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Be Scofield Be Scofield is a queer/trans writer, activist, founder of, Dr. King scholar and web/interaction/graphic designer who specializes in helping progressive and alternative health platforms shine. Her work has appeared in Tikkun Magazine, Huffington Post and Alternet and she has a chapter in the book 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice. Be holds a B.A. in Psychology/Philosophy from Warren Wilson College (2006), has done graduate coursework in Postcolonial Anthropology and holds a Master of Divinity from Starr King School for the Ministry in the Unitarian Universalist tradition with emphases in women's studies in religion, sacred dance, African-American religion and Buddhism. Be specializes in the radical teachings of Dr. King and has taught a graduate course called "Dr. King and Empire: How MLK Jr. Resisted War, Capitalism and Christian Fundamentalism."

of Conscience

A Response to Pete Bampton and
Andrew Cohen Supporters

Be Scofield

"Trust in the Guru sometimes means living with an extreme situation that doesn’t feel right, and which one often doesn’t fully understand....So one day Andrew took a big risk with me. He had several of my brothers jump me and rough me up...But Andrew did always say, that when it comes to true spiritual liberation and evolution, “it is never enough until it is TOO MUCH” And boy, did we, and he, find out what that really meant!"—Pete Bampton
“Pete spent an enormous amount of time making very large, dramatic cartoons for Andrew. Many of the caricatures depicted specific students as devils or demons. Some showed these women eviscerating Andrew, literally tearing his intestines out with their bare hands. Others showed students dancing demonically around a fire, throwing Andrew’s dharma books into the flames. Another depicted a female student as a dominatrix, performing sexually predatory acts.”- blog
"I believe whole-heartedly Andrew manipulated and coerced over 2 million dollars from me."—Jane O'Neil, former Andrew Cohen disciple.

I have sought out a response to my article "Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment" from Craig Hamilton and Terry Patten. Hamilton claims that he "doesn't have any time for new writing projects," and Patten refused to respond but referred me to an article called "American Guru Andrew Cohen & Allegations of Abuse," by former Cohen disciple Pete Bampton written in 2009. I offered both of them the space in my article to respond but they have chosen to remain silent. But I want to take a moment respond to Bampton's rationalization of Cohen and his critique of William Yenner. Bampton updated his 2009 response and it is now posted on Integral World as well.

The inability of Cohen's supporters to criticize anything he has done should raise serious red flags.

Pete Bampton's 19 page response is characteristic of anyone who is under the spell of a charismatic leader and has been subjected to a powerful group experience. His awe and marvel for Andrew Cohen and the teachings he offers shines through his essay. And his contempt for those who left is equally as strong. Anyone with a introductory knowledge about how the discourse works in a cult or fundamentalist group of any kind will be able to see right through his writing. The same is true in two letter's that Hamilton posted on the WhatEnlightenment? blog. And Cohen's own "Declaration of Integrity", a letter of defense is a mere description of how he is such a revolutionary and cutting edge guru.

The simplest way to describe Bampton's thesis (and Hamilton's and Cohen's as well) is this: Cohen is an "unquestionable" guru who teaches a revealed truth. The group and his followers have discovered an exciting and profound spiritual principle to which they are willing to do anything for. Cohen's task is to destroy the ego by whatever means necessary. The ego is labeled as "demonic," "destructive," and "toxic." In the context of a sacred, evolutionary and revolutionary "living laboratory" Cohen's methods, whether they employ physical or verbal abuse, humiliation, shame or manipulation are justified completely. All resistance to Cohen is evidence of this "demonic" out of control ego. The only way this "toxic" ego can be fixed is by a total mental, spiritual and physical surrender to Cohen and the doctrines he teaches. Those detractors who left his ashram are guilty of being failed spiritual practitioners unable to properly destroy their egos. All complaints against Cohen can be explained by this sinful, demonic and destructive ego which lies and distorts the truth. Andrew Cohen is not responsible for anything. Cohen or the doctrines cannot be a source of examination when looking for what went wrong. All blame should be placed on Cohen's followers who failed to apply his teachings properly.

