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					Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                    Fragile Realities

The Story of the Catholic Girl.
        A young man who was an undergraduate student at a large university met and became
infatuated with a beautiful young woman from his hometown. He had not known her prior to
meeting her at college for she was three years younger than he was, and she had gone to the
Catholic high school, which had little contact with the public high school he had attended. She
was the oldest of seven children. Her family was very religious, and she and her siblings had
only attended Catholic schools. She was extremely intelligent, and an ardent believer in the
ideology of her church.
        Being from a nominally Protestant background, and being convinced at this relatively
young age that all religions were bogus nonsense, the young man was somewhat amused, if also
somewhat discomforted, by the strength of her commitment. If there was to be any chance for
them to develop a deep and intimate relationship with each other, somehow the gulf of religious
differences would have to be faced, and to be resolved.
        Every Monday at four in the afternoon he and she met at a bar and drank beer while they
reviewed their notes for an Introduction to Psychology class they had together. They always had
a quiz on Tuesday morning. Usually they stayed for about an hour and separately got on with
their lives until the next morning's quiz. On this occasion, however, aided perhaps by the
lubrication of alcohol, they confronted each other, head on, with their religious differences. He,
being older and more experienced in such debate, systematically responded to her impassioned
presentations of numerous proofs of the existence of god, most of which, as he later recalled,
were from Thomas Aquinas. Having learned these proofs in her Catholic high school, where no
contrary opinions had apparently been expressed, she had accepted them as obvious and
convincing proofs of the correctness of her views and the incorrectness of his. Her own
ideologically based belief system was threatened by his arguments, many of which undermined
the validity of her assumptions. Her inability to adequately refute his criticisms of her views
made her increasingly uncomfortable. Her internal resources for coping with the threat to her
belief system, perhaps partly because she had consumed too much beer, were inadequate to the
        Being somewhat buoyed by the success of his arguments, and insensitive to her distress,
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                 Fragile Realities
the young man was relentless in his assault on her beliefs. One hour became two and then three
or four. She was defeated. She cried, and he took her back to her dorm.
        In terms of our theory, the young woman had experienced massive threat to her belief
system. She had used all of the internal resources she could muster to ward off the threat and she
had failed. Like our glass house confronted by too many rocks, her system might have crumbled,
making her susceptible to an alternative version of reality. Hopefully, from the young man's
point of view, it would be his version of reality that she would eventually come to accept!
        But, alas, it was not to be. At about two o'clock in the morning she called him at his
apartment. She was still crying. She asked him to take her home to her parents, about 75 miles
away. He had a car but she did not. His quiz, and her quiz, was at eight in the morning, but he
could not say no. In the hour and a half it took to get her home, neither of them talked. Her
parents were waiting for them at the door. They reluctantly gave the young man a cup of coffee
and quickly sent him back.
        Several days later he saw the young woman again, in class, looking as beautiful and as
confident as ever. They talked for a little while. She had been away for about two days. She had
talked to her parents, she had visited her priest, and she had spent time with her favorite teachers
who were also nuns. Whatever doubts had been induced in her concerning the validity of her
beliefs had vanished. Why? Had she learned more valid or more defensible arguments in
support of her beliefs? No. Had she acquired new and more plausible beliefs? No. She
believed exactly what she had before. The opposing arguments that had been expressed by the
young man still existed, and she still knew what they were. She was no better at intellectually or
cognitively defending against them than she had been previously, but nevertheless, she was more
convinced than ever that she was right. How could this be so?
        One might feel that she must have acquired better arguments from her priest, or nuns, or
family, and that is why she regained her confidence that her beliefs were valid. The six-
component theory allows that an increase in one's ability to rationally defend an ideological
position may occur as a result of knowledge acquired from a support group. In the context of
persuasion research, some contemporary social psychological theory refers to such content
related influence as "central," as opposed to "peripheral."
        The theory also allows that social support may, independent of the content of an ideology
or of one's ability or inclination to rationally defend that content, increase one's confidence in its
validity. Influence such as this is called "peripheral," for it skirts the issue of content, never
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                Fragile Realities
directly dealing with it. Our story presumes that the young woman's renewed faith was due to
such peripheral, content-free influence effects of social support.
        Incidentally, she remained a Catholic. Shortly after the described events she started
dating a graduate student, who was a Catholic, and before long they were married.

