First Aired on How to Do It (2/7/13)
From Charles Manson's notorious hold over his followers to The Manchurian Candidate, the prospect that a person can control the thoughts and actions of another is a subject of longstanding cultural fascination. But is it real? Steve Hassan, an author and "cult counsellor" has no doubt that it is. The former high-ranking member of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church has spent 30 years helping people escape the influence of mind control and has written about his experiences in a new book, Freedom of Mind.
Hassan works with former cult members, people who were "being deceptively recruited and indoctrinated without their conscious awareness of what's happening to them" he said in a recent interview on How to Do It. This is done in a variety of different ways, including "hypnosis, behaviour modification techniques, installing phobias" with the ultimate goal of "creating a kind of dissociative disorder where there's a new identity that suppresses their real identity and makes them dependent on some external authority figure or group."
Hassan says brainwashing people actually isn't all that hard, especially "if you have no ethics." Once you know the message you want to spread, you figure out the kind of people you want under your control. Then you figure out the best way to attract them to your group. Maybe it's a sales pitch, maybe it's a meditation retreat. Then, when you have a few converts, you let them do the sales pitch for you, and watch your influence grow.
Hassan is quick to point out that mind control isn't all bad -- hypnosis has helped people quit smoking and overcome phobias. But in order for this tool to be used for more good than evil, it's best to understand how the process works and why. "If we can all learn to be better stewards of our minds and understand how it works and how to guard it and ethical boundaries and see if someone is trying to manipulate it, we're going to have a much healthier world."
Want to learn more about how to brainwash someone? Listen to the entire episode of How to Do It, a CBC Radio summer program, in the audio player above.