What is Brainwashing?
The phenomenon known as “brainwashing” is controversial. Can one really be “brainwashed” – stripped of all agency and independent thought? Perhaps not, and perhaps not everyone or always. What we do know, however, is that it is human nature to be susceptible to the influence of others, especially when that influence is malignant. Further, there are certain circumstances in which some people are more susceptible to, and thus more likely to go along with, dubious ideas. Thus, when we see the psychological techniques that are associated with “brainwashing” being implemented in our society today, there is some cause for genuine concern. For the remainder of this essay, then, the term brainwashing will be used to refer to unethical techniques that attempt to persuade, convince, or alter the behaviour of an individual in such a way that causes them to conform to a particular ideology which they would, when thinking rationally, ordinarily reject. Psychologist Margaret Thaler Singer formulated the Six Conditions of Mind Control over the course of forty years of studying the phenomena, beginning with American prisoners of war “brainwashed” by Korean and Chinese Psyops personnel during the Korean War, followed by decades of working with former cult members:
1. Gradually Mislead: Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how they are being changed one step at a time.
2. Control Environment: Control the person’s social and/or physical environment; especially control the person’s time.
3. Render Powerless: Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person.
4. Inhibit Former Identity: Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person’s former social identity.
5. Promote New Identity: Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote the learning of the group’s ideology or belief system as well as group-approved behaviors.
6. Dictate: Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order.
Psychological Control and Critical Social Justice
Whether they realize it or not, Critical Social Justice (CSJ, or Woke) “facilitators” often end up applying some of these conditions of mind control during their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training sessions. This does not mean that the facilitators necessarily have bad intentions: they may well be sincerely trying to make the world a better place. However, regardless of intentions or whether they believe the ideologies they are putting forward, the fact remains that attempting to persuade people through shame, silencing and threats to social or job security is unethical and antithetical to our liberal society.
CSJ ideology is a collective of related theories emerging out of postmodern philosophy, notably: Critical Race Theory (CRT), Critical Gender Theory (CGT), Postcolonial Theory (PCT), Queer Theory, and Support-Group Identity Theory (disability and fatness). Unlike scientific theories, CSJ theories are poorly supported by studies and evidence, instead relying on anecdotes, personal stories and dogmatic assumptions. CRT contains assertions such as: All whites are racist, even if they don’t know it. Such assertions are dogma, not theory, as they utilize circular reasoning and cannot be rebutted, let alone proven or disproven. The term “woke” gradually became an alternative, short label for all things pertaining to cumbersome terms like “Critical Social Justice Theory”. In recent years it has been adopted and used pejoratively by those who oppose CSJ. Thus, for the remainder of this essay CSJ and “woke” will refer to approaches to social justice by society at large and on the individual level which utilise or endorse un-scientific and unsubstantiated claims to remedy the “oppressive” state of society.
POWs, cult inductees and EDI trainees are not brainwashed through direct threats and violence. Coercion is subtle. Brainwashing targets are led, step-by-step, to become complicit in their own brainwashing. They must sit and be silent targets while facilitators use shame, fear and peer pressure to leverage their acquiescence. If you doubt the power of peer pressure to influence ordinary people, this two-minute film on the Asch Experiment will change your mind. To witness this phenomenon in the so-called ‘anti-racist’ domain, watch the full Evergreen story.
While some diversity initiatives affirm liberal values and are unlikely to use these techniques when providing education on matters of race and racism, it’s important to be alert to the risk of EDI initiatives influenced by Critical Theory. So, if an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion session looms for you, watch for these ten signs of CSJ indoctrination.
1. It’s mandatory.
When you begin in fear of job or education loss, of shaming or ostracism, their battle for your mind is half over. It might even be the case that voluntary training sessions seem suspiciously mandatory. Is “voluntary” attendance really voluntary? Is your presence, or lack thereof, noted? If you resist, complain or criticize, you may be targeted and harassed during and after the session, or later forced out on trumped-up policy violations. Your fear and acquiescence enable their control.
For example, after Jodi Shaw declined to share some personal experiences in the diversity training mandated by her employer, Smith College, she experienced such extraordinary pressure from her co-workers and superiors, including the college president, that she had to resign from her job and is now suing the college for discrimination. I am the blog editor for one chapter of a well-known national environmental organization. I wrote a blog supporting the organization’s president against charges leveled by former pro-CSJ diversity officers of the organization and criticized their CSJ diversity training. Pro-CSJ middle-management employees of the organization then demanded my post be removed, suspended the chapter certification and withheld regular dues-share payments until their demands were met.
Such implementations of CSJ Diversity training, whether mandatory or forced through peer pressure, take away your power to protest, control the environment in which they are presented, and control you through fear of loss of your employment, your education and the acceptance of your peers.
2. “Listen with curiosity, without judgment.”
