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Conditioning: Seeing our Innate Susceptibility

To properly see and move past the problem of conditioning, it is not enough to just acknowledge that people can, and do, get conditioned, brainwashed and indoctrinated. It’s also necessary to recognize the psychological factors that facilitate that process.

Our proclivity to being influenced and adopting viewpoints that are not our own, stems, in large part, from a series of behavioral imperatives and patterns that arise early in life. These include:

  • a need for social approval;
  • emotional dependency on others;
  • susceptibility to authority figures

These are all key ingredients in understanding how and why we learn to think and do things, which we might not otherwise.

As children, we're at our most vulnerable. In order to survive, and to ensure that we receive the needed love, affection and nurturing, we must rely on our parents - who also happen to be our only reference points in the world. But that love and protection can be seen to be conditional upon obedience to them. So, as children we work to maintain our parents’ approval, and thus learn to conform to their wishes. And that process includes imitating them. And here begins the process of childhood indoctrination - and learning obedience to authority.

So, how does this bear upon us as adults? And upon the political problems in the world?

The answer is that our dependency on authority figures, established in childhood, continues into adult life - except that the figures of authority are no longer just our parents, but other individuals in the wider world.

All societies are based on authority figures. And as we’ve seen from above, we become conditioned early on to showing obedience to them. So, in the same way that we work as children to gain the approval of our parents and families in order to ensure their continued benefaction, we also work to gain and maintain the approval of authority figures in our society who have other things to offer us in return. These people can be friends, teachers, bosses at our workplaces, and political or religious figures.

This is especially so in the Middle East, where authority figures are especially powerful and vested with special significance.

Because the Middle East has for so long been organized along family, tribal, and sectarian lines AND because the welfare of those entities have so often been under threat, supreme obedience to the dictates of the group has always been considered paramount. Obedience is considered crucial by the group to help ensure its cohesion and survival. Obedience is also of paramount importance for the individual member. Without maintaining the approval of the group, he or she can be cast out – or worse. Thus the mind of the individual member is more easily influenced. Beliefs become inculcated and reinforced.

This partly explains why conflicts in the Middle East are so enduring: the conditioning within groups runs deep, and is facilitated and reinforced by implicit and explicit threats. Dissenting, or alternative views on an “enemy” - which can put the wisdom of any conflict into question - are very rare indeed.

People in the Middle East who are used to being looked after all their lives by strong authority figures, and whose innate needs are unmet, can easily gravitate towards the most powerful authority figures of all: political and religious demagogues. Those personalities can provide them with the ultimate reassurance and protection – but at the price of accepting their extremist and fanatical agendas.

In the Middle East, allegiance to groups like Hizbullah or Israeli settler groups, or even loyalty to to local sects, may appear “natural” due to traditions of history; however, indoctrination permeates these groups with unforeseen consequences for politics. Conflicts are easily stoked and maintained where there is no dissent from within the group.

John Zada