The Brainwashing Debate
BRAINWASHING (DEBATE) . The current debate over brainwashing (the term is used here generically to refer to mind control, coercive persuasion, or thought reform unless otherwise stipulated) is best understood in the broader context of recurrent concerns through Western history over powerful, illicit sources of influence on individual loyalty and commitment. Brainwashing is a contemporary version of such historic concerns. These anxieties have periodically assumed crisis proportions when there have been extreme sociocultural tensions that have given rise to allegations of the existence of subversive forces and the marshaling of counter-subversion campaigns, with the objective of controlling specific types of contested relationships. As in the case of its predecessors, the contemporary debates over brainwashing embody these related elements. The evidence in both the historical and contemporary episodes supports the conclusions that concerns about powerful, illicit sources of influence are pronounced during periods of sociocultural tension and that certain types of relationships have repeatedly been at issue. However, there is little support for the existence or efficacy of subversive forces as depicted in brainwashing ideologies.