Social Comparison Theory
        People like to think that their own beliefs are more valid than contrary beliefs and that
such validity is somehow objectively defensible. For some beliefs this is a reasonable
interpretation. We can do research, for example, to demonstrate that fire requires oxygen to
burn, or that alcohol consumption in people impairs driving ability. Some people may believe
that the earth is flat, but objective evidence supports the view that it is not. These examples fall
in the realm of what Leon Festinger (1954) called "physical reality." Festinger was more
interested in all of those beliefs people hold that are not, by their very nature, capable of such
confirmation. Whether or not god exists, and the supposed nature of god, are such issues. So too
are beliefs such as that democracy is better than authoritarian government, capitalism is superior
to communism, premarital sex is morally acceptable, impressionism is superior to pop art, short
skirts are inappropriate business attire, and Ronald Reagan was good for America. Such beliefs
as these fall in the realm of what Festinger calls "social reality." It is not the case that beliefs in
the realm of social reality are less important or are less strongly felt, or that commitments to them
or confidence in them is less strong than for beliefs in the realm of physical reality. Nor is it the
case that we are more comfortable with uncertainty in the realm of social reality.
        Uncertainty, as I have asserted in earlier chapters, is uncomfortable, is tension producing,
is aversive, and motivates individuals to do such things as reduce it. But how does one reduce
uncertainty in the realm of social reality? Not by objective evidence in support of one view
rather than another, but by consensus with others about what is real or, right, or appropriate. Not
consensus with everyone, or with anyone, but with those subgroups of people with whom one has
a connection, a bond, or a shared identity. We reduce uncertainty in the realm of social reality by
agreeing with others who in important respects are similar to ourselves. One important basis of
that similarity is being members of the same group.
        In the example of the young Catholic woman, from the point of view of Festinger's Social
Comparison Theory, she started with a relatively high degree of certainty about her religious
beliefs. Her confidence allowed her to venture far afield from social groups with whom she
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                              Fragile Realities
shared a consensus, and even to confront others who disagreed. When such a confrontation
challenged her belief system, she used her internal resources to ward off the threat. Such
resources included her intelligence, her skills at debating, her knowledge of potentially
convincing arguments, her energy and motivation, and her beliefs in her own ability, reflected in
self-confidence and self-efficacy. In addition, the use of Freudian defense mechanisms such as
rationalization, denial, repression, and even regression might have been used; and cognitive
defenses such as differentiation, bolstering, and transcendence, were possible as devices for
responding to threat.
       Ordinarily these internal resources would be more than sufficient, especially where
threats are weak, or are few in number, or are of short duration. The threat in this example,
however, was a massive threat, which attacked on many fronts, with force, and with long
duration. While she was intelligent, so was her adversary, and while she was a skilled debater,
she was less experienced at debate on the topic of religion than he was. He also knew convincing
arguments on his side of the debate which she had not previously encountered and was not able
to negate. While she was highly motivated to preserve her interpretation of reality, he was
equally motivated to undo it. Perhaps the use of alcohol had also impaired her ability to utilize
many of her internal resources, and after hours of argument, fatigue would also have lowered her
resistance. Her internal resources had been insufficient to cope with the threat imposed upon her
belief system, and it was in great danger of failing.
       In social comparison theory terms, she had been made uncertain about her religious
beliefs, and that uncertainty was aversive. To reduce the aversive state she had tried her best to
reduce her uncertainty by using what the six-component model calls internal resources for
support of the original belief system, but this had been unsuccessful. Social comparison theory
says that she might reduce her uncertainty by reasserting her connections with similar others with
whom she shared a consensus concerning her beliefs. In her situation, being a relatively new
student in a large university, she had no group of others on the campus who she could count on to
provide such a consensus. Even given that a Catholic community did exist on the campus, her
own connections to it were not well established. In her hometown, however, her family, her
priest, and her Catholic teachers and other nuns were available, and with these people consensus
was assured and an emotional connection already existed. What was required then to cope with
threat to her beliefs was to reassert that connection, to re-embed herself in that social system, as a
means of reducing whatever uncertainty remained concerning those beliefs that the group shared.
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                       Fragile Realities

The Six-Component Model and Social Support
        This chapter explores the important role of social support for maintaining and for
conversion of belief systems. Specifically it looks at Component 3: Undermining of External
Resources for Coping with Threat to the Original Belief System. In Stage One, the first half of
the Six-Component Model, the greater the threat, and the lower the level of internal resources for
coping with threat, the greater is the need for external resources for coping with that threat.
Social support constitutes the most important part of external support. Conversion to a new
ideology is facilitated by undermining of those external resources.
        The dynamic interdependence of Component 3 with Components 1 and 2 has been
discussed previously. In the "Glass House Metaphor," where threat was equated with the
breaking of glass by throwing rocks, and internal support was equated with fixing the broken
glass by repairing it yourself, external support was equated with calling in friends, relatives,
neighbors, or a glass repair service to help you fix it or to fix it for you. As these concepts are
translated into parallel ones at the level of threats to the attitude-belief system, and to internal
resources for coping with threat, the metaphor has been useful. It may be somewhat more
difficult to grasp the parallel as it relates to external support. One reason for such difficulty is
that we do not intuitively see the role of external support for attitudes and beliefs. One goal of
this chapter is to develop what that role is, using well established research and theory. Another
goal is show how loss of external support is potentially critical to undermining of the original
system. A third goal is to show how creation of new social support is potentially critical to
acceptance of a new or radically revised belief system, including the acceptance of a new

        I have previously remarked about the fact that people seem capable of acceptance and
commitment to ideological positions the content of which they fail to comprehend, or of which
they may even be totally uninformed. This seems surprising and puzzling, for we typically think
of ideologies in terms of the fact that they are interdependent sets of beliefs. What could be the
basis for acceptance of an ideology if those very beliefs are unknown or are not adequately
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                   Fragile Realities
          Consider the acquisition of ideology from a developmental perspective. At what point
does the child of a Jewish family accept his or her identity as Jewish? When does a child of a
Catholic family come to know that he or she is Catholic? Certainly such identification occurs
prior to the acquisition of very much knowledge concerning the content of Jewish or Catholic
ideology. In fact adults, including many college students, while maintaining a strong acceptance
of and identification with the religion of their childhood, never did acquire much information
about the content of the ideology to which they profess belief.
          Among the many features of belief systems relevant to their adequate functioning is, for
most individuals, a coherent concept of self. The self concept is a schema that provides a basis
for the organization and integration of the system, and hence promotes the viability of the system.
The self concept, as previously noted, can be further differentiated into the personal identity and
the social identity. While relationships to others may not be critical for personal identity, they
are the very essence of social identity. To the extent that the self-concept is a major organizing
schema for the overall system, and social identity is dominant in the self concept, maintaining of
ties to others with whom one shares a consensus is critical to maintaining a viable attitude-belief
          To