Mental Disorientation by means of Irrefutable Paradoxical Assertions.
This is probably the trickiest element to analyse.
The word 'paradox' has a range of meanings. In one sense, it can mean a statement or situation which is seemingly absurd though perhaps actually well founded. Science contains a number of paradoxes of this kind. There is also the self-referential paradox, which contradicts itself. The best known example of this is a person who says 'Everything I say is a lie'. (If this is a true statement, then it must be a lie.) In general, a paradox is a statement which is partly true, partly untrue or contradictory, and partly perplexing.
Life is complex and often paradoxical. Human nature is paradoxical. Paradoxes are also well established in Buddhist teaching, as for example the Zen koan of 'the sound of one hand clapping'. Because the rational mind cannot easily deal with these kinds of paradoxes, and tends to give up on them after a period of time, meditative contemplation of paradoxes is fairly widely used within traditional Buddhism as a method of neutralising or by-passing the rational, discursive mind, or of 'stilling the mind.' The aim is to foster a more direct, intuitive awareness of reality, freed from the interposition of mental views and preconceptions, which are regarded in Buddhism as mental attachments tending to bind individuals to a cycle of ignorance and suffering.
In the FWBO, however, these traditional Buddhist techniques and practices, involving the meditative contemplation of paradoxes, are not used to encourage a student's own natural insight. Instead, paradoxical concepts and assertions are used to cast doubts in a student's mind about their own existing attitudes and affiliations, beliefs, characteristics, and personal abilities. The aim is to disorientate them and to undermine their self confidence and self-reliance, so that it is easier to manoeuvre them into a double bind. Taking as an example, a self-referential paradox from the FWBO: 'spiritual life begins with awareness, when one becomes aware that one is unaware, or when one wakes up to the fact that one is asleep'(B4).
Venus and Mars (detail Mars), Botticelli
The beauty of this kind of formulation (from a cult's point of view) is that this kind of assertion can never actually be disproved, because any reluctance to accept this teaching, or its implications, can always be ascribed to a student's own un-awareness and spiritual sleepiness. A student is unable to refute this, because the proof or disproof of this kind of assertion rests on a (hypothetical) level of spiritual insight which is only accessible to spiritually advanced people, and not to a student, who by definition lacks the required level of spiritual awareness. This is circular argument, which can be used as a double bind, or Catch 22, so that whichever way a student turns, they can always be put in the wrong.
True awareness, on the other hand, can be developed through spiritual practice under the guidance of the FWBO. As the cult leader puts it: 'I see it [the spiritual life] in terms of a very definite transition from what we regard as a mundane way of seeing the world and experiencing the world, to what we would describe as a transcendental way, seeing it in terms of wisdom, seeing it in terms of real knowledge, seeing it in terms of ultimate reality, seeing it in terms of a truer, wider perspective' (B5). In other words, it is again being suggested that the student's existing understanding and perception of 'the world' is mundane and limited in its perspective.
This is a recurrent sub-text or hidden agenda of FWBO teachings: to suggest to an aspirant or student that their existing views and perceptions, habitual thought processes, and emotions are all flawed, and are in fact the primary source of all the unhappiness and dissatisfaction they may have previously experienced in their lives. If they wish to progress, and if they wish to begin to develop their true potential as individuals, they should give up their old ways, and make a positive effort to follow the new truer, wider perspective and understanding promoted by the group and its leadership. As the UK's Norwich Meditation Centre Summer '98 programme puts it: 'Buddhism offers clear and practical guidelines as to how men and women can realise their full potential for understanding and kindness. Meditation is a direct way of working on ourselves, to bring about positive change in our lives. We teach two simple and complementary meditations. One helps us develop a calm, clear, focused mind; the other transforms our emotional life, enabling us to enjoy greater self-confidence and positivity towards others.'
The (paradoxical) assertions which tend to be the most effective in persuading a newcomer to buy into the group's values and accept the benefits of 'positive change' in their lives are the kind which are plausible and which seem to contain an element of truth. For example: 'We are psychologically conditioned by our race, by our class and by the work that we do....by the social and economic system of which we are a part and by the religion into which we are born or in which we have been brought up. All this goes to show we are just a mass of psychological conditioning: a class conditioning, plus an economic conditioning, plus a religious conditioning, plus a national conditioning, plus a linguistic conditioning. There is very little, in fact, that is really ours, really our own....that is really, in a word, us.'(B6).
