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)
PART TWO: THE TECHNIQUES OF MASS SUBMISSION
The purpose of the second part of this book is to show various aspects of political and non-political strategy used to change the feelings and thoughts of the masses, starting with simple advertising and propaganda, then surveying psychological warfare and actual cold war, and going on to examine the means used for internal streamlining of man’s thoughts and behavior. Part Two ends with an intricate exmination of how one of the tools of emotional fascination and attack — the weapon of fear — is used and what reactions it arouses in men.
CHAPTER FIVE – THE COLD WAR AGAINST THE MIND
Only blind wishful thinking can permit us to believe that our own society is free from the insidious influences mentioned in Part One. The fact is that they exist all around us, both on a political and a nonpolitical level and they become as dangerous to the free way of life as are the aggressive totalitarian governments themselves.
Every culture institutionalizes certain forms of behavior that communicate and encourage certain forms of thinking and acting, thus molding the character of its citizens. To the degree that the individual is made an object of constant mental manipulation, to the degree that cultural institutions may tend to weaken intellectual and spiritual strength, to the degree that knowledge of the mind is used to tame and condition people instead of educating them, to that degree does the culture itself produce men and women who are predisposed to accept an authoritarian way of life. The man who has no mind of his own can easily become the pawn of a would-be dictator.
It is often disturbing to see how even intelligent people do not have straightthinking minds of their own. The pattern of the mind, whether toward conformity and compliance or otherwise, is conditioned rather early in life.
In his important social psychological experiments with students, Asch found out in simple tests that there was a yielding toward an ERRING MAJORITY opinion in more than a third of his test persons, and 75 percent of subjects experimented upon agreed with the majority in varying degrees. In many persons the weight of authority is more important than the quality of the authority.
If we are to learn to protect our mental integrity on all levels, we must examine not only those aspects of contemporary culture which have to do directly with the struggle for power, but also those developments in our culture which, by dulling the edge of our mental awareness or by taking advantage of our suggestibility, can lead us into the mental death — or boredom — of totalitarianism. Continual suggestion and slow hypnosis in the wake of mechanical mass communication promotes uniformity of the mind and may lure the public into the “happy era” of adjustment, integration, and equalization, in which individual opinion is completely stereotyped.
When I get up in the morning, I turn on my radio to hear the news and the weather forecast. Then comes the pontifical voice teling me to take aspirin for my headache. I have “headaches” occasionally (so does the world), and my headaches, like everyone else’s, come from the many conflicts that life imposes on me. My radio tells me not to think about either the conflicts or the headaches. It suggests, instead, that I should retreat into that old magic action of swallowing a pill. Although I laugh as I listen to this long-distance prescription by a broadcaster who does not know anything about me or my headaches and though I meditate for a moment on man’s servility to the magic of chemistry, my hand has already begun to reach out for the aspirin botle. After all, I do have a headache.
It is extremely difficult to escape the mechanically repeated suggestions of everyday life. Even when our critical mind rejects them, they seduce us into doing what our intellect tells us is stupid.
The mechanization of modern life has already influenced man to become more pssive and to adjust himself to ready-made conformity. No longer does man think in personal values, following more his own conscience and ethical evaluations; he thinks more and more in the values brought to him by mass media. Headlines in the morning paper give him his temporary political outlook, the radio blasts suggestions into his ears, television keeps him in continual awe and passive fixation. Consciously he may protest against these anonymous voices, but nevertheless their suggestions ooze into his system.
What is perhaps most shocking about these influences is that many of them have developed not out of man’s destructiveness, but out of his hope to improve his world and to make life richer and deeper. The very institutions man has created to help himself, the very tools he has invented to enhance his life, the very progress he has made toward mastery of himself and his environment — all can become weapons of destruction.
The Public-Opinion Engineers
The conviction is steadily growing in our country that an elaborate propaganda campaign for either a political idea or a deep-freeze can be sucessful in selling the public any idea or object one wants them to buy, any politial figure one wants them to elect. Recently, some of our election campaigns have been masterminded by the so-called public-opinion engineers, who have used all the techniques of modern mass communication and all the contemporary knowledge of the human mind to persuade Americans to vote for the candidate who is paying the public-relation men’s salaries. The danger of such high-pressure advertising is that the man or the party who can pay the most can become, temporarily at least, the one who can influence the people to buy or to vote for what may not be in their real interest.
The specialists in the art of persuasion and the molding of public sentiment may try to knead man’s mental dough with all the tools of communication available to them: pamphlets, speeches, posters, billboards, radio programs, and T.V. shows. They may water down the spontaneity and creativity of thoughts and ideas into sterile and streamlined cliches that direct our thoughts even although we still have the illusion of being original and individual.
What we call the will of the people, or the will of the masses, we only get to know after such collective action is put on the move, after the will of the people has been expressed either at the polls or in fury and rebellion. This indicates again how important it is who directs the tools and machines of public opinion.
In the wake of such advertising and engineering of consent, the citizen’s trust in his leaders may become shaken and the populace may gradually grow more and more accustomed to official deceit. Finally, when people no longer have confidence in any program, any position, and when they are unable to form intelligent judgments any more, they can be more easily influenced by any demagogue or would-be dictator, whose strength appeals to their confusion and their growing sense of dissatisfaction. Perhaps the worst aspect of this slick mechandising of ideas is that too often even those who buy the experts, and even the opinion experts themselves, are unaware of what they are doing. They too are swayed by the current catchword “management of public opinion,” and they cannot judge any more the tools they have hired.
The end never justifies the means; enough steps on this raod can lead us gradually to Totalitaria.
At this very moment in our country, an elaborate research into motivation is going on, whose object is to find out why and what the buyer likes to buy. What makes him tick? The aim is to bypass the resistance barriers of the buying public. It is part of our paradoxical cultural philosophy to stimulate human needs and to stimulate the wants of the people. Commercialized psychological understanding wants to sell to the pbulic, to the potential buyer, many more products than he really wants to buy. In order to do this, rather infantile impulses have to be awakened, such as sibling rivalry and neighbor envy, the need to have more and more sweets, the glamour of colors, and the need for more and more luxuries.
The commercial psychologist teaches the seller how to avoid unpleasant associations in his advertising, how to stimulate, unobtrusively, sex associations, how to make everything look simple and happy and successful and secure! He teaches the shops how to boost the buyer’s ego, how to flatter the customer.
The marketing engineers have discovered that our public wants the suggestion of strength and virility in their product. A car must have more horse-power in order to balance feelings of inner weakness in the owner. A car must represent one’s social status and reputation, because without such a flag man feels empty. Advertising agencies dream of “universitas advertensis,” the world of glittering sham ideas, the glorification of “munus vult decipi,” the intensification of snob appeal, the expression of vulgar conspicuousness, and all this in order to push more sales into the greedy mouths of buying babies. In our world of advertising, artificial needs are invented by sedulous sellers and buyers. Here lies the threat of building up a sham world that can have a dangerous influence on our world of ideas.
This situation emphasizes the neurotic greed of the public, the need to indulge in private fancies at the cost of an awareness of real values. The public becomes conditioned to meretricious values. Of course, a free public gradually finds its defenses against slogans, but dishonesty and mistrust slip through the barriers of our consciousness and leave behind a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction. After all, advertising symbolizes the art of making people dissatisfied with what they have. In the meantime it is evident man sustains a continual sneak attack on his better judgment.
In our epoch of too many noises and many frustrations, many “free” minds have given up the struggle for decency and individuality. They surrender to the “Zeitgeist,” often without being aware of it. Public opinion molds our critical thoughts every day. Unknowingly, we may become opinionated robots. The slow coercion of hypocrisy, of traditions in our culture that have a leveling effect — these things change us. We crave excitement, hair-raising stories, sensation. We search for situations that create superficial fear to cover up inner anxieties. We like to escape into the irrational because we dislike the challenge of self-study and self-thinking. Our leisure time is occupied increasingly by automatized activities in which we take no part: listening to piped-in words and viewing television sreens. We hurry along with cars and go to bed with a sleeping pill. This pattern of living in turn may open the way for renewed sneak attacks on our mind. Our boredom may welcome any seductive suggestion.
Psychological Warfare as a Weapon of Terror
Every human communication can be either a report of straight facts or an attempt to suggest things and situations as they do not exist. Such distortion and perversion of facts strike at the core of human communication. The verbal battle against man’s concept of truth and against his mind seems to be ceaseless. For example, if I can instill in eventual future enemies fear and terror and the suggestion of impending defeat, even before they are willing to fight, my battle is already half won.
The strategy of man to use a frightening mask and a loud voice to utter lies in order to manipulate friend and foe is as old as mankind. Primitive people used terror-provoking masks, magic fascination, or self-deceit as much as we use loudly spoken words to convince others or ourselves. They use their magic paints and we our ideologies. Truly, we live in an age of ads, propaganda, and publicity. But only under dictatorial and totalitarian regimes have such human habit formations mushroomed into systematic psychologial assault on mankind.
The weapons the dictator uses against his own people, he may use against the outside world as well. For example, the false confessions that divert the minds of dictator’s subjects from their own real problems have still another effect: they are meant (and sometimes they succeed in their aim) to terrorize the world’s public. By strengthening the myth of the dictator’s omnipotence, such confessions weaken man’s will to resist him. If a period of peace can be used to soften up a future enemy, the totalitarian armies may be able in time of war to win a cheap and easy victory. Totalitarian psychological warfare is directed largely toward this end. It is an effort to propagandize and hypnotize the world into submission.
As far back as the early nineteenth century, Napoleon organized his Bureau de l’Opinion Publique in order to influence the thinking of the French people. But it fell to the Germans to develop the manipulation of public opinion into a huge, wellorganized machine. Their psychological warfare became aggressive strategy in peacetime, the so-called war between wars. It was as a result of the Nazi attack on European morale and the Nazi war of nerves against their neighbors that the other nations of the world began to organize their own psychological forces, but it was only in the second half of the war that they were able to achieve some measure of success. Ther Germans had a long head start.
Hitler’s psychological artillery was composed primarily of the weapion of fear. He had, for example, a network of fifth columnists whose main job was to sow rumors and suspicions among the citizens of the countries against which he eventually planned to fight. The people were upset not only by the spy system itself, but by the very rumor of spies. These fifth columnists spread slogans of defeat and political confusion: “Why should France die for England?” Fear began to direct people’s actions. Instead of facing the real threat of German invasion, instead of preparing for it, all of Europe shuddered at spie stories, discussed irrelevant problems, argued endlessly about scapegoats and minorities. Thus Hitler used the rampant, vague fears to becloud the real issues, and by attacking his enemies’ will to fight, weakened them.
Not content with this strategic attack on the will to defend oneself, Hitler tried to paralyze Europe with the threat of terror, not only the threat of bombing, destruction, and occupation, but also the psychological threat implicit in his own boast of ruthlessness. The fear of an implacable foe makes man more willing to submit even before he has begun to fight. Hitler’s criminal acts at home — the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the mass murders, the atmosphere of terror throughout Germany — were as useful in the service of his fear-instilling propaganda machinery as they were a part of his delusions.
There is another important weapon the totalitarians use in their campaign to frighten the world into submission. This is the weapon of psychological shock. Hitler kept his enemies in a state of constant confusion and diplomatic upheaval. They never knew what this unpredictable madman was going to do next. Hitler was never logical, beause he knew that that was what he was expected to be. Logic can be met with logic, while illogic cannot — it confuses those who think straight. The Big Lie and monotonously repeated nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason. While the enemy is stil searching for a reasonable counter-argument to the first lie, the totalitarians can assault him with another.
Strategical mental shocks were the instruments the Nazis used when they entered the Rhineland in 1936 and when they concluded their nonaggression pact with Russia in 1939. Stalin used the same strategy at the time of the Korean invasion in 1950 (which he directed), as did the Chinese and the North Koreans when they accused the United States of bacteriological warfare. By acting in this apparently irrational way, the totalitarians throw their logic-minded enemies into confusion. The enemy feels compelled to deny the propagandistic lies or to explain things as they really are, and these actions immediately put him in the weaker defensive position. For the galloping lie can never be overtaken, it can only be overthrown.
The technique of psychological shock has still another effect. It may so confuse the mind of the individual citizen that he ceases to make his own evaluations and begins to lean passively on the opinions of others. Hitler’s destruction of Warsaw and Rotterdam — after the armistice in 1940, a complete violation of international law — immobilized France and shook the other democratic nations. Being in a paralysis of moral indignation, they became psychologically ill-equipped to deal with the Nazi horrors.
Just as the technological advances of the modern world have refined and perfected the weapons of physical warfare, so the advance in man’s understanding of the manipulaton of public opinion have enabled him to refine and perfect the weapons of psychological warfare.
The Indoctrination Barrage
The continual intrusion into our minds of the hammering noises of arguments and propaganda can lead to two kinds of reactions. It may lead to apathy and indifference, the I-don’t-care reaction, or to a more intensified desire to study and to understand. Unfortunately, the first reaction is the more popular one. The flight from study and awareness is much too common in a world that throws too many confusing pictures to the individual. For the sake of our democracy, based on freedom and individualism, we have to bring ourselves back to study again and again. Otherwise, we can become easy victims of a well-planned verbal attack on our minds and consciences.
We cannot be enough aware of the continual coercion of our senses and minds, the continual suggestive attacks which may pass through the intellectual barriers of insight. Repetition and Pavlovian conditioning exhaust the individual and may seduce him ultimately to accept a truth he himself initially defied and scorned.
The totalitarians are very ingenious in arousing latent guilt in us by repeating over and over again how criminally the Western world has acted toward innocent and peaceful people. The totalitarians may attack our identification with our leaders by ridiculing them, making use of every man’s latent critical attitude toward all leaders. Sometimes they use the strategy of boredom to lull the people to sleep. They would like the entire Western world to fall into a hypnotic sleep under the illusion of peaceful coexistence. In a more refined strategy, they would like to have us cut all our ties of loyalty with the past, away from relatives and parents. The more you have forsaken them and their so-called outmoded concepts, the better you will cooperate with those who want to take mental possession of you. Every political strategy that aims toward arousing fear and suspicion tends to isolate the insecure individual until he surrenders to those forces that seem to him stronger than his former friends.
And last but not least, let us not forget that in the battle of arguments those with the best and most forceful strategy tend to win. The totalitarians organize intensive dialectical training for their subjects lest their doubts get the better of them. They try to do the same thing to the rest of the world in a less obtrusive way.
We have to learn to encounter the totalitarians’ exhausting barrage of words with better training and better understanding. If we try to escape from these problems of mental defense or deny their complications, the cold war will gradually be lost to the slow encroachment of words — and more words.
The Enigma of Coexistence
Is it possible to coexist with a totalitarian system that never ceases to use its psychological artillery? Can a free democracy be strong enough to tolerate the parasitic intrusion of totalitarianism into its rights and freedoms? History tells us that many opposing and clashing ideologies have been able to coexist under a common law that assured tolerance and justice. The church no longer burns its apostates.
Before the opposites of totalitarianism and free democracy can coexist under the umbrella of supervising law and mutual good will, a great deal more of mutual understanding and tolerance wil have to be built up. The actual cold war and psychological warfare certainly do not yet help toward this end.
To the totalitarian, the word “coexistence” has a different meaning than it has to us. The totalitarian may use it merely as a catch-word or an appeaser. The danger is that the concept of peaceful coexistence may become a disguise, dulling the awareness of inevitable interactions and so profiting the psychologically stronger party. Lenin spoke about the strategic breathing spell (peredyshka) that has to weaken the enemy. Too enthusiastic a peace movement may mean a superficial appeasement of problems. Such an appeal has to be studied and restudied, lest it result in a dangerous letdown of defenses which have to remain mobilized to face a ruthless enemy.
Coexistence may mean a suffocating subordination much like that of prisoners coexisting with their jailers. At its best, it may imitate the intensive symbiotic or ever-parasitic relationship we can see among animals which need each other, or as we see it in the infant in its years of dependency upon its mother.
In order to coexist and to cooperate, one must have notions and comparable images of interaction, of a sameness of ideas, of a belonging-together, of an interdependence of the whole human race, in spite of the existence of racial and cultural differences. Otherwise the ideology backed by the greater military strength will strangle the weaker one.
Peaceful coexistence presupposes on BOTH sides a high understanding of the problems and complications of simple coexistence, of mutual agreement and limitations, of the diversity of personalities, and especially of the coexistence of contrasting and irreconcilable thoughts and feelings in every individual of the innate ambivalence of man. It demands an understanding of the rights of both the individual and the collectivity. Using coexistence as a catch-word, we may obscure the problems involved, and we may find that we use the word as a flag that covers gradual surrender to the stronger strategist.
CHAPTER SIX – TOTALITARIA AND ITS DICTATORSHIP
There actually exists such a thing as a technique of mass brainwashing. This technique can take root in a country if an inquisitor is strong and shrewd enough. He can make most of us his victims, albeit temporarily.
