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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 25-Jan-08


Friday 25-January-08

Coercion, cause and effect

I've recently been reading a disturbing book called 'Brainwash' that details the history of CIA and others in looking for coercive methods of interrogation and changing minds. It all started with the Korean war when a number of soldiers came home spouting Communism. The thought of good Americans being converted this way sent the government into a tailspin, especially with the burgeoning cold war, and a number of research projects were set up to find out how it worked and how it could be used in reverse.

To cut a long story short, a lot of very nasty things were done to soldiers, prisoners, mental patients and more to find out how to make them talk, how to change what they believed and how to make them forget and be resistant to interrogation. Methods used including sensory deprivation, drugs, hypnotism and physical pain. The sad findings were that you can get people to talk, but what they say will be unreliable, either because they were satisficing (saying anything to avoid discomfort) or were delusionally confused.

Teaching soldiers to resist interrogation also taught them to use those extreme methods, and in doing so caused further ripples. For example the use of such methods by the British army in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s led directly to radicalization of protestors, the setting up of Noraid, and also to those extreme methods being adopted in turn by the IRA.

And today you can see the same thing happening in the wake of 9/11 and the terrible responses. Bin Laden must be laughing all the way at the queues of volunteers who are motivated as much by American reaction as religious ideals.

When will we learn? Extreme action is a cause that leads to the effect of more and maybe worse action. From family feuds to war and torture, man's inhumanity to man is a predictable spiral. Perhaps our best hope is in a reverse causality: where determined compassion eventually leads to more compassion. Minds can be changed for the better or for the worse. Only we can make the difference.

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