Robert Jay Lifton (born May 16, 1926) is an American psychiatrist and author, chiefly known for his studies of the psychological causes and effects of wars and political violence and for his theory of thought reform. He was an early proponent of the techniques of psychohistory.
Robert Jay Lifton
|Born||May 16, 1926|
|Alma mater||Cornell University|
New York Medical College
|Known for||Author, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism; Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima; The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide|
|Fields||psychiatry, psychohistory, mind control, thought reform|
|Institutions||Washington School of Psychiatry |
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Lifton was born in 1926, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of businessman Harold A. Lifton, and Ciel Lifton née Roth. In 1942, he enrolled at Cornell University at the age of 16 and was admitted to New York Medical College in 1944, graduating in 1948. He interned at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn in 1948-49, and had his psychiatric residence training at the Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York in 1949-51.
From 1951 to 1953 he served as an Air Force psychiatrist in Japan and Korea, to which he later attributed his interest in war and politics. He has since worked as a teacher and researcher at the Washington School of Psychiatry, Harvard University, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he helped to found the Center for the Study of Human Violence.
He married the children's writer Betty Jean Kirschner in 1952 and has two children. She died in Boston on November 19, 2010, from complications of pneumonia. Lifton calls cartooning his avocation; he has published two books of humorous cartoons about birds. He is a member of Collegium International, an organization of leaders with political, scientific, and ethical expertise whose goal is to provide new approaches in overcoming the obstacles in the way of a peaceful, socially just and an economically sustainable world. In 2012, Lifton was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The New School.
During the 1960s, Lifton, together with his mentor Erik Erikson and MIT historian Bruce Mazlish, formed a group to apply psychology and psychoanalysis to the study of history. Meetings were held at Lifton's home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The Wellfleet Psychohistory Group, as it became known, focused mainly on psychological motivations for war, terrorism and genocide in recent history. In 1965, they received sponsorship from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to establish psychohistory as a separate field of study. A collection of research papers by the group was published in 1975: Explorations in Psychohistory: The Wellfleet Papers (see Bibliography; Lifton as editor). Lifton's work in this field was heavily influenced by Erikson's studies of Hitler and other political figures, as well as Sigmund Freud's concern with the mass social effects of deep-seated drives, particularly attitudes toward death.
Beginning in 1953, Lifton interviewed American servicemen who had been prisoners of war (POWs) during the Korean War as well as priests and students or teachers who had been held in prison in China after 1951. In addition to interviews with 25 Americans and Europeans, Lifton interviewed 15 Chinese who had fled after having been subjected to indoctrination in Chinese universities.
Lifton's 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China, based on this research, was a study of coercive techniques used in the People's Republic of China that he labelled "thought reform" or "brainwashing", though he preferred the former term. The term "thought-terminating cliché" was popularized in this book. Lifton found that when the POWs returned to the United States their thinking soon returned to normal, contrary to the popular image of "brainwashing." A 1989 reprint edition was published by University of North Carolina Press.
Several of his books featured mental adaptations that people made in extreme wartime environments: Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1967), Home from the War: Vietnam Veterans—Neither Victims nor Executioners (1973), and The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986). Regarding Hiroshima and Vietnam survivors or Nazi perpretators, Lifton believed that the psychic fragmentation experienced by his subjects was an extreme form of the pathologies that arise in peacetime life due to the pressures and fears of modern society.
His studies of the behavior of people who had committed war crimes, both individually and in groups, concluded that while human nature is not innately cruel and only rare sociopaths can participate in atrocities without suffering lasting emotional harm, such crimes do not require any unusual degree of personal evil or mental illness, and are nearly sure to happen given certain conditions (either accidental or deliberately arranged) which Lifton called "atrocity-producing situations". The Nazi Doctors was the first in-depth study of how medical professionals rationalized their participation in the Holocaust, from the early stages of the T-4 Euthanasia Program to the extermination camps.
In the Hiroshima and Vietnam studies, Lifton also concluded that the sense of personal disintegration many people experienced after witnessing death and destruction on a mass scale could ultimately lead to a new emotional resilience—but that without the proper support and counseling, most survivors would remain trapped in feelings of unreality and guilt. In her 2005 autobiography My Life So Far, Jane Fonda would come to describe Lifton's work with Vietnam veterans, along with that of fellow psychiatrists Drs. Leonard Neff, Chaim Shatan, and Sarah Haley, as "tireless and empathetic".
