Thursday, April 11, 2013

On Indoctrination and the Shunned

"Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality." Bertrand Russell

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 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 it could be otherwise but is prevented from acting on that recognition. Coercion can come from self or other.  (Freud's 'superego', a system of primitive morality, is a psychoanalytic concept offered to explain how early religious and sexual indoctrination can occur without deliberate instruction.  The restrictions come from how the child is allowed to live. The parental power to inflict and restrict the child's exploration constitute one mode of automatic cultural indoctrination.)

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 the recognition 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.  Examination of the process and the products of indoctrination elicits resistance. It is difficult to examine and negotiate what is accepted as a fundamental restriction, choice principle, and way of life. It may not be safe to go there publicly or privately if one's good standing within community is at stake.  

14 a.  To the extent that indoctrination serves as a guide to a community's significant social practices, members of the community have significant reason to maintain those practices as a map for successful action within the community.

14 b.  Social practices and choice principles central for maintaining community membership are particularly resistant to examination and change.

15.  A community has intrinsic reasons to prevent their members from examining the social practices involved in their indoctrination.  Questioning the established forms of child rearing are particularly resistant when children are considered the property of the family-within-community. 

16.  A community member’s rejection of doctrine may be treated as the rejection of community. The affected community may react to preserve its integrity.

17. 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 kindred theme is taken up in The Degradation Ceremonies of Everyday Life and in a related publication: "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 freedom to explore one's beliefs dangerous.

And then there are cults. Here's Seven Signs You're in a Cult.


  1. This is an excellent deconstruction of indoctrination. I will refer back to it often. Rhetorically, is information inherently indoctrinating even outside the group?

  2. Help me understand your question. I would assume that information is neutral except insofar as it requires under most circumstances a very specific response. If you tell me a lion has just entered the room, whether or not I see it, my first move will be restricted. I'll head for the door. But I suspect you mean something else. Are you asking, if I am not within the community but am exposed to the group's indoctrination, will it have coercive power? It might, if I want membership, but then again, I might just laugh if off.

  3. Is all the information that we are receiving (not limited to, but especially in the group) helping to shape a particular (if even only personal) worldview, or in Leary's words "reality-tunnel," at a certain point? If we are limited to our experiences and reality-tunnel framework would not all information eventually be assimilated into that framework?

    And by that, experientially, enforcers that strengthen the "reality" of the framework are acknowledged, evidence against is ignored or under-recognized. The indoctrinated individual is operating under a sort of superego auto-pilot, believing they are making real choices while the framework is inherently limiting to the choices that are available.

    Similarly, in #15 above, it seems as though the person is making choices within the framework, choices which he or she believes to be their own, but are actually choices made from limited options presented by the framework of the indoctrination of experience.

    Would information be considered indoctrinating in a personal way?

    I hope that makes some sense.

  4. 1. Wynn, you say, "Indoctrination is a special form of enculturation at odds with the liberal and the cosmopolitan." I would like you to noodge farther back in the phenomenon and say "Indoctrination is a special form of INFLUENCE..." We influence each other all the time. Sometimes we do it wrong. One of the ways to go wrong is "indoctrination".

    I'd like to see the same kind of retro-noodge that would give us the phenomena that we could call "liberal" and "cosmopolitan" if we knew what the "+X" was that made them "phenomena + X".

    2. Poplin_B, we receive DATA, not information. Information is data structured by relationships. There are an indefinitely large set of relationships we COULD pay attention to; WE are the ones who decide which relationships are "differences that make a difference" "under these circumstances". Since we have multiple communities, we have more than one opportunity to decide which difference makes a difference. In general, this prevents the causal-mechanistic-deterministic (CMD) kind of assimilation you are implying.

    That said, two notes. First, whatever communities we are in assimilate to larger communities, eventually ending in society. (Society is an instance of culture, that is, a culture populated by a set of historical individuals.) Society is usually taken to be pretty much "all there is" without changing games. (Cp.: all human societies are a standard deck of cards; many games can be played with one deck; each game is "all there is" unless you change games, and then you have to stop, collect the cards, and start again with the new game.) It's relatively hard to change societal games, so in that sense, everything *generally* assimilates into that framework, but it's not CMD.

