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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.