Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thought Reform and Cultures - Part 2

After writing the previous post, I decided to make some additions and clarifications.

When I write that the Soviet communist government did not use "classic brain-washing," I mean that they did not use the same set of brain-washing techniques as were used in China and were described by Lifton. "Classic brain-washing" was a Chinese idea. In the Soviet Union, some elements of it were used, but not the whole set.

Of course, I do not consider the Soviet Union as a free society. However, I do not consider it as really brain-washing or thought-reforming. In my own experience, my involvement in the religious cult affected me much more and I consider that this group does use strong thought reform, but the techniques used in the Soviet Union were much weaker.

If we consider thought reform as "black" and freedom of mind as "white," there are many "gray shades" between them. I would put the Soviet Union as very "dark gray," but not "black."

On the other hand, there is really a question whether "pure white" is possible because any person is under social influence, but its degree may be different. Dictator countries have a high degree of the social influence. Democratic countries have a less degree. However, it is impossible to avoid the social influence completely. Every society has a language, culture, ethics, laws. These things affect people's mentality. They direct and restrict people's way of thinking to some extent. However, no society is possible without these things. Otherwise, people will not be able to communicate and there will be chaos.

Since cultural background affects people's mentality and their concept of freedom, it may also affect their evaluation of freedom or non-freedom in other cultures. When two people from different background evaluate the same society, one of them may think that it is free while the other may consider that it is dictatorship.

Anti-cult professionals admit that there is no strict definition of mind control / thought reform because there are many opinions there. It seems that there is no exact definition of freedom of mind either because it depends on a person's cultural background as well as his or her own opinions.

In the previous post, I gave an example of the two freedom-like people which are Americans and Chechens. Both have different concepts of freedom. Another example of freedom-like people are Circassians. Circassians used to be the biggest nation in the Northern Caucasus and they lived in that territory for thousands years. In 18th and 19th centuries, Russia tried to occupy the Northern Caucasus. Many Northern Caucasus nations, including Circassians and Chechens, resisted Russia. Both Circassians and Chechens strongly resisted Russia and paid a great price for it: more than 90 percent of their total population (including elderly men, women, and children) were killed. However, Circassians paid a greater price. They practically lost their motherland. They lost more than 90 percent of their territory and most of the survived Circassians had to leave their motherland for Turkey. Until now, most Circassians live in Turkey and in other countries, only a small part of them lives in their original territory which now belongs to Russia.

So, Circassians are also very freedom-like people. In 19th century, many Western people made remarks on their pursuit for freedom. Even Boris Yeltsin, the first President of Russia, told about Russian-Circassian war in 1763-1864: "Circassian people's unprecedented struggle for their freedom that lasted for one hundred years caused the whole world's respect and admiration. It was the war not only for their survival on their motherland, but also for the preservation of their original culture, the best traits of their national character."

On the other hand, Circassians have a very strict national ethics and etiquette and they very highly regard this part of their culture. They say that what makes them Circassians is their national ethics and etiquette. In the Circassian language, the same word means "Circassian" and "courteous." The word for the Circassian ethics literally means "Circassian-ness." Their code of ethics and etiquette is very strict. For example, according to it, a son was required to stand in his father's presence and could not sit down (I am not sure if they still keep this rule). There was a case when a young Circassian was deadly wounded and stayed in bed. His father came to visit his dying son. The son stood up and his friends helped him to stand because he was very sick. Eventually, his father left because he realized that it was very hard for his son to stand, but he would not sit down or lay down in his presence.

There are many other rules in their national code that are hard to observe. It is very strict and it does restricts Circassians' behavior very much. However, at the same time, they are very freedom-like people and they are ready to fight for their personal freedom. But, obviously, their concept of the personal freedom is very different from the Western concept.

So, Americans, Chechens, and Circassians have different concepts about freedom, even though all of them are freedom-like. Other nations and other cultures have other concepts about freedom. There is no one and unique concept, fitting all the nations and cultures.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thought Reform and Cultures

Many American anti-cult professionals believe that the Soviet Union used "classic brain-washing." I do not know any person who lived in the Soviet Union and who thinks this way.

One person who visited Moscow, Russia in 1992 said that Russian people looked like they had just left a cult. To him, this was a "proof" that the Soviet Union used brain-washing. However, what he failed to realize is that his visit to Russia was just several months after the Soviet Union collapse in December 8, 1991 at the agreement signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (so called Belavezha Accords). In fact, this agreement was made by these leaders secretly and nobody else in the Soviet Union expected it. Nobody believed that the Soviet Union would ever collapse. The night before that, people went to bed, living in the Soviet Union. When they woke up, they learned that the Soviet Union does not exist anymore. Of course, it was a serious shock for people. If tomorrow Americans had learned that the USA does not exist anymore, would it not have been a shock to them? However, it was exactly what happened in the Soviet Union. I understand that many Russians appeared confused in 1992, but this does not "prove" that they were brain-washed. As far as I know, many people in the USA were shocked and confused after 09/11/01, but this does not mean that they were brain-washed. In my opinion, collapse of the whole country is a bigger stress than any terrorist attack.