What in the structure of society has made man so vulnerable to these mass manipulations of the mind? This is a problem with tremendous implications, just as brainwashing is. In recent years we have grown more and more aware of human interdependence with all its difficulties and complications.
I am aware of the fact that investigation of the subject of mental coercion and thought control becomes less pleasant as time goes on. This is so because it may become more of a threat to us here and now, and our concern for China and Korea must yield to the more immediate needs at our own door. Can totalitarian tendencies take over here, and what social symptoms may lead to such phenomena? Stern reality confronts us with the universal mental battle between thought control (and its corollaries) and our standards of decency, personal strength, personal ideas, and a personal conscience with autonomy and dignity.
Future social scientists will be better able to describe the causes of the advent of totalitarian thinking and acting in man. We know that after wars and revolutions this mental deterioration more easily finds an opportunity to develop, helped by special psychopathic personalities who flourish on man’s misery and confusion. It is also true that the next generation spontaneously begins to corect the misdeeds of the previous one because the ruthless system has become too threatening to them.
My task, however, is to describe some symptoms of the totalitarian process (which implies deterioration of thinking and acting) as I have observed them in our own epoch, keeping in mind that the system is one of the most violent distortions of man’s consistent mental growth. No brainwashing is possible without totalitarian thinking.
The tragic facts of political experiences in our age make it all too clear that applied psychological technique can brainwash entire nations and reduce their citizens to a kind of mindless robotism which becomes for them a normal way of living. Perhaps we can best understand how this frightening thing comes about by examining a mythical country, which, for the sake of convenience, we shall call Totalitaria.
The Robotization of Man
First, let me utter a word of caution. We must not make the mistake of thinking that there is any one particular nation that can be completely identified with this hypothetical land. The characteristics to be discussed can come into existence here. Some of Totalitaria’s characteristics were, of course, present in Nazi Germany, and they can today be found behind the Iron Curtain, but they exist to some extent in other parts of the world as well. Totalitaria is any country in which political ideas degenerate into senseless formulations made only for propaganda purposes. It is any country in which a single group — left or right — acquires absolute power and becomes omniscient and omnipotent, any country in which disagreement and differences of opinion are crimes, in which utter conformity is the price of life.
Totalitaria — the Leviathan state — is the home of the political system we call, euphemistically, totalitarianism, of which systematized tyranny is a part. This system does not derive from any honest political philosophy, either socialist or capitalist. Totalitaria’s leaders may mouth ideologies, but these are in fact mainly catch-words used to justify the regime. If necessary, totalitarianism can change its slogans and its behavior overnight. For totalitarianism embodies, to me, the quest for total power, the quest of a dictator to rule the world. The words and concepts of “socialism” and “communism” may serve, like “democracy,” as a disguise for the megalomaniac intention of the tyrant.
Since totalitarianism is essentially the social manifestation of a psychological phenomenon belonging to every personality, it can best be understood in terms of the human forces that create, foster, and perpetuate it. Man has two faces; he wants to grow toward maturity and freedom, and yet the primitive child in his unconscious yearns for more complete protection and irresponsibility. His mature self learns how to cope with the restrictions and frustrations of daily life, but at the same time, the child in him longs to hit out against them, to beat them down, to destroy them — whether they be objects or people.
Totalitarianism appeals to this confused infant in all of us; it seems to offer a solution to the problems man’s double yearning creates. Our mythical Totalitaria is a monolithic and absolute state in which doubt, confusion, and conflict are not permitted to be shown, for the dictator purports to solve all his subjects’ problems for them. In addition, Totalitaria can provide official sanction for the expression of man’s most antisocial impulses. The uncivilized child hidden in us may welcome this liberation from ethical frustration.
On the other hand, our free, mature, social selves cannot be happy in Totalitaria; they revolt against the restriction of individual impulses.
The psychological roots of totalitarianism are usually irrational, destructive, and primitive, though disguised behind some ideology, and for this reason there is something fantastic, unbelievable, even nightmarish about the system itself. There is, of course, a difference in the psychic experience of the elite, who can live out their needs for power, and the masses, who have to submit; yet the two groups influence each other.
When a dictator’s deep neurotic needs for power also satisfy some profound emotional need in the population of his country, especially in times of misery or after a revolution, he is more easily able to assume the power for which he longs. If a nation has suffered defeat in war, for example, its citizens feel shame and resentment. Loss of face is not simply a political abstraction, it is a very real and personal thing to a conquered people. Every man, consciously or unconsciously, identifies with his native land. If a country suffers from prolonged famine or severe depression, its citizens become bitter, depressed, and resentful, and will more willingly accept the visions and promises of the aspiring dictator.
If the complexity of a country’s political and economic apparatus makes the individual citizen feel powerless, confused, and useless, if he has no sense of participation in the forces that govern his daily life, or if he feels these forces to be so vast and confusing that he can no longer understnad them, he will grasp at the totalitarian opportunity for belonging, for participation, for a simple formula that explains and rationalizes what is beyond his comprehension. And when the dictator has taken over finally, he transfers his own abnormal fantasies, his rage and anger, easily to his subjects. Their resentments feed his; his pseudo-strength encourages them. A mutual fortification of illusions takes place.
Totalitarianism as a social manifestation is a disease of inter-human relations, and, like any other disease, man can best resist its corroding effects if, through knowledge and training, he is well immunized against it. If, however, he is unfortunate enough to catch the totalitarian bug, he has to muster all the positive forces in his mind to defeat it. The raging internal struggle between the irresponsible child and the mature adult in him continues until one or the other is finally destroyed completely. As long as a single spark of either remains, the battle goes on. And for as long as man is alive, the quest for maturity keeps on.
Cultural Predilection for Totalitarianism
In the battle against this dread disease, social factors as well as personal ones play an important role. We can see this more clearly if we analyze the ways in which the ideals of a culture as a whole affect its citizens’ vulnerability to totalitarianism. The ethics of our own Western civlization are our strongest defenses against the disease, for the ideal of these ehtics is to produce a breed of men and women who are strongly individualistic and who evaluate situations primarily in terms of their own consciences.
We aim to develop in our citizens a sense of self-responsibility, a willingness to confront the world as it is, and an ability to distinguish between right and wrong through their own feelings and thoughts. Such men and women are impelled to action by their personal moral standards rather than by what some outside group sets up as correct. They are unwilling to accept group evaluations immediately unless these coincide with their own personal convictions, or unless they have been able to discuss them in a democratic way. People like this are responsible to their communities because they are first responsible to themselves. If they disagree, they will form a “loyal minority”, using their rights of convincing other people at appropriate times.
There are other cultures which emphasize attitudes and values that are different from these. The Eastern ideal of man, as we find it in China and some of the other Oriental countries, is in the first place that one “oneness”, of being one with the family, one with the fatherland, one with the cosmos — nirvana. The Oriental psyche looks for a direct esthetic contact with reality through an indefinable empathy and intuition. Eternal truth is behind reality, behind the veil of Maya. Man is part of the universe; his ideal is passive servility and nonirritability. His ideal of peace lies in rest and relaxation, in meditation, in being without manual and mental travail. The happiness of the Oriental psyche lies in the ecstasy of feeling united with the universal cosmos. Ascesis, self-redemption, and poverty are better realized ideals in Oriental culture than in our Western society.
The classic Oriental culture pattern can best be described as a pattern of participation. In it the individual is looked upon as an integral part of the group, the family, the caste, the nation. He is not a separate, independent entity. In this culture, greater conformity to and acceptance of the collective rules are the ideals. An Oriental child may be trained from infancy into a pattern of submission to authority and to rules of the group. Many primitive cultures also display this pattern. To a person raised in these cultures, the most acceptable standards, the best conceivable thoughts and actions, are those sanctioned by the group. The totalitarian world of mass actions and mass thoughts is far more comprehensible to the members of a participation-patterned and less individual-minded culture than it is to Western individualists. What is to us unbearable regimentation and authoritarianism may be to them comforting order and regularity.
An example of an intensified pattern of participation and thought control and mutual spying has been given by the anthropologist E. P. Dozier. [See the “New York Times”, December 11, 1955; and “Science News Letter”, December 3, 1955.] The Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande area believe that wrongdoing or wrong thinking of one man in the tribe affects all members. He may upset the cosmic balance by ill feeling toward any one of his fellow men. The moral code of the village is group-centered. The individual who transgresses this jeopardizes the well-being of all. Epidemics, crop failures, droughts are interpreted as a result of “deviationism” of one member of the group. Village members are closely watched and spied on in order to discover the culprit or “witch.” Gossip and accusations of witchcraft are rampant, and the Pueblo Indian is constantly searching in his own conscience for harmful thoughts and attitudes. It is as if we watch the ritual of the purge in the totalitarian state.
Such forms of “creeping collectivism” and participation we may see in every group formation where tolerance for nonconformism ceases to exist. Wherever dogmatic partisanshp dominates, the mind is coerced. We may even detect such encroaching tendencies in some scientific circles where there exists an overemphasis on group research, teamwork, membership cards, and a disdain for individual opinion.
The culture into which a man is born and his own psychological constitution interact to produce his personality in much the same way as his body and mind interact to produce his behavior. Our culture of individual freedom may offer us a partial immunity to the disease of totalitarianism, but at the same time our personal immaturities and repressed savageries can make us vulnerable to it. The participation type of culture may make men more susceptible in general to totalitarianism, although personal strivings toward maturity and individuality can offer them, too, some measure of protection against it.
Because of the interaction between these social and personal forces, no culture is completely safe from internal attack by totalitarianism and from the mental destruction it may create. As I said before, our Totalitaria is a mythical country, but the brutal truth is that any country can be turned into Totalitaria.
The aims of the rulers of our fictitious country are simply formulated: despotism, the total domination of man and mankind, and the unity of the entire world under one dictatorial authority. At first glance, this idea of unity can be most attractive — the idea, oversimplified, of a brotherhood unity of nations under a central powerful agency. When the world is one, it would seem, there will be no more war, the tensions that face us will be eliminated, earth will become a paradise. But the simplified conception of a universal dictatorship is false and reflects the danger inherent in the totalitarian goal: all men are different, and it is the difference between them that creates the greatness, the variety, and the creative inspirations of life, as well as the tensions of social intercourse. The totalitarian conception of equalization can be realized ony in death, when the chemical and physical laws that govern all of us take over completely. Death is indeed the great equalizer.
In life, all of us are different. Our bodies and minds interact with one another and with the outside world in different ways. Each man’s personality is unique. True, all of us share certain basic human qualities with all the other members of the human race, but the differences in personality are also so many and so varied that no two men anywhere in the world or ever in all of human history can be said to be exactly alike. This uniqueness is as true of the citizen of Totalitaria as it is of anyone else. As a human being, he is not only different from us, he is different from his compatriots. However, to create man in the totalitarian image through leveling and equalization means to suppress what is essentially personal and human in him, the uniqueness and the variety, and to create a society of robots, not men.
The noted social scientist, J. S. Brunner, in his introduction to Bauer’s book on Soviet psychology has expressed this thought in a different way: “Man’s image of the nature of man is not only a matter for objective inquiry; it is and has always been a prime instrument of social and political control. He who molds that image does so with enormous consequences for the society in which he lives.”
Totalitaria fosters the illusion that everyone is part of the government, a voter; no one can be a non-voter or anti-voter. His inner pros and cons and doubts are not private problems of the individual himself any more; his thoughts belong to the state, the dictator, the ruling circle, the Party. His inner thoughts have to be controlled. Only those in power know what really lies behind national policy. The ordinary citizen becomes as dependent and obedient as a child. In exchange for giving up his individuality, he obtains some special gratifications: the feeling of belonging and of being protected, the sense of relief over losing his personal boundaries and responsibilities, the ecstasy of being taken up and absorbed in wild, uncontrolled collective feelings, the safety of being anonymous, of being merely a cog in the wheel of the all-powerful state.
The despotism of modern Totalitaria is very different from the lush, exotic personal tyrannies of ancient times. It is an ascetic, cold, mechanical force, aiming at what Hanna Ahrendt calls the “transformation of human nature itself.” In our theoretical country, man has no individual ego any longer, no personality, no self. A leveling system is at work, and everything above the common level is trampled on and beaten down.
The Totalitarian Leader
The leaders of Totalitaria are the strangest men in the state. These men are, like all other men, unique in their mental structure, and consequently we cannot make any blanket psychiatric diagnosis of the mental illness which motivates their behvavior. But we can make some generalizations which will help us toward some understanding of the totalitarian leader. Obviously, for example, he suffers from an overwhelming need to control other human beings and to exert unlimited power, and this in itself is a psychological aberration, often rooted in deep-seated feelings of anxiety, humiliation, and inferiority. The ideologies such men propound are only used as tactical and strategical devices through which they hope to reach their final goal of complete domination over other men. This domination may help them compensate for pathological fears and feelings of unworthiness, as we can conclude from the psychological study of some modern dictators.
Fortunately, we do not have to rely on a purely hypothetical picture of the psychopathology of the totalitarian dictator. Dr. G. M. Gilbert, who studied some of the leaders of Nazi Germany during the Nuremberg trials, has given us a useful insight into their twisted minds, useful especially because it reveals to us something about the mutual interaction between the totalitarian leader and those who want to be led by him.
Hitler’s suicide made a clinical investigation of his character structure impossible, but Dr. Gilbert heard many eyewitness reports of Hitler’s behavior from his friends and collaborators, and these present a fantastic picture of Nazism’s prime mover. Hitler was known among his intimates as the carpet-eater, because he often threw himself on the floor in a kicking and screaming fit like an epileptic rage. From such reports, Dr. Gilbert was able to deduce something about the roots of the pathological behavior displayed by this morbid “genius.”
Hitler’s paranoid hostility against the Jew was partly related to his unresolved parental conflicts; the Jews probably symbolized for him the hated drunken father who mistreated Hitler and his mother when the future Fuhrer was still a child. Hitler’s obssessive thinking, his furious fanaticism, his insistence on maintaining the purity of “Aryan blood,” and his ultimate mania to destroy himself and the world were obviously the results of a sick psyche.
As early as 1923, nearly ten years before he seized power, Hitler was convinced that he would one day rule the world, and he spent time designing monuments of victory, eternalizing his glory, to be erected all over the European continent when the day of victory arrived. This delusional preoccupation continued until the end of his life; in the midst of the war he created, which led him to defeat and death, Hitler continued revising and improving his architectural plans.
Nazi dictator Number Two, Hermann Goering, who committed suicide to excape the hangman, had a different psychological structure. His pathologically aggressive drivers were encouraged by the archaic military tradition of the German Junker class, to which his family belonged. From early childhood he had been compulsively and overtly aggressive. He was an autocratic and a corrupt cynic, grasping the Nazi-created opportunity to achieve purely personal gain. His contempt for the “common people” was unbounded; this was a man who had literally no sense of moral values.
Quite different again was Rudolf Hess, the man of passive yet fanatical doglike devotion, living, as it were, by proxy through the mind of his Fuhrer. His inner mental weakness made it easier for him to live through means of a proxy than through his own personality, and drove him to become the shadow of a seemingly strong man, from whom he could borrow strength. The Nazi ideology have this frustrated boy the illusion of blood identification with the glorious German race. After his wild flight to England, Hess showed obvious psychotic traits; his delusions of perseuction, hysterical attacks, and periods of amnesia are among the well-known clinical symtoms of schizophrenia.
Still another type was Hans Frank, the devil’s advocate, the prototype of the overambitious latent homosexual, easily seduced into political adventure, even when this was in conflict with the remnants of his conscience. For unlike Goering, Frank was capable of distinguishing between right and wrong.
Dr. Gilbert also tells us something about General Wilhelm Keitel, Hitler’s Chief of Staff, who became the submissive, automatic mouthpiece of the Fuhrer, mixing military honor and personal ambition in the service of his own unimportance.
Of a different quality is the S.S. Colonel, Hoess, the murderer of millions in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. A pathological character structure is obvious in this case. All his life, Hoess had been a lonely, withdrawn, schizoid personality, without any conscience, wallowing in his own hostile and destructive fantasies. Alone and bereft of human attachments, he was intuitively sought out by Himmler for this most savage of all the Nazi jobs. He was a useful instrument for the committing of the most bestial deeds.
Unfortunately, we have no clear psychiatric picture yet of the Russian dictator Stalin. There have been several reports that during the last years of his life he had a tremendous persecution phobia and lived in contant terror that he would become the victim of his own purges.
Psychological analysis of these men shows clearly that a pathological culture — a mad world — can be built by certain impressive psychoneurotic types. The venal political figures need not even comprehend the social and political consequences of their behavior. They are compelled not by ideological belief, no matter how much they may rationalize to convince themselves they are, but by the distortions of their own personalities. They are not motivated by their advertised urge to serve their country or mankind, but rather by an overwhelming need and compulsion to satisfy the cravings of their own pathological character structures.
