(Ed. note: This article is adapted and republished with permission from its original, Zimbardo, P. G. (2005), “Mind control in Orwell’s 1984: Fictional concepts become operational realities in Jim Jones’ jungle experiment,” in M. Nussbaum, J. Goldsmith, & A. Gleason (Eds.), 1984: Orwell and Our Future, (pp. 127-154), Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Dr. Zimbardo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Terrorism is about one thing: Psychology. It is the psychology of fear. It is the psychology of inducing fear in a target population for political objectives. It is the weaponization of fear and anxiety induction, usually by a small group opposed to the political, economic, religious and/or social agenda of a larger, more powerful, entrenched group. Such would-be terrorists are most effective when they are nameless, faceless and placeless. A core of their power resides in the very anonymity that resists traditional symmetrical warfare against them. This politically-motivated violence by sub-national, clandestine groups attempts to undercut confidence in their government to protect citizens against random attacks that undermine a sense of national security (See U.S. Department of State (2000), Title 22 of US Code, section 2656f (d)). The attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 now rank as the prime example of such terrorism.
But terrorism comes in other forms as well. In “urban guerilla terrorism,” members of disenfranchised groups attack forces or symbols of their own government that are judged to be repressive or unjust. “State-sponsored terrorism” is organized top-down by clandestine groups that are logistically or operationally supported by a nation in power against those who are perceived as threats to national security. “State terror” is similar to state-sponsored terrorism, but more openly flaunts the repressive and destructive power of the nation-state against elements in its own population that are actually or potentially rebellious of the state’s leadership or dogma. And finally, “international terrorism” focuses the forces of more than one nation against an opponent in asymmetrical, clandestine warfare designed to overthrow its leaders.
I highlight the mind control strategies and tactics brilliantly conceived by George Orwell in his prophetic novel, 1984, to illustrate the powers of state terror and state-sponsored terrorism. These fictional portrayals are then shown to become the catechism of the religious leader, Jim Jones, reverend of Peoples Temple, the San Francisco and Los Angeles-based branches of the Protestant’s Church of Christ Disciples. In 1978, 912 United States citizens committed “revolutionary suicide” or were murdered by their friends and relatives in Jonestown, a South American jungle compound in Guyana. My thesis is that Jones knew about Orwell’s mind control machinery and utilized all of it in a systematic campaign over many to achieve the ultimate objective of extreme mind control—on his own church followers. This ultimate, successful mind-control program mirrors that developed by the CIA, in its decades-long futile attempt to discover and make operational principles of mind control in the MK-ULTRA program (Scheflin & Opton, 1978; Nugent, 1979). Some evidence suggests a possible link between Jones and the CIA in this internal terrorist plot (Meiers, 1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 1981).
Imagine that your Enemy’s mission is to control your every thought, feeling, and action so that they become alienated from your core and then come to belong to the State in its master plan for the total domination of you and your kin. Consider how you feel knowing that the goals of this Enemy are boldly proclaimed as:
- “to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought” (Orwell, 1981, p. 159);
- “to eliminate the conditions that enable even one ‘erroneous thought’ to exist anywhere in the world” (210);
- “to crush the core of humaneness so that no person is ‘capable of ordinary human feeling” (211); and for good final measure,
- “to enforce such total obedience to its authority that every citizen is “prepared to commit suicide, if and when we order you to do so” (142).
Imagine further that this terrifying Enemy is not some external force emanating from a foreign nation, but it is your own Government, it is The Party of your Government. How do you resist becoming a brainwashed, gut-cleansed slave of such a system? How do you instigate a rebellion, organizing the might of the minority who do not want to be controlled, against this inhuman force?
Before you can start to develop a plan of resistance, you must understand the strategy and tactics of mind control being put into operation by this Enemy. In this battle of the Forces of Inhuman Totalitarian Control against the Spirit of Everyman and Everywoman, the system loses if even one person is able to maintain autonomy, preserve free will, and sustain a sense of compassion for one’s fellows. The absolute power of this oppressive system is threatened by the presence of even a single dissident, someone who can laugh at its pretentiousness by remembering when life was different and better, and by imagining future realities, future possible selves, with meaningful options and viable choices. But the System views such dissidents as “ a stain that must be wiped out” (210). And the Party uses all its might in the effort to cleanse such stains from the fabric of its domination.
George Orwell gives us a model of resistance, the reluctant hero, Winston Smith, who stands against the omnipotence of the 1984 version of the System. What can we learn from his trials and tribulations that may help us cope more effectively with the contemporary version of the System that has been operating since Orwell shared his insights with us some 50 years ago? My answers come packaged in seven parts.
- First outlined are Orwell’s views of what is essential in human nature, since they form a “reversed blueprint” that reveals the justifications for his use of so many different devices of mind control, each of which is designed to undermine some aspect of humanity.
- Next reviewed are the key features of those exotic mind control devices – the psychological technologies for modifying behavior and altering the functions of the mind – that Orwell “gifts” to the System.
- The issue of the malleability of man, and of course, woman, when pitted against powerful situational forces, is analyzed.
- I show then how Winston, like most of us, increases his vulnerability to social influence, while paradoxically believing he is becoming more resistant, doing so by making what is known as “the Fundamental Attribution Error.” Social psychological research on the power of situations illustrates this dual tendency to overestimate individual strength and character while underestimating the force of subtle aspects of the social situation when trying to understand what causes us to act as we do.
- A contrast is presented of what it takes to become a “True Believer” rather than just a Party Conformist, showing that the System errs in seeking only the latter when it is the former that is vital for seeding its ideology for future growth without constant external control.
- Briefly illustrated is how Orwell’s fictional mind control conceptions have been embraced, extended, and made more powerful by modern influence peddlers in our real world. We see this among those who would cure, care, and convert and educate us. Most notably featured is the CIA in its MK-ULTRA program for decades from the 1950’s to 1970’s, and probably well beyond that time.
- Finally, I entertain the possibility that the mass suicide/mass murders of 912 U.S. citizens in the jungles of Guyana in 1978 – orchestrated by former reverend Jim Jones, pastor of the Peoples Temple – was modeled directly on many of the strategies and tactics of mind and body control that Jones learned as a student of Orwell’s System in 1984.
