“Politicians, Priests, and psychiatrists often face the same problem: how to find the most rapid and permanent means of changing a man’s belief…The problem of the doctor and his nervously ill patient, and that of the religious leader who sets out to gain and hold new converts, has now become the problem of whole groups of nations, who wish not only to confirm certain political beliefs within their boundaries, but to proselytize the outside world.”
– William Sargant “Battle of the Mind”
It is rather ironic that in this “age of information”, we are more confused than ever…
It had been commonly thought in the past, and not without basis, that tyranny could only exist on the condition that the people were kept illiterate and ignorant of their oppression. To recognise that one was “oppressed” meant they must first have an idea of what was “freedom”, and if one were allowed the “privilege” to learn how to read, this discovery was inevitable.
If education of the masses could turn the majority of a population literate, it was thought that the higher ideas, the sort of “dangerous ideas” that Mustapha Mond for instance expresses in “The Brave New World”, would quickly organise the masses and revolution against their “controllers” would be inevitable. In other words, knowledge is freedom, and you cannot enslave those who learn how to “think”.
However, it hasn’t exactly played out that way has it?
The greater majority of us are free to read whatever we wish to, in terms of the once “forbidden books”, such as those listed by The Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1). We can read any of the writings that were banned in “The Brave New World”, notably the works of Shakespeare which were named as absolutely dangerous forms of “knowledge”.
We are now very much free to “educate” ourselves on the very “ideas” that were recognised by tyrants of the past as the “antidote” to a life of slavery. And yet, today, the majority choose not to…
It is recognised, albeit superficially, that who controls the past, controls the present and thereby the future. George Orwell’s book “1984”, hammers this as the essential feature that allows the Big Brother apparatus to maintain absolute control over fear, perception and loyalty to the Party cause, and yet despite its popularity, there still remains a lack of interest in actually informing oneself about the past.
What does it matter anyway, if the past is controlled and rewritten to suit the present? As the Big Brother interrogator O’Brien states to Winston, “We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not? [And thus, are free to rewrite it as we choose…]”
Of course, we are not in the same situation as Winston…we are much better off. We can study and learn about the “past” if we so desire, unfortunately, it is a choice that many take for granted.
In fact, many are probably not fully aware that presently there is a battle waging for who will “control the past” in a manner that is closely resembling a form of “memory wipe”.
There is an especial focus to rewrite the history of WWII at this very moment. These revisionists are attempting to rewrite this history since there lies the root from which today’s fascism stems.
Whoever understands this period of history understands today’s fascism.
The “experts” say that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23rd 1939 is supposedly “proof” that Stalin supported Hitler’s fascist agenda, and thus the veneer of the Soviet Union being the greatest defender against fascism during WWII is a sham.
However, what is left out of this discussion every time, is that in the previous year, the UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed an appeasement deal with Hitler on September 30th 1938, known as the Munich Agreement (aka the Munich Betrayal), where Hitler demanded and promptly received the annexation of Czech border areas, known as the Sudetenland annexation. It had thus become official British policy to allow Hitler’s expansion of German territory relatively unchecked as part of the “appeasement”.
The “logic” behind it was that Britain would give what Hitler demanded in hopes of “appeasing” his imperial “appetites” and thus avoid further conflict. That is, by giving Hitler more power, it would somehow or other, convince him not to desire more…at least the plan apparently looked good on paper.
Then there is the whole embarrassing affair with the Bank of England and Bank of International Settlements, to which the BoE Governor Montague Norman allowed for the direct transfer of money to Hitler, however, not with England’s own money but rather 5.6 million pounds worth of gold owned by the National Bank of Czechoslovakia! Well, you certainly didn’t think that England would use her own money?
And let us not forget, the Union Banking Corporation, with founding member and director Prescott Bush also caught in the funding of Hitler before and during WWII, and on Oct 20th, 1942 its bank assets were seized under the “U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act” and “Executive Order 9095”.
Of course, you can imagine that being aware of such dealings made Stalin uneasy as it was becoming apparent that Hitler’s vision was shared by others of “high society” stalk. Why should we expect Stalin to have stood alone with no support and risk being immediately cut down, when his supposed “allies” were signing “appeasements” and handing over money to what was supposed to be the biggest threat to the free world?
Such “high society” men are used to pulling on strings, they muse themselves as chess masters, yet one never quite knows which side they are playing…
And thus, we find ourselves increasingly in the unsettling position of a Winston. In Orwell’s “1984”, there are three main super states in the world: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia that are in one combination or another constantly at war with each other and have been so for the last 25 years.
