First it was in. Then it was out. Now nobody seems to be sure. “Brainwashing” isn’t really a scientific term, but human suggestibility is very well in evidence. Advertisers count on it. Did I really need that phone case when I never go out? And so on. The real question is can people be compelled to do what they normally wouldn’t want to. Think Jonestown. Heaven’s Gate. Waco. Do people really want to die en masse? Are we but higher lemmings? I’ve seen hypnotists do their shows. The human mind is manipulable. We can be shut off from reason. A recent article from The Middletown Press my wife shared with me raises the question whether conspiracy theories, such as those sported by QAnon, are something like brainwashing. Clearly they are. As are many Fundamentalist forms of religion.
You can recognize this when a conversation becomes such that the true believer simply won’t listen to evidence. They’ll say they want to discuss an issue when all they really want to do is have someone state their side so they can tell them they’re wrong. Reason has nothing to do with it. When that part of their gray matter that handles things rationally feels backed against a wall they resort to ad hominem attacks. I’ve been observing this since I was a child raised in such a paranoid religious tradition. It works for politics, too. For many QAnon sorts, Trump’s word was God’s word. Once uttered it could not be refuted, not with all the evidence in the world. It’s very much like Fundamentalist views of the Bible which can’t take context, translation, and reason into account. When contradictions are blatantly pointed out they respond with “there are no contradictions.” Is there brainwashing?
Conspiracy theories can seem real because there are actually some conspiracies. There are government secrets. Only the naive deny that. Still, once you start throwing in the ridiculous—that a devil-worshipping cabal of pedophiles is running a secret government—you’re in water over your head. Not only that, this sounds incredibly like the satanic panic that spread through much of the world in the late 1980s into the 1990s. When the evidence was examined, it was found lacking. Some of the key bestselling accounts were admitted to have been forgeries. The believing mind, however, has trouble letting go. We used to call fringe groups cults. We used to suggest that people could be held against their will. People leaving QAnon are reporting similar experiences, according to the article. Brainwashing by any other name would be so real.