The ideologies they spout are not real goals; they are the cynical devices by which these sick men hope to achieve some personal sense of worth and power. Subtle inner lies seduce them into going from bad to worse. Defensive self-deception, arrested insight, evasion of emotional identification with others, degradation of empathy — the mind has many defense mechanisms with which to blind the conscience.
A clear example of this can be seen in the way the Nazi leaders defended themselves through continuous self-justification and exculpation when they were brought before the bar at the Nuremberg trials. These murderers were aggrieved and hurt by the accusations brought against them; they were the very picture of injured innocence.
Any form of leadership, if unchecked by controls, may gradually turn into dictatorship. Being a leader, carrying great power and responsibility for other people’s lives, is a monumental test for the human psyche. The weak leader is the man who cannot meet it, who simply abdicates his responsibility. The dictator is the man who replaces the existing standards of justice and morality by more and more private prestige, by more and more power, and eventually isolates himself more and more from the rest of humanity. His suspicion grows, his isolation grows, and the vicious circle leading to a paranoid attitude begins to develop.
The dictator is not only a sick man, he is also a cruel opportunist. He sees no value in any other person and feels no gratitude for any help he may have received. He is suspicious and dishonest and believes that his personal ends justify any means he may use to achieve them. Peculiarly enough, every tyrant still searches for some self-justification. Without such a soothing device for his own conscience, he cannot live.
His attitude toward other people is manipulative; to him, they are merely tools for the advancement of his own interests. He rejects the conception of doubt, of internal contradictions, of man’s inborn ambivalence. He denies the psychological fact that man grows to maturity through groping, through trial and error, through the interplay of contrasting feelings. Because he will not permit himself to grope, to learn through trial and error, the dictator can never become a mature person. But whether he acknowledges them or not, he has internal conflicts, he suffers somewhere from internal confusion. These inner “weaknesses” he tries to repress sternly; if they were to come to the surface, they might interfere with the achievement of his goals. Yet, in the attacks of rage his weakening strength is evident.
It is because the dictator is afraid, albeit unconsciously, of his own internal contradictions, that he is afraid of the same internal contradictions of his fellow men. He must purge and purge, terrorize and terrorize in order to still his own raging inner drives. He must kill every doubter, destroy every person who makes a mistake, imprison everyone who cannot be proved to be utterly single-minded. In Totalitaria, the latent aggression and savagery in man are cultivate by the dictator to such a degree that they can explode into mass criminal actions shown by Hitler’s persecution of minorities. Utlimately, the country shows a real pathology, an utter dominance of destructive and self-destructive tendencies.
The Final Surrender of the Robot Man
Wht happens to the common man in such a culture? How can we describe the citizen of Totalitaria? Perhaps the simplest answer to this question lies in the statement that he is reduced to the mechanical precision of an insectlike state. He cannot develop any warm friendships, loyalties, or allegiances because they may be too dangerous for him. Today’s friend may be, after all, tomorrow’s enemy. Living in an atmosphere of constant suspicion — not only of strangers, but even of his own family — he is afraid to express himself lest concentration camp or prison swallow him up.
The citizens of Totalitaria do not really converse with one another. When they speak, they whisper, first looking furtively over their shoulders for the inevitable spy. Their inner silence is in sharp contrast to the official verbal bombardment. The citizens of Totalitaria may make noise, and utter polite banalities, or they may repeat slogans to one another, but they say nothing. Existing literature reveals that leading authors, among them H.G. Wells, Huxley, and Orwell, grow more and more concerned about the ghastly future of the robotized man, trained as a machine on a standard of conformity. They translate for us the common fear of a mechanized civilization.
In Totalitaria, the citizen no longer knows the real core of his mind. He no longer feels himself an “I”, an ego, a person. He is only the object of official barrage and mental coercion. Having no personality of his own, he has no individual conscience, no personal morality, no capacity to think clearly and honestly. He learns by rote, he learns thousands of indoctrinated facts and inhales dogma and slogans with every breath he draws. He becomes an obedient pedant, and pedantry makes people into something resembling pots filled with information instead of individuals with free, growing personalities.
Becoming wiser and freer implies selective forgetting and changes of mind. This we accept, this we leave behind. Alert adjustment requires a change of patterns, the capacity to be de-conditioned, to undo and unlearn in order to become ripe for new patterns. The citizen of Totalitaria has no chance for such learning through unlearning, for growth through individual experience. Official oversimplifications induce the captive audience into acceptance and indoctrination. Mass ecstasy and mass fanaticism are substituted for quiet individual thought and consideration.
Hitler taught his people to march and to do battle, and at the end they did not know wherefore they marched and battled. People become herds — indoctrinated and obsessed herds — intoxicated first with enthusiasm and happy expectations, then with terror and panic. the individual personality cannot grow in Totalitaria. The huge mass of citizens is tamed into personal and political somnambulism.
It may be scientifically questionable to compare experiences gained from individual pathological states with social phenomena and to analyze the partial collapse of the ego under totalitarianism by analogy with actual cases of madness. But there is in fact much that is comparable between the strange reactions of the citizens of Totalitaria and their culture as a whole on the one hand and the reactions of the introverted, sick schizophrenic on the other. Even though the problem of schizophrenic behavior in individuals and groups is extremely complicated and cannot be fully handled within the scope of this book, the comparison can be helpful in our search for an understanding of the nature and effects of totalitarianism.
The Common Retreat from Reality
This excusion into the world of pathology is not a description of a merely coincidental resemblance between a disease and a political system. It should serve to point up the fact that totalitarian withdrawal behind official justifications and individual fantasy is something that can occur either in social life or inside the individual mind. And many scholars believe in a relationship between cultural deterioration and schizophrenic withdrawal.
Let us briefly explain the individual schizophrenic’s reaction of complete inner automatization and mental withdrawal as a personal failure to adjust to a world experienced as insecure and dangerous. Often rather simple emotional incidents may lead to such schizophrenic retreat — for instance, the intrusion of schedules and habits forced on the mind during infancy or a sly hypersensitivity to our overactive and oververbose culture. Many a child is forced into schizophrenic withdrawal by an overcompulsive parent. Sometimes lack of exteernal contact may drive a man into a state of utter loneliness and isolation, sometimes his own preference for solitude. A certain tendency to so-called schizophrenic withdrawal has been proved to be inborn. Yet it an be provoked in everybody.
Whatever the cause, the schizophrenic patient becomes a desocialized being, lost in loneliness. Conscious and unconscious fantasly life begins to become dominant over alert confrontation of reality. In the end his weird fantasies become more real for the schizophrenic than the actual world. He hides more and more behind his own iron curtain, in the imaginary dreamland and retreat he has built for himself. This is his nirvana, in which all his dream wishes are fulfilled. Inertia and fanaticism alternate. The patient regresses to an infantile, vegetative form of behavior and rejects everything that society has taught him. In his fantasy, he lives in a world which always obeys his commands. He is omnipotent. The world turns around according to his divine inclinations.
Reality, requiring as it does, continual and renewed adjustment and verification, becomes a persecutor, attacking his illusion of divine might. Every disturbing intrusion into his delusional world is encountered by the schizophrenic either with tremendous aggression or with the formation of secondary delusion to protect the first delusion, or with a combination of both. The schizophrenic displays tremendous hostility toward the real world and its representatives; reality robs him both of his delusions of omnipotence and his hallucinatory sense of being utterly protected, as he was in the womb.
Clinical experience has shown that the disease of schizophrenia often begins with negativism — a defense against the influence of others, a continual fight against mental intrusion, against what is felt as the rape of the oversensitive mind. Gradually, this defensive attitude toward the world becomes a hostile attitude toward everything, not only toward influences from the outside, but also toward thoughts and feelings from the inside. Finally, the victim becomes paralyzed by his own hostility and negativisms. He behaves literally as though he were dead. He sits, unmoving, for hours. He may have to be force-fed, force-dressed. The schizophrenic moves like a puppet on a string, only when someone compels him to. Clinically, we call this catatonia — the death attitude.
The Retreat to Automatization
Introverted schizophrenics prefer the automatic routine life of the asylum to life in the outside world, on the condition that they be allowed to indulge their private fantasies. They surrender utterly in self-defeatism. They never congregate in groups, they seldom talk with one another; even when they do, they never have any real mutual contact. Each one lives in his own retreat.
In the totalitarian myth — think, for instance, of “das Dritte Reich” — in the psychological folklore of our mythical state, the vague fantasy of the technically perfected womb, the ideal nirvana, plays a tremendous role. In a world full of insecurities, a world requiring continual alert adjustment and readjustment, Totalitaria creates the delusion of the omnipotent, miraculous ideal state — a state where, in its final form, every material need will be satisfied. Everything will be regulated, just as it was for the fetus in the womb, the land of bliss and equanimity, just as it is for the schizophrenic in the mental hospital.
There is no social struggle, no mental struggle; the world moves like clockwork. There is no real interplay between people, no clash of opinions or beliefs, there is no emotional relationship between these womb-fellows; each exists as a separate number-bearing entity in the same filing system.
In Totalitaria, there is no faith in fellow men, no “caritas,” no love, because real relationships between men do not exist, just as they do not exist between schizophrenics. There is only faith in and subjection to the feeding system, and there is in every citizen a tremendous fear of being expelled from that system, a fear of being totally lost, comparable with the schizophrenic’s feeling of rejection and fear of reality. In the midst of spiritual loneliness and isolation, there is the fear of still greater loneliness, of more painful isolation. Without protective regulations from the outside, internal hell may break lose. Strong mechanical external order must be used to cover the internal chaos and approaching breakdown.
We have had experience in postwar years with several refugees from the totalitarian world who broke down when they had to cope with a world of freedom where personal initiative was required. The fear of freedom brought them to a state of panic. They no longer had strong enough egos to build and maintain their defenses against the competitive demands of free democratic reality.
As in schizophrenia, a maneuverable and individual ego cannot exist in Totalitaria. In schizophrenia the ego shrinks as a result of withdrawal; in Totalitaria, as a result of constant merging in mass feelings. If such a shrunken ego should grow up, with its own critical attitude, its needs for verification of facts and for understanding, it would then be beaten down as being treacherous and nonconforming.
Totalitaria requires of its citizens complete subjection to and identification with the leader. It is this leader-dominance that makes people nearly ego-less, as they are in schizophrenia. This again may result in loss of control of hostile and destructive drives. Psychologists have seen this time and time again in what we call the concentration-camp psyche. When the victims first came to the camp — dedicated to their gradual extermination — most of them displayed a complete loss of self, an utter depersonalization, combined with apathy and loss of awareness. The same observations have been made among our POWs in Korea. Some concentration-camp victims got better immediately after their return to a normal society; in others, this schizophrenic reaction of lost ego remained and, as we mentioned above, sometimes developed into a real psychosis.
The Womb State
Totalitarianism is man’s escape from the fearful realities of life into the virtual womb of the leader. The individual’s actions are directed from this womb — from the inner sanctum. The mystic center is in control of everything; man need no longer assume responsibility for his own life. The order and logic of the prenatal world reign. There is peace and silence, the peace of utter submission. The members of the womb state do not really communicate; between them there is silence, the silence of possible betrayal, not the mature silence of reticence and reservedness.
Totalitaria increases the gap between the things one shows and communicates and the things one secretly dreams and thinks deep within oneself. It develops the artificial split-mindedness of political silence. Whatever little remains of individual feeling and opinion is kept carefully enclosed. In the schizophrenic world of Totalitaria, there is no free mutual exchange, no conversation, no exclamation, no release from emotional tension. It is a world of silent conspirators. Indeed, the atmosphere of suspicion is the big attacker of mental freedom because it makes people cling together, conspiring against mysterious enemies — first from outside, then among themselves.
In Totalitaria, each citizen is continually watched. The mythical state molds the individual’s conscience. He has hardly any of his own. His neighbors watch him, his postman, his children, and they all represent the punishing state, just as he himself must represent the state and watch others. Not betraying them is a crime.
The need to find conspiracies, to discover persecutors and criminals is another schizophrenic manifestation. It is psychologically related to an infantile need for a feeling of omnipotence. Megalomaniac feelings grow better in an atmosphere of mysterious secrecy. Secrecy and conspiracy increase the delusion of power. That is why so many people like to pry into other people’s lives and to play the spy.
This feeling of conspiracy also lies behind the pathological struggle with imaginary persecutors, a struggle we find both in mentally ill individuals and in our mythical Totalitaria. “It is there!” “It is chasing us!” All the inner fears of losing the nirvanic womb-illusion become rampant. Mysterious ghosts and vultures chase people out of nirvana and paradise.
In these fantasies, the patriarch, the dictator, the idol, becomes both the universal danger and the omnipotent savior at the same time. Not even the citizens of Totalitaria really love this cruel giant. Suspicion against the breast that feeds and the hand that guides and forbids is often found in the fantasy of schizophrenic children, who experience the nourisher as the enemy, the dominating ogre, bribing the growing mind into submission.
The deep hate the sick individual feels toward the parental figure cannot be expressed directly, and so it is displaced onto the self or onto scapegoats. Scapegoatism is also part of the totalitarian strategy. As we pointed out before, the scapegoat temporarily absorbs all the individual’s inner fury and rage. Kulaks, Negroes, Jews, Communists, capitalists, profiteers, and warmongers — any or all of them can play that role. Perhaps the greatest dangers, to the totalitarian mind, is the use of intellect and awareness and the “egg-head’s” demand for free, verifying thinking. Aberration and perversion are chosen by the citizens of Totalitaria, as they are by the inhabitants of madhouses, over the tiring, intellectual control.
In the center of the totalitarian fears and fantasies stands the man-eating god and idol. He is unconquerable. He uses man’s great gift of adjustment to bring him to slavery. Every man’s inner core of feelings and thoughts has to belong to the leader.
Is the citizen of Totalitaria consciously aware of this? Probably not. Modern psychology has taught us how strongly the mental mechanism of denial of reality works. The eye bypasses external occurrences when the mind does not want them to happen. Secondary justifications and fantasies are formed to support and explain these denials. In Totalitaria we find the same despising of reality facts as we do in schizophrenia. How else are we to explain the fact that Hitler was still moving his armies on paper after they were already defeated?
Totalitarian strategy covers inner chaos and conflict by the strict order of the police state. So does the compulsive schizophrenic patient, by his inner routine and schedules. These routines and schedules are a defense against painful occurrences in external reality. This internal robotization may lead to denial of internal realities and internal needs as well. The citizen of Totalitaria, repressing and rejecting his inner need for freedom, may even experience slavery as liberation. He may go even one step further — yearn for an escape from life itself, a delusion that he could become omnipotent through utter destruction.
The SS soldiers called this the magic action of the “Blutkitt,” the tie of bloody crime binding them together and preparing them for Valhalla. With this magic unification, they could die with courage and equanimity. Anarchic despair and need for greatness alternated in them as they do in the psychotic patient. In the same way, the citizens of Totalitaria search for a “heroic” place in history even though the price be doom an annihilation.
Many soldiers — tired by the rigidities of normal life — look back at violent moments of their war experiences, despite the hunger and terror, as the monumental culminating experiences of their lives. There, in the “Bruderbund” of fighters, they felt happy for the first and only times in their lives.
This all sounds like a bitter comedy, but the fantasy of schizophrenics has taught us how the mind can retreat into delusion when there is a fear of daily existence. Under these circumstances, fantasy begins to prevail over reality, and soon assumes a validity which reality never had. The totalitarian mind is like the schizophrenic mind; it has a contempt for reality. Think for a moment of Lysenko’s theory and its denial of the influence of heredity. The totalitarian mind does not observe and verify its impressions of reality; it dictates to reality how it shall behave, it compels reality to conform to its fantasies.
The comparison between totalitarianism and psychosis is not incidental. Delusional thinking inevitably creeps into every form of tyranny and despotism. Unconscious backward forces come into action. Evil powers from the archaic past return. An automatic compulsion to go on to self-destruction develops, to justify one mistake with a new one; to enlarge and expand the vicious pathological circle becomes the dominating end of life. The frightened man, burdened by a culture he does not understand, retreats into the brute’s fantasy of limitless power in order to cover up the vacuum inside himself. This fantasy starts with the leaders and is later taken over by the masses they oppress.
What else can man do when he is caught in that tremendous machine called Totalitaria? Thinking — and the brain itself — has become superfluous, that is, only reserved for the elite. Man has to renounce his uniqueness, his individual personality, and must surrender to the equalizing and homogenizing patterns of so-called integration and standardization. This arouses in him that great inner emptiness of the savage child, the emptiness of the robot that unwittingly years for the great destruction.
CHAPTER SEVEN – THE INTRUSION BY TOTALITARIAN THINKING
In order to investigate the social forces at work undermining the free individual development of man’s mind, we have to look at manifold aspects of political life. As a clinician and polypragmatist, I don’t want to bind myself to one political state or current, but want to describe what can be experienced in social life everywhere. Where human thinking and human habits are in the process of being remolded, they are under the influence of tremendous political upheaval. In one country this may happen overnight, in others more slowly. The psychologists’ task is to observe and describe the impact of these processes on the human mind.