What is the Orwellian View of Human Nature as Revealed in His Mind Control Technologies?
Each of 1984’s technologies of mind control is aimed at either undermining or overwhelming some attribute central to the human spirit.
- For freedom of action there is Obedience Training.
- For freedom of association and interpersonal trust there is Social Isolation, Enforced Solitude, and the Spy Network.
- For independence of one’s thought there is Newspeak, Thought Control, and Thought Police.
- For reality-based perceptions and decisions there is Sense Impression Denial, Doublethink, and Reality Control.
- For human pride there are pernicious Interrogation Tactics and the humiliating terrors of one’s most terrible fears exposed in Room 101.
- For sharing tender sentiments, there is Aversive Emotional Conditioning, elimination of sexual impulses, and implanting pro-war, hateful emotions.
- The use of language to convey and focus cognitive functions is devastated by Crimestop and Newspeak.
- Personal privacy and solitude wither under the glare of Big Brother’s Telescreen Surveillance.
- Individuality, eccentricity, and diversity also yield to the forces of Crimestop.
- Objective time and facts, along with personal memory, are no match for the Ministry of Truth’s falsification tactics of selective amnesia.
Orwell confronts us with some of the most profound questions about human existence. What is reality? What is truth? What are the central, most vital qualities of the human psyche? What happens when intelligence is allowed free reign without constraint by compassionate feelings or social conscience? And can an individual survive in an inhospitable environment without the tangible support of a social group, family and friends, or the spiritual support of a religious-mythical ideology?
What is unique and to be valued in the human condition?
By illustrating what can happen when our assumptions and beliefs are negated or are reversed, Orwell forces us to see anew what there is to value, and thus preserve against all odds, in sustaining the beauty and meaning of the human condition.
The uniqueness of our species and of each individual emanates from the coupling of intelligence, consciousness, motivation, and affect.
Intelligence gives us the capacity to learn, to remember, to imagine alternatives, to transform current existence.
Consciousness gives us the awareness of the self as a uniquely time-bound entity able to distinguish inner from external realities, wishes from what is, and to carry in our heads a worldview of potentialities that transform our vision beyond the constraints of current actualities.
Motivation energizes human resolve, moves us from intention to action, enables us to persevere toward goals despite adversity.
Affect colors the quality of experience in infinitely complex hues that enrich it and transport us beyond a life limited to experience animal pleasures and pains.
However, vital to each of these fundamental functions is the development of balanced temporal perspective that blends past, present, and future. The human mind is designed to partition the flow of experience into these temporal categories and thereby to enrich our experiences by becoming totally enmeshed in what was, is, will be at any given moment. A focus on the past connects us to our roots, to our sense of self over time, and is critical for the development of a sense of personality. A focus on the hedonistic present nourishes daily existence with the joys of playfulness and sensuality. A focus on the future gives people wings to soar to new heights of achievement. People need this temporal trilogy harmoniously operating in a balanced perspective to realize fully their human potential. This uniquely human temporal perspective, in recognizing its own frailty and mortal limits, serves to establish principles of justice and a transcendent vision of spiritual life.
But the social psychologist in me asserts that over and above all these human attributes, to thrive, people need to be part of a society that reasonably and equitably trades off self-interests, rights, and privileges with social obligations that foster the common good. People need other people to create a system of supportive interdependence – a bonded unit that helps each to resist assaults from destructive influences in the physical, social, and political environments. One of the most important lessons from modern social sciences, psychiatry, and epidemiology is that social isolation is the cause and consequence of a host of pathologies of both body and mind. And its corollary is that being part of a social support network is the most effective prophylaxis against mental and physical illnesses. Anything that isolates us from our kin kills the human spirit, anything that makes us feel anonymous perverts the human spirit into not caring for others.
Orwell recognizes this essence of human nature and encourages us to reflect on its vitality and tenuousness by acknowledging how easily it can be corrupted, transformed, destroyed – as much by a totalitarian enemy force as by a disease of the brain or paralyzing stroke.
A 1984 Mind Controller’s Catalog
Let’s briefly review some of the main strategies for transferring Self Control to Party Control:
Obedience training enforces unquestioned submission to the will of authority. The individual develops a behavioral intention to act on command by repeatedly agreeing “to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs”(142). Author C.P. Snow reminds us that more crimes against human nature have been committed in the name of obedience than in the name of rebellion. The blind obedience to authority that characterized Eichmann’s Nuremberg defense and other Nazi criminals was not fashioned by Hitler or Himmler, but nurtured originally by elementary school teachers issuing coercive rules to stay in your seat until given permission by the authority figure to move, and a host of other forms of discipline. The problem is that they never taught us how to discriminate between just and unjust authority when they both demand our obedience and the latter must be resisted and opposed.
Newspeak diminishes the range of thought by cutting the choice of words to a minimum (247). “Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller” (46). By canceling a lexicon of purged words, such as “honor,” “justice,” “morality,” and “democracy,” Newspeak abolished the concepts which they expressed. Then by substituting a new word for old concepts, all conceptual analysis was meaningless and therefore stopped, so that liberty and justice became crimethink, objectivity and rationalism became oldthink, and sexual relations not state-prescribed became sexcrime.
Crimestop goes beyond destroying and simplifying language to distort basic cognitive functions. “It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to INGSOC… Crimestop in short, means protective stupidity… a control over one’s mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body” (174-175).
Doublethink “is a vast system of mental cheating” (177) in which doubt and certainty coexist about the same event that one can honestly say never happened, knowing that it is deceptive to so state. By involving the person as his own agent of conscious self deception, Doublethink frees Party members to engage in more strenuous forms of interrogation (199-200) and torture (202, ff).
Doublethink is similar to “trance logic” among hypnotized subjects when they try to give a rational explanation for an irrational perception of a suggested hallucinatory experience. At one level of consciousness, they know the hallucination they are experiencing is not an empirically valid perception, while at the same time, at another level of consciousness, they do not know that fact and believe the suggested hallucination is real, thus vigorously trying to rationalize this anomaly to themselves and to others.
