Cult Behaviours: Avoiding Dissent – Reviewing Prof Arthur J. Deikman’s Work

This is the fourth part of a review and digest of the work of Professor Arthur Deikman who studied cults and identified how certain everyday tendencies in humans can coalesce in cult behaviours.  As someone who has spent his professional life examining cases of extreme cult indoctrination he is ideally placed to foster a discussion of cult like behaviours which are more common and distributed throughout our lives as human beings.


A key warning he makes in his book is to disabuse ourselves of the ideas of imagined stereotypes ideas like only stupid or uneducated or uninformed people get involved in cults. From his experience this is not the case and highly formally educated people with well heeled social and economic standing are as vulnerable as any other demographic. He emphasises the importance not to think that this can only happen to other people and take the time to examine sociological tendencies in our own lives, work places, communities and thought patterns.


As a professor of psychology he gives attention to ranging areas of life including the medical and psychiatric institutions which he has spent his career involved with. He discusses the alluring nature of belonging and feeling a part of a group contextualising this emotional drive in relation to the security of looking up to some ‘leader’ to follow their instructions on what is dispensed as wisdom.


His book ‘The Wrong Way Home; Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behaviour in American Society’ is an important work of sociology examining patterns of behaviour in the western world scrutinizing what happens in relation to institutional spaces such as politics, media, medicine, business and religion.  I argue hiis work has bearing on the relationships fostered within the family setting, the dynamics which we embody in intimate partnerships, and the forces which exist within and amongst networks of friends.


This instalment of the digest of Deikman’s book focuses on the fourth of the four characteristics of behaviour which he identifies as embodying the cult. He introduces questions that examine the culture around but refers these to scrutinising his own thoughts and actions at various points. The book is structured to discuss the following four attributes:


Compliance with the Group

Dependence on a Leader

Devaluing the Outsider

Avoidance of Dissent


The digest of his book takes verbatim sections and brings in extracts of the original source references he has used to illustrate his narratives.  You will find the word-for-word extracts detailed along with where they have been taken from in the grey boxes; this is to facilitate the reader learning about the subject more deeply and form their own thoughts on what he has presented.  This is a part of a larger project which I have been doing over a number of years examining ingroup-outgroup psychology and how people are dehumanized and marginalised in society.

Alex Dunedin


Avoiding Dissent

Although we all need dissent as a corrective, cults tend to punish it, to inhibit and stifle disagreement and criticism, to restrict access to information that would challenge group beliefs. Cults employ a variety of means to exclude dissent. Mail may be monitored or withheld, only certain literature allowed, and discordant views may be labeled bad. In addition, attention is confined to a narrow field; if free time is spent studying and reciting dogma there is less danger that subversive information will be encountered. Dogma itself may be simplified into slogans, hampering critical thought. These means are enhanced by the punishment the group and leader mete out for challenging authority.


Such coercive forces create conflicts. The cult member wishes to continue riding in the back seat of the car not thinking about where they are going, but at the same time their self-respect is threatened by compliance with censorship and subjection to rewards and punishments. So the inhibition of dissent may be pushed out of awareness, become unconscious.


Conscious and unconscious suppression and restriction of dissent is perhaps the most characteristic feature of cult life; the more severe the restriction, the more control exercised by the group and the leader.


Cults further restrict dissent through decreased contact with non-members. Outsiders are likely to raise critical questions about the leader and the group’s activities, thus weakening the group fantasy. In addition, as discussed earlier, outsiders are a threat because they may be sources of support, self-esteem, and comfort, offsetting the need for the group. Research suggests that the fewer social ties a cult convert had before joining, the more likely it was that he or she would remain in the organization.


Reference 1

“The author studied the psychological aspects of religious conversion during structured 21-day workshop sequences designed to introduce people to the Unification Church. Subjects were given a battery of tests at different times during the sequence. After the initial 2-day workshop, 71% dropped out; the 29% who chose to continue had greater affiliative feelings toward the group and greater acceptance of the church’s creed than these early dropouts. The 9% who ultimately joined the church had weaker outside personal ties than the later dropouts, although their beliefs in and cohesiveness toward the church were the same as the late dropouts. These results are also compared with long-standing members of the church and matched non-members. The induction procedures used by the church are discussed with regard to those”


Psychological induction into the large-group: findings from a modern religious sect. (1980). American Journal of Psychiatry, 137(12), 1574–1579. doi:10.1176/ajp.137.12.1574 


Avoidance of dissent is a prominent feature of normal society. We assume that in the United States our free press (including radio and television) voices all the dissent we would need. There is no government censorship; the First Amendment shields the media from interference. However, although America’s mainstream media pride themselves on being independent, balanced, objective, in practice those characteristics are more limited than most, including media personnel, realize.


Dissent is exercised within certain unspoken boundaries; beyond those limits it is avoided, downplayed, or ignored. Because the mass media are the major source of many kinds of information for the public at large, media behavior has far reaching effects. The media can create by what it presents.


Ben Bagdikian, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley (and former reporter, journalist, and Washington Post editor), comments on two key findings of his research on the mass media:

  • What the public learns is heavily weighted by what serves the economic and political interests of the corporations that own the media
  • The naivete of working journalists about the influence of owners on the news they publish is more widespread than even my thirty years as a reporter and editor had led me to believe.2


Reference 2

In this critique of corporate media control, Ben Bagdikian examines the effect of corporate ownership and advertising on mass media in the United States. He documents the continuing decline in the number of firms dominating production of newspapers, magazines, books, television and movies in the U.S. He also discusses the emerging corporate control of alternative media outlets such as cable television, syndicated programming and videocassettes, and shows how the recession, corporate takeovers and lax antitrust policies have affected news reporting in the 1980s.


Bagdikian B. H. (1990). The media monopoly (3rd ed.). Beacon Press.



Although our media enjoy great freedom, they are in a dependent relationship that owns them, the advertisers that provide their revenues, and the government figures upon whom they rely for information. These dependency relationships involve both conscious and unconscious pressures that result in an inhibition of dissent not usually noticed by the public or by reporters and journalists themselves.


Most of the 25,000 media outlets are owned by fewer than thirty large corporations, and three corporations (ABC, CBS, and NBC) dominate television. The boards of directors controlling the corporations are composed of people who also serve on the boards of other corporations, many of them advertisers, forming an interlocking network. This concentration of media power in the hands of a relatively few big businesses and financial institutions makes it possible for these organizations to exert behind-the-scenes control over our access to information.


Bagdikian’s work offers suggestive instances of corporate control. One case involved the Tribune Company of Chicago, publishers of the Chicago Tribune. A member of its board of directors was also a director of Sears, Roebuck at the time the Federal Trade Commission accused Sears of dishonest sales promotion and advertising. The Chicago Tribune did not report this news at all even though Sears national headquarters are in Chicago and the accusation would undoubtedly have been of interest to its readers.


The San Francisco Chronicle noted a more recent example: A reference to the General Electric Co., which owns NBC, was removed from a report on shoddy products that was televised Thursday by the network’s “Today” program. The report focused on a federal investigation of inferior bolts used by U.S. industries in products such as airline jets and missile silos. It included a reference to a discovery by engineers at General Electric that one of every three bolts used in their jet engines is inferior. (5. “NBC Snips Out Reference to GE,” San Francisco Chronicle, 4 December 1989)


Bagdikian cites other instances of what appear to be outright censorship—books that aroused corporate displeasure being Revolutionary Violence by Noam Chomsky, Dupont: Behind the Nylon Curtain by Gerard Zilg, Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran by Kermit Roosevelt, and Corporate Murder by Mark Dowie.


Clearly books are published and documentaries aired which are critical of the corporate world; newspapers and newsmagazines publish exposes of business or government leaders. However, the potential for control exists and may be exercised in more subtle ways than cancelling a book. Certain ideas which serve advertisers and business may be cultivated and established as fact in the minds of the general public.


One example is the general belief that unions have caused a drop in American productivity, whereas from 1981 to 1987, the productivity of U.S. manufacturing workers as a whole increased an average of 4 percent, while hourly wages increased only 0.8 percent. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, cited in “Harper’s Index,” Harper’s Magazine, August 1987, p. 11). Unions undoubtedly have their own illusions, but it is the corporate view that tends to be voiced in the media serving the majority of our citizens.


Nicholas Johnson, formerly an FCC commissioner for eleven years, put the problem most directly: “The First Amendment rights belong to the owners, and the owners can exercise those rights by hiring people who will hire journalists who don’t rock the boat, who don’t attack advertisers, who don’t challenge the establishment.”


The mass media also do little to inform their audiences of the power of advertisers to control the ideological content of media entertainment and, on occasion, media commentary. As the major revenue source for television, radio, and newspapers, advertisers have considerable influence over what appears. Their financial leverage is huge; in 1981, media businesses earned $33 billion from advertisers compared to $7 billion from readers and viewers. The one who pays the piper often calls the tune.


The American public sees itself at least somewhat through the special vision of advertisers. Effects of advertiser influence were suggested by research at the Annenberg School of Communication that showed the world portrayed by television to be quite unrealistic.


Despite the fact that nearly half of the national income goes to the top fifth of the real population, the myth of [the] middle class as the all-American norm dominates the world of television . . . Blue-collar and service work occupies 67 percent of all Americans but only 10 percent of television characters . . . [On TV] men outnumber women at least three to one . . . older people (over 65) [comprise] one-fifth of their true proportion in the population . . .10


Reference 10

“The curve of consumer spending, unlike that of income, bulges with middle-class status as well as in middle age. Despite the fact that nearly half of the national income goes to the top fifth of the real population, the myth of middle class as the all-American norm dominates the world of television. Nearly 7 out of 10 television characters appear in the “middle-middle’’ of a five-way classification system. Most of them are professionals and managers. Blue-collar and service work occupies 67 percent of all Americans but only 10 percent of television characters.

