How can the four components of mind control (behavior, thought, emotion, and information control) be used to change group behavior? Generally through a three-step process described in the late 1940’s by Kurt Lewin; and described by Edgar Schein in a book called Coercive Persuasion. Both Schein and Lewin studied the brainwashing programs from China in the 1950’s under Mao Tse Lung, and Schein’s book is based on interviews with former American prisoners. Coercive Persuasion is considered a valuable study of the process.

Lewin’s three-stage process applies to non-coercive mind control as well as brainwashing. As Schein described them, unfreezing consists of breaking a person down, changing consists of the indoctrination process, and refreezing is the process of building up and reinforcing the new identity. If the three-stage process seems familiar from a business perspective it is because these are the steps utilized in changing organizational workplace cultures; otherwise known as change management. In change management the process is benign; in dangerous groups not so much.

In a way it could be argued that the only distinctions between dangerous cult groups and ordinary groups are 1. the degree of control exerted over the individual’s private as well as professional life; and 2. the degree of influence, exploitation, and profit the group takes from the productivity and loyalty of its members. 

Since Mao’s day, there has been considerably more research done in the field of psychology and psychological techniques that have been adapted to modern mind control and groups have become more flexible in their approach. Dangerous groups are capable of changing their approach to fit a person’s specific psychological make-up, use deception and loaded language, and employ techniques such as thought-stopping and phobia indoctrination.

In the next three posts I will take a much closer look at each of the three-step processes: unfreezing, changing and refreezing.

But first, this is the halfway point for this series. The original series was 30 posts long and in the 16th post, I spent a little bit of time discussing the reactions from members of Delphi to the first half of the series. As previously noted, some members entered a state of denial and rationalization. Some members agreed that the descriptions fit “The Delphi Game” and that describing it as a cult indoctrination process was hitting the nail on the head. By the 15th post the original series was being cross-posted from the blog to at least 3 other forums at owner request.

A small number of new members had not been in Delphi long enough to fully experience “The Delphi Game” so were undecided at the time. And some others refused to read because they were told it was an “attack” on themselves and their friends. Still others questioned whether it really was mind control because they had seen the things attributed to mind control in very different, more benign contexts; such as educational, and military institutions. It was a fair point, and still is a fair point; so it deserves addressing.

Change is inevitable and can be either for the good or the bad. Managing change is smart because it means that change managers can minimize harmful change and increase positive change that benefits everyone in the group. Trying to resist change is futile since change is a natural part of environment. 

Some institutions do require a fair amount of conformity; thus a fair amount of indoctrination, usually in the area of education and training. There are different learning styles, and some are more useful than others in specific situations. In early education we spend a lot of time being taught how to learn and some of it involves memorization of information; this is because a foundation is being taught that later education will be built upon; it has to make sense. Conformity in this context is done to create a uniformity of purpose and minimize distraction.

Conformity to establish a uniformity of purpose and to minimize distraction is most often seen in academic settings from primary school through college and university levels, in the military, law enforcement, and in a wide array of organizational workplaces. Such groups exist for an important purpose, requiring a great deal of carefully developed expertise. One must know the environment and expectations; working together and collaboratively is key to success.

Such institutions will not ever say “conform or else”, but they will induce conformity through persuasion rather than coercion. You will have a choice; an institution will expect you to see it their way, to conform, but they will not force you. If you make a choice to join the military or a branch of law enforcement, a school, or a specific workplace, you will either choose to see it their way and conform, or you won’t and they will remove you from the environment.

It is normal for people to feel some resistance to change especially when it is not their idea. One of the biggest challenges is helping individuals in a group see the benefit of change for themselves and getting them to support it. Change management does not involve coercion, intimidation, or threat in benign groups. Malignant groups like cults operate by coercion, intimidation, and threat.

If you want a job you conform to the environmental standard. You cut your hair, style it professionally, remove the visible piercings and hide the tattoos. You engage in good hygiene practices, wear suitable attire and you have a resume tailored to the job description. Nonconformity in any one of these areas would likely result in your resume ending up in a trash receptacle rather than on an HR manager’s desk.

Eleven years ago my primary focus was the Delphi server, and the online communities, mainly the “Dark Forums” community that had been split into factions, the factions into rivalries, and the pattern of online fighting that had been going on for years. Today, I am observing the same patterns of online conflict in places like Twitter and Facebook, the same pattern of indoctrination, but unlike with Delphi, the stakes are real world relevant; they are higher, and these sites are being held accountable by the Government.