Reality Control is Oldspeak for what in Newspeak would be a primary function of Doublethink, “to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears” (69). The process of abolishing reliance on external reality as the validation check for internal perceptions, beliefs, and desires wipes away the fundamental dualisms of internal-external, subjective-objective, and covert, private mental activities as separate entities from their overt, public expression. Without these dualities, can there by any absolutes in truth and reality or freedom of choice? Schizophrenic patients reverse the ordinary validity checks of internal beliefs assessed against criteria anchored in external reality. Instead, they validate external reality by its fit with their subjective, idiosyncratic reality. In 1984, Reality Control forces individual subjective reality to be determined by Party consensus; reality is the Collective Subjective.
Big Brother is Watching You
Telescreen surveillance permanently intrudes an external presence into the once private lives of every individual, thereby making privacy a criminal luxury.
“Always the eyes watching you, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your head,”(26) and each day that private vault was being robbed of its personal contents. Surveillance has a psychologically “chilling effect” in suppressing individual actions through intimidation and feelings of powerlessness, over and beyond the objective facts of the surveillance itself.
Beyond this omnipresent telescreen intrusion of Big Brother is an even more sinister mind control tactic used in 1984 by the Party. Institutionalized spying by friends, family, and neighbors eliminates interpersonal trust – the basis for a social support network – and in its place distrust, suspicion, and conspiracy theories abound. When social bonds are broken, social isolation becomes common, and individuals exist in “locked loneliness” that diminishes the human spirit.
Emotional control in 1984 meant “there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy – everything” (220). Orwell utilizes a variant of what was in his time a new conditioning paradigm in clinical psychology, aversive emotional conditioning through fading out strong hate stimuli and fading in a new stimulus to-be-hated by means of generalizing the negative emotion elicited by the first stimulus to any person, object, or symbolic concept. (As an aside, some therapists in the 1950’s and 60’s used such aversive conditioning to induce homosexuals to loathe the sight of naked men and be aroused by female bodies.)
But Orwell adds a nice Nietzschian twist to this emotional conditioning by showing us how the Dionysian side of human nature revels in destruction and is intoxicated with the unlimited, mindless passion for power. It is that deindividuated aspect of every human being that gets liberated from the rational Apollonian vision by joining in the revels of the mob mentality. The Two Minutes Hate exercise lured even the reluctant into its “hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer” (16).
When loyalty to any but the Party was threatened by passions and spontaneous seeking of intimate pleasure, the Party punished such sexcrime. It is more difficult to dehumanize those who are in touch with primitive instincts, who are intimately connected as a unit that might resist more vigorously than either partner in an isolated test tube existence. “The sex impulse was dangerous to the party, and the Party had turned it to its account” (111). Emotions are what separate men from robots, giving us both our animal and human nature, and when it is robots that the State wants, then emotions must go.
Perhaps the Party’s most potent technology for mind control was its insidious manipulation of time. The Ministry of Truth fabricated the past by deleting all records that were not acceptable and rewriting others to fit current ideology. “Day by day and almost minute by minute, the past was brought up to date” (36). “The Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened… ‘who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered… all that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.” (32).
What follows then is the bleakest question of the successful mind controller and his or her horrified subject: “If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and the mind itself is controllable [by the confluence of these mind control technologies]–THEN WHAT?” (69) Curiously, and foreshadowing my concluding remarks, Jim Jones had erected above his throne in the jungles of Guyana a simple painted sign with the powerful message: “Those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” These foreboding words of American philosopher George Santayana also are inscribed on a holocaust memorial outside Munich, near the Dachau concentration camp, with “relive it” instead of Jones’ “repeat it.”
The Malleability of Human Nature
Thus we see that the Party’s ambitious experimental objective was destroying every independent mind in all human creatures. Dr. Frankenstein’s fictional achievement in discovering the secret for the spark of life pales in comparison to the Party’s fictional achievement: “We make the laws of nature,” and we can unmake the laws of nature. The Party represents a master analytical intelligence striving toward an ideal of omniscience and omnipotence – but unconstrained by moral values, ethical principles, and love, it becomes a monster run amok, worse than the feared Frankenstein monster.
O’Brien, the Party’s spokesperson, says, “You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable” (218, 222).
Is that doctrine of the total malleability of man and woman another Orwellian fiction? Listen to the rhetoric of some of the most influential realists from our world of fact:
“Give us the child for eight years, and it will be a Bolshevist forever,” wrote Lenin in 1923.
“Give me a dozen healthy infants,” wrote J. B. Watson, the pioneer of American Behaviorism, in 1926, “well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even into beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”
“The individual should accept his personal insignificance, dissolve himself in a higher power and then feel proud in participating in the strength and glory of this higher power,” Hitler told the world in Mein Kampf in 1933, and went on to demonstrate that reality for the next decade.
These master mind controllers all work on the Orwellian principle that situational forces can overwhelm the defenses of the individual. We would all prefer to think it was otherwise. Indeed, coming from a society whose dominant values are individualistic, where people get the credit for their success and the blame for failure, we are led down a narrow cognitive pathway to accepting a pair of false assumptions about the causes of human actions. Doing so increases our vulnerability to mind control attempts and our malleability to influence professionals.
We commonly believe that we have more strength to resist behavior modifying attempts than we really have. We rely on the abstractions of “force of character,” “spirit of self-determination,” “ego strength,” to steel us against assaults on our personal values and beliefs. That is the belief in the power of dispositional determinants of behavior, good and evil residing within individual psyches. But at the same time, we entertain a second misperception by underestimating the true power of social pressures to make people conform, comply, and obey. This dual tendency is called the Fundamental Attribution Error, overestimating personal power and underestimating situational power, when we try to understand the reasons for any behavior, or try to predict behavioral outcomes (Ross, 1977). Paradoxically, we, like Winston Smith, become more vulnerable to mind control attempts to the extent that we deceive ourselves into believing we are personally invulnerable and can will ourselves to resist, so we do not realistically appraise the ubiquitous influences that operate in social norms, rules, roles, uniforms, contracts, peer pressure, authority models, authoritative signs, and so forth.
