THE RAPE OF THE MIND: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing, by Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D., Instructor in Psychiatry, Columbia University Lecturer in Social Psychology, New School for Social Research, Former Chief, Psychological Department, Netherlands Forces, published in 1956, World Publishing Company. (Out of Print)
IN THE COURSE OF OUR INVESTIGATIONS CONCERNING THOUGHT CONTROL, MENTICIDE, AND BRAINWASHING, IT HAS BECOME CLEARER THAT MORE ATTENTION MUST BE GIVEN TO THE MEANS BY WHICH INNER PREPAREDNESS FOR MENTAL SUBMISSION IS BROUGHT ABOUT. UNOBTRUSIVELY, PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT AND VARIOUS CULTURAL INFLUENCES CAN MAKE MAN MORE VULNERABLE TO SUGGESTION AND IDEOLOGICAL ATTACK. IN PART THREE I CALL TO THE READER’S ATTENTION THE CREEPING INTRUSION INTO OUR MINDS BY TECHNOLOGY AND BUREAUCRACY, AND HOW SPECIAL FORMS OF PREJUDICE AND MASS DELUSION CAN TAKE POSSESSION OF OUR MINDS BEFORE WE ARE AWARE OF IT. THE FINAL CHAPTER, AN INQUIRY ON TREASON AND LOYALTY AGAIN CALLS TO OUR ATTENTION THE TREMENDOUS INFLUENCE OF MASS THINKING ON OUR PERSONAL CONCEPTS OF LOYALTY.
CHAPTER TEN 10
The Child Is Father to the Man
The time has come to ask ourselves if it is possible that there is something in our own growth and development that may make us more vulnerable to mental intrusion and ultimate brainwashing. Are there, for instance, special coercive needs in us? What is communicated and taught to the child that may keep him a spiritual prisoner of his environment?
These are important questions and would require a thorough philosophic and pedagogic investigation. Nevertheless, for practical purposes, we may limit our attention to two different spheres of development: the influence of parents and the influence of certain social habits. The latter has already been investigated in the second part of this book. Indeed, I must repeat that in my experience all those who are educated under rules of too strict obedience and conformity break down more easily under pressure. During World War II when the so-called tough S.S. officers were interrogated after they had become prisoners, they readily surrendered their military secrets. Having lived for years under totalitarian command, they were just as obedient to the new commanding voices. Sometimes we only had to imitate the shouting voices of their masters and they would exchange their former boss for the new one. For them every command had become the automatic trigger for new conforming obedience.
In dealing with members of the Communist Party in this country, we had a comparable experience: the members were politically submissive and changed their obstructive party-strategy to an opposite set of tactics the moment Moscow ordered them to do so.
How Some Totalitarians May Develop
Increasing attention has been given to the various psychological motivations leading to political extremism and a totalitarian mentality in men and women who have been brought up in a democratic atmosphere, but who have voluntarily chosen to associate themselves with some totalitarian ideology. Psychologists who have come into contact with the totalitarian attitude and have studied those who are easily influenced by it agree, by and large, that in the free, democratic countries the option for totalitarianism is nearly always determined by an inner personality factor-frustration, if you will. It is usually neither poverty nor social idealism that makes a man a totalitarian, but mostly internal factors such as extreme submissiveness and masochism on the one hand or a lust for power on the other. Unsolved sibling rivalry plays a role too; I have treated several Nazi collaborators whose political behavior was motivated to some extent by the fact that they were older sons and could not stand the competition with their younger brothers. All these factors help to explain why the totalitarians everywhere can use their propaganda of violence to exploit resentment, hatred, racialism, and political fury. They know that they have only to play on these immature feelings of deprivation and dissatisfaction to bring people under a spell.
In my own experience, I have been amazed to see how unrealistic are the bases for political option in general. Only rarely have I found a person who has chosen any particular political partydemocratic or totalitarian-through study and comparison of principles. Too often man’s choice of his political affiliations is determined by apathy, by family tradition, by hope for financial gain, or by other irrelevant factors. It is this lack of rational motivation that can make men more susceptible to totalitarian blandishments, even in a democratic community. I remember very clearly, for example, a Dutch physician with whom I went to medical school. He fell in love with the daughter of a Communist and eventually married her. At first he was disturbed by the conflict between his principles and his adoration, but gradually his principles gave in and he started to justify the party line. Later on I met him from time to time. He was an excellent doctor and a jovial fellow_, and he took our half-serious quips about his politics in good part. But the moment we began a really serious discussion, he crouched in his official defensive corner and became a different man-sour, mechanical, handing out ready-made arguments. During the war I met him frequently in the course of our common underground work. He had been completely dazed by Stalin’s pact with the Nazis, but the moment Russia was invaded and became an ally, he started his aggressive robotism again. Not only was he a staunch fighter against the Nazis, but he insisted that his was the only way to fight. He lost his life on a dangerous mission for the underground, and I always had the feeling that it was in a way welcome to his latent suicidal feelings.
In other Nazis and Communists, both, I have seen dramatic examples of how personal resentments, outside the suffering of real injustice, can lead a man to the side of the rebels. Some of these people were the type who simply submitted passively to a movement stronger than themselves-men and women whose ideology was a reflection of whichever side had caught them first; others were motivated by the need to vent their own personal anger and resentment in some direction and used political action to satisfy this need. But if we are to come to any real understanding of the internal factors that lead a man to adopt a totalitarian ideology, we must dig a little deeper than this and must give our attention to some basic roots of this problem.
The Molding Nursery
One of the important things we have learned from modern psychology is that the roots of many of our adult attitudes and problems lie far back in the seeming quiet of the nursery and childhood years. The infant’s life may appear to be placid and uneventful, but from the moment he is born he hears thousands of rumblings both from inside his own mind and from the world outside. In his mother’s womb he knew neither warmth nor cold, now his skin transmits these sensations to him. As he lay protected in his mother’s body, he did not have to breathe, eat, or excrete; now he must do all these things himself. He needs help in doing them, he needs protection, and for this protection and help he must rely on those grown-up giants, Mother and Father. He is utterly and completely dependent, unable by himself to find adequate responses to his needs. There he is, with his pitifully limited means of adaptation, with his minimum of innate patterns of action. Warmth, food, and love, things which he needs to sustain his life, come to him when he does the “right” thing-and the right thing is the learned, civilized thing, not the instinctual, primitive thing. The giants, his parents, make demands on him-they begin to mold him according to their own habits, and the infant must submit to all these external demands in order to get what he wants and needs. He must follow the hundreds of subtle, incomprehensible educational rules in order to be paid back with the affection and protection on which he is so dependent. All of this transforms him into a more or less conforming being. His parents’ morality is, as it were, sucked in and becomes an ever-present force inside him. He is imprinted with all kinds of habits which serve to condition him into the particular form of adaptation his parents and his society think good for him. The forms his adult behavior will take are foreshadowed by the forms his parents’ behavior take. The patient mother imprints patience on her child; the anxious, compulsive mother imprints tensions on hers.
The child who is brought up in a loving environment will develop inner pictures of love and affection and will be better able to accept all the restrictions his parents impose on his freedom, all the rules they lay down. He will accept timetables, toilet training, parental confusion, without too much inner protest even when his needs run contrary to these social demands. He may want to be fed at a time when, according to his schedule, he should not be hungry. He may want to sleep when his parents want him to be awake. Society demands of him that he learn to postpone his own gratifications, and he will react to this demand in a manner contingent on his own sense of security in his parents’ affection. Having to wait for food, not being allowed to suck any more, having to control his need to excrete-all of these require the child to make new and difficult adaptations. His urge for immediate and unconditional satisfaction of his needs has to be transformed into something much more complicated-a whole pattern of learned responses.
It is not important for us to describe here the different ways in which these early cultural obligations are met by the child. But it is important to understand that the cradle and the nursery change and recondition the innate natural responses of the unsocial, primitive child to mold him into an adult, who may be left from his childhood a legacy of frustrations stemming from this molding process. Individual problems are caused by individual patterns of child-rearing; these very patterns are themselves to some degree the product of the cultural traditions in which they are rooted and the mores of the community into which the child is born. 1’o the degree that our society imposes on children frustrations and restrictions for which they are neither biologically nor emotionally ready, to that degree our culture paves the way for adult behavior problems and for neurotic attitudes of submission or aggression, which may find expression in allegiance to some totalitarian group.
Conditioning a child into a servile and submissive attitude, for example, may start when parents rigidly imprint automatic rules of conduct on the infant. They may make a time maniac out of him or a cleaning automaton. They may compel him to speak too early or to be silent when his voice itches to burst out of his throat or to sleep when his body is throbbing with the energy of wakefulness. Such parents impose on their child a constant feeling of guilt-he feels disturbed and unhappy every time he does not comply with their demands. And at the same time they force him to love them even when they are disagreeable. They may compel him to apologize for behavior which seems to him to be perfectly acceptable; they may demand that he confess to crimes which do not exist as crimes for him at his age. Some techniques of brainwashing can be seen at the cradle; the parents may cross-examine him, tie him to their apron strings, or keep him constantly under their eyes. With their solicitous attention they never leave him alone to enjoy feeling of being secure with himself. The helpless child in such an environment becomes emotionally insecure; in exchange for more borrowed security, he becomes more conforming and submissive, although this conforming behavior covers up tremendous inner protest and hostility.
When parents do not permit a child to express his instinctual needs openly and directly, they force him to look for other ways to express them. If during his early training-which may start on the day of his birth-the infant encounters endless restrictions to the direct expression of his needs, he will try to communicate these needs in indirect ways-through tension, restlessness, and crying. Instead of being able to use natural outlets for his instinctual drives, the child is permitted and conditioned to act only through suppression and control of the drive. In his struggle to bring the drive under control in order to please his parents, the child’s natural means of expression may become inverted. Instead of expression, he acquires repression. This is where the roots of such adult behavior as abject submissiveness and the urge for conformity lie. The groundwork for this masochistic pattern of giving in is formed in infancy. Submission and confession are the only strategies possible for the child in a world that is too overpowering for him to handle. Inner rebellion, hostility, and hatred must be expressed in a paradoxical way. The child’s rigid silence is proof that he wants to cry and yell. He may reproach and attack the hostile world indirectly, through magic gestures, clownish behavior, or even epileptic fits. Compelled to suppress his instinctual needs and his means of achieving their gratification, he may conceal their existence even from himself. Surface conformity becomes his only means of communication, and when this happens words and gestures acquire a concealing function. He never says what he means, and gradually he doesn’t even know what he means.
The carry-overs into adult life of this kind of child-rearing are obvious. Trained into conformity, the child may well grow up into an adult who welcomes with relief the authoritarian demands of a totalitarian leader. It is the welcome repetition of an old pattern that can be followed without investment of new emotional energy. Trained previously to divert his aggression to scapegoats, he may now displace his hidden resentments against his parents’ rules and regulations toward society as a whole. Or he may find release for them in the wild explosion of pent-up aggression which is exemplified by the lynch mob or by Hitler’s storm troopers.
Other forms of parental behavior also have their effect on the child. If the child is trained precociously in habits that would otherwise develop spontaneously at a later age, he may show all kinds of distortions in his natural behavior. The example of the effect of precocious toilet training is common, but there are many other parental commands that can have the same effect on the child. The way the child is clothed or the parents’ constant demand that he always be quiet, asleep, and motionless are equally valid examples. When any command is too strictly applied before the child is able to cope with it, it exerts an enormous frustrating influence. What was enforced on the child by some outside power becomes an inner, automatic rule, a compulsion. Let us return to the toilet training example for a moment, though it is only one single part of the whole pattern of training. The child who is trained to control his need to excrete at too early an age learns to keep himself clean and constipated under all circumstances. His body learns how to control itself automatically, but somewhere inside him the child feels contempt for those who have forced him into this behavior. He may grow up to be a chronically hostile adult, ripe for the appeal of some hostile ideology. In less severe cases, the conflict between outside prohibitions and the inner need to let go may create a continuing pattern of inner insecurity. Or it may lead to constant querulous resentment, which can be easily utilized by any would-be dictator.
What we have to emphasize is this: the earliest web of communication between parents and child takes place on what psychology calls a pre-verbal and unconscious level. There is contact without words. The mother transfers her moods directly to the child; he senses and catches her feelings. The child also transfers his moods to her; she feels his pains and joys almost as soon as he does. This sensitivity of the infant makes him react with great intensity-he is profoundly aware of his parents’ feelings. Such negative parental factors as anxiety, insecurity, infantilism, mutual disharmony, neurotic love, poverty, the struggle for existence, and compulsive tyranny have an enormous effect on the child. Not long ago I treated an infant who refused any offer of handling or feeding by its mother. The infant “knew” that the mother had a deep-seated hostility against it; it felt her aversion and rejection.
But the infant accepted food and affection from everyone else. The interplay between parental attitudes and child development starts at birth.
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of a distorted growing-up may be seen in one case I treated during the Second World War when I was asked to do a psychological study of an alleged collaborator with the Nazis. This man, who was in England when I saw him, said that he had left Holland, which was then occupied, because he no longer agreed with the German conquerors. When he arrived in England he was, as a matter of careful routine, put in a home for people under investigation as suspected spies. From here, he was very soon taken to a mental institution because of his strange behavior. He was not actually psychotic, but he did have great difficulty in relating to other people. When I went to interview him, it became apparent to me that he was completely confused. He babbled so much that it was almost impossible to understand him. I asked him about his childhood. It was not easy for him to speak about it, but he finally told me something of his background. He was an only child. His mother had been the dominant member of the family, actively working in scientific research. His father, a weak, nebulous figure, had seldom been at home; in his job as the manager of a large firm, he had traveled a great deal. On the rare occasions when the father was at home, the patient remembered long silences between his parents, his father only occasionally protesting against his mother’s constant stream of directives. Sometimes the boy joined with his mother in criticizing his father’s detachment and lack of interest, sometimes he turned to his father for love and help against his mother’s smothering behavior. But he was mostly lost and alone at home. In his late teens, the boy developed some homosexual attachments, in which he played the passive, submissive role. But he only came alive mentally after one of his friends made him attend a fascist rally. The show of strength and aggression excited the boy enormously and even aroused sexual sensations in him. He joined the fascist group, to the great dismay of his parents, but he was never very active in party work because the party did not provide him with the guidance and love for which he yearned.
After the Nazi invasion and occupation, the party demanded that he be more active as a collaborator with the Germans. Now his conscience bothered him, and he became ill and developed all kinds of stomach ailments which were, to a psychiatrist, obviously emotional in origin. He was not, however, strong enough to withdraw from the party completely. He felt caught between two opposing dangers-the party and treason. The childhood struggle began all over again; he felt himself unsafe with either father or mother. So he decided to flee the country because he had a vague feeling that this would help him get away from his conflicts.
Once in England, in the asylum, he felt completely contented. He simply did not understand the serious nature of the accusations that had been made against him. When I spoke to him about world affairs and his political activity, he fell into silence. He did not remember any of the details of his political behavior. It was as if he had lived in a dream since the moment he ran away from Holland. It is entirely possible that the enemy had used him as a tool, but at the time I saw him he was only a near-psychotic, fear-ridden young man. He remained in the institution for the duration of the war.
One thing stands out clearly in this case (aside from its complexity as a pathological phenomenon) and that is the young man’s continual search for male authority. This search for spiritual backbone is very common among people who develop totalitarian attachments.
