Anon Question: ICoS, Boyd and brainwashing

Since I completely geeked out on my answer to the below anon ask I received at tumblr, I figured I may as well share it here too.


Hi! That’s a great question but I feel a little hesitant to give you an exact timeline without having done a ton more research. Also, I’m sorry I took a day to respond but I wanted a chance to think about the best answer and also to gather some of the different topics into one place.

Sorry this is the longest answer ever, especially considering it’s probably not the answer you were hoping to get 😦

The reason I can’t give a super succinct answer is there are actually a lot of background pieces to this topic.

Brainwashing as people generally know it (and even as we might have had characters use the term in ICoS) doesn’t technically exist. Or at least, there’s quite a bit of controversy over the topic with most specialists in related fields feeling that it’s been discredited as a concept, but some others—particularly in relation to cult activity—believing it’s still valid.

I’m not nearly as learned as any of the people on the different sides of the argument are so I can only go based on the information I’ve read, and the impression I’ve gotten. I’m writing this from the assumption that full-on brainwashing is not realistic in the way we see it done in, for example, movies; but that you can approximate a similar outcome in small doses with the right circumstances.

Basically, it comes down to two main aspects: 1) you can’t force someone to believe in something they don’t believe in, and 2) if they don’t truly believe in it, the effect will be transient at best. POWs and others (like cult members) who were believed to have been subject to brainwashing (or thought reform or coercive persuasion or whatever you want to call it), were probably persuaded into it.

A lot of this type of persuasion comes down to extreme contrast. Some approaches are not unlike the torture/training used in Level 10 training like disruption of food/sleep/light cycles and so on, but then countering that with giving someone something soft, warm, welcoming, like good meals or nice bedrooms or hot baths. (Therefore psychologically building positive emotions in response to the ‘savior’ and predisposing the victim into building trust in them/a rapport) Or similar concepts like torturing someone but then offering reprieve and in the process showing compassion, saying how you don’t REALLY want to do this to them; you’re forced to because they’re in the wrong and if only they would see your way, everything could be okay.

If you do it right, you can psychologically affect a person to the point that their worldview may shift, and they can become more susceptible to your ideas and/or regime. But once the person is removed from that situation, after a point that ‘brainwashing’ will lose permanence or importance. At least, assuming the person doesn’t later choose to continue believing in it due to whatever reasons such as shame or fear or denial or whatever else.

There’s a lot more that goes into it and that’s where I’d need to do even more research to give specific numbers because I did enough research to know what was needed for the amount of time he was there but for longer term effects I would have been really meticulous about it.

The thing is, though, over the years different governments, regimes, organizations, religions, people, and more, have experimented with the idea of how to control a person or a population.

There’s the psychological side which I already sort of mentioned (but is probably a much larger topic) and then there have been forays into the usage of narcotics.

The CIA actually did human experimentation with LSD and other drugs in the 1950’s in an attempt to develop a brain control drug. It was obviously unsuccessful. (Look up Project MKUltra for more information on that.) They are not the only ones who have ever done anything like that, they’re just the best example I thought of offhand.

The reason I mention that is because I figured Janus would also create a human experimentation program after a certain point, to aid in their goals. Anyone who proselytizes to the point of proselytizing themselves can have a shift in their worldview which can become catastrophic on others if they’re also in a place of power. In Janus’ case, they had been unsuccessful in their initial attempts to gain power, so they switched to gaining willing followers through propaganda (not unlike what some really terrible regimes have done to their people in human history) and from there they took steps for figuring out how to control others and turn their enemy’s training against them.

It’s set in the future and I’m not a chemist so I can’t say exactly what narcotic they would have been using on Boyd during that time period, but that would have affected things and also the specifics of that (again, would’ve needed more meticulous research) would have probably affected the exact timeline of the relative “point of no return.”

There are drugs available already that could be contenders for the sort of drugs created. For example, scopolamine or Devil’s Breath is an interesting drug because it’s one of those things that is used in some format in completely legal and non-damaging ways (and has for centuries) but there were also reports a few years ago of it allegedly being used for very dangerous purposes particularly in Colombia. (The reports said you could drug someone with it and they would effectively become a zombie; walking, talking, functioning perfectly well but they are 100% susceptible to what they are told to do, they won’t question anything, and they won’t remember fully what happened later)

Anyway, sorry I’m going on all these tangents but I find the entire topic to be really interesting and from my viewpoint, the idea of brainwashing is very complex and probably multilayered to truly be successful.

