounded the Third Reich, and to break their backbones for good. Hunger and addiction were among his most valuable strategic tools.
What has all this to do with the growing addiction and alcoholism in our own country ? I have already mentioned the alarming increases in death from barbiturates. But I would like to emphasize even more the psychological and political consequences.
Democracy and freedom end where slavery and submission to drugs and alcohol begin. Democracy involves free, self-chosen activity and understanding; it means mature self-control and independence. Any man who escapes from reality through the use of alcohol and drugs is no longer a free agent; he is no longer able to exert any voluntary control over his mind and his actions. He is no longer a self-responsible individual. Alcoholism and drug addiction prepare the pattern of mental submission so beloved by the totalitarian brainwasher.
Hypnotism and Mental Coercion
From time immemorial those who wanted to know the inner workings of the other fellow’s mind in order to exert pressure on him have used artificial means to find the hidden pathways to his most private thoughts. Modern brainwashers, too, have tried all kinds of drugs to arrive at their devious objectives. The primitive medicine man had several methods of compelling his victim to lose his self-control and reserve.
Alcoholic drinks, toxic ointments, or permeating holy smoke which had a narcotizing effect, as used by the Mayas, for example, were used to bring people into such a state of rapture that they lost their self-awareness and restraint. The victims, murmuring sacred words, often revealed their self-accusing fantasies or even their deepest secrets.
In the Middle Ages, so-called witch ointments were used either voluntarily or under pressure. These ointments were supposed to bring the anointed into touch with the devil. Since they contained opiates and belladonna in large quantities, which could have been absorbed by the skin, modern science can explain the ecstatic visions they evoked as the typical hallucination-provoking effect of these drugs.
One of the first useful techniques medicine delivered into the hands of the prier-into-souls was the knowledge of hypnosis, that intensified mental suggestion that makes people give up their own will and brings them into a strange dependency on the hypnotizer. The Egyptian doctors of three thousand years ago knew the technique of hypnosis, and ancient records tell us that they practised it. In the hands of an honest therapist, hypnosis can be extremely useful.
Particularly in dealing with psychosomatic diseases and with physical pain — that bastard son of fantasy and reality — hypnosis, is the good Samaritan. But there are many quacks who practise hypnosis not to cure their victims but to force them into submission, using the victim’s unconscious ties and dependency needs in a criminal, profitable way. There are unconscious sexual roots in hypnosis, related to the passive yielding to the attacker, which the quack uses to give vent to his own passions. I once treated a girl after she had gone to such a ‘healer’. It was only at the very last moment that she had been able to get out of her lethargic, submissive state and fight off his assault.
Not long ago I treated some teenagers who had tried to hypnotize each other. They wanted to learn the intricacies of the technique in order to increase their mental power over other people. Inspired by some comic-book stories, they imagined that through the use of hypnosis they could influence girls to yield to their sexual advances. They expected to become supermen who could make other people instru-ments for the satisfaction of their own lust and will.
One of the most absorbing aspects of this whole problem of hypnosis is the question of whether people can be forced to commit crimes, such as murder or treason, while under a hypnotic spell. Many psychologists would deny that such a thing could happen and would insist that no person can be compelled to do under hypnosis what he would refuse to do in a state of alert consciousness, but actually what a person can be compelled to do depends on the degree of dependency that hypnosis causes and the frequency of repetition of the so-called posthypnotic suggestions.
Actual psychoanalysis teaches that there even exist several other devices to live other people’s lives. True, no hypnotizer can take away a man’s conscience and inner resistance immediately, but he can arouse the latent murderous wishes which may become active in his victim’s unconscious by continual suggestion and continual playing upon those deeply repressed desires. Actual knowledge of methods used in brainwashing and menticide proves that all this can be done. If the hypnotizer persists long enough and cleverly enough, he can be successful in his aim. There are many antisocial desires lying hidden in all people.
The hypnotic technique, if cleverly enough applied, can bring them to the surface and cause them to be acted out in life. The mass criminality of the guards in concentration camps finds part of its explanation in the hypnotizing influence of the totalitarian state and its criminal dictator. Psychological study of criminals shows that their first violation of moral and legal codes often takes place under the strong influence and suggestion of other criminals. This we may look upon as an initial form of hypnosis, which is a more intensified form of suggestion.