The Father Cuts the Cord
Psychological studies have shown us over and over again that the child’s attitude toward the parental authority, with all its subtle internal complications, plays a primary role in determining how he will handle his hostilities-whether he will learn to cope with them or whether he will direct them toward destructive aims. As we said earlier, parents and family form almost the whole environment of the child during the first years of its life. They condition the foundations of his future character. And in the family it is the influence of the father that determines whether the child will stick to its strong natural ties with its mother, to its dependency needs and its needs for protection, or will step out of this maternal realm and will form new ties with new people. The father is the first one who cuts into the essentially biological relation between mother and child. He is what the psychoanalyst calls the first transference figure, the first new prototype to whom the child can transfer its expectations of gratification, its feelings of relatedness, of satisfaction, of fear. This first new trial relationship with the father giant may become the conditioning prototype for every subsequent social relationship.
The child’s initial relationship with its mother is purely biological and symbiotic. The womb is replaced by the crib. The mother is the know-all and do-all. Psychoanalysis describes the child’s relationship with its mother as one of oral dependency because the helpless infant is completely dependent on the food, care, and warmth the mother provides. The little human being’s dependency need lasts longer than that of the other animals. It is this fact that makes man gregarious, dependent on cooperation with others.
The father brings a third person, who has no part in this relationship of biological dependency, into the life of the child. When he cuts into the child’s relationship with its mother, he is cutting the psychological umbilical cord just as the doctor cuts the physical one when the infant is delivered. First, he gives the child the opportunity to transfer feelings and expectations to him; later, he brings the child more actively outside the maternal realm and teaches him more and more about social relationships. The specific role of the father as a transference prototype is not so simple as it seems to many fathers. Father is not merely a toy with whom the child can occasionally play. The child needs to identify with this giant who lives with him and with Mother; he wants to become familiar with the giant, he wants the giant to become part of his world. The child wants more than this-he wants to be gratified by Father so that he can love Father as much as he does Mother. But the child will transfer some of its love and emotional investment to Father only if it sees something of Mother in him. Father can do the same things Mother does-he can feed the child, can solace him, can take care of him-and thus the child can maintain a feeling of gratitude and affection toward this third person. This transference of feelings can only take place, however, when the relationship between the parents themselves is tranquil. How can the child identify with and love his parents when they are in constant conflict with each other?
This picture is, of course, something of an oversimplification. There are mothers who behave like cold, distant fathers, and fathers who behave like warm, cuddling mothers. There are grandparents or adoptive parents who can take over. There are many mother or father substitutes. But this is not my point. My point is that in every situation there must be some individual who can become the conditioning prototype for the child’s relationships with new beings. This first person is most likely to be the father, and it is he who changes the child’s biological dependency into a psychological relationship. When there is no father figure, or if the father is too weak or too busy or is denying and tyrannical toward the child, the result is that the child’s relationship with and dependence on the mother remains strong and lasts too long. Consequently, the child’s need for social participation and for gregarious ties with others may become to him a consuming need. As an adult he may be willing to join with any social group which promises him support and reassurance. Or his unconscious resentment against the father who did not help him to grow up and become independent may be diverted into a resentment against other symbols of authority, such as society itself. Either way the child may be headed for maladjustment and for difficulties. Either way the child may grow up into an immature adult.
In a study on living by proxy, I described the arrested emotional development that results when the father does not play his proper role or is not present. A child brought up in such an emotionally defective atmosphere searches continually for strong figures who may serve as a proxy for the normal relationships the child would otherwise have had in life. I have treated several cases of homosexuality and other forms of arrested development, both in men and women, which were almost directly attributable to the too strongly tied, symbiotic life with the mother which results from such an environment.
In the building up of man’s awareness of an independent self and the establishment of his ability to have easy, relaxed relationships with his fellow men, the father, as the natural
chief and protector of the family, plays an important role. He cuts the cord. He may condition the later pattern of dependence and independence. His potential psychological dominance can become a blessing or a curse, for the child’s emotional attitude toward its father becomes the prototype for its attitudes toward future leaders and toward society itself.
We saw this clearly in the case of our “spy” who had never had a strong male guide in his life. Many of the people I investigated, who had chosen to identify themselves with aggressive totalitarian groups, had this problem. For such people, the totalitarian party became both the good father who accepted them and the proxy which gave expression to all their hidden and frustrated hate. The party solves, as it were, their inner problems. Parental conflict in early childhood, inconsistency, and a threatening, unloving attitude toward the child pave the way for rebellion and submission, and a repetition of this pattern later in life. The wish to break away from the family pattern may lead to rebellion, but the particular form the rebellion takes depends on what political movements can modify and channelize the person’s resentment.
This does not mean, of course, that there is not a hard core of totalitarian-minded people, nourished in the cradle by the dogmas of their totalitarian parents, who give themselves to their party tasks because they have never known a different world. According to Almond, these types are found particularly in our Western world among high-echelon extremists. They take in the totalitarian form of socialism with their mother’s milk; they are members of an increasing group of hereditary totalitarian conformists. Here, no father rebellion is needed to become an extreme revolutionary.
But the bulk of the totalitarian-minded in the democratic societies are men and women who are attracted to this destructive way of life for inner emotional reasons unknown to themselves. My own experiences with both Communists and Nazis during the Second World War has shown me this truth over and over again. In Holland, as in the other Nazi-occupied countries, the Communists and their sympathizers fought bravely with us in the underground as our temporary companions. Even during that time of national crisis and terror, they were never free from bitter reproach and resentment toward us. They insisted that their ideology was the only correct one and showed, sometimes openly, sometimes covertly, that when the Nazis were defeated, they would renew their struggle against the social order. Let me give just one example to illustrate this point. One of the Communists was a very brave physician (not the same man about whom I spoke earlier). He had killed a Nazi leader, and later he himself died a horrible death. Here was a grown man who had never been able to overcome a certain adolescent self-righteousness and aggressiveness. On the very night when, in deadly peril, he sought refuge in my home, he felt compelled to engage me in a long theoretical political discussion with him, full of bitterness. He disdainfully reproached the other resistance groups because they did not share his political views. His views and ideals, I must say in all justice to him, seemed sincere to me, but he was filled with so much unresolved hostility toward the government of his fatherland that he was ready at all times to overthrow it. The core of his fallacious reasoning I found was the confusion about ends and means in the struggle for social justice. For him, tactics and strategy had become more important than the final aim of peaceful coexistence between men on earth. His violent death-after murdering an S.S. officer-was partly the result of the fact that he pursued tactics beyond the strategic needs of the moment. True, in the end he gave his life for his ideals and for his native land, but up to the end he carried a bitter grudge against all those who were not in complete agreement with everything he thought and felt. It was that personal grudge and hostility which led him to bad planning and his ultimate fate. Most of us are not clearly and completely aware that alongside our wish to be good, adjusted citizens, we also have hidden wishes to violate our allegiances to the social formation of which we are members. These wishes are not based on reason and intelligence; they are purely emotional. They are founded by the ways we have been brought up, by our relationships with our parents, by our educational system, by our attitudes toward ourselves and toward authority. But all men who adhere rigidly to any set of political convictions, and especially those who have embraced some totalitarian ideology, believe that their attitudes emerge from rational conviction and are the result of normal intellectual development. They insist that those who do not agree with them are committed to a stuffy, outmoded way of thinking. They cannot see their own vengeful and disloyal attitudes as something asocial and abnormal.
To the psychologist, it is eminently clear that these attitudes have their roots not in intellectual conviction but in some deep-seated emotional need. I have often seen cases where this blind, rigid allegiance to a totalitarian ideology was actually a defiant rebellion against a compelling inner need to grow and to change and to become mature. In these people, the selection of a special political party was only a substitute for their need for dependency. Ideologic stubbornness is often tragic because it may cover up basic neurotic reactions that may lead to self-destruction. One of my patients was a young woman whose ultra-left beliefs were a defense against her hidden incestuous feelings toward a reactionary father. It took protracted therapy to bring her to an understanding of the real nature of her difficulty and to get her to see that there was nothing shameful or disgusting about the infantile love and resentment she was trying to conceal through her political behavior. The need for authority, when it is not understood, and the confused resistance to authority are the roots from which the totalitarian attitude may grow. Whenever the father-leader fails, he sets up a pattern of future trouble with authority. Instead of a mature relationship with his fellow men, the child becomes an adult who is forced to choose the tyrannical totalitarian tie to keep his inner tensions in check.
Whenever there is parental conflict, the child grows into an adult burdened with conflicts who may be eager to accept the simple solutions totalitarianism offers. Whenever there is parental compulsion, which gives the child no chance to develop its own attitudes and evaluations, the child grows up into a conforming adult, whose entire life may be spent in a search for outside authority, for someone to tell him what to do.
CHAPTER ELEVEN Mental Contagion and Mass Delusion
During disturbed times such as these, the thoughts of everyone follow the diplomatic play going on at the various political conferences. It would be worth while to investigate whether it is possible for leaders of nations to arrive at a common understanding as a result of mutual exchange of words, ideas, and the negotiating of treaties. Yet, the various cultures in the world and the different ideologies not only speak different languages, but even their ways of thinking are different. Unobtrusively, our personal past and our cultural environment creep into our thinking habits. Our feelings and thoughts are conditioned and coerced by various social influences.
It is already possible to bring to the surface some of the illusions and prejudices people have about one another. We may say that the special environments in which people develop and the habits they build up foster subtle illusions and delusions in persons, of which they are, for the most part, unaware. Through research in the field, anthropology and psychology have been able to compare different ideologies in people by observing the growth of the wholesome and the unwholesome-in the child, in groups, in tribes, and, lastly, in nations. The findings call to our attention the difficult art of argument in situations where there is scarcely any common ground of communication and understanding.
In a study on mental coercion we have to trace some of these mass psychological influences which condition our attitude in life.
The Affirmation of My Own Errors
The lie I tell ten times gradually becomes a half truth to me, And as I continue to tell my half-truth to others, it becomes my cherished delusion.
We rediscover this phenomenon every day in that huge laboratory of human relations we call psychological counseling and psychotherapy. Let us look at just one simple example, the case of a perfectly healthy child who decides one day that she doesn’t want to go to school because schoolwork seems so very difficult. So she tells her mother that she has a headache, and mother agrees to let her stay at home. Thus the girl avoids the schoolwork she dreads and gets the additional gratification of her mother’s solicitous and tender nursing.
The next time our little girl wants to stay home it is easier to pretend she has a headache-and the third time it is easier still. Gradually the girl herself begins to believe in her recurrent illness. Her conscience bothered her the first time she lied, but by now her initial lie has become an ingenuous truth to her. By the time our heroine becomes a grown woman she will have to consult with a doctor about her constantly recurring headaches. Doctor and patient will have to spend many hours untangling the web of halflies, innuendos, and self-pitying complaints until the patient rediscovers that her headaches all began on that one day she didn’t want to go to school.
Delusional headaches afflict the world itself. Political demagoguery is, to some extent, a problem in our country. The particular form this demagoguery takes is only a passing phase, and when our current dragons and inner phantoms have been laid to rest, the eternal demagogue may arise anew. He will accuse others of conspiracy in order to prove his own importance. He will try to intimidate those who are neither so iron-fisted nor so hotheaded as he, and temporarily he will drag some people into the web of his delusions. Perhaps he will wear a mantle of martyrdom to arouse the tears of the weak-hearted. With his emotionalism and suspicion, he will shatter the trust of citizens in one another. His delusions of grandeur will infect those insecure souls who hope that some of his dictatorial glamour will rub off on them.
Unfortunately the problem of delusion has been studied almost exclusively in terms of its pathological manifestations. The psychiatrist who has encountered delusions of grandeur in his patients has in the past lacked the philosophical and sociological background necessary to enable him to form comparisons between his patients’ delusional systems and mass delusion in the world. In dealing with patients suffering from megalomania or persecution mania, he has tended to rely too much on hypotheses which explain pathological delusions as the product of anatomical changes in the individual brain; he has not given enough attention to the question of whether or not these phenomena are in any way related to an abnormal way of thinking in a physically normal person.
Since the growth of anthropology and the social sciences in the last decades, new light has been thrown on the subject of mass feelings and mass delusion. Obviously these are not phenomena which a pathologist can examine under a microscope. They demand a knowledge of history and social psychology and of all the studies which concern interhuman relations and man’s collective thinking.
To arrive at a clinical stage of study of this subject, it is necessary to divest oneself of various fixed philosophical ideas which have dominated scientific thought since Aristotle. There is, for example, the doctrine of the identity of all thinking processes and the possible universality of human understanding. This is essentially founded on the belief that all human beings think in the same way. But against this hypothesis is the observable truth that philosophers themselves have the utmost difficulty in reaching mutual understanding. This may be largely due to the fact that different men have different methods and standards of thinking. For centuries, science has adopted the Aristotelian dictum that most thought is carried on according to the established rules of logic, which apply in the same way as the laws of nature. It was the philosopher Francis Bacon who first pointed out, in his theory of idols, that although the laws of logic and clear thinking certainly exist, men may or may not make use of them; depending on the emotional circumstances, “thoughts are often the theatrical curtains to conceal personal passions and reactions.” In this statement the philosopher who lived during Shakespeare’s time might almost be attacking the seeming logic of modern demagoguery. Since the Renaissance, therefore, it has been acknowledged that human feelings and personal inclinations mold and direct thought, and this point of view rather early found its most moving expression in the works of Spinoza and Pascal. When we come into contact with the phenomena of collective passion and mass delusion, it is impossible to keep modern psychology out of the picture whether we look at it philosophically or politically. For, when examining this problem, we are immediately confronted with the question, Do these disquieting phenomena in group life, which lead to so much mutual misunderstanding, arise from the fact that the group is in a particular, immature, and adolescent phase of psychological and political development?
It will be illuminating and may help us answer the question if we study briefly the history of the growth of consciousness and awareness in the individual mind as it passes through successive stages from infancy to maturity, since we can, in fact, find a parallel between such stages of growth in the individual and the human group.
Stages of Thinking and Delusion*
The psyche is constantly confronted with and communicating with the outside world, and at every phase of an individual’s development that world and its events are experienced differently.
Although different scientists have drawn different conclusions about the various phases and their implications, the very recognition of change and growth of personal outlook is one of the most important scientific findings in psychology and is agreed on by all psychologists. Let me briefly explain here the developmental approach to human psychology. It is not the only one, but it will serve to illustrate the tremendous impact of immature and delusional thinking on our final opinions.
Developmental psychology-as studied in children and primi* Here I follow in part the classification of S. Ferenczi and that of my own book on delusion.
tives-posits at the origin of thinking, in both the individual and the race, a hallucinatory stage of the mind, in which there is no experience of difference between the inside and the outside world; the mental separation and distantiation between the self and the world has not yet taken place. The psyche is felt to be omnipotent -all that is experienced inside the self is attributed to the universe as well and is imagined to be part of that universe.
According to developmental psychology, the infant experiences the world in this way, and in certain types of insanity the adult will revert to this hallucinatory stage. Yet, even mature man does not succeed completely in separating internal fantasy from outside reality, and often he thinks that his private and subjective moods are caused by some external actuality. In the next stage, that of animistic thinking, there is still a partial sense of oneness between the ego and the world. The individual’s inner experience, his fears, his feelings, are projected onto seeming causative agents in the outside world. The outside world is a continual demonic threat to him. The child who bumps against the table projects onto that table a hostile living power, and hits back. The primitive tribesman, hunted by beasts of prey, attributes to the animal he feared a divine power, that of a hostile god. The entire outside world may in fact be peopled with the fears of men. In times of panic and fear, we all may populate our neighborhood with nonexistent traitors or fifth columnists. Our animistic thinking is continually busy accusing others of what actually occurs inside our own minds. Nowadays there are no devils and ghosts in trees and in wild animals; they have made their homes in the various scapegoats created by dictators and demagogues.
