On July, 13 2011 Lifton was interviewed in the following video by Steven A. Hassan, author and cult recovery expert from the Freedom of Mind Center.
Adapted from the video description by Steve Hassan's channel on vimeo:
I sat down and had a most wonderful conversation with Robert Jay Lifton, M.D. on the occasion the publication of his memoir entitled, Witness to an Extreme Century.
Lifton talks about Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism and his work in Hong Kong in the 1950s exploring brainwashing in communist China. We then talk about his book, Death in Life, which describes the psychological effects of the nuclear bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as his life work campaigning against nuclear bombs and ultimately nuclear energy.
Followed by a discussion of his work with Nazi Doctors, the concept of "doubling" and the mot amazing levels of atrocity done in the name of "virtue." Then to his book, Destroying the World to Save it, about apocalyptic cults. The book focuses on Aum Shinrikyo, the cult of Shoko Asahara who ordered the manufacture and ultimate sarin gassing of thousands on the subways of Tokyo. We talk in depth about this cult and throughout this fascinating talk, the themes of how powerful situational influences can make essentially, intelligent, good people commit extreme and immoral acts.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Lifton's works, his earliest research and related theories along with the great works Margaret Singer on Brainwashing and Mind Control have become the defacto standards in cultic studies aimed toward the harm inflicted on members of destructive cults.
From Dr. Lifton's profile with The Harvard International Negotiation Program:
Robert Jay Lifton is a lecturer on Psychiatry from Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Psychology, The City University of New York. He was formerly Director of the Center on Violence and Human Survival at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He held the Foundations’ Fund Research Professorship of Psychiatry at Yale University for more than two decades. The recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, Dr. Lifton has sought always to combine scholarship and social activism.Study of Brainwashing in China runs broad and deep.
The overall themes of his work have been holocaust and transformation. He has developed a general psychological perspective around the paradigm of death and the continuity of life, with emphasis on symbolization and the “formative process,” and on the malleability of the contemporary self. He has studied many of the most destructive events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and has played an important role in the development of the field of psychohistory.
His many publications include: Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (winner of a National Book Award), Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial (with Greg Mitchell); Six Lives/Six Deaths: Portraits from Modern Japan (with Shuichi Kato and Michael Reich); The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (awarded a Los Angeles Times book prize), Home from the War: Learning from Vietnam Veterans (finalist for a National Book Award, and reissued with a new introduction on the war in Iraq), Destroying the World to Save It (about the fanatical Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo), and The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation.
From September 11, 2001, he has been studying Islamic apocalyptic violence and American responses to 9/11, including their own apocalyptic tendencies. His book Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World was published by Nation Book in 2003. Most recently, Crimes of War: Iraq (Nation Books 2006), coedited with Irene Gendzier and Richard Falk and included a number of Dr. Lifton's essays, exploring the complex legal, historical, political and psychological dimensions of America's military response to 9/11.
But there is still an incredible wealth of knowledge that can be gained from Lifton's perpetually reprinted book, and it ranks high on this blog's recommended list of reading for those looking to shake off the undue influences of cults.
Additional references on Lifton and his related works in the fields of cultic studies and psychology of totalism for further study can be found on the following links.
- Conversations with History: Robert Jay Lifton - YouTube
- Revolutionary Immortality (Norton Library)
- Life of the Self: Toward a New Psychology
- Dr. Robert J. Lifton's Criteria for Thought Reform (ICSA)
- Study: Cult Formation by Robert J. Lifton (ICSA/AFF)
- Witness To An Extreme Century by Robert Jay Lifton (NPR)
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