The brainwashing myth

Rebecca Moore ,Emerita Professor of Religious Studies, San Diego State University & Site Manager for Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, wrote an interesting thought-provoking article about the way (she feels) that the word brainwashed is being misused


Nearly 40 years ago, my two sisters, Carolyn Layton and Annie Moore, were among those who planned the mass deaths in Jonestown on Nov. 18, 1978.

Part of a movement called Peoples Temple, which was led by a charismatic pastor named Jim Jones, they had moved with 1,000 other Americans to the South American nation of Guyana in order to create a communal utopia. Under pressure from concerned relatives and the media, however, they implemented a plan of group murder and suicide. Jonestown is remembered in the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid,” because more than 900 people died after drinking poison-laced punch. My two sisters and nephew were among those who died.

In the wake of this tragedy, you might think that I would be amenable to the idea that they had been brainwashed. It would absolve their heinous actions and offer an easy explanation for their behavior.

Many argue that people join “cults” – or “new religious movements,” the term scholars prefer – because they’ve been brainwashed. The thinking goes that they’ve undergone some sort of programming that allows others to manipulate them against their will.

end quote (read though the rest of Rebecca’s interesting article, in the link above)

I kind of agree and feel sure, that there’d be little doubt that the word brainwashed is being applied far too often.Rebecca  explains reasons why.Rebecca points out that we only apply the word brainwashed to certain groups of what we also don’t like or approve of.


But like the word “cult,” the term brainwashing seems to only be applied to groups we disapprove of. We don’t say that soldiers are brainwashed to kill other people; that’s basic training. We don’t say that fraternity members are brainwashed to haze their members; that’s peer pressure.

end quote

I agree that we wouldn’t apply it to certain groups that we might like better, or feel “more comfortable” about accepting . Like with the situation of soldiers or fraternity an so on. However i  fail to see, that that fact, would then necessarily disprove that brainwashing occur.

I can see where she is coming from.Can understand that the word brainwashed sounds distinctively distasteful or too dramatic, or something .As if its kind of overkill . Like willy nilly misuse of the word cult will also do sometimes as well too

However the fact that it isn’t been regularly applied with regard of soldiers, and so on.Perhaps still doesn’t disprove, that brainwashing might actually occur?.Who knows for sure, perhaps there are even certain elements of brainwashing also used so as to help soldier overcome overwhelming situation, they will be needing to exist within and learn to deal with?

It wouldn’t totally surprise me. After all ,as with the life of cult members, the soldier will also need to find some way, in which to exist and live, within a situation of what will seem/feel unnatural . (Kind of like the way of what cult members seem able to also exist unnaturally ,without natural sense of love for family flesh and blood)

And when considering that, we could also pretty much almost describe the cult like lifestyle of cult members, as pretty much seeming to resemble a kind of soldier for God type situation as well too?

But how does that then totally disprove the brainwashing hypothesis ? . I fail to see that it necessarily would.

Another point that is made, is the point that people can be able to leave cults. And a number may return to a form of normality. This point seem to be suggesting, that perhaps this fact, might then suggest, that brainwashing had obviously not ever occurred (IE:therefore the word was also obviously totally misused) ?.

This thought seem to say, that any brain  of what has been suggested might have been brainwashed, will also need to display never ever being able to return back unto the original un-brainwashed state, ever again?. Why so ?. If our brains work via integrated information-processing and control system known as your central nervous system.And so on. And if these integrated information-processing and control system , can be altered or blocked or whatever.

Then why need it follow, that this situation, would then never ever be able to ever be fixed again, or brainwashing process undone? . I fail to understand why.The thing is, we also know that broken brains can sometimes still be repaired sometimes as well too ?. Psychologist use psychotherapy to help to alter thoughts?. And perhaps each outcome, might in fact actually depend more, on what accident, or other type brain malfunction or brain alteration,it might involve ?

Indeed the word brainwashing sounds rather distasteful and descriptively startling.But even so, why is it automatically so wrong to use this word “brainwashing”, if indeed the psychotherapy used, might have been used for misappropriate/inappropriate reasons ?

Lets say if psychotherapy were used for misappropriate/inappropriate reasons, couldn’t that then begin to dehumanize people anyway ,by denying altering aspect of human minds of what might then in fact also connect in some way to aspect of their free will?

Rebecca also mention that quote:

 brainwashing presents what scientists call an “untestable hypothesis.”

