UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA
Reply to: 205 W 15th St. (4n)
New York NY 10011
February 18, 1987
Dear Dr. Thomas,
Thank you for sending me the draft report of the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques.
While reading it, I found myself constantly puzzled and dissatisfied. It seems that the report reflects two kinds of ambiguity, one conceptual and the other moral.
The basic problem is the inability to define what the Task Force had to investigate. What exactly are deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control? I don't think that psychologists know much about techniques of persuasion and control, either direct or indirect, either deceptive or honest. We just don't know, and we should admit it. Lacking psychological theory, the report resorts to sensationalism in the style of certain tabloids. The collection of stories on p. 19, with references to "Satanic cults", reminded me of the National Enquirer. Most of these stories are unfounded allegations, and even if founded in fact, have no place in a report on persuasion techniques.
The term "brainwashing" is not a recognized theoretical concept, and is just a sensationalist "explanation" more suitable to "cultists" and revival preachers. It should not be used by psychologists, since it does not explain anything.
The Task Force seems to think that various gurus, and religious leaders
are dishonest cracks. I tend to accept this moral judgement, but I am
not sure that it can be supported by psychological theory at this stage.
The second part of the report, dealing with psychotherapy, is more interesting and on firmer conceptual and moral ground. It deals with issues that are closer to home.
Indeed, LGAT's* are a form of psychotherapy, and indeed, psychotherapy
as it is practised most of the time (private practice) is likely to
lead the immoral behavior. So, maybe the report should be focused on
the abuses by legitimate professionals, and the question of LGAT's.
I have no sympathy for Rev. Moon, Rajneesh, or Scientology, but I think that psychologists will be doing the public a greater favour by cleaning their own act, before they pick on various strange religions. And the difference between science and religion, it seems to me, is in the readiness to admit that we don't know, and we don't have explanations for everything.
In its present form, I think that the report should not be made public.
* Large-group awareness training