The third stage is that of magical thinking in which there is still a sense of intimate connection between man and his outside world. However, man places himself more in opposition to the world than in union with it. He wants to negotiate with the mysterious powers around him. Magic is in fact the simplest strategy of man. He has discovered that he can manipulate the world with signs and gestures or sometimes with real actions or changes. He erects totem poles and sacrificial blocks; he makes talismans and strange medicines. He uses words as powerful signs to change the world. He develops a ritual to satisfy his need for coming to terms with the outside world.
Which of us has not felt a sudden desire to count cobblestones or is not the jealous possessor of an amulet or some other secret token whose power would be lost if its existence were known to others?
Immature as they are, these tokens serve to build up happiness and a good life. We all still live in the world of magic and are caught in the delusion of happy manipulation of nature. The modern tribe drives around in mechanized cars and becomes a megalomaniac sorcerer of the wheel. Millions of victims are brought to the altar of the god Speed because of our hidden delusion that frenzied rapidity prolongs life. The engine and the gadget have replaced the more mysterious amulet of earlier days. Knowledge is still in the service of power instead of in the service of understanding.
In the last phase of mental development, man makes a complete separation between himself and the outside world. He not only lives with things and tries to manipulate them, but he also lives in opposition to them. In this phase of mature reality confrontation, man becomes an observer of his own life. He recognizes the abyss of his own being. He sees his body and mind as separate from the world. With hands, ears, eyes, and his controlling mind, he confronts reality. He steps back from the world and observes it. He is, in fact, the only animal that walks erect, straightforwardly facing the world. He is the only animal that uses his hands and his senses as verifying instruments. Gradually his own mind-body becomes an instrument whose drives he may accept or reject. Only man is able to see his drives and instincts as either dangerous or useful. Man not only knows an externally imposed fear, but he knows an inner fear, fear of losing the inner controls he has acquired at so high a price. With arms and hands man reaches outnot only toward the outside which he once hoped to conquer with magic gestures as a baby does, but also he knowingly reaches out toward an inside world. Mature man lives between an inner and an outer world.
There is something tragic about this laborious process of becoming conscious of a separate inner and outer reality. In becoming mature, man awakens from a sweet primitive dream in which he was part of an individual whole, part of a nirvanic world of equanimity. The sense of lost unity with the universe lingers on, and in moments of mass tension, or in times of crisis, he reaches toward that ancient experience of impersonal, irresponsible bliss.
Utter passivity or self-destruction, artificial ecstasy obtained by means of drugs, the suicidal wish for eternal sleep-all are devices by which man hopes to fulfill that eternal yearning. At what stage in connection with these developments of human experience may we speak of delusion? When the member of a primitive tribe placates the mysterious and hostile world by prayer to his totem animal, we do not call this delusion; but if a man who has attained to a more advanced stage of thinking relapses into such a primitive habit of thought, then it is possible to call this falling back (retrogression) a delusion.
The Loss of Verifiable Reality
Delusion we may thus tentatively define as the loss of an independent, verifiable reality, with a consequent relapse into a more primitive stage of awareness. Just as the young woman we spoke about earlier began to believe in and suffer from her headaches, so the man who sells his private fantasy first as a rumor and then as a factual truth gradually loses his awareness that his initial statements were in fact deceits, and his delusion becomes a kind of permanent petrification of his original primitive wishful thinking.
There are several factors which promote deluded thinking. Retrogression and primitivization may occur as a result of physical disease, particularly diseases of the brain, and it is with this type of delusions that psychiatrists deal. Many brain diseases put out of operation the brain cortex, the organ which developed last in the evolutionary process and which makes us aware and controls our thinking. When this disturbance of function happens, genetically older types of brain functioning have to take over.
Most of the causes of delusions are not purely organic, however. The same effect of regression may be produced by hypnosis and mass hypnosis, which, by dislocating the higher forms of alert consciousness, reduce the subject to the primitive stage of collective participation and of oneness experience. If awareness and reality confrontation become rigid and automatic, if man does not look for alert and repeated verifications of what he finds in the world, he may develop delusions-ideas not adapted to the reality situation. Apparently the human being requires constant confrontation and verification with various aspects of reality if he is to remain alive and alert. When experience is petrified into dogma, the dogma itself stands in the way of new verification and of new truth. The delusion of a nation that calls itself the “chosen” country makes it harder for that nation to collaborate with other nations.
How deeply involved the process of thought control is with the general formation of ideas in our time can be shown by the following experience. After the First World War, I made the acquaintance of a German philosopher dedicated to the idealistic philosophy of his country. Germany went through a creative phase, new ideas arose of fraternity and world peace. Germany, the defeated country, would show its spiritual power. During our vacations we walked together through the sunny mountains of Ticino and devoted our philosophical conversation to the eternal yearnings of mankind for harmony and friendship. We became friends and wrote to each other about our mutual work, till the shadow of totalitarianism came over his country. At first he was skeptical and even critical about Nazism. Our correspondence diminished, and when he gradually became gleichgeschaltet and a member of the party, the final mental cleavage followed. I never heard about him any more.
So many philosophers surrender their theoretical thinking under the impact of powerful mass emotions. The reason lies not only in anxiety and submissiveness. It is a much deeper emotional process. People want to speak the language of their country and fatherland. In order to breathe, they have to identify with the ideological cliches of their surroundings. Spiritually they cannot stand alone. Stefan Zweig wrote during the First World War that this inner process of speaking along with the chauvinistic voices around him was experienced by him as a deep inner conflict. “Ich hatte den Willen nicht mehr gerecht zu sein (I did not have the will any more to be just to the others):”
It is interesting to note that the phenomenon of institutionalized mass delusion has so far received little scientific treatment, although the term is bandied about wherever the problems of political propaganda are discussed. But science has shied away from scrutinizing the collective mental aberration we call mass delusion when it is connected with present-day affairs; it is the historical examples, such as witchcraft and certain forms of mass hysteria, that have been examined in great detail.
In our era of warring ideologies, in a time of battle for man’s mind, this question demands attention. What is mass delusion? How does it arise? What can we do to combat it? The fact that I have made an analogy between the totalitarian frame of mind and the disease of mental withdrawal known as schizophrenia indicates that I consider the totalitarian ideology delusional and the totalitarian frame of mind a pathological distortion that may occur in anyone. When we tentatively define delusion as the loss of an independent, verifiable reality, with a consequent relapse into a more primitive state of awareness, we can see how the phenomenon of totalitarianism itself can be considered delusional.
For it is delusional (unadapted to reality) to think of man as an obedient machine. It is delusional to deny his dynamic nature and to try to arrest all his thinking and acting at the infantile stage of submission to authority. It is delusional to believe that there is any one simple answer to the many problems with which life confronts us, and it is delusional to believe that man is so rigid, so unyielding in his structure that he has no ambivalences, no doubts, no conflicts, no warring drives within him.
e Where thinking is isolated without free exchange with other minds and can no longer expand, delusion may follow. Whenever ideas are compartmentalized, behind and between curtains, the process of continual alert confrontation of facts and reality is hampered. The system freezes, becomes rigid, and dies of delusion.
Examples of this can be found in very small communities cut off from the world. On fishing vessels which have been at sea a long time, contagious religious mania coupled with ritual murder has been known to break out. In small village communities there are instances of collective delusion, often under the influence of one obsessed person. The same thing happens in the more gigantic totalitarian communities, cut off from contact with the rest of the world. Is this not what happened in Hitler Germany, where free verification and self-correction were forbidden? Indeed, we can show that historically this is the case with every secluded civilization. If there is not interchange with other people, the civilization degenerates, becomes the victim of its own delusions, and dies.
We can phrase the concept of delusion in a different way. It is a more primitive, distorted form of thinking found in groups or individuals, looked at only from their limited viewpoint. Delusional thinking doesn’t know the concept of delusional thinking. The fakir lying on his bed of nails would be called a deluded man if he exhibited his devotion on Fifth Avenue, but among his own people his behavior is considered saintly and eminently sane. A member of a primitive tribe will not see in the ceremony of devil exorcism or a revival meeting an instance of mass delusion. But a man who has passed through this stage of mental development to a level of greater perspective and awareness will recognize that delusional notions lie behind such ceremonies.
Whether or not we are able to detect delusion when it appears depends entirely on circumstances, upon the state of civilization in which we live, upon the groups and the social class to which we belong. For delusion and retrogression are terms which imply a special social and intellectual level of awareness. That is why it is so difficult to detect the delusions and primitive rituals in our own midst. Our present-day civilization is full of mass delusions, prejudices, and collective errors which can be recognized easily if viewed from above, but which cannot be detected if they are seen from within. While the delusion of witchcraft has been banished, we have never freed ourselves from the delusion of cultural or racial inferiority and superiority. Medieval mass obsessions such as tarantism and St. Vitus’s dance are little known now among Western nations; in their place we have mass meetings with shouting crowds expressing in delusional ecstasy their affiliation to some political delusion. Instead of the dance fury, we have the raving frenzy of the motor, or the passive peeping contagion of the television screen.
As we saw in the chapter on Totalitaria, mass delusion can be induced. It is simply a question of r organizing and manipulating collective feelings in the proper way. If one can isolate the mass, allow no free thinking, no free exchange, no outside corrective, and can hypnotize the group daily with noises, with press and radio and television, with fear and pseudo-enthusiasms, any delusion can be instilled. People will begin to accept the most primitive and inappropriate acts. Outside occurrences are usually the triggers that unleash hidden hysterical and delusional complexes in people. Collective madness justifies the repressed personal madness in each individual. That is why it is so easy to sloganize people into the mass hysteria of war. The outside enemy who is attacked by vituperative slogans is merely the scapegoat and substitute for all the anger and anxiety that lives inside the harassed people.
Delusions, carefully implanted, are difficult to correct. Reasoning no longer has value; for the lower, more animal type of thinking becomes deaf to any thought on a higher level. If one reasons with a totalitarian who has been impregnated with official cliches, he will sooner or later withdraw into his fortress of collective totalitarian thinking. The mass delusion that gives him his feelings of belonging, of greatness, of omnipotence, is dearer to him than his personal awareness and understanding.
The lonely prisoner in a totalitarian prison camp is the more easily compelled to surrender gradually to the collective thinking of his guardians when part of his own infantile thinking has been conditioned to give in to strong suggestive power. He has to communicate with his guardians lest he be delivered to his own private delusions. Only a few remain their true selves in that heroic battle.
The situation of our prisoners of war in Korea, who lived there for months and years, cannot be studied without taking into account the atmosphere of mass delusion. In a sphere filled with rumors without an opportunity to verify the facts, the mind is ever on the alert, but its observations are distorted. The process of mass brainwashing, with continual propaganda, made it very difficult for the individual to observe his comrades objectively. In such surroundings, it is easy to make an innocent scapegoat for all the suffering of the group-and facts can easily be hallucinated in such an atmosphere of mass contagion.
In one of the prison camps, I had to make a report about a man who was exorcized and even attacked by the others because of his brute homosexual behavior. During the investigation, no fact, no victim, could be reported. Rumors there were plenty, expressing hatred toward a lonely, sarcastic, unsocial being, who had aroused the latent homosexual feelings of the other campers, thereby attacking their manliness.
No P.O.W. accused of collaboration with the enemy should be convicted without a study having been made of the rumors rampant in his camp.
In totalitarian surroundings, hardly anyone keeps his thinking free of contagion, and nearly everyone becomes, albeit temporarily, the victim of delusion.
The Danger of Mental Contagion
Indeed, there is a continual danger of mental contagion. People are in constant psychic exchange with one another. As a country, we have to ask what dangerous mental pollution may come to us from the other side of the border.
Let me make it crystal clear that I am far from insensitive to the danger of totalitarian subversion and aggression with which we are now faced. My own experiences with the Nazis made it painfully obvious to me that these dangers must not be minimized. As a psychologist, too, I am deeply aware of the contagious nature of totalitarian propaganda and of the fact that free citizens in a free country must be on their guard to protect themselves. But we must learn to fight these dangers in democratic ways; and I am afraid that too often in our fight against them we may take a leaf from the totalitarian book. Let me cite but one example of this.
The Feinberg Law in New York State, enacted in order to protect children against the dissemination of dangerous political propaganda, is partly based on this concept of mental contagion. It aims. to protect the schools against the subtle infiltration of subversive ideas. It seems at first sight like a simple solution: you just stop, subversion before it can affect the impressionable minds of our children.
But the fact remains that it presents all kinds of psychological, difficulties. In our fear of being polluted, we create norms and, schemes against which we measure the acceptability of unorthodox ideas, and we forget that the presence of minority ideas, acceptable or not, is one of the ways in which we protect ourselves against the creeping growth of conformist majority thinking in us. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, in his dissenting opinion on the Feinberg Law* made this point:
This is another of those rapidly multiplying legislative enactments which make it dangerous … to think or say anything except what a transient majority happens to approve at the moment. Basically these laws rest on the belief that Government should supervise and limit the flow of ideas into the minds of men. The tendency of such governmental policy is to mould people into a common intellectual pattern. Quite a different governmental policy rests on the belief that Government should leave the mind and spirit of man absolutely free. Such a governmental policy encourages varied intellectual outlooks in the belief that the best views will prevail. This policy of freedom is in my judgment embodied in the First Amendment and made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth.
Because of this policy, public officials cannot be constitutionally vested with powers to select the ideas people can think about, censor the public views they can express, or choose the persons or groups people can associate with. Public officials with such powers are not public servants; they are public masters.
We cannot prevent one mental contagion through enforcing another. The only way we can give man the strength to withstand mental infection is through giving him the utmost freedom in the exchange of ideas. People have to learn to ask questions without demanding that they be answered immediately. The free man is the man who learns to live with problems in the hope that they will be solved sometime-either in his own generation or the next. Man’s curiosity and inquisitiveness have to be stimulated. We have to fight man’s growing fear of thinking for himself, of being original, and of being willing to fight for what he believes in. On the other hand, we also have to learn to resist ideas. Governments may be overthrown not only by physical violence, but also by mental violence, by suggestive and menticidal penetration of young minds, by rigid conditioning, regimentation, and prohibition of dissent.
The Explanation Delusion
One of the most coercive delusions is the explanation delusion, the need to explain and interpret everything because the person has a simple ideology in his pocket. Unwittingly the victim of this delusion wraps the magic cloak of omniscience around himself, and this provokes awe and submission in those men who have a strong need for rational explanation of phenomena they do not understand. The quack, for instance, with his gesture of omniscience pushes his victim into a kind of nothingness so that he feels himself become smaller and smaller in relation to the great mysteries of the world. It is this compulsive need to be the wise guy and the magician who knows all the answers that we so often find in the totalitarian world, and nobody, your author included, is completely free from seizing on these premature answers.
It is among the intelligentsia, and especially among those who like to play with thoughts and concepts without really taking part in the cultural endeavors of their epoch, that we often find the glib compulsion to explain everything and to understand nothing. Their retreat into intellectual isolation and ivory-tower philosophy is a source of much hostility and suspicion from those who receive the stones of intellectualism instead of the bread of understanding. The intelligentsia has a special role in our democratic world as teachers of ideas, but every teaching is an emotional relation, a matter of loving your students. It is a moving among them and taking part in their doubts in order to share together the adventure of common exploration of the unknown.
Paradoxically, we may say that we need the experience with the totalitarians if only to discover a reflection of their rigidities in our own democratic system.
