Lets first of all start with a few words from George Dvorsky’s blog – Sentient Developments, where he wrote this great description of Diane’s TED talk (above) …
In this TED talk from 2009, cognitive deprogrammer Diane Benscoter talks about her efforts to help people leave cults.
At the age of 17, Benscoter joined The Unification Church—the religious cult whose members are commonly known as “Moonies.” After five long years, her distressed family arranged to have her deprogrammed. Benscoter then left The Unification Church, and was so affected by her experience that she became a deprogrammer herself. She devoted her time to extracting others from cults, until she was arrested for kidnapping— but the shock of her arrest caused her to abandon her efforts for nearly 20 years.
Now, after decades of research and study, Benscoter is once again talking about her experiences. She recently completed a memoir describing her years as a member of The Unification Church and as a deprogrammer.
In addition to this, she has embarked on a new project to define “extremist viral memetic infections”. She believes that defining extremism as a memetic infection, from a cognitive neurological perspective, might allow us to develop better memes that would inoculate against the memes of extremist thought. These inoculating memes could prevent the spread of extremist viral memetic infections and their inherent dangers.
Now this does indeed, if its possible, open up some very interesting thoughts. Most of us would indeed embrace the idea of a memetic inoculation against extremist and very harmful delusional belief-systems propagated by cults. By why stop with fringe cults, why not also inoculate against any irrational belief that is not backed by evidence such as Catholicism or Islam. If you can indeed do it, would it stop with irrational beliefs? What if you could in essence start to re-program entire populations to obey the demands of a specific regime, who would decide what is and is not ethical? If possible, ethics would not be an issue, you simply build its acceptance into the re-programming. Who gets to decide what is irrational? What if it became a political tool used to influence voters?
Don’t panic, its just a thought experiment, its not possible … but what if it was? What if it even might be, where do you then go with this, and who would draw a line and declare “this far and no further”?