These features of the world of prime-time television should cultivate a middle-class or “average” income self-designation among viewers. Men outnumber women at least three to one. Most women attend to men or home (and appliances) and are younger (but age faster) than the men they meet.

Underrepresentation in the world of television suggests the cultivation of viewers’ acceptance of more limited life chances, a more limited range of activities, and more rigidly stereotyped images than for the dominant and more fully represented social and dramatic types. Young people (under 18)comprise one-third and older people (over 65) one-fifth of their true proportion in the population.

Blacks on television represent three-fourths and Hispanics one-third of their share of the U.S. population, and a disproportionate number are minor rather than major characters. A single program like “Hawaii Five-0” can result in the overrepresentation of Orientals, but again mostly as minor characters.

A study by Weigel and others (17) shows that while blacks appear in many programs and commercials, they seldom appear with whites, and actually interact with whites in only about two percent of total human appearance time. The prominent and stable overrepresentation of well-to-do white males in the prime of life dominates prime time.”


Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1982). Charting the Mainstream: Television’s Contributions to Political Orientations. Journal of Communication, 32(2), 100–127. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1982.tb00


The prime American consumer is between eighteen and forty- nine years of age, white, upwardly mobile, and middle- or upper-middle-class and this is the group advertisers are most interested in reaching. The effect on the media audience is significant; viewers of low socioeconomic status who watch TV four or more hours per day are more likely to call themselves middle-class than their light-viewing (less than two hours daily) counterparts.


Overall, the Annenberg researchers found that television exerts a homogenizing effect. Viewing blurs traditional differences, blends them into a more homogeneous mainstream, and bends the mainstream toward a “hard line” position on issues dealing with minorities and personal rights. Hard-nosed commercial populism, with its mix of restrictive conservatism and pork-chop liberalism, is the paradoxical—and potentially volatile—contribution of television to political orientations.11


Reference 11

“Our analysis shows that although television viewing brings conservatives, moderates, and liberals closer together, it is the liberal position that is weakest among heavy viewers. Viewing blurs traditional differences, blends them into a more homogeneous mainstream, and bends the mainstream toward a “hard line” position on issues dealing with minorities and personal rights. Hard-nosed commercial populism, with its mix of restrictive conservatism and pork-chop liberalism, is the paradoxical-and potentially volatile-contribution of television to political orientations.”


Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1982). Charting the Mainstream: Television’s Contributions to Political Orientations. Journal of Communication, 32(2), 100–127. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1982.tb00


This shaping of reality is not a matter of chance. Some years ago, at FCC hearings in 1965 to determine how much influence advertisers had on non-commercial content of television and radio, representatives of Proctor and Gamble testified to a set of quite explicit rules for television programs in which they would advertise.


“There will be no material on any of our programs which could in any way further the concept of business as cold, ruthless, and lacking all sentiment or spiritual motivation. If a businessman is cast in the role of villain, it must be made clear that he is not typical but is as much despised by his fellow businessmen as he is by other members of society.” (Bagdikian, 1990, Page 157)


This is not extraordinary; if I were a major advertiser on television, I know how I would like psychiatrists to be considered. However, obeying the Procter and Gamble guidelines required a distortion of reality, especially as P&G’s instructions went beyond issues of the businessman’s image. “Where it seems fitting, the characters in Procter and Gamble’s dramas should reflect recognition and acceptance of the world situation in their thoughts and actions, although in dealing with war, our writers should minimize the ‘horror’ aspects.” (Bagdikian, 1990, Page 157)


These instructions further specified that “some basic conception of the American way of life” must not be attacked by a character in a drama or documentary unless a rejoinder is “completely and convincingly made someplace in the same broadcast.” Finally, TV executives were instructed, “If there is any question whatever about such material, it should be deleted.” P&G were protecting not just the business world, but also the general status quo.


That was twenty-five years ago, but the situation may not be different today as the media, especially newspapers, have become more and more dependent on advertiser revenues. Advertisers do not hesitate to threaten withdrawal of ads. In the case of major advertisers, such as the tobacco industry, the threat appears to be quite potent.


Edith Whalen, a journalist with the American Council on Science and Health, reported in 1980 that she had approached the leading women’s magazines (Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Ladies Home Journal, Mademoiselle, Ms., McCall’s, Redbook, Seventeen, Vogue, and Working Woman) asking them to run articles on the growing incidence of smoking-induced disease in women. All these magazines had run articles supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, but in this case they refused. Whelan commented, “I frequently wrote on health topics for women’s magazines, and have been told repeatedly by editors to stay away from the subject of tobacco.” (Bagdikian, 1990, Page 171)


As another example, Bagdikian reports that in 1981 a senior vice president of MGM told newspaper executives that there had been too many negative film reviews and that they could not take for granted the $500 million in ads that the industry place with them. Sounding much like Proctor and Gamble he warned, “Today the daily newspaper does not always create a climate that is supportive and favorable to the motion picture industry . . . gratuitous and hateful reviews threaten to cause the romance between newspapers and the motion picture industry to wither on the vine.” (Bagdikian, 1990, Page 167)


More recently, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the NBC television network cut off “Saturday Night Live” comedian Sam Kinison for about thirteen seconds, long enough to eliminate one joke. “‘They’ve taken the pot, there is no more pot,’ Kinison said. ‘You can’t get any more pot. If you give us back the pot, we’ll forget about the crack.'” The show’s producer Lome Michaels later explained, ” ‘They (the censors) didn’t consider his drug references negative enough . . . The policy at NBC now is that the only references to drugs must be negative.’ ” (San Francisco Chronicle, 22 October 1986)


Control of content is not exerted by advertising interests alone, but also by the owners of the media who hire and fire media personnel. Under normal circumstances media personnel have considerable latitude in what they present, but according to Bagdikian’s research that latitude has its limits; what is not allowed is criticism of the free enterprise system itself. Writing in 1987, he commented:


“Some reporters often criticize specific corporate acts, to the rage of corporate leaders. But the taboo against criticism of the system of contemporary enterprise is, in its unspoken way, almost as complete within mainstream journalism and broadcast programming in the United States as criticism of communism is explicitly forbidden in the Soviet Union.” (Bagdikian, 1990, Page 155)


He predicts that if the time came when corporations felt they were in fundamental jeopardy, nothing would prevent them from exercising their power of ownership to protect their interests. Particularly in television, advertisers and the corporate world have been very influential in defining us to ourselves. The materialism and superficiality of most TV programs, and the emphasis on a world of middle-class whites between eighteen and forty- nine, is not necessarily what the public wants, as TV executives claim, but what the advertisers demand. Such covert indoctrination is typical of cults.


In this instance it is not a particular religion or philosophy being served, but rather the enhancement of desire, the selling of products, the protection of the status quo. The effects of this indoctrination are a measure of the power of the media—and those who influence it—to shape our perception, to establish the climate of belief in which we live.


Although they regard themselves as watchdogs in an adversarial role, media people are dependent on governmental authority because they rely heavily on access to the White House, Congress, and cabinet officials and on maintaining special relationships with contacts at the Pentagon, the Food and Drug Administration, or whatever government agencies are relevant to their assignments. The authorities can reward favored journalists with inside information and news scoops or penalize them by denying access.


Bernard Roshco described a type of incident that occurs frequently enough to remind reporters that cooperation is essential to their livelihood. At a 1969 Nixon press conference, Stuart Loory, then the Los Angeles Times’ White House correspondent questioned the president: In response to the President’s statement that he favored neither instant segregation nor instant integration, Loory asked whether the years 1954 through 1968 could be termed “instant.”


The result was that Loory began losing his access to the news. He was dumped from the Air Force One press pool. On one Nixon trip to California, when the President invited several reporters to interview him while walking on the beach, Loory was left out even though his was the home paper and would have devoted much more space to the event. And Los Angeles Times reporters were not invited to Administration background briefings held to discuss the next year’s State of the Union message. (Bernard Roshco, Newsmaking, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975, p. 115)


Consciously or unconsciously, every reporter must decide whether or not he or she wants to be another Stuart Loory. Without allowing themselves to notice, reporters may adjust their views or engage in internal censorship to minimize conflict with authority. Thus, their self-image of independence and objectivity can be preserved—and their access to the “source.” Their suppression of dissent becomes unconscious.


All reporters assigned to a particular beat (for example, the Pentagon or the State Department) are subject to these influences. They need access to their sources, who in turn have their own needs for media attention. This mutual obligation system is likely to co-opt the reporter who, over time, becomes part of the institution he is covering. Warren Weaver, of the New York Times, pointed to this problem in his book Both Your Houses.


Institutional reporting has its advantages—members are more cooperative with reporters whom they come to sense as acolytes of the establishment—but the pitfalls are deep and dangerous. A reporter who has been admitted into the inner circle, or even allowed to peep in occasionally from the edge, is likely to be protective of the man who admitted him and of those observed there. (Warren Weaver, Both Your Houses, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972, p. 12)


A reporter may begin to identify with the source’s point of view, to adopt a posture that is harmonious with the aims of the people he or she needs. News coverage is necessarily selective and the selection process may work unconsciously to omit items that would spoil a reporter’s relationship with the source and to focus on those which will enhance it.