I fail to see how it follow,from that, that this automatically then totally disprove brainwashing might exist. How does that work?. Think of it this way (from this angle), can we totally test the evolution hypothesis either?.And if we cannot, due to it requiring many thousands or million of years for human to be able to totally test it. Does it automatically follow on from that, this then also totally disprove that evolution occur?

I fail to understand why

I agree that both the words cult, and brainwashing both sounds startling to hear. But then perhaps there could be some valid reason why it also might need to ?

Sexism,racism,bigot and so on. These words all also can sound startling as well sometimes too?. And may also even be used misappropriate/ inappropriately  at times?

We wouldn’t then decide to dump an cease use of these words though would we?. Because the sound of them, sounds distasteful to hear ?. Or because we know how they might even be used too often sometimes ?

Another question in regard of brainwashing is the fact that many cult members are born within cults. Therefore how could they have been brainwashed, if it was also the only way of life they had ever known about ?

But then we could easily say the same thing about children born within the Hitler regime too.They were led to believe that the rest of the world, was against all German people?. If that belief was in fact incorrect , then how can we say, that they must only have chose to believe it themselves, all of their own free will ?

The idea that people born into cults, cant have been brainwashed.Seem to say, that young children wont ever be?

Perhaps the words coercion and brainwashing differ. Does coercion necessarily need to use any extreme elements of fear ? . Perhaps brainwashing more often does ?

If we drop the word brainwashing completely , using the word thought reform or coercive persuasion instead . And perhaps used sex preference in place of the word sexism and so on and so on. Because it might sometimes be used wrongfully

Perhaps all what we really achieve, is to lose dismiss the factor of what usually will help cause us to feel startled ?

Perhaps we should also stop and consider?.Could there be reason why aspect of religion might dislike the factor of what help move people to feel uncomfortable.

Could it perhaps, be something to do, with fear, that too much uncomfortable feeling, might in turn soon begin to help cause people to some day want to ask that lines be drawn between cult faith abuse an religion. Or even regulated ?

And then could this perhaps in turn, end up with a situation of loss of charity status for some groups ?

But then why would that be so wrong? (Like:if extreme harm is indeed being caused, then should particularly harmful groups, really still also constantly be rewarded with charity status ?)

Food for thought or what ?

As far as i can tell. Seem to me ,that perhaps Rebecca might be somebody who believes, that all people will always have free will too? . That’s how i interpret some of what she say (i might be wrong)

I’m not sure, that this idea is even so clear cut foregone conclusion anymore. For instance,perhaps there is neuroscience that might throw out questions in regard to this?.

Consider (for one instance) the question of substance abuse ,neuroscience ,and crime


One of the major fallacies of U.S. drug policy is that it is largely based on the assumption that drug use is a choice.

end quote (my bold)

So what if we were to one day find out, that aspect of religion are also involved in activating something within the brain ?.What if religion might help cause some kind of impairment to a variety of cognitive activities?. Can religion that might happen to include aspect of extreme fear, become mind altering in some way?

And so on.

Is there much more for us to still learn about these things ?.Might new info, even soon begin to help us to better explain situation, like even with regard to cults ?



About ExEB

I'm a agnostic/atheist . Interested in learning more about science. I also am an "ex-member" of a group most publicly known within modern times, as the Exclusive Brethren. Whom are an off-shoot of the original Plymouth Brethren group. I'd say it likely my personality could possibly be described as quirky.You know ,as in being , unconventional , unorthodox , unusual, off-centre, strange, bizarre, weird, peculiar, odd, freakish, outlandish, offbeat, out of the ordinary, bohemian, alternative, zany I'm sure iv'e been classed as "crazy" . Many times But then, being born into a group like the exclusive brethren. Doesn't lend itself ? to tend to produce things considered as being "very normal" .Does it I escaped the Exclusive Brethren cult as a 15 year old teenager. Even since that time iv'e been trying to adjust to living life outside the cult. With much of my life being lived within the genre of "wild colonial boy" style. In the general sense of a church-rebel picking and choosing from role models who appeared within-life along the way. But as the exclusive brethren cult had traditionally maintained a general church-rule , of need to shun and totally excommunicate any ex member of their group.Treating such people as if they were dead. Thus this situation developed more to do with my need of following traditionally enforced church-rule , as apposed to it being so much about "life-choices". Certain emotional experiences, and parts of life in general, have led to me adopting a sense of low self esteem. Which is a situation i still deal with from time to time. Through my ongoing interest in science. I find i am able to gather more information to help me better understand my situation. Much about life for me, has often seemed like a massive puzzle.With many missing pieces.
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