The Lessons of Contemporary Social Psychology
Orwell’s fictional depiction of the concept of the “power of the situation” has had many counterparts in our nation’s social psychology laboratories. The first lesson of social psychology is that social situations can exert powerful influences over human behavior. The situation matters more in controlling behavior of individuals and groups than we suspect or possibly believe it could. Behavior always takes place in a context, and that context shapes and defines what behavior is appropriate, gets rewarded or punished, gets modeled by others or ignored. The second lesson underscores the importance of the personal meaning of the situation to the actor. Functional reality is created in the mind of the person in a behavioral setting by that actor’s cognitive constructions and personal values and biases as well as the consensual validation of group members – the mind matters. The third lesson is that individuals behave differently when faced with group pressure and have a group identity than when alone – groups matter.
In the most notable demonstration of situational power, my colleague, Stanley Milgram (1974), demonstrated how easy it was to get the majority of research participants – a thousand people from all backgrounds – to believe they were electrocuting a stranger on the orders of an authority figure, and to carry out his command to deliver the maximum of 450 volts of shock to a mild-mannered, pleasant man, the victim. They did so not from malice or evil motives, rather they did so from distorted pro-social motives, wanting to help science, to help education, to help this researcher. Their blind obedience to authority came not from the charismatic appeals of a Hitler or Saddam Hussein, but from accepting a role as teacher, agreeing to a behavioral contract, and following the white-coated experimenter’s injunction: “Teacher you must continue to shock, the rules state that…”
Curiously, while 65 percent of the subjects totally obeyed in this paradigm, when Milgram’s protocol was described in detail to 40 psychiatrists, they underestimated the extent of compliance – concluding that fewer than one percent would go all the way to deliver the ultimate shock level. Only the sadists, they said. How could these expert judges of human behavior have been so wrong? The answer: the fundamental attribution error at work, since these professionals are trained to see pathology in the minds of individuals and not in situational forces. Across a series of 19 separate experiments, Milgram was able to reduce this obedience to ten percent or escalate it up to 90 percent by varying one variable in the situation in each study. The effect vanishes when the victim demands to be shocked and it is highest when the subject first witnesses a peer modeling the blind obedience to authority (see Blass, 2000).
My own research on the psychology of deindividuation supports the truth in some of Orwell’s analyses. College students made to feel part of an anonymous group were much more likely to hurt innocent victims than did comparison research subjects who felt individuated in that setting. Women participants administered twice as much shock to other women when they felt anonymous, wearing hoods, in the dark, in a group, than did those who were in the same situation but not anonymous (Zimbardo, 1970). Anthropological research reveals that the majority of societies that prepare young men for war by first changing their appearance through painted faces or masks, tend to kill, mutilate, and torture their captives more so than other comparable cultures that do not undergo this anonymity-inducing ritual.
Similarly, anonymity conferred not by masks or costumes, but by living in an anonymity-conferring setting, increases the probability of destructive vandalism, as I showed in a field study in which cars were abandoned in the Bronx, New York, and Palo Alto, California, all near a local college. Only in the anonymity of life in the urban setting of the Bronx was vandalism unleashed immediately and furiously – within minutes of leaving the car on the street with its hood lifted and license plate removed. In the course of two days there were 23 separate destructive contacts with that car, all but one by adults in the daytime, many well dressed or driving by in their own cars. In the Palo Alto community, no one touched the similarly abandoned car left on the streets for a full week, and when I removed the car, three neighbors alerted the police that an abandoned car was being stolen (Zimbardo, 1973). That is one definition of a social community, where neighbors care about the person and property of others within the realm of their territory, with the assumption of reciprocal caring.
Another demonstration of the power of situations to induce pathological behavior in normal individuals, even without the intense pressures of an on-line authority figure commanding them, is the Stanford Prison Experiment (Zimbardo, Haney, Banks, & Jaffe, 1973). College students enacted randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards within the setting of a simulated prison, planned to run for two weeks. But I had to terminate the study prematurely after only six days because it was out of control. Boys we had pre-measured and selected because of their normality across many dimensions were suffering emotional breakdowns, irrational thinking, and more if they were the powerless mock prisoners. Those enacting the mock guard role became abusive, hostile and some even qualified as sadistic torturers, despite being avowed pacifists, and average on all prior personality measures. The inhumanity of the evil prison situation had come to totally dominate the humanity of most of the good people who were trapped in that total situation. I had to end this experiment, because the sight of the malleability of human character was too much for me to witness among some of the best and the brightest of our nation’s youth (See Zimbardo, Maslach, & Haney, 2000).
Can we demonstrate that our mental construction of social situations influences significant behavioral outcomes? Yes, indeed, as seen in research that modified health and mortality outcomes in elderly patients living in a home for the aged (Langer & Rodin, 1976; Rodin & Langer, 1977). Some patients were asked to make active choices about minor aspects of their dinner menu or movie schedule and given the responsibility of caring for a gift plant, while comparable others were randomly assigned to a no choice, no responsibility condition. These controls functioned under standard care procedures of the institution, to remain passively cared for. Three weeks later these two groups diverged with the choice/ responsibility patients reporting feeling happier, more alert, and more active than the controls. A year and a half later this seemingly minor variation in their sense of personal choice and personal responsibility translated into nurses’ ratings of greater vigor and sociability, and doctors’ ratings of being in generally better health. Finally, the researchers discovered that those with this rather minimal, new meaning in their generally bleak existence lived significantly longer than those peers without such a sense of choice and responsibility. The mind matters even in issues of life and death.
The classic demonstration of social psychology’s lesson of the power of groups comes from the “Asch effect” (1951). College student participants found themselves in a perception study of judgments of the relative sizes of lines. When alone their judgments were very accurate, but when in a group their judgments were very distorted. The group was composed of experimental confederates who, after several honest trials, gave consensus false judgments that diverged from the obvious perceptual reality. Long lines were judged to be the same size as much shorter standards or vice versa on various trials. The group norm exerted a powerful influence over the individual judgments even in this highly structured, unambiguous situation. On 70 percent of the critical trials there was at least one conforming error and a third of the participants conformed on the majority of critical trials. Seeing is not believing when your group says big is small or black is white.