Mark Hertsgaard, a journalist who investigated the relationship between the press and the Reagan presidency, found a similar problem: Indeed, the political effect of most news coverage was to fill people’s heads with officially sanctioned truth. . . . This was to be expected, after all, the press took its definition of what constituted political news from the political governing class in Washington. Thus while the press shaped mass opinion, it reflected elite opinion; indeed, it effectively functioned as a mechanism by which the latter was transformed, albeit imperfectly, into the former.20 (Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency, New York: Schocken Books, 1988, p. 347)


On the one hand, media workers are interested in attracting the public interest by reporting dramatic conflicts in the social, economic, and political system of which they are a part. On the other hand, they are also interested in sustaining the system which produces the revenues that pay their salaries. The owners of the media feel comfortable with the establishment of which they are privileged members and in which they believe.


Media bias in favor of the status quo is often not obvious because of the appearance of debate in the various mass media presentations, especially network television. However, debate turns out to be within the rather narrow limits acceptable to authority. A recent study was conducted of the guest list of ABC’s “Night- line.” The analysis covered a forty-month period (1 January 1985 to 30 April 1988). Not counting ABC staff members, five guests appeared more than ten times: Henry Kissinger (fourteen), Alexander Haig (fourteen), Eliot Abrams (twelve), Jerry Falwell (twelve), Alejandro Bendana of Nicaragua’s Foreign Office (eleven).


According to the study, this distribution is characteristic. Conservative and right-wing spokespersons, and government and ex-government officials dominated the airtime. Left-wing, “radical” spokespersons were usually from foreign countries. (Counting only American guests who appeared more than five times, there were nineteen, all men. The woman who appeared most frequently was Jean Kirkpatrick. All guests were white except for Jesse Jackson and Harry Edwards. Of the nineteen who appeared frequently, thirteen were conservative, most connected in some way to the Reagan administration. Labor, public interest, and social or ethnic leaders accounted for only 5.7 percent of the U.S. guest list.)


Such bias can be quite invisible to the editors and producers themselves. Their pride and belief in their independence reflects the fact that they are rarely subject to crude arm twisting as to what or what not to present to the public. But their dependence on media owners and the government elite for financial rewards, information, and position can exert an insidious form of control— as it does in cults. The whole process can take place automatically, smoothly, even for those with more time for considered decisions then the average gatekeeper. Fred Freed, a producer of outstanding NBC public affairs programs reflected, “I have never been turned down for a program I wanted to do for censorship reasons. On the other hand I’m not sure I have ever asked to do one I knew management would not approve for these reasons.”22


Reference 22

“The subject of this book is the picture of the world that you and I carry around in our heads: who puts it there, why, how and under what conditions.
Beyond our limited daily experience, it is television, radio, newspapers, magazines and books — the media — that furnish our consciousness with the people, places and events that we agree to call reality. But reality, in a literal sense, is what happens to three And a half billion people all over the world twenty-four hours a day. Out of that teeming experience, the media can only give us, in words and pictures, a representation of tiny fragments that are deemed significant or suggestive.

In the past, our picture of the world was largely shaped by the established institutions of the society. Most vital information was, at least for a time, the exclusive property of government officials, military men and business leaders. News, with rare exceptions, was what they wanted us to know. Throughout most of its history, journalism was limited to mediating between the public and those who held power. Like education, journalism was concerned with describing and cataloguing our condition rather than questioning and changing it, and, like education, journalism operated largely within the received values of the society.

Now, in little more than a generation, technology has changed this situation. In making it possible for the media to give us more words and pictures than ever before and to give them to us instantaneously, television and transistors have, at the same time, loosened the grip of authority on our consciousness. In an era of instant and almost universal communication, such control is hardly possible. When something dramatic happens in Vietnam, the streets of an American city or on a college campus, the President of the United States and the man in the street learn about it almost simultaneously…”


Stein R. (1972). Media power : who is shaping your picture of the world? Houghton Mifflin. Introduction


The result of media self-censorship is a tendency toward perpetuation of the assumptions fundamental to the government and business interests on which the media depend. This can have particularly far reaching consequences in foreign affairs. During the early years of the Vietnam War most within the media did not question cold war ideology, but continued to present the government’s picture of a world divided into two camps, the free world and the communist, the latter assumed to be directed by Moscow through proxie armies in China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and elsewhere.


This simplistic, ahistorical view supported the domino theory and justified intervention all over the world as vital to United States interests. Political scientist Daniel Hallin, who studied the role of the media during the Vietnam War, found that TV coverage did not often directly confront administration premises. Commentators and journalists disputed the effectiveness of government policies, but, all in all, none of the larger questions posed by the war was raised in any substantial, way in the news. There was no discussion of the origins of revolution. . . . There was no second look at the doctrine of containment or its application to a conflict like Vietnam.23


Reference 23

“It was a popular view in the post-World War II period that the “age of ideology” had passed in America, replaced by the spirit of objective inquiry and political pluralism and pragmatism. And it was true that no great philosophical debates over the direction of public policy were taking place. This silence, however, represented not the end of ideology, but the triumph of a single ideology over all competitors. It was an age of ideological consensus, and this was true above all in foreign policy. The world view of the Cold War dominated American thinking about international affairs so totally during these years that it became not merely dangerous but virtually impossible for most Americans to question or to step outside it. Americans simply knew no other language for thinking or for communicating about the world.

The journalists were no exception. American journalists like to think of themselves as particularly unideological; freedom from ideological bias is an essential principle of the ethic of the professional journalist. What this means in practice, however, is that journalists are loath to take sides when explicit political controversies develop (as we shall see, journalists kept their distance from the antiwar movement, even late in the war, when most were very critical of U.S. policy in Vietnam). Where consensus reigns, however, they rely as heavily as anyone else on the symbolic tools that make up the dominant ideology of their society.

Indeed, the nature of their work makes them particularly dependent on those tools, and this is especially true in the reporting of foreign affairs. The foreign affairs journalist must report events extremely distant from his or her personal experience, as well as from the experience of the audience. This must be done concisely, in the space of about two minutes on television or a thousand words in a newspaper. And the difficulty of the task is confounded by the immense complexity of international affairs in a century of world wars and an expanding and interdependent world system; in the 1961-63 period alone Vietnam shared the headlines with crises in Laos, the Congo, Berlin, and Cuba, to name only a few.


Hallin D. C. (1986). The “uncensored war” : the media and vietnam. Oxford University Press. Page 50


Late in the war, when pressure for withdrawal began to mount, the media shifted to a more oppositional stance, but still within certain limits. Vietnam fits a pattern that has often been observed in situations of political crisis: the media in such periods typically distance themselves from incumbent officials and their policies, issue, and if these are questioned, usually rise to their defense [emphasis added].24


Reference 24

“As for the legitimacy of the foreign policy decision-making process, we have already seen that television continued to accord the administration most of the trappings and privileges of authority that previous administrations had enjoyed. There was, of course, considerable discussion of the “credibility gap” as well as debate over the power of the presidency. But the limits of discussion in this area can be seen in the fact that only seven stories in the sample contained any references— and this includes reporting of statements by domestic critics—to deliberate government deception of the public.

The most substantial of these was a brief story on the Pentagon Papers, mentioning what the documents revealed about Johnson’s 1964 statement that he would not send American boys to Asia. Very little of the substance of the Pentagon Papers, however, got into television coverage. The controversy over the leaking and publication of the Papers, on the other hand, being “hard news” rather than “mere history,” was covered very extensively. Vietnam fits a pattern that has often been observed in situations of political crisis: the media in such periods typically distance themselves from incumbent officials and their policies, moving in the direction of an “adversary” conception of their role.

But they do not make the “system”—or its core beliefs—an issue, and if these are questioned, usually rise to their defense; this happened with Watergate as well.116 More broadly, the narrow immediacy of television meant that none of the larger questions posed by the war was raised in any substantial way in the news. There was no discussion of the origins of revolution (“Guerrilla war, like hives, can break out any time, any place,” one correspondent explained).

There was no second look at the doctrine of containment or its application to a conflict like Vietnam: should such a conflict be treated as one “front” in a global struggle? There was no discussion of why this war eventually seemed to contradict so drastically the image of war and the image of themselves Americans held when they went into it: Why the violence that came to be symbolized by My Lai? Why the collapse of morale? Why the hostility of so many of those we thought we were saving, even the ones fighting with us?

The reply television people usually give to this sort of criticism is that lack of time makes it impossible for television to do more than deal with daily headlines, and that that function is performed by other elements of the news media: by documentaries, news magazines, “oped” articles, and the like. To this I would make several responses. First, a large part of the public learns of world affairs only from daily journalism; the typical television documentary is shown in a low-rating slot, seen by only a small fraction of the audience for the evening news. The levels of American journalism that are supposed to provide deeper reporting, moreover, including the television documentary, share many of the characteristics that limit the ability of daily news to deal with wider issues, including the focus on Washington’s agenda and the technical angle in news analysis.

Finally, though it is certainly true that the time constraints imposed on television journalism by the commercial nature of the medium limit what it can do, the limits that result from ideology, culture, and journalistic routines seem much more fundamental. Television covered Vietnam nearly every day for more than seven years, producing hours of reporting on the war. Some of that reporting concerned events of great immediate significance. But the majority did not: it was taken up with routine battle coverage (several days old because most film was shipped by air); reports on technology; human-interest vignettes about the troops; occasional “light” stories about such trivia as what it is like to parachute out of an airplane; and many speeches and press conferences, relatively few of which were of real historical significance.

When one looks at it all in a concentrated period of time, it is clear that a great deal of television’s coverage had no significant value as information about the war. The problem with Vietnam coverage was quality, not quantity. The media probably bear a good deal of the responsibility for the political troubles they have had in the post-Vietnam era.