In the case of Winston, he has only known Oceania (the British commonwealths and U.S.), he knows essentially nothing of either Eurasia or Eastasia, except that sometimes Oceania is at war with Eurasia and sometimes it is at war with Eastasia. In fact, even this memory, that the enemy is not constant, is not something Winston is supposed to recollect or acknowledge. Just by doing this very thing, he is committing a “thoughtcrime”.
Winston’s experience begs the questions, if one were born into a fascist, totalitarian state would they know it? Of course, the state itself would not describe itself as such. How would you be able to compare your “freedom” with the “oppression” of the enemy, when all you were given was what the state chose to give to you?
How do you know that what has come to shape your convictions, your beliefs, your fears really belong to you, and were not placed there by another?
We are all very sensitive to this unsettling question because ironically, that has also been placed in us. It was what started this whole business of “mind control”, you see, it had to be done…for our “protection”.
The Battle for Your Mind
“He whom the gods wish to destroy, they first of all drive mad.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “The Masque of Pandora”
William Sargant was a British psychiatrist and, one could say, effectively the Father of “mind control” in the West, with connections to British Intelligence and the Tavistock Institute, which would influence the CIA and American military via the program MK Ultra. Sargant was also an advisor for Ewen Cameron’s LSD “blank slate” work at McGill University, funded by the CIA.
Sargant accounts for his reason in studying and using forms of “mind control” on his patients, which were primarily British soldiers that were sent back from the battlefield during WWII with various forms of “psychosis”, as the only way to rehabilitate extreme forms of PTSD.
The other reason, was because the Soviets had apparently become “experts” in the field, and out of a need for national security, the British would thus in turn have to become experts as well…as a matter of self-defence of course.
The work of Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, had succeeded in producing some disturbingly interesting insights into four primary forms of nervous systems in dogs, that were combinations of inhibitory and excitatory temperaments; “strong excitatory”, “balanced”, “passive” and “calm imperturbable”. Pavlov found that depending on the category of nervous system temperament the dog had, this in turn would dictate the form of “conditioning” that would work best to “reprogram behaviour”. The relevance to “human conditioning” was not lost on anyone.
It was feared in the West, that such techniques would not only be used against their soldiers to invoke free-flowing uninhibited confessions to the enemy but that these soldiers could be sent back to their home countries, as zombified assassins and spies that could be set off with a simple code word. At least, these were the thriller stories and movies that were pumped into the population. How horrific indeed! That the enemy could apparently enter what was thought the only sacred ground to be our own…our very “minds”!
However, for those who were actually leading the field in mind control research, such as William Sargant, it was understood that this was not exactly how mind control worked.
For one thing, the issue of “free will” was getting in the way.
No matter the length or degree of electro-shock, insulin “therapy”, tranquilizer cocktails, induced comas, sleep deprivation, starvation etc induced, it was discovered that if the subject had a “strong conviction” and “strong belief” in something, this could not be simply erased, it could not be written over with any arbitrary thing. Rather, the subject would have to have the illusion that their “conditioning” was in fact a “choice”. This was an extremely challenging task, and long term conversions (months to years) were rare.
However, Sargant saw an opening. It was understood that one could not create a new individual from scratch, however, with the right conditioning that was meant to lead to a physical breakdown using abnormal stress (effectively a reboot of the nervous system), one could increase the “suggestibility” markedly in their subjects.
Sargant wrote in his “Battle of the Mind”: “Pavlov’s clinical descriptions of the ‘experimental neuroses’ which he could induce in dogs proved, in fact, to have a close correspondence with those war-neuroses which we were investigating at the time.”
In addition, Sargant found that a falsely implanted memory could help induce abnormal stress leading to emotional exhaustion and physical breakdown to invoke “suggestibility”. That is, one didn’t even need to have a “real stress” but an “imagined stress” would work just as effectively.
Sargant goes on to state in his book: “It is not surprising that the ordinary person, in general, is much more easily indoctrinated than the abnormal…A person is considered ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ by the community simply because he accepts most of its social standards and behavioural patterns; which means, in fact, that he is susceptible to suggestion and has been persuaded to go with the majority on most ordinary or extraordinary occasions.”