The Liberation from Magic Thinking
In our Western civilization, the growth of the mass media of communication has increased the influence of collective pressure on both our prejudices and our unbiased thinking. We live in a world of constant noise which captures our minds even when we are not aware of it.
Already we have in our society the problem of the lonely, unheard voices. I am convinced that there are many wise men among us whose voices and learning would help us to correct that part of our thinking which is delusional. But their wise words are shouted down by an excess of noise from elsewhere. In our society a man can not simply communicate his wisdom and insight any more; in order to be heard, he has to advertise and fortify it with megacyclic power and official labels. An organization must stand behind him and must make sure that he will be rightly timed so that there will be listeners to receive his message. He must have an acknowledged label and official diploma; otherwise his voice is lost. To correct mass delusion is one of the most difficult tasks of democracy. Democracy pleads for freedom of thought, and this means that it demands the right of all men to test all forms of collective emotion and collective thinking. This testing is possible only if constant personal and collective self-criticism is encouraged.
Democracy must face this task of preserving mobility of thought in order to free itself from blind fears and magic. The clash and mutual impact of a variety of opinions which are characteristic of democracy may not directly produce truth, but they prepare the way. `’ At this very moment the whole world dances around a delusion, around the magic idea that the material and military power behind an argument will bring us nearer to the truth, and nearer to safety. Yet, one push of the button and the atomic missiles may lead us all to mutual suicide.
In a world of warring and contrasting thoughts and delusions, the solution lies in the delineation of frontiers, of awareness of mutual limits. This agreement on what it is we disagree about is the first step to understanding.
Technology Invades Our Minds
It is rather difficult to describe the onslaught on our minds made by the intrusion of technical thinking. This is so because technology has such contrasting influences. The influence can be a blessing, making us more independent of threatening forces of nature; but at the same time the tool and the machine can dominate us. This inner antinomy of technization we must master-will we not otherwise be dragged down into the maelstrom of ever-increasing technical development to final atomic catastrophe! The peculiar paradox of technology lies in this: gradually the well-being of the machine (autocar, factory) assumes greater importance and value than the well-being of man and mankind.
The growth of technology, of the manifold mechanical instruments in the services of our fantasies, has thrown mankind back to an infantile dream of unlimited power. There he sits, the little man, in his room with various gadgets around him. Just pushing a button changes the world for him. What might! And what still further power he envisions! Yet what mental danger.
The growth of technology may confuse man’s struggle for mental maturity. The practical application of science and tools originally were meant to give man more security against outside physical forces. It safeguarded his inner world; it freed time and energy for meditation, concentration, play, and creative thinking. Gradually the very tools man made took possession of him and pushed him back into serfdom instead of toward liberation. Man became drunk with technical skill; he became a technology addict. Technology calls forth from people, unknown to themselves, an infantile, servile attitude. We have nearly all become slaves of our cars. Technical security paradoxically may increase cowardice. There is almost no challenge any more to face the forces of nature outside us and the forces of instinct within us. Because the very technical world has become for us that magical challenge which nature originally afforded.
It is the very subservience to technology that constitutes an attack on thinking. The child that is confronted from early youth with all modern devices and gadgets of technology-the radio, the motor, the television set, the film-is unwittingly conditioned to millions of associations, sounds, pictures, movements, in which he takes no part. He has no need to think about them. They are too directly connected with his senses. Modern technology teaches man to take for granted the world he is looking at; he takes no time to retreat and reflect. Technology lures him on, dropping him into its wheels and movements. No rest, no meditation, no reflection, no conversation-the senses are continually overloaded with stimuli. The child doesn’t learn to question his world any more; the screen offers him answers-ready-made. Even his books offer him no human encounter-nobody reads to him; the screen people tell him their story in their way. Technical knowledge forced upon him in this way makes no demand that he think about what he sees and hears. Conversation is becoming a lost art. The machine age rushes on, leaving no time for quiet reading and encounter with the creative arts. We do see a countercurrent, however, in the do-it-yourself movement. Here we probably see a resurgence of the creative spirit and a challenge to the engineer who creates the robot.
In an overtechnical world, body and mind no longer exist. Life becomes only a part of a greater technical and chemical thought process. Mathematical equations intrude into human relations. We learn, for example, through the doctrine of guilt by association, the simple equation that the enemies of our enemies have to be our friends and that the friends of our enemies have to be our enemies-as if only simple addition of positive and negative signs exist by which to evaluate human beings.
The Creeping Coercion by Technology
Radio and television catch the mind directly, leaving children no time for calm, dialectic conversation with their books. The view from the screen doesn’t allow for the freedom-arousing mutuality of communication and discussion. Conversation is the lost art. These inventions steal time and steal self-awareness. What technology gives with one hand-easiness and physical security-it takes away with the other. It has taken away affectionate relationships between men. The depersonalized Christmas card with its printed signature, the form letter, the very typewriter are examples of mechanical proxies. Technical intrusion usurps human relationships, as if people no longer had to give one another attention and love any more. The bottle replaces Mother’s breast, the nickel in the automat replaces Mother’s preparation of sandwiches. The impersonal machine replaces human gesture and mutuality. Children educated in this way prefer to be alone, with fantasies to escape into and gadgets to play with. Mechanization pushes them into mental withdrawal.
Technology suggests and creates the feeling of man’s omnipotence on the one hand, but on the other, the smallness of man, his weakness and inferiority compared with the might of machinery. The power of man’s creative mind is disguised behind dreams of social machines and world mechanics. Mechanics in political maneuverings are overestimated and go beyond reason. We use intelligence and counterintelligence, trickery and political machines, forgetting the “emotional reasons” which underlie human brilliance and stupidity. There exists a relationship between naive belief in technology only and a naive belief in human intelligence, logic, and innocence that was part of the optimistic liberalist feeling prevalent in the nineteenth century. We see in both beliefs the denial of the irrational depths of the mind.
What is the ultimate result of technical progress? Does it drive people more and more to the fear and despair brought on by a loveempty push-button world? Does it create a megalomaniac happiness won by remote control of other people? Does it deliver people to the unsatisfying emptiness of leisure hours filled with boredom? Is the ultimate result living by proxy, experiencing the world only
from the movie or television screen, instead of living and laboring and creating one’s own?
In cases of television addiction, I observed the following points:
1. The television fascination is a real addiction; that is to say, television can become habit-forming, the influence of which cannot be stopped without active therapeutic interference.
2. It arouses precociously sexual and emotional turmoil, seducing children to peep again and again, though at the same time they are confused about what they see.
3. It continuously provides satisfaction for aggressive fantasies (western scenes, crime scenes) with subsequent guilt feelingssince the child unconsciously tends to identify with the criminal, despite all the heroic avengers.
4. It is a stealer of time.
5. Preoccupation with television prevents active inner creativitychildren and adults merely sit and watch the pseudo-world of the screen instead of confronting their own difficulties. If there is a conflict with parents who have no time for their youngsters, the children surrender all the more willingly to the screen. The screen talks to them, plays with them, takes them into a world of magic fantasies. For them, television takes the place of a grownup and is forever patient. This the child translates into love.
As in all mass media, we have to be aware of the hypnotizing, seductive action of any all-penetrating form of communication. People become fascinated even when they do not want to look on. We must keep in mind that every step in personal growth needs isolation, needs inner conversation and deliberation and a reviewing with the self. Television hampers this process and prepares the mind more easily for collectivization and cliche thinking. It persuades onlookers to think in terms of mass values. It intrudes into family life and cuts off the more subtle interfamilial communication
The world of tomorrow will witness a tremendous battle between technology and psychology. It will be a fight of technology versus nature, of systematic conditioning versus creative spontaneity. The veneration of the machine implies the turning of mechanical knowledge into power, into push-button power. Mechanical instruments of destruction such as the H-bomb have translated the primitive human urge for destruction into large-scale scientific killing. Now, this destructive potential may become an easy tool for any potentate crazy for power. Driven by technology, our own world has become more interdependent, and through our dependence on technical knowledge and devices, we ourselves are in danger of delivering our people to the more brutal totalitarians. This is the actual dilemma of our civilization. The machine that became a tool of human organization and made possible the conquest of nature, has acquired a dictatorial position. It has forced people into automatic responses, into rigid patterns and destructive habits.
The machine has aroused an ever-increasing yearning for speed, for frenzied accomplishments. There exists a psychological relationship between speedomania (frenzied swiftness) and ruthlessness. Behind the wheel in a fast car, a driver becomes drunk with power. Here again we see the denial of the concept of natural, steady growth. Ideas and methods need time to mature. The machine forces results prematurely: evolution is turned into revolution of wheels. The machine is the denial that progress has to grow within us before it can be realized outside ourselves. Mechanization takes away the belief in mental struggle, the belief that problemsolving needs time and repeated attempts. Without such beliefs, the platitude will take over, the digest and the hasty memorandum. A mechanized world believes only in condensation of problems and not in a continuous dialectic struggle between man and the questions he construes.
One of the fallacies of modern technique is its direction toward greater efficiency. With less energy, more has to be produced. This principle may be right for the machine, but is not true for the human organism. In order to become strong and to remain strong, man has to learn to overcome resistances, to face challenges, and to test himself again and again. Luxury causes mental and physical atrophy.
The devaluation of the individual human brain, replacing it by mechanical computers, also suggests the totalitarian system for which its citizens are compelled to become more and more the servile tools. The inhuman “system” becomes the aim, a system that is the product of technocracy and dehumanization and which
may result in organized brutality and the crushing of any personal morality. In a mechanical society a set of values are forcibly imprinted on the unconscious mind, the way Pavlov conditioned his dogs. Our brains then no longer need to serve us or develop the thinking process; machines will do this for us. In technocracy, emphasis is on behavior free of emotions and creativity. We speak of “electric brains,” forgetting that actually creative minds are behind these brains and their frailties. For some engineers, minds have become no more than electric lamps in a totalitarian laboratory. Between man and his fellow man there has been interposed a tremendous, cold, paper force, a nameless bureaucracy of rules and tools. Mechanization has brought into being the mysterious “pimp” in human relations, the man in between, the mechanical bureaucrat, who is powerful but impersonal. He has become a new source of magic fear.
In a technocratic world every moral problem gets repressed and is displaced by a technical or statistical evaluation. The problems of sound and speedy mathematics serve to overthrow ethics. If, for instance, one investigates the inner life of the guards of the concentration camps and their inner troubles and tribulations, one understands why those jailers gave so much thought to the technical problem of how to get the murdered corpses of their victims out of the gas chambers as soon as possible. The words “clean” and “practical” and “pure” acquired for them a different dimension than our usual one. They thought in chemical and statistical terms -and stuck to them-in order not to be aware of their deeper moral guilt.
The mind regarded as a computing machine is the result of compulsive rationalization and generalization of the world. This has been so since the time of early Greek thinkers. This concept implies denial or minimization of emotional life and of the value of marginal experiences. In such a philosophy, spontaneity is never understood-nor creativity and historical coincidence, nor the miracles of human communication as revealed by telepathy. Technology based on this concept is cold and without moral standards of living, without faith and “feeling at home” in our own world. It continually stimulates new dissatisfaction and the production of new luxury without knowing why. It stimulates greediness and laziness without emphasizing restraint and the art of living. Indeed, technology as a goal instead of a means gives us the fiction of simple equality instead of the continual pursuit of freedom, diversity, and human dignity. Technology disregards the fact that our scientific view of the world is only a gradual correction of our mythical and prescientific view. Technology, once a product of courageous fantasy and vision, threatens to kill that same vision, without which no human progress is possible. The idol, technology, must become a tool again and not the omnipotent magician per se, who drags us into the abyss.
The industrial development in our Western culture created a new problem, that of making man more distant from the rhythm of nature. First industrial man was tied to factory and engine, and then technological progress increased leisure time, bringing a new question: leisure for what?
The increased growth of time, and time space, and of the sizes of towns, and the reduction of distance through the increased means of transport affected deeply the roots of our feelings of belonging and security. The family-the atom of society-often became disrupted, and sometimes even deteriorated. The raving frenzy of the family car on Sunday replaced the quiet being together of family groups in mutual exchanges of affection and wisdom.
Only when man learns to be mentally independent of technology -that means when he learns to do without-will he also learn not to be overwhelmed and swept away by it. People have to become lonely Robinson Crusoes first, before they can really use and appreciate the advantages of technology.
Our education has to learn to present simple, natural challenges and needs to the child in order to immunize him against the paralyzing and lazy-making tendencies of our technicized epoch. The Paradox of Technology
Paradoxically enough, technical security may increase cowardice. The technical world we ourselves have created has replaced the very real challenge which nature originally afforded man’s imagination, and man is no longer compelled to face the forces of nature outside himself and the forces of instinct within him. Our luxurious habits and complicated civilization have a tendency to appeal more to our mental passivity than to our spiritual alertness. Mentally passive people, without basic morals and philosophy, are easily lured into political adventures which are in conflict with the ethics of a free, democratic society.
The assembly line alienates man from his work, from the product of his own labor. No longer does man produce the things man needs; the machine produces for him. Engineers and scientists tell us that in the near future automation-running factories without human help-will become a reality, and human labor and the human being himself will become almost completely superfluous. How can man have self-esteem when he becomes the most expendable part of his world? The ethical and moral values which are the foundation of the democratic society are based on the view that human life and human welfare are the earth’s greatest good. But in a society in which the machine takes over completely, all our traditional values can be destroyed. In venerating the machine, we denigrate ourselves; we begin to believe that might makes right, that the human being has no intrinsic worth, and that life itself is only a part of a greater technical and chemical thought process.
Man’s progressive retreat toward a mechanized, push-button world is best illustrated by his love for automobiles and other machines. The moment he can retreat to his car seat and direct the world by remote control, he dreams an old, long-forgotten childhood dream of tremendous omnipotence. Man’s servility to his automobile and other machines takes something away from his individuality. We are hypnotized by the idea of remote control. The wheels and the push-buttons give us a false sense of freedom. Yet, at the same time, the creative part of man resists the machine’s cold, mechanical intrusion into his inner freedom.
As I drive, every time I pass something beautiful along the road, be it an exhilarating view, a museum, a river, a tall tree, at that very moment a kind of tense conflict is aroused in me. Shall I stop the car and drink in the beauty around me or shall I give in to my machine and keep racing along?
For the psychologist and biologist such behavior raises important questions. How will it end? Will man’s tendency to become more and more an immobile technological embryo finally get the better of
him and his civilization? The Dutch anatomist Bolk-one of my teachers-long ago described the regressive retardation in growth characteristic of human beings as compared to the rapid development of the higher primates. As a result of the fetalization and anatomical retardation of man, he acquired his erect posture, the use of his grasping and verifying hands, the possibility of speech. This long youth made it possible for him to learn, and to build up his own thought world.
Since the Renaissance and the advent of modern science, the scientist himself has been forced to retreat more and more to his technological womb-his laboratory, his study, his armchair. He has done this for the sake of greater intellectual concentration, but as a result he gradually became more isolated from living people-unobtrusively. Only in the last decades has the scientist begun to come in contact with social problems more and more, partly forced to do so by the growth of social science.
From his magic corner, the scientist has learned how to control the world with his inventions and mental dictates. Increasingly the population has been seduced by the idea of remote control. The arsenal of buttons and gadgets leads us into the magic dream world of omnipotent power. Our technical civilization gives us greater ease, but it is challenge and uneasiness that make for character and strength.
The repeated outlet in work, through which we not only sublimate our aggressions but also refine and recondition our instinctual aims, is grossly endangered by technical automatization. There exists an intimate relation between the rhythm of work and the rhythm of creation. In a world of mere leisure and no work discipline, our unleashed instincts would gain again. It is the alternating rhythm of work and leisure time that refines our enjoyment of leisure.
