The word hypnosis is a familiar term that usually brings to mind Franz Mesmer and 19th century mesmerism. Or today’s stage magic; a dangling pocket watch moving from side-to-side to the dramatically intoned words, “yooooou arrrrrrrre getttttttttinnnnng sleeeeeeeeepy”. Or maybe even more likely, you have seen the gazillion advertisements for hypnosis to lose weight or quit smoking.
Generally speaking, hypnosis as shown in movies and television, or stage magician acts, is misleading. A single instance of placing a person into a trance state and then giving them suggestions is not really sufficient for creating change. However, according to the American Psychological Association, it is an effective treatment strategy for stress management, anxiety and mood disorders, pain management, weight loss, and smoking.For more information from the APA: http://www.apa.org/topics/hypnosis/index.aspx
Hypnosis is the technique used to induce trance states and it can be done in a few different ways, with or without our awareness. Trance states are very different from the normal, conscious state where our attention is usually focused outward through our senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Trance states occur when our senses are focused inward, our attention is focused internally rather than externally.
Trance states range on a dimensional scale from mild and even normal, to deep trance states. An example of a mild and normal trance state is daydreaming; our minds wander off on something that has very little to do with the present time and place. According to Steven Hassan, in deeper trance states “one is much less aware of the outside world and extremely susceptible to suggestions which may be put into one’s mind“.
Also according to Hassan, psychological researchers have “clinically established” that one’s critical thinking ability is diminished in the trance state. “You are less able to evaluate information you receive while in a trance than you are while in a normal state of consciousness”. Trance states are also pleasant and enjoyable, very relaxing, and for this reason many people want to enter trance states as often as possible.
Entering a trance state is done through the use of repetition and forced concentration; if you have observed a drum circle for instance, specifically the drummers, you may have noticed they seem to ‘go somewhere else’. Their facial expressions go blank or neutral. They blink and swallow very slowly. In this state people can be indoctrinated; even strong-willed people can be made to do things they ordinarily wouldn’t.
Can this be done online?
In 2007 no one I knew had ever even considered the possibility. Social scientists may have been exploring the concept, but to the average internet user the idea never even occurred. In Delphi Forums, member’s paid very close attention in chats and on the message boards, whenever they, or anyone else, was attacked or interrogated by a crowd. Attacked members were expected to respond to every post; indeed they tried.
And at some point they would become overwhelmed; barely able to keep up with the sheer volume of hyper critical and abusive posts, members would seem to internalize what they were reading without much critical thinking, especially if it was about someone they already disliked. Victims would either give up and give in or retreat. Onlookers would readily accept the opinion of the leaders of the fight.
The most likely reason for this response was the forced concentration on the whole thread, the coercive tactics that, for a time at least, would hold a victim (and onlookers) in place, responding to as many posts as were written to them or about them. Everyone involved for any length of time likely inadvertently induced themselves unknowingly into trance states. In this way they were susceptible to suggestion.
The suggestions were not only the content of the accusations, criticisms, or abuse. The suggestions also came in the form of statements made in the course of the arguments; usually based on unspoken assumptions and expectations. For instance, it was stated that if a member avoided a summons to the forum of the self-appointed “protectors of the community”, the member was a “coward”.
This idea of cowardice for refusing to go to a forum, read a “demand for accounting” and respond in a proscribed way became an unquestioned point of acceptance by all members. Members perceived themselves as being “forced” to answer to such accusations, forced to do as they were told by members of this other forum, because they were told they were expected to run at any moment due to guilt or fear.
Someone who refused to comply was automatically viewed by the entire community of “Dark Forums” as “cowards” who were “guilty” of the accusations, and thus were “afraid” of being held accountable for real or imagined “crimes”, without any question. It was of course all a matter of perception. The reality was, no member could be held at gunpoint and forced to answer posts. Every computer has an off button.
But every person can be held accountable to public perception. People will do just about anything to avoid losing the respect, approval, validation, or all around good will of others, especially if those others are important to us. We will even agree that this is the case, or disagree with it, depending on what we perceive is the opinion of others we wish to impress. We are all public image conscious; we all have an image we wish to project.
This is why some of us go to great length to create a “brand”; a marketable version of ourselves, flaws carefully polished until they shine as strengths. We must have the kind of public image that sells; that people and organizations want to buy. This is just as true online as it is offline; this is why LinkedIn exists; and why LinkedIn and Facebook members keep a careful distance from one another.
Have you ever been online and ‘tuned out’ everything else around you? Has a family member, co-worker, or friend ever had to speak loudly or touch you before you noticed they were trying to get your attention? Do you become a bit less aware of the outside world when reading something online, particularly if you have a vested interest in it? Are you reading an article on a website or looking at Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter?
When I am online, I tend to focus on whatever I am doing to the point where unusual sounds register but normal sounds don’t. I have seen family members and friends get into online games like Ever Quest or World of Warcraft and focus so hard that I would get up and leave and they wouldn’t know it. I have seen people in the same room, on computers, communicate by Instant Messenger because verbal was too distracting.
