Brainwashing – Here and abroad

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By D. Napal

During the electoral campaign in the recent by-election of Grand Port – Savanne, we went to the remotest villages and came across different types of people. There was one class, however, whom we met again and again. They were there at every meeting listening with an indifference marked on their faces. Some of them who were bolder said to us: “You will not be able to do anything for all your grand speeches. Your Party has joined government. By doing so it has paralysed itself. No good can be expected of you.”

These words and similar ones left us wondering. When other colonies were achieving self-government or were well on the way towards it, when the recent examples of Ghana, British Guinea and Malaya were fresh before us, how could there be people in our island who could pronounce themselves so doggedly against progress.

Since that time, a book has fallen into our hands. It is William Sargant’s ‘Battle for the Mind’, published by Heinemann this very year. It has helped us to understand the outlook of the people we spoke about. They were innocent creatures who had undergone brainwashing for political ends. They had been repeatedly spoken to in the language of vulgarity — which the common people easily grasp. Their emotions were roused, their reasoning faculty never given any opportunity to exercise itself. Ultimately their willpower was paralyzed. They became automatons whose intellect did not function, who were made to move at the bidding of others.

But let us return to the book in question. At the outset, the author says that he is concerned with the brain and nervous system through which the “emissaries of God or the Devil-dictators, policemen, politicians, priests, physicians and psychotherapists of various sorts may all try to work their will on man.”

In ‘Battle for the Mind’, special stress is laid on the technique of religious conversion but the author admits that the methods used for religious purposes have also been effectively used in the political field. For example, here is how the great Methodist preacher John Wesley, acted:

“First of all, Wesley would create high emotional tension in his potential converts. He found it easy to convince large audiences of that period that a failure to achieve salvation would necessarily condemn them to hell fire forever and ever. The immediate acceptance of an escape from such a ghastly fate was then very strongly urged on the ground that anybody who left the meeting ‘unchanged’ and met with a sudden fatal accident before he had accepted his salvation, would pass straight into the fiery furnace. This sense of urgency increased the prevailing anxiety which, as suggestibility increased, could infect the whole group.

“When the emotions of the audience have been roused to the point of increased suggestibility and the brain function is disturbed by deliberately induced fear, anger to excitement, then religious or political beliefs are poured into the receptive minds. People thus converted become in their turn fanatics who can never be brought to reason, however solid the arguments used to convince them. On the contrary, they go forward to make converts to their beliefs.

That is what happened in Germany under Hitler, who converted the German masses to the Nazi faith. William Sargant says on this matter: ‘‘Just as Hitler’s conversion of the German’s masses to the Nazi faith was helped by meetings where rhythmic chanting, torch light procession, and the like, could arouse them to states of hysterical suggestibility even before he rose to speak, so it was with the flagellants who anticipated his anti-semitic fury.’’

Speaking of the Hilterian tactics, the author writes: ‘‘It is still considered a mystery how Hitler persuaded mainly intelligent people in Germany to regard him as little short of a god; yet Hitler never concealed his methods which included deliberately producing such phenomena by organized excitement and mass hypnotism and even boasted how easy it was to impose ‘the lie of genius’ on victims.’’

After having read ‘Battle for the Mind’, we no longer wonder at the mentality of some of the people we came across in the election campaign. They are people whose credulity has been exploited. They too are the victims, as Hitler’s Nazis, of organized excitement and mass hypnotism.

Friday 8th November 1957
4th Year – No 170

* Published in print edition on 24 August 2021

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