True, the incitement to crime in a hypnotic state demands specially favourable conditions, but unfortunately these conditions can be found in the real and actual world. Recently there has been much judicial discussion of the problem of the psychiatrist who uses his special knowledge of suggestion to force a confession from a defendant. Such a psychiatrist is going beyond the commonly accepted concepts of the limitations of psychiatry and be-yond psychiatric ethics.
He is misusing the patient’s trust in the medical confidant and therapist in order to provoke a confession, which will then be used against the patient temporarily in his care. In so doing, the doctor not only acts against his Hippocratic oath, in which he promised only to work for the good of his patients and never to disclose his professional secrets; he also violates the constitutional safeguards accorded a defendant by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects a man against self-incrimination.
What a defendant will reveal under hypnosis depends on his con-scious and unconscious attitudes towards the entire question of magic influence and mental intrusion by another person. People are usually less likely to stand on their legal rights in dealing with a doctor than in dealing with a lawyer or a policeman. They have a yielding attitude because they expect magic help. An interesting example of this can be seen in a case that was recently decided by the Supreme Court. In 1950, Camilio Weston Leyra, a man in his fifties, was arrested and accused by the police of the brutal hammer murder of his aged parents in their Brooklyn flat (‘People v. Leyra’).
At first, under prolonged questioning by the police, Leyra denied any knowledge of the crime and stated that he had not even been at his parents’ home on the day of the murder. Later, after further interrogation by the police, he said he had been at their home that day, but he remained firm in his denial of the murder. He was detained in jail, and a psychiatrist was brought in to talk to him. Their conversation was recorded on tape. The psychiatrist told Leyra that he was ‘his doctor’, although in fact he was not. Under slight hypnosis and after continued suggestion that Leyra would be better off if he admitted to having committed the murder in a fit of passion, Leyra agreed to confess to the crime. The police were called back in, and the confession was taken down.
During his trial, Leyra repudiated the confession, insisting that he had been under hypnosis. He was convicted, but the conviction was set aside on the grounds that the confession had been wrested from him involuntarily, and that his constitutional safeguards had been denied him. Later, Leyra was brought to trial and convicted a second time. Finally an appeal was made to the Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction in June 1954, on the grounds that mental pressure and coercive psychiatric techniques had been used to induce the confession. The Supreme Court gave its opinion here, indirectly, of the responsibility of the brainwashed P.O.W.
For us, the question of Leyra’s guilt or innocence is of less impor-tance than the fact that under mental pressure he was induced to do what he would ordinarily have resisted doing, and that his confidence in the doctor, which led him to relax the defences he would doubtless have put up against other investigators, was used to break him down.
Suggestion and hypnosis can be a psychological blessing, through which patients can solve emotional problems that resist conscious will, but they can also be the beginning of terror. Mass hypnosis, for ex-ample, can have a dangerous influence on the individual. Psychiatrists have found several times that public demonstrations of mass hypnosis may provoke an increased hypnotic dependency and submissiveness in many members of the audience that can last for years. Largely for this reason Great Britain has passed a law making seances and mass hypnotism illegal.
Hypnosis may act as a trigger mechanism for a repressed infantile dependency need in the victim and turn him temporarily into a kind of waking sleepwalker and mental slave. The hypnotic command relieves him of his personal responsibility, and he surrenders much of his conscience to his hypnotizer. As we mentioned before, our own times have provided us with far too many examples of how political hypnosis, mob hypnosis, and even war hypnosis can turn civilized men into criminals.
Some personalities are more amenable to hypnosis than others. Strong egos can defend themselves for a long time against mental intrusion, but they, too, may have a point of surrender. There are overtly critical persons who are much less sensitive to suggestion from the outside than to images from within themselves. We can distinguish between heterosuggestive and autosuggestive personalities, although quite a variety of reactions to hypnosis and suggestion could be distinguished. But even these autosuggestive types, if subjected to enough pressure, will gradually build up internal justifications for giving in to mental coercion.
Those ‘charming’ characters who are easily able to influence others are often extremely susceptible to suggestion themselves. Some personalities with a tremendous gift for empathy and identification provoke in others the desire to yield up all their secrets; they seem somehow to be the Father Confessor by the grace of God. Other emphatic types, by reflecting their own deceitful inner world, can more easily provoke the hidden lies and fantasies in their victims. Still others make us close up completely. Why one man should inspire the desire to give in and another the desire to resist is one of the mysteries of human relationships and contact. Why do certain personalities complement and reinforce one another while others clash and destroy one another. Psychoanalysis has given new insight into those strange human relations and involvements.