With this brief detour into some social psychology laboratories to illustrate the validity of some of the Orwell’s stated and implied assumptions about situational power, mind manipulation, and the power of the group, we return to our story.
Creating True Believers
The major weakness in the mind control armament that Orwell sold to the Party is the visibility or transparency of its coercive power. Winston and his countrymen knew they were being controlled, both the How and the Who, since the Party wanted full credit for its victories over their psyches. O’Brien declares: “Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face – forever” (220).
Coercive controls create compliant conformists while the boot is in your butt or on your face. We know from psychological research on attitude change that people who perceive their discrepant acts as justified by the magnitude of the pressures on them comply publicly but they do not accept privately (see Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). They surrender, they yield, but they do not internalize the new ideology. To become a True Believer requires attitude and value change under conditions where there is at least an illusion of personal choice and insufficient extrinsic justification for changing. The cognitive dissonance created by believing one’s alien action was intrinsically motivated comes to transform the person into an agent of self persuasion, and that leads to the most enduring form of attitude/value/behavior change, to becoming a True Believer (see Cialdini, 1988; Festinger, 1957; Zimbardo, 1969).
This point has been amply demonstrated in the overthrow of Eastern European Communist nations that had ruled for decades with an iron boot on the backs of citizens. They conformed but did not internalize the ideology and rebelled at the first sign of weakness in the might of the Party.
A related point of contention is the Party’s error in relying on technology to do the work of mind control. It is not exotic tactics, like hypnosis and drugs, and hi-tech devices that influence attitudes and values in directed paths as much as do the most mundane aspects of human experience. Effective mind control is best platformed on peoples’ basic needs to be loved, respected, recognized, and wanted. It comes from the power of desired social groups that can reject deviants and embrace believers. Let us then recast the definition of the Fundamental Attribution Error, as a mental bias underestimating the true power of these mundane social-situational determinants of human action, while over-crediting external physical forces and nebulous dispositional qualities of the actors in our analysis of human action.
Contemporary Mind Control in Our Lives
In a sense, Orwell’s most telling prediction about human control is not to be found in the heavy-handed practices of the Ministry of Justice, but in the treatment protocols of the Ministry of Love. “Shall I tell you why we have brought you here? To cure you! To make you sane! Will you understand, Winston, that no one whom we bring to this place ever leaves our hands uncured?… The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them.” (209)
Twenty-five years later, a Soviet dissident, Viktor Feinberg, involuntarily committed to a Russian mental hospital for political crimes, was told by the psychiatrist: “Your release depends on your behavior. And your behavior, to us, means your political views. In all other respects your behavior is perfectly normal. Your illness consists of dissenting opinions. As soon as you renounce them and adopt a correct point of view, we will let you go” (Federation of American Scientists, October 1973, 6).
The current practitioners of the Ministry of Love come from the ranks of the mental health establishment, social welfare, education, and even business. As the fabric of the national social life becomes frayed in our time, ever more Americans are being turned over to institutional care providers from preschool to senior citizen homes. Orwell deserves credit for seeing the potential power of society-sanctioned professionals who intervene in our lives “for our own good.” It is hard to rebel against something that is being done “for you” and not “to you.” Instead of the “tricks of the tyrant trade” – punishment, torture, exile – we are seeing the “tricks of the treatment trade” – therapy, education, reform, retraining, rehabilitation – to fit the norm, to achieve the social ideal (see Galanter, 1999).
Orwell, like the Totalitarian Soviet State, had no use for religion in 1984. But in our time of ontological insecurity, religion plays a major role as a social influence institution, not only the old time religions, but the plethora of more than 3000 non-traditional religious groups and cults in America, and untold numbers of them throughout the world. Many of these New Time cults are big business, with billion dollar revenues, tax exempt, of course (see Hassan, 1988).
The Christian Broadcasting Network is the largest non-profit broadcasting company in the country, with hundreds of stations and millions of faithful subscribers, with its own news staff and foreign bureaus and a research department that “tells the harsh truth,” according to Pat Robertson, its director-minister. He said “we determined that people weren’t interested in religion or the church, they were interested in God’s power.” With that power in his pocket, the minister boldly proclaimed, “I seldom fight, but when I do, I seldom lose… God himself will fight for me against you – and he will win.” (1983, San Francisco Chronicle). During a visit to his TV studio for a book promotion tour, I discovered that his church educates and informs his followers on which side of that fight is the right side, through the auspices of the only two academic departments in his university in Norfolk, Virginia – the Departments of Education and Communication. I think Orwell would have chuckled over that narrow view of the essentials in a university curriculum.
But Orwell might have been pleased to have foreseen the role of the scientist-researcher distorted when employed by the state for its nefarious purposes, as happened for several decades from the 1950’s on in CIA-sponsored experiments on extreme forms of mind control and behavior modification using exotic technologies. MK-ULTRA was the code name of its most notorious program, designed to develop and make operational technologies for disrupting and then reprogramming individual habitual patterns of perception, thought, and action.
Orwell actually describes some of the operatives in this ambitious program used by our government against its citizens in the following passage: “The scientist of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor, studying with extraordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of drugs, shock-therapy, hypnosis, and physical torture; or he is a chemist, physicist, or biologist concerned only with such branches of his special subject as are relevant to the taking of life” (159-160). And indeed, this CIA program employed a host of psychologists, psychiatrists, hypnotists, chemists, biologists, physicians, nurses and other professionals in mental hospitals and universities. They tested LSD and other psychoactive drugs to knowing and naive subjects, explored new forms of electro-shock treatment, hypnosis, cognitive reprogramming, and sensory deprivation. Some victims died, others were permanently impaired, and many brains were scrambled, but these exotic technologies could not direct a single target person’s action in a predetermined way. The MK-ULTRA program failed to meet any of its objectives, but it did have two clear effects: it underwrote the start of wide scale experimentation with mind-altering drugs by middle-class citizens in the 1960’s, and it demonstrated that a host of professionals recruited to their staff could be mind-controlled into violating their values and beliefs by the low-tech persuasive devices of flattery, prestige, camaraderie, and fear of the Communist menace at America’s doorsteps (see Scheflin & Opton, 1978, for a detailed legal and psychological analysis of the work of these mind manipulators, also Schrag, 1978).
