False Alarm

I am obsessed with politics and power. It’s a journalist thing. So what I want to talk about tonight is how human memory got mixed up with politics and power in the recent past, and above all, in the Cold War. What I want to talk about in this short time is the story of what was known as brainwashing. It’s a very recent idea; it was actually invented in 1951. At the heart of it is the belief that science somehow had found a way to wipe human memories and replace them with new, implanted memories, which means that human beings could become essentially like automatons, robots manipulated by those implants. It’s a phenomenon as a paranoia and fear of the Cold War. As a result of rather disastrous experiments by the 1960s, the idea of brainwashing was shown to be untrue scientifically. You couldn’t do it. But that’s not the end of the story. Because what then happened to the idea of brainwashing and the idea of changing people’s memories and mind control mutated into something very strange, which – I want to argue – it’s become to possess our imaginations today. It’s a powerful belief that individual’s minds can be manipulated and controlled by cults, strange new religions, odd, extreme political parties. We see things through that prism and I want to try and show how that has happened. And what I want to argue is that although there is no scientific evidence now for the idea that brainwashing can actually happen; we are actually far stronger, far more sophisticated as human beings than that. It’s got very deep into our social condition as you might call it, which has led all of us, liberals, conservatives, whatever you want to say, to be very suspicious and fearful of the new ideas, of new ways of looking at the world. It’s become a sort of block.

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Fotograf Magazine #30