Needling for the Truth
During the Second World War, the technique of the so-called truth serum (the popular name for narco-analysis) was developed to help soldiers who had broken down under the strain of battle. Through narco-analysis by means of injections of sedatives, they could be brought to remember and reveal the hyper-emotional and traumatic moments of their war experiences that had driven them into acute anxiety neurosis. Gradually a useful mental first-aid technique was developed which helped the unconscious to reveal its secrets while the patient was under the influence of the narcotic.
How does the truth serum work? The principle is simple: after an injection, the mind in a kind of half-sleep is unable to control its secrets, and it may let them slip from the hidden reservoirs of frustration and repression into the half-conscious mind. In certain acute anxiety cases, such enforced provocation may alleviate the anxieties and pressures that have led to breakdown.
But narco-analysis often does not work. Sometimes the patient’s mind resents this chemical intrusion and enforced intervention, and such a situation often obstructs the way for deeper and more useful psychotherapy.
The fear of unexpected mental intrusion and coercion may be pathological in character. When I first published my concept of menticide and brainwashing, I received dozens of letters and phone calls from people who were convinced that some outside person was trying to influence them and direct their thoughts. This form of mental intrusion delusion may be the early stage of a serious psychosis in which the victim has already regressed to primitive magic feelings. In this state the whole outside world is seen and felt as participating in what is going on in the victim’s mind.
There is, as it were, no real awareness of the frontiers between I, the person, and the world. Such fear-ridden persons are in constant agony because they feel themselves the victims of many mysterious influences which they cannot check or cope with; they feel continually endangered. Psychologically, their fear of intrusion from the outside can be partially explained as a fear of the intrusion of their own fantasies from the inside, from the unconscious. They are frightened of their own hidden, unconscious thoughts which they can no longer check.
It would be a vast oversimplification to stick an easy psychiatric label on all such feelings of mental persecution, for there are many real, outside mental pressures in our world, and there are many perfectly normal people who are continually aware of and disturbed by the barrage of stimuli directed at their minds through propaganda, advertising, radio, television, the movies, the newspapers — all the gibbering maniacs whose voices never stop. These people suffer because a cold, mechanical, shouting world is knocking continually at the doors of their minds and disturbing their feelings of privacy and personal integrity.
There is the further question of whether or not the drugs used in the truth serum always produce the desired effect of compelling the patient to tell the inner truth. Experiments conducted at Yale University in 1951 (J. M. MacDonald) on nine persons who received intravenous injections of sodium amytal —the so-called truth serum — showed interesting results, tending to weaken our faith in this drug. To each of the patients, prior to the injection, had been suggested a false story related to a historical period about which he was going to be questioned. The experimenters knew both the true and the false story.
Let me quote from the report: ‘It is of interest that the three subjects diagnosed as normal maintained their [suggested] stories. Of the six subjects diagnosed as neurotic, two promptly revealed the true story; two made partial admissions, consisting of a complex pattern of fantasy and truth; one communicated what most likely was a fantasy as truth; and the one obsessive-compulsive individual maintained his cover story except for one parapraxia [faulty or blundering action].’
In several cases, American law courts have refused to admit as evidence the results of truth serum tests, largely on the basis of psychiatric conviction that the truth serum treatment is misnamed; that, in fact, narco-analysis is no guarantee of getting at the truth. It may even be used as a coercive threat in cases where victims are not aware of its limited action.
Still another danger, more closely related to our subject, is that a criminal investigator can induce and communicate his own thoughts and feelings to his victim. Thus the truth serum may cause the patient with a weak ego to yield to the interventionist’s synthetically injected thoughts and interpretations in exactly the same way as the victim of hypnosis may take over the suggestions implanted by the hypnotist. Additionally, this method of inquisition by drugs contains some physical danger. I myself have seen cases of thrombosis develop as a result of intravenous medication of barbiturates.