Jim Jones as Orwell’s Secret Agent
Finally, I would like to highlight briefly parallels between the mind control tactics and strategies employed by Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones, and those found throughout 1984. In an earlier analysis, I argued that there were curious similarities between the procedures that Jones put into effect to dominate his followers both in San Francisco and in the jungle compound in Guyana (see Zimbardo, 1983). Now the strong form of my argument is that Jones learned those techniques from reading Orwell’s 1984. He tested the operational utility of these imaginative, fictional techniques with him as Party Head and his System in control of the minds and lives of more than a thousand real people, U.S. citizens, whom he had transformed into True Believers.
My personal connections with Peoples Temple run wide and deep. I have studied much written evidence, theories, stories, and letters about Jones and Peoples Temple activities (such as, Kilduff & Javers, 1978; Kilduff & Tracy, 1977; Krause & Stern, 1978; Lane, 1980; Layton, 1998; Meiers, 1989; Mills, 1979; Moore, 1985; Naipaul, 1982; Nugent, 1979; Osherow, 1980; Reiterman & Jacobs, 1982; Reston, 1981; United States Congress, 1979; Weightman, 1983; Yee & Layton, 1982). I counseled and extensively interviewed several survivors for a few years after the mass suicide/murders, including Diane Louie and Richard Clark (see Sullivan & Zimbardo, 1979). I arranged for Jeanne Mills, an early defector, speak to my class about her personal experiences and had long conversations with her before she was murdered in her home. I also organized a Peoples Temple cult night program at Stanford University with cult experts, former members, and relatives of deceased members. I was an expert witness in the defense of Larry Layton, charged with conspiracy to murder Congressman Ryan (on the jungle airstrip as he was leading a party of 20 defectors, relatives, and media to safety), and in that capacity was privy to much information and tape recordings by and about Jones and of PT. I also engaged in a number of long interviews with Layton both in jail and my home. I was one of the expert panel members in a national call-in on NPR in 1981 following the airing of the audio tapes, Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown, by James Reston, Jr.
In recent times, I have had extensive discussions of various aspects of the functioning of PT and about Jones with Debby Layton, one of Jones’ inner circle who defected and led the exposé of the evils being perpetrated at Jonestown (see Layton, 1998). She introduced me to Mike Cartmell, who had been adopted by Jones and was his heir apparent, and also to Stephan Jones, Jim Jones’ biological son, who was in Georgetown playing basketball on the day of the massacre. The three of them gave me new insights and information that formed the basis of my strong argument of Jim Jones’ modeling his mind control tactics directly on those he learned from George Orwell’s handbook for mind controllers, 1984.
I will not dwell on assumptions that Jones acted in collusion with the CIA from the time he visited Cuba in 1960 (photographed with Fidel Castro), Brazil in 1962, Haiti, and other Latin American countries, studying voodoo and torture training of the military police. He also visited British Guyana in the mid 60’s, all the while being only a lowly minister of a small church in Indiana. But we know he was linked at that time to a former policeman, Dan Mitrione, from his hometown in Richmond, Indiana, who joined the FBI, and was alleged to be a CIA operative; Jones was expelled from Brazil for alleged CIA activities as noted in a news story. One source (Meiers, 1989, p.147) suggests that Jones was recruited to collate the MK-ULTRA library on the comprehensive science of behavior modification, an interesting speculation for the current purposes of my thesis. Upon returning to Indiana, he was ordained as a minister in the well-established Church of Disciples of Christ, and soon after had access to large amounts of money, enough to move his church to Ukiah, California the next year. In addition, his ability to illegally transport an enormous amount of weapons, along with Social Security, welfare and aid to dependent children funds from the U.S. to Guyana must have been aided by some government intervention. That intervention continued in Guyana when the American Embassy there refused to act on behalf of the Concerned Relatives and Congressman Ryan for many days, instead notifying Jones of their demands prior to allowing them access to Jonestown.
Richard Dwyer was the Deputy Chief of the Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Guyana and who was present at Jonestown during Representative Ryan’s visit. He was filmed by the NBC camera crew walking with Ryan on the airstrip, but moving away just before the gunfire erupted. Remarkably, Dwyer is specifically named by Jim Jones during his frantic final hour suicide speech, heard yelling on the tape, “get Dwyer out of here … I mean Dwyer.” Some hours after the last of the 900 members of Peoples Temple had died, an early morning radio broadcast from an anonymous source in the PT compound told the world of this tragedy, allegedly in a CIA broadcast. Still more curiously, if there was no CIA connection, Dwyer and several members of the Embassy in Guyana later got medals and promotions for their ambiguous role in the saga of Jones and Peoples Temple. In the federal trial of Larry Layton in San Francisco, defense lawyer Tony Tamburello attempted to establish whether Dwyer was a CIA operative in Guyana, but Judge Peckham refused to allow that line of questioning. The lawyer wanted to establish that Dwyer’s testimony for the prosecution was “tainted by bias – he wants Larry Layton convicted to take the responsibility of Jonestown off the State Department and the CIA” (San Francisco Chronicle, August 25, 1981). Finally, some press reports claimed independent investigators alleged “that the government failed to warn Ryan about Jonestown because the jungle camp was actually part of a CIA mind-control experiment” (San Francisco Chronicle, September 27, 1981).
Did Jim Jones read 1984?
The affirmative answer is revealed in this excerpt from an electronic message sent to me by Stephan Jones (reproduced with his permission, 10 March 2000). “Dad did read 1984, talked about it plenty to frighten us. I think he may have even attached some kind of prophetic significance to the date – nuclear holocaust or fascist takeover or something. Yup, there was a song [“1984”] written and performed by Diane Wilkerson, our lead performer from the time she joined ‘til she died in Jonestown.”