A conference in New Haven sponsored by the Society for Applied Anthropology on the effects of automation on the workers* was told that the chief complaint of the workers was that increasing mental tension supplanted muscular fatigue. The strain of watching and controlling machines makes man jumpy, he develops gradually the feeling that the machine controls him instead of he * The New York Times, December 29, 1955.
the machine. Several of my patients looked at machines as something alive, dangerously alive because machines had no love or other feelings for the man who used them.
The dangerous paradox in the boost of living standards is that in promoting ease, it promotes idleness, and laziness. If the mind is not prepared to fill leisure time with new challenges and new endeavors, new initiative and new activities, the mind falls asleep and becomes an automaton. The god Automation devours its own children. It can make highly specialized primitives out of us.
Just as we are gradually replacing human labor by machines, so we are gradually replacing the human brain by mechanical computers, and thus increasing man’s sense of unworthiness. We begin to picture the mind itself as a computing machine, as a set of electrochemical impulses and actions. The brain is an organ of the body; its structure and its actions can be studied and examined. But the mind is a very different thing. It is not merely the sum of the physiological processes in the brain; it is the unique, creative aspect of the human personality.
Unless we watch ourselves, unless we become more aware of the serious problems our technology has brought us, our entire society could turn into a kind of superautomatized state. Any breakdown of moral awareness and of the individual’s sense of his own worth makes all of us more vulnerable to mental coercion. Nazi Germany gave us the frightful example of the complete breakdown of all moral evaluations. In the S. S. society, racial persecution and murder became a kind of moral rule.
All this may sound extreme. But the fact remains that any influence-overt or concealed, well- or ill-intentioned-which reduces our alertness, our capacity to face reality, our desire to live as active, acting individuals, to assume responsibility and to face up to danger, takes from us some part of our essential human-ness, the quality in us which strives toward freedom and democratic maturity. The enforced mental intervention practiced by the totalitarians is deliberate and politically inspired, but mental intervention is a serious danger even when its purpose is nonpolitical. Any influence which tends to rob man of his free mind can reduce him to robotism.
Any influence which destroys the individual can destroy the whole society.
Intrusion by the Administrative Mind
Since social life has become more and more complicated, a new group of mediators between man and his goals has developed. It is no longer the ancient priest who mediates between man and his gods, between man and the powers beyond him, but a group of administrators have, in part, taken over the job of intervening between man and his government. There are today mediators between man and his bosses, between artist and public, between farmer and market, mediators between everything. The administrative mind is born, often dominating man’s social behavior and man’s manifold contacts, leading him into complicated actions and compulsions far beyond spontaneous behavior.
All these ties, the rigid bureaucratic ones and the useful admin istrative ones, have their influence on human behavior and often may befog man’s free thinking. I have a special reason for developing this theme in a book on the rape of the mind because this problem of mediation between man and his actions and thoughts exists in our form of democracy as well as in the totalitarian countries. Both halves of the world are grappling with the involved problem of how to administer themselves. The mere technique of governing ourselves and our world can become a threat to free human development-and this may be independent of the ideology the administration adheres to. We have not the same freedom to
choose the official men who govern us that we have to select our favorite shop or our doctor. As long as the official man is in charge, we are in his bureaucratic power.
The Administrative Mind
Administrators today cannot handle their jobs adequately within the limits of the simple knowledge of people and nations that served governments in former years. If our leaders can not take into account the irrational forces in themselves and in other men and nations, they may easily be swept off into the maelstrom of mass emotions. If they cannot learn to recognize that their private or official conduct often reflects their prejudices and irrationalities, they will not be able to cope with the often unexpected prejudices of others. If they are, for instance, not sensitive to the paradoxical strategy hidden behind the misleading Aesopian language of totalitarians, they will not be able to counter the cold war. Psychological knowledge has become a must in our era of confused human relations.
Do our people in office, for instance, understand fully the provocative totalitarian strategy of slandering and wild accusation, and are they able to handle it adequately? Do they realize that the mere official denial never has as strong an appeal and impact as the initial accusation, and, in fact, usually fits into the accuser’s strategy? Apparently they do not, for many still use simple official denial as a defense against the totalitarian strategy of accusation, when, in fact, only repeated exposure and ridicule of the very root of this technique can defeat it.
Do they realize the implications of the strategy of raising sham problems? The totalitarian and the demagogue often use this confusing technique. By launching emotional inquiries and investigations and asking for attention for quasi problems, they seek to divert attention from their real aims.
Do they understand, for instance, what lies behind the technique of exploiting the chivalry and generosity of the public and blackmailing the pity of the world? The strategy of complaining and calling for justice is a well-known mental defense used by neurotic individuals to arouse guilt feelings in others and to cover up their own hidden aggressiveness. The exploitation of pity and the overt declaration of one’s own purity and honest innocence is a familiar trick when it is used by individuals, but we are less likely to recognize it when it is used in international politics.
Do our administrators realize that even the romantic ideals of brotherly love and world peace can be used to cover up aggressive designs? After the First World War, we heard many inspiring idealistic catchwords from the defeated central European countries. Their press and their leaders described in great detail, for all the world to know, the “inner purification through suffering” of the defeated peoples. Thus these countries appealed to the conscience and compassion of the whole world. But it was a questionable conversion. Every therapist knows that those who talk a great deal about their inner change and recovery have for the most part not changed at all. The fine phrases are so often contradicted by actions. Politicians must recognize that this can be as true for nations as it is for individuals. Let us not forget that nations don’t talk. Official words are made up by representatives with unofficial and mostly unknown inner motivations.
Administrators, diplomats, and politicians form the nerve centers and paths of communication between peoples and nations. The tensions in the diplomatic regions represent the political tensions in the world. But they represent other things, too. The political profession is subject to special kinds of nervous tensions. The moment the administrator arrives at a top level, an inner change may take place. From then on, he can identify with those who formerly led him. The very fact of being in office and being a leader may change a man’s mind in many ways. Often he removes himself more and more from human problems and from the people he represents and thinks only in terms of national strategy, official ideology, and the aims of power politics. Or childhood ambitions, long frustrated, are aroused. He may become the victim of his inflated personal ambitions and his individual notion of responsibility, and, as a consequence, lose control of his own personality.
Leading statesmen, burdened by responsibilities, have to become more careful; indeed, they often have to express themselves in noncommittal language. Yet, they are not aware that such language gradually may reform their way of thinking. Finally, they may think they possess a priority on double talk.
Another difficulty is related to a rather general fear of success. Once a high ambition is reached, a long-hidden fear from childhood may awake, a fear related to an early competition with the father and with the siblings. From this time on, the envy and hostility of those bypassed may start to injure the statesman’s life.
The danger of assuming any leadership-even of any form of self-assertion-is that it provokes resistance and hostility, retaliation and punishment. The administrator knows himself to be in the public eye; he feels exposed to criticism and political attack. If he didn’t have it before, from now on he has to develop a defensive facade in order to court the public and the voters. The result may be that the former meek democrat, the believer in government by the people, suddenly takes on the stature of an authoritarian personality. He is guided by his frustrated infantile fantasy of leadership.
The administrative “brain trusters,” with all their inner problems, nevertheless make history for us. Our minds are deeply affected by their minds. At the same time, we-the great public-influence them, and our civilized impulses may direct them to find the good road, just as our primitive drives and influences may urge them on to push us all into catastrophe. The intrusion of the administrative mind becomes even more precarious when the authorities in power follow patterns of procedure not controlled by court and the law. In such cases, prejudice and arbitrariness can easily develop as we have experienced with many of our security regulations. Official secrecy is a token of magic power; the more hush-hush there is in the world, the less democratic control and the greater the fear of treachery.
It should be, technically, quite simple to administer any group or nation-or even the whole world. Mankind certainly knows enough to do this job. We know a great deal about history, sociology, and the science of human relations and government, at least enough not to repeat the mistakes from history. We live in a world of technical and economic abundance. But we have not yet learned to apply what we know or to organize the resources of the world. Somewhere something has gone wrong, and things have gotten out of hand. The will of nations and people to understand one another seems to be paralyzed, and mutual fear and suspicion have been built up by the fantasies of mythical ideologies warring against one another. And tomorrow only the tails of the fighting dogs may remain.
During the Second World War, I was sent as an official representative of the Netherlands government to an international meeting on welfare and war relief. Here I became even more aware of the extent to which private passions can mold the way we handle public problems. All of us at the conference had cold, expressionless faces which implied a sharp, unbiased form of thinking, but our unconscious minds were touched by other problems. Welfare is often much more a subject of hate than of love and sympathy. One’s pride and prestige can play a much greater role than pity for the poor victim. The displaced persons and the people of the devastated and underdeveloped countries are very much aware of this fact. They do not like the role in which fate has cast them; they have to play the double role of the eternal victim who is not only the victim of politics and war, but also of the often arrogant provider of charity. As a matter of fact, the representative at the receiving end of the deal resented any offer made to his country. Everybody wants to be himself the generous “uncle from America.” The Ailments of Those in Public Office
In the future, as our psychological understanding grows, leading politicians will have to be better educated in the principles of modern psychology. Just as a soldier must know how to handle his
physical weapons, so the politician must know how to face and handle the mental strategy of human relationships and diplomacy. He will have to become aware of the pitfalls in all human communication and the frailties of his own mind.
Bodily disease and neurotic development can have all kinds of effects on those in office. Under their influence, some men are drawn into a life of continuous resentment, as if, in their political and official activities, they were fighting out their infantile struggles against devils, anxieties, and inner guilt. Others are purified by their sufferings and become wiser and more humane than they were.
The modern science of psychosomatic medicine males it clear that constant worrying, continual competition, repressed aggressions, the will to dominate and to govern others, the fear of responsibility, the burden of one’s chosen profession are among the many factors that influence body and mind to form a pattern of bodily reactions. These reactions may actually hamper our ability to solve our problems by incapacitating us physically. Becoming a chosen statesman in our era of increased human competition and increased dependence on the masses of voters builds up in officeholders qualities that are nearly psychopathic, that can cripple the body or the mind or both at a time when we need the healthiest and soundest leaders. The role the latent psychosis or character disorder plays in many a leading personality cannot be emphasized enough. Not long ago I treated the leader of a huge humanitarian association, who was accorded much esteem by his fellow citizens, but who was a sick, psychopathic tyrant in his own family circle. His children trembled at the sight of him and developed-of course-a cynical attitude about all idealism and humanitarianism.
I suspect that many times this pathology is influenced by the way we select our leaders. Public preference is often directed toward strong, defensive, overcompensated qualities of character which show up well at public functions. The outer facade is too much seen; we are not able to judge the inner core.
In 1949, Burnett Hershey wrote an article which posed the question, Is our fate in the hands of sick men? The article was written after the tragic death of James Forrestal, the American Secretary of Defense, who committed suicide under the influence of despair and delusions of persecution. It describes in some detail the psychosomatic afflictions of various statesmen. Hershey quotes General George C. Marshall’s words to the Overseas Press Club: “Stomach ulcers have a strange effect on the history of our times. In Washington I had to contend with, among other things, the ulcers of Bedell Smith in Moscow and the ulcers of Bob Lovett and Dean Acheson in Washington.” The author goes on to point out that Stalin, Sir Stafford Cripps, Warren Austin, and Vishinsky also suffered from psychosomatic ailments, as does Clement Attlee. All of us have heard of the repeated fainting spells of the Iranian exPremier, Mossadegh, the man who might, in a spell of semiconsciousness, have changed the balance of power in the Middle East. The much-debated and headlined Senator McCarthy is another case in point. At the height of his struggle for headlines, he had a stomach condition that required an exploratory operation, bursitis, frequent sinus headaches and signs of exhaustion-and all of these are known as psychosomatic involvements resulting from extreme tension.*
We have, too, many cheering examples of how physical disability and neurotic development can mature and strengthen the personality. Perhaps the brightest example of the relationship between body and profession is the late Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose political career was inconspicuous until he was stricken by poliomyelitis. His years of physical suffering became years of mental ripening. His conquest of pain and disease changed his attitude toward his own problems and also toward the problems of the world. His growth of empathy and humility, his increase in strategic intuition, and his superior knowledge of the balance of forces in his country must be partly attributed to his inner mental growth during his disease.
Roosevelt will always be a guiding example of how the mind is able to overcome the physical limitations of the body, how the mind grows out beyond it when a man is willing to look inside and fight out the conflicts within himself.
The Conference of Unconscious Minds
Let me return for a moment to the wartime conference on welfare I mentioned earlier and tell you something more about it. The conference chairman did not feel well; every decision was as painful for him as his ulcer. He hemmed and hawed and refused to accept the responsibility the position placed on him. The representative of one of the eastern European countries was an attractive woman but a misanthrope. Every word she spoke was colored by suspicion, and when a representative from one of the Latin countries attempted a mild flirtation with her, she showed her confusion by arguing furiously against every one of his constructive proposals.
We also had a hesitant, old-school, professional politician in our midst. Though he couched his speech in gentle, polite words, he spoke only to destroy every proposal that was not initiated by his
faction. When he had to listen-and this he did not like to do at all-he busied himself constantly with his tie or his eyeglasses, always polishing himself.
In a crowded corner sat an enthusiastic young man who longed to do something important. He wanted to act, he wanted to see something accomplished, and his excitement was regarded by the others with sophisticated disdain. He did not know the rules of conference play.
The sessions were boring. The delegates spoke endlessly and pointlessly. But one day the entire conference was gripped by a kind of uncontrollable fury. Every delegate tried to destroy all his colleagues. Someone had unexpectedly used the word “traitor” to designate a certain guerilla group fighting in Europe, and the smooth discussion was suddenly transformed into a collision of the insurgent passions that had long smoldered behind suave masks.
What agitation was aroused! What rage, what anger! But it was only temporary. It died down; our sophisticated conference spirit reasserted itself, and we settled down to do no work. The chairman made a polite summarizing speech, and we disbanded. The charitable work we planned so carefully is still undone, and many years have passed.
With dogged optimism, political leaders still convene to construct a new peace for the world. We know that many of them will suffer again from ulcers of the stomach, but what do we know of their deeper hidden wishes and resentments?
Although I am afraid that the time is still far away when we shall subject our official representatives and administrators to psychological education and selection, we must become more aware of the many unconscious factors which influence them and us.
Do political leaders try to understand one another and the groups they represent, or are they only measuring the power of their political machines, their words, and their votes? Are they guided by private resentments and ambitions or by the honest wish to serve the community and its ideals?
Are our administrators mentally well equipped to do their tasks? If not, how could psychological insight gradually improve their equipment?
How many of them are conscious of the extent of their private frustrations? Are their destructive impulses rationalized away under the guise of political allegiance? How do illness, disease, and neurosis collide in their deliberations? Watch how, in any debate, polite speeches are interrupted by sudden diatribes.
To what degree do childhood rearing, fixed ideas, or pathological ambitions of administrators influence the destiny of a town or nation ?
We recognize that idealistic platitudes may cover inadequate proposals, and we tend to accept this as the well-worn play of political strategy and diplomacy. But far worse than this overt policy of evasion is the hidden political conference and discussion between the unconscious minds and passions of politicians.
How many politicians and their followers are aware of this lurking undercurrent which often wields a stronger influence than overt action? How does the personal element between our administrators obstruct our own mental freedom, and what is the role of the psychopathic element in some of our leaders?