This kind of teaching can, in a way, act as a psycho-active agent, almost like a drug. Once lodged in a person's mind, the concepts and subtexts embodied in this kind of paradoxical assertion can change the way a person thinks. And because these assertions are often, as in the above example, almost certainly partly true, they can be very hard to refute and to dislodge
Different cults each tend to have their own characteristic set of key words and assertions which they will use to criticise and undermine an aspirant's reliance on their own reasoning ability and judgement. In a Christian based cult such as the Moonies, for example, doubts or reservations which a student may have about aspects of the group's teaching, may be blamed on Satan or a spirit putting evil thoughts into the student's mind in order to try and prevent them from reaching towards God. In Scientology, to take another example, such doubts or reservations may be ascribed to the influence of 'engrams', unconscious conditionings from past lives which block the student's energy and prevent them from reaching their full potential.
The key point is that, logically, the kind of paradoxical assertions (and potential double binds) quoted above can neither be proved nor disproved, and therefore they are insoluble and impenetrable. By their nature, and because their proof or disproof rests on a (hypothetical) level of spiritual insight which is only accessible to spiritually advanced people, these assertions cannot be subject to independent or empirical verification. They are in a sense irrefutable. They are non-falsifiable, in Popper's terms (B7). They can only be taken on trust.
Karl Popper was Professor of Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics from 1949 -1969, and is perhaps best known for his criterion of 'falsifiability'.
A statement of the form 'All crows are black' is a falsifiable statement, because one properly authenticated observation of a white crow is sufficient to show that the statement is false, despite any number of observations of black crows. In other words, the statement is capable of being disproved through empirical evidence, and can be modified to a more appropriate form which includes the proviso 'except for albino crows', or which changes 'all' to 'most'..
Popper criticised, for example, Darwin's Theory of Evolution as being non-falsifiable. It is incapable of being disproved. If a person or organisation wished to test the theory, how could evidence be gathered? The enquiring individual or organisation would have had to be around for tens of millions of years, and to have invented language, proper scientific trials, etc. Its not possible. Popper didn't say that Darwin's theory was necessarily wrong, only that it was non-falsifiable.
An assertion of the form: 'Spiritual life begins when one realises that one is not as aware as one could be' is a non-falsifiable assertion. It is a one-way street. While any number of people within a group may observe (or say that they believe) that they have become more aware following the group's spiritual guidance, a person who questions this or who observes (or believes) that they themselves have not become more aware following the group's spiritual guidance, cannot establish this as a valid observation, because it can easily be argued that this 'negative' observation results from that person's own deficiencies of spiritual awareness or aptitude, and not from any deficiencies in the group's spiritual guidance. A person can never actually disprove an assertion that they are deficient in spiritual awareness. How can they refute or disprove such an assertion?
Many of these kinds of irrefutable (and ultimately insoluble) paradoxical assertions (IPA's) used by various cults seem to pose a question or challenge of the following general form:
If you are not free [or failing to live up to your true potential, etc. etc.], because of your 'conditioning' [or insert equivalent IPA from your favourite cult], what do you do about it? Do you:
(a). Give in and accept the situation?
(b). Try and break free?
You can of course refuse to answer the question. However, if your answer is (b), then this implies some agreement with the assertion that you are 'conditioned' [or equivalent IPA]. To some degree, you have entered an insoluble self-referential paradox and also a potential double bind. The paradox is: how can you attempt to break free when any or all of your thoughts and actions may be at least partly the result of 'conditioning' (or ego, or the influence of a malignant spirit, or some other IPA.)? If you decide on a course of action on your own account, how do you know whether or not your decision is partly or wholly the result of your unconscious 'conditioning', or in other words whether you haven't simply been programmed to act in this way and are not actually making a free decision at all. By its paradoxical nature, this kind of question can never be satisfactorily answered.
This places an aspirant in a difficult position. They now have to decide for themselves, alone and without any outside reference, whether or not to place any trust in their new friends, and in the spiritual guidance offered by the group. (Remember that there are no independent or objective means of testing the validity of the group's claims and assertions; they can only be taken on trust). If they do not trust the group, then effectively they must break off contact with them. If, on the other hand, they decide to give the group the benefit of the doubt, or if they allow themselves to be drawn in by the emotional warmth and friendliness of existing members, or to feel inspired by the (claimed) humanitarian and spiritual ideals of the group, then they may be vulnerable.
In short, an aspirant has to decide between leaving the group, or 'opening up' and beginning to trust the group. This decision is the crux, or pivotal point, of mind control.