When once a nation is under the yoke of totalitarianism, when once its people have succumbed to the oversimplifications and blandishments of the would-be dictator, how does the leader maintain his power? What techniques does he use to make his countrymen docile followers of his bloody regime?
Because man’s mature self resists totalitarianism, the dictator must work and scheme constantly to keep his subjects in line and to immobilize their need for individual development, rebellion, and healthy growth. As we examine his techniques, we will come to a better understanding of totalitarianism and of the interaction between the dictator’s methods and the personalities of his subjects. We need this understanding desperately, for we have to recognize that the forces in Totalitaria that make humorless robots out of living men can also develop, albeit unwittingly, in the so-called free, democratic societies.
The Strategy of Terror
The weapon of terror has been used by tyrants from time immemorial to make a meek instrument of man. In Totalitaria, the use of this weapon is refined to a science which can wipe out all opposition and dissent. The leaders of Totalitaria rule by ntimidation; they prefer loyalty through fear to loyalty through faith. Fear and terror freeze the mind and will; they may create a general psychic paralysis. In the panic caused by totalitarian terror, men feel separated from one another, as by an impassable vacuum, and each man becomes a lonely, frightened soul. Even panicky hovering together could be suspected of being conspiracy against the state. Separated from any real emotional contact with his fellow men by his own inner isolation, the citizen of Totalitaria becomes increasingly unable to fight against its dehumanizing influences.
Totalitaria is constantly on the alert for social sinners, the critics of the system, and accusation of dissent is equivalent to conviction in the public eye. Insinuation, calumny, and denunciation are staples of the totalitarian strategy. The entire nation is dedicated to the proposition that every man is a potential enemy of the regime. No one is excluded from the terror. Any man may be subjected to it no matter how high his rank.
The secret police create awe and panic inside the country, while the army serves to create awe and panic outside. Just the thought of an outbreak of terror — of even a possible future terror — makes men unwilling to express their opinions and expose themselves. Both the citizens of Totalitaria and those of her neighbors are affected by this general fear. A clear example of how this fear paralysis operates in reality may be seen in the fact that as far back as 1948 western Europeans, who felt the shadow of anticipated totalitarian occupation, thought it safer to criticize and attack their American friends than to find fault with a totalitarian enemy who might sweep in suddenly and without warning.
In Totalitaria, jails and concentration camps by the score are built in order to provoke fear and awe among the population. They may be called “punishment” or “correction” camps, but this is only a cheap justification for the truth. In these centers of fear, nobody is really corrected; he is, as it were, expelled from humanity, wasted, killed — but not too quickly, lest the terrorizing influence be diminished.
The truth of the matter is that these jails are built not for real criminals, but rather for their terrorizing effect on the bystanders, the citizens of Totalitaria. Jails represent a permanent menace, a continual threat. They may put an almost insupportable strain on the empathy and imagination of those citizens who are, temporarily at least, on the outside of the barbed wire. In addition to the fear of undergoing the same cruel treatment, the fear of abasement, humiliation, and death, the very concept of the concentration camp rouses every man’s deep-seated fear of being himself expelled from the community, of being alone, a wanderer in the desert, unloved and unwanted.
There exist several milder forms of mass terror, for instance, THE STRATEGY OF NO POLITICAL REST. In Totalitaria man is always caught by some form of official planning. He is always conscious of control and surveillance, of spying, leering powers lying in wait to chase him and to punish him. Even leisure time and holidays are occupied by some official program, some facts to be learned, some political meeting, some parade. Quiet and solitude no longer exist. There is no time for meditation, for pondering, for reminiscing. The mind is caught in a web of official thinking and planning. Even the delights of self-chosen silence are forbidden. Every citizen of Totalitaria must join in the singing and the slogan shouting. And he becomes so caught in the constant activity that he loses the capacity to realize what is happening to him.
The emphasis on more production by individuals, factories, and agricultural enterprises also can become a weapon of increased control and terror. The Stakhanovite movement in Russia, urging a constant increase in production norms, became a threat for many. The workers had to increase the pace of their labor and production, or they would be severely punished. The emphasis on pace and speed makes man more and more a soulless cog in the totalitarian wheel.
Terror can almost never stop itself; it thrives on compliance and grows in a vacuum. Terror as a tool means a gradual transfer into terror as a goal — but terror is actually a self-defeating strategy. Man will ultimately revolt even under an absolute dictatorship. When men have been reduced to puppethood by Totalitaria, they will finally have become immune to all threats. The magic spell of terror will finally lose its force. First the citizens of Totalitaria will become dulled to the terror and will no longer consider even death a danger. Then a few will initiate a final revolt, for Totalitaria’s government by fear and terror fosters internal rebellion, in the few who cannot be broken down. Even in “gleichgeschaltet” Nazi Germany a resistance movement was active.
The Purging Rituals
Cleaning out the higher echelons of government is an old historic habit. The struggle between fathers and sons, between the older and the younger generation, became ritualized far back in prehistoric times. Frazer’s classic, “The Golden Bough,” has told us a great deal about this. The ancient priest of the heathens acquired his high post by killing his predecessor. Later in history, the newly proclaimed king offered criminals instead as sacrifices to the gods on the day of his anointment.
In Totalitaria, the killing and purging ritual is part of the mechanism of government, and it serves not only a symbolic but also a very real function for the dictator. He must eliminate all those he has bypassed and double-crossed in his ruthless climb to power, lest their resentments and frustrated rage break out, endangering his position or even his life.
The purge reflects another characteristic of life in Totalitaria. It dramatizes the fiction that the party is always on the alert to keep itself pure and clean. Psychiatry has demonstrated that the cleanliness compulsion in neurotic individuals is actually a displaced defense against their own inner rage and hostility. It plays the same sort of role in communities, and when it is elevated to the level of an officially sanctioned ritual, it reduces the citizenry to infancy. It makes the inhabitants of Totalitaria feel like babies — still struggling to learn their first cleanliness habits, still listening to their parent’s reiterated commands to be clean, be clean, be clean, be good, be good, be good, be loyal, be loyal, be loyal. The constant repetition of these commands reinforces each citizen’s sense of guilt, of childishness, and of shame.
The totalitarian purge is always accompanied by an elaborate confession ceremonial, in which the accused publicly repents his sins, much as did the witches of the Middle Ages. This is the general formula: “I confess my doubts. Thanks to the criticism of the comrades, I have been able to purify my thinking. I bow in humility to the opinion of my comrades and the Party and am thankful for the opportunity to correct my errors. You enabled me to repudiate my deviational questions. I acknowledge my debt to the selfless leader and the government of the people.”
The strategy of public expression of shame has two effects: it serves, like the purging rituals themselves, to provoke feelings of childish submissiveness among the people, and, at the same time, it offers each citizen a defense against his own deep-seated psychological problems and feelings of guilt and unworthiness. Somewhere deep inside him, the citizen of Totalitaria knows that he has abdicated his maturity and his responsibility; public purgings relieve his sense of shame. “It is the others who are guilty and dirty, not I,” he thinks. “It is they who are constantly plotting and conniving.” But the very things of which he suspects others are also true of himself. He is afraid others will betray him because he cannot be sure in his own mind that he will not betray them. Thus his inner tensions increase, and the purge provides a periodic blood offering to his own fear and to the god of threat.
The very fact that this ritual of coercive confession and purge must be repeated again and again indicates that man develops an inner mental defense against it and that the more it is used, the less effective it becomes as a means of arousing guilt and terror. Just as the citizen of Totalitaria becomes hardened or dulled to the terror of constant official intrusion into his private life, so he becomes almost immune to the cries of treason and sabotage.
In the same way, as the purge becomes less effective as a taming tool, the tyrant uses it more frequently to soothe his own fears. History provides us with many examples of revolutions which eventually drowned in a bloody reign of terror and purge. Some of the most devoted heroes and leaders of the French Revolution met their death on the guillotine of the republic they helped to create.
Wild Accusation and Black Magic
Wild accusation and black magic, like all the other taming tools of Totalitaria, are nothing new, but in primitive civilizations and in prehistoric times the craft of black magic was rather simple. The shaman had merely to destroy or mutiliate a small statuette of the accused criminal, to point or thrust a special stick at the man himself, or to curse and berate him with furious words and gestures in order to bring his victim to collapse and death. In his blind acceptance of the magic ritual, the victim was possessed by fear, and often he gave himself up to the spell and just died (Malinowski).
This magic slaying of the foe has plural psychological implications. The victim of the magic spell was often looked upon as the representative of the tribal god, the internalized authority and father. He must be killed because his very existence aroused guilt and remorse among his people. His death may silence the inner voices in every man which warn against impending downfall. Sometimes the victim comes from a different tribe than that of his accusers. In this situation, the stranger is an easier scapegoat, and punishing him serves to still the clash of ambivalent feelings in the members of the killing tribe. Hate for an outsider checks and deflects the hate and aggression each man feels toward his own group and toward himself. The more fear there is in a society, the more guilt each individual member of the society feels, the more need there is for internal scapegoats and external enemies. INTERNAL CONFUSION LOOKS FOR DISCHARGE IN OUTSIDE WARS.
In Totalitaria, the air is full of gossip, calumny, and rumor. Any accusation, even if it is false, has a greater influence on the citizenry than subsequent vindication. Bills of particulars, made out of whole cloth are manufactured against innocents, especially against former leaders, who have been able to develop some personal esteem and loyalty among their friends and followers. Trumped-up charges made against us always revive unconscious feelings of guilt and induce us to tremble.
In our analysis of the psychological forces that lead prisoners of war and other political victims to confession and betrayal, we saw how strongly the sense of hidden guilt and doubt in each man impels him under strain to surrender to the demands and ideologies of the enemy. This same mechanism is at work constantly among the citizens of Totalitaria. Accusations against others remind him of his own inner rebellions and hostilities, which he does not dare to bring out into the open, and so the accused, even when he is innocent, becomes the scapegoat for his private sense of guilt. Cowardice makes the other citizens of our mythical country turn away from the victim lest they be accused themselves.
The very fact that character assassination is possible reveals the frailty and sensitivity of human sympathy and empathy. Even in free, democratic societies, political campaigns are often conducted in an atmosphere of extravagant accusation and even wilder counter accusation. The moment the strategy of wild accusation, with all its disagreeable noises of vituperation and calumny, begins, we forget the strategic intention behind the words and find ourselves influenced by the shouting and name calling. “Maybe,” we say to ourselves, “there is something in this story.” This, of course, is just what the slanderer wants. In the minds of the politicians the illusion still persists that the end justifies the means. But campaigns of slander produce paradoxical results because the very fact that an unfounded accusation has been made weakens the moral sense of both listener and accuser.
In Totalitaria this vicious circle of vituperation reaches its fullest flowering. Drowned in a reign of suspicion, the citizen of Totalitaria suffers from a terrible delusion of persecution — “spy-onoia,” the spy mania. He is continually on the alert, watching his fellow men. His good neighbor may at any moment become a saboteur or a traitor. The citizen of Totalitaria hardly ever looks for confusion or flaws in his own soul, but projects them onto scapegoats — until he himself finally becomes the victim of someone else’s spyonoia. Every citizen is constantly trying to search out everyone else’s innermost thoughts. Because one’s own hidden thoughts are projected on one’s neighbors, thinking in itself becomes the enemy. This great fear of the inner thoughts of our fellow men is related to a general process of paranoica re-evaluation of the world as a result of fear and totalitarian thinking. In the denial of human loyalty and in the constant delusion of treason and sabotage are expressed the whole infantile mythology of Totalitaria and its repudiation of mature human relationships.
Through interrogation, character assassination, humiliation, mental terror, and demoralization — such as happens in individual and collective brainwashing — man can be so utterly demoralized that he accepts any political system. He is nothing any more; why should he oppose matters? In Totalitaria there is no open policy, no free discussion, no honest difference of opinion; there is only intrigue and denunciation, with their frightening action on the masses.
The strategy of wild accusation is used not only against Totalitaria’s citizenry, but also against the rest of the world. Totalitaria needs the images of outside enemies — imaginary cruel monsters who spread plague and disease — to justify its own internal troubles. The remnants of the individual citizen’s conscience are calmed and held in check by a paranoiac attack on the rest of the world. “The enemy is poisoning our food, throwing beetles and bacteria into our crops.” This myth of an imaginary world conspiracy aims at bringing the fearful citizens of Totalitaria into a concerted defense against nonexistent dangers. It conceals, at the same time, internal failures leading to diminishing crops and lack of food.
Projecting blame onto others reinforces each citizen’s sense of participation in the totalitarian community and stills the nagging internal voice demanding that he act as a self-responsible individual. The myth of external plotting also increases the individual citizen’s feeling of dependence and immaturity. Now only his dictatorial leader can protect him from the evil world outside — a world which is described to him as a vast zoo, inhabited by atomic dragons and hydrogen monsters.
The Strategy of Criminalization
As we said before, the citizen of Totalitaria may be able to fulfill some of his irrational, instinctual needs in return for his submission to totalitarian slavery. Hitler Germany taught us the accepted pattern. The citizen (and party member) is encouraged to betray his friends and parents, something the angry, frustrated baby in him has often wanted to do. He may live out in action his deeply repressed aggressions and desires for revenge. He no longer has to suppress or reject some of his own primitive impulses. The system assumes the full burden of his guilt and hands him a ready-made list of thousands of justifications and exculpations for the release of his sadistic impulses. Flowery catchwords, such as “historical necessity,” help the individual to rationalize immorality and evil into morality and good. We see here the great corruption of civilized standards.
In his strategy of criminalization, the totalitarian dictator destroys the conscience of his followers, just as he has destroyed his own. Think of the highly learned and polished Nazi doctors who started their professional life with the Hippocratic oath, promising to be the helping healer of man, but who later in cold blood inflicted the most horrible tortures on their concentration-camp victims (Mitscherlich). They slaughtered innocents by the thousands in order to discover the statistical limits of human endurance. They infected other thousands as guinea pigs because the Fuhrer wanted it so. They had lost their personal standards and ethics completely and justified all their crimes through the Fuhrer’s will. Political catchwords encouraged them to yield their consciences completely to the dictator. The process of systematic criminalization requires a “deculturation” of the people. As one of Hitler’s gangmen said, “When I hear the word ‘civilization,’ I prepare my gun.” This is done to consistently arouse the instinct of cruelty. People are told not to belive in intellect and objective truth, but to listen only to the subjective dictates of the Moloch State, to Hitler, to Mussolini, to Stalin.
Criminalization is conditioning people to rebellion against civilized frustrations. Show them blood and bloody scapegoats, and a thousand years of acculturation fall away from them. This implies imbuing the people with hysteria, arousing the masses, homogenizing the emotions. All this tends to awaken the brute Neanderthal psyche in man. Justify crime with the glamorous doctrine of race superiority, and then you make sure the people will follow you.
Hitler knew very well what he was doing when he turned the German concentration camps over to the unleashed lusts of his storm troopers. “Let them kill and murder,” was the device. “Once they have gone so far with me, they must go on to the end.” The strategy of criminalization is not only directed toward crushing the victims of the totalitarian regime, but also toward giving the elite hangmen — the governing gang — that poisonous feeling of power that drags them farther and farther away from every human feeling; their victims become people without human identity, merely speaking masks and ego-less robots. The strategy of criminalization is the systematic organization of the lower passions in man, in particular in those the dictator must trust as his direct helpers.
Under the pressure of totalitarian thinking, nearly every citizen identifies with the ruling gang, and many must prove their loyalty by murder and killing, or at least experssing their approval of murder and killing. The boredom of Totalitaria’s automatic patterns of living leads the deluded citizens to welcome the adventure of war and crime and self-destruction. Each new act of torture and crime makes new bonds of fidelity and unscrupulous obedience, especially within the leading gang. In the end, driven by crime and guilt, the ruling members have to stick it out together because the downfall of the system would bring about the downfall of the entire gang, both leaders and followers. The same thing holds true in the criminal world. Once a man has taken the first step and rejected the laws of society and joined the criminal gang, he is at war with the outside world and its moral evaluations. From that point on, the gang can blackmail him and subdue him.
In Totalitaria, the vicious circle of criminalization of the citizenry, in which the means become ends in themselves, grows into a cynical conspiracy covered with the cynical flag of decent idealism. The country’s leaders use such simple words as “the universal campaign of peace,” and the citizens rejoice and take pride in these words. Only a few among them know what deceptive deeds lie behind the flowery phrases.
These perversions are also incorporated into a great nationalistic myth — the Third Reich, the New Empire, the People’s Republic — and the citizen’s desire to do something heroic becomes identified with doing something violent and criminal. Blood becomes a magic fluid, and shedding someone else’s blood becomes a virtuous and life-giving deed.