Debby Layton was the first to inform me of Jones’ fascination with 1984. “Jim talked about 1984 all the time. There is a film with Diane singing ‘1984’ in Jonestown and Jim is singing along with her, saying, ‘that’s right, that’s right.’ Diane wrote it in California and Jim loved it, probably edited it. He would sing, ‘Got to watch out. They are coming to get us. They are going to kill us,’ and similar phrases that I can’t exactly remember now.” (Personal communication, San Francisco, 6 December 2000). During that same conversation in my home, Mike Cartmell also recalled Jones’ interest in 1984, as well as his close reading of the reports of the Nuremberg trials and Goering’s defense of Hitler in his writing on “The Leadership Principle.” Jones would say of the creation of a totalitarian state, of an all-powerful dominant leader, “That’s exactly the point!” according to Cartmell. He recalled that Jones also read Lewis Fisher’s biography of Lenin, and a lot of other books about cults. In 1967, Jones told him that he had a revelation that in an earlier life he was Lenin, so that Cartmell would be his Trotsky, and the youth group he was heading would be named “The Red Army.”
Direct Parallels of Orwellian and Jonesian Mind Control Tactics
1. Black/white distortion of language and Newspeak distortion of reality is reflected in Jones big lies. Jones went further than distort the reality of the past, he was able to distort reality as it existed in perceptions of the present. These hungry, fearful, exhausted, overworked, abused people were forced to say their “gratitudes” regularly as they meditated upon Dad. Gratitudes were a litany of praise for Dad’s providing them with good food, a good home, and good work because he loved them so – despite the contrary evidence provided by their senses. People held captive in this jungle concentration camp policed by armed guards, gave thanks to Dad for their freedom and liberty. In addition, members told themselves and wrote in their letters a series of big lies, such as: the food was good and abundant, when it was horrible and scarce; the weather was lovely, when it was brutally hot; there were no insects, when mosquitoes attacked ferociously; they were happy, when many were depressed and frightened. He went a bit too far by asserting that in Jonestown there was no sickness, no illness, and no death. Not even he could control those forces, and had to deal with that discontinuity when members of his flock got ill and died. Jones even played Nazi horror films, such as Night and Fog, to remind his followers that their condition could get worse if they did not obey him.
During the tape of the last hour in Jonestown one can hear his lies escalating as he says, “I have never lied to you,” entreating the people to take the “medicine,” the cyanide poison, “it will not hurt, there is nothing to fear,” as hundreds of children are heard crying, screaming, convulsing, and dying.
While the Ministry of Truth rewrote history in 1984, Jones was able to get his god-fearing, religious followers to tear up and discard their beloved Bibles after he exposed the lies and errors he claimed to have found in the Bible. In passing, I like Jones’ mimicking of Orwell’s imaginative titles for the various departments in the Party, such as the Ministry of Truth in charge of distorting truth. Jones created a Department of Diversion, headed by Terri Buford, whose purpose was to carry out sensitive work in the government involving gathering data on selected politicians that could be used to persuade them to cooperate with the goals and needs of PT.
2. Big Brother is watching you: Big Daddy is infiltrating your every thought. “24/7” appears to be a new concept initiated in Silicon Valley to describe around the clock, daily work and services, but it was part of Jim Jones’ day and night broadcasts of sermons, speeches, fiery attacks on the government, defectors, and other enemies. In place of the telescreen surveillance in 1984, Jones reached into the minds of his followers by blasting them with these endless messages that blared from loudspeakers in the central pavilion and could be heard for great distances, sometimes live, sometimes taped, but always his presence filled the airways and thus the mind ways while members worked, ate, and slept.
3. Spy network: Jones’ informer system. Jones rewarded those who informed on other members who complained about the hard work, awful rations, and enforced separation of spouses, and he severely punished the dissidents publicly. He even announced that he would send around comrades who would pretend to be dissenters to lure others into agreeing to complain or, worse, to defect, and then mete out the punishment due to these traitors. His spy system was started much earlier in the United States by having members of his security force find out as much as possible about various members by breaking into their homes, checking their garbage, tapping their phones, or having family members inform on each other.
4. Both the Party and Jones enforced food deprivation. This tactic was a means to weaken the strength to resist or rebel. The diet in Jonestown was almost protein free, consisted of small portions, was poor tasting, heavy on rice-like gruel, with few fruits and vegetables. Jones chided those who might complain that it was better to be lean than fat, and that they were rejecting capitalistic values in making such sacrifices. What is both amazing and quite sad is that people in Jonestown were often near starvation while Jones was regularly sending millions of dollars to secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Panama, and elsewhere with his couriers, Debby Layton (see Layton, 1998) and other trusted aides. A small part of these funds could have easily fed the congregation well, but was intentionally denied to them.
5. Sexcrimes. Jones separated married couples into different barracks, and they could be intimate only with his permission, at prescribed times. He openly accused men of homosexual improprieties with him and had them ridiculed and punished, just as he accused woman of forcing him to favor them, when of course, he was the coercive agent. Sex was a powerful motive for Jones who often seemed obsessed with sexual desires, and part of his image was a man of extraordinary sexual appetites and performances. But he also realized the powerful bonds that human sexuality could create among his followers, and so such Sexcrimes had to be controlled, limited, and dominated by his authority.
6. Self incrimination, writing one’s self up, catharsis, and punishment. These tactics were a central part of Orwell’s and Jones’ systems. All members had to engage in self analysis, to prepare statements of their errors, weaknesses, fears, and wrongdoing, so that they could purge themselves of these negative thoughts and achieve a catharsis. Instead, these reports became part of each member’s permanent file, and used against them in public meetings, when errant individuals were “called on the floor” to be ridiculed, humiliated, tormented, or physically tortured.
7. Orwell’s analysis of the Party mentality and the psychology of war applies to Jonestown all too well in its final days and last hour. Orwell writes: “The social atmosphere is that of a besieged city… it does not matter that war is actually happening. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist” (158), and when capture was inevitable, “The proper thing was to kill yourself before they get you” (86).
Jones had his group practice suicide drills in “White Night” exercises that were realistic preludes to the final performance that he orchestrated, just as Orwell had depicted, with the threat of the U.S. military on its way to take away and harm the children and elders. “Revolutionary suicide,” he said was preferable to being massacred at the hands of this ruthless enemy, comparing the resistance of PT members with that of the besieged Jews at the battle of Masada.