I have observed others while they are online; faces intent but otherwise blank, slow to blink, slow to swallow. When they do pause with what they are doing, they will blink rapidly for a few seconds, look around, get up and stretch and their face becomes animated again. They will rub their eyes and sometimes note feeling eye strain or tiredness. I have noticed this in myself as well, specifically the eye strain.
Do you concentrate on topics of a “hot button” nature for instance, especially if they are framed in ways that appeal strongly to you? Do you follow certain websites like InfoWars, Breitbart, and RT? Reading the content carefully, including the comment sections, leave your own comments and share the content around on your social media accounts? Perhaps you prefer Buzz Feed, Daily Kos, or Truth Out?
Hot button” topics are instrumental in polarizing people in a nation-state into opposing factions; at least one of those factions usually views the government of the nation-state to be corrupt. The more polarizing the speaker, or writer, the more attention they gain from the crowd. Factions’ form, ideologies, rhetoric, narratives all follow, and suggestions about others, out-groups, get made, and conscious awareness seems to be missing.
Do you remember in 2011 how social media covered the whole Middle East uprising dubbed “The Arab Spring”? Do you remember how it started, with one man, who had enough of a harassing authority figure, he set himself on fire? Suddenly Facebook and Twitter were awash in live feeds, photos, articles and memes about the many brave pro-democracy protesters standing up to authoritarian regimes.
People read and shared media describing events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria in Facebook and Twitter, mostly Libya and Syria. The authoritarian leaders of Tunisia and Egypt were removed from power; Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was killed. Things are still fragile in Tunisia; Egypt and Bahrain are seeing erosion of human rights. Libya, Yemen, and Syria are failed states engulfed in civil wars.
At the time, it all seemed like a great idea; encourage and show support for those who would bring down oppressive regimes that were disappearing, torturing, and killing people, right? Nobody gave any thought to the very real consequences of regime change; when governments fail, there is usually a power vacuum. We should know this; history in general, and political science in particular, are full of examples.
In hypnotic trance states assumptions are launched in our subconscious minds and we don’t think things through. People in crowds tend to get ten feet tall and bullet proof; even without the added fuel of alcohol.Assumptions such as someone innately good and incorruptible will take over and make everything right again. That is what the people in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria were expecting and banking on.
Tunisia got a fragile and tentative democracy; Egypt and Bahrain got varying degrees of minimal change. Libya, Yemen, and Syria got Islamic State and other warlords, Saudi Arabia and allies, Russia, civil war, homelessness, life in refugee camps, and death. The problem with insurrection is you have no idea what you will get as a replacement to a government that has been violently opposed. Usually several factions fight for control.
Now, letting Syrian refugees into the U.S. is a “hot button” topic; the ideological narrative and rhetoric from the Right is a sustained onslaught of “Islam is bad. Muslims are bad. Everybody we don’t like is bad” And the narrative and rhetoric from the Left is “Are you Nazis? Because you sound like Nazis, you look like Nazis, and you act like Nazis” And nobody ever talks about the “Arab Spring” anymore; except for the Human Rights groups.
Are we accidentally slipping into hypnotic trance states while online and slowly being programmed to not question statements we see and hear? If it is grammatically structured as a statement of fact, it must be an accurate fact, right? If it makes your blood boil or makes you want to hug your dog or cat and want to divorce the human race, it must absolutely positively be the Truth, right?
Combined with other methods like information overload, the deliberate use of contradictory information (cognitive dissonance), accusations of all kinds, and general abuse and bullying, it certainly did appear that one could take an internet server full of people, get them riled up and make them believe just about anything you wanted them to. Including that they had to answer to people who weren’t server staff.
Likewise, combined with other methods like information overload, cognitive dissonance, accusations of all kinds, general abuse and bullying, you can take an entire nation and and convince them to vote for people who are completely unqualified for public Office if you flood their servers with enough misinformation and propaganda, “fake news” and “truth decay”. Or, you can at least create the illusion of a majority for a small minority.
Thanks to hypnotic trance state induction, people have to be reminded that the internet browser can be closed and the computers, tablets, smart phones, etc., can be turned off. We all need to seriously question the assumptions that are underpinning our thinking processes when it comes to ideologies, rhetoric, narratives, and propaganda. At some point we all have to ask ourselves, who else is in our heads?
***This is part 9 of a series of posts on cults and cult indoctrination online. It will focus on the book that played such an integral role in ending the indoctrination process on the Delphi Forums server; Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan. This series will be heavily revised and updated; the purpose is to show that Delphi is not unique.
The same process occurs elsewhere on the internet; Al-Qaeda and Islamic State did not invent it; they did not even innovate. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, none of these sites were first to find themselves the vehicles of fake news, propaganda, or truth decay. There are much bigger cults out in the world; awareness is key to stopping the cycles.