Unlimited killing, as it is practiced in totalitarian systems, is related to deep, unconscious fears. The weak and emotionally sick in any society kill out of fear, in order to borrow, in a magic way, their dead victims’ strength and happiness — as well as, of course, their material possessions. The killing of millions in the Nazi gas ovens was part of this ancient mythology of murder. Perhaps the members of the master race thought that slaughtering the Jews would ensure that the Germans would endure pain for as many centuries as had their victims! It is part of an old primitive myth that through killing one fortifies and prolongs one’s own life. Let us not forget that forces of reason and understanding in man are rather weak. It is difficult to control the fire of explosive drives, once they are lighted.
Totalitarianism must kill, slaughter, make war. Totalitaria preches hatred, and the totalitarian mouthpiece is a lonely, deluded, tough “superman,” calling for hatred and injustice and arousing intensified fanaticism unhampered by any moral feeling or remose. His battle cry reinforces the dictator’s hold on his subjects, because each citizen, in and through his guilty deeds, learns to hate his victim, whose very suffering arouses even more the criminal’s deeply buried sense of guilt.
Verbocracy and Semantic Fog — Talking the People into Submission
After the First World War, we became more conscious of our attitude toward words. This attitude was gradually changing. Our trust in official catchwords and cliches and in idealistic labels had diminished. We became more and more aware of the fact that the important questions were what groups and powers stood behind the words, and what their secret intentions were. But in our easygoing way we often forget to ask this question, and we are all more or less susceptible to noisy, oft-repeated words.
The formulation of big propagandistic lies and fraudulent catchwords has a very well-defined purpose in Totalitaria, and words themselves have acquired a special function in the service of power, which we may call verbocracy. The Big Lie and the phoney slogan at first confuse and then dull the hearers, making them willing to accept every suggested myth of happiness. The task of the totalitarian propagandist is to build special pictures in the minds of the citizenry so that finally they will no longer see and hear with their own eyes and ears but will look at the world through the fog of official catchwords and will develop the automatic responses appropriate to totalitarian mythology.
The multiform use of words in DOUBLE TALK serves as an attack on our logic, that is, an attack on our understanding of what monolithic dictatorship really is. Hear, hear the nonsense: “Peace is war and war is peace! Democracy is tyranny and freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength! Virtue is vice and truth is a lie.” So says the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s grim novel, “1984.” And we saw this nightmare fantasy come true when our soldiers who had spent long years in North Korean prison camps returned home talking of totalitarian China with the deceiving cliche of “the people’s democracy.” Pavlovian conditioning to special words forces people into an AUTOMATIC THINKING that is tied to those words. The words we use influence our behavior in daily life; they determine the thoughts we have.
In Totalitaria, facts are replaced by fantasy and distortion. People are taught systematically and intentionally to lie (Winokur). History is reconstructed, new myths are built up whose purpose is twofold: to strengthen and flatter the totalitarian leader, and to confuse the luckless citizens of the country. The whole vocabulary is a dictated set of slowly hypnotizing slogans. In the semantic fog that permeates the atmosphere, words lose their direct communicative function. They become mrerely commanding signs, triggering off reactions of fear and terror. They are battles cries and Pavlovian signals, and no longer represent free thinking. THE WORD, ONCE CONSIDERED A FIRST TOKEN OF FREE HUMAN CREATION, IS TRANSFORMED INTO A MECHANICAL TOOL. In Totalitaria, words may have a seductive action, soothing or charming their hearers, but they are not allowed to have intrinsic meaning. They are conditioners, emotional triggers, serving to imprint the desired reaction patterns on their hearers.
Man’s mental laziness, his resistance to the hard labor of thinking, makes it relatively easy for Totalitaria’s dictator to bring his subjects into acceptance of the Big Lie. At first the citizen may say to himself, “All this is just nonsense — pure double talk,” but in the very act of trying to shrug it off, he has become subject to the power of the inherent suggestion. That is the trick of double talk; once a man neglects to analyze and verify it, he becomes lost in it and can no longer see the difference between rationale and rationalization. In the end, he can no longer believe anything, and he retreats into sullen dullness. Once the citizen of Totalitaria has accepted the “logic” of his leaders, he is no longer open to discussion or argument. Alas, in our Western world, we often meet this evasion of semantic clarity. Let us not forget that the battle for words is part of the ideological cold war in our world.
Something has crept into our mechanized system of communication that has made our modes of thinking deteriorate. People too casually acquire ideas and concepts. They no longer struggle for a clear understanding. The popularized picture replaces the battle of the pros and cons of concepts. Instead of aiming at true understanding, people listen to thoughtless repetition, which gives them THE DELUSION OF UNDERSTANDING.
Communication has an even more infantile, magic character for the citizen of Totalitaria. Words no longer represent intelligible meanings or ideas. They bind the citizen of Totalitaria to utter dependence on his commander, much as the infant is bound to the word pictures of his parents.
Byfield points out in his pamphlet on logocide that words are commonly used as instruments of social revolution. Politicians seeking power must coin new labels and new words with emotional appeal, “while allowing the same old practices and institutions to continue as before . . . The trick is to replace a disagreeable image though the substance remains the same. The totalitarians consequently have to fabric a hate language in order to stir up the mass emotions. We have all experience how the word ‘peace’ doesn’t mean peace any more, it has become a propagandistic device to APPEASE the masses and to disguise aggression.”
The VERBOCRACY in totalitarian thinking and the official verbosity of demagogues serve to disturb and suffocate the free minds of citizens. We can say that verbocracy turns them into what psychology calls symbol agnostics, people capable only of imitation, incapable of inquisitive sense of objectivity and perspective that leads to questioning and understanding and to the formation of individual ideas and ideals. In other words, the individual citizen becomes a parrot, repeating ready-made slogans and propaganda catchwords without understanding what they realy mean, or what forces stand behind them.
This parrotism may give the citizen of Totalitaria a certain infantile emotional pleasure, however. “Heil, heil! — Duce, Duce!” — these rhythmic chants afford him the same kind of sound-enjoyment children achieve through babbling, shrieking, and yelling.
The abuse of the word and the enshrinement of propaganda are more obvious in Totalitaria than in any other part of the world. But this evil exists all over. We can find all too many examples of it in actual conversation. Many speakers use verbal showing off to cover an emptiness of thought, to stir up emotions and to create admiration and adoration of what is essentially empty and valueless. Loud-mouthed phoniness threatens to become the ideal of our time.
The semantic fog in Totalitaria is thickened by the regimentation of information. The citizens of our mythical country have no access to sources of facts and opinions. They are not free to verify what they hear or read. They are the victims of their leader’s “labelomania” — their judgments are determined by the official labels everything and everybody bears.
The urge to attach too much meaning to the label of an object or institution and to look only casually at its intrinsic value is characteristic of our times and seems to be growing. I call this condition labelomania; it is the exaggerated respect for the scientific-sounding name — the label, the school, the degree, the diploma — with a surprising disregard for underlying value. All about us we see people chasing after fixed formulas, credits, marks, ranks, and labels because they believe that if one is to have prestige or recognition these distinguishing marks are necessary. In order to obtain acceptance, people are prepared to undergo most impractical and stylized training and conditioning — not to mention expense — in special schools and institutions which promote certain labels, diplomas, and sophisiticated facades.
Not long ago a psychiatric colleague worked in a clinic where a different terminology was used, and the ideas of his former teachers, because they were expressed in terms other than those of the clinic, were criticized and even vilified. My colleague was a good practical therapist; yet he came to need psychotherapy himself, to counteract the utter confusion resulting from daily contacts with aggressive adepts of a different terminology, just as much as some of our soldiers released from the Korean prison camps.
There is something essentially unpleasant in the need to express and judge all opinions and evaluations in accepted cliches and labels. It implies a devaluation of the work or of the idea involved, and it denies the subtle human differences between people and the phenomena their words describe. In Totalitaria, man is so anxiety-ridden, so fearful of any deviation from the prescribed opinions and ways of thinking that he only allows himself to express himself in the terms his dictators provide. To the citizen of Totalitaria, the acknowledged label becomes more imporant than the eternal variation that is life.
As words lose their communicative function, they acquire more and more of a frightening, regulatory, and conditioning function. Official words must be believed and must be obeyed. Dissension and disagreement become both a physical and an emotional luxury. Vituperation, and the power that lies behind it, is the only sanctioned logic. Facts contrary to the official line are distorted and suppressed; any form of mental compromise is treason. In Totalitaria, there is no search for truth, only the enforced acceptance of the totalitarian dogmas and cliches. The most frightening thing of all is that parallel to the increase in our means of communciation, our mutual understanding has decreased. A Babel-like confusion has taken hold of political and nonpolitical minds as a result of semantic disorder and too much verbal noise.
The Apostatic Crime in Totalitaria
Totalitaria makes the thinking man a criminal, for in our mythical country the citizen can be punished as much for wrong thinking as for wrongdoing. Because the watchful eyes of the secret police are everywhere, the critic of the regime is driven to conspiratorial methods if he wants to have even a safe conversation with those he wants to trust. What we used to call the “Nazi gesture” was a careful looking around before starting to talk to a friend.
The criminal in Toatlitaria can be an accidental scapegoat used for release of official hostility, and there is often need for a scapegoat. From one day to the next, a citizen can become a hero or a villain, depending on strategic party needs.
Nearly all of the mature ideals of mankind are crimes in Totalitaria. Freedom and independence, compromise and objectivity — all of these are treasonable. In Totalitaria there is a new crime, the apostatic crime, which may be described as the obstinate refusal to admit imputed guilt. On the other hand, the hero in Totalitaria is the converted sinner, the breast-beating, recanting traitor, the self-denouncing criminal, the informer, and the stool pigeon.
The ordinary, law-abiding citizen of Totalitaria, far from being a hero, is potentially guilty of hundreds of crimes. He is a criminal if he is stubborn in defense of his own point of view. He is a criminal if he refuses to become confused. He is a criminal if he does not loudly and vigorously participate in all official acts; reserve, silence, and ideological withdrawal are treasonable. He is a criminal if he doesn’t LOOK happy, for then he is guilty of what the Nazis called physiognomic insubordination. He can be a criminal by association or disassociation, by scapegoatism, or by projection, by intention or by anticipation. He is a criminal if he refuses to become an informer. He can be tried and found guilty by every conceivable “ism” — cosmopolitanism, provincialism; deviationalism, mechanism; imperialism, nationalism; pacifism, militarism; objectivism, subjectivism; chavinism, equalitarianism; practicalism, idealism. He is guilty every time he IS something.
The only safe conduct pass for the citizen of Totalitaria lies in the complete abdication of his mental integrity.
CHAPTER EIGHT — TRIAL BY TRIAL
For the Special Marine Corps Court of Inquiry in Washington that had to judge one of the cases of brainwashing, I was asked, as an expert witness, if I could explain why some of the American officers yielded rather easily to mental pressure exerted by the enemy.
It was in the days when Congressional investigations in our country were in full swing. In all honesty I had to answer that sometimes coercive suggestions underlying such investigations could exert conforming pressure on susceptible minds. People are conditioned by numerous psychological processes in our daily political atmosphere.
Though we have been forewarned of what totalitarian techniques may do to the mind, there is reason to be alarmed by the possible disruption of values brought about by some of our own troubles.
The totalitarian dictator succeeded in transforming his apparatus of “justice” into an instrument of threat and domination. Where once a balanced feeling of justice had been recognized as the noblest ideal of civilized man, this ideal was now scoffed at by cynics — like Hitler and Goebbels — and called a synthetic emotion useful only to impress or appease people. Thus, in the hands of totalitarian inquisitors and judges justice has become a farce, a piece of propaganda to soothe the people’s conscience. Investigative power is misused — to arouse prejudices and animosities in those bystanders who have become too confused to distinguish between right and wrong.
The totalitarian has taught us that the courts and the judiciary can be used as tools of thought control. That is why we have to study how our own institutions, intentionally or unobtrusively, may be used to distort our concepts of democratic freedom.
The Downfall of Justice
To a psychologist, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Moscow purge trials between 1936 and 1938 was the deep sense of moral shock felt by people all over the world, whose trust in the judicial process was shaken to its foundations by these perversions of justice. Discussions about the trials always concerned themselves less with the question of guilt or innocence of the accused than with the horrifying travesty of justice the trials presented. Somewhere deep in the soul of men lies the conviction that a judge is, by definition, a righteous, impartial man, that an appeal to the courts is the road to truth, that the law stands above corruption, degradation, and perversion. Of course, we recognize that judges are human beings like ourselves, that they can make mistakes, as the rest of us do, and we are even willing to accept temporary injustice because we believe that there will be eventual vindication and that the rule of law and justice will remain triumphant. The moment the judicial process becomes a farce, a show to intimidate the people, something in man’s soul is profoundly affected. When justice is no longer blind, but has her eye on the main chance, we become frightened and alarmed. To whom shall a man turn if he cannot find justice in the courts?
During the course of psychotherapy, one of my patients was called to jury duty. The experience disturbed him deeply, for apparently the prosecutor in this case was more interested in getting a conviction than in finding out the truth. Although the jury had the last word, and, by its verdict, condemned the prosecutor’s strategy, our juror was greatly upset. “What happens,” he asked me, “in other cases? Suppose the jurors cannot see through the lawyer’s sophisms? Suppose they are taken in by his constant suggestion and insistence?”
Indeed, any trial can be used as a weapon of intimidation; it can, in a subtle way, intimidate the jurors, the witnesses, the entire public. In Totalitaria, some higher courts exist only to carry out this function of intimidation; their purpose is to prove to their own citizens and to the world at large that there is a punishing and threatening force controlling the government and that this force can use the judiciary for its own purposes.
An apparent objective official investigation may become a weapon of political control simply through the suggestions that inevitably accompany it. The man who is under investigation is almost automatically stigmatized and blamed because our suspicions are thrust on him. The very fact that he is under scrutiny makes him suspect. Thus, even the so-called “democratic power to investigate” may become the power to destroy. We must beware of this danger! Already the approving or disapproving way of interrogation changes man’s thinking about facts.
Any judicial action, whether legal or investigative, which receives widespread publicity, exerts some mental pressure on the entire public. It is not only the participants in the action who have a stake in its eventual outcome, the citizens as a whole may well become emotionally involved in the proceedings. Any official investigation can be either a mere show of power or an act of truth. As a show of power, by a totalitarian government or by an unscrupulous demagogue, it can have frightening consequences. The German Reichstag fire case, the Moscow purge trials, and the court actions against our P.O.W.s in China are prime examples of “legal” action which served to consolidate the political power of ruthless men and had for their object confusion of a helpless citizenry. An additional intention was to shock the public opinion of the world.
If we look at legal inquiry from the point of view of each of its participants, we will see even more clearly the dangers we must guard against.
The Demagogue as Prosecutor and Hypnotist
Recent happenings in our own country indicate clearly that the methods used to satisfy a question for power show a universal pattern. The ancient magic masks used to frighten the people may have been replaced by an overconfident show of physical strength by a “hero” artificially shaped as an object of admiration and identification for infantile minds, but the loud noises of propaganda are still with us, magnified a thousandfold by the radio and television, and serving to intimidate and hypnotize our less alert contemporaries. A worldwide audience, watching and listening to the demagogue playing all his different roles — the righteous accuser, the martyred victim, the voice of conscience — is temporarily thrown into a semifrightend, trancelike state of exhausted inattentiveness through the monotonous repetition of threats, accusations, and cliches.
The demagogue, like the totalitarian dictator, knows well how to lay a mental spell on the people, how to create a kind of mass suggestion and mass hypnosis. There is no intrinsic difference between individual and mass hypnosis. In hypnosis — the most intensified form of suggestion — the individual becomes temporarily automatized, both physically and mentally. Such a clinical state of utter mental submission can be brought about quite easily in children and in primitive people, but it can be created in civilized adults, too. Some of the American P.O.W.s in Korean prison camps were reduced to precisely this condition.
The more the individual feels himself to be part of the group, the more easily can he become the victim of mass suggestion. This is why primitive communities, which have a high degree of social integration and identification, are so sensitive to suggestions. Sorcerers and magicians can often keep an entire tribe under their spell.
Most crowds are rather easy to influence and hypnotize because common longings and yearnings increase the suggestibility of each member of the group. Each person has a tendency to identify with the rest of the group and with the leader as well, and this makes it easy for the leader to hold the people in his grip. As Hitler said in “Mein Kampf,” the leader can count on increasing submissiveness from the masses.
Sudden fright, fear, and terror were the old-fashioned methods used to induce hypnosis, and they are still used by dictators and demagogues. Threats, unexpected accusations, even long speeches and boredom may overwhelm the mind and reduce it to a hypnotic state.
Another easy technique is to work with specially suggestive words, repeating them monotonously. Arouse self-pity! Tell the people that they have been “betrayed” and that their leaders have deserted them. From time to time, the demagogue has to add a few jokes. People like to laugh. They also like to be horrified, and the macabre, especially, attracts them. Tell them gory tales and let them huddle together in sensational tension. They will probably develop an enormous awe for the man who frightens them and will be willing to give him the chance to lead them out of their emotional terror. In the yearning to be freed from one fear, they may be willing to surrender completely to another.
