Dybbuks of the State

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Mens cujusque is est quisque.
(A man’s mind is the man himself.)
~ Cicero

Most everyone is privy to a family secret. Sometimes you may be tempted to think that you know about the family secrets of others. But the truth of the matter is that most times people tend to chatter on about second-rate peccadilloes in families, while the truly disturbing matters are left unspoken. Should the subject matter arise, it becomes the proverbial elephant in the living room that no one dare admit exists. Oddly enough, these secrets tend to get blurted on occasion and for no apparent reason.

Governments have family secrets as well. Like families, the lesser secrets, when finally exposed, are subject to over-analysis and inflated importance. But the deeper darker secrets occasionally bubble to the surface, only to be quickly brought down low again, with no one daring to comment on what was revealed. One such secret of our government is the fact that the CIA has on occasion dabbled in the kind of mind control made famous by the movie The Manchurian Candidate. The existence of this fact is not the product of a madman’s diaries but comes straight from the CIA’s own records. Since the government has only given the sketchiest of details concerning exactly what the CIA was up to, the topic of mind control runs the gamut from serious scholarly research to outlandish paranoia. However, there are thoughtful speculations being made about the scope and duration of past secret CIA programs as well as whether such programs are still on-going today.

Without delving into the shadowy world of what did or did not take place (no one will ever know for sure) and staying within the parameters of what has been officially revealed — that the CIA gave mind altering drugs to people without their knowledge or consent — there is still much that can, indeed, must be said about this foray into this ultimate evil.

What an attack on the independence of a person’s mind represents is an attack on the very principle of self-ownership. It would not be hyperbole to say that if any government went about a plan of forcibly tampering with the volitional abilities of the human person, such a government would have engendered itself with an evil beyond that of any, or indeed all, previous man-made evils. No slave-master, however cruel, could reach the deepest caverns of the mind. No slave, however coercive the duress which he suffered, was ever robbed of the ability to morally judge the actions he was forced to carry out. Without a mind, the individual person ceases to exist. Our very criminal law, however flawed it may be on occasion, respects the concept that no one is liable for an act over which their mind has no control.

While the public was repulsed to learn that one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s fantasies was to create zombie sex slaves, there is no such general gag reflex at the revelation that someone, somewhere in the bowels of our intelligence community, may have fantasized about creating government sex slaves, or government work slaves, or government war slaves. What is more disturbing is that this sick lust for total domination was not shouted down but funded and put into experimental testing.

Though we don’t have any hardcore proof about what exactly the CIA was trying to do, we can turn to film to give us some clues as to what the possibilities were. Aside from the aforementioned The Manchurian Candidate, there is Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Anyone familiar with the film realizes that even under the seemingly altruistic banner of using mind control techniques to control the "anti-social," such efforts are destined to be the tools of political gamesmanship and reap unforeseen dire consequences. The dark comedy Brazil probably comes closer than any to showing the everyday application of not only mind tampering but also the traditionally "softer" versions of thought manipulation, like propaganda.

But perhaps more powerful would be to imagine how the endings of great movies would turn out if the government protagonists had the power to rape men’s minds. For one example, think of the Academy Award-winning epic Braveheart. After more than two and a half hours of following the exploits of William Wallace, the film would not end with his disemboweling by the royal authorities while letting loose with a recalcitrant cry of "FREEEEDDOOOMMM." Instead, William Wallace would have emerged after his captivity at the hands of the Crown to announce that Longshanks was misunderstood and that Scotland was better off with him overseeing it than it would ever be trying to self-govern. The film could have ended with Wallace going off to the Highlands to shill for his former adversary. You can very easily envision such unsatisfying alternate endings to Gladiator, Robin Hood, and Rob Roy. (Then again you could just watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers.)

What this thought experiment in movie endings shows is that the drama of human existence and the struggle for human freedom involve the clash of wills. It is an ancient motif — the will of the individual rising against all odds to fight for what is right. In these stories, sometimes the good guys win and sometimes not. But if governments are ever allowed to harness the ability to sap the will of the mind and soul, there will be no more drama, there will be no freedom. There will be only the dybbuks of the state where once there were men.

C.T. Rossi [send him mail] is an attorney who lives in Mobile, Ala.

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