In a 2012 paper called ‘Misinformation and its Correction’, the authors noted that: “People, by default, expect presented information to be valid.” But when we are in such default acceptance mode and we encounter something suspect, our skeptical filter “switches on” and may stay on. Woke facilitators cannot permit skepticism in trainees. By requesting—repeatedly if necessary—intentional acceptance mode from you, they minimize your ability to doubt or distrust. In this mode, should doubt arise, an inhibiting thought quickly appears: “Oh…I’m supposed to listen with curiosity, without judgment.” You then intentionally switch your skeptical filter back off, enabling your brainwashing to continue. You enable their process of removing your power and taking control of your mind. They now can deluge you with information and ideas which you cannot question, sort through, and process. Resist. Question. Subvert their process–intentionally turn your skeptical filter on and leave it on. “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.”—Bertrand Russell
By disarming you, they are preparing to mislead you step-by-step. Their greatest misrepresentation, widely disseminated through propaganda in the media, is that their form of CSJ training is harmless, friendly, beneficial to all, and effective at reducing racism and increasing diversity in the school or workplace.
3. “Check your privilege.”
Statements alluding to your privilege or whiteness (if you are white) are designed to remove your power, inhibit your present identity and prepare you for your new Woke identity. They arouse your empathy, shame and fear to knock you off balance for the rest of the training. Feelings of powerlessness and inhibition weaken your old identity. Critical Race Theory holds that whiteness is the unforgivable sin for which you can never atone. This is racism disguised as anti-racism, powerlessness disguised as enlightenment. Keep your skeptical antennae raised.
“Do you believe in white privilege?” Say “no” and they call you a racist, because they Know Without Question that all whites are privileged. Say “yes” and they ask if you’re “Doing the Work,” — being “anti-racist,” interrogating your own racism, confronting everyone you meet about their privilege, bias, racism, sexism, and fascism. Of course you don’t. No one does. They’ve erected a double-bind: racist if you do, racist when you don’t.
With a simple statement such as “check your privilege,” they insult you, shame you, reduce your power to object and begin to disassemble your personality through the application of punishment and reward.
4. “How do you identify?”
Acceptable answers to this question pertain to your race, gender, or ethnicity. This subtly channels you into their narrow set of demographics. Anything else—artist, cook, dog lover—shows active resistance to their control and identity inhibition. For white people, it’s evidence of your Everyday Privilege or Ordinary Bias: you are so saturated with Inherent Bias and White Privilege that you don’t know it. If you’ve been sufficiently “softened,” you won’t notice that they’ve put you into another double-bind through the fallacy of circular reasoning: if you’re white, you’re a racist. Why? Because all whites are inherently racist! For individuals of different ethnicities, refusing to identify in terms of your group identity might lead them to accuse you of exhibiting “internalised oppression,” where you simply don’t recognise the importance of your group identity because you have become used to being treated as a “second-class citizen.”
This and the following two signs continue their series of small steps in their system of rewards and punishments, designed to inhibit your current identity and promote a new identity by learning their ideology and practicing new group-approved behaviors.
5. “What are your pronouns?”
This lets others know how you wish to be addressed: he/his, she/her, they/them. These pronouns might appear in emails, social media, or snail-mail. Many Woke-dominated institutions require this or use peer pressure to force it upon you. Pronouns are an important Virtue Signal among the Woke, letting others know of their Wokeness. Virtue signaling is one of the most important characteristics of Wokeness, helping to fuel mob behavior. “Male” and “female”—over 92 per cent of American adults—are now referred to as Cisgender Male and Cisgender Female. As these are the only genders grounded in biology, they are by Woke definition polluted by privilege and implicit bias, and treated as inferior to the least-used genders.
6. Black Allyship.
With double-binds, attitude manipulation, shame, fear and invented vocabulary, facilitators build your emotional cage of unavoidable racism and shame. Your only escape from your inherent racism, bias and guilt is to become a Black Ally. If you are white, you must use your white skin and privilege to proselytize other white people, who accept criticism from white people more readily than from black people. This is the final trap: if you do not become a Black Ally, if you do not criticize and “call out” other white people, your inaction makes you complicit in their racism, making you an even bigger racist than before. Your shame and fear mounts. Refusal of Black Allyship is apostasy, the refusal to act on your new Woke faith. For example, in the article “Use Your Everyday Privilege to Help Others”, Dolly Chugh wrote:
For so many of us looking for an opportunity to fight bigotry and bias in the workplace or in our broader culture, we may be missing the opportunity staring back at us in the mirror: using the ordinary nature of who we are as a source of extraordinary power….Look for opportunities to speak and act. Confront people, ask questions, raise issues….call it out when it happens…
The Woke activists—those who storm buildings, attack teachers, occupy classrooms, chant for hours, troll the internet, demand endless name changes—all began by following the gentle, seemingly harmless suggestions above. It’s one step at a time. The American POWs in Korea began by jotting down one innocuous criticism of America; they ended with despising all things American.
Those who take this step and fall into this trap will find it very hard to extricate themselves from Wokeness. Their old personality is now well-suppressed and their new Woke personality well-encouraged, using guilt and fear to enforce behavioral change.
