Just keep watching my watch. You will feel sleeeeeeepy….
by Mary W Maxwell, LLB
The “fallout” from the Fringe play (“A Moot Court Trial for Martin Bryant”) continues to be amazing. A fellow has just e-mailed me to say since I did such a good job of defending Bryant, he would like to know if I could defend John Howard on charges of war crimes.
I’m not making this up; I lack the imagination to think of such a question. Anyway I replied that yes I could attempt it, on the grounds that the PM was brainwashed and therefore not responsible. (And don’t you just love having prime minsters who are brainwashed and therefore not responsible, perhaps for anything? Don’t you love it!)
It has been 40 years since psychologist Paul Verdier, PhD, published his book Brainwashing and the Cults, 1977. Can you remember the Seventies? The Manson murders had just taken place and a member of the Hearst family had robbed a bank. (I mean in the ordinary street sense of bank-robbing.)
Verdier lived in Hollywood where these events probably got more coverage than they did elsewhere, which was itself saturation coverage. He was in practice as a hypnotist and has many excellent points to make about cults in his book Brainwashing and the Cults. But for now I will only discuss his proposal for a legal defense.
That is, Dr Paul Verdier was thinking “Should Patty Hearst get off? (She did not get off.) Needless to say, in those days he wouldn’t have realized that the bank robbery was entirely a set-up for purposes of educating the public (cf the Lindt Café).
So he tried to establish a way that a court could know who was or was not brainwashed. Easy-peasy; he suggested a scale that would use numerical measurements of a person’s responses. He called his test the CRIB: Conditioned Response Index for Brainwashing.
A psychologist would have to test “Patty Hearst” (or the murderers who mindlessly carried out the instructions of Charles Mason) by seeing the extent to which they appear to have been brainwashed. I choose 7 of the indicators outlined by Verdier:
- A radical change in beliefs, attitudes, or behavior. “This will receive the highest numerical weighting on the test.”
- A threat of death – such a threat brings about instant compliance if believable. (Verdier says this only works if that the brainwasher has resources to prevent the person escaping: Manson’s prisoners were guarded 24/7.)
- Isolation from family, friends, all. “To be locked away from human contact is a special kind of sensory deprivation that makes a person very compliant.” Patty Hearst was kept in a closet.
- Loss of sleep. That makes the person suggestible to repetitious messages. The subject seems to have no will of his own.
- “Ego destruction.” His sense of worth and his self-esteem have to be destroyed in order to assure unquestioning obedience to every directive, no matter how degrading, that is set before him. Manson made girls perform sex in front of an audience.
- Repeating message over and over. He’ll believe it even if false. In cults, youth are subject to endless meetings and lectures.
- Torture or pain. This is disinhibiting. “Religious conversion was once achieved by torture on the rack.” After one torture session, only a reminder is needed to keep the person compliant.
For purposes of assisting our latter-day Patty Hearst (John Howard), I should note that Verdier’s CRIB proposal never came into effect. In fact I have just typed “CRIB, brainwashing, Verdier”into Google and the only thing that came up was a reference to Mary Maxwell’s book Prosecution for Treason. (Ah, remember that blockbuster?)
For now I add, to my endorsement of Verdier’s legal idea, that his general work on hypnosis sounds right to me.
The ‘Rational Mind’ and Hypnosis
Let us to try to envision non-rational activity.
Picture yourself and your dog lying down asleep. There are a lot of things going on in both of you that require no conscious intervention. The lungs take in oxygen, the protein that you consumed goes to build new tissue, the body thermostat keeps you warm. That’s the autonomic system; it never needs the cerebrum – the ‘upper’ part of the brain that enables conscious decision-making.
Both you and the dog then happen to be awakened by, say, thirst. Off to the kitchen go you and the dog, each taking a drink – him from his bowl and you from a glass. Voluntary muscles drove the legs of both you and the dog.
Filling the glass with water requires your knowing how the tap works, but it doesn’t take much cognition. You have performed the drink routine for years so it’s ‘second nature.’ Even voluntary action can bypass the cerebrum.
Paul Verdier, who is a hypnotist, notes that a hypnotist gets “A” to obey an instruction while A’s cerebral cortex is switched off. Hence, the hypnotist can send instructions for voluntary movements directly to the sub-cortical brain. These will be carried out instantly because A is not using the part of the brain, the cerebral cortex (the folded surface of the brain) that considers what to do.
By contrast, data coming to us through the five senses are acted on only after we spend time processing them (including by comparing them to past experience and by applying value choices). Any motor response is prevented until we process all that.
The cerebral cortex always delays, i.e., inhibits, the motor response. Under hypnosis, that inhibitory function is deactivated. Your cerebrum doesn’t block direct connections between incoming and outgoing. You ‘obey.’
The Visceral Senses and the Muscle-Sense System
So how does the hypnotist get you to that point? Assuming he has not used sodium amytal, or some newer method, he has got you to deactivate the cortical block simply by having you use either the visceral sense system or the muscles sense system.
It would not be ethical for him to employ the visceral sense system, but let’s say you have given permission. He need only create shock in you. (“Your sister has just been murdered,” or “You have just won the sweepstakes,” or “Nuclear bombs are raining down on America.”)
As soon as your viscera (guts) react, their own senses do what evolution prepared them to do – by sending messages to the autonomic system. Your heart beats faster, thanks to adrenalin, you sweat, you may become oblivious of your environment, and you can’t think.
Because your cortical block is off, the hypnotist could then instruct you, in a calm, helpful tone, to do anything — and you would do it. It seems odd that his words can pass the cortex and go right to your lower brain, since human language is a ‘higher’ development of the brain. But words can be heard in the lower brain.
In any case, that shock method is rarely used by hypnotists. (It is used in torture.) For our purposes it is enough to say that when a hypnotist asks you to raise your hand, or look above eye-level at his watch, the muscles you use (in your arm or eyelids) may cause your cortex, and with it your memory-storer – to switch off.
Thus you become, temporarily, a robot, or a slave, and you will be unable to remember later what you did for your ‘master.’
Non-memorizing also occurred when you poured that tap water. Or when you lock the door upon leaving the house. Later you worry because you don’t remember if you locked up. When an action is second nature, it’s sub-cerebral and usually you don’t ‘memorize’ it.
Keep in mind the slavishness of the hypnotized subject and the fact that words can bypass the thinking brain. (Dogs respond to words, don’t they?)
Verdier says: “We should not hold a brainwashed person completely responsible for his actions. He should be regarded as a sick person, a puppet.”
He also asks: should not a brainwashed person be therapeutically de-programmed?
— Mary W Maxwell is the author of Fraud Upon the Court
Photo credit: littleindia4u.com