Friday, October 26, 2012

TED Talk: Diane Benscoter on the Unification Church

Taking a moment to step out of the story to say: I really love TED talks. I saw the one given by Diane Benscoter on the Unification Church back in 2009, but I only just read the follow up Q&A with her on the TED Blog thanks to a post on How Well Do You Know Your Moon. I really recommend the talk and the Q&A, but I have to make some qualifying statements first.

After leaving the church, Benscoter became a deprogrammer. Deprogramming is a highly controversial practice; growing up we heard about deprogrammers like they were the boogiemen. One of my teachers at New Eden Academy told us that he had been kidnapped by a deprogrammer and tied to a bed in a hotel room. The story may or may not be embellished, and included a heroic escape out of a window, but it was something that stuck with me.

If you want to try comparing apples and oranges, deprogramming is sort of the reverse side of indoctrination - it seeks to break the mind of its self-inflicted illogic loop. I use the word break because I think can be very dangerous to a person's psychology. It takes a long time, a lot of mental and emotional work at self-actualization, and then a strong self belief and personal resolve to end that constriction. No one can and should do it for you (and on the obverse side,  no one should inflict the initiation of an illogic-loop, but that's a Whole Other Post.)

While Benscoter is no longer involved in deprogramming, she gives an interesting perspective on the "why" of it. I also think that it's fascinating that she refers to deprogramming as an "underground railroad, of sorts." I struggle with that term because, yes deprogramming was a conduit out, and hot damn do I wish that there was a modern-day Harriet Tubman that I could have called on back in the day. But what if someone had grabbed the 17-year old me off of the streets and tried to open up my brain and untangle it before I was ready to do that for myself? I cannot imagine.

In her talk she shows a slideshow; one picture is of Unification Church members and the other one is of Hitler Youth. Frankly it hurts to have your background compared to that of Hitler Youth, suicide bombers, and the participants of the Jonestown Massacre. There is something that doesn't sit well in the pit of your stomach when you hear your parents and childhood friends categorized like that. But the point that Benscoter is making is about how these types of groups inflict circular logic and how it fundamentally rewires the brain.

The question it brings up to me then is, what if Rev. Moon had told his followers to become armed insurrectionists. What if he had told people that on "Foundation Day" the "Cheon Il Gook" could only be achieved by ascending to another plane, so please drink the kool-aid Holy Wine. These are questions that any Unificationist would become incensed by, and I understand that. BUT the fundamental driving point that Benscoter is trying to make is that the brain is hardwired to begin to accept strong suggestion in that direction.

And then there's the Upstart Buisness Journal's article on Kook Jin Moon's firearm company, Kahr Arms, and Koon Jin's quote: "Religion’s whole thing is ‘Don’t hurt others; we want peace.’ But most religions understand that there are people who don’t want peace.” Yes, it's taken out of context, but it's still a little unnerving.

Anyway overall, the TED talk is good (although I wish it went into more depth). I recommend it, as well as the Q&A Blog, for an interesting perspective:

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