Sargant then goes over the phenomenon of the London Blitz, which was an eight month period of heavy bombing of London during WWII. During this period, in order to cope and stay “sane”, people rapidly became accustomed to the idea that their neighbours could be and were buried alive in bombed houses around them. The thought was “If I can’t do anything about it what use is it that I trouble myself over it?” The best “coping” was thus found to be those who accepted the new “environment” and just focused on “surviving”, and did not try to resist it.
Sargant remarks that it is this “adaptability” to a changing environment which is part of the “survival” instinct and is very strong in the “healthy” and “normal” individual who can learn to cope and thus continues to be “functional” despite an ever changing environment.
It was thus our deeply programmed “survival instinct” that was found to be the key to the suggestibility of our minds. That the best “survivors” made for the best “brain-washing” in a sense.
Sargant quotes Hecker’s work, who was studying the dancing mania phenomenon that occurred during the Black Death, where Hecker observed that heightened suggestibility had the capability to cause a person to “embrace with equal force, reason and folly, good and evil, diminish the praise of virtue as well as the criminality of vice.”
And that such a state of mind was likened to the first efforts of the infant mind “this instinct of imitation when it exists in its highest degree, is also united a loss of all power over the will, which occurs as soon as the impression on the senses has become firmly established, producing a condition like that of small animals when they are fascinated by the look of a serpent.”
I wonder if Sargant imagined himself the serpent…
Sargant does finally admit: “This does not mean that all persons can be genuinely indoctrinated by such means. Some will give only temporary submission to the demands made on them, and fight again when strength of body and mind returns. Others are saved by the supervention of madness. Or the will to resist may give way, but not the intellect itself.”
But he comforts himself as a response to this stubborn resistance that “As mentioned in a previous context, the stake, the gallows, the firing squad, the prison, or the madhouse, are usually available for the failures.”
The Art of Doublethink
“WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”
George Orwell’s “1984” (Big Brother Mantra)
Thus what Sargant found, and what Orwell astutely identified, was that the most reliable form of mind control was found to be in the art of “doublethink”, that is, the ability to accept two contradictory thoughts in your mind without acknowledging that they are in fact opposites.
Orwell identifies this under two forms of “doublethink”, which are “crimestop” and “blackwhite”. “Crimestop” meaning the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of a dangerous thought.
Orwell further states “It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments…and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop in short, means protective stupidity.”
“Blackwhite”, is the act of contradiction of plain facts, applied to an opponent. And when applied to the Party, it is the willingness to say black is white when the Party discipline demands it so.
As Orwell describes it “it means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past…The alteration of the past is necessary for two reasons…The subsidiary reason is that…he must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries, because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off… [the precautionary reason] by far the more important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party.”
Orwell continues “The splitting of the intelligence which the Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest.”
That is, it is the Inner Party members who are the most indoctrinated, the best at inducing “mind control” or “doublethink” on themselves, and at the same time believe that it is the best and right thing to do.
Orwell describes “doublethink” thus: “The process has to be conscious , or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence guilt…To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.”
Through the Rabbit Hole and Out Again
What many fail to grasp when reading “1984” is that Orwell is not only the character Winston, he is also the character O’Brien. He is the Outer Party member-turned-revolutionary, and he is the Inner Party disciplinarian.
He is simultaneously the tormentor-programmer as well as the tormented-programmed.
Winston eventually breaks and releases the one thing that kept him human, his love and loyalty to Julia. In the end, an announcement is made that Oceania is ever nearer to winning the war and Winston looks up at a large poster of Big Brother and cries gin-filled tears of joy and relief, for he had finally come to love Big Brother.
He had become O’Brien.
Orwell’s is a tragic story of a product of the British Empire. Stationed as a senior police officer in Burma, he had first-hand experience in the “programmer” techniques O’Brien was using. Refer to Martin Sieff’s excellent article for more of this story.
I think it is safe to say that Orwell intended Big Brother to symbolise the British Empire, the largest empire that has ever existed in world history.
Today, NATO is planning on moving further eastward. 9500 U.S. troops are being removed from Germany with the plan of entering into Eastern Europe near the Russian border and into the Indo-Pacific region, a potential new hot-spot between the U.S. and China.
The justification for this move relies on the WWII and Cold War narrative that Russia and China have always been the enemies of the “free world”… that Russia and China have never left their fascist “ideologies” that have thrown the entire world into conflict and war for almost a century.
I will leave it up to you dear reader, to fill in the rest.
Cynthia Chung, OP Stategic Culture