The Descriptive Psychology Study Group spent time examining the consequences of the practice of religious shunning. Specifically, we wondered what happens to a person who has grown up in a community that maintains fundamentalist or totalitarian ideals and then is degraded, removed or shunned. What do they have left that they can still do? What other communities are they in a position to join? What psychological states follow their removal from community? What will define their resilience? At the heart of this inquiry is the concept of indoctrination. Indoctrination is a special form of enculturation at odds with the liberal and the cosmopolitan. Indoctrination is antithetical to freedom and may call for liberation.
1. Indoctrination informs and restricts. The significance of indoctrination is found both in the knowledge and practices advocated and in the enforced blinders to other relevant practices.
2. A person is indoctrinated when self-compelled to act on an ideology.
3. Indoctrination provides knowledge, appraisal and belief without adequate acknowledgment of serviceable alternatives.
4. Indoctrination establishes a domain of taboo in which serviceable alternatives are presented as unserviceable (impure, dirty, shameful, wicked, vile, etc.). Contact with taboo results in contamination. Contamination may result in an explicit or implicit degradation ceremony. Degradation ceremonies involve an attempt to demonstrate how a person is not "one of us".
5. Indoctrination involves explicit or implicit sanctions prohibiting the examination and acceptance of serviceable alternatives.
6. Indoctrination establishes a social contract that narrows the acceptable domain of cognizant and deliberate action.
7. Indoctrination occurs with and without apparent coercion.
8. “Get them while they are young.” When indoctrination initially forms a worldview, indoctrination is experienced as a necessary guide to how things are and what to do about them. Coercion is recognized when a person is able to see how it could be otherwise and is prevented from acting on that recognition. Coercion can come from self or other. The domain of unconscious coercive appraisal, the primitive morality, constituted Freud’s “superego.” These unconscious and prohibiting relations that govern competition and sexuality are shown to and felt by the child without the necessity of deliberate instruction. The parental power to inflict and restrict the child's exploration constitute one mode of automatic cultural indoctrination. Freud saw civilization requiring this initial "discontent".
9. Over time, people may encounter evidence of the adequacy or inadequacy of their knowledge, appraisals and beliefs. Serviceable beliefs supported by the valued community are usually held fast. Unserviceable beliefs require coercive enforcement.
10. When coercion is recognized it is met with resistance and/or resigned compliance.
11. A person’s world as revealed and maintained by their actions will include the products of indoctrination along with other non indoctrinated knowledge, appraisals and beliefs. A person's actual experience of life may elicit recognitions of contradiction and absurdity without the person having the competence to effectively sort these matters out. Personal conflict with accompanying anxiety and guilt are unsurprising byproducts.
12. The products of indoctrination often appear insistent, rigid and unexamined.
13. Insistence and rigidity are in the service of keeping the unexamined, unexamined.
14. The examination of the process and the products of indoctrination elicit resistance by self and community.
15. To the extent that indoctrination serves as a guide to significant social practices, a person will have significant reason to maintain those practices when those practices form the basis for a person’s existing competence to act effectively or successfully within a community.
16. Those social practices produced by indoctrination central to maintaining membership in a community are particularly resistant to examination and change.
17. A community member’s rejection of doctrine may be treated as the rejection of community and the community so affected may react to preserve its integrity.
18. A community has intrinsic reasons to prevent their members from examining the social practices involved in their indoctrination.
19. A community may enact a degradation ceremony in any of its forms in response to a member’s examination and rejection of their indoctrination.
20. Since “a person requires a community in order for it to be possible for him to engage in human behavior at all” (Ossorio, maxim E-1), the loss of community will correspond to a loss in behavior potential.
21. Loss elicits depression, anxiety and the need to develop new social practices to compensate for the loss.
22. Serviceable new social practices may or may not be available to replace those lost when indoctrination is rejected. The consequences that follow from the rejection of indoctrination are partly dependent on whether the indoctrination facilitated or impeded the establishment of the values, knowledge and skills needed to join other communities.
23. The psychotherapist understands the effects of indoctrination and is careful not to practice it.
A related publication of mine: "Degradation, Accreditation, and Rites of Passage" (Psychiatry, vol. 42, 1979)
These themes are further explored in Freedom (An Outline).
Religious indoctrination backed by the power of the state remains a fact that keeps the the freedom to explore one's beliefs dangerous.