Lifton was one of the first organizers of therapeutic discussion groups on this subject in which mental health practitioners met with veterans face-to-face, and he and Dr. Neff successfully lobbied for the inclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). His book on Hiroshima survivors won the 1969 National Book Award in Science.
Totalism, a word first used in Thought Reform, is Lifton's term for the characteristics of ideological movements and organizations that desire total control over human behavior and thought. Lifton's usage differs from theories of totalitarianism in that it can be applied to the ideology of groups that do not wield governmental power.
In Lifton's opinion, though such attempts always fail, they follow a common pattern and cause predictable types of psychological damage in individuals and societies. He finds two common motives in totalistic movements: the fear and denial of death, channeled into violence against scapegoat groups that are made to represent a metaphorical threat to survival, and a reactionary fear of social change.
In his later work, Lifton has focused on defining the type of change to which totalism is opposed, for which he coined the term the protean self. In the book of the same title, he states that the development of a "fluid and many-sided personality" is a positive trend in modern societies, and that mental health now requires "continuous exploration and personal experiment", which requires the growth of a purely relativist society that is willing to discard and diminish previously established cultures and traditions.
Following his work with Hiroshima survivors, Lifton became a vocal opponent of nuclear weapons, arguing that nuclear strategy and warfighting doctrine made even mass genocide banal and conceivable. While not a strict pacifist, he has spoken against U.S. military actions in his lifetime, particularly the Vietnam War and Iraq War, believing that they arose from irrational and aggressive aspects of American politics motivated by fear.
In 1993, he said:
What's happening there [in Bosnia] merits the use of the word genocide. There is an effort to systematically destroy an entire group. It's even been conceptualized by Serbian nationalists as so-called "ethnic cleansing." That term signifies mass killing, mass relocation, and that does constitute genocide.
Lifton regards terrorism as an increasingly serious threat due to the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons and totalist ideologies. He has, however, criticized the current "War on Terrorism" as a misguided and dangerous attempt to "destroy all vulnerability". His 1999 book, Destroying the World to Save It, described the apocalyptic terrorist sect Aum Shinrikyo as a forerunner of "the new global terrorism".
Lifton is featured in the 2003 documentary Flight From Death, a film that investigates the relationship of human violence to fear of death, as related to subconscious influences. In 2006, Lifton appeared in a documentary on cults on the History Channel, Decoding the Past, along with fellow psychiatrist Peter A. Olsson. On May 18, 2008 Lifton delivered the commencement address at Stonehill College and discussed the apparent "Superpower Syndrome" experienced by the United States in the modern era.
Brainwashing (also known as mind control, menticide, coercive persuasion, thought control, thought reform, and re-education) is the concept that the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques. Brainwashing is said to reduce its subject’s ability to think critically or independently, to allow the introduction of new, unwanted thoughts and ideas into the subject’s mind, as well as to change his or her attitudes, values, and beliefs.The concept of brainwashing was originally developed in the 1950s to explain how the Chinese government appeared to make people cooperate with them. Advocates of the concept also looked at Nazi Germany, at some criminal cases in the United States, and at the actions of human traffickers. It was later applied by Margaret Singer, Philip Zimbardo, and some others in the anti-cult movement to explain conversions to some new religious movements and other groups. This resulted in scientific and legal debate with Eileen Barker, James Richardson, and other scholars, as well as legal experts, rejecting at least the popular understanding of brainwashing.Contrary views have been expressed by scholars, who include Dick Anthony, Robert Cialdini, Stanley A. Deetz, Michael J. Freeman, Robert Jay Lifton, Joost Meerloo, Daniel Romanovsky, Kathleen Taylor, Louis Jolyon West, and Benjamin Zablocki.
