Losing a friend to a cult is like a death in the family – with no funeral
Mind-control techniques work at all levels – from the state all the way down to small communities, says Mike Garde
Are the victims of domestic slavery in London part of a cult? A 57-year old from Ireland is the only reference we have to this person and leaves us guessing about how much she knows about Ireland, her family and if they even know she is missing.
As an organisation assisting the victims of cultism, we were contacted on a number of occasions last week as journalists were trying to understand what was happening in London.
First there was the fact that this was happening in the UK was rare. We have this idea that this is Silence Of The Lambs territory. Then there was the length of time that had elapsed. Also, how could people be so controlled for so long?
That is what led to our door, as it seemed to exhibit the characteristics of a cult.
Was it a cult? Obviously we do not know but if it was, the worst thing to do at this stage is to focus on that issue as the priority is to give assistance to the victims. However, unless influence theory is introduced, counselling can miss the point and go down a cul de sac.
What do we mean by influence? In law, people are regarded as having competence as adults to make decisions and it is very difficult to introduce the idea that people can be under undue influence.
Research by Dr Robert J Lifton, from his book Thought Reform and The Psychology of Totalism, using evidence from the Korean War and from Chinese citizens who fled Maoist China, was the first to highlight this issue.
The book itself is not about China or Korea but rather about universal issues of mind control and psychological manipulation.
The 9/11 attacks, the 7/7 bombings, the beheading of a British soldier in South London and the recent Westgate attack in Kenya all point to us needing to reference these behaviours outside using simple concepts like brainwashing.
Understanding how the human condition reacts to outside stimuli is the basis for understanding how undue influence over another can be cultivated, developed and expanded into forms of mind control.
Two other thinkers who have given us an insight into this issue are Stanley Milgram and Dr Philip Zimbardo.
Milgram, in talking about obedience to authority, said: "The power an authority figure can have over an individual is much greater than one may think. Indeed, this power appears to be of sufficient strength that it can cause individuals to act against their own personal sense of morality."
Starting at the state level, we can show how a total population can be brought under influence.
One of the most sophisticated and culturally rich countries came under one of the most malign dictators of history.
Germany was a new state, but an Austrian, Adolf Hitler, was able to bring this great nation under his influence.
Another more current example is North Korea, where influence has reduced a rich country to "mental domestic slavery".
Down from the nation-state level, we come to the 35th anniversary of the murders of Jonestown, Guyana, which we commemorated last week.
Here a preacher from Indiana, who had been a social organiser in San Francisco, California, moved a whole community and set up a dictatorship in the jungle.
When the real world began to impinge on him he then dispensed the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid – first to the children, women and after that to the men who had lost the will to live.
These examples are assisted by using the word 'cult', but it is only a sign post on a continuum of explanation.
Sometimes it is used to describe someone we disagree with, and is therefore to narrow, but often it is the best word to describe what we are observing.
Dialogue Ireland is receiving requests for help from the Irish people who could be the anonymous 57-year-old in London.
Pleas include "we do recognise her any more", "they have stolen his mind", and "we have lost them and we are no longer their family". Our former chairperson, Fr Louis Hughes OP, compared it to the death of a loved one without the funeral.
Mike Garde is director of the Dialogue Ireland Trust.
Visit the website dialogueireland.wordpress.com for more information.