I sat down and had a most wonderful conversation with Robert Jay Lifton, M.D. on the occasion the publication of his memoir entitled, Witness to an Extreme Century.
Lifton talks about Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism and his work in Hong Kong in the 1950s exploring brainwashing in communist China. We then talk about his book, Death in Life, which describes the psychological effects of the nuclear bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as his life work campaigning against nuclear bombs and ultimately nuclear energy. Then a discussion of his work with Nazi Doctors, the concept of "doubling" and the mot amazing levels of atrocity done in the name of "virtue." Then to his book, Destroying the World to Save it, about apocalyptic cults. The book focuses on Aum Shinrikyo, the cult of Shoko Asahara who ordered the manufacture and ultimate sarin gassing of thousands on the subways of Tokyo. We talk in depth about this cult and throughout this fascinating talk, the themes of how powerful situational influences can make essentially, intelligent, good people commit extreme and immoral acts.
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