The concept of brainwashing is sometimes involved in legal cases, especially regarding child custody; and is also a theme in science fiction and in criticism of modern political and corporate culture. Although the term appears in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association brainwashing is not accepted as scientific fact.Cathy Caruth
Cathy Caruth (born 1955) is Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters at Cornell University and is appointed in the departments of English and Comparative Literature. She taught previously at Yale and at Emory University, where she helped build the Department of Comparative Literature. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1988 and is the author of Empirical Truths and Critical Fictions: Locke, Wordsworth, Kant, Freud (Johns Hopkins UP, 1991), Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History (Johns Hopkins UP, 1996), Literature in the Ashes of History (Johns Hopkins UP, 2013) and Listening to Trauma: Conversations with Leaders in the Theory and Treatment of Catastrophic Experience (Johns Hopkins UP, forthcoming 2014). She is also editor of Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Johns Hopkins UP, 1995) and co-editor with Deborash Esch of Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing (Rutgers University Press, 1995). Robert Jay Lifton, M.D. describes her as “one of the most innovative scholars on what we call trauma, and on our ways of perceiving and conceptualizing that still mysterious phenomenon.” For a good discussion of both Caruth's work on trauma theory see Roger Luckhurst, The Trauma Question, and Shoshana Felman, The Juridical Unconscious: Trials and Traumas in the Twentieth Century (Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 173–182, n.3.Chaim F. Shatan
Chaim F. Shatan (September 1, 1924 – August 17, 2001) was a Canadian psychiatrist born in Włocławek, Poland.
Shatan's parents moved to Canada when he was two. He received his MDCM degree from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In 1949, he moved to New York City and founded a private practice in psychiatry in the early 1950s.
Shatan had a longtime interest in war and trauma and became deeply involved with Vietnam veterans in the late 1960s, responding to an invitation by one of the founders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Jan Crumb (later known as Jan Barry), to form "rap groups" for veterans to speak about their emerging reactions. His article "Post-Vietnam Syndrome" was printed on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times on May 6, 1972. He continued to advocate for Vietnam veterans and other victims of war, trauma and natural and manmade disasters. In 1974, Shatan found out that "gross stress reaction", previously used to diagnose post-traumatic syndromes, had been eliminated from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is used to delineate psychological disorders. He founded the Vietnam Veterans Working Group with several colleagues, including Robert Jay Lifton, Sarah Haley, Jack Smith and Arthur Egendorf. They relentlessly pursued the issue, and reached out to Mardi J. Horowitz, the pioneer of experimental research in traumatic stress response, Harley Shands, Chief of Psychiatry at Roosevelt Hospital, who was working on workers' compensation cases, and William G. Niederland, who had initiated the study of reactions in concentration camp survivors with Henry Krystal. The group was successful in returning the diagnosis to the next edition of the book, DSM-III, under the new name "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder", a term which evolved from discussions between Shatan and the Working Group with Nancy Andreasen.
Shatan was also a founding member of the Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, now called the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.Cults in Our Midst
Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives is a study of cults by Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich, Ph.D.. with a foreword by Robert Jay Lifton.Eduard Wirths
Eduard Wirths (4 September 1909 – 20 September 1945) was the Chief SS doctor (SS-Standortarzt) at the Auschwitz concentration camp from September 1942 to January 1945. Thus, Wirths had formal responsibility for everything undertaken by the nearly 20 SS doctors (including Josef Mengele, Horst Schumann and Carl Clauberg) who worked in the medical sections of Auschwitz between 1942–1945.Flight from Death
Flight from Death (2003) is a documentary film that investigates the relationship of human violence to fear of death, as related to subconscious influences. The film describes death anxiety as a possible root cause of many human behaviors on a psychological, spiritual, and cultural level. It was directed by Patrick Shen, produced by Greg Bennick, and narrated by Gabriel Byrne.Greg Mitchell
Greg Mitchell (born 1947) is an American author and journalist who has written twelve non-fiction books on United States politics and history of the 20th and 21st centuries. His latest book, published by Crown in October 2016, is The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill. From 2009 to 2016 he blogged on the media and politics for The Nation, where he closely covered WikiLeaks. He co-produced the acclaimed 2014 film documentary "Following the Ninth," about the political and cultural influence of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
In three recent books, he has addressed issues of the relations between the press and government, especially related to the conduct of the 21st-century United States wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the editor of Editor & Publisher (E&P) (2002 through 2009), which covers the news and newspaper industry. His book, The Campaign of the Century (1992), about Upton Sinclair's run for governor of California and the rise of media politics, received the 1993 Goldsmith Book Prize for journalism. It was adapted by PBS as a documentary episode for its seven-part series on The Great Depression (1993). In addition, it was adapted as a vaudeville-style musical and received an award in California in 2006 for musical theatre.