I have pulled out examples of how this discourse is operating in Bampton's essay. [Emphasis Added]

But that doesn’t mean that the Guru’s real or imagined flaws should be the first thing held to account for the messes! Where we should look first is the mess of ferocious pride and self-deception that is the human condition.
Or, put another way, is there a “log in their own eye” that is causing them to magnify the “specks” that they perceive in their former Guru into “logs” that recast their Guru into an “abusive monster” and their years of dedicated service to a sacred cause as entrapment in a brainwashed cult?...
It is the student’s responsibility first and foremost in these situations to trust the Guru more than the fury of their mind and emotions.
Focusing on the Guru’s real or imagined flaws, as opposed to one’s own fully felt and revealed flaws, especially when they are being excruciatingly exposed in the heat of the moment, is just one more way to avoid doing the real Work that one came to the Guru to do.
As soon as any seed of doubt or suspicion or mistrust regarding the Guru is held as an unquestioned truth and solidified, the ego, oh so insidiously and deviously, begins raising the drawbridge and sealing its defences. Now it has bedrock on which to build its toxic edifice.
To the degree that we are not surrendered to Love and Truth, we will betray. We will make a fine art out of rationalizing our irresponsibility and disease of conscience.
A sophisticated ego can manipulate, deconstruct, and squeeze the sacred lifeblood out of anything, and still come out looking squeaky clean and rational. Nowhere in their often eloquent critiques of Andrew and his methods do they mention the demon of ego they were faced with in themselves, which in most cases ultimately led to their undignified departure.
So for all their seemingly sincere grappling with Andrew’s perceived “abuse of power”, one won’t find these ex-student critics attempting to embrace the issues of their own revealed shortcomings and destructive urges, or the whole truth of why they ultimately left Andrew.
The self-image of the “sincere spiritual person” for all its “may all beings be happy” schmaltz is usually revealed, when challenged, to be yet another shiny mask of the demon that will do anything it can in order to survive intact and unthreatened.
We didn’t choose a Saint as our Guru, we chose a groundbreaking Revolutionary and the ground he was breaking was us.
I can look back and see where I said YES and NO in those circumstances, and Andrew was always consistent, I wasn’t.
What you will find instead is a one-dimensional distortion of events, so that they can successfully and oh so rationally, project the demon that they didn’t want to face and transcend in themselves onto their formerly beloved Master.
We found out that our egos (or one could say the Western post-modern ego) were bigger, more insidious and devious in their survival strategies than we could ever have imagined. In fact our precious self images as sincere spiritual aspirants were hung, drawn and quartered many times over!
The temptation to betray the revealed truth is a very real and present danger in relationship with the Guru
- Bampton

Thus as expected and not unlike other groups (Scientology or conservative Christians) strong emphasis is placed on the flawed character of anyone in the "out group." All focus should be placed on the devious and demonic egoic state of Cohen's detractors. This is a classic example of dealing with cognitive dissonance. Cohen's former disciples are saying things that question the perfectibility of him. Thus those who still love Cohen and have experienced transformation are faced with a dilemma. They can either destroy and tarnish the source of dissonance and thus rationalize Cohen's behavior or they must take it seriously and ask themselves difficult questions. It should be apparent which path Cohen's supporters have taken. Again, critics of Scientology are viewed the same way. There can't be any validity in their claims otherwise this would compromise the revealed doctrines and unquestionable truths. Thus former Scientologists who speak out are labeled as sick, devious, deranged or demonic.

To be clear we are talking about very serious actions of abuse, psychological manipulation and financial coercion. I have written about these in my previous post, "Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightnement."

Andrew Cohen, Craig Hamilton and Peter Bampton all raise the question:

"If Cohen is such an abusive and controlling guru why have people stayed with him?"

