LARB | No mind to lose: On brainwashing

By Rob Horning
Los Angeles Review of Books

Human Programming (Scott Selisker)SCOTT SELISKER begins his book Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom with the case of John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban” who was captured in Afghanistan as an enemy combatant shortly after the US invasion in 2001. In trying to assess why an American would willingly join forces with the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, media coverage speculated about whether or not Lindh had been somehow brainwashed. The media treatment of Lindh, Selisker notes, follows a script established in the popular press in the mid-20th century to rationalize and invalidate American dissidents. The brainwashing narrative let American readers “see themselves as comparatively free thinkers in a democratic society vis-à-vis the apparent unfreedom of democracy’s enemies.” The idea of our enemies having to forcibly reprogram human beings to get them to turn on the US anchors popular representations of the United States’s own irresistible superiority. Only someone whose right mind has been overwritten with alien propaganda, after all, could fail to cherish American freedom.

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