Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why does brainwashing take away responsibility?

Everybody agrees that brainwashing can remove responsibility for the resulting actions. But how does it do that?

In some cases, brainwashing removes decisions--you just act an automaton without making any decisions. Bracket those cases of brainwashing as not to my purpose. The cases of interest are ones where decisions are still made, but they are made inevitable by the complex of beliefs, desires, habits, values, etc.--the character, for short--implanted by the brainwasher. Of these cases, some will still be not useful for my purposes, namely those where the implanted character is so distorted that decisions coming from the character are not responsible simply by reason of insanity.

The interesting case, for discussion of compatibilism, is where the character is the sort of character that could also result from an ordinary life, and if it resulted from that ordinary life, decisions flowing from that character would be ones that the agent is responsible for.

So now our question is: Why is it that when this character results from the brainwasher's activity, the agent is not responsible for the decisions flowing from it, even though if the character were to have developed naturally, the agent would have been responsible?

I want to propose a simple explanation: In the paradigmatic case when the character (or, more precisely, its relevant features) results from the brainwasher's activity, the agent is not responsible for the character (that this is true is uncontroversial; but my point is not just that this is true, but that it is the answer to the question). Decisions that inevitably flow from a character that one is not responsible for, in external circumstances that we may also suppose one is not responsible for, are decisions that one is not responsible for. When the character results from an ordinary life, one is responsible for the character. But when the character results from brainwashing, typically one is not (the case where one freely volunteered to be brainwashed in this way is a nice test case--in that case, one does have at least some responsibility).

But now we see, just as in yesterday's post, that incompatibilism follows. For what makes us responsible for a character or circumstances are decisions that we are responsible for and that lead in an appropriate way to having that character. If we are only responsible for a decision that inevitably flows from a character in some external circumstances when we are responsible for the character or at least for the external circumstances, then the first responsible decision we make cannot be one that is made inevitable by character and external circumstance.

The way to challenge this argument is to offer alternate explanations of why it is that when character comes from brainwashing one is not responsible for actions that inevitably flow from that character given the external circumstances. My proposal was that the answer is that one's isn't responsible for the character in that case. An alternate proposal is that it is the inevitability that takes away responsibility. This alternative certainly cannot be accepted by the compatibilist.

17 comments:

 James A. Gibson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig said...

If the brainwasher entirely replaces my spouse's "character" with a different one, then, in an important sense, my spouse ceases to exist. The brainwasher has created a new creature. My spouse, no longer existing, is also not responsible for what this new creature does. We may, however, rightly hold the new creature, along with the brainwasher, responsible for what the new creature does. If this new creature decides to spit on me for no good reason, I won't blame my wife, but I will blame the new creature and the person who created it.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Two thoughts:

1. A brainwasher cannot replace anyone's soul though or who that person is as created by God.

2. Brainwashing may not be permanent.

3. As for mindless behaviour while brainwahsed, not everyone mindlessly committed suicide at Jonestown. Some were forced at gunpoint to drink the Kool Aid (actually Flavor Aid). Others probably didn't know that this time the drink was poisonous for real because each time before that the drink was said to be poisonous while it was ctually not and drinking it was a loyalty test (the White Nights). A handfull of Jonestown members managed to hide untill it was over.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Just came across thiss little gem:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnNSe5XYp6E

Thought I'd share it with you all. Came across it on the Rick Ross Institute Site. Let me know it it doesn't work. Or try this:

http://www.rickross.com/reference/brainwashing/brainwashing63.html

Heath White said...

On your view, isn’t a brainwashed individual the same as an individual facing their first responsible decision? In both cases, there will be some freedom of choice, since that cannot be removed. (I’m assuming 99%-effective brainwashing, not 100% deterministic brainwashing, which I take to be closer to the real thing.) And in both cases there will be an (indeterministic) explanation of the subsequent choice, deriving from a character which ex hypothesi the individual is not responsible for.

I think there is a puzzle about why the incompatibilist should cut brainwashed, hypnotized, combat-fatigued, over-tired, chemically addicted, emotionally wrought, dubiously sane, etc. agents any slack at all. And yet aren’t these sometimes legitimate excuses or partial excuses for behavior?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

That's a good objection to libertarianism (though not to incompatibilism per se) and I haven't seen it in the literature.

I think some conditions can make it harder to make particular choices, harder than it should be.

When that happens, we take those as mitigating circumstances, assuming the agent does not bear significant responsibility for circumstances. When these conditions are extreme, we should take the mitigation to be complete for practical purposes. Though in real-life cases there may still remain enough responsibility for the agent still to be guilty of venial sin.