Hallin D. C. (1986). The “uncensored war” : the media and vietnam. Oxford University Press. Page 208



A similar situation prevailed in most coverage of the Iran hostage crisis during the Carter administration. Sociologist David Altheide found that “the Iranian situation was reduced to one story—the freeing of the hostages—rather than coverage of its background and context, of the complexities of Iran, of alternative American policies, and of contemporary parochial politics in a world dominated by superpowers.”25 (David Altheide, “Iran vs. U.S. TV News: The Hostage Story out of Context,” in Doris Graber (ed.), Media Power in Politics, p. 300.)


Daniel Hallin concludes that “this is one of the most important consequences of the close connection between the modern media and government: the range of political discussion in the press is usually restricted to the policy alternatives being debated in Washington.”26


Reference 26

“The liberal press, moreover, given the nature of the American political spectrum and its acceptance of the limits of that spectrum, found itself in the summer of 1965 with nowhere to go politically except to follow Lyndon Johnson into the “big muddy.” This is one of the most important consequences of the close connection between the modern media and government: the range of political discussion in the press is usually restricted to the policy alternatives being debated in Washington. In February most criticism of Vietnam policy had come from liberal Democrats.

In June, however, many Republicans, seeing a potential Korea in the making, began to distance themselves from Johnson’s policy, arguing that ground troops should not be sent unless Johnson was willing to relax limitations on the air war (these limitations were motivated mainly by fear of provoking Chinese intervenion). As pressure from the Right increased, liberals, including columnists and editorial writers for papers like the Times, closed ranks behind their president, and no voice remained to question the Americanization of the war.”


Hallin D. C. (1986). The “uncensored war” : the media and vietnam. Oxford University Press. Page 99


Economist Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, philosopher and linguist, did extensive research on media coverage of Latin America and Indochina. They found a consistent pattern of “worthy and unworthy” victims. As an example, they contrasted the news coverage of the murder of a Polish priest, Jerszy Popieluszko, killed by the Polish police in October 1984, with the coverage of the murders of a large number of Latin American religious in El Salvador and Guatemala. The victims of communist governments received extensive coverage—they were apparently worthy.


The victims of governments supported by the U.S. received scanty treatment, qualitatively different as well as much reduced in scope—they were apparently unworthy. The worthy received dramatic treatment and demands for justice; the unworthy mostly low-key, sparse descriptions accompanied by regrets about the violence from both left and right. The notion that the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador are reformist and centrist has been the official position of the Carter, Reagan, and Bush administrations, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.


Herman and Chomsky make a compelling case for consistent media bias expressed with few exceptions through selective emphasis and by ignoring or downplaying contradictory testimony. The authors suggest that an additional factor may bias reporting on Latin America. Western reporters are very rarely physically threatened—let alone murdered—in Poland, the Soviet Union, Cuba, or Nicaragua. They are often threatened and sometimes murdered in El Salvador, Guatemala, and other U.S. clients in Latin America. This irony is not commented upon in the free press, nor are the effects of this potential and actual violence against dissident reporters on the possibilities of honest reporting.27


Reference 27

“In El Salvador, the only substantial newspapers critical of the government, La Cronica del Pueblo and El Independiente-neither by any means radical papers-were closed in July 1980 and January 1981, respectively, the first because its top editor and two employees were murdered and mutilated by the security forces, the second because the army arrested its personnel and destroyed its plant. The church paper and radio station were repeatedly shut down by bombing attacks, No paper or station representing the principal opposition has been able to operate except clandestinely.

Over thirty journalists have been murdered in El Salvador since the revolutionary junta took power,  an intensified campaign against the press occurred just prior to the 1982 election. On March 10, a death list of thirty-five journalists was circulated by a “death squad,” and on March 18 the mutilated bodies of four Dutch journalists were recovered. None of the murders of journalists in El Salvador was ever “solved” – they were essentially murders carried out under the auspices of the state.

In Guatemala, forty-eight journalists were murdered between 1978 and 1985, 28 and many others have been kidnapped and threatened. These killings, kidnappings, and threats have been a primary means of control of the media. As in EI Salvador, nobody has yet been apprehended and tried for any of these crimes, which must be viewed as murders carried out by the state or with state approval.

There are no papers or radio or television stations in Guatemala that express the views of the rebels or the majority Indian population or the lower classes in general. “At most, the variants reflect shades of strictly conservative thinking.” Given the extreme climate of fear, and threats for stepping out of line, even the conservative press is cautious and engages in continuous self-censorship. All the central topics that should be debated in this terrorized society are carefully avoided.30 In Nicaragua, once again, there have been no reported deaths of journalists by state terrorists, nor even threats of personal violence.

In 1984, the majority of the fifty-odd radio stations were privately owned, and some of them provided their own news programs; four other independent producers supplied radio news programs without prior censorship. Foreign radio and television from commercial and U.S. propaganda sources broadcasting from Costa Rica, Honduras, and elsewhere were of growing importance in 1984. Two of the three newspapers were privately owned, one supportive of the government but critical of specific programs and actions, the other violently hostile.

The latter, La Prensa, which represented the small, ultraconservative minority and supported the contras and a foreign-sponsored invasion of the country, was allowed to operate throughout the 1984 election, al- though it was censored. The censorship still allowed the paper to publish manifestos of opposition groups and a pastoral letter critical of the regime. No comparable paper has been allowed to exist above- ground, even briefly, in El Salvador and Guatemala.

There is no doubt that the media in Nicaragua have been under government constraint, with censorship and periodic emergency controls that seriously encroached on freedom of the press. It should be noted, however, that Nicaragua is under foreign attack and in a state of serious warfare. John S. Nichols points out that under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917, over one hundred publications were banned from the mails, and hundreds of people were jailed for allegedly interfering with military recruitment.

Furthermore, Given that the United States was a relatively mature and homogenous political system during World War I and was not particularly threatened by the fighting, the range of public discussion tolerated in Nicaragua during the first five years of the revolution was remarkable. Despite assertions by President Reagan, IAPA, and others that the control of the Nicaraguan media was virtually totalitarian, the diversity of ownership and opinion was unusual for a Third World country, particularly one at war. Our conclusion is that the condition of freedom of the press necessary for a free election was clearly absent in El Salvador and Guatemala, and that it was partially met in Nicaragua.


E. Herman, N. Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent—The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 1988), p. 97.


Thus, there is much evidence that the mainstream mass media, controlled by corporate and financial interests, dominated by advertisers, and dependent on government sources generally reflects the point of view and interests of these groups. (There are notable exceptions, such as the CBS documentaries: Hunger and The Selling of the Pentagon, but covert conformity is the rule; in fact, these documentaries resulted in the network being investigated by the government agencies which they criticized.)


As media commentator Herbert Gans observes, it is rare to read or see in the mainstream media any discussion of why wealth is distributed so unequally in our country and between the developing and developed nations, or of the power of corporations over the average citizen.28


Documentaries and Reference 28

YouTube player

YouTube player


“The journalistic definition allows journalists to have their cake while eating it. They either do not recognize anticipatory avoidance mechanisms as restraints or, in some cases, they believe them to be desirable. As a result, they do not perceive themselves as forestalling pressure and can therefore feel autonomous. But are they unrestrained? To be sure, their reliance on unconscious or built-in restrictions puts the lie to simple conspiratorial theories that journalists are ‘kept,’ either by monopoly capitalists or by ‘the liberal Eastern Establishment.’

Such theories are based on the self-serving assumption that if the journalists’ chains were cut, they would line up with the opponents of capitalism or the liberal establishment; that they are, in effect, radicals or ultraconservatives who are forced to suppress their own political values in order to hold their jobs.

But by the broader definition, journalists practice self-censorship; and my observations support the structural analyses of the news media proposed more often by activists or social scientists on the Left than on the Right: that journalists are restrained by systemic mechanisms that keep out some news. These analyses are, typically, combined with a critique of news media, which argues that the systemic restraints prevent journalists from dealing with what radicals – and I use the term loosely – consider to be the fundamental questions about, and the inherent contradictions of, America.

Whether or not journalists accept, endorse, or even recognize the limits under which they work is irrelevant. What matters is that journalists do not ask the questions which are assumed to be important by the framers of this critique: why America fought the Vietnam War; why wealth and power are so unequally distributed in America, and between the developed and developing nations; why corporations have so much power, and citizens so little; why unemployment, inflation, and poverty remain; and why women and racial minorities continue to occupy an inferior position”


Herbert Gans, Deciding What’s News—A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time (New York: Pantheon, 1979), p. 277.


How shall we understand the media’s support of the status quo? Is the mass media just a propaganda machine, as Herman and Chomsky suggest? These authors show bias that exists, but they write as if media complicity is conscious. In some cases it may be, but I suggest that to a significant degree the processes that lead to bias operate outside awareness, as in cults; the politically correct and the economically expedient are internalized, become unconscious, and are reinforced by the group, which includes the public.


The assumptions that constitute the status quo are recycled for corporate owners, for advertisers, for government officials, as well as for the public. The limits defined by authorities are accepted unnoticed by almost everyone. Bagdikian concludes that “the butchers thumb that quietly tilts news in favor of corporate values has survived the rise in journalistic standards. The tilt has been so quietly and steadily integrated into the normal process of weighing news that the angle of the needle is now seen as ‘zero’.”29 (Ben Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly, 2d ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987, pp. 218.)


