Friday, March 30, 2007
Daniel Finkelstein speculates that the Iranians are attempting to brainwash the British hostage Faye Turney. Can they succeed? Last year I reviewed Dominic Streatfeild's history of brainwashing. That book argues persuasively that brainwashing was a myth that, like flying saucers and alien abductions, was born of Cold War paranoia. As with UFOs, the myth was inspired by a sense of technological awe. If we could build nuclear weapons and break the sound barrier, then, surely, anything was possible, including tinkering with the human brain. In fact, as Streatfeild shows, brainwashing proved impossible - unless you count utter destruction of the personality as a successful outcome. That we can do. But we can't engineer subtle and lasting changes of attitude, beliefs and character. On the other hand, are your feelings about Turney different if you saw one of the photographs of her with a cigarette or without? Letting her smoke on camera was, I think, an attempt to brainwash us.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:55 am