    Second, a key concept in Descriptive Psychology (DP) is "status". This is the Latin word for "place". If you think of it that way, you won't be wrong, but status is richer than place. In any case, your status in a community is all your relationships in that community. Such status includes eligibilities, restrictions, contingencies, and so on. Persons assign and accept status, and whatever happens (whatever data are rec'd) is generally assimilated to a person's status. Because folks can be accredited (have more behavior options in a new place) and degraded (lose behavior options in a new place), it's not strictly true that you have only one status, and all data are assimilated to it. If we couldn't change status, we might want to assert as strongly as you have; but we do change status, so we need to look at it a little more dynamically.

    The sum total of your assessment of your status "in the scheme of things" (communities + every other place you have status) is your "self concept". You can see that changing status could significantly change your place "in the world", "in the scheme of things", "as a totality", so status is notoriously resistant to change--unless it's not (accreditation and degradation ceremonies).

    As for indoctrination, as I noted to Wynn, it's "influence + some kind of doing it wrong". (Let's say "influence + DIW".) Your statement about an indoctrinated person acting on autopilot seems right--for indoctrinated persons. If we were just looking at "a woman under the influence", if she's "one of us", she does it like one of us, or we influence her one of the ways we have to influence her so she does do it like one of us. Or she must explain why she's doing it wrong.

    Note that she also has her own reasons to do it our way or not to do it our way. Those reasons are not strictly dependent on our community and our influence. For instance, I'd be in trouble if I lived in a community where the primary sacrament was asperagus. Cuz I hates me some asperagus, and I didn't learn that from nobody.

  5. 23. The psychotherapist is respectful of indoctrination and careful not to practice it.
    How? What would practicing indoctrination look like by a psychotherapist?

  6. I have the same question as MK above:

    I more or less understood the main concepts you outlined, however, I was confused on the last statement: "The psychotherapist is respectful of indoctrination and careful not to practice it." I understand the notion of being nonjudgmental, maintaining as much of a neutral stance as possible, etc as a psychotherapist. Is that what you mean by "careful not to practice it"?...that we don't "indoctrinate" our clients into our own ideologies? I can understand that. On the other hand, I feel that it is inevitable for psychotherapists to not practice indoctrination. There are specific practices, rules, (ie APA) that psychotherapists and clients "have to" abide by (ie. therapist - client sex relationship). I may be interpreting your notion of indoctrination the wrong way, but those thoughts just came up for me as I read your blog.

    Catherine B.

  7. Indoctrination establishes core beliefs and choice principles in a manner that restricts, forbids or excludes the recognition of alternative ways of seeing and acting in the world. Since core beliefs and choice principles serve as a fundamental guide to action, they support what the indoctrinated know as the world.

    What is to be respected is the fact that until a person has acquired safety and skill with more "flexible" stances, they will rely on their extant beliefs. The indoctrinated has a world they already know. They may not be competent enough in any other. They psychotherapist supports the development of such competence.

    "Deprogramming" is not psychotherapy but may attack a fragile psyche that becomes even more lost then in the previous state of wearing blinders.

    Psychotherapy in any of the forms that encourage "free association" and the "analytic attitude" are antithetical to indoctrination.

    If a "psychotherapist" practiced indoctrination it would not be psychotherapy but more akin to proselytizing a religion, nationalism or politics. Contrast fundamentalism with ecumenical practices.

  8. This post calls to mind the concept of social compliance. Specifically, I wonder the extent to which human beings, at least at certain times, engage in compliance in an effort to avoid the loss of community and its subsequent ramifications, which you discuss above. This also leads me to reflect upon the idea in the realm of social psychology of group polarity-- the concept that when like-minded individuals gather together, they experience the extremes of their tenets. I find this concept highly significant and potentially frightening, particularly when considering the social implications we have seen throughout history (e.g., the compliance and extreme group mentality we witnessed in Nazi Germany during the Second World War).

    -Rob DiGiammarino

  9. Another system of assessing cult status. Isaac Bonewitz rec'd an undergrad degree in "Thaumaturgy". His degree is "signed" by Ronald Reagan.