It’s eerie to have this article, which argues brainwashing is a pointless Cold War term only bounded about for political purposes and with no analytical purchase either on the past or on today, with no reference at all to the recent waves of forced-confession spectacles which are the results of months of “brainwashing” (exchange with another word if you don’t like it), surely the polar opposite of “individuals’ active attempts to re-examine their own ideas,” — whether or not that was an original sense of this word xinao, as the article says it was.
Worse, if you don’t like the term “brainwashing,” then what will you call the violent conversion therapy currently practiced on hundreds of thousands of concentration camp detainees in Xinjiang?
Even if Mitchell is right that “the term is used frequently by ideologues of all stripes to define the opinions of those whom they disagree with as the result of external mind control rather than an independent thought process,” how is it remotely possible to even write on this topic without touching on the massive campaign forcing people at gunpoint, in the Xinjiang camps, to regurgitate CCP dogma and then denounce themselves and deny their identity day out and day in — as copiously documented by numerous witnesses — surely a full-throated contemporary revival of Maoist CCP torture-brainwashing?
The idea of “an independent thought process” as an alternate explanation for why people change their mind, whatever its usefulness elsewhere, cannot be a suitable framework for understanding the fate of Chinese dissenters paraded on TV when their CCP torturers have tormented them enough to be satisfied with their parroting performance, — or, worse, for understanding the fate of the thousands of people now being reduced to broken zombies in the Xinjiang camps.
I would have thought that it should be impossible for any scholar free to speak their mind, to touch on this topic of brainwashing today without touching on these dramatic current developments so obviously rooted in the undeniable – whatever you want to call it.
This article, in purposefully omitting what is happening today, and refusing to touch on how the massive crimes of today are so obviously built on the past torture practices under Mao, refashioned to target dissenters and ethnic minorities today – in effect sidelining such questions by suggesting it is all somehow about cold war residues – to me comes across as intellectually dishonest.
Sorry if I am blunt here, but we live today, and we must face the horrors of today, not hide from them – or hide them under a “Cold War” carpet.
Magnus Fiskesjö <email@example.com>