Within the corporate world, the more authoritarian the leadership structure, the less dissent is appreciated, and the more emphasis is given to loyalty to prevailing corporate views. Former General Motors executive John De Lorean describes how this loyalty was manifested:


“If your appearance, style and personality were consistent with the corporate stereotype, you were well on your way to being a ‘loyal’ employee. But loyalty demanded more. It often demanded personal fealty, actual subservience to the boss. Lower executives, eager to please the boss and rise up the corporate ladder, worked hard to learn what he wanted or how he thought on a particular subject. They then either fed the boss exactly what he wanted to know, or they modified their own proposals to suit his preferences”.30 (Quoted in J. Patrick Wright, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (New York: Avon, 1979, p. 68.)


The devaluation and suppression of dissent can lead to financially disastrous corporate decisions or to violations of moral principles. The history of the Corvair is a case in point. As originally designed, the car had a tendency to flip over when making turns at high speed. According to John De Lorean, the problem was well known to the GM engineers, a number of whom fought to modify the car’s suspension or keep it out of production. They were overruled by the general manager and finally told to stop objecting and ‘get on the team.’ The Corvair was produced and sold. De Lorean commented, ‘I don’t think any one car before or since produced as gruesome a record on the highway as the Corvair.’


The costliest failure in the history of magazine publishing occurred when top executives of Time, Inc. pushed ahead with a project to publish a weekly broadcast and cable television listings magazine, TV-Cable Week, without the market testing recommended by their own researchers and without first solving major problems which other subordinates had brought to management’s attention.


A former member of the editorial management team described how adverse facts were shunted aside and deleted from the final presentation to the Board of Directors: “Sutton listened earnestly as Grum continued with his advice: keep the presentation simple, emphasize the up-side, and above all do not dwell on the complexities and uncertainties—the very risks that the task force had highlighted in the January presentation.”32 (Byron C. 1987 The fanciest dive: what happened when the media empire of time. New American Library.)


Time, Inc. proceeded to lose $45 million on a magazine that ran for only six months. Not only did the board members uncritically accept the optimistic presentation, so did a Wall Street brokerage firm. Munro and his associates were preaching to an audience that was eager to believe. One of the analysts at the gathering, Alan Gottesman, summed up his reaction to the presentation this way: “Hell, if you hear the company’s top men say they’ve got some new breakthrough computer system to publish the magazine you’re going to believe them, right?”


Wanting to believe is perhaps the most powerful dynamic initiating and sustaining cult-like behavior. This accounts for rationalizations of behavior that would otherwise be labeled immoral, selfish, or cruel. Along with fear, the need to believe causes people to rationalize their own behavior and continue in their course of action long after the evidence of degeneration was in plain view to the outsider. A similar process seems responsible for the Corvair and TV-Cable Week fiascos. Dissenting voices that could have brought more reality to the decision-making process were ignored or suppressed. Wanting to believe affects everyone, leaders and followers alike.


The avoidance of dissent is almost automatic where unequal power exists and the leader makes it clear that being contradicted is displeasing, even dangerous. Dissent can only be utilized if the leader and the group value it, understand its necessity and demonstrate that dissent is welcome. In the corporate world, dissent is avoided and suppressed the more a CEO is unwilling to occupy an eye-level world with his subordinates and insists on their gazing upward at him.


The leader is not the only inhibiting force, the group as a whole can make its displeasure known if dissent focuses on areas of group vulnerability such as immoral corporate behavior, over-optimism, leadership mistakes, and paranoia. Even if a corporate CEO welcomes dissent, lower level executives may stifle contrary opinion so that it never reaches him or her.


Something like this appears to have been responsible for the Challenger shuttle disaster. As described by Henry Cooper, Jr. in The New Yorker, Thiokol engineers voiced their concerns about the safety of the O-ring seal and believed the launch should be canceled, particularly as the air temperature at the launch site was lower than for any previous test measurements. Overruled by company officials, their objections were not passed on to those with final authority for the launch.34 (Henry Cooper, Jr., “Letter From The Space Center,” The New Yorker, 10 November 1986.)


Lower-level censorship is particularly likely when leadership wants condensed, simplified reports and summaries on which to base decisions. Unpleasant facts and possibilities are easier to prune and may be given shorter shrift than optimistic, forward-looking statements.


Avoidance of dissent is often confused with loyalty. Authoritarian leaders tend to regard loyalty as the foremost virtue of ordinates. Peter Wyden described how at the final meeting before the invasion of Cuba, Rusk, Nitze, and Bundy all set aside doubts and questions in order to “close ranks with the President” and vote in favor of the invasion.35 (Peter H. Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979, p. 148.)


Only a lively appreciation of dissent’s vital function at all levels of society can preserve it as a corrective to wishful thinking, self-inflation and unperceived rigidity. In my view, the most prevalent current treatment of psychosis (in addition to reflecting devaluation of the outsider) demonstrates psychiatry’s avoidance of dissenting views, its compliance with group pressures to maintain a particular belief system.


The current swing to a biological view of emotional illness has been described by Walter Reich, former research psychiatrist at the National Institutes of Mental Health, as “Psychiatry’s Second Coming.”36 The first was the oversell of the psychodynamic psychoanalytic approach. The number of papers of a biological nature published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1980 was almost double that of ten years earlier.


An even more noticeable shift has taken place in the Archives of General Psychiatry, which is now devoted almost exclusively to biochemical and genetic research. Furthermore, government support for drug research is heavily weighted toward research in genetics, biochemical causation of psychopathology, and drug therapy, while psychotherapeutic investigations receive relatively little funding.


Reference 36

“That American psychiatry has in fact undergone a significant shift from an emphasis that was primarily psychological to one that is more clearly biological is verified, I think, in every sphere of the American psychiatric enterprise, as well as in those fields and activities outside of psychiatry that have borrowed from it. The popular books being written on psychoanalysis and Freud-which for years demonstrated Lenin’s apocryphal dictum that a scholar who studies a subject becomes its apologist – have grown critical in recent years, questioning assumptions about not only the origins of the movement but also the validity of its claims and theories.

Many literary figures, historians and public commentators, who regularly relied on psychoanalytic theory to provide insights into matters of art, politics and history, have found other sources of inspiration and interpretation. The number of hours spent by patients in psychoanalysis and the number of psychiatrists applying to psychoanalytic institutes as trainees have declined. Many articulate medical and premedical students, who for decades saw in psycho- analysis an arena conducive to the expression of their verbal and humanistic gifts, and a refuge as well from the practical and often rote world of medicine, have discovered outlets other than de-psychoanalyzed psychiatry for their talents and needs.

The scientific papers published in the major psychiatric journals and presented at the most important psychiatric congresses, and the books published in the field, are increasingly of a biological nature. The therapies dispensed by psychiatrists, as compared to two decades ago, are much more pharmaceutical. University departments of psychiatry are recruiting ever more faculty members from biologism’s expanding ranks. And government funds for research into the causes and treatments of the mental illnesses are being spent to a lesser and lesser degree, proportionately, on purely psychological matters, and to a greater and greater degree on biological ones.

But the shift in psychiatry from environmentalism to biologism, as evident as it has been, is still unexplained. Some have attributed it to changes in fashion, an attribution applied equally to the analogous abandonment of depth psychology by historians and literary critics. Others have felt that what has happened in clinical psychiatry has had quite different origins, and has had to do not with matters of fashion but, rather, with the sudden recognition among psychiatrists that, even as a clinical enterprise, psychoanalysis and the approaches derived from it are neither scientific nor, at least in cases of severe illness, effective.

But while psychoanalysis and other environmentalistic methods may indeed not measure up to certain standards of verifiability and may indeed not be effective for some psychiatric conditions, and while biological theories and treatments may indeed be based on more convincing and reliable grounds, I think that the shift cannot be fully attributed to a sudden recognition of scientific breakthroughs or to an enlightened evaluation of therapeutic successes. Or, to be more exact, when it comes to professional ideologies and clinical beliefs, to the acceptance or rejection of one or another approach to psychiatric knowledge and truth, such breakthroughs and successes are, in important respects, beside the point…”


Walter Reich, “Psychiatry’s Second Coming,” Psychiatry, vol. 45 (August 1982)


Part of psychiatry’s current ideology is that a person diagnosed as a schizophrenic is doomed to life-long social and work disability and recurrence of psychotic episodes unless treated with “anti-psychotic” drugs. This belief persists despite studies that indicate otherwise. Loren Mosher reviewed four long-term follow-up studies of patients treated before the use of neuroleptic drugs and found that they:


“… give us reason to be much more optimistic than we have been about outcome in schizophrenia. These 20- plus-year follow-up studies . . . yielded remarkably consistent results: 60%-85% of schizophrenic patients, depending on the criteria used, had achieved good social recovery.”37


Supplement to Reference 37

“Does social class or the state of the economy influence whether people with schizophrenia recover from their illness? Has industrial development affected the number of people with this illness who become severely disabled? Does the level of economic development determine which citizens become insane? These questions are at the heart of Recovery from Schizophrenia. Acclaimed as a major work on its first publication, this fully revised and updated second edition draws on new research and experience to consider whether recent changes in approach to treatment are really an advance.

The author argues that we have been too pessimistic about the course of untreated schizophrenia and overconfident about the benefits of modern treatment. Despite the increased use of new antipsychotic drugs and massive annual investment in the treatment of schizophrenia, the outcome from the illness in modern industrial society is no better than in the Third World. Much of what is called community treatment is, in fact, the antithesis of treatment, resulting in people with psychosis living a life in which even basic needs, such as food and shelter, are not met.

To explain how society has come to respond in this way to the person with schizophrenia, Richard Warner, a psychiatrist, anthropologist and medical director of a public mental health system, steps outside the usual confines of the mental health field and draws on information from sociology, history and economics as well as medicine to make his case.”

