My approach to this subject is based on the belief that it is only by looking at any problem from several angles that we are able to get at its heart.
According to Bohr's principle of complementarity, the rather simple phenomena of physics can be looked at from diverse viewpoints; different and seemingly contrasting concepts are needed to describe physical phenomena. For instance, for explanation of the behavior of electrons, both the concept of particle and the concept of wave are useful. The same is true for the even more complicated psychological and social interactions. We cannot look at brainwashing merely from a simple Pavlovian viewpoint. This book tries to do it also from the clinical descriptive view and from the concept of psychology; it tries to look at brainwashing from the standpoint that general mental coercion may belong to every human interaction.
Communication of any sort can almost be compared with trying to knock down a row of dolls in a throwing game. The more balls we throw, the greater is the probability that we may hit all the dolls. The more approaches we make to any problem, the greater chance we have of finding and grasping its essential core. Such detailed treatment will be impossible without some repetition in the text.
In this book we shall move from the specific subject of planned and deliberate mental coercion to the more general question of the influences in the modern world that tend to robotize and automatize man. The last chapters are devoted to the problem of inner backbone, as a first step in the direction of learning to maintain OUR MENTAL FREEDOM.
One of the great Dutch authors, Multatuli, wrote a letter to his friend excusing himself because the letter was so long: he had not had time enough to write a shorter one. In this paradox he expressed part of the problem of all search for expression and communication. It takes a long time to express an idea in a precise and communicable way. Yet being short and simple in one's descriptions is not always appreciated. Especially modern psychology is loaded with superlearnedness with the secret intention of leaving the reading public awe stricken. The man who tries to express himself in simple words, bypassing jargon, risks being called popular and unscientific. Nevertheless, I am aware of the fact that I have been so much steeped in psychological terminology that I cannot completely forego psychological language. The real test of psychological clarity is the way the layman absorbs and understands the ideas communicated. My aim has been to write for the general public, not to popularize but to bring some order to the chaos of our particular epoch.
Every word man speaks is a plagiarism. The task of an author is to absorb, incorporate, and transform the knowledge and emotional currents of his own epoch and to present them in his own personal way, enriched by his own experiences. I am grateful, indeed, to all those whose ideas I have been able to borrow, and especially to all those who inspired me to write down my own thoughts on this controversial subject.
Joost Abraham Maurits Meerloo