, February 19, 2010
(view all comments by Eric Hamell)
By comparing the accounts of a number of people of varying backgrounds who were subjected to Maoist "thought reform" in the early Fifties, Lifton develops much insight into the processes and mechanisms by which coercive persuasion is attempted and sometimes accomplished, as well as some ideas about the possible motives of the reformers (including non-rational motives) and the kind of historical context that can give rise to such practices.
It was interesting to read about the personal backgrounds of some of the subjects and recognize similarities to elements of my own early life. This provided some insight into why I have had some susceptibility to totalism, as well as successful resistance to its most destructive potentialities. And I became quite engaged by the concluding discussion outlining his idea of "open personal change," as contrasted with the totalistic sort. This seemed very relevant to my own current struggle to find a comfortable balance between engagement and autonomy. I wish Lifton could have gone into greater detail on this topic; perhaps he's done so in subsequent writings.