Warner R. (1985). Recovery from schizophrenia : psychiatry and political economy. Routledge & Kegan Paul. Introduction


37. See Loren R. Mosher’s review of Recovery from Schizophrenia: Psychiatry and Political Economy, by Richard Warner, in American Journal of Psychiatry 144:7, July 1987, p. 956′.


How could there be such good outcomes without the use of drugs? These studies challenge pessimistic beliefs concerning the prognosis of schizophrenia and call into question the necessity and desirability of drug treatment. The most prominent belief of the current biological psychiatry movement is that drugs are the treatment of choice for psychosis. This belief ignores the study by Bockhoven and Solomon comparing the five-year follow-up data of two groups of hospital patients, the first receiving psychological treatment (1947 to 1952, prior to the use of major tranquilizers) and the second group receiving drugs (1967 to 1972). No difference in outcome was found.


“This finding suggests that the attitudes of personnel toward patients, the socioenvironmental setting, and community helpfulness guided by citizen organizations may be more important in tipping the balance in favor of social recovery than are psychotropic drugs.”38


Reference 38

“In our discussion of the Boston Psychopathic Hospital follow-up study of patients committed in 1947, we stated, The most unexpected finding of this study is that more than three-quarters of the schizophrenic patients were in the community five years after admission, having spent less than an average of eight months in mental hospitals.

Whether this result can be ascribed to the accuracy of the frequently voiced opinion that the Boston Psychopathic Hospital receives patients sooner after the inception of their psychosis than other hospitals is an open question. If so, these results indicate that there are many patients with schizophrenia (as we conceive the diagnosis) who have the capacity to live in the community for relatively long periods.

In the past, under-valuation of recovery potential and absence of treatment combined to induce psychiatrists to hold schizophrenic patients under custodial care for long periods. Detention in the closed wards of mental hospitals may well have contributed to the deterioration that was expected in schizophrenia. Modern somatic treatments and attention to emotional needs alleviate many states of fear, depression and excitement, enable patients to resume relations with other people and make possible their discharge to the community.

It cannot yet be predicted accurately in individual cases how long patients will continue to get along with others. The results of this study strongly suggest that, on the whole, they can get along for longer periods than is generally recognized. It is of considerable interest that we can make but minor modifications of this statement on the basis of our Solomon Center follow-up study 20 years later. On the basis of this follow-up of 1967 admissions, our modification of the above paragraph would read as follows: The most unexpected finding of this study is that the outcome of schizophrenic patients at Solomon Center today is not very different from that reported 20 years ago for schizophrenic patients at Boston Psychopathic Hospital.

Such difference as there is, namely, that 80 per- cent of the former versus 75 percent of the latter were in the community 5 years after admission, having spent an average of6 months versus 8 months in mental hospitals, can be accounted for in part by the differences in the two samples. The remainder of the differences can be explained by the circumstance that Solomon Center is a local community mental health center serving its own catchment area (population 231,000) and therefore tends to admit patients earlier in their illness and to discharge them sooner.

The finding of no substantial change in the outcome of schizophrenic patients was not expected in view of the absence of psychotropic drugs during the entire 5 years of the Boston Psychopathic Hospital follow-up period, compared with the extensive use of psychotropic drugs at Solomon Center for both initial treatment on admission and the entire period of aftercare.

This finding suggests that the attitudes of personnel toward patients, the socioenvironmental setting, and community helpfulness guided by citizen organizations may be more important in tipping the balance in favor of social recovery than are psychotropic drugs. The distinctive value of the drugs may well be limited in most instances to their capacity to alleviate the distress of acute emotional decompensation. ”


J. Sanbourne Bockhoven and Harry C. Solomon, “Comparison of Two Five-Year Follow-Up Studies: 1947 to 1952 and 1967 to 1972,” American Journal of Psychiatry 132:8, August 1975, pp. 796-801.


These results were anticipated by Bockhoven’s study of the results of “moral treatment,” a humane, psychologically oriented hospital treatment program for the insane that flourished in the mid-nineteenth century.39 Comparison of treatment results with present-day statistics suggests that moral treatment probably did as well or better than what is accomplished today with modern drug therapy.


Supplement to Reference 39

“This slender but meaty book is an expansion by Dr. Bockoven of two of his articles which appeared in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in 1956. It is a highly readable presentation of an era in American psychiatry which has much to teach us today. Moral treatment—the humanitarian. optimistic attitude toward the patient. with pleasant surroundings in small hospitals, organized activities and recreations, active encouragement of the patient by physicians, nurses, and attendants, and an expectation that the patient will recover—dates, according to Bockoven, from the establishment of the Friends Asylum by the Quakers in 1817.

During the ensuing 30 years 18 other mental hospitals, mostly privately endowed, were opened in this country. These were the fruits of pioneer work by Pinel, Chiarugi, and Tuke in Europe. Dr. Bockoven points out that the results of treatment were excellent. Early reports of the Worcester State Hospital, for example, indicate that 75 per cent of patients who had been ill less than one year before admission were discharged as recovered or improved.

This figure compares not unfavorably with those of present-day hospitals. A sociological comment by the author is particularly significant in these days of “megalopolis” (p. 89): “The higher standards of care of the mentally ill . . . obtained when Americans lived in small communities, were inspired by a humanistic science, and were motivated to go to the rescue of fellowmen in distress.” And speaking of the Civil War period, when neighbor fought neighbor, the doctor writes, “The incidence of mental illness increased. and the standards of hospital care deteriorated during that period.”

Dr. Bockoven is not a mere laudator temporis acti; as a sound historian, he recognizes that we can learn from the past, but he recognizes also that human values of the past are being emphasized again. He looks forward, as we all do, to many further gains in treatment of the mentally ill. “What is past is prologue.”


Review of J. Sanboume Bockhoven, Moral Treatment in American Psychiatry (New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1963) by Winfred Overholser. Nf.D. Washington. D. C; “MORAL TREATMENT IN AMERICAN PSYCHIATRY — by J. Sanbourne Bockoven, M. D. Springer Publishing Co., Inc., New York, N. Y., 1963, 116 pages, $3.00.” Psychiatric Services, 14(9), pp. 514-a–515


Keeping these findings in mind it becomes apparent that psychiatry as a whole has avoided dealing with facts and opinions that challenge its ideology. Writing in the Schizophrenia Bulletin, John Kane cautions:


“Given the potential adverse effects that can be produced by antipsychotic drugs, it is critical that attention be given to the overall benefit to risk ratio when these agents are used. Although antipsychotic drugs may symptomatically improve a variety of conditions, they should not be used when equally effective and safer treatments are available.”40


Reference 40

“At present, there are no proven safe and effective treatments for this condition. Though antipsychotic dosage reduction and, particularly, discontinuation can have a definite beneficial effect, complete drug discontinuation is frequently not feasible. There is at present no convincing evidence that any marketed antipsychotic drug or drug class is less likely to produce tardive dyskinesia or more appropriate for patients who have developed tardive dyskinesia. Given the potential adverse effects that can be produced by antipsychotic drugs, it is critical that attention be given to the overall benefit to risk ratio when these agents are used.

Although antipsychotic drugs may symptomatically improve a variety of conditions, they should not be used when equally effective and safer treatments are available as, for example, in patients with affective or anxiety disorders. Clear documentation of ongoing need and benefit derived from the treatment, as well as documentation that the patient has been informed about the potential benefits and risks, should be reflected in the medical record of any patient receiving anti- psychotic drug treatment.”


John M. Kane, “Treatment of Schizophrenia,” Schizophrenia Bulletin 13:1, 1987, pp. 133-156.



As the Bockhoven and Solomon research indicates, equally effective and safer treatments appear to be available for many patients. This is also suggested by other findings, some of which I have mentioned, but these data, discordant with the dominant ideology, fall on deaf ears.


When one considers the widespread reluctance of patients to take these drugs because of their distressing effects, the worsening of their condition that may take place, the disfigurement that may result and the equally good long-term outcome results of psychological treatment, the failure of psychiatry to take the dissenting data seriously is evidence of a cult-like ideology that shunts aside conflicting facts.


As in overt cults, psychiatry’s embrace of an ideology limits realism. When a hospital patient becomes more agitated, noisy, combative and uncooperative the standard staff response is to increase the dosage of neuroleptic drug. Rarely is it considered that the patients’ disturbance may reflect a conflict among the staff and that attention and corrective efforts should be directed there. Yet as early as 1956 Stanton and Schwartz had raised these issues in their landmark study of “institutional participation in psychiatric illness and treatment.”


They analyzed and documented many strong effects of hospital dynamics on the behavior of patients. “The most striking finding was that pathologically excited patients were quite regularly the subjects of secret, affectively important staff disagreement: and, equally regularly, their excitement terminated, usually abruptly, when the staff members were brought to discuss seriously their points of disagreement with each other.”41 (p. 345.)


Reference 41

“This book is both disturbing and encouraging: disturbing because it highlights so many of the imperfections of current hospital practices, and encouraging because it indicates how change and improvement may be brought about. It is a serious inquiry into the social setting in which hospital administration occurs, and it concerns itself primarily with the frequently unrecognized forces which influence patient and staff behavior.

The book is, and necessarily must be, a composite of observations and opinions, data and inference. It is, therefore, a rather accurate mirror of the stresses and strains encountered in a hospital when existing practice is under scrutiny and when change is proposed. The rigorous examination of clinical administrative procedure at Chestnut Lodge marks a significant stage in the development of our hospital.

In the early period of the history of Chestnut Lodge, our concept was that the essence of hospital treatment lay in the interpersonal relations of patient and therapist. We believed then that the therapist was in the best position to manage most details of a patient’s life because “he knew most about the case.” Since this initial concept was subsequently felt to be misleading, particularly since it left out of account the therapist’s special emotional ties to the patient, our initial practice gave way to the appointment of a physician other than the therapist, who became responsible for clinical administration.

