Tag Archives: brainwashing

New Books Network Podcast Interview w/ Scott Selisker on Human Programming

New from the New Books Network of podcasts is an interview with Scott Selisker on his recent book Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom.  As New Books Network describes, Selicker’s book

offers readers a fascinating new history of American anxieties along the borderland between the machine and the human mind. Demonstrating the way that a variety of fields influence and coproduce one another, Human Programming follows the metaphor of the automaton through news media, fiction, psychology, cybernetics, film, law and back again. Along the way, Selisker engages academic work on labor automation, posthumanism, affect and emotion, and techno-Orientalism.

Through careful interpretation of books on American soldiers returning from the Korean War, the trial of Patty Hearst, the narrative logic of Snow Crash and Blade Runner, the central conflicts of Homeland and the Manchurian Candidate, and the baffled news reports on John Walker Lindh, Human Programming “offers a new literary and cultural context for understanding the human automaton figure” as it has appeared and reappeared over the half century, and explores how the metaphor of the automaton has “shaped American conversations about the self and other, the free and unfree, and democracy and its enemies, since World War II” (7, 8). Beginning with a prehistory in WWII propaganda, this timely study comes up to a present in which we replace our employees with touchscreens, rely on machine learning to translate our conversations, use proprietary software to plot our routes, and deny the human freedom of our fellow citizens.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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3 year Post-Doctoral Fellowship with Hidden Persuaders

The Wellcome Trust funded ‘Hidden Persuaders? Brainwashing, Culture, Clinical Knowledge and the Cold War Human Sciences, c. 1950-1990’ has announced a new 3-year post-doctoral fellowship. Applications for the position are due April 13th and interviews will take place April 28th. The project, lead by historian Daniel Pick, investigates how

The reputations of the ‘psy’ professions – and the status of their ideas – were altered by controversies, myths and testimonies about ‘brainwashing’ in its various guises during the Cold War. Our project uncovers new source materials and promotes original analyses of the involvement (real and perceived) of clinicians in brainwashing and its cognate practices of interrogation, psychological warfare, subliminal advertisement, and therapeutic experimentation. We consider what ethical guidelines and safeguards, past or present, have been formulated to deal with the dangers of mind control so powerfully articulated during the Cold War.

By exploring these historical debates over mind control and their continuing legacies for psy expertise, Hidden Persuaders offers timely historical analysis of continuing present-day controversies. The language of ‘brainwashing’ continues to influence, in diverse and unexpected ways, present understanding of the relationship between the individual and the state; the nature of the therapeutic encounter between patient and psy-professional; and the borderlands between education, persuasion and indoctrination.

Full details about the post-doctoral fellowship:

The new post-doctoral fellow will work closely with the Hidden Persuaders team to produce original research, organise academic conferences and public events, and also assist with various other outputs in the form of edited volumes, film, web resources and more. The post-doc will join our growing network of historians and practitioners of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and psychology, and should focus his/her research contributions on one or more distinct strands of the Hidden Persuaders project.

We would welcome applications from academics with prior knowledge of the history of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and/or psychology. Some previous familiarity with post-war political and/or cultural history would also be an asset. A working knowledge of one or more European languages other than English, e.g., Russian, German, Spanish or French would be useful, as would facility in one or more Asian languages (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Khmer or Malay). The ability and willingness of the appointee to travel and work for several weeks at a stretch in overseas archives (as required) is essential, as part of the post-doctoral fellow’s task will be to gather and analyse data on perceptions and use of psychological warfare and indoctrination in various Cold War campaigns overseas.

The closing date for completed applications is midnight on Wednesday 13 April 2016.

Interviews will be held on Thursday 28 April 2016.

For further information, please consult the job announcement on Birkbeck’s website.

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History and the Hoffman Report: A Round-Up

Chances are you, like us, have been following the fall out from the American Psychological Association’s Hoffman Report, which details how the organization colluded with the United States government to ensure psychologists remained part of its torture program. While there are a ton of opinion pieces floating around in the wake of the report, we thought we’d highlight a few pieces that take a particularly historical view on the current situation.

Over on the Hidden Persuaders blog, part of a project on Cold War era brainwashing efforts, Marcia Holmes has written “What we’re reading now: The APA report.” Holmes details the events leading up to the Hoffman Report and situates psychology’s involvement in torture in relation to the emergence of “operational psychology.” The fundamental tension between “operational psychology” and ethics, Holmes argues, may never be resolved. Read the full piece online here.

BBC Radio program Witness has produced an episode on “CIA Mind Control Experiments” in the 1950s. While this piece is not directly about the Hoffman Report, it documents  the long history of relations between psychology and the CIA:

In the 1950s the CIA started attempting to brainwash psychiatric patients. They wanted to develop methods which could be used against enemies in the Cold War. Hear from one man whose father was experimented on in a Canadian psychiatric hospital.

The full 10-minute episode can be heard online here.

Finally historian Laura Stark, writing in Inside Higher Ed, explains “Why Ethics Codes Fail.” Stark, having previously written about the first ethics code adopted by the APA in 1973, argues that,

The APA’s current ethics mess is a problem inherent to its method of setting professional ethics policy and a problem that faces professional organizations more broadly. Professions’ codes of ethics are made to seem anonymous, dropped into the world by some higher moral authority. But ethics codes have authors. In the long term, the APA’s problems will not be solved by repeating the same process that empowers a select elite to write ethics policy, then removes their connection to it.

