Sunday, November 25, 2007

Milieu Control (Lifton 101)

Most simply stated, “Milieu Control” is the control of an environment by controlling the information and activities within the environment. 

Pertaining to manipulative and closed groups, this involves control of communication and generation of acceptable information to be disseminated among the membership. Ultimately, the group seeks to control the thought environment of individual members, and it is this internal milieu control that produces the isolation from society at large. 

The cognitive dissonance produced by the incongruent messages received from the outside creates the natural desire to withdraw or filter information that does not coincide with information within the group. It’s too draining and stressful to constantly try to reckon conflicting worldviews, so isolationism seen in closed systems of thought is often a necessary adaptation. 

Healthy people do filter information, but in closed systems, the group dictates what sources of information are restricted in an effort to maintain compliance and limit dissent. “Love bombing” is a most effective means of recruiting new membership and falls under the category of milieu control. Groups thrive and grow, primarily by their ability to create an ideal environment that members tend to associate with pleasant, safe and nurturing feelings. A utopia can be defined as an ideally perfect place, generally in a social and moral sense. The creation of the idealistic world of rest and special bliss without the cumbersome burdens of life is very seductive. 

Most people who have participated in such a group and left, despite the heartaches of their experiences, long for a return to the “feeling” that the manipulative group appeared to create for them. Often, leadership will tell members that their group is the only place where one can find this type of comfort which makes those who enjoy the environment less likely to leave the group. Free exchange of information is tightly controlled by threats of accusation of gossip or "touching not the anointed" leadership in manipulative groups. 

Another popular phrase that is often used to discourage critical evaluation of legitimate information within Christian churches is the admonishment to refrain from “sewing discord among the brethren.” This is not a blanket command however and would be an inappropriate response to false teaching and error. Perhaps the most dangerous harm to the milieu of a group occurs as a result of drawing leadership into question. This is a taboo in spiritually abusive groups in particular. 

Stories concocted for the purpose of "damage control" (prevent membership from thinking critically about events or arguments that might draw the ideology or leadership into question) also fall under this category so that members are fearful or reluctant to fairly consider information produced by dissidents. Information from outside sources is often criticized and discounted to discourage acceptance by group members. Connotation is a powerful tool in the maintenance of milieu control, often aimed at creating the perception that certain types of information are tainted or dangerous. (See “Biblical Modifiers.”) 

Maintenance of group milieu within a closed system, religious or otherwise, is perhaps the most demanding aspects of thought reform and manipulative systems, but it is a profoundly effective one.