Whether or not “brainwashing” is real, it can be used to avoid confronting unpleasant truths.

Have Islamic State soldiers been brainwashed? Is that why they’re willing to engage in suicide bombing attacks? Scott Selisker is less interested in whether brainwashing is possible than in the history of the idea of the programmable mind.

Selisker, an English professor at the University of Arizona, has written a book, “Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons and American Unfreedom,” (2016, University of Minnesota Press) that has been described as “The first cultural history of the idea of the programmable mind in U.S. culture, from the Cold War to the War on Terror.”

He will discuss his findings in a 3:30 p.m. lecture at the Arizona Senior Academy on Thursday (Aug. 17).

Selisker begins his book 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.

Scott Selisker

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 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’ own superiority. Only someone whose right mind has been overwritten with alien propaganda, after all, could fail to cherish American freedom.

Selisker is an assistant professor of English at the UA. He taught previously at Macalester College, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Virginia, where he completed his Ph.D. in 2010.

Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer

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Brainwashing: The Story of an Idea: August 2017
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