Why do abused women stay with their husbands? Why did people give the highest level of shocks in the Milligram experiments? Why did Eichman say that he would have sent his own father to his death if he was ordered? Why did over 800 followers of Jim Jones kill themselves and their children and babies? Why did Susan Atkins stay with Charles Manson and murder people?

So the fact that people stay involved in situations that are are clearly harmful is no evidence that the leader or group is innocent.

In the 20th century we learned a lot about conformity, group think, psychological manipulation, cults and thought control. The reason that people stay with Cohen is the same reason that people stay in all of the above scenarios. It is a combination of following authority, psychological manipulation and groupthink. It is as simple as that. So the fact that people stay involved in situations that are are clearly harmful is no evidence that the leader or group is innocent. In many cases it is actually evidence for psychological manipulation. Most people would want normally to leave abusive or harmful situations but when in a group and under pressure from authority history has revealed that people will stay in groups with leaders that do horrific things. And followers will often participate in crimes, abuse and manipulations themselves. In other words its not hard to convince someone to do things against their will or stay in harmful situations given the right context and sets of power dynamics.

And furthermore, why did Pete Bampton leave the group? Or for that matter why did Hamilton or any of Cohen's current supporters leave? If it is really like heaven on earth why not go back for more? If he is really a master why not stay by his side?

"I don’t regard Andrew Cohen as a flawless Guru. I think he has made errors of judgement along the way, especially in some very challenging situations in which he was overwhelmingly frustrated by the stubborn resistance of his students."—Bampton

How convenient that Bampton left out mentioning what these actual errors are. In his 19+ page response he can't even name one error or flaw that Cohen was responsible for. But ironically Bampton did say that "Andrew was always consistent." And how convenient that Andrew has never admitted that he has made flaws or apologized for the wrongs he has done.

In Cohen's response to his critics he only rationalizes his behavior and says things like, "The truth is, I live an extraordinary life." What I would like to hear from Bampton is how Cohen has made errors in judgment. Everything that Cohen has done has been rationalized by supporters. As of yet no one has mentioned what these errors of judgment are. Should Cohen be held to the same standard as others when they hurt people? Should he apologize or make amends for anything he has done? The silence of Cohen's supporters still paints a perfect picture of Cohen. Again it seems the element of everything the guru does is good is at play here. While the above statement may seem like it is evidence that Cohen's followers are able to criticize him, it is actually the opposite because it is vague and meaningless. If a supporter of Jim Jones said that he has made "errors of judgment along the way" wouldn't you, given the nature of the situation be curious to know which actions of Jones he thought were in error? The inability of Cohen's supporters to criticize anything he has done should raise serious red flags.

"But the truth is that, in every case that I am aware of, they rewrite and distort the context of what was occurring in those highly charged situations when something sacred in terms of the evolution of consciousness was at stake, whether with themselves individually or amongst a group of us collectively....There can be times when it is very easy and tempting to view the Guru as an inhuman, power-tripping, abusive character. Why? Because the Guru doesn’t appear to care one iota about me at all! In fact he only seems intent on scolding me, humiliating me, ostracizing me and breaking me down with excruciating relentlessness and total disregard for my suffering, period!...Some will say he was a narcissistic megalomaniac gleefully relishing his “absolute power” over us, but these people have just gone off the rails into extreme denial and distortion...Most, it seems to me, who take the position of Andrew being “abusive” and hence themselves or others as the “wounded”, are speaking from a very limited and very personal point of view which is profoundly lacking in the vast impersonal, evolutionary context in which everything occurred (and continues to occur!)."

The problem with this line of thinking is that it can be used to justify any cult or abusive guru. Following the logic of this essay everything that Jim Jones did before the mass suicide could be interpreted as having been done in the name of the sacred evolution of consciousness. All of those things he did weren't actually harmful, they were in the service of ego death and thus sacred. When Adi Da told the woman who had been sexually abused as a child to have sex with three group members and then himself, this was in her benefit because her consciousness was not evolved enough. Anyone who left Jim Jones's movement and spoke out against him "rewrote and distorted" the context of what was really happening. Jim Jones was merely a bringer of "confrontation and upheaval."