Experiments with mescaline, which started thirty years ago, are suddenly fashionable again. Aldous Huxley in his recent book The Doors of Perception described the artificial chemical paradise which he experienced after taking the drug (also known as peyote). It can stimulate all kinds of pleasant, subjective symptoms, but these are, nevertheless, delusive in character. I do not want to start a clinical argument with an author I esteem, yet his own euphoric, ecstatic reactions to mescaline are not necessarily the same as those other people experience.
Twenty-five years ago I myself experimented with mescaline in order to make a first-hand acquaintance with genuine pathological thoughts. I nearly collapsed as a result. Only a few people have had the ecstatic experiences Huxley describes. Mescaline is dangerous stuff when not used under medical control. And, anyway, why does Mr Huxley want to sell artificial heavens?
There is a very serious social danger in all these methods of chemical intrusion into the mind. True, they can be used as a careful aid to psychotherapy, but they can also be frightening instruments of control in the hands of men with an overwhelming drive to power. In addition, they fortify more than ever in our aspirin age the fiction that we have to use miracle drugs in order to become free-acting agents.
The propaganda for chemical elation, for artificial ecstasy and pseudo-nirvanic experience contains an invitation to men to become chemical dependants, and chemical dependants are weak people who can be made use of by any tyrannical political potentate. The actual propaganda carried on among general practitioners urging treatment of all kinds of anxieties and mental disturbances with new drugs has the same kind of dangerous implications.
The Lie Detector
Hypnotism and narco-analysis are only two of the current devices that can be misused as instruments of enforced intrusion into the mind. The lie-detector, which has already been used as a tool for mental intimidation, is another. This apparatus, useful for psychobiological experimentation, can indicate — through writing down meticulously the changes in the psychogalvanic reflex — that the human guinea-pig under investigation reacts more emotionally to certain questions than to others.
True, this overreaction may be the reaction to having told a lie, but it may also be an innocent person’s reaction to an emotion-laden situation or even to an increased fear of unjust accusation.
The interpersonal processes between interrogator and testee have just as much influence on the emotional reactions and the changes in the galvanic reflex as feelings of inner guilt and confusion. This experiment only indicates inner turmoil and hidden repressions, with all their doubts and ambiguities. It is not in fact a lie-detector, although it is used as such (D. MacDonald).
As a matter of fact, the pathological liar and the psychopathic, conscienceless personality may show less reaction to this experiment than do normal people. The lie-detector is more likely to become a tool of coercion in the hands of men who look more for a powerful magic in every instrument than a means of getting at the truth. As a result, even the innocent can be fooled into false confession.
The Therapist as an Instrument of Coercion
Medical therapy and psychotherapy are the subtle sciences of human guidance in periods of physical and emotional stress. Just as training requires the alert, well-planned participation of both student and teacher, so successful psychotherapy requires the alert, well-planned participation of both patient and doctor. And just as educational training, under special conditions, can degenerate into coercive taming, so therapy can degenerate into the imposition of the doctor’s will on his patient. The doctor himself need not even be conscious that this is happening.
This misuse of therapy may show itself in the patient’s submission to the doctor’s point of view or in the patient’s development of excessive dependency on his therapist. Such a dependency, and even increased dependency need, may extend not only far beyond the usual limits, but may continue even after the therapy has run its course.
I have seen quacks whose only knowledge was where to buy their couches. By calling themselves psychoanalysts they were able to gratify their own need to live other people’s lives. Eventually the law will have to establish standards which can keep these dangerous intruders from psychotherapeutic practice. But even the honest, conscientious therapist has a serious moral problem to face. His profession itself continually encourages him, indeed obliges him, to make his patients temporarily dependent on him, and this may appeal to his own need for a sense of importance and power..
He must be continually aware of the impact his statements and deductions have on his patients, who often listen in awe to the doctor who is for them the omniscient magician. The therapist must not encourage this submissive attitude in his patients — though in some phases of the treatment it will help the therapy— for good psychotherapy aims towards educating man for freedom and maturity, not for conforming submission.
The practitioners of psychology and psychiatry are now much more aware of the responsibility their profession imposes on them than they have ever been heretofore. The tools of psychology are dangerous in the hands of the wrong men. Modern educational methods can be applied in therapy to streamline man’s brain and change his opinions so that his thinking conforms with certain ideological systems. Medicine and psychiatry may become more and more involved in political strategy as we have seen in the strategy of brainwashing, and for this reason psychologists and psychiatrists must become more aware of the nature of the scientific tools they use.
