Governments have been using brainwashing techniques for years, and there have been many different scientific methods used throughout modern history to obtain desired effects from people’s minds. The term brainwashing actually developed out of the methods of Communist China. As Robert Jay Lifton describes, “It [Brainwashing] was first used by an American journalist, Edward Hunter, as a translation of the colloquialism hsi nao (literally, “wash brain”) which he quoted from Chinese informants who described its use following the Communist takeover” (Lifton 3). A good example of Chinese brainwashing is the treatment of American prisoners. Prisoners would often be heavily interrogated in addition to being forced to read and discuss Communist propaganda with groups. Prisoners were made to feel like criminals and were often mentally swayed into thinking that they did something wrong, and therefore, giving confessions, etc (Lifton 19-37). Undoubtedly, fear, intimidation, and violence were common tools.
The Russian Soviets also used brainwashing techniques in the 1930s and later. Soviet prisoners were harshly interrogated to the point of confessions in much more solitary settings than the Chinese used. The Chinese used brainwashing mostly for “individual re-education and reform” while the Soviets used brainwashing to elicit confessions and punish individual criminals (O’Neill/Demos 20-21). The desired effects of brainwashing were not always negative. For example, during World War II, the process of “drug abreaction” was being used on soldiers to alleviate painful memories. The term “drug abreaction” was a product of the work of Breuer and Freud. They came up with the theory that in order to rid patients of the painful effects of traumatic memories, people had to bring the memories vividly back to the surface and be talked through them. Ether was a common drug used by psychotherapists during World War II to force soldiers to remember ugly wartime memories. These soldiers would then be talked through their pain and often come out of this drugged state without the mental anguish associated with these memories (Sargant 65-74). In A Clockwork Orange, drugs are used in a negative way to condition Alex’s brain in a way that cuts off his ability to make free choices. Alex describes the horror of the brainwashing and says, “Because I did not think it was possible for any veck to even think of making films of what I was forced to viddy, all tied to this chair and my glazzies made to be wide open” (Burgess 106). The process of conditioning Alex towards non-violence through films and music is known in the novel as the Ludovico Technique. This process is a form of responsive conditioning (Landini 1), where patients are trained to respond in desired ways to certain stimulants.
Alex is rendered physically ill by violence and even Beethoven. Alex states, “Then I noticed, in all my pain and sickness, what music it was that like crackled and boomed on the sound-track, and it was Ludwig van, the last movement of the Fifth Symphony, and I creeched like bezoomny at that” (Burgess 113). This link between his physical illness and Beethoven could be contributed to the fact that a part of the brain called the Amygdala is associated with both the emotional effects of music and “fear and recognition of emotions” (Landini 6). Alex is experiencing fear in association with Beethoven’s music. William Sargant talks about how shock treatment has been used to disturb the brain prior to conditioning it. Psychotherapists used these “psychological shocks” to eliminate mental disorders and other problems (Sargant 81-82).
Orwell spins this in a negative light as well by having O’Brien electrically shock Winston in 1984 until he is mentally exhausted and confused enough to believe anything Big Brother wants him to believe. At one point, O’Brien shocks Winston and Orwell explains, “He [Winston] started and almost cried out. A pang of pain had shot through his body. O’Brien had pushed the lever of the dial up to thirty-five” (Orwell 263). The brainwashing that Winston endures is absolutely brutal. Burgess and Orwell both try to warn us of a dark future by utilizing drug therapy, responsive conditioning, and shock therapy as the tools of evil totalitarian governments.
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