Mitchell was editor of Nuclear Times magazine (1982 to 1986), and became interested in the history of the United States' use of the atom bomb during World War II. He addressed issues related to this in a 1996 book co-written with Robert Jay Lifton, "Hiroshima in America," and a later book "Atomic Cover-up." Mitchell served as senior editor of Crawdaddy magazine in the 1970s.Health of Donald Trump
Since the early days of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, his physical and mental health have been a subject of public debate. Trump was seventy years old when he took office, surpassing Ronald Reagan as the oldest person to assume the presidency. Comments on his age, weight and lifestyle have raised questions about his physical health. In addition, numerous public figures, media sources, and mental health professionals have speculated that Donald Trump may have mental health challenges, ranging from narcissistic personality disorder to some form of dementia. Trump and his supporters have denied these claims, and have contested the authority and motives of persons making such claims. Additionally, both the American Psychiatric Association and Alzheimer's Society have requested that people don't armchair diagnose Trump, or diagnose him with any disorder without being his doctor as per the Goldwater rule.Horst Schumann
Horst Schumann (1 May 1906 – 5 May 1983), SS-Sturmbannführer (major) and medical doctor, conducted sterilization and castration experiments at Auschwitz and was particularly interested in the mass sterilization of Jews by means of X-rays.Life unworthy of life
The phrase "life unworthy of life" (in German: "Lebensunwertes Leben") was a Nazi designation for the segments of the populace which, according to the Nazi regime of the time, had no right to live. Those individuals were targeted to be euthanized by the state, usually through the compulsion or deception of their caretakers. The term included people with serious medical problems and those considered grossly inferior according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany. This concept formed an important component of the ideology of Nazism and eventually helped lead to the Holocaust. It is similar to but more restrictive than the concept of "Untermensch", subhumans, as not all "subhumans" were considered unworthy of life (Slavs, for instance, were deemed useful for slave labor).
The euthanasia program was officially adopted in 1939 and came through the personal decision of Adolf Hitler. It grew in extent and scope from Aktion T4 ending officially in 1941 when public protests stopped the program, through the Action 14f13 against concentration camp inmates. The euthanasia of people with disabilities continued more discreetly until the end of World War II. The methods used initially at German hospitals such as lethal injections and bottled gas poisoning were expanded to form the basis for the creation of extermination camps where the gas chambers were built from scratch to conduct the extermination of the Jews, Poles, and Romani.Lifton
Lifton can refer to:
Lifton, Devon, village in England
Robert Jay Lifton, American psychiatrist
David Lifton, author
Jimmy Lifton, musicianMilieu control
Milieu control is a term popularized by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton to describe tactics that control environment and human communication through the use of social pressure and group language; such tactics may include dogma, protocols, innuendo, slang, and pronunciation, which enables group members to identify other members, or to promote cognitive changes in individuals. Lifton originally used "milieu control" to describe brainwashing and mind control, but the term has since been applied to other contexts.Oskar Pfister Award
The Oskar Pfister Award was established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), with the Association of Mental Health Clergy (now the Association of Professional Chaplains), in 1983 to honor those who have made significant contributions to the field of religion and psychiatry. The recipient delivers a lecture at an APA conference during the year of award, although the 2002 lecture was delivered by Susan Larson on behalf of her late husband. The award is named in honor of Oskar Pfister, a chaplain who discussed the religious aspects of psychology with Sigmund Freud.Psychic numbing
Psychic numbing is a tendency for individuals or societies to withdraw attention from past experiences that were traumatic, or from future threats that are perceived to have massive consequences but low probability. Psychic numbing can be a response to threats as diverse as financial and economic collapse, the risk of nuclear weapon detonations, pandemics, and global warming. It is also important to consider the neuroscience behind the phenomenon, which gives validation to the observable human behavior. The term has evolved to include both societies as well as individuals, so psychic numbing can be viewed from either a collectivist or an individualist standpoint. Individualist psychic numbing is found in victims of rape and people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump
The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump is a 2017 book, edited by Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist, containing essays from 27 psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals on the "clear and present danger" that US President Donald Trump's mental health poses to the "nation and individual well being". They argued that the president's mental health was affecting the mental health of the people of the United States and that he places the country at grave risk of involving it in a war and of undermining democracy itself because of his pathological narcissism and sociopathy. Consequently, Trump's presidency represents an emergency not only allowing, but perhaps also requiring, psychiatrists to deviate from the American Psychiatric Association's Goldwater rule, which holds that it is unethical for psychiatrists to give professional opinions about public figures without examining them in person.According to Jeanne Suk Gerson in The New Yorker, "A strange consensus does appear to be forming around Trump’s mental state," including Democrats and Republicans who doubt Trump's fitness for office.In a blog post republished on Salon in September 2017, journalist Bill Moyers wrote that "[t]here will not be a book published this fall more urgent, important, or controversial than The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump". In an interview with Robert Jay Lifton, Moyers said that Trump "makes increasingly bizarre statements that are contradicted by irrefutable evidence to the contrary." Lifton said, "He doesn’t have clear contact with reality, though I’m not sure it qualifies as a bona fide delusion." As an example, Lifton said, when Trump claimed that former president Barack Obama was born in Kenya, "he was manipulating that lie as well as undoubtedly believing it in part."Carlos Lozada in the Washington Post wrote that many politicians and commentators referred to Trump as "crazy" or doubted his mental health. In this book, mental health professionals examine that claim. They define Trump's behavior in terms of psychiatric disease, such as narcissistic personality disorder. They conclude that “anyone as mentally unstable as Mr. Trump simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency.” Lozada wrote that these conclusions are "compelling," but the contributors are writing from their own political perspective, and other mental health professionals differ. Presidents with mental illness, like depression, can be effective, and presidents without mental illness can still be dangerous.
Estelle Freedman, the Robinson Professor in U.S. History at Stanford University, said of the book: This insightful collection is grounded in historical consciousness of the ways professionals have responded to fascist leaders and unstable politicians in the past. It is a valuable primary source documenting the critical turning point when American psychiatry reassessed the ethics of restraining commentary on the mental health of public officials in light of the “duty to warn” of imminent danger. Medical and legal experts thoughtfully assess diagnoses of Trump’s behavior and astutely explore how to scrutinize political candidates, address client fears, and assess the 'Trump Effect' on our social fabric.
Writing for RealClearPolitics, Carl M. Cannon, by contrast, argued that the book's foreword, by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, "offers the melodramatic view that clinicians who don't warn the world about Donald Trump's shortcomings are akin to Nazi doctors who worked at Auschwitz. At the risk of practicing medicine without a license, I'd suggest that this historical comparison is de facto evidence of [Trump Derangement Syndrome] – and paranoid grandiosity".Thought-terminating cliché
A thought-terminating cliché is a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to end cognitive dissonance (discomfort experienced when one simultaneously holds two or more conflicting cognitions, e.g. ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions). Though the phrase in and of itself may be valid in certain contexts, its application as a means of dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic is what makes it thought-terminating. Its only function is to stop an argument from proceeding further.
The term was popularized by Robert Jay Lifton in his 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Lifton said, "The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis."In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the fictional constructed language Newspeak is designed to reduce language entirely to a set of thought-terminating clichés. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World society uses thought-terminating clichés in a more conventional manner, most notably in regard to the drug soma as well as modified versions of real-life platitudes, such as, "A doctor a day keeps the jim-jams away."Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China is a non-fiction book by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton on the psychology of mind control.
Lifton's research for the book began in 1953 with a series of interviews with American servicemen who had been held captive during the Korean War. In addition to interviews with 25 Americans, Lifton also interviewed 15 Chinese who had fled their homeland after having been subjected to indoctrination in Chinese universities. From these interviews, which in some cases occurred regularly for over a year, Lifton identified the tactics used by Chinese communists to cause drastic shifts in one's opinions and personality and "brainwash" American soldiers into making demonstrably false assertions.
The book was first published in 1961 by Norton in New York. The 1989 reprint edition was published by University of North Carolina Press. Lifton is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.Thought reform
Thought reform can refer to:
Mind control (or brainwashing, or coercive persuasion)
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, book by Robert Jay Lifton
Thought reform in the People's Republic of China