I have no idea what my first responsible choice was. Let's say it was a choice I had, as a four-year-old, whether to eat some piece of food I disliked or refuse. It could very well be the case that both choices are fairly easily open. But if the food was so disgusting to me that it would take extreme mental effort to force myself to obey my parents, and I refused, then there would be quite a bit of mitigation of responsibility there.

I have no problem with the idea that the first responsible choice was one in which I only had a little bit of responsibility, because I think there were plenty of subsequent choices in which I had a lot more responsibility--cases where I sinned even though I could have fairly easily refrained, and cases where (by the grace of God--the deepest mystery in this area!) I refrained from sinning even though I could have so very easily sinned.


In my post, I guess I was thinking about 100% brainwashing. But the point that the way brainwashing removes responsibility for decisions is by removing responsibility for the character from which these decisions flow seems to work very nicely for 99% brainwashing. I want to say that 99% brainwashing reduces but does not eliminate responsibility. Why does it reduce responsibility? Precisely by setting up features of character that make a choice nigh-inevitable but which features the agent is not responsible for. (We would not mitigate punishment for an assassin who was a sensitive soul when she started in the business but signed up for a killing-desensitization class.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Craig:

1. Even granting this view of personal identity, I think it is our social practice not to hold the brainwashed person responsible. Do you think this practice is mistaken?

2. Consider two scenarios:
A. I am facing brainwashing that would change my character into a completely different character, a completely morally corrupt character.
B. I am facing brainwashing that would change my character into a completely different character, a character of moral greatness.

Clearly, scenario A is much, much worse and to be feared for me. But if in both scenarios I cease to exist with the character change, then this judgment is weakened significantly.

Heath White said...

I think in general the idea of effort or difficulty in making choices is underanalyzed on both sides of the aisle, even though it is a quite familiar everyday concept.

Heath White said...

2. Consider two scenarios:
A. I am facing brainwashing that would change my character into a completely different character, a completely morally corrupt character.
B. I am facing brainwashing that would change my character into a completely different character, a character of moral greatness.

Clearly, scenario A is much, much worse and to be feared for me. But if in both scenarios I cease to exist with the character change, then this judgment is weakened significantly.


Actually, I have long considered it a strength of the Catholic idea of purgatory that, according to it, great moral transformation takes some (time? At least: ) cooperation of the individual being transformed. The usual Protestant idea amounts to brainwashing. There is some wisdom, I think, in the Catholic idea that such moral brainwashing is either impossible or undesirable.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Just came across this article at the Rick Ross Institute. Here is an excerpt an article "Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change', Encyclopedia of Socialogy Volume I, by Richard J Ofsche PhD and a link:

"A second myth concerns the purported effects of brainwashing. Media reports about thought reform's effects far exceed the findings of scientific studies--which show coercive persuasion's upper limit of impact to be that of inducing personal confusion and significant, but typically transitory, attitude change. Brainwashing was promoted as capable of stripping victims of their capacity to assert their wills, thereby rendering them unable to resist the orders of their controllers. People subjected to "brainwashing" were not merely influenced to adopt new attitudes but, according to the myth, suffered essentially an alteration in their psychiatric status from normal to pathological, while losing their capacity to decide to comply with or resist orders.

This lurid promotion of the power of thought reforming influence techniques to change a person's capacity to resist direction is entirely without basis in fact: No evidence, scientific or otherwise, supports this proposition. No known mental disorder produces the loss of will that is alleged to be the result of brainwashing. Whatever behavior and attitude changes result from exposure to the process, they are most reasonably classified as the responses of normal individuals to a complex program of influence.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency seems to have taken seriously the myth about brainwashing's power to destroy the will. Due, perhaps, to concern that an enemy had perfected a method for dependably overcoming will -- or perhaps in hope of being the first to develop such a method --the Agency embarked on a research program, code-named MKULTRA. It became a pathetic and tragic failure. On the one hand, it funded some innocuous and uncontroversial research projects; on the other, it funded or supervised the execution of several far-fetched, unethical, and dangerous experiments that failed completely (Marks 1979; Thomas 1989).

Although no evidence suggests that thought reform is a process capable of stripping a person of the will to resist, a relationship does exist between thought reform and changes in psychiatric status. The stress and pressure of the reform process cause some percentage of psychological casualties. To reduce resistance and to motivate behavior change, thought-reform procedures rely on psychological stressors, induction of high degrees of emotional distress, and on other intrinsically dangerous influence techniques (Heide and Borkovec 1983). The process has a potential to cause psychiatric injury, which is sometimes realized. The major early studies (Hinkle and Wolfe 1961; Lifton 1961; Schein 1961) reported that during the unfreezing phase individuals were intentionally stressed to a point at which some persons displayed symptoms of being on the brink of psychosis. Managers attempted to reduce psychological pressure when this happened, to avoid serious psychological injury to those obviously near the breaking point."