Eleven years ago, we all knew how things worked in Delphi, relevant to “The Delphi Game”; and we knew that much of it was familiar to other aspects of our lives offline. We had no idea what was accidental, what was deliberate, and a lot of it seemed pretty normative, especially for those who had spent time in different types of institutions; you adapt, improvise, and overcome through knowledge, skills, and abilities all developed somewhere. People use what works; they don’t always know the origins of what it is they are doing.

Resistance to change (managed or otherwise) can look like this, either metaphorically or literally, depending on the nature of the group and the type of change. All things considered it is funny to joke about but the reality of violent resistance very seldom goes the way it is planned for the ordinary citizen.

It also became increasingly clear to me just how deeply involved the indoctrination processes were; how deeply ingrained they had become with each individual in Delphi. Factions would come and go; be allies one day and enemies the next. Individuals would often “forget” actions taken on behalf of a faction against those who had been friends, but those former friends did not. Even years’ later, caution and suspicion of motives is quick to surface and slow to subside because of the indoctrinated habits of thinking.

Some of it does come down to human nature. If you make a study of human behavior and psychological processes long enough, you are eventually going to figure out how to manipulate human behavior and psychological processes. Mind control is not at all unlikely and never was “impossible”. It was also not something that only happens to people who are devoid of intelligence like we have all been led to believe. This myth has been cultivated and spread so that people don’t look too closely at the processes.

Believing that someone would have to be stupid to fall for a cult indoctrination process means you can make assumptions about that cult indoctrination process and never need to learn what that indoctrination process consists of. You don’t need to know the connection to the forces at work on your psyche that influence your thinking, your emotions, what information you subscribe to, take seriously, dismiss, and avoid altogether; and of course, how you respond to information is part of behavior.

There may be more truth to this meme than most of us realize; we seem to be shifting on a societal level, to some other kind of governance and it may not be one that any of us would support if we knew more about it. We definitely appear to be going through a series of “unfreezing”, “changing” and “refreezing” while our appointed leadership looks on with apparent acceptance. But this is speculation on my own part. Your mileage may vary.

Some of it is relatively benign and necessary to keeping civilization running. We all need to agree to obey traffic lights for instance. We need to agree to take jobs, or leave them, to be productive, personally, or professionally, we need to agree to giving some individuals some authority over us in order to maintain a civilization structure, provide day-to-day, and emergency leadership. We need to agree to being taught information that will make us people who can understand the purpose of civilization and be able to function in one.

And that is the focus of this series of blog posts now; if Delphi was a microcosm that had no real relevance to the real world, places like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, WordPress, etc., they are a macrocosm that do have a very large relevance to the real world. We have seen first-hand in the last 8 years the effect that internet spread information can have, especially with regard to how people choose to interpret it.

We are being led through information control, thought, emotion, and behavior control; it is having an impact on real world events, and on entire countries and people. Political and religious extremism exists, it is pure mind control. Fundamentalism exists in all religions, it too is pure mind control. Unless we want to become another Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya or Syria, or another Iran, or Russia, or China, we need to find a better option than swallowing rhetoric and false narratives without any questions.

In Delphi members took responsibility for it; for our forums, we saw ourselves as belonging to the server and therefore responsible for changing the online environment we ourselves inadvertently created. We need to do the same thing in the greater macrocosm of our society. It is our society, our civilization, our nation, we do belong to it, and we are responsible for changing it. Will you change it only to benefit your faction, your group, or for all factions, all groups? You may see nothing wrong with changing society to benefit only your faction and group, but there is a great sadness to seeing other groups disappear from the environment. That is when you realize you don’t have to like someone to value their presence; you don’t have to love them to miss them dearly. We all make life interesting and without each other, life is empty and boring. 

In Delphi, the members themselves took in the information and then resolved it themselves without any policing from Delphi Staff. They took their power back, stopped listening to the self-appointed “protectors of Delphi”, took their lives back, and found better ways of spending their time. Those that chose to stay stopped playing “The Delphi Game”; they started questioning the basic assumptions that were part of it and coming to terms with ideas like, it’s okay if someone doesn’t like me and criticizes me in private.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Nobody owes anyone a purely positive opinion. It’s not a betrayal if you tell a friend they are wrong about something. It is okay to trust a friend’s judgment. You don’t have to control everyone else. You just have to control yourself.

Next up, the first of Lewin’s Three-Step Process: Unfreezing. Thanks for reading.


***This is part 16 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 it. 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.