The therapist was thus freed to analyze the difficulties which prevented the patient from making appropriate decisions for himself. A second stage then developed in which, on a given floor, there might be three or four clinical administrators, each with a slightly or markedly different opinion as to patient management and each responsible for two or three patients. The nursing service looked to these multiple administrators for orders.

The inconsistencies, contradictions and varying degrees of chaos resulting from such divergences led us to another change. A single administrator was given entire responsibility for each floor. This procedure still did not permit continuity as patients moved from floor to floor. Ultimately, the administration of patients came to be lodged in two physicians, one for the male and one for the female service.

The study here reported was made during the stage of development at Chestnut Lodge when there was still a separate administrator for each floor and should be viewed as reflecting the state of affairs during that period. It was at this point that Drs. Stanton and Schwartz undertook to examine our procedures and to identify what actually took place. This planned examination, of course, brought into focus the existence of many stereotypes which had grown up about the way the hospital worked and which had at times been uncritically accepted.

It was in part due to findings made in the present study that our step to a single administrator for each service was made. As differences of opinion between therapists, administrators, and nurses were investigated, it became clear that many times administrative, therapeutic or nursing procedures reflected personal needs of those involved rather than reality needs of the patients. As our recognition of such sources of continuing conflict became clearer we began to wonder if staff procedures and attitudes contributed to and helped maintain chronic patterns of behavior among patients and staff members.

With the resultant change in viewpoint, there came changes in theory and practice—changes that are still going on as methodology leads to concrete application. Clinical administration can be simple when orders are given by one person and are carried out by those in sympathy with the authority, but clinical administration may not be most beneficial when this is the case. Multiple points of view embracing those of therapist, clinical and medical director, aides, nurses, and supervisors supply a much broader base for intelligent clinical administration.

Also, there is far more likelihood that the decisions will be effectively carried out when all concerned have had a voice in their making. When those responsible for execution of policy have had opportunities to express their several points of view and defend them if opposed, the resulting modifications of extreme positions make consistency and continuity of effort possible. The present study demonstrates that such exchanges of opinion and the resultant acceptance of mutually satisfying objectives lead to clinically significant changes in patient behavior.

Although such discussions consume a great deal of staff time, they eliminate “administration by whim,” a type of administration which has at times caused many patients conflict and confusion. The book develops these points at length, using numerous examples, some of them far from flattering to those of the higher echelons of the organization who tended to cling to the more comfortable stereotypes.”


Alfred H. Stanton and Morris S. Schwartz, The Mental Hospital: A Study of Institutional Participation in Psychiatric Illness and Treatment (New York: Basic Books, 1954), Introduction


At the time the authors were hopeful and optimistic that their research would change the way inpatients were treated:

“It has finally become clear that a mental hospital is a social system and that the meaning of any action taken within it can be known only if the context is known; it has become clear that many assumptions that had previously been taken for granted, such as the assumption that the mental hospital should take the general hospital as a model, are gratuitous and may be damaging. . . . Built solidly into procedures, techniques, and even the language of the mental hospital is the assumption that patients are mere passive objects of treatment; they are to be ‘cared for,’ ‘protected,’ ‘treated,’ ‘respected,’ ‘handled,’ ‘controlled.’ Psychiatric administrative language consistently speaks of the patient as if he were not actively participant, as if he were an unconscious or half-conscious body upon an operating table.” 42 (Alfred H. Stanton and Morris S. Schwartz; Page 408)


When it comes to schizophrenia, what Stanton and Schwartz learned seems to have been forgotten; the awareness they hoped would change the mental hospital has not survived the Second Coming. Just as findings contradicting psychoanalytic assumptions were ignored by analytic theorists, so is work such as that of Stanton and Schwartz or Bockhoven and Solomon largely ignored today. Psychiatry as a profession does not censor discordant information but does ignore, dismiss, avoid it.


Of course, in pointing to those who apply only biological knowledge to the problem of psychosis and neglect the psychological, it should be recognized that there have been some psychiatrists who, drawing on R. D. Laing’s ideas, have conceptualized acute schizophrenic psychosis as a “voyage of discovery,” a means of spiritual development to be supported and not interfered with. Drugs are seen as only harmful and psychosis is romanticized. Maintaining such an ideology also requires one to ignore conflicting information, associating only with those who believe similarly and dismissing opponents as benighted.


The word heretic is derived from the Greek hairetikos, meaning “able to choose.” All too frequently, administrators of religions consider themselves to be God’s representatives and define any choice of doctrine or interpretation but theirs as false or evil. To the extent that religious leaders claim divine authority, dissent is discouraged and suppressed among their followers. Although differences of interpretation of holy writ always arise, when these differences are substantial they may not be tolerated.


If dissenters are expelled or leave, a new religion may result; many different sects have arisen in all the major religions. When an individual defies doctrinal authority—becomes a heretic—and the difference in interpretation is deemed dangerous to the faith of true believers, punishment may be severe, barbaric. Muslim clergy tortured and killed Hallaj, the Sufi saint, for saying “I am God.” Clergy of the Inquisition tortured and burned Christians who were far less challenging but were suspected of having the wrong beliefs.


Some choices are not permitted and dissent is punished, even in today’s modern, pluralistic western world. A recent example is Pope John Paul II’s attempt to banish dissent by revoking the right of a distinguished Catholic scholar, the Reverend Charles Curran, to teach at Catholic University. Curran had dissented at some points from non-infallible but traditional church teachings on sexual ethics. Archbishop Hickey explained the unusual and severe step taken by the Pope: “. . . the Holy See has gone on to clarify for us, to say there is no right to public dissent . . .”43 (San Francisco Chronicle, 20 August 1986.)


A Vatican official commented further that “we now have a situation in the United States where many theologians teach not only church doctrine but also the dissident view . . . Then these professors ask the students to pick their choice … an absolutely unacceptable practice.”44 (San Francisco Chronicle, 20 August 1986.)


Whatever one’s position on dissent in the theological domain, it is clear that such an authoritarian attitude is incompatible with democratic government. Fundamentalist Jerry Falwell seems to agree, but finds the problem to be democracy itself: “Today we find that America is more of a democracy than a republic. Sometimes there is mob rule. In some instances, a vocal minority prevails. Our Founding Fathers would not accept the tyranny of a democracy because they recognized that the only sovereign over men and nations was Almighty God.”


Members of almost all groups committed to a particular belief— be it religious or otherwise—are inclined to read and study works that confirm that belief. The dissenting views of outsiders are ignored or dismissed. Where a religious group’s security and the leader’s power is heavily committed to infallibility, the extra precaution of direct censorship, including the burning of books, is taken as occurred most recently in Iran.


For centuries the Catholic Church maintained an Index of condemned books Catholics could not read without special permission because their faith or morals might be disturbed. Recently, Christian fundamentalists have tried to remove from American classrooms such diverse works as Of Mice and Men, A Farewell to Arms, The Grapes of Wrath, 1984, Catch 22, and even The American Heritage Dictionary.


There has been an ongoing battle to curtail the teaching of evolution and great concern with the evils of “secular humanism.” To read or to listen to differing or opposing views is to court disturbance, trouble, doubt. Billy Graham puts it thus: “The world longs for authority, finality, and conclusiveness. It is weary of theological floundering and uncertainty. Belief exhilarates the human spirit; doubt depresses.”


The exclusion of doubt has a price. Intellectual parochialism may be fostered by restricting contact with outsiders and by building walls of indifference or, in the most extreme cases, hate. When religions provide schooling for members’ children, such schools may isolate the children from other worldviews and facilitate a portrayal of the outsider as evil or inferior. When this educational insulation is perpetuated into adulthood, cult-like abuses may arise.


Until recently, the Catholic parochial school system provided recruits for seminaries and convents which, in turn, provide teachers to perpetuate the school system. Although not all parochial schools are repressive, many have created an atmosphere of fear, guilt, and conformity. As one former nun put it, “You are taught that what is bad in you is yours; what is good in you is God’s.”


The deadening effect of such an education is attested to by ex-nuns’ autobiographical accounts: “I have been becoming more and more aware of the deadness I see all around me—the deadness of tired, tense bodies clinging to a ritual, of people who patch up life’s cracks so nothing new can sink in. I see their intensity and I see their seriousness; I see their compulsive concern for the slightest deviation from the Holy Rule. And what is most frightening, I see the hugeness and monstrosity of their commitment to suffering.”49 (M. Wong, Nun: A Memoir (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)


Christianity is not alone in providing systems which shield members from outside views. The Lubavitcher Hasidic community in Brooklyn is a case in point. Veneration of its leader approaches worship. The exclusiveness and separation of members from the larger community, enforced by unusual dress, elaborate rules and rituals, and specialized studies and language, can result in an extremely narrow and parochial outlook which is, in essence, cult-like.


In a long, mostly favorable article on the community, Liz Harris writes of being surprised when her host declared that he did not believe Jacobo Timerman’s description of his incarceration and torture by Argentina authorities. Indeed, he declared there was no anti-Semitism in Argentina. The reason for his view was that Timerman was believed to be “sympathetic to the Communists”. Since the communists were a godless people who persecuted Jews and Argentina at the time of the interview was certainly anti-communist, Timerman was not to be believed.