All ethics codes have authors who work to erase the appearance of their influence. Personal interests are inevitable, if not unmanageable, and it may be best for the APA — and other professional groups — to keep the link between an ethics policy and its authors. Take a new lesson from the Hippocratic oath by observing its name. The APA should make its ethics policies like most other papers that scientists write: give the code of ethics a byline.

Read the full piece online here.

If there are other historically focused responses to the Hoffman Report that we’ve missed please feel free to add them in the comments!

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2-Day Workshop: “Brainwash: History, Cinema and the Psy-Professions”

The Hidden Persuaders Project and the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image at Birkbeck College, University of London is holding a 2-day workshop July 3 & 4, 2015. The workshop, “Brainwash: History, Cinema and the Psy-Professions,” is free to attend and participants can register online here. Full details of the event, as well as the workshop programme follow below.

The history of cinema, like the history of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and psychotherapy, percolates with Western suspicions that our minds are susceptible to covert, even unconscious manipulation. Cinema and psychoanalysis—two essential exponents of subjectivity in the twentieth century—have been celebrated as royal roads to the unconscious, catalysts for our dreams, and means of self-discovery and human emancipation. But cinema and psychotherapy, Freudian or otherwise, have also been castigated for their special capacity to tap the unconscious, and as tools for mind control, even as they have depicted and shaped understanding of what it means to have or to manipulate a mind.

Early cinema had frequently explored the hypnotic processes it was accused of inducing. But the intersecting fears of mind control at the movies and in the consulting room seemingly entered a new stage of complexity with the Cold War. New theoretical and visual languages of ‘brainwashing’ emerged, and the ideas of Pavlov and of Freud were often placed side by side. In the decades after 1950 (the year in which the word ‘brainwashing’ was coined), film further explored subliminal interference. Roles for ‘psy’ experts working for shadowy organisations were to feature, and the dangers of psychological experiment returned again and again.

Visions of ‘conditioning’ and ‘programming’ resonated on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Work such as Shivers (1981) by the Polish filmmaker Marczewski explored the communist indoctrination of young people. In the West, films such as The Mind Benders (1963), The Ipcress File (1965), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Parallax View (1974) played upon conjoined political and psychological terrors of brainwashing. Most famous, ironic, and perhaps most imitated of all works in this tradition was The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Meanwhile, many specialist commentators in the human sciences explored the vulnerability of the ‘captive mind’, considered the psychic effects of ‘totalitarianism’, the nature of induced desires and manufactured anxieties, advertising, not to mention extreme sensory experiences (and deprivation) in shaping behaviour and thought. The limits of an individual—or a group’s—capacity to remember, to will, to know, and to organize were probed; and terms such as ‘regression’ and ‘automatism’ gained a substantial new purchase.

In this workshop we ask whether the Cold War obsession with brainwashing was a break with past narratives and anxieties over mental manipulation and suggestion. We consider how far cinema, television and video have been caught up in this history of hidden or coercive persuasion, and how far they have changed the terms of debate. What forms of human experimentation inspired interest in brainwashing, and vice versa? And how and why did depictions of automatism on screen so often connect to fears of the ‘psy’ professions?

In addressing these questions we revisit some iconic and obscure brainwashing sagas of the past. By re-examining Cold War films and some of their precursors, we invite discussion of the representation of coercively altered states of consciousness—the dangerous spell that film and ‘the talking cure’ have been said to exert. We ask: how have ‘suggestion’, ‘hypnosis’, ‘automatism’ and ‘brainwashing’ featured in these stories? What plot lines and visual aesthetics has ‘brainwashing’ inspired? Why did the clinical expert feature so prominently in such films? How and why have fears of brainwashing figured in the critique of the therapeutic encounter? What should we make of the role of hypnosis in the early warnings about the dangers of cinema (and its darkened rooms)?How might we map and historicise such fears and fantasies? Do the same fears recur, the same plots unfold, or do hypnosis and brainwashing play out differently, in Europe and the US, East and West, pre-war and post-war?

Continue reading 2-Day Workshop: “Brainwash: History, Cinema and the Psy-Professions”

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New in Social History of Medicine

There are a number of articles in the just released May issue of Social History of Medicine that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. In a piece on music and hypnosis, James Kennaway explores the long and complicated relationship between music and selfhood from the time of Mesmeric uses of the glass harmonica (left) to more recent concerns about brainwashing. Additionally, two articles in the issue explore aspects of asylum history. The first discusses the role of the Irish Famine of the 1840s in Irish asylums, while the second explores efforts to control suicide in English public asylums in the latter half of the nineteenth century. A further piece delves into views on alcoholism in mid-to-late twentieth century Yugoslavia. Full titles, authors, and abstract follow below.

“Musical Hypnosis: Sound and Selfhood from Mesmerism to Brainwashing,” by James Kennaway. The abstract reads,

Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer’s use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners’ self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.

“Revisiting a ‘Demographic Freak’: Irish Asylums and Hidden Hunger,” by Melinda Grimsley-Smith.The abstract reads, Continue reading New in Social History of Medicine

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Brainwashing British-Style

The inimitable Mind Hacks has found a documentary on (the inimitable) BBC Radio 4 about William Sargant, who

tested drugs on his patients with, some say, catastrophic results. In the 1960s and 1970s he developed his controversial Deep Sleep Treatment in the Sleep Room of St Thomas’s Hospital in London. James talks to some of those who worked under Sargant in the late-1960s and to some of his former patients, who all say that they are still suffering from his treatment to this day. Continue reading Brainwashing British-Style

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