Friday, March 30, 2007

Faye Turney and Brainwashing

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.

7 comments:

  1. I wonder was there sponsorship involved? Her smoking made me think: at least she has her fags. They really are a comfort and a friend. And with that, I got up and went out the back for a quick drag, wondering if the Iranian heavies stocked my brand. Yea, that brainwashing business is a load of hooey!

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  2. "But we can't engineer subtle and lasting changes of attitude, beliefs and character"

    Au contraire mon ami! One need not look any farther than the College of Law or dare I say the publishing business to see those not to far from the Manchurian Candidate!

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  3. The smoking is aimed at a Muslim TV audience to bring her into disrepute for smoking is 'haram'. You won't catch the female Revolutionary Guards having a puff. Worse luck. Now that they've cut the Navy back to nothing, what do Blair and co propose to do, bearing in mind the non-support of the EU and UN? My own ship is in dry dock.

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  4. Certain very crude brainwashing can occur with a degree of success. Many people who confessed to being witches under torture did indeed become convinced of their own guilt. Huxley's fascinating book on the exciting subject of satanic possession in a convent in the age of Richelieu, The Devils of Loudun, treats of how suggestive the human personality can be. In the modern world through the use of psychotroic drugs, sleep deprivation, torture, suggestion including hypnopaedic suggestion, it would seem inevitable that a human mind can be confused to the point of, at the very least, not being able to differentiate between reality and induced fantasy.
    It is also probably fair to say that much of our entire modern culture is based on such things as consumerist brainwashing. The advertising industry exists because it works, and with the bonus that its victims will react with appalled indignation that though they have apparent freedom of movement and ideas, that, broadly, their entire worldview has been inculcated into them.

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  5. As ever, Captain, you enlighten. And I take all the other points about what is and is not brainwashing. I'm not sure.

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  6. Surely there is no more potent brainwasher than romantic love?

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  7. River of DeceitMarch 30, 2007 9:53 pm

    Surely hypnosis is a form of brainwashing?
    People can 'literally' believe they're cats, dogs or almost anything under hypnosis.

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