The emphasis on therapeutic techniques, on students knowing all the facts and the tricks, the overemphasis on psychotherapeutic diplomas and labels lead actual therapy towards conformism and rationalization of principles that are in contrast to the personal sensitivity needed. Our critical and rational faculty can be a destructive one, destroying or disguising our basic doubts and ambivalences born out of tragic despair, that creator of human sensitivity.
The danger of modern psychotherapy (and psychology) is the tendency towards formalizing human intuition and empathy, and towards making an abstraction of emotion and spontaneity. It is a contradiction to attempt to mechanize love and beauty. If this were possible, we would find ourselves in a world where there is no inspiration and ecstasy but only cold understanding.
Every human relationship can be used for the wrong or the right aims, and this is especially true of the relationship of subtle unconscious ties which exists between psychotherapist and patient. This statement is equally true for medicine in general; the surgeon, too, thrives on strong ties with his patients and their willing submission to his surgical techniques. Freud gave us the first clear explanation of what happens in the mind during prolonged mental contact with a human being.
He showed that in every intensive human relationship each participant reacts at least partially in terms of the expectations and illusions he developed in his own childhood. As a result, prolonged therapy — based on the principle of utter freedom of expression — provides as much opportunity for transference of private feelings for the doctor as for the patient. If the doctor is not careful, or if he does not understand this mutual transfer of hidden emotions, or if, in his compulsive zest to explain everything, he is too coercive, he may force the patient into acceptance of his point of view, instead of helping the patient to arrive at his own.
This can become mental intrusion of a dangerous kind. Experiences in therapy have taught us that faulty technique can give the patient feelings of being bogged down. Sometimes patients feel as if they have to remain living in servile submission to the doctor. I have seen whole families and sects swear by such modern witch doctors.
No wonder that sound psychoanalytic instruction requires the therapist to submit himself for years to the technique he is about to apply to others, so that, armed with knowledge of his own unsound unconscious needs, he will not try to use his profession to mastermind other people’s lives. Various psychological agencies, with their different psychological concepts and techniques, such as family counselling, religious guidance, management counselling, and so forth, can easily be misused as tools of power.
The goodwill that people invest in their leaders, doctors and administrators is tremendous and can be used as a weapon against them. Even modern brain surgery for healing the mind could be misused by modern dictators to make zombies out of their competitors. Psychology itself may tend to standardize the mind, and the tendency among different schools of psychology to emphasize orthodoxy increases unwittingly the chance for mental coercion. (‘If you don’t talk my magic gobbledygook, I have to condition you to it.’) It is easier to manipulate the minds of others than to avoid doing so.
A democratic society gives its citizens the right to act as free agents. At the same time, it imposes on them the responsibility for maintaining their freedom, mental as well as political. If, through the use of modern medical, chemical and mechanical techniques of mental intrusion, we reduce man’s capacity to act on his own initiative, we subvert our own beliefs and weaken our democratic system. Just as there is a deliberate political brainwashing, so can there be a suggestive intrusion masquerading under the name of justice or therapy. This may be less obtrusive than the deliberate totalitarian attack, but it is no less dangerous.
Medication into submission is an existing fact. Man can use his knowledge of the mind of a fellow being not to help him, but to hurt him and bog him down. The magician can increase his power by increasing the anxieties and fears of his victim, by exploiting his dependency needs, and by provoking his feelings of guilt and inferiority. Drugs and medical techniques can be used to make man a submissive and conforming being. This we have to keep in mind in order to be able to make him really healthy and free.
Thoughts on the Historical Source
Reading from this text affords us to glimpse the authors thoughts of the dangers of the use of medication of the psychology; something which is common-place in the times we live in now. As an historical source, this is a prompt to think about the similarities and differences with the literatures which are emerging around the medical model of mental illness. This is a key juncture where people are raising concerns about the medicalization of normal human behaviours and emotional experiences, as well as the psychiatrization of the individual.
Of course, the danger is that we simplify intensely complex issues into black and white oppositions. When people take to absolute and categorical statements, we commonly encounter problems. Primarily because it closes down any possibility for conversation in favour of competition, and displaces the exploration for fitting understandings to cynicisms which turn to dogmatic stances.