7. No humor.
Wokeness short-circuits humor just as intentional acceptance mode prevents skepticism. You can be Woke, and you can be funny, but not at the same time. “Intent is irrelevant”—a Woke catchphrase—applies to humor most of all. Training you to inhibit your own humor weakens your old identity and your spontaneous creativity. This clears the path to build your new controlled identity — step five of Singer’s six conditions of mind control. Fight their humorlessness with sarcasm, mockery and irony. The facilitators won’t like it. They’ll claim it makes unnamed fictitious others “feel unsafe”; they’ll use shame and peer pressure to squelch it.
By inhibiting and suppressing your sense of humor, they have gone beyond mere indoctrination; they are now adjusting your attitude and affecting the deeper levels of your personality.
8. Shaming for disagreement or critical questions.
Questions are permitted only to increase your shame and acquiescence to their program, as in “How do I stop behaving as a privileged white woman?” Critical questions about their statements or behavior are not permitted. They’ll say, “You’re pulling a power play”—trying to resist them, trying to influence others, subverting the training, and your disagreement proves your racism, that you are “on the wrong side of history”; the future belongs to the Woke. Want to belong? “Do the Work.”
Don’t believe them if they say that the “still, small voice” of your inner self is your White Fragility, panicking at vanishing. If they succeed at inhibiting that voice, your psychological recovery from Wokeness becomes very difficult, as some psychological therapists and others have discovered. Psychotherapist Seerut K. Chawla, practicing in London, dislikes Wokeness for the damage it has caused to many of her patients. Mike Brooks writes in Psychology Today about how Woke shaming destroys compassion. Also in Psychology Today Rupert W Nacoste writes that name-calling is bigotry, not social justice. The pressure to conform from facilitators and other trainees can be overwhelming. Your ounce of resistance is worth a pound of cure. Resist. Question. Tell a joke. Humor subverts Wokeness. One voice of resistance can unleash a chorus of support.
Shaming and disallowing critical questions have a threefold effect: they inhibit your former identity, promote your new identity and set you up for unquestioning acceptance of their authoritarian and closed system of theory, presented in the following two signs.
9. Diversity of race, gender and ethnicity but not of thought or speech.
They are not interested in your opinions, your individuality or your experience beyond your confessions to “inherent bias” and “white privilege.” Permissible questions must “move you forward” in your indoctrination. Social Justice Theory is sacrosanct; unfavorable opinions or penetrating questions are forbidden. Thus the Woke asserts that their ideology is a priori True, and that only implicitly biased and fragile white racists question its Truth. This is Singer’s sixth condition of mind-control:
Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order.
By shutting down true dialogue, freedom of expression, thought and humor, by persistent shaming and use of peer pressure, they’ve eliminated your ability to think critically; unthinking emotional acceptance of their doctrine is the result.
10. New terms, rarely supported or defined.
Facilitators communicate CSJ ideology through terms: some new, some old, some old but redefined to suit themselves. They present them as self-evident truths, with no explanation or supporting evidence. If you don’t understand, don’t waste their time, “Do The Work.” They expect you to believe they refer to something real: your presumed privilege, inherent bias, white fragility and so on. This is the fallacy of reification.
Reification occurs when a word or idea is treated as equivalent to the actual thing represented by that word or idea, or to treat an abstraction or process as equivalent to a concrete object or thing. Example: “Because there is a word “unicorn,” unicorns exist. Now let’s all move forward to discussing the exact structure and function of their horns.” The fact that unicorns don’t actually exist gets lost in the muddle of words. Reifying a term is asserting without supporting evidence that something is true or real. As the late Christopher Hitchens wrote, in what is now called Hitchens’ Razor: What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.
Examples of Woke reified terms include: Anti-blackness, Anti-BIPOC, Cultural Appropriation, Implicit Bias, Institutional Racism, Intersectionality, Structural Racism, Systemic Racism, White Adjacent, White Fragility, White Oppression, White Privilege, Whitesplaining, White Tears.
These terms are commonly used and reified to shame and control you. They interact synergistically to solidify their authoritarian and closed theoretical structure. This structure depends heavily on reification and the fallacy of circular argumentation, permits no feedback and refuses modification. CSJ facilitators may use any or all of these terms.
Tessa Dover et.al. in Harvard Business Review writes: “Diversity policies must be researched, assessed for effectiveness, and implemented with care so that everyone in the workplace can feel valued and supported.” [Emphasis added.] Woke diversity training includes none of these criteria. It increases stereotyping, bias and interpersonal animosity. There is no supporting evidence that awareness of personal unconscious biases can mitigate racist behavior. Woke diversity training is no more than psychologically damaging brainwashing.
After a lifetime of varied and peculiar jobs, ending with working for five different film companies without changing the location of his chair, Chuck Almdale retired with Lillian, his wife, to the northern Los Angeles suburbs where he tends native California plants and insects in the front yard, grows tomatoes in the side yard, and watches doves and towhees nest and raise their young out back.