The Demagogue as Prosecutor and Hypnotist
Radio and television have enhanced the hypnotizing power of sounds, images, and words. Most Americans remember very clearly that frightening day in 1938 when Orson Welles’s broadcast of the invasion from Mars sent hundreds of people scurrying for shelter, running from their homes like panicky animals trying to escape a forest fire. The Welles broadcast is one of the clearest examples of the enormous hypnosuggestive power of the various means of mass communication, and the tremendous impact that authoritatively broadcast nonsense can have on intelligent, normal people.
It is not only the suggestive power of these media that gives them their hypnotizing effect. Our technical means of communication make of the people one huge participating mass. Even when I am alone with my radio, I am technically united with the huge mass of other listeners. I see them in my mind, I unconsciouly identify with them, and while I am listening I am one with them. Yet I have no direct emotional contact with them. It is partly for this reason that radio and television tend to take away active affectionate relationships between men and to destroy the capacity for personal thought, evaluation, and reflection. They catch the mind directly, giving people no time for calm, dialectical conversation with their own minds, with their friends, or with their books. The voices from the ether don’t permit the freedom-arousing mutuality of free conversation and discussion, and thus provoke greater passive acceptance — as in hypnosis.
Many people are hypnophiles, anxious to daydream and day-sleep throughout their lives; these people easily fall prey to mass suggestion. The lengthy oration or the boring sermon either weakens the listeners and makes them more ripe for the mass spell, or makes them more resentful and rebellious. Long speeches are a staple of totalitarian indoctrination because finally the boredom breaks through our defenses. We give in. Hitler used this technique of mass hypnosis through monotony to enormous advantage. He spoke endlessly and included long, dull recitals of statistics in his speeches.
The din of constant verbal intimidation of the public is a recognized tool of totalitarian strategy. The demagogue uses this suggestive technique, too, as well as the more tricky maneuver of attacking opponents who are usually considered to be beyond suspicion. This maneuver is often combined with a renewed appeal to self-pity. “Fourteen years of disgrace and shame,” was the slogan Hitler used to slander the very creative period between the Armistice in 1918 and the year he seized the helm. “Twenty years of treason,” a slogan used in our country not too long ago, sounds suspiciously like it, and is all too familiar to anyone who watched Hitler’s rise and fall.
The stab-in-the-back myth reduces everyone who is taken in by it to the level of suspicious childhood. This inflammatory oratory aims toward arousing chaotic and aggressive responses in others. The demagogue doesn’t mind temporary verbal attacks on himself — even slander can delight him — because these attacks keep him in the headlines and in the public eye and may help increase people’s fear of him. Better to be hated and feared than forgotten! The demagogue grows fat on prolonged and confused discussion of his behavior; it serves to paralyze the people’s minds and to obscure completely the real issues behind his red herrings. If this continues long enough, people become fed up, they give in, they want to sleep, they are willing to let the big “hero” take over. And the sequel can be totalitarianism. As a matter of fact, Nazism and Fascism both gambled on the fear of Communisim as a means of seizing power for themselves. What we have recently experienced in this country is frighteningly similar to the first phase of the deliberate totalitarian attack on the mind by slogans and suspicions. Violent, raucous noise provokes violent emotional reactions and destroys mental control. When the demagogue starts to rant and rave, his outbursts tend to be interpreted by the general public as proof of his sincerity and dedication. But for the most part such declarations are proof of just the opposite and are merely part of the demagogue’s power-seeking energy.
There is in existence a totalitarian “Document of Terror” which discusses in detail the use of well-planned, repeated successive WAVES OF TERROR to bring the people into submission. Each wave of terrorizing cold war creates its effect more easily — after a breathing spell — than the one that preceded it because people are still disturbed by their previous experience. Morale becomes lower and lower, and the psychological effect of each new propaganda campaign becomes stronger; it reaches a public already softened up. Every dissenter becomes more and more frightened that he may be found out. Gradually people are no longer willing to participate in any sort of political discussion or to express their opinions. Inwardly they have already surrendered to the terrorizing dictatorial forces.
We must learn to treat the demagogue and aspirant dictator in our midst just as we should treat our external enemies in a cold war — with the weapon of ridicule. The demagogue himself is almost incapable of humor of any sort, and if we treat him with humor, he will begin to collapse. Humor is, after all, related to a sense of perspective. If we can see how things should be, we can see how askew they can get, and we can recognize distortion when we are confronted with it. Put the demagogue’s statements in perspective, and you will see how utterly distorted they are. How can we possibly take them seriously or answer them seriously? We have important business to attend to — matters of life and death both for ourselves as individuals and for our nation as a whole. The demagogue relies for his effectiveness on the fact that people will take seriously the fantastic accusations he makes; will discuss the phony issues he raises as if they had reality, or will be thrown into such a state of panic by his accusations and charges that they will simply abdicate their right to think and verify for themselves.
The fact is that the demagogue is not appealing to what is rational and mature in man; he is appealing to what is most irrational and most immature. To attempt to answer his ravings with logic is to attempt the impossible. First of all, by so doing we accept his battling premises, and we find ourselves trapped in an argument on terms he has chosen. It is always easier to defeat an enemy on your own ground, and by choosing your own terms. In addition, the demagogue either is, or pretends to be, incapable of the kind of logic that makes discussion and clarification possible. He is a master at changing the subject. It is worse than criminal for us to get ourselves involved in endless, pointless, and inevitably vituperative arguments with men who are less concerned with truth, social good, and real problems than they are with gaining unlimited attention and power for themselves.
In their defense against psychological attacks on their freedom, the people need humor and good sense first. Consistent approval or silent acceptance of any terror-provoking strategy will result only in the downfall of our democratic system. Confusion undermines confidence. In a country like ours, where it is up to the voting public to discern the truth, a universal knowledge of the methods used by the demagogue to deceive or to lull the public is absolutely necessary.
The Trial as an Instrument of Intimidation
Man’s suggestibility can be a severe liability to him and to his democratic freedom in still another important respect. Even when there is no deliberate attempt to manipulate public opinion, the uncontrolled discussion of legal actions, such as political or criminal trials, in newspaper headlines and in partisan columns helps to create a collective emotional atmosphere. This makes it difficult for those directly involved to maintain their much-needed objectivity and to render a verdict according to facts rather than suggestions and subjective experiences.
In addition, any judicial process which receives widespread publicity exerts mental pressure on the public at large. Thus, not only the participants but the entire citizenry can become emotionally involved in the proceedings. Any trial can be either an act of power or an act of truth. An apparently objective examination may become a weapon of control simply by the action of the suggestions that inevitably accompany it. As an act of power by a totalitarian government, the trial can have frightening consequences. The Moscow purge trials and the German Reichstag fire case are prime examples.
We do not, of course, have such horrifying travesties on justice in this country, but our tendency to turn legal actions into a field day for the newspapers, the radio, and television weakens our capacity to arrive at justice and truth. It would be better if we postponed discussion of the merits of any legal case until after the verdict was in.
As we have already seen, any man can be harassed into a confession. The cruel process of menticide is not the only way to arrive at this goal; a man can be held guilty merely by accusation, especially when he is too weak to oppose the impact of collective ire and public opinion.
In circumstances of abnormal fear and prejudice, men feel the need for a scapegoat more strongly than at other times. Consequently, people can be easily duped by false accusations which satisfy their need to have someone to blame. Victims of lynch mobs in our own country have been thus sacrificed to mass passion and so have some so-called traitors and collaborators. In public opinion, the trial itself becomes the verdict of “guilty.”
The Congressional Investigation
Let me first state that I firmly believe that the right of the Congress to investigate and to propose legislation on the basis of such investigation is one of the most important of our democratic safeguards. But like any other human institution, the Congressional right to investigate can be abused and misused. The power to investigate may become the power to destroy — not only the man under attack, but also the mental integrity of those who, in one way or another, are witnesses to the investigation. In a subtle way, the current wave of Congressional investigations may have a coercive effect on our citizenry. Some dictatorial personalities are obsessed with a morbid need to investigate, and Congressional investigations are made to order for them. Everybody who does not agree with them, who does not bow low and submit, is suspect, and is subjected to a flow of vilification and vituperation. The tendency on the part of the public is to disbelieve everything that the demagogue’s opponents say and to swallow uncritically the statements made by those who either surrender to his browbeating or go along with it because they believe in the aims he pretends to stand for.
PSYCHOLOGICALLY, IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE SIMPLE FACT OF BEING INTERVIEWED AND INVESTIGATED HAS A COERCIVE INFLUENCE. As soon as a man is under cross-examination, he may become paralyzed by the procedure and find himself confessing to deeds he never did. In a country where the urge to investigate spreads, suspicion and insecurity grow. Everybody becomes infected with the feelings of the omnipotence of the inquisitor. Wire tapping, for instance, has the same power; it is grasping the secrets of others.
In psychological circles a good deal of attention is now being given to the impact of interviews and interrogations on people. The psychological interviewer himself must be aware of the various interpersonal processes involved in this kind of communication; if he is not, he will not be able to find out where the truth lies. Instead he will get answers which are implicit in his own questions, answers which may have little relation to the real truth. This does not happen only in cases where both the interviewer and the man he is interviewing show bad faith. It can happen despite their best intentions. For everybody brings to an interview the sum total of all his earlier interpersonal relationships. In the initial verbal “trial and error,” during what we could call the smelling-out period, each party mobilizes himself to find out what the other party expects and where his weaknesses are and, at the same time, tries to hide his own weaknesses and emphasize his own strengths. The man in the street who is suddenly interviewed tends to give the answer he thinks his questioner expects.
Every conversation, every verbal relationship repeats, at least to some degree, the pattern of the early verbal relationships between the child and its parents. To a man or woman under investigation, the interrogator becomes the parent, good or bad, an object of suspicion or of submission. Since the interrogator himself is often unaware of this unconscious process, the result can be a confusing battle of unconscious or half-conscious tendencies, in which the spoken words are often merely a cover for suspicion-laden conversation between deeper layers of both personalities.
All people who are systematically interrogated, whether in a court, during a Congressional inquiry, or even when applying for a job or having a medical examination, feel themselves exposed. This very fact in itself provokes peculiar defensive mental attitudes. These attitudes may be useful and protective, but at times they may be harmful to the individual. When a man is looking for a job, for example, he may become overeager, and in his zeal to “make a good impression” to “put his best foot forward,” he may make a bad impression and arouse suspicion. For it is not only what we say but the way we say it that can indicate our honesty and poise. Nervous sounds, gestures, pauses, moments of silence or stuttering may give us away. Aggressive zeal may seduce us into saying too much. Inhibition may prevent us from saying enough.
The defendant in a court action or in an inquiry is defensive not only about the accusations leveled against him or the questions he has to answer, he is even more defensive about his own unconscious guilt and about his doubts about his own capabilities. Many of my colleagues in medicine and psychiatry who have been called as expert witnesses in legal actions have told me that the very moment they were under cross-examination, they felt themselves on trial and nearly convicted. Cross- examination seemed to them often less a way of getting at the truth than a form of emotional coercion, which did a great disservice to both the facts and the truth. This is the reason that every kind of investigative power can so easily become a coercive power. Making witnesses and defendants suffer from acute stage fright can be a nasty weapon of totalitarianism.
Because psychologists and psychiatrist appreciate these facts, there is now a strong tendency in these circles to use what we might call a passive technique in interviewing. When the interviewer’s questions are not directed toward any specific answer, the man being questioned will be encouraged to answer on his own initiative, out of his own desire to communicate. The neutral question, “What did you do afterwards?” provokes a freer and more honest response than the question “Did you go home after that?”
The Witness and His Subjective Testimony
We have seen in recent years a long parade of recanting Communists, who have testified freely and openly about their pasts. Currently, we have still another kind of parade: the recanting recanters. How are we to know the truth from falsehood in all this morass of conflicting testimony? How are we to prevent ourselves from becoming confused by the contradictory testimony of men and women whose words can influence the course of our nation’s actions? How are we to learn to evaluate what they say? Psychologically, how reliable is their testimony, whether friendly or unfriendly?
In general, we can say that those who are most vituperative in their statements are usually the least reliable. Many of them are men and women who in the past adopted a totalitarian ideology out of their own deep sense of inner insecurity. Later there came the moment when they felt that their chosen ideology had failed them. Though it had held their minds relentlessly imprisoned for a long time, at that point they were able to throw off the system completely. This they did through a process of inner rearrangement of old observations and convictions. However, what they shed was merely a particular set of rigid ideological rules. Most of them did not shed, along with these rules, their hidden hatreds and early insecurity. They may have given up the political ideology which offered them defenses and justifications, but they retained their resentments.
It is extremely common to find such people seeking immediate sanctuary in some other strictly organized institution. Because they now see things in a different light, old facts and concepts acquire a different significance. Yet, all the while, the ever-present urge toward self-justification and self-exculpation, which operates in all men and which in these cases motivated the former allegiance to Communism, is at work. Now they must prove their guiltlessness and their loyalty to their newly adopted ideas. Their emotions, now in new garb, are still directed toward the goal of self-justification.
In the eyes of the convert, the fresh outlook — this new arrangement of inner demands and of ways of satisfying them — is just as logical and rational as were his former set of expectations and satisfactions. Now he rediscovers several experiences long since past. His former friends become his enemies; some of them are seen as conspirators, whether they were or not. He himself is unable to distinguish between truth and fantasy, between fact and subjective demand. Consequently, a complete distortion of perceptions and memories may take place. He may misquote his own memories, and this process is for the most part one of which the convert himself is not aware. I remember vividly one example of such behavior during the Second World War. A former Nazi became a courageous member of the anti-Nazi underground. He sought to rectify his past behavior not only by fighting the Nazis, but also by spreading all kinds of anxiety-provoking rumors about his former friends. By making them appear more cruel, he thought he could show himself more loyal.
Similarly, the denials and misstatements that may be made by the convert before the courts or the Congressional committees are often not so much conscious falsehoods as they are products of the new inner arrangements. Every accusation about the convert’s past may be twisted by him into a new tool for use in the process of self-justification. Only a few such men have the moral courage to admit that they have made real mistakes in the past. The distance between a white lie and selective forgetting and repressing is often very short. I discovered this for myself while carrying on investigations of resistance members who had been in Nazi hands. I found that it was almost impossible to obtain objective information from them about what they had revealed to the enemy after torture. Reporting upon their enforced betrayal, they immediately colored their stories by white lies and secondary distortions. Depending on their guilt feelings, they either accused themselves too much or found no flaw at all in their behavior.
The Right to Be Silent
Out of the action of Congressional investigating committees has recently come a serious legal attack on the right to be silent when the giving of information clashes with the conscience of the one on the stand. This attack can become a serious invasion of human privacy and reserve. Undermining the value of the personality and of private conscience is as dangerous to the preservation of democracy as is the threat of totalitarian aggression.
We have to realize that it is often difficult for witnesses to make a choice between contempt of Congess and contempt of human qualitites. Administrators may conceivably discover a few alleged “traitors” by compelling witnesses to betray their former friends, but at the same time they compel people to betray friendships. Friendship is one of our most precious human possessions. Any government or agency that, under the guise of “contempt of Congress,” can force confessions, and information can also force the betrayal of former loyalties. Is this not comparable with what the coercive totalitarians do? And at what cost?
We obtain a pseudo-purge resulting from weakness of character and anxiety in the victim. In addition we violate one of democracy’s basic tenets — respect for the strength of man’s character. We have always believed that it is better to let ten guilty men go free than to hang one innocent — in direct opposition to the totalitarian concept that it is better to hang ten innocent men than to let one guilty man go free. We may punish the guilty with this strategy of compelling a man to speak when his conscience urges him to be silent, but just as surely we break down the innocent by destroying their conscience. Supreme Court Justices Douglas and Black in their dissenting opinion about the constitutionality of the Immunity Act of 1954 [See “The New York Times,” March 27, 1956] emphasize the right to be silent as a Constitutional right given by the Fifth Amendment — a safeguard of personal conscience and personal dignity and freedom of expression as well. It is beyond the power of Congress to compel anyone to confess his crimes even when immunity is assured.
The individual’s need NOT to betray his former allegiances — even when he has made a mistake in political judgment at an age of less understanding — is morally just as important as the need to help the state locate subversives. Let us not forget that betrayal of the community is rooted in self-betrayal. By forcing a man to betray his inner feelings and himself, we actually make it easier for him to betray the larger community at some future date. If the law forces people to betray their inner moral feelings of friendship, even if these feelings are based on juvenile loyalties, then that very law undermines the integrity of the person, and coercion and menticide begin. The conscience of the individual plays an enormous role in the choice between loyal opposition and passive conformity. The law has to protect the individual also against the violation of his personal moral standards; otherwise, human conscience will lose in the battle between individual conscience and legal power. Moral evaluation starts with the individual and not with the state.