It wasn't Jim Jones' responsibility following this logic. We must blame the victims. It was his followers who should be blamed. Those who criticize him have gone "off the rails into denial and distortion." Don't you see that Jim Jones "cared so deeply about actualizing the sacred potential he saw in the eye of his intuition." In fact he cared so deeply that he would risk everything for it. In Jones' case it literally meant everything. Jim Jones "was coming from a place of ferocious love and concern for...liberation and the release of the potential that he saw" in his followers.

I'm not comparing Cohen to Jim Jones. What I am doing is questioning the line of reasoning that says abuse is justified in the name of the evolution of consciousness. Bampton, Patten, Hamilton and anyone else who defends Cohen need to explain why anything that Jim Jones did before the mass suicide was wrong. If they condemn Jones, what is their reasoning? How would they not be distorting and rewriting the sacred context of what Jones did?

In his essay Bampton describes an incident where he was physically abused and then proceeds to rationalize it:

So one day Andrew took a big risk with me. He had several of my brothers jump me and rough me up. Although they did this in a way that ensured I was not seriously hurt, I was definitely shaken. I was told that this would happen every evening in our locker room. While I knew full well why this was happening (Andrew was now playing hardball!), I immediately crumbled into fear and doubt. Lying in bed the following night, feeling rather sore and profoundly sorry for myself, I was very tempted to pack my bag and leave. But despite the intensity of what I was going through, at that point my trust in Andrew did not break. Somewhere I knew it was I that had to break for this impasse to yield any positive liberating result, although I didn’t know what that meant or how it would look.
For the next few days when my brothers would take me down to the locker room I would simply roll up into a ball to protect myself and absorb their blows. Again I want to emphasise they were very careful not to hurt me in any serious way. I was in lock down and I would not even meet their eyes. This was very intense and challenging for all of them as well as for me. Once more my pathos and pride meant I was going nowhere fast and the pressure within and without was growing to unbearable proportions… Then after a few days of this, and feeling rather sore and sorry for myself, I went down to the locker room and found only two of my more muscle-bound brothers down there. They told me to take off my shirt and lie face down on the bench. I was definitely scared, caught off guard, and didn’t know what was happening. To my shock and surprise they then proceeded to give me a massage. But this was no ordinary massage! With extreme delicacy they rubbed globs of skin cream with their fingertips into my back and shoulders murmuring things like, “ah very soft and slow, does that feel nice, we don’t want to hurt you now do we?…” Believe me, despite the obvious humour of the event, this was the most excruciatingly humiliating moment of my life! My pride burned up and it brought me to a point of desperation in which something broke inside. I leapt off the bench, turned to face them and said “ok let’s fight!” and we proceeded to have a very spirited scrap, not that I stood a chance of winning against these guys! What I miraculously discovered then was a joyous abandon, passion and strength in fighting (in this case literally) for my own freedom, which of course delighted my brothers as we were now together as one effectively vanquishing my pathetic ego.
While many of these measures were definitely shocking, challenging and unpleasant, I have no doubt that Andrew was coming from a place of ferocious love and concern for my own liberation and the release of the potential that he saw in me. I know for a fact that he had far more concern for that than I did in my self-centered casualness and arrogance. Why do I know that? Because of the result in my own being and from the love with which he embraced me whenever I came through to the other side.