In this book the author attempts to bring light to the various ways that people can have their minds and psychologies imposed upon. Drawing from a great deal of first hand experience of the totalitarianism of the Nazi regime and the ways that they set out to break and manipulate a population, in this book he brings together a narrative around what happens in the imaginary country of ‘Totalitaria’ in an attempt to add to our ability to be realized, free thinking individuals. Understandably, his compassionate aim in writing is to prevent further atrocities happening.
Tracing through accounts and the theory of individual submission, forced confessions, mental coercion and the psychological condition of prisoners; the reader is introduced to the elements of menticide – the techniques employed in breaking the minds and wills of victims. He asserts that the greatest defense that can be offered to such manipulations is a rooted sense of an awareness of what is happening to the individuals.
He takes people through an uncomfortable landscape which is disturbingly banal and ordinary as he considers ‘mass submission’. With such an account, we are troubled to ask about whether the techniques employed in overt war and totalitarianism are employed in daily life outside of that context through consumer and commercial domains. He examines in detail the way in which a whole nation, through propaganda and psychological warfare – especially via exploiting fear – can be virtually enslaved.
Ahead of our time, he highlights and discusses ‘the creeping intrusion into our minds by technology and bureaucracy’ and the methods by which prejudice and delusion can be created. The book culminates in arguments which focus on what defences can be mustered against brain-washing and ‘menticide‘. He suggests what means are available for building up morale not only against political and military indoctrination but against ‘the tremendous mental pressures modern civilization imposes on man’.
This text has a special place in helping us orienteer around an opinion from outside our current cultural context. In a time when medication and self medication are increasingly normalized against a backdrop of seeing behaviours as part of illnesses rather than as part of the consequences of exploitation and social squalor, we need to try and gain vantage points from which we can build understandings and to subsequently form opinions.
The forms of exploitation I implicate here include the manipulation of large stretches of the population by employers who dictate the terms of existence beyond the realm of the job. Sub-sufficiency pay, lack of responsibility to the the employee, encroachment of work expecations into the unpaid world of the personal domain, manipulative contracts, Machiavellian management structures – all of these are obvious torms of exploitation which can be alluded to, but represent the tip of many icebergs…
Social squalor alludes to the introduction of time poverty, the stratification of society through credit rating companies, lack of representation of people by the law, the impoverishment of the landscape of social spaces and social opportunities which are evident in so-called developed nations. As social animals, we need to talk about the displacement of the social possibilities. Of course, the natural question which should rightfully be appearing in the long list which we should address, is how much of what the psychiatric world deals with is a sane reaction to an unhealthy situation ?
The Press Reception of the Book
‘The remarkable story of totalitarian subversion is not the only one that Dr. Meerloo has to tell, indeed it is not his main concern. He is as much appalled by the totalitarian robot personality for its own sake as for the crime of destruction of personality which it seems prone to. Dr. Meerloo is a passionate spokesman for the democratic practice of life as a general human goal, not merely as a device for beating off the totalitarians . . . Dr. Meerloo shows in his own person what psychoanalysis can do when it is freely combined with social science knowledge. He is a remarkably developed individual man; indeed, he is one of the great spokesmen of the democratic world, and everyone should know this.’
John Dollard, Professor of Psychology and Fellow of Berkeley College, Yale
New York Times Book Review
‘Dr. Meerloo knows whereof he speaks, and he has done a valuable service in sharing his knowledge. There are much misunderstanding and wishful thinking about “brainwashing”, or what Dr. Meerloo well terms “menticide”. The book should be read by all serious minded citizens, military and civilian alike.’
Dr. Winfred Overholser, Superintendent, Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital.
‘The author of this book is a Dutch psychologist who is also a doctor in general practice. He spent the first two years of the war in occupied Holland. It is a very interesting and, I think, an important book. It has certainly clarified my own thoughts about the postwar world and how the Allies and the inhabitants of conquered countries had better treat the Germans once they have been beaten. It is the book of a humane man, though with regard to the latter problem he is on the side of an incessantly watchful severity. His analysis of German mass psychology leads him to that conclusion. Primarily, he deals with the psychology of fear and its correctives; of sudden and of prolonged fear, their immediate and after effects. Short as this book is, it contains much I hope to bear in mind.’
Sir Desmond MacCarthy, Sunday Times