The concept of brainwashing has already led to some legal implications, and these have led to new facets of imagined crime. Because the reports about Communist brainwashing of the prisoners of war in Korea and China were published widely in newspapers, they aroused anxieties among lay people. As mentioned in Chapter Three, several schizophrenics and borderline patients seized upon this rather new concept of brainwashing, using it as an explanation for a peculiar kind of delusion that beset them — the delusion of being influenced. Some of these persons had, as it were, the feeling that their minds had been laid open, as if from the outside, through radio waves or some other mystic communication, thoughts were being directed.
During recent years, I received several letters from such patients complaining about their feelings of continual brainwashing. The new concept of political mental coercion fitted into their system of delusions. Several lawyers consulted me for information about clients who wanted to sue their imaginary brainwashers.
The same concept, used above to account for pathological suspicions, could be used maliciously to accuse and sue anybody who professionally gave advice to people or tried to influence them. At this very moment (fall, 1955) several court procedures are going on wherein the defendants are being sued for the crime of brainwashing by a third party. They are accused of having advised, in their professional capacity, somebody to do something against the plaintiff’s interests. The shyster lawyer is now able to attack subtle human relationshpis and turn them into a corrupt matter. This is the age-old evil of using empathy not for sympathy but for antipathy and attack. In so doing, the accuser may misuse a man’s hesitation to bring these human relationshps into the open; the accuser also makes use of the strange situation in the United States that even the innocent winner of a court procedure has to pay the cost of his legal help. Practically, this means that in a difficult judicial question, he has to pay at least thirty thousand dollars before he can reach the Supreme Court — if it is a Supreme Court case — and appeal to the highest form of justice in our country.
Because of this new angle, which has developed during the past few years, of the brainwashing situation, the psychiatric profession has been made more vulnerable to unreasonable attack. In one case, a third party felt hurt by a psychological treatment that made the patient more independent in an unpleasant commercial situation in which he had formerly been rather submissive. In another case, the doctor was sued because he was able to free his patient from a submissive love affair and an ambiguous promise of marriage. In a third case, the patient during treatment changed from a commerical agency that had treated him badly. In all those cases, the disappointed party could bring suit on the basis of so-called brainwashing, and malicious influence. In several cases of this form of blackmail, an expensive settlement was made out of court because the court procedure would have become far more costly.
The practicing psychiatrist who is attacked in this way experiences not only financial pressure imposed on him by the dissatsified party and a malicious lawyer, but in several states the court does not even recognize his professional oath of secrecy. The Hippocratic oath says:
Whatever, in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I may see or hear in the lives of men which ought not to be spoken abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.
Some courts hold that the only physical investigation and treatment are valid as medical treatment not to be divulged; personal conversation — the quintessence of psychiatric treatment — is not looked upon as a medical action. Hiding behind professional secrecy is regarded as contempt of court. An additional difficulty is that this accusation of malpractice by a third party — not by the patient himself — is not covered by the usual malpractice insurance.
The importance of such perfidious attack on psychological relationships — however rare the number of cases may be at this moment — is that it opens the road for many other forms of mental blackmail. It means that subtle personal relationships can be attacked and prosecuted in court, merely because a third party feels excluded or neglected or financially damamged. I cannot sue my broker because he gave me wrong financial advice, but I can sue a psychological counselor for malpractice because he “brainwashed” my client.
What new possibilities for mental blackmail and sly accusation are open! Gradually we can make punishable wrong intention and anticipation, nonconformist advice and guidance, and, in the end, simple honest human influence and originality — things that are already considered criminal in totalitarian countries.
The word “blackmail” was originally used in the border warfare between England and Scotland. Blackmail was the agreement made by freebooters not to plunder or molest the farmer — in exchange for money or cattle. The word comes from the Middle English “maille” meaning speech or rent or tax.
The French equivalent “chantage” brings us even nearer to the concept of mental coercion. It means forcing the other fellow “to sing,” to confess things against his will by means of threatening physical punishment or threatening to reveal a secret. It is, in the last analysis, mental coercion.
We may call mental blackmail the growing tendency to overstep human reserve and dignity. It is the tendency to misuse the intimate knowledge of what is going on in the crevices of the soul, to injure and embarrass one’s fellow man. MENTAL BLACKMAIL STARTS WHEREVER THE PRESUMPTION OF GUILT TAKES THE PLACE OF PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE. The hunting up of dirt and sensation in order to embarrass a victim we see very often carried on by the yellow press. It is not only playing up indecency, but at the same time it undermines human judgment and opinion. And by its sensationalism is precludes and prejudices justice in the courts.
What a weak baby accomplishes with its tears and pouting can be done by the whining, querulous accuser with his fantasies about malicious influence and brainwashing. The suicidal patient may exert the same kind of pressure.
I am convinced that in the future the Supreme Court has to make rules which will control these new forms of indictment; yet the core of the problem is the growing suspicion within man in our era of transition. We blackmail men’s minds with too many security measures, with secret files; we blackmail with gossip, with subtle pressures within political pressure groups, with lobbies within lobbies, and even by withholding our friendship.
The Judge and the Jury
What about the people who are called upon to sift truth from falsehood, to arrive at just and impartial verdicts? The judge and the jury are themselves influenced and affected by the external facts and inner needs that lie behind the behavior of the other principals in the case. Yet they are supposed to rise above their background, their personal needs and desires and to render a verdict strictly on the evidence, unswayed by any prejudice or subjective desires. And let us bear in mind that it is not only those officially connected with a case who make a decision about it, it is everyone who knows about it. You and I, the public, are judge and jury too.
Judge and jury face the difficult task of finding and asking on the basis of the facts alone, and yet even in them, under the influence of strong group emotions, an emotional rearrangement of remembered facts may take place.
Judge and jurors are affected by the collective emotional atmosphere surrounding controversial issues, and it is difficult for them to maintain their much-needed objectivity. The average juror already submits to the popular emotional demand before the trial is started, as several trials about racial persecution proved.
Lately two authorities on law attacked the system of trial by jury, one because of its delaying action on the process of justice (Peck) and the other because he considered it an outmoded means of administering justice (Newman). Trial by jury is a relic of the thirteenth century intended to replace the magic trial by ordeal — the gods and coincidence decided the guilt — and to replace the trial by battle — physical skill and power decided which of two parties was guilty. The trial by a jury of peers, by all those who knew the accused and the circumstances of the alleged crime, served its puspose in rather simple organized communities for a long time. But in our compliated society, where people know less about each other and where a thousandfold communications intrude the mind, things have changed. “The average juror is swayed by the emotion and prejudice of his heredity and background training.” (Newman) Our juries are not always able to follow the intricacies of pros and cons, of interpretation of facts. In addition, many a trial lawyer knows how to fascinate a jury, how to catch their minds and influence their judgment. Beyond this, the selection of jurors delays more and more the process of justice.
As a simple example of how individual, personal, and social conditioning can affect a juror’s current reactions, let us look at the inner confusion usually caused by the word “traitor.” Here we have an emotionally loaded trigger-word. If somebody is accused of being a traitor or a subversive, on the basis of undeniable facts, any attempt at a scientific, psychological explanation of this person’s behavior is already considered a treacherous intellectualism. The consensus is that the traitor should be punished; he belongs to the scum of society, better let him die. Even the lawyer who defends him before the court may be accused of collaboration in treason.
All of us know many other trigger words which immediately provoke confusion in our objective perception and judgment because they touch unsolved, unconscious feelings. Words like “Communist” and “homosexual,” for instance, can become confusing trigger words which bring a reservoir of dark feelings into action. Demagogues like to use such words in order to stir up mass feelings, which they cannot control but which they believe are very suitable for the strategy of the moment. This can become, however, like playing with dynamite. Any one of us may be swayed by allusive cliches such as “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” or “Once a thief, always a thief.” I once saw this most interestingly in a hot debate where someone had once been scolded for being a “dirty monogamist.” As soon as the accusation was made, public opinion turned against him.
Even a judge can be swayed by his own emotional difficulties, especially by slanted testimony of witnesses who may be attempting to mislead. In Great Britain the courts are more aware of the effect of a prejudicial attitude on the part of jurors. There the trial process is extensively protected, mostly through prevention of pretrial discussion and deliberation, regardless of the unpopularity of the accused.
An open official interrogation affects those who watch it — and the fact that they are affected may influence its outcome. Various crime hearings in this country, for instance, were brought before the people by means of television. Citizens sitting comfortably at home far from the scene could see how defense lawyers maneuvered facts or instructed their clients (among whom were well-known crime bosses) so that they would appear in a favorable light. Even though their actions may have been transparent tricks with the appearance of a fixed wrestling match, the result was that some of the not-so-jovial-looking victims of the criminals were made ridiculous, while the criminals, calm, assured, self-possessed, seemed more admirable. The victims often couldn’t stand being in the limelight; it made them feel ill at east and embarrassed. The criminals, on the other hand, either denied every accusation in tones of righteous indignation or made confessions which degenerated into hysterical quests for pity. The magic effect of all the anonymous onlookers — because the witness or defendant imagined their approval or disapproval — influenced the outcome of the hearings. All of us who watched them brought our own subjective expectations to bear on these hearings.
Television makes a mass trial of such a hearing, and unwittingly not justice but the variable feelings of the public become part of the courtroom atmosphere. Every piece of evidence in such a hearing is colored by rumor and emotion, and the shocked onlookers are left with feelings of suspicion and deep misgivings that the hearing has not really gotten down to the condemning facts.
The Quest for Detachment
Man’s feeling for justice has very subtle implications. As soon as “Justitia” flirts with powerful friends or becomes completely submissive, people feel insecure and their anxiety increases. But man’s feeling for justice needs more than mere security for its satisfaction and gratification. The sense of justice is an inner attitude aiming at the realization of ideal rules of law that can inspire the community and raise it to a higher moral level. It requires not merely that minimum of decent behavior that is enforced by law, but more than that a maximum of personal initiative and mutual fair play. It asks for personal and social justice, for mutual limitation of demands in the service of the mutuality of relations between men, and between men and their government. Any ideal feeling of justice requires sacrifice and implies self-limitation. Emotionalism is its enemy. This ideal of justice is not only valid for individuals but should also rule communities and countries. Only in such an atmosphere of free mutual sacrifice of power on behalf of growing justice can democracy grow.
Can people learn to see objectively and in a manner detached from their personal feelings? Yes, they can. Preconceived ways of seeing and witnessing can be changed. Many people realize the damage men do to themselves and others when they submit to collective passion and prejudice. These people then learn through astute investigation and observation how to be less prejudiced, how to see events with constant readaptation of mind and eye and with a search for reality.
Prisoners in concentration camps or P.O.W. camps are so constantly bombarded with rumors and suggestions, their observations are so distorted by their necessary self-defenses, that they are hardly able to give an objective report regarding the actions of their fellows. The mass attitude of the day directs their opinions. The fellow who has become a scapegoat, whose function it is to alleviate for his fellow prisoners their common anger, will never be able to neutralize all later reports about him, simply becasue the number of so-called objective witnesses is against him. It is very difficult to separate the rumors from the facts and to neutralize ingrown mental toenails. There is in man an instinctual need to take sides with the majority, to conform to the opinion of the strong. This need is rooted in a biological urge for safety. That is why a strong feeling of participation grew among soldiers in a P.O.W. camp. The result was complete unconscious falsification of what happened. The individual observation got lost in the strong impact of mass opinion.
In the future age of psychology, when insight into man’s behavior is more generally understood and applied, we will be more aware of the importance of dependable witnesses. Every report and every piece of testimony pro or con will be examined and weighed in the light of its psychological and historical background. The citizen of the future will laugh as he looks back at the time once lost during trials because obvious facts on one side were not brought out to challegne equally obvious facts on the opposing side. These future citizens will understand that we only revealed our mutual hostilities and feelings of fear and insecurity by our behavior, feelings which moved us compulsively and subtly to make subjective rearrangements of our memories and impressions. He will point out that objective thinking was in its infancy in those days.
Chapter 9 Fear as a Tool of Terror
The Fear of Living
In our era the fear aroused by human relationships is so strong that inertia and mental death often seem more attractive than mental alertness and life. Classical psychology often spoke of the fear of death and the great unknown as the cause of many anxieties, but modern psychological studies have shown us that the fear of living is a much greater, deeper, and more frightening one.
Living often seems beyond our power. Stepping out of a relatively safe childish dependence into freedom and responsibility is both hazardous and dangerous. Living demands activity and spontaneity, trial and error, sleeping and reawakening, competition and cooperation, adaptation and reorientation. Living involves manifold relationships, each of which has thousands of implications and complications. Living takes us away from the dream of being protected and demands that we expose our weaknesses and strengths daily to our fellow men, with all their hostilities as well as their affections. It requires us to build up useful defenses and then to replace them with others because we have to change our goals and our relationships. It expects us to be lonely in order to cooperate in freedom. It asks us to submit and to conquer, to adjust and to rebel. It robs us of our childhood slumber of satisfaction, and of the magic, omnipotent fantasies of our infancy. Living requires mutuality of giving and taking. Above all, to live is to love. And many people are afraid to take the responsibility of loving, of having an emotional investment in their fellow beings. They want only to be loved and to be protected; they are afraid of being hurt and rejected. We can see this clearly in the fact that so many people embrace so fervently all the limitations and frustrations of life that are offered them-the neurotic limitations of the usual prejudices or the totalitarian limitations imposed by power politics. In his book Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm describes clearly how the pressures of freedom, when they are not balanced by responsibility and understanding, can drive men into the totalitarian frame of mind and into surrender of their hard-won liberties. Such surrender is nothing less than a slow mental death.
Totalitarian leaders, whether of the right or of the left, know better than anyone else how to make use of this fear of living. They thrive on chaos and bewilderment. During unrest in international politics, they are most at ease. The strategy of fear is one of their most valuable tactics. The growing complications of our civilization and its administration make the impact of power politics felt more than ever before. When the totalitarians add to their tactics all the clever tricks that we have already discussedPavlovian conditioning, repeated suggestion, deconditioning through boredom and physical degradation-they can win their battle for the control of man’s mind.
In the earlier chapters of this book we described in some detail the techniques by which man could be turned into a robot in the service of totalitarianism and some of the tendencies that operate, even in the free countries, to rob man of his mental integrity. It is important for us to realize that emphasis on conformity and the fear of spontaneous living can have an effect almost as devastating as the totalitarian’s deliberate assault on the mind. Conformity and the fear of living rob the free way of life of its greatest asset in the struggle against totalitarianism.
Our human strength lies in our diversity and independence of thought, in our acceptance of nonconformity, in our willingness to discuss and to evaluate various conflicting points of view. In denying the diversities of life and the complexity and individuality of the human mind, in preaching rigid dogmas and self-righteousness, we begin gradually to adopt the totalitarian attitude we deplore. Delusion has never been the exclusive property of any one country, class, or group, and the totalitarian delusion, which in itself promotes menticide, can invade us from many fronts, from the right as well as the left, from the rich or from the underprivileged, from the conservatives and from the rebels.
Fear and intimidation have not only been the result but also the tools of mental coercion. Although there is as yet no unified theory of fear and anxiety, and we therefore do not know precisely why and how the development of these feelings leads to such dire consequences, it is important for us to understand what useful tools fear and panic are, and to see, through description, what these overwhelming emotions are able to do to people.
Most people think of fear reactions as hysterical expressions of desperation. But, as this chapter should make clear, fear and panic also have their paradoxical expressions in indifference and apathy, reactions which, just because they are less commonly recognized as fear-created, can be much more dangerous to the individual than a good hysterical cry. It is the hidden, silent fears that have such an impact on our social and political behavior. Fear and panic are reactions not only to overt danger and threat, they are also reactions to the slow, seeping intrusion of disquieting propaganda and the constant wave of suggestion to which we are all exposed. Fear is at work all around us, and often it throws its shadows where we least expect to find them. We may be acting out of fear without even knowing it; we may consider that our behavior is perfectly normal and rational when, in fact, psychology tells us that creeping fear may already have begun to work on us.
Fear and catastrophe fortify the need to identify with a strong leader. They lead to herding together of people, who shy away from wanting to be individual cells any longer; they prefer to be part of a huge mystic social organization that protects against threat and distress, in oneness with the leader. This protection-seeking instinctual reaction is also directed against dissent and individualism, against the individual ego. We see in this a regression toward a more primitive state of mass participation. True, this process of ego-shrinking is the negative side of the back-to-mass reaction. Yet it stimulates a recognition of greater need for cooperation and mutual help. During the last war and the generally experienced emergencies many people became for the first time aware of the affective ties they had with their neighbors. At the same time, anxiety can inspire suspicion and the need for seeking scapegoats. It is the paradox of fear that it propagates warm feelings of immature ties and cold suspicion at the same time.