I can't help but feel sadness and anger over what Pete experienced. And I am equally concerned about the rationalization of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. The line of thinking seems painfully obvious to me. Bampton continues to beat himself up, referring to himself as self-centered and arrogant. Having been convinced that he is a deeply flawed person he accepted whatever Cohen did to him and this discourse has continued to shape his mindset. He is experiencing what is known as traumatic bonding. It is the bonding experience that occurs between abuser and abused. And he is clearly wrestling with his own conscience in the above story. But being trained to shut down his conscience Bampton stayed and rationalized his reasons for doing so. As he mentioned another member left after being so disturbed by what was occurring. But this form of mind control is identical in any cult or fundamentalist group. In conservative Christianity the member is in original sin. Thus members continue to purge themselves endlessly while wrestling with their conscience. The passage I include below is illustrative of what happens to an individual in a space of psychological totalism.

It would be one thing if Bampton were simply explaining how he interpreted his experience with Cohen as not abusive. But he clearly is not ok with others having their own experiences of being abused and manipulated by Cohen. He is working very hard in this essay to justify everything that Cohen has done and label anyone who disagrees as victims of their demonic, toxic and devious ego. Bampton has his experience and the people who left feeling hurt, abused, deceived and traumatized have theirs. Certainly the fact that Bampton and Hamilton continue to praise Cohen doesn't mean that others were not abused. There were people who supported Jim Jones despite the growing allegations and concerns surrounding him. But that doesn't mean the lived experience of those whom he abused and manipulated are not real. The WhatEnlightenment blog is filled with dozens of testimonies by former Cohen students about abuse, manipulation and coercion. People should be able to hear both sides and determine for themselves if what occurred was abusive or not.

In Bampton's article he dedicates a section to critiquing William Yenner. I asked Yenner for a response:

Well, one of my first responses is that Pete Bampton finally deems it important to mention my name and the name of my book, finally. He tried for 8 months to write about some dark characters who wanted to pull his former guru down, and he thought he could win the day without ever having to say who it was that he was writing about. Amazing.
What Pete writes is very interesting. He undermines himself almost as much as he thinks he is undermining the character of those he attacks.
Of course I was very angry with my brother for his cheating on the estate of my dad—and Pete even admits that my brother cheated me and my siblings. So when this happened, I wrote about it, and from that Pete and some others try to insist that my whole life is about vengeance and an obsession with money. These events have drifted away over the years and I now regard them as not terribly important anymore. Really Pete is holding on to that old article I wrote a lot more than I am—probably because he thinks it can help make his case against me.
Another note about Pete and my article is that he is a sketch artist and he drew 2 cartoons lampooning my brother which I included in the article. There's more to this though, Pete's skill as a caricaturist was employed by Cohen to dramatic effect. He was commissioned to draw cartoons of students of Cohen's who had fallen from grace—which at one time or another included most of the students.
“Pete spent an enormous amount of time making very large, dramatic cartoons for Andrew. Many of the caricatures depicted specific students as devils or demons. Some showed these women eviscerating Andrew, literally tearing his intestines out with their bare hands. Others showed students dancing demonically around a fire, throwing Andrew’s dharma books into the flames. Another depicted a female student as a dominatrix, performing sexually predatory acts.”— blog
This reveals a side of Pete which sheds some light on his current role as vilifier of anyone who would complain of what are obvious abuses committed in the name of spiritual growth. Pete was employed to help Cohen terrify and control students, and to my knowledge he's never faced his key role in the terrible things that have taken place at Foxhollow. Can you imagine the effect it has on someone to have a cartoon drawn depicting them as a depraved ghoul, and posted for all to see? Many of us, including myself, readily participated in various ways in the abuses that have taken place and I am not singling Pete out as particularly exceptional. But what is exceptional is the dissonance between his past ready involvement in traumatizing others and his now fervent insistence that none of it ever took place. Sadly things happened which are reprehensible.

Also, I find the tactics employed by Bampton and others at Guru-Talk to be quite creepy. The site Reblogging Brad Warner points out how Guru-Talk uses deceptive tags and headers to mislead google search engines away from William Yenner's book and website. If you click on you will see how every post is tagged with "American Guru," multiple times in various forms. And the header of the guru-talk page at the very top reads "American Guru William Yenner, American Guru Andrew Cohen." The Brad Warner site describes how this has effected the search results and also questions the supposed impartiality of Guru-Talk.

