jay lifton

from the afterword to Robert Jay Lifton’s “The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide”

“[The interviews] meant requiring of myself a form of empathy for Nazi doctors: I had to imagine my way into their situation, not to exonerate but to seek knowledge of human susceptibility to evil. […] Under certain conditions, just about anyone can join a collective call to eliminate every last one of the alleged group of carriers of the ‘germ of death.’ Yet my conclusion is by no means that 'we are all Nazis.’ We are not all Nazis. That accusation eliminates precisely the kind of moral distinctions we need to make. One of these distinctions concerns how, with our universal potential for murder and genocide, we for the most part hold back from such evil. […] We learn from the Nazis not only the crucial distinction between impulse and act, but the critical importance of larger ideological currents in connecting the two in ways that result in mass evil. Those connections and steps are my witness–not the undifferentiated moral condemnation of everybody.”

Do Not Open- Brainwashing Facts!

I have a lot of nostalgia for those “alternative” children’s educational books. You know the ones, they would often purport to contain only the “weirdest” or the “grossest” facts about a topic in the hope that it would spur you to learn about all the history and biology you refused to learn in school.  

The pinnacle of the genre has to be the “Horrible Histories” series which spawned several series of books, including a few covering other academic fields and even a full-fledged TV show. 

I still have a few of these books around the place, mostly because they tend to turn up spectacularly cheap in second-hand book shops and quite a few of them are pretty amusing to read through due to how quickly outdated they can become. 

Recently I picked up one entitled “Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia Of The World’s Best Kept Secrets.” When I spotted it I had a peek at the contents to see what secrets I could hope to find in this weighty tome. Most of the book was the usual stuff, the pyramids, what goes into making a plane, spies, and weird animals. But then I spotted one specific entry. 

Well, how could I turn that offer down? 


So join me as we find out just what we are teaching our kids about brainwashing. 


All the pages in this book work as double page spreads and they are all delightfully themed, so that really sets this book apart. Also, this book isn’t messing around going straight to Robert Jay Lifton. I can’t do his work justice in a succinct manner, so I fully suggest you go read his books, but he is pretty much the authority on thought manipulation. One slight issue I have to raise is that Lifton isn’t a fan of the term brainwashing and used the term “thought-reform”. 

But the guide they give is short but pretty correct and it doesn’t shy away from the darker realities of the process. 

The other half of the spread is a picture and a list of techniques for brainwashing. Now it’s debatable if you consider all of these brainwashing or merely persuasion techniques (and that is a really fuzzy boundary), but it does cover all of the major ones. 

Even hypnosis gets a mention! 

This is a slightly weird description of hypnosis honestly. It feels like it is talking about a specific scene or situation but here it is presented devoid of context. Also, it doesn’t explain how this could be used as part of the brainwashing, almost like it presumes the audience already know what you do with hypnosis.


Now, you may have spotted the cross-reference at the bottom of the page, and yes there is a section on the unconscious mind. However, it does not cover hypnosis instead it focuses on sleep paralysis, dreaming, nightmares, sleepwalking, and deja vu. 


The only other mention of hypnosis is this brief one in the section on reincarnation (which is one of the more unusual topics this book covers)

The highlight of this image for me is the wonderful color coordination between hypnotist’s hair, hypnotist’s outfit, hypnotist’s chair and subject. Maybe this hypnotist has a dress code for his subjects. Because nothing says “relaxing environment” more than a deep, heavy brown. 


Overall I’m actually really impressed by Do Not Open. Sure it is a bit silly and some parts of it are a little odd, but I would have loved this book when I was a kid and I give it credit for actually covering a topic I never see covered in these books.