The entire article can be accessed here:

http://www.rickross.com/reference/brainwashing/brainwashing8.html

Craig said...

Alexander,

re. 1. If there is a currently existing social practice, I think it’s responsive only to brainwashings of a more practicable kind, in which only certain of the person's thoughts/memories/convictions are changed, and likely only temporarily so. For decisions affected by those specific mental changes, we don't hold the person responsible--and presumably for the same good reasons we don't hold the hypnotized person responsible. As for brainwashing in your sense, there is an important sense in which I agree with you: the brainwashed person (i.e., the destroyed person) isn't responsible for what the new person does.

re. 2. Let's add another fearful prospect to scenario A: the person with morally corrupt character will be horrifically tortured. If scenario A--instead of B--is to be especially feared by me (in contrast to everyone else), then this suggests that there is an important sense in which the brainwashed person continues to be me. But I find it easy to deny that antecedent in all important respects. In other respects, especially concerning the harms that scenario A (instead of B) may inflict upon my loved ones, I have good reasons to be especially fearful of A. Whatever tendency I may have to identify with the subject of these scenarios is plausibly explained by the tendency (usually unproblematic, but in this case misleading) to identify with one's body.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

"2. Consider two scenarios:
A. I am facing brainwashing that would change my character into a completely different character, a completely morally corrupt character.
B. I am facing brainwashing that would change my character into a completely different character, a character of moral greatness."

Sometimes I think I would be just as much afraid of scenario B. Say I do undergo a process of "brainwashing" or "thought reform" to produce scenario B. There is no guarantee that B would be a permanent condition. What if B isn't permanent and returns me to the previous state I was at and what would be the psychological toll of the let down from such a high state? For persons who have reached such high states as a result of intense religious/spiritual fervor, indoctrination, rituals etc., there can be a bit of a mental crash when the "high" wears off. This is one reason why I am wary of some charismatic renewal groups and certain aspects of charismatic spirituality.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Craig:

I don't think this has much to do with identification with my body.

Consider this thought experiment. My soul is taken out of my body, and the body is given a new soul. Then the treatments in scenarios A and B are done. I have no dread of either scenario. Of course, I don't like the fact that those who trust me will feel betrayed by the wicked person, and will open themselves up to abuse by this person. But there is no egocentric fear here.

Craig said...

I'm glad you mentioned the soul. As I see it, once we've listed all the mental things that are supposed to be distinct from the soul ("the complex of beliefs, desires, habits, values, etc.--the character, for short," along with memories), I find myself lacking any idea of what the soul is supposed to be and, consequently, why one's egocentric concerns should attach to one's soul. I'm interested in your thoughts, especially as I don't see any entries under the label "soul".

Alexander R Pruss said...

Surely the egocentric concern should be attached not to the thoughts--they might easily have been different--but to that which thinks or at least that by which we think.

That said, my view of the soul is just the Aristotelian one.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

"My soul is taken out of my body" - I think that when we take a person's soul out of his body that the act of doing so is no longer brainwashing but homicide. In those cases where another intelligent spirit inhabits a person's body, this is called possession. In this case a person's soul is not seperated from the body, but rather within the body in some dormant state.

I will quote the definition of "soul" from the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC): "The spiritual principle of human beings. The soul is the subject of human consciousness and freedom; soul and body together form one unique human nature. Each human soul is individual and immortal, immediately created by God. The soul does not die with the body, FROM WHICH IT IS SEPERATED BY DEATH, and with which it will be reunited with in the final ressurection."

I will quote further on the soul from the Catechism (CCC 365) "The unity of body and soul is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body. i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, ARE NOT two natures united, but rather their union forms a SINGLE NATURE." Personally, I think that this is why the Communist attempt at forming the "Soviet man" is such a dismall failure because it disregards this structure. Also, I think, that this is why attempts at brainwashing are ultimately failures. Those attempts seem to work temporarily. Rather than creating usefull automatons, they tend to sometimes create psychiatrically damaged individuals of doubtfull usefullness.

My further understanding of the soul is that at the soul's very center and core is where God resides. That is if I have understood Teresa of Avila's "Interior Castle" correctly.

Alexander R Pruss said...

"I think that when we take a person's soul out of his body that the act of doing so is no longer brainwashing but homicide"

I fully agree. This was just a thought experiment--perhaps an impossible one--to show that the intuitions in question aren't based on self-identification with the body.