It is not clear how many of the 912 dead willingly committed suicide by drinking cyanide, how many were murdered with poison injections, or shot for refusing to die for the cause, but the important thing to remember is that those who did any killing were the friends and family members of those who were killed. Here Jim Jones imitates Heinrich Himmler’s SS oath to Hitler, “I swear to thee, Adolf Hitler, loyalty and bravery. I vow to thee and to the superiors whom thou shall appoint, obedience until death.” So total blind obedience to unjust authority ruled that fateful day in November 1978, as it had for so many years earlier in Nazi Germany, and later in the experiments of Stanley Milgram, described earlier.
8. Torture Room 101 is mirrored in Jones’ Blue-Eyed Monster, Bigfoot, and The Box. Winston Smith’s resistance is finally broken when in Room 101 he is faced with his worst fear of having rats running over his body, since he had confessed earlier to that phobia. Jones did exactly that – had members write out their fears – and when they disobeyed, were late for a meeting, fell asleep during his endless harangues, they were forced to face their worse fears.
Consider the case of an Oregon youngster, Garry Scott, who followed his father into Peoples Temple, but somehow was disobedient. Listen to his brief statement as he called the national call-in following the broadcast of Father Cares. Listen to the nature of his punishment for a minor infraction as his worse phobia is made manifest in Jones’ Room 101. But more importantly, listen to what his lasting reaction is to this torment. Does he hate Jones? Not one bit. He has become a True Believer; even though his father died in Jonestown, and he was tortured and humiliated, Garry still admires and loves Dad. Not even Orwell’s omnipotent Party could honestly claim such a victory.
Scott: “Like a lot of other young people, I had my sort of rebellion against some of the doctrinal methods that were taking place in the church, and I rebelled, and for that I was punished to become a better Christian. I was physically abused. Beaten with a two-by-four. I was whipped. One of the big problems I have in life is I have a phobia against snakes and for one punishment I was tied up and a snake [a boa] was put on top of me and that was psychological torment that I had to go through for a while. And I was sexually abused as well.”
Moderator Bill Moyers than asked: “What did you see in Jim Jones when you were in the Temple that caused you to be faithful despite your treatment?”
Scott: “I think the guilt. I felt that I was responsible for everything that was taking place around me. If there was any bad attitudes or any bad feelings emitting from persons in the Temple, I felt that they were my actions… I followed Jim Jones because he was a very caring person. And even today, you know, despite the fact that a lot of my friends, which I considered my brothers and sisters, died, and a lot of them were forced to their death, there is a very personal part of Reverend Jim Jones that still lives today. And even though I’m very frustrated and very disappointed by what happened to my father, there’s still a peace (piece?) here that I see in Reverend Jones.”
Like Winston Smith, Gary Scott seems “to have won a victory over himself” and in the end, they love Big Brother and Father Jones, alike.
Before mentioning Jones’ other torture chambers, it is well to point up one way in which Jones was able to create such True Believers, when Orwell’s 1984 system, or Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe, could not. Jones had the ability to make a uniquely personal connection with each member of his church. Many PT members told me that when listening to his sermons, each one felt as if Jones were talking to them personally. “Jones had personal touch down,” Mike Cartmell told me. “He was like a priest, a personal counselor, coming to see each person who was important to him in some way, and spoke to them personally about what is troubling them, what are they afraid of. Jones could make everyone feel as if he or she was the guest of the day, he made each one feel special in some way. He gave you your five minutes, and in return, you gave him your life.” And so, despite the public torment they often received, members, like Gary Scott, retained the sense that down deep, in his private heart, “Dad Loves Me,” and I am responsible for being a bad person who needs to change his evil ways to deserve Dad’s love.
Jeanne Mills (1978) describes her young daughter’s torment when faced with the “Blue-eyed Monster,” where she and other children were punished. “They took me into this dark room and the monsters were all over the room. They said, ‘I am the Blue-Eyed Monster and I’m going to get you.’ Then the monster grabbed my shirt and tore it open”(55). Mills figured that the children were being given electric shocks, because she had heard that “Jim was using the Blue-Eyed Monster as ‘behavior modification’ for the small children.” (56) Mills describes other torture chambers in PT. “Debbie (Layton) told us about ‘Bigfoot,’ a punishment that had replaced the ‘Blue-Eyed Monster.’ It’s a deep well about forty-five minutes’ walk away from the camp,’ she said sadly. ‘Counselors have to sit in there, and when the child is disciplined they throw the child down the well. The kids would cry hysterically as soon as Jim would tell them they’d have to go visit Bigfoot. We’d hear them scream all the way there, and all the time they had to be down in the well, and by the time they got back they were begging for mercy. It was really awful. Some young people were forced to eat hot peppers or even have hot peppers put up their rectums as disciplines” (60).
Obedience training, Newspeak, Crimestop, Doublethink, Reality Control, Emotional Control, sexual control, surveillance, hard work on starvation diets – the staples of the Orwellian Mind Controller’s repertoire – were adapted and put into effective operation by Jim Jones in his attempt to demonstrate total behavior modification beyond anything that MK-ULTRA had ever achieved. Jones succeeded in his perverted mind control “experiment” by creating a mass mentality “Manchurian Candidate” that killed the Enemy on demand, only the Enemy was one’s children, one’s parents, one’s mate, one’s friends, one’s self.
I believe that Orwell would not have been pleased to see his warning about the dangers of a totalitarian state acted out by a latter-day disciple in the jungles of Guyana, and then recently reenacted by destructive cult leaders in many other countries, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, the United States, and Uganda, all extracting the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of domination of free will, of individuality, of critical thought, and of the spirit of independence.
We have seen the enemy of Orwell and the enemy of Jones, and that Enemy is US. We will go down as they did, if we do not learn from the lessons of the past to oppose tyranny at its first signs, to be vigilant in cutting through political rhetoric and semantic distortions by all those with any power to control communication media and educational systems. Despots and dictators, whether demonic or benevolent, demean human nature and defile the human connection. In defying Big Brother, we assert our community with all those who value freedom over security, who would die for liberty rather than live a life of mindless obedience to unjust authority.
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