A certain Russian full professor whom I knew personally had spent one year in the USA, working in an American university. It was before the Soviet Union collapsed. After he came back, he said: "All the Americans are zombies." To me, it looks quite odd that American "cult experts" consider Soviet people to be brain-washed while this Soviet professor considered Americans to be "zombies." Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to ask him what exactly he meant by saying that. He died. So, I am able only to hypothesize what he meant. I think it had to do with the differences between American and Soviet/Russian cultures. Once, I heard an American preacher who said: "Russians are deep and thoughtful, Americans are shallow and playful." He said this in Russia and I doubt that he would have said this in the USA. However, I heard several Russians saying very similar things about Americans after their personal contacts with Americans. I think the professor might have had the same impression and this is why he said this way. Anyway, I think the reason for his statement was cultural differences.

Christians tend to think that Islam in total is cultic and mind-controlling. However, Muslims say that the real freedom is possible only in Islam. "Ex-Christian" movements claim that any religion is abusive and promote atheism. However, atheism may be no less abusive, for example, the one promoted by the communists.

Western people tend to believe that when Muslim women wear hijabs (Muslim head covering), it indicates that they are oppressed by Islam. As far as I know, many Muslim women are willing to fight for the right to wear their hijabs and do not consider it to be a sign of oppression at all. According to the Bible, women were expected to wear head covering as a sign of their submission to their husbands. This is where this idea about oppression came from. However, according to Quran, women wear head covering in order to prevent men's lusts toward them. The reason is completely different. This is just one example when Western people claim Islam to be oppressive because of their own misunderstanding it.

However, probably, it is more dangerous when American government claims that a certain country is authoritarian and initiate a war to bring democracy there. It was certainly the case with Iraq. Needless to say that most Iraqis did not appreciate American "care" for them because many thousands of Iraqis were killed and the country was ruined. Did it become democratic? I do not know.

All the people are influenced by their culture and their religion or philosophy whether they realize this or not. Even any human language restricts thinking processes to some extent. Bilinguals (people who know two languages equally well) are well aware of this. They often use a mixture of the two languages because they think that some things can be better expressed by one language while other things by the other language. There is no absolute freedom of mind because all the people are under some social influence. On the one hand, cultures and languages help people to communicate and understand one another. Without a culture and a language, it would have been very problematic for people to communicate and understand one another. On the other hand, these things do effect people's mentality and the way of thinking. This is a kind of social influence and no one is free from it.

When people live among people of the same culture and language, they do not realize how these things affect their mentality. It is only when they meet people of other cultures or religions or when they learn another language that they realize it. The problem however is that when people meet those who belong to another culture or another religion, some of them tend to blame people of another culture or another religion as "brain-washed," oppressed, and so on. If people do not appreciate Western values, but appreciate other values, for example, Muslim values, this does not necessary mean that they are under mind control. Vice versa is also true, of course.

In my opinion, in dealing with people of another country or another culture or another religion, it is necessary to know their culture or religion before saying whether they are "brain-washed" or not. Also, probably, people who make these conclusions should be aware of how their own culture affects them before they make such conclusions. I do not think it is correct when everything that matches, for example, American mentality and lifestyle is considered to be democratic and everything that does not match them is considered to be authoritarian. People in other parts of the world may have other concepts of democracy and authoritarianism and their concepts may be different from American concepts. However, this does not mean that these people are wrong. The concept of freedom may be different in different cultures. There is no one unique absolute concept of freedom which is accepted by all the cultures.

For example, both Americans and Chechens consider themselves to be very freedom-like. However, their concepts of personal freedom are completely different. Chechens consider all the people to be equal to themselves, not superior nor inferior, regardless of any social ranks and positions, degrees, and so on. For Americans, social ranks, positions, and degrees are very important. They do have a social hierarchy (which is against Chechen concept of personal freedom). However, for Americans, freedom of religion is very important. They believe that a person can choose any religion or no religion at all. Chechens have a different concept. They do not impose their religious views on people, but they consider Islam as Chechen national religion and believe that a Chechen should be a Muslim. Thus, their concept is against American concept of the religious freedom. Whose concept of the personal freedom is better? I do not know. Neither of them is perfect. Other nations have other concepts of freedom.

There is no one and the same concept of freedom in the world. There is no one absolute concept accepted by everyone in the world. Likewise, there is no absolute freedom of mind because all the people are under cultural and other social influence. Of course, there are different degrees of this influence and there are different degrees of thought reform (which is the most intensive and strongest social influence). And I do believe that when thought reform is considered, cultural differences should be taken into consideration as well.