Basically, Janus wouldn’t have been able to make him believe something he wouldn’t believe, but if they were able to enhance his natural belief system then they could go further. What they had been doing until the point he was found was they were getting a feel for his boundaries and moral limitations, constantly pushing at it to figure out how to convert his thought process.

He was the test case on this particular plan of theirs, so I think for him he would’ve been subject to a lot of failures along the way. As a result, it probably would have taken even longer for a successful outcome than it would have in subsequent victims since he was the pilot project. I also don’t know if they would have been 100% successful with him at all since he was such a guinea pig.

But I think their goal going into it would have been to make him a viable product by 6 months to a year. Whether they would have been successful, again, I’d have had to do more research to decide.

The thing that was completely working in their favor at that point (and why it was possible for any of it to take in his brain and why he was still kind of messed up afterward for a bit) was that he had a deep hatred for the Agency at that point. They had destroyed his family, completely fucked with his lover, betrayed and violated him, and he knew at the point he was taken that the Agency would also have thrown him away. The only loyalty he had was to his friends. So from that regard, he was much more susceptible to their propaganda, much more willing to believe the worst of the Agency, which put Janus in a position to slowly start building themselves up as being the better choice. Changing someone’s loyalties would have to be a pretty slow, meticulous process, willing to have some back and forth, but always moving forward.

As for if he would have actually ever attacked anyone—I think there’s a very good chance he would have been convinced to attack the upper echelon because on some level he would have also loved the idea of destroying the Agency, and if his morality was removed from the equation it would feel very doable to him.

But I think they would have found it difficult to convince him to ever hurt his friends, and I can’t imagine a scenario where they ever could have forced him to hurt Hsin. He would rather die than hurt Hsin. However, if they convinced him that Hsin was in trouble and they were the only ones who could help him, I do think it’s possible under the right circumstances that he could have inadvertently hurt Hsin or his friends, by participating in traps that would get them into Janus’ control. (It’s similar to how he had a thought at one point on his mission that he wanted to drug Hsin with Slide so Hsin could feel as good as he did/they could really go at it with each other—but later when he thought back he was horrified and disgusted by that thought because he had regained his proper worldview)

Incidentally, originally I wanted there to be even more hardcore human experimentation but we decided it just wouldn’t work. But if you’re interested in learning about human experimentation and particularly some of the extremely awful things that have been done in the past, I still think one of the best examples is Unit 731. What they did is so horrific you can’t even imagine that this was really done to people. There’s a particularly disturbing movie you can watch if you want to be depressed. It’s called Philosophy of a Knife. But beware: it’s SUPER graphic. Seriously, disturbingly, disgustingly so. There’s also Men Behind the Sun, which I haven’t seen yet so I can’t give any feedback on it.

And if you want a book to read, this is an old one but it’s a book I found in my college’s library when I worked there, and it was what got me interested in psychology. It’s called The Rape of the Mind by Joost A.M. Meerloo M.D., and it’s about the psychology of thought control, menticide and brainwashing in war (especially WWII) and in other circumstances. It’s out of print at this point but the cool thing is you can read it in its entirety for free online or if you want, there’s a free pdf version for saving/download here.

Joost himself might be someone you could want to check out too, or his other works. His real name was Abraham Meerloo and he was a psychiatrist/psychologist in occupied Holland in WWII, who was put in a Nazi prison at one point and had to flee certain death. He had a lot of experience with people who had been through mental and physical torture, and also hits on the idea of what our own cultures do to us with subtle pressures on our minds. His view was that anyone come become a “traitor” in the right circumstances, and he has a lot of really interesting or great lines in the book, such as:

Man’s need to be an individual can never be completely killed.


Isolation from the multitude of impressions that normally bombard us from the outside world creates strange and frightening symptoms. According to Heron, who performed experiments on a group of students at McGill University by placing each student in his own pitchblack, soundproof room, ventilated with filtered air, and encasing his hands in heavy leather mittins and his feet in heavy boots, “little by little their brains go dead or slip out of control.” Even in twenty-four hours of such extreme sensual isolation, all the horror phantoms of childhood are awakened, and various pathological symptoms appear. Our instinct of curiosity demands continual feeding; if it is not satisfied, the internal hounds of hell are aroused.

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