It is important for us to ask these questions. For the development of science has taught us that, even when it is impossible to find immediate satisfactory solutions, posing the right question helps to bring clarity to the future. It prepares the way for a solution.
The Bureaucratic Mind
In a state where terror is used to keep the people in line, the administrative machine may become the exclusive property and tool of the dictator. The development of a kind of bureaucratic absolutism is not limited, however, to totalitarian countries. A mild form of professional absolutism is evident in every country in the mediating class of civil servants who bridge the gap between man and his rulers. Such a bureaucracy may be used to help or to harm the citizens it should serve.
It is important to realize that a peculiar, silent form of battle goes on in all of the countries of the world-under every form of government-a battle between the common man and the government apparatus he himself has created. In many places we can see that this governing tool, which was originally meant to serve and assist man, has gradually obtained more power than it was intended to have.
Is Saint Bureaucratus a devil who takes possession of a man as soon as he is given governmental responsibility? Are administrators infected with a desire to create a sham order, to manipulate others from behind their green steel desks? Governmental techniques are no different from any other psychological strategy; the deadening hold of regimentation can take mental possession of those dedicated to it, if they are not alert. And this is the intrinsic danger of the various agencies that mediate between the common man and his government. It is a tragic aspect of life that man has to place another fallible man between himself and the attainment of his highest ideals.
Which human failings will manifest themselves most readily in the administrative machine? Lust for power, automatism, and mental rigidity-all these breed suspicion and intrigue. Being a high civil servant subjects man to a dangerous temptation, simply because he is a part of the ruling apparatus. He finds himself caught in the strategy complex. The magic of becoming an executive and a strategist provokes long-repressed feelings of omnipotence. A strategist feels like a chess player. He wants to manipulate the world by remote control. Now he can keep others waiting, as he was forced to wait himself in his salad days, and thus he can feel himself superior. He can entrench himself behind his official regulations and responsibilities. At the same time he must continually convince others of his indispensability because he is loath to vacate his seat. As a defense against his relative unimportance, he has to expand his staff, increasing his bureaucratic apparatus. In order to become a V.I.P. one needs a big office. Each new staff member requests new secretaries and new typewriters. Everything begins to get out of hand, but everything must be controlled; new and better files must be installed, new conferences called, and new committees set up. The staff-interaction committee talks for days on end. New supervisors are created to supervise the old supervisors and to keep the whole group in a state of infantile servility. And what was formerly done by one man is now done by an entire staff. Finally, the bureaucratic tension becomes too great and the managerial despotic urge looks for rest in a nervous breakdown.
This creeping totalitarianism of the desk and file goes on nearly everywhere in the world. As soon as civil servants can no longer talk humanely and genially but write down everything in black and white and keep long minutes in overflowing files, the battle for administrative power has begun. Compulsive order, red tape, and regulation become more important than freedom and justice, and in the meantime suspicion between management, employees, and subjects increases.
Written and printed documents and reports have become dangerous objects in the world. After a conversation, even when there are harsh words, inanities are soon forgotten. But on paper these words are perpetuated and can become part of a system of growing suspicion.
Many people become administrators in public affairs out of idealistic feelings of service and avocation. Others try to escape the adventure of life by becoming part of the civil service corps. Such service assures them a settled income, regular promotion, and a sense of job security. It is very alluring, this feeling of security. The smooth automatism and polished rigidity of the red-tape world is very attractive to certain types of men, but it may devitalize others who still believe in challenge and spontaneity.
The burning psychological question is whether man will eventually master his institutions so that these will serve him and not rule him. In totalitarian countries one is not permitted to see the humor of one’s own shortcomings. The system, the red tape, and the manifold files become more important than the poor being lost in his chair behind a huge desk, looking much too important for his mental bearings.
The art of being a leading administrator, of being a genuine representative of the people is a difficult one, requiring multiple empathy and identification with other people and their motivations.
Diplomats and politicians still believe in verbal persuasion and argumentative tactics. It is a very old and alluring game, this strategy of political maneuvering with official slogans and catchwordsthe subtlety of bypassing the truth in the service of partisanship, of giving faulty emphasis, the skill of dancing around selected arguments to arrive at personal propagandistic aims or party aims. Sooner or later nearly all politicians become infected with the bug. Under the burden of their responsibilities, they give in to the desire to play the game of diplomacy. They start to compromise in their thinking, to bend backwards and to be circumspect, lest their remarks be criticized by the higher echelons. Or they fall back into infantile feelings of magic omnipotence. They want to have their fingers in every pie-to the left and to the right.
All these are dangerous mental streaks of every human being which can develop more easily in politicians and administrators because of the growing impact of modern governmental techniques and their threat to free expression. When a man gets entangled in strategical and political talk, something changes in his attitude. He is no longer straightforward; he doesn’t express and communicate what he thinks, but he worries about what others are thinking about him behind their facades. He becomes too prudent and starts to build all kinds of mental defenses and justifications around himself. In short, he learns to assume the strategic attitude. Forget spontaneity, deny enthusiasm; don’t demand inner honesty of yourself or others, never reveal yourself, never expose yourself, play the strategist. Be careful and use more buts and howevers. Never commit yourself.
I remember a leader of the opposition who became completely confused and nearly collapsed when, after a long time out of office, his party won an election and he had to assume governmental responsibility. From an aggressive, outspoken critic, he became a hesitating, insinuating neurotic, playing the tactful strategist, having no real initiative.
Some politicians are puppets, spokesmen of their bosses. Some are the cavalier jugglers of words, who transfer human aggressions into slogans. There are also the loudmouthed trumpeters of doom, who resort to the argument of panic. Modern politics is carried out with obsolete rules of conversation, communication, and discussion; and too few politicians are aware of the semantic pitfalls and emotional dishonesties of the word tools they must use to convince others.
Yet mutual understanding can become a basis of political strategy. It is not power politics with verbal deceit and catchwords that is needed but mental probing to find ways in which proposals and suggestions may cut through the resistance of those with different opinions and motivations.
Politicians too often forget that their fight for administrative power may become a form of psychological warfare against the integrity of the minds of those who are compelled to listen. The repetitious mutual calumny, so often used during elections, gradually undermines the democratic system and leads to the urge for authoritarian control. The strategic rumors and suspicions the politicians sow are an attack on human integrity.
When the citizenry no longer has confidence in its leaders, it looks for the man with brute power to be its leader. Where is the politician who is willing to admit that his opponent is at least as capable as he, and perhaps even more capable than he is? In the free admission of equality of ability and of the wisdom of his opponent lies the politician’s chance for cooperation. For true cooperation can only be brought about by mutual empathy and sympathy and the understanding of human faults.
In April, 1951, a group of psychologists, psychoanalysts, and social scientists affiliated with the United Nations, the World Federation of Mental Health, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization were guests of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation in New York. This was a meeting at which these problems of government, and the impact of governmental systems, were explored and discussed and published later in a report. These experts have become more and more aware of the need for psychological education and selection of government administrators.
Should our administrators be psychoanalyzed? This nearly utopian question does not predicate an immediate rush for psychological training for politicians and administrators, but it does point toward a future period when practical intelligence and sound psychological knowledge will guide man in the various aspects of his life. Education will be more fully permeated with dependable psychological knowledge. Psychology and psychoanalysis are still young sciences, but many of our present-day politicians could already profit by them. Through gain in self-insight, they would become more secure in the strategy of world guidance. They would assume more responsibility-not only for their successes, but also for their failures. And they would take more responsibility, with fewer inner qualms, for the good and welfare of all.
At this very moment our failure to solve the problems of governmental inefficiency and bureaucratic intrusion into human actions may hamper the citizen’s mind in its development. Man’s need to conform is in constant battle with man’s need to go out on his own. The tie-up of our spontaneous freethinking with the unadventurous administrative mind has to be studied and the problem it presents solved by the psychology of the future.
*Newsweek, April 12, 1954.
The Turncoat in Each of Us
THE CONFUSING INFLUENCE OF THE PROBLEM OF TREASON AND LOYALTY
As soon as “treason” is mentioned, something in man’s soul is stirred. Anger and scorn, suspicion and anxiety are aroused, and people want to avoid the subject. The social reaction toward a traitor-even before we are certain that the accusation is deservedis very spectacular. Former friends of a man accused as a “traitor” retreat and withdraw from this token of evil. In every trial of traitors we feel inwardly, personally accused and guilty.
This is one of the reasons that treason trials make such deep impressions and provoke the most confusing discussions. Dictators can use such trials to cast a spell on the public. In a book on mental coercion and the rape of the mind, an investigation of the problem of treason and loyalty is needed.
The Involuntary Traitor
Self-betrayal comes out of all human pores. SIGMUND FREUD
In my home town in Holland there was a little barbershop quite near the government buildings. It was owned by a small man with a gray French beard. Through the years he had served many of the country’s most important men. Diplomats and cabinet ministers, proud generals and aggressive leaders of the oppositionthey all wanted his service. The little barber was always very courteous and agreeable, eager to please his clients. He danced with prim, servile gestures around them while curling their hair and looking after their mustaches. As he worked, he would ask his distinguished clients polite questions: “What is His Excellency So-and-So going to say about this bill?” “How does the Minister of State feel about that one?” He was not really interested in politics at all, but the little barber knew that his clients were flattered by such questions.
And then one day a puffy, beribboned German general walked in and settled himself in the barber’s chair-the Netherlands had been invaded and occupied by the Nazi hordes. Of course, our barber knew this, and he had even managed to hate the invaders for a few days. But he was innately a genteel soul, and he lathered the general’s face himself and took care not to soil his uniform. On succeeding days, others of these strangely uniformed men appeared in the shop, and the little barber served them all well. The military men were followed by the Brown Shirts and then the Green Shirts of the Gestapo. The leather of the barber’s chair was scuffed by the huge black boots. But the little barber did not complain, and soon the occupiers considered his haircut the most fashionable and best that could be obtained in the entire city.
Our barber was not too conscious of his increasing official importance. He danced attendance on his new clients with as much courtesy as he had showed the diplomats of the old days. He was sorry that his old acquaintances had gradually disappeared. But in the past his work had been seasonal; when parliament was not in session, his shop had been empty. Now his business flourished all the time. The Germans and the collaborators liked the little barbershop, the perfume, the barber’s skill. Indeed, our amiable friend was well liked by the uniformed oppressors. They were, after all, thoroughly unused to friendly treatment; the barber’s behavior was a welcome change from the contempt with which most of the Dutch people-those stupid, stubborn resisters-regarded them.
One day the barber was invited to buy a membership card in a newly formed organization of collaborators. Our friend responded to this request as he would have to any other appeal for charity. He did not like to give, but he thought of welfare as a special tax on business, and so he resigned himself to paying as a petty, necessary annoyance. Some of his old acquaintances warned him of the consequences; he would be accused of collaboration and treason. But he pacified them by saying, “I am a barber, and I live as a barber. I have absolutely no interest in politics. I only want to serve my clients.”
When, after the bitter years of struggle and oppression, liberation came, our friend became officially known as a traitor and a collaborator. When the black-booted, uniformed supermen were thrown out, their collaborating friends were imprisoned, the barber among them. After he had served a part of his sentence, a wise and forgiving judge sent our barber back to his little shop. The first excitement of liberation had passed, and people were becoming more willing to forgive those who had been collaborators because they had been weak-hearted.
Our story is by no means finished. The barber came back from prison a beaten man. He had been in jail for three months; he still could not understand what had happened to him. He brooded constantly over his shameful days in jail. An injustice had been done him. He had served his fellow men as a well-behaved, virtuous citizen should, and he had been treated like a criminal. He felt self-righteous, abused, insulted, maltreated and misunderstood. After all, he had only wanted to be kind and helpful. He was a barber-nothing more.
The barber could not rid himself of his bitterness and resentment. None of his former friends came to cheer him up or to sympathize with him. His old clients did not return. His sadness and depression increased daily and in a few months he took his own life. And so ended the adventures of a little barber who had been completely unaware of his collaboration and his treachery.
I knew this man. I do not despise him-not at all. I am sure there were many such pitiful collaborators. I wonder, though, why the little barber was so unaware. Was it stupidity? Had his apparent kindness always covered up a resentment against his fellow men? Was he misled by an insidious wave of suggestion stronger than his mental capacity to resist? We will never know.
This tragedy, caused perhaps by unawareness, perhaps by the inability to choose between conflicting loyalties, stimulated me to investigate the problem of the traitor. I had ample opportunity to study this question, both through my experiences with the Dutch underground during the Nazi occupation, and when I was imprisoned in a Vichy detention camp. My first official analysis was made in 1943, when the Dutch government asked me to prepare a psychological report on disloyal Dutch soldiers and citizens being held in detention on the Isle of Man.
I arrived at the prison after a hazardous, stormy journey in a small airplane. The prisoners were a sorry lot. I had anticipated hostility, but I had not expected to find so many weaklings, consumed by bitterness and anger. Some of them were typical of the passive, egotistic, psychopathic personality, whose motto seems to be: “Let the world go to hell! I will never conform.” Others seemed to be the victims of an unbearable inner struggle-a conflict between their desire to belong to the stronger group and their resistance to this desire, a resistance which only increased their bitterness and antagonism.
This was a situation which proved to me again that there are certain times when logic and discussion are no help at all. We tried over and over again to convince the semi-collaborators that they should join with us in the fight against the Nazis, but they only retreated further behind their private grudges. They even refused the cigarettes I offered them.
Bad as the trip to the prison had been, the trip back was even worse. The little plane was pushed off course by strong winds. I was depressed and disgusted by my experiences, and when we finally arrived in England, both the pilot and I were sick.
I had many opportunities thereafter to study spies, traitors, and subversives. My last official wartime investigation took me to a prison camp in Surinam, Dutch Guinea, where I made a collective report on all the inhabitants of the prison camp. In many of them, I could discern neurotic and even psychotic traits.
But I have found that perhaps the best understanding of the problem of treason has come to me from my psychiatric work with eurotic patients who have to face a daily struggle with the little betrayals of everyday life, with their own self-betrayal, and with their ambivalent feelings toward those they should love.
The Concept of Treason
Before looking into the subject further, let us make an enquiry into the meaning of the word “treason.” It is, after all, used in a confusing variety of senses. The word “treason” has many
social and political implications, and the customs, habits, and mores of the group in which it is used affect and color its meaning.
The word itself is derived from the Latin tradere or transdare, to deliver wrongfully, to betray, to give something across, to give loyalty and secrets away. But from this root, the word has acquired a variety of meanings.
In the first place, it has a purely emotional, individual meaning related to feelings of deprivation and injustice. The infant often experiences all that compels him out of his state of bliss and dependency-which means the very act of growing up-as a betrayal, and sees treason in what he considers rejection by his parents. The person who retains these infantile feelings in his adult life may react to every fancied slight or rejection as to an act of treason or betrayal.
Lack of solidarity with the family or clan-with the in-groupnot conforming to its rituals and taboos has often been interpreted by the group as treason, treason through dissent. In this sense, the word implies a primitive moral evaluation; disgust and contempt are associated with it. Treason indicates something deeply emotional, something taboo, something different or strange, like allegiance to an alien ideology, a breach of traditions, or the simple fact of being a foreigner. Rejection of the norms and rules of the community, being one’s own judge of morality and ethics, is often considered treasonable.
Utter rejection of the traditions of one’s fatherland is an extreme. Often simple nonconformity may be considered treasonable, too. Indeed, in Totalitaria nonconformity and dissent are the most serious crimes against the system, and totalitarian minds have a tendency to look upon even honest mistakes or differences of opinion as deliberate treachery.
Because of its deep emotional content, the very word itself can be used as a political tool with which to manipulate people. In Totalitaria it becomes merely a Pavlovian sign, triggering off reactions of distrust and hatred. After a military defeat or a diplomatic disappointment, or whenever feelings of humiliation and inadequacy run high among the people, it is useful strategy to get them to project their sense of inferiority onto others. The “traitor” is in such a case an easy scapegoat who satifies the collective need to project blame and to relieve unconscious anxiety. In a totalitarian society every citizen is compelled to become a traitor, according to our own Western sense of decency, because it is his duty to betray to the regime every expression of dissension or rebellion. The child has to report his father, the father his child; they are even called traitors in the totalitarian sense as soon as they fail to report.
In the common political interpretation, treason is an act of rebellion, sedition, schism, heresy, conspiracy, or subversion. Its technical-juridical meaning is well known to everybody. Treason is adhering to enemies and giving aid and comfort to them; it is also, in a more modern, modified sense, taking part in an international ideological conspiracy against the fatherland.
To me, as a psychiatrist, its relation to the general problem of self-betrayal is the key to an understanding of the word. The germ of treason arises first in the individual’s compromises with his own principles and beliefs. After these initial compromises have been made, it becomes easier to go on and on, to make more and more compromises, until finally the compromiser may become the man who is willing to sell himself and his services to the highest bidder. During the Nazi occupation, we saw this among those who were seduced to do little services for the enemy. The first step led to the second and then to final collaboration. It is because all of us do doubt ourselves from time to time, because we are unsure of what we would do if we were put to the test, and because we may see in ourselves a potential traitor, that the word “treason” has such highly emotional appeal.
But self-doubt is a far cry from actual treason, and the real traitor in the morbid sense of the word, is not merely a self-doubter. He is a man who believes only in his ultrapersonal rights and who scorns the rights and wishes of the community. He is disloyal even to his own gang. Hitler, for example, was a traitor not only to his own ideas, handling them as changeable tools to help him gain and maintain power, he was repeatedly a traitor to his closest friends and collaborators, many of whom he betrayed and murdered in 1934, during what has been called the night of the long knives. The real traitor is a person with egocentric delusions and the conscious conviction that he alone is right. He is a very different type from an involuntary, pathetic, unaware traitor like our little barber.
The Traitor Who Consciously Takes Option for the Other Side
In my study of political traitors and collaborators, I found that most of them shared two common characteristics: they were easily influenced by minds stronger than their own, and none of
them would admit his disloyalty as an act of treason. The traitors I interviewed always volunteered innumerable justifications of their behavior, always surrounded their treachery with a complicated web of sophisms and rationalizations. Actually, they could not tolerate an objective picture of their actions. If they did, they would condemn themselves out of their own mouths. Unconsciously, most of them realized the nature of their crimes and were tormented by guilt feelings. These guilt feelings would have been unbearable if they admitted, even to themselves, the enormity of their deeds.
During the Nazi occupation of the Low Countries, I saw these qualities demonstrated again and again. Many of our native traitors were spineless people, ready to accept almost any new idea or elaborate theory. Their suggestibility was their greatest liability. Most of these would-be Nazis had never possessed strong personali ties of their own. They had failed in their ambitions and had been disappointed in life, and they readily transferred their frustrated personal longings to political will-o’-the-wisps. After the German invasion and occupation, these people confronted their defeated countrymen with triumphant I-told-you-so’s. They boasted proudly of their wisdom in having bet on the right horse. They gained a tremendous feeling of self-importance, and their newly acquired, blown-up self-assurance, backed by the enemy’s armed force, made them hard and contemptuous of their compatriots.
In an effort to justify their own behavior and their greed for power, they tried to convert others to their new way of life. They were possessed by a compulsion to become propagandists for the invader. Turncoats always try to soothe their own bad consciences by persuading others to share their crime.
Of course, they had some real grievances. Everybody does. But these traitors were influenced less by them than by fancied injustices. Through acts of treason, they avenged themselves on society for the private wrongs they had suffered because of their personal failures. Their resentments could be felt in everything they said.
The Nazi strategists were experts in exploiting this sense of dissatisfaction. They seemed to know intuitively whether or not an individual could be ensnared by Nazi propaganda. One case I knew of in Holland concerned the ex-director of a large concern who had been ousted from his position on ethical grounds. Early in the occupation, this man received an invitation to join the Nazi ranks, and in a surprisingly short time he became the leader of an important Nazi business. The Nazis gave him the feeling of having been vindicated.
Among the recruits for the Nazi police force in the occupied territories were turncoats of all sorts and even the inmates of asylums for the criminally insane. The pathological grudge these people had against society was the foil by which the Nazis turned them into traitors. The Germans themselves despised these men, but they were cunning enough to put them to the best possible use.
The Nazis also played a strange game with some authors and artists who had not received enough appreciation. The enemy flattered these men by buying and praising their work. The artists were first told that they could write and create as they pleased, without fear of interference. Gradually, little political services were asked of them, tiny little concessions like a favorable report of a meeting or a favorable reference to a philosophy with which they did not agree.
It is the impact of that first little concession that starts the inner avalanche of self-justification that finally leads to self-betrayal. Following the first compromise and self-justification comes the second; and this one is met with shrewder self-exculpations. After all, the compromiser has had experience in rationalization by now. The repeated concessions turn into submission and voluntary cooperation. As I said before, once a man is seduced into a small ideological concession, it is very difficult for him to stop. From now on his imagination produces enough justifications which help him maintain his self-respect.
The inwardly insecure traitor always feels the urge to identify with the enemy-the hostile invader. He has never “belonged,” never had a feeling of identification with his own group, has never felt the rewards of such cohesion, nor has he won the love, sympathy, and respect of his fellows. Therefore he wants to join the “others.” He may even go so far as to call his former friends traitors. Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce), the British traitor who was executed by his government, considered himself a real “Aryan German,” and in this way justified his fight against England.
In the hectic days immediately following the Nazi invasion of Holland, I myself felt an occasional inner temptation to go over to the enemy, to the stronger party, with its powerful organizations, all ready to support one, to back one up. I even had a dream about visiting Hitler and convincing him in a childish and friendly way of the righteousness of our cause. I did not succumb to this dream temptation, but there were a few who fell for such infantile pictures and were unable to withstand their need to submit. The need to conform, to be accepted, to be safe and respectable, is deeply embedded in man. In our analysis of the inner forces that lead men to surrender their mental integrity under the pressure of prison and concentration-camp life, we saw how important a role this mechanism plays. Living in a country occupied by the enemy is by no means as horrifying as living in a P.O.W. or concentration camp, but it is, nevertheless, frightening, and in this frightening situation, the need to conform may show itself in surrender to the enemy ideology. Those who resisted this need, even though they felt it, usually became even more fervently anti-Nazi as a consequence of their guilt feelings about this impulse to treachery.
This war experience taught us another truth: traitors can be made by overwhelming collective suggestions. In the ambiguous chaos of shouting ideologies and changing values, the mind becomes sullen and stubborn, and where there is immaturity and lack of inner control, it may become confused in its loyalties and simply surrender to the most powerful group.
The Nazis, with their perverted political methods, tried to supply the weak, the ambitious, the disgruntled, and the frustrated with a ready-made set of bogus ideals to justify surrender to their side. In Mein Kampf, Hitler says that when the disappointed are given a sense of importance, they will swallow every suggestion with the utmost docility. He knew that human weakness-even kindnesscan be used as a starting point for a systematically nurtured conversion. Hitler knew, too, that unlimited political terror could make a traitor of almost anyone. Spread fear, terror, and hunger, inflict penetrating pain, and finally, as a result of mental coercion and growing confusion, many will succumb and even betray their own families. In many of the concentration camps, the victims themselves were in charge of the gas chamber killings and kept their gruesome jobs until their own turns came. Fear and terror had made will-less slaves out of them.
There is still another human characteristic that can lead to treason and betrayal. There are some people who simply do not know where their loyalties belong. The case of Klaus Fuchs, the man who betrayed atomic secrets to Russia, is a dramatic example of this. Here was a highly intelligent person, an expert on the most difficult theoretical problems, lost in a sea of conflicting loyalties. Because of the Nazi persecution of his Quaker family, he adopted a new fatherland, England. In the meantime, he carried a dream of a mystical universal world which he thought to find in the totalitarian ideology. In the midst of his confusion about world problems, he simply did not know where his loyalty should be.
This was not a case of schizophrenia or a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation, as the newspapers reported, but a case of confusion of loyalties in a hyperintellectual mind. Fuchs did not know emotionally where he belonged.
In other cases people were literally pushed into treason and collaboration because nobody in their environment trusted them. This happened, for instance, in Flanders with the collaborators of the First World War. Several of them were compelled to become collaborators again.
This analysis of the factors that lead men to treason certainly does not imply that every man must remain loyal to the group from which he has originally received his morals and ideals. Better insight and higher ethics may override our childhood loyalties. It is the fate and the need of human beings to go beyond their teachers and to correct, if possible, the traditional rules of their schools. The great philosopher Socrates was accused of being a “traitor” because he “corrupted the minds of the youth of Athens.” And yet today we know that Socrates was far from being a corrupter.
Our Treacherous Intellect
Perhaps the most tragic form of unobtrusive treason and selfbetrayal is caused by the inertia of the human intellect. We are often betrayed by our own minds. We forget completely what we want to forget. We deny the existence of real problems in order to retreat into wishful thinking. As soon as we do not understand and feel the implications of a problem or an argument, we tend to submit passively to the most powerful side, just as did the overfriendly barber. The ease with which human beings can be corrupted is still one of our most serious psychological and moral problems. Inner confusion can make us submissive to almost any strong suggestion from the outside, no matter how foolish or false.
Our doubts are traitors,and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.
There are other more complicated tricks of the intellect which lead to self-betrayal. The feeling of inferiority often arouses in ignorant people a great desire to grasp extremely difficult ideas. Such people like to identify themselves with a quasi-profound system of thought. Hitler and his abstruse writings made temporary pseudophilosophers and magicians out of the majority of German people. All dictatorial totalitarians buy the services of scholars who can make them such a set of pseudo-philosophic justifications.
Unfortunately, some scholars are easy to buy. In Holland, for example, there was a not too intelligent philosopher who became converted to Nazism after it had shown its overpowering strength. Thereafter he felt free to write on the most abstruse philosophical subjects and to expound the most complicated theories, all for the glorification of his powerful friends from the Third Reich and their myth of conquering the whole world. At the same time, he built a system of inscrutable words around his own deep feelings of guilt; he isolated himself from the world more and more because no words were convincing enough to justify his treason to himself. In the end he lost all contact with reality. Then, of course, the Nazis had no use for him either.
As we have seen, there are various inner motivations which may lead to the crime of disloyalty or treason. Sometimes these motivations operate very subtly, in ways unknown to the subject; sometimes treason is merely a crude selling out to those who pay best. Let us try to arrange and classify some of these motivations, starting with the unconscious ones and ranging toward deliberate treason.
In the first place, an act of self-betrayal may begin as a defense against the feeling of being lost and rejected. In order to win acceptance in a group, the individual may hide and not defend his private beliefs and convictions when attacked. In psychology this may be called-if such passive behavior becomes an unconscious habit-the passive submission to and identification with the stronger person. If you cannot beat the enemy, join him! (A. Freud)
Although the concept of the inner traitor in us is not so easy to accept, by studying the contrasting inner drives that lead man, one becomes more convinced of that possibility. The clinical concept of man’s inner ambivalence is based on numerous psychological experiences. In studying the deeper motivations of many a traitor, we often see that his treacherous act happened after an inner turmoil threatened to break him down, to make an uncontrolled nervous wreck out of him. It is as if the future mental patient preferred to surrender to an outward enemy rather than to the inward enemies of disease and nervous breakdown. Hess was on the verge of a schizophrenic breakdown when he broke Hitler’s rules and flew to England.
Let us consider the British foreign office spies, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.* Both showed several symptoms of imminent mental breakdown. It may be known to the reader that both these men left England in May, 1951, in order to go via France to Russia. Both deliberately fled the country. Both had Communist leanings during their student days at Cambridge but later renounced their adolescent affiliations. Both showed abnormal symptoms during their service. Maclean had a breakdown in May, 1950, due to overwork and excessive drinking; Burgess was reprimanded for reckless driving while in service and for neglect of his work. Reading through the report, one is surprised by the amount of mental instability which was tolerated at such a sensitive spot of the government. Both the men had homosexual leanings that can be related to a suppressed hostility for their mothers (and mother country).
Sometimes treason means a one-sided appeal to justice. This is found in the man who demands some sort of private protective justice and who refuses to acknowledge the subtle relationship between rights and duties. Such persons always feel continually deprived and betrayed. They are what Bergler calls the “injustice collectors:” In their acts of disloyalty they are seeking to play the role of their own private judges. Many querulous and even paranoiac persons have this kind of character structure.
Then there is the disappointed pseudo-idealist who gradually turns into a cynic, covering his emptiness by many self-justifications and exculpations. Such people betray their intellectual disappointment in all their debunking remarks.
Conflicts between parents may give rise in the child to the need to betray one or both parents, and this need may be transferred in later life to a need to betray the fatherland. I have often found that the unsolved ties of hate and love toward the parents play an important role in forming the turncoat personality. As we saw, this problem often lies at the root of the totalitarian character structure. Although the totalitarian-minded are not by definition overt traitors,
some of these people can easily become traitors to free, democratic ideals-either out of compulsive allegiance to a foreign ideology or out of repetitive nonconformism.
In describing special characteristics of a political group, one has to keep in mind that basic inner contrasts are inherent in all people. The quasi-rational Marxistic interpretation of the world, which satisfies the need for logical clarification and reasonable organization of social life, covers anxiety created by the irrational inner forces so easily detected in the totalitarian-minded. The cult of the “masses” often serves as a defense against loneliness. The belief in progress may be born out of vague despair and insecurity. The fear of deviationism is the fear that the unity of the group will be broken. Suspicion and self-criticism serve to keep, above all, the in-group together.
There are several forms of inner conceit that can turn man into a traitor. The Dutch philosopher of whom I spoke earlier is an example of this, as are any of the verbose ideological apologists for totalitarianism.
Lack of confidence or lack of belief in the guiding traditions and aims of one’s own society can also lead to hostility, then to treason. Without such traditional beliefs, suggestibility and receptivity for competing ideologies are increased. The Klaus Fuchs case, which was mentioned earlier, is an example of this.
The personal need to be a pioneer or a martyr, often instilled by the unconscious need to suffer, may lead to a private messianic delusion and cause an attack on the traditional values of the group. Many groups consider such extremism as treacherous behavior.
Another form of self-betrayal may be caused by the inability to grasp the complexity of the real world. Many people have been seduced into unstable behavior and even disloyalty through lack of comprehension of these complexities and through the need to find a single, all-embracing, easy answer to the problems of human life. Who gives them the simple myth to believe in? The Nazis seduced nearly all of Germany into a form of ideological treason in this way!
Treason may also be a paradoxical reaction to a deep-seated neurotic sense of guilt. The neurotic strategy of accumulating more guilt coupled with the consequent development of an inner need for punishment are often the basic causes of criminal action. The treacherous deed is done precisely in order to provoke punishment (Reik).
Treason may also be paid adventure as we find it in international espionage. This kind of life fascinates the immature mind which lives in the world of mystery stories and fairy tales. Bribes with women or money make such treason even more attractive. The enemy gratifies economic and sexual needs, and the traitor is willing to sell his integrity to the highest bidder.
Overt fear and panic can also cause treason. The whole psychology of totalitarian interview and interrogation is based on this principle. People can be frightened and brainwashed into treason.
The Development of Loyalty
From all this we can see that what we call treason takes place more in the emotional than in the intellectual sphere of functioning. In the course of human growth, everybody passes through periods of inner conflict in which he has to turn his love and allegiance from one person to another-from mother to father, from parents to the entire family, from the family to the state, and from the state to mankind. The core of the problem of treason and selfbetrayal is found in the difficulties which arise in the repression of former loyalties, as each loyalty is in turn superseded by the next.
Many people experience deep confusion in adolescence when, for the first time, they must leave the safe emotional protection of their homes and create new loyalties and new moral standards for themselves. It is in this period that the critical faculties are developed. In doubting the traditional truths passed on by his parents, each adolescent might be called a traitor; yet he is actually being true to the self he is shaping. During the crisis of adolescence, with its increased feelings of yearning for some unknown happiness, many young people want to “betray” their parental home and their parents’ standards. At the same time, they do not want to give up the protection the home offers.
Psychologically, we know, however, that temporary disloyalty is part of normal mental growth. In the process of individual human development, there are stages of progress which lead from initial submission to open rebellion and nonconformity. Every step toward mental maturity and independence involves the growing out of ties with the past. This growth can be effected in different ways, with more or less overt hostility and forsaking of the past, with self-betrayal and passive submission, with renewed submission to pay off feelings of guilt, with sworn conservativism or open rebellion. In this phase of adolescence he is especially vulnerable to totalitarian propaganda.
The youth may retain from the conflict of inner growth a sense of loneliness and guilt. If he puts it to productive use, he may become what we might call a creative revolutionary. The trail blazer, whose own inner forces drive him on to break with tradition, is such a man. Indeed, many of mankind’s great moral and spiritual leaders have been of this type. They have been leaders precisely because they broke either with rigid remnants of the past or with the ossified or immoral elements of the present. In my own experience, I have known one such man, a German psychiatrist, whose idealism and moral sense made it impossible for him to go along with the Nazi desecration of human values and who was hanged as a traitor for his part in the abortive German rebellion against Hitler in I944
In Praise of Nonconformity
What can be done in general to combat treason, disloyalty, and self-betrayal? In the first place, the child’s normal defensive attitude toward authority and his need to break away from it should be watched with favorable vigilance at all times on the part of parents and educators. It is all too easy to force a child into denial of the self. Many times, later disloyalty is a reaction to faulty handling of the problems of childhood. Most traitors are made, not born. Unfortunately, this truth is often forgotten by educators who may, as a result of their own frustrated aggressions, break down by force the feeling of great loyalty toward their own age group that we find among youngsters.
Is it possible to decide whether or not a person is dependable? Only when we have some insight into his hidden motives and drives and into the workings of his unconscious. For complete insight, psychoanalysis is necessary, but the way the unconscious expresses itself in character traits and character defenses can give us some very important indications. A person with excessive dependency needs or a weak ego, a person who is easily suggestible can usually be seduced into disloyalty. So can the boastful, inconsistent man, full of pride and vanity. Material egotism, desire for power, and continual hostility also lead to denial of moral values, among them loyalty.
As is often true in psychology, it is easier to say what character traits the dependable person must not have than to give a positive picture of what he should be like. In general, we can say that the person who is honest with himself and shows a minimum of selfdeceit, the man who exhibits a stable structure of character, the person with genuine maturity, is most true to himself, and, as a result, most loyal to others.
Nevertheless, the seeds of treason lie in each of us and may be fortified by environmental influences. In a totalitarian world, for example, everybody is educated in self-denial and self-betrayal; when a person becomes a nonconformist, the label “traitor” will be attached to him. In a world stifled by dogma and tradition, every form of original thinking may be called sedition and treason. In such cases the environmental, social, and political factors, and not the confusing inner processes, determine what is treason. In this chapter, however, I have emphasized the personal factors in producing treason-the influence of family and group prejudices, and the inner instability resulting from complications in the immediate environment. There are so many subtle fantasies of self-betrayal and secret aggression in everyone, and there is so much desire to revenge secret resentments, that any government may make use of these unhealthy neurotic feelings to stir up the country.
The Loyalty Compulsion
Recently Americans have been looking more critically at the concepts of loyalty and subversion. Deeply conscious of the cynical and ruthless nature of the totalitarian attack through subversion,we have begun to let our fear of subversion from within paralyze our democratic freedoms.
We have become so concerned over the specter of a treacherous fifth column in our own land that we have grown both overcautious and oversuspicious.*
* In his well-documented study on The German Fifth Column, the Dutch historian Dr. Louis de Jong could prove that Hitler’s dreaded network of treason and betrayal was for the greatest part an imaginary ogre created by the panic and fear of the people.
We require constant reassurance that the intentions of our neighbors and fellow citizens are acceptable and loyal. The danger in this frantic search for security operates both on the political and psychological levels. Politically, in trying to erect invulnerable barriers against the spread of totalitarian ideas, we may find that we have given up those very qualities that distinguish democracy from totalitarianism: freedom and diversity. Psychologically, we may find ourselves the victims of pathological suspicions (which can be clinically termed paranoia), and this suspiciousness may lead us to reject utterly the most valuable qualities we can have as human beings: tolerance and respect for our fellow men.
The political dangers in this situation have been pointed out time and time again by responsible leaders of the American community. As a psychiatrist, I should like to devote my attention to the psychological aspect of this problem and to the dangers to the free mind that are inherent in the current situation. For, as we have already seen, all political behavior is essentially an extension of individual behavior and is rooted in the psychology of the individuals who make up the political group.
Much of our collective suspicion can be attributed to a gigantic multiplication of personal feelings of insecurity. In times of fear and calamity arises the myth of a treacherous aggressor, the myth the totalitarians know so well how to exploit. Our own inner insecurity is displaced and projected onto our neighbors and our environment. We begin to doubt and distrust everyone. We accuse others because we are afraid of ourselves. We feel weak and cover our weakness by growing suspicion and by being continually on the lookout for possible traitors and dissenters.
As we have seen earlier, the whole question of loyalty is a complicated one. In our zeal to create guarantees of trustworthiness, we tend to oversimplify the problem, and thus we may overshoot the mark and become like our totalitarian antagonists, for whom over-simplification is a stock-in-trade. Asking people for a loyalty oath asking them to perform that magic ritual through which they forswear all past and future political sin-may have a paradoxical effect. Merely taking an oath does not make a man loyal, although it may later enable a judge to prosecute him for perjury. Our insistence on official expressions of allegiance actually discredits and devalues the basic personal sense of voluntary and self-chosen identification with the community which is the essence of loyalty; it certainly does not either create or insure loyalty. The loyalty oath too easily degenerates into an empty formula, and the man who takes it may forget completely the meaning it is supposed to have. To many it has become simply red tape, another one of those endless, troublesome forms that must be filled out.
The oath compulsion can easily grow into a childish magic strategy, a form of mental blackmail. There are some oriental religions in which devotions are performed through the use of a prayer wheel. When the wheel is set in motion by a flip of the hand, the worshipper has done his job. He need not recite any prayers; he need not think any devout thoughts. The practitioners of these religions no longer have any awareness of the content of their prayers. They are blind subscribers to a ritual whose meaning they have long since forgotten. Signing a loyalty oath can become as empty a gesture as turning the prayer wheel.
True loyalty is not a static thing; as we have already seen, it grows and develops with the personality. It has to be rediscovered and re-experienced every day, since it is, essentially, as a result of an inner battle of contending values that man finds his own particular values and loyalties. When a man is compelled to swear to his loyalty, even though he feels it already deeply within him, the compulsion from outside means that he must lay aside his personal right to weigh values and take counsel with his honest principles. It does not matter whether or not the oath is an expression of his true feelings, the element of enforcement that lies behind it has a psychologically weakening effect on the man who takes it. This may seem strange at first glance, but a simple analogy will make it clear. The man who truly loves his wife, for example, does not need repeatedly to swear to his love; he shows it in his actions. But if she insists on his swearing, her very insistence, implying as it does that she doubts him, may bring questions to her husband’s mind-and he begins to grow confused as to what he really thinks.
Both in demanding an oath and in taking it, we perpetuate the ridiculous illusion that enemies can be kept out through this prayerwheel system. The fact is that deliberate traitors and subversives are the very ones who are not afraid to disguise their motivations and hide their intentions behind prescribed formulations. Nor are they afraid of perjury charges. They feel no hesitation in signing an oath if it is opportune for them to do so. For them, words and oaths are only tools which have no binding moral value. More important than the demand for loyalty should be the demand for integrity, for steadiness of character, for maturity of aims and motivations.
Free man needs loyalty to the self first of all, and this implies the right to be himself. The man who feels that he is nothing, who feels that everyone, himself included, doubts him, who is inwardly weak, may become an easy prey to all kinds of totalitarian political influences. Loyalty hunts and loyalty oaths may provoke disloyalty to one’s personal integrity and to personal freedom, since they create suspicion in ourselves and in others. Freedom is kept upright by the very presence of opposition-even at the risk of nonconformism and scattered subversion.
Loyalty comes about as a result of mutual confidence; it cannot be created through compulsion. Any compulsion is, by its very nature, one-sided. Loyalty has to be deserved and won daily through mutual interaction, and through contact between leaders and citizens. Because it is based on confidence, loyalty is given spontaneously and of free will. True loyalty cannot be bought or demanded.
In investigating the case of the young American soldiers in Korea who were brainwashed and forgot too easily where their loyalty lay, we usually find in their backgrounds how disloyally one of their parents had behaved toward them. In nearly all the so-called pro-Communist cases we find a disturbed youth. It is important that the community investigate its initial loyalty toward these young men.
In a democratic state we should be prepared to adduce convincing facts in support of our own way of life or to develop new approaches which will reveal the weaknesses of any subversive system.
Prosecution of dissenting ideas, insistence on loyalty according to some prescribed formula-these make it impossible for us to do this and may be the beginning of an unwillingness to argue and persuade. They may even lead to a new form of betrayal, the subtle treason of intellectual detachment, the unwillingness to take responsibility, the treason of doubting relativism which leads to inaction. It may degenerate into a dangerous form of mental laziness which can easily be turned into a life of no commitments or into totalitarian submission. The approaches to truth are multifarious, and it is only where there is a clash of opinion that these approaches can be discovered and the right road to truth be found.
The danger in the loyalty compulsion is, then, that we may conceal mental apathy behind a rigid formula and thus lose sight of the constant need for psychological alertness and the real meaning of loyalty and a free way of life. The mechanical formula of a loyalty oath, because it checks moral alertness and a search for ethical clarification, may be the beginning of the thought control we all fear. True loyalty is a living, dynamic quality.
In the subtle choice between loyalty to people and loyalty to principles (usually a much vaguer feeling) the lawmaker has to leave the individual as free as possible, because the latter type of loyalty is based on the first. Without personal loyalty there is no national loyalty!
There is still another aspect to this problem. We must learn to distinguish between disloyalty in actions and disloyalty in feelings and thought. Subversion of opinion is never a crime. The right to dissent is the keystone of democracy. In a free state we must be willing to correct subversion by our better arguments. Persecuting dissenting ideas is a form of mental laziness. Psychologically speaking, a government cannot concern itself with conscious motivations (and the unconscious motivations which cannot be separated from them) of people because inwardly everybody has contrasting motivations. The quandary that such a government would provide itself is illustrated by the following quotation from the Oppenheimer hearing by the Gray board published in 1954.
We believe that it has been demonstrated that the Government can search its own soul and the soul of an individual whose relationship to his government is in question with full protection of the rights and interests of both. We believe that loyalty and security can be examined within the framework of the traditional and inviolable principles of American justice.
In these beautiful phrases lie hidden all the ominous beginnings of totalitarian thought control. The government that searches the soul of any thinking individual can always find a case against him, because doubt, ambivalence, and groping are traits common to all men. We cannot measure anybody’s dependability on the basis of his thoughts and feelings as they appear to us. In the first place, we can never know what lies behind a seemingly loyal facade. In the second place, the man whose search for truth leads him to explore many heretical points of view can be the most loyal in his actions. His very exploration may well lead him to the considered judgment that underlies true loyalty. What counts in any man is the consistency and integrity of his behavior, and his courage in taking a stand, not his conformity to official dogma.
And to state that the government can search its own soul is to state absolutely nothing. A government is, after all, merely a collection of individuals. Under the pressure of the loyalty compulsion, of the growing suspicion, these individuals themselves may not search their souls as honestly as they would in less hectic times or if they were acting as private individuals rather than as official representatives of the government. The man caught in official security rules is the prisoner of the anxiety and insecurity rampant in those who want to establish the delusion of certainty and security-a transgression of values!
As soon as the government starts to search the souls of its citizens, it begins to intrude on their rights and interests. It attacks democracy at home and weakens its position abroad. We cannot find the road to peace and fellowship with the rest of the world if we adopt dogmatic, intransigent positions and try to impose our orthodoxy on others. The hallmark of the totalitarian is his insistence that his is the only right way. If we are to maintain our position as the leader of the free world, we must always keep our minds open. Only in that way will we find new ways to peace.
We have seen now that the problem of treachery has to deal with the failure to understand our inner mental processes. Every betrayal is in the first place a self-betrayal, a disloyalty toward one’s own standards. When people silence their conscience and compromise for the sake of convenience, at that moment they begin to be disloyal to themselves. Passivity-assumed when our conscience should have forced us to act-is the most common form of self-betrayal. Inwardly a man may be furious because of some injustice he has witnessed, but outwardly he may do nothing about it-this behavior he feels inwardly is treason to the self and is often what makes him so touchy toward other people’s flaws. When the pattern of passivity is repeated, the individual continuously piles up more feelings of injustice and grows more and more resentful against society. Evasiveness and skillful dodging of issues of principle-these are among the most dangerous forms of self-betrayal in our time. They are dangerous because they lead unwittingly to the hypocrisy that puts power beyond ethical value.
It is dangerous to let personal grudges and discontent solidify into a permanent resentment against the whole of society. Parents and educators can forestall such difficulties through psychological insight by allowing each individual the freedom to criticize and attack-in a civilized, nondestructive way-the community to which he belongs. By helping to develop in the child the sense that he is responsible for his own views, subversive though they may temporarily appear, parents provide him with the opportunity to overcome his feelings of loneliness and ambivalence and his wish to do violence to those who influence him. Again, loyalty is a relationship-loyalty to family, friends, or country has to be deserved.
Loyalty is possible only when mutual mental aggression and hostility are allowed and tolerated within the limits of the law. This verbalized, sublimated, and civilized form of aggression presupposes fairness and good sportsmanship. It is the synthesis and conquest of rebellion and subversion. However paradoxical it may sound, democracy is founded on the mutual loyalty of politically opposed groups! You cannot doubt the good motives and intentions of your opponent without undermining the basis for cooperation and successful government. It is most undemocratic to impute disloyalty to the opposition party. History shows that only where there is opportunity to confront and integrate opposing ideas can man eradicate that form of psychological imbalance which gradually turns into a disloyalty to oneself and to the community. Fear of subversion and opposition is often fear of ideas, fear of being identified with certain unacceptable ideas, the fear of betrayal of the hidden part of oneself. Fear of treason will exist as long as loyal opposition is a crime.
Democracy is nonconformity; it is mutual loyalty, even when we have to attack one another’s ideas-ideas, which, because they are always human, are always incomplete.
*Text of Britain’s “Report on Inquiry,” The New York Times, September 24, 1955; Time, October 3, 1955.