Although there is throughout the world a conscious trend toward overcoming fear and feelings of insecurity, there is also a less conscious countercurrent provoking new fears and anxieties and insecurities. Whether he is aware of it or not, modern man lives in an atmosphere of fear-fear of war, fear of the H-bomb, fear of totalitarianism, fear of nonconformism, fear of dissent. Fear has already begun to influence our behavior by the time we are aware of it. Once fear has penetrated the mind and stimulated fantasy, it begins to direct our actions, whether we want it to or not. We cannot eliminate all the thousands of stresses and fear-provoking situations in the modern world, but we can learn to recognize and understand some of the most common forms of fear reactions. In this way we can find a partial release from the tensions they create and can learn how to cope with them more effectively.
Our Fantasies About Danger
I remember vividly one sunny afternoon during the Second World War while I was still in Holland. I was playing tennis with some friends. We were all enjoying the satisfying exertion of our sport, but our enjoyment was somewhat marred by the players on the next court. They spoke the language of the hated occupier, and although attired in the same white sports clothes as we, they were obviously Nazi officers who were temporarily forgetting their delusion of conquering the world and were trying to relax like normal human beings. Suddenly we all heard the drone of planes and the sound of antiaircraft off in the distance. Then a group of lowflying Spitfires, our friends from England, came zooming by. My friends and I stopped playing, waved our rackets in greeting, and watched the planes maneuvering. Our neighbors reacted quite differently. They became panicky; one of them flung his racket from him and ran off, the others threw themselves, face down, into a ditch bordering the court. Objectively, we were all faced with the same danger of strafing from the English planes, but for the Germans these were enemy planes, while for us they were friends.
I’m sure it isn’t necessary for me to add that after this occurrence my fellow Dutch citizens were forbidden to play tennis on that court. When, a year later, I had arrived by good chance in London, I found that every time German planes came over during the night, I had that same suspicious feeling the German officers on the tennis court must have had. It seemed as though every bullet and every bomb was meant for me. So great is the role of fantasy in fear that an enemy bomb may have a different meaning for us than a friendly bomb.
Fear may be defined very simply as an inner reaction to danger. This definition is deceptively simple, for as soon as we offer it, we are faced with a new problem: What shall we define as danger? Bombs, fires, earthquakes, and epidemics are easily recognizable as dangers. So are physical torture, direct totalitarian attack, and sudden economic collapse. But there are many subtle emotional dangers, too, arousing fearful fantasies and anticipations often combined with inner visions of doom and disaster. As our examples will show, these dangers are faced differently by different people. It is our personal attitude toward life and toward mankind that determines whether we consider a situation a welcome challenge or an unconquerable danger. Some people enjoy strict control and mechanical conditioning of their lives. For them, totalitarianism and thought control are not danger; they bring a kind of eternal day-sleep without responsibility. To these people, freedom is a danger, while dependence is a pleasurable safety. Others loathe any intrusion into their personal freedom and integrity and are continually on the alert to defend themselves against any external pressure-real or fancied.
Even when people are well prepared and trained to meet an anticipated disaster, such as imprisonment and brainwashing, the actual impact of the danger may provoke all kinds of defensive behavior. Overtraining may even weaken the person because the long anticipation allows all kinds of hidden fantasies to run rampant. In a minority of persons this may be expressed in such pathological fear reactions as complete nervous breakdown or utter paralysis. Every person shows a different mental threshold of resistance to danger, and this threshold may change day by day, depending on our physical and mental fortitude. As a rule, inexperienced troops do not immediately show pathological fear in combat; such behavior takes some time to develop. Paradoxically enough, fear reactions and moments of weakness often develop after the real danger has passed. When the tension of battle or the daily stress of life in the prison camp is over, and there is no longer any need to hide one’s fears and to control one’s behavior, many people let go completely and give free vent to all their anxieties.
In Dover, England, in 1944, the population suffered a kind of collective nervous breakdown when after the tension of four years of continual shelling by the Germans they heard only silence. The shelling suddenly stopped completely after the Allied troops swept victoriously across the Belgian coast. At that moment, many of the people of Dover broke down. It was as if the unexpected silence had brought them into a state of shock.
This paradoxical fear reaction after danger has passed is important for us to understand. The totalitarian strategists know that during a period of temporary quiet and relaxation of tension, people lose their alertness and thus can be more easily caught in the totalitarian mental grip. In their strategy of terror they consciously make use of the psychological action of the breathing spell. As soon as we let go and drop the defenses we have built up against danger, we can be brought to swallow any strong suggestions. The totalitarians also, in their “Document on Terror,” call the technique of taking advantage of such relief the “strategy of fractionalized fear:” In a quiet period between acute tensions, they can easily condition their victims’ minds. Hitler used the Munich period of appeasement in precisely this way. During this time, his propaganda barrage was doubly effective.
Whether the reaction to fear and danger is immediate or delayed, most people show, under stress, behavior that can be said to fall into one of the following patterns:
1. Regression-loss of learned behavior.
2. Camouflage and disguise-the so-called “feign or faint” reactions.
3. The explosive panic-defense through “fight or flight”
4. Our psychosomatic conditioning-the body takes over.
Although most people are more or less acquainted with the concept of regression, of setting the cultural clock back, they are surprised, nevertheless, to see staid men and women lose their acquired habits of civilization in times of catastrophe and panic. I once treated an engineer who had been the victim of an earthquake in a foreign country. After the earthquake, he behaved completely like a baby. All kinds of treatments were tried, but none were successful; we were never able to change his childish behavior. He never found his way back to normal, adequate behavior. From that fateful day, he remained barricaded in his cave of escape. It was as if with one blow he had forgotten everything he had ever learned. He was no longer a grown man, a professional scientist. He was an infant. He babbled like an infant, he had to be fed like an infant. Another earthquake victim of whom I know, a professor of mathematics, was found in his garden after the quake was over, half-naked and playing with his child’s toys. He completely rejected any recognition of the real emergency situation in which he found himself and regressed to a period of infantile irresponsibility. Such regressive behavior as a form of defense is encountered everywhere in the animal kingdom. When an organism is in danger, it drops its complexity and retreats to a simpler form of existence. When circumstances of living become too dangerous, some easily exposed multicellular organisms turn into well-protected, simple monocellular beings. This regressive process, called encystication may, for instance, take place when the organism is exposed to abnormal temperatures or abnormal dryness.
Man is subject to the same biological rule of defense. When life is too complex for him, he often turns the clock of civilization back and becomes primitive again. A sudden disintegration and breakdown of functions may occur. This form of regressive behavior is common in children. When they are frightened, they often revert to baby talk or to bed-wetting. In the bombed areas during the Second World War, many girls in their late teens started to play with their dolls again. Even seemingly mature, hypersophisticated men and women may display thousands of symptoms of this return to infantilism when fear attacks them. Their symptoms are not always as dramatic as the examples above; nevertheless, they are symptoms of fear. When grown people begin to stutter and to lose their daily decorum, when they take to carrying around special protective charms, when they invent stories about their magic invulnerability, when they boast more, eat more cake and candy, whistle more, talk more, cry more, and lose their formal stiff and staid behavior, they are acting out of fear.
During the Second World War, in the prison camps and the air-raid shelters, people really got to know each other, as do children in the playpen who have the simple intuitive gift of knowing whom they can trust. In our age of anxiety, we feel possessed by the same frightening shadows that once haunted the Stone-Age man, and we may react to them by acting more like our simpler ancestors.
Camouflage and Disguise
A different pattern is that of camouflage and disguiseplaying hide-and-seek with fate. This useful protective trickery is often seen in lower animals who temporarily acquire the form or color of their environment. It is just like military camouflage. Everybody is acquainted with the color changes of the chameleon, and there are many other animals which are able to change their skin or body form in times of danger. Yet many people are not aware that human skin, too, shows rudimentary attempts at camouflage. The phenomenon of goose flesh resembles the reaction of a frightened, bristling cat; sudden graying of the hair or discoloration of the skin, which is known technically as fear melanosis, changes our outer color.
During the Second World War, I went with a first-aid team to Rotterdam after the city had been heavily bombed. As we looked at the people, our first impression was that they were all wearing masks. Their skin was wrinkled and showed a typical camouflage reaction. They were all still badly frightened. It was as if they were in hiding from the tremendous hell of fire that had been thrown down on them.
There is a psychological parallel to these physical reactions; it is called the “feign or faint” pattern. Actual psychology looks at both reactions, feigning and fainting, as a passive retreat from reality. This reaction is comparable to shell-shock or battle neurosis, the study of which is one of the most absorbing chapters of medicine. Soldier and civilian alike can go into a state of mental paralysis. In such a state the victim becomes apathetic; he is unable to talk or to move. No dangerous reality exists for him anymore. He looks dead; only his frightened, burning eyes seem alive. This death attitude or cataleptic reaction often has a completely terrifying effect on bystanders. There is nothing so contagious as fainting in any crowded place.
It is of the utmost importance to realize how passive, paralyzed, indifferent, and submissive people can become under circumstances which should demand the utmost activity. The totalitarians are making use of man’s passive reaction to terror when they put their prisoners into huge concentration camps with only a few guards; they are gambling that the reaction of passivity will keep the victim from rebelling or trying to escape. Like the bird which stands stock-still when the snake approaches, man may surrender passively to what he dreads and fears in order to get rid of the tension of anticipation. The thief who surrenders to the police because he cannot stand the tension and insecurity of not knowing when he will be found out is an obvious example.
A psychological camouflage reaction lies behind emotional shock and silent panic-the mental paralysis that overcomes some people when they can no longer cope with the circumstances in which they find themselves. Passive surrender to what he fears is one of man’s most common reactions to sudden danger; it is not limited to pathological personalities. It occurs much more frequently than wild and overt panic, and displays itself in numerous subtle behavior mechanisms. People may escape into complaints about physical disease. They may take refuge in “very important” pseudo-tasks and hobbies. They may deny real danger in a seemingly self-securing complacency. They become obstinate and disobedient; nothing can activate them. They are not interested in politics, they say. Some will try to sell to themselves and others the paralyzing theory of hopelessness and the inevitability of doom. But don’t talk about the nuclear bomb! Others will throw themselves into the oblivion of excessive drinking or hide themselves in long, pointless conferences. Every man has his own psychological Maginot line-a mental fortress that he believes inviolable. We used to call this the ostrich policy-and the ostrich policy is one of the most dangerous strategies in the world. Beware the totalitarian who preaches peace; his intention may be to push the world into passive surrender to that which it fears.
The cult of passivity and so-called relaxation is one of the most dangerous developments of our times. Essentially, it too may represent a camouflage pattern, the double wish not to see the dangers and challenges of life and not to be seen. We cannot escape all the tensions that surround us; they are part of life, and we have to learn to cope with them adequately and to use our leisure time for more creative and gratifying activities. Silent, lonely relaxationwith alcohol, sweets, the television screen, or a murder mysterymay soothe the mind into a passivity that may gradually make it vulnerable to the seductive ideology of some feared enemy. Denying the danger of totalitarianism through passivity, may gradually surrender to its blandishments those who were initially afraid of it.
Most people are far more familiar with the explosive motor reactions we call panic and stampede than they are with the other fear reactions. This is what we call mass hysteria, the chacun pour soi reaction. The baby has its temper tantrums, and older people have their uncontrolled fury and “fight or flight” reactions. Although we usually think of the word “panic” as describing such phenomena as the hysterical stampede out of a burning theater or the flight of whole populations in terror, there are many subtle steps that lead from the first symptoms of unrest we all feel when something is threatening, to the great outbursts of crying and running and fighting we see in severe panics. Man shows many forms of panicky, frenzied behavior-epileptic fits (as in trench or war epilepsy), fury, rage, self-destruction, criminal aggression, running amok, deserting from the army, rioting, uncontrolled impulsiveness, breakneck speed in driving. A soldier in a state of panic may behave like an angry child. He may attack his friends or shoot at the members of his own troop. In panic, civilians may begin to cry, shout, walk aimlessly about wringing their hands. Or they may shout and scold or cry for help. The panicky person spreads panic; every time he shouts, he incites others to run. Panic is never a queston of crude strength or failing energy, but rather of lack of inner structure, of a failing capacity to organize. The panicky leader hesitates to use the powers entrusted to him.
The child with temper tantrums lies deep within all of us. The more mysterious and unaccountable the danger, the more primitive our reactions may be.
Riots, furious mass movement, and outbreaks of criminality serve to increase fear and panic, and thus can be used to deepen man’s sense of insecurity and further his passive surrender to the totalitarian environment. Any terroristic regime compels its victims to repress their reactions of rebellion and anger. The more these reactions are repressed, the more the victims develop tremendous inner rage, which must bide its time and wait until it is permitted some socially sanctioned form of explosion. War is often such a universal panic, a mass discharge of accumulated internal rage. Here, too, the inner fears of mankind are discharged in mass destruction.
The Body Takes Over
The great group of psychosomatic reactions, although they are no mystery, are more difficult to explain. Let us look at an example which may make this phenomenon more clear. In my home town in Holland, after a few bombardments during the Second World War, an epidemic of bladder disease broke out-at least that was the first explanation. People suffered from the need to urinate so often that their sleep was disturbed; almost no one had a full night’s rest. For a short time, there was a boom in the practice of urologists. Then psychiatrists were able to explain that this urge to urinate was one of the first reactions to fear. The victims had only to think back to their childhood and to recall their bodily reactions before taking examinations at school to see what was happening. Increased urination may be described as one of the tension-reducing devices of the body. The body may react to danger and panic with a variety of physical symptoms. Perspiration, frequent urination, heart palpitations, diarrhea, high blood pressure are only a few. We know that many of these reactions are related to the body’s mobilization of specific defenses against threatening dangers. The specific ways in which bodily diseases related to fear and anxiety develop are conditioned largely by the individual’s personal life history, especially his development during childhood. The infant whose early tensions and yearnings were drowned in milk and pablum will grow up into an adult who tries to fill his mouth again as soon as something threatening occurs. Overeating has become for him a fear-allaying device. In the process of rearing the child, the parent unwittingly train certain of the child’s organs to react to the tensions of life.
Because man has many bodily organs, he can show a tremendous variety in his physical and emotional responses to threats, both from without and within. Psychosomatic medicine distinguishes between different character types in terms of the different organs which respond to outside stress or danger. There is the ulcer type, the asthma type, the colitis type, the heart failure type. Each of these types shows a different reaction to the same battle-the battle against fear. Feelings of social tension may be expressed in various organic diseases. In acute fright, however, certain organs of the body more commonly react than others. As we saw in our earlier example, the need for frequent urination is a nearly universal reaction to fright. The “upset stomach” is another almost universal fear reaction.
During the Second World War, a medical team looked in vain for the bug causing an unknown intestinal disease among American soldiers who were preparing to land on one of the enemy islands in the Pacific. The doctors and biologists searched and searched; they found nothing. The mysterious disease vanished, as suddenly as it had appeared, after the invasion began and the soldiers were able to discharge in action the tension of waiting f or the invasion. These men were not strange or abnormal in any way. Even when one consciously accepts the challenge of danger and is prepared to face it, counterforces in the body may defeat the mental effort. The mind wants to be brave, but the body escapes into disease. Consistency of child-rearing, emotional security at home, and lifelong conditioning to acceptance of the various challenges of life-all these are the factors that determine how we will react when we are put to the test.
In their treatment of panicky soldiers during the last war, psychiatrists gave some of their time to an explanation of these various danger reactions. As the victims began to understand their reactions and saw how common they were, they took the first and most important step toward cure. No longer were they so afraid of their fears; no longer were they in such dread of cowardice. It was important for them to know that what had reduced them to the level of helpless childhood was part of a universal pattern of defensive behavior. As they understood this, they became less afraid and ashamed of their own private fears. They knew that their bodies were reacting like many others, and they became able once more to accept their duties quietly and with better control. Stamina and resourcefulness depend as much on self-knowledge as they do on the help and support we get from others.
In times of stress and calamity, people begin to probe for the vulnerable spots and weaknesses in both their friends and their enemies. This testing goes on constantly during a hot war, but it happens during a cold war as well. The cold war exerts a continual pressure on human imagination and mental fortitude and is the cause of many peculiar escape reactions or bodily reactions.
Whenever fear and danger confront him, man has to make a choice: Shall he indulge in unchecked fury? Shall he concentrate upon self-protection? Or shall he accept his responsibilities? The fear reactions we have described show how the primordial impulse to self-protection (misguided though it may be) can break through all our civilized defenses. Only training and conscious preparation for danger, both inner and outer, can give a man strength to hold these reactions in check. This training starts within the nucleus of the family and is supported by the example of a peaceful, free community. These are the first teachers in the constant battle between inner fear and outer danger.
Those who are in danger of being brainwashed can be helped simply by making them familiar with the facts. Foreknowledge has a partial protective function, and this belongs to the best security we can give to them. It takes away the weakening influence of anxious and mysterious anticipation. With this aid, their mental vulnerability is then furthered by innate inner strength, by the example of good rearing, and by the challenge and opportunity their society gives to them.