Harris comments: “I found it astonishing that one obvious reality, the suffering of Russian Jews, could utterly annihilate another, the suffering of Jacobo Timerman and many like him. Did it matter to Moshe that Timerman had emphatically denied any Communist sympathies? Or that fuzzy political accusations had brought about the disappearance of thousands of innocent people? The bright light that the Hasidim trained on their communal and inner life seemed to dim considerably when it was turned on the outside world—a circumstance that appeared to strain the quality of mercy hereabouts.”50 (Liz Harris, “Holy Days,” The New Yorker, 30 September 1985, p. 88)


Of course, the more a religion allows debate, discussion and disagreement, the more adaptable and realistic it can be, the less captured by its form. However, this tolerance may threaten certainty, and certainty (as Billy Graham testified) is one of the great attractions of religious belief. Irving Janis, a psychologist who studied presidential advisory groups, notes that in Washington, as elsewhere, the suppression of deviant points of view is often done by subordinates to protect the President from discordant opinions that might damage their confidence. The underlying wish is to preserve for all the fantasy of the Leader.


Unless a leader clearly intends that subordinates should challenge and criticize, his or her views will meet little serious opposition. Cult followers, even without specific instructions, act to protect the position and views of their leader. In the capacity of protectors, group members may feel justified in employing threats, subterfuge, and deceit.


In our government, as in most, a principal means of avoiding dissent and criticism is through the use of secrecy. Nowhere has this been more manifest than in the planning of covert operations such as the the overthrow of Chilean President Salvadore Allende during the Nixon administration and the more recent disaster, the sale of arms to Iran during the Reagan administration.


Secrecy supports cult-like behavior where the hierarchy was maintained through limiting access to information. Secrecy functions not only to cover up unethical activities from outside eyes, but also to increase authoritarian control over the larger group. By promoting the idea that the leader or the in-group have special information and expertise, they remove themselves from criticism and justify the exclusion of others from the decision-making process.


In the case of religious cults the special information and expertise is described as divine inspiration or enlightenment. The cult leader’s presumed higher state precludes lower beings from judging his or her actions.51


Reference 51

“The claim to divine authority on the part of fraudulent leaders is the basis for extensive exploitation and abuse of their followers. They say they have special knowledge, are “enlightened,” are able to perceive and know what the ordinary person cannot, and, therefore, are immune from ordinary criteria of behavior. It is to be expected, such persons say, that what they might do in their wisdom may make no sense to the unenlightened. Indeed, all the traditions agree that their teachers are people whose spiritual development has progressed to the point that they can “see” what others cannot.

If we grant that such people do exist, how can it be possible for the ordinary person to judge them? I will show that the problem is not as difficult as has been thought, for the spiritual traditions are quite consistent about their goal and the requirements for reaching it. It is this fact that permits a functional assessment…There is no shortcut. Teachers who imply that enlightenment is in their gift are frauds.

These developmental requirements provide a basis for assessing new religious movements as well as traditional ones. A genuine spiritual organization is run in such a way as to assist the student in making the shift from a self-centered life to one that is Truth-centered. An organization in which the methods of operation enhance selfish intentions can be adjudged dysfunctional. Such a group might do a good job of meeting other needs, but it is not actually engaged in spiritual development.

Consequently, there is no basis for its leader claiming the special status and authority of the enlightened spiritual teacher. For example, the members of one quasi-Christian group were led to believe that if they left the group they would be damned. In another group, members were told that terrible things had happened to people who had defected in the past. Fear for one’s safety or fear of being damned is not the sort of motivation that promotes spiritual development…”


Deikman, A. J. (1983). The Evaluation of Spiritual and Utopian Groups. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 23(3), 8–18. doi:10.1177/0022167883233002


Similar claims are made in government where special knowledge of the enemy or secret technical information is said to justify decisions that would otherwise be objected to on moral or even practical grounds. Secrecy is invoked often in the name of national security. Tom Wicker, New York Times columnist, comments on the connotations of that term, meanings we can understand in terms of cult psychology:


“But those two words [national security] are magic, an incantation, vibrating with the ideas of power, knowledge, authority, responsibility. National security!—the phrase rings with masculinity, patriotism, heroism. Used in tones of proper solemnity by someone from the White House or the Pentagon, those words can mesmerize most Americans; and a generation of Washington reporters stood mostly in awe of them—not least, I believe, because a reporter who knows something that can’t be printed for national-security reasons is elevated himself into that prized masculine circle of power, knowledge, authority, responsibility. He becomes the ultimate insider; and the reporter’s deadliest enemy—the desire to be a part of the world of power around him—has won its final victory.”52 (Tom Wicker, On Press—A Top Reporter’s Life in, and Reflections on, American Journalism (New York: Viking, 1978), p. 195.)


As Americans, we affirm the right to dissent, consider it of supreme value, make the infringement of dissent unlawful, and recognize it as basic to our political system. However, in actual practice few of us are pleased when someone disagrees with us; at best we tolerate it, inwardly we reject it. Although in our society the right to dissent is constantly affirmed, there is little indication that as individuals or in groups we value opposing views directed at ourselves.


In science, within clear professional limits, there may be more appreciation of dissent, more readiness to welcome the opponent, but in general, although we may defend the right of an opponent to speak out against us we are not grateful when he or she has done so. In almost all cases we react to dissent as to an enemy, countering with argument or a patronizing dismissal. This seems natural, just “human nature.” Yet, considering how much of our thinking is prejudiced, rigid, and self-protective and how much we make use of inadequate and selective information, dissent deserves to be treated not as an adversary but as an ally, something that can rescue us from selective blindness, make us more realistic and thus more effective.


Objectively, we should regard dissent with gratitude. It is a matter of some chagrin to me that even in the process of writing this book I find it very difficult to practice what I preach; whenever my own opinions are challenged my first response is to put up my mental fists and fight back, defending my position. Only then do I catch myself and ask the dissenter, Why do you think that?


Look around at all levels of society. The adversarial approach is ingrained; authors, radio and television commentators, spokes persons for various causes, politicians of every hue, all insist on the rightness of their own views while denigrating the opposition’s. Yet life is complex; our perception and information are limited. Indeed, to some degree, everyone is in error.


Just like the members of a cult, we want agreement for our beliefs so we can feel the security of being right. Dissent threatens that, it reduces our status, our certainty, our claim to privilege. As I remarked earlier, the problem with Reagan’s “evil empire” speech was not so much that he was harshly critical of the Soviet government—surely it deserved harsh criticism—but that he did not acknowledge that we as a nation are not free from evil, even if our system is more humane.


In all the deservedly adverse comment that Reagan received for that speech, there was no recognition that similar speeches take place every day in the utterances and opinions of almost all citizens, liberal and conservative alike. Many people regarded Reagan and his conservative allies as the source of evil in this country, oblivious to the irony that in doing so they were engaging in similar thinking. Again, the key issue is not that criticism is undeserved, but that the persons dishing out criticism reserve none for themselves; nor do they acknowledge any validity to the other’s position.


They are not being artful. They simply cannot accept the fact that their adversary has the same self-righteous feeling as they do because the implications are uncomfortable: our own feelings of sincerity and righteousness do not certify that we are right. To welcome dissent is to accept that fact.


In ordinary life, dissent is restricted primarily by a selective focus on the familiar and the comfortable. At the same time, there may be more restriction by exclusion than we realize. In 1946, when I was in high school, a Russian Communist was invited to address our weekly assembly. I remember that we were unconvinced by his protestations that the USSR wanted only peace. Afterwards students joked, “Yeah, a piece of Poland, a piece of Hungary and a piece of Germany.” We were surprised to hear that the American Legion was upset that he had been allowed to speak to us. What are they afraid of? we thought. He hadn’t captured our minds.


Some years later, after the Korean War, I heard a talk by a former American soldier who had been a POW and had gone over to the Chinese Communists. They had treated him well, given him a job and even a daily glass of milk, which they understood to be necessary for Americans. But he found the conformity oppressive, became very homesick and returned to the United States. He said he had been susceptible to their arguments because, coming from a small Midwestern town, he had never heard the United States criticized and was impressed that some of their criticism was undeniably true.


Hearing this man, I realized he rebutted the American Legion’s concern. Not having been exposed to dissident views, he had been a sitting duck for skillful propaganda; indeed, most of those who were similarly won over were from unsophisticated environments. I thought then how much we needed dissent.


Yet I doubt that many American high schools during the last three decades have invited a Communist to address their assembly. Since the McCarthy period we seem less tolerant of challenges to our basic political principles. The Socialist Party is all but non-existent in America; political statements are tame and court the national consensus; free enterprise is not challenged. We pride ourselves on freedom of dissent but there is not much serious dissent in our politics, nor in the national media. Radical voices tend to be dismissed as lunatic. It’s a free country, but we are as free to turn our backs on dissent as to express it.


In ordinary society, the cult processes of censorship and decreased contact with outsiders are often found, but in diminished intensity. Censorship of discordant information and isolation from heretical outsiders is usually done voluntarily rather than at the insistence of the group, although the expression of deviant views is seldom encouraged.


Bankers tend to associate with bankers, doctors with doctors, sergeants with sergeants, black with black, and so on. Similarly for various socio-economic, ethnic, and religious groups. These associations provide not only shared interests, but also the security of support for one’s views. Furthermore, liberals and conservatives tend to confine their reading to those magazines and columnists whose views are similar to their own; if they scan the writings of the opposition it will be to attack and disparage, not to learn.


At their political gatherings one seldom hears a serious questioning of the group’s beliefs or any acknowledgement that opponents may be correct in a particular instance. Instead, what takes place is an exercise in mutual support and validation, a reinforcing of the group’s belief in the correctness of its views, a strengthening of the fantasy of being true, good and superior. A de facto censorship operates continuously. Whatever the cause of these social ghettos, their effect is to deny a person the benefit of being challenged and contradicted.