This is indeed an attempt to manipulate PageRank and screw up people's searches. It's partially worked, too; depending of the search terms you enter, the guru-talk site sometimes appears above Yenner's site in search results, but fortunately not above all Yenner search results. A quick search shows that Elytra Design, whose administrative contact is Andrea Hurley, owns the guru-talk site. According to Ms. Hurley's biography on Gaia: "Hello! My name is Andrea Hurley, and I have been a student of Spiritual Teacher, Andrew Cohen since 1988, and currently help to manage the EnlightenNext Center in Cambridge."

Bampton suggests that Jane O'Neil, the woman who was coerced into giving 2 million dollars to Cohen is content with this decision:

Yenner distorts the truth by insisting that he (and a number of others) were coerced into giving money due to “psychological pressure”. But again, in the context of a Teacher/Student relationship the experience of “psychological pressure” is par for the course...Yenner backs up his case for corruption further by insisting that the female student who donated a large sum of money to enable EnlightenNext to purchase its World Center in Massachusetts, was also similarly coerced. But again a key piece of factual information is omitted. If that was the case then why did the said student write a letter to Andrew Cohen sometime after she had left the community saying that, despite leaving, she had no regrets regarding the donation?

I will let Jane speak for herself.

My story is one of the more sensational of the stories out there, as I believe whole-heartedly Andrew manipulated and coerced over 2 million dollars from me. For myriad reasons, both weak and strong, I chose not to pursue legal or public action against him. Though I did meet with several attorneys over the years after leaving who recognized the civil wrongdoing, of "undue infulence."

From "Andrew Cohen and the Corruption of Power" on the WhatEnlightnment Blog:

I regret the time I spent with him, ashamed at some of the outrageous competitive behavior I engaged in, vying for proximity to Andrew. But what I regret more than anything is allowing Michelle Hemingway and Steve Brett, among others, to coerce me into giving Andrew my money. It is that act that helped give him a power base and some semblance of legitimacy. It was at the time about two-thirds of the purchase price of Foxhollow.
It is all about understanding the context as someone put it. In the context of the world outside Andrew's community or cult, what he did was illegal, something called "undue influence." It is akin to a therapist seeking sexual company from a client or a priest who manipulates a parishioner into donating to the church. I imagine if it wasn’t me, there would be others like me who would have and I am sure continue to give away their money and soul to him as I did. If someone still within the community reads this and considers giving away their wealth, please reconsider. It was the greatest mistake of my life. The genuine human tragedies that have happened in our world since then, 9/11, the human rights abuses throughout the middle east by us and others, the AIDS crisis in Africa and the world, the illiteracy in the world, the Tsunami, the flood in the South, the earthquakes…each would have been an opportunity to give my money to and actually served a greater good.
I used to feel ashamed that I fled before any really heavy pressure was put to bear on me. I fled in the darkness of night (a hard thing to do, given I was scheduled to begin my one-thousand daily prostrations to Andrew’s picture followed by 3 hours of meditation with a whole crew of others—mostly women). It was the departure of another Formal Student that influenced me to flee that way. I did not want to go through the humiliation, interrogation and virtual house arrest the other woman had experienced. Not two days after leaving, Andrew attacked me (my name/intentions and motivations) publicly in a 20 minute unleashing of accusations in an Amsterdam teaching calling me the essence of ego, the essence of evil.
What is evil is the misogyny and inhumanity that underlies Andrew’s world view.

There are many testimonies like these. This is one from another student who here is writing to Cohen:

Under the psychological intensity and despair of one of these early cycles with you, I was struggling to prove to you that I cared enough, and so took the course that had by then become the prescribed means of getting out of hot water with you, showing remorse and proving how much one cared—offering you money.
In desperation I wrote you a check for $3,000…. I remember distinctly when you received my offer, you stormed into my room, angrily throwing the check to the floor and shouting at me dramatically, “Do you think you can buy me off for a lousy three grand?” I was flabbergasted. Could it be that there was an amount that I was expected to give that would show the necessary amount of intention and resolve to change? The right amount of care for you? I remembered a time when buying you flowers was a symbol for this; but times had changed, and now the currency of forgiveness and intention apparently was cash.
As you well know, I was around to watch as many others who “bottomed out,” and wanting to prove their sincerity, felt pressured by you to buy their way back into your good graces. In fact, any longtime student in the community knew that sooner or later a “donation” would be required as the only way to resolve matters if they ever got into real trouble with you. Extracting “donations” from your students generally took place at a time when they felt victimized, emotionally overwrought, guilty, and trying to gain back your love, trust and affection. You actually even said to me and a few others at one time that when a 'committed' or a 'senior' student “blows it,” it'll cost them $20,000 in karmic retribution. And all this, of course, normally happened without the slightest regard on your part for the student's actual financial situation. As appallingly manipulative and abusive as I now see your attitude to be, I knew that this was still the accepted way that things operated around you up until the time I left.
So, despite grave reservations about being able to do what your “rules” dictated in this situation, I dug deep, cleared out my bank account, borrowing the rest, and offered you what I thought would surely show my heart was in the right place—a check for $20,000. It was accepted and deposited by you. (This was followed by another pledge of $10,000 made to you a bit later when I was in London after having failed once again to meet all that you were demanding of me. I paid you $500 toward this at that time.)
I now find it all quite twisted and sickening.

Can the Guru do anything wrong?

I am curious if Bampton believes it possible for a guru to abuse one of his followers. As I mention above can the context justify any action on the part of someone like Cohen or Jim Jones? It seems as this is what Bampton is suggesting. But in order to be seen as credible Bampton needs to articulate what Cohen did that was an error of judgment as well as explain what sort of actions he believes would constitute abuse. No one is beyond the need of self-reflection, although it seems that many believe Cohen is some sort of enlightened master and doesn't need to do this.

This is an excerpt from "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism" by Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.

The individual person who finds himself under such doctrine-dominated pressure to change is thrust into an intense struggle with his own sense of integrity, a struggle which takes place in relation to polarized feelings of sincerity and insincerity. In a totalist environment, absolute "sincerity" is demanded; and the major criterion for sincerity is likely to be one's degree of doctrinal compliance—both in regard to belief and to direction of personal change. Yet there is always the possibility of retaining an alternative version of sincerity (and of reality), the capacity to imagine a different kind of existence and another form of sincere commitment. These alternative visions depend upon such things as the strength of previous identity, the penetration of the milieu by outside ideas, and the retained capacity for eventual individual renewal. The totalist environment, however, counters such "deviant" tendencies with the accusation that they stem entirely from personal "problems" ("thought problems" or "ideological problems") derived from untoward earlier influences. The outcome will depend largely upon how much genuine relevance the doctrine has for the individual emotional predicament. And even for those to whom it seems totally appealing, the exuberant sense of well-being it temporarily affords may be more a "delusion of wholeness" than an expression of true and lasting inner harmony.
For the individual, the polar emotional conflict is the ultimate existential one of "being versus nothingness." He is likely to be drawn to a conversion experience, which he sees as the only means of attaining a path of existence for the future. The totalist environment—even when it does not resort to physical abuse—thus stimulates in everyone a fear of extinction or annihilation. A person can overcome this fear and find (in Martin Buber's term) "confirmation," not in his individual relationships, but only from the fount of all existence, the totalist Organization. Existence comes to depend upon creed (I believe, therefore I am), upon submission (I obey, therefore I am) and beyond these, upon a sense of total merger with the ideological movement. Ultimately of course one compromises and combines the totalist "confirmation" with independent elements of personal identity; but one is ever made aware that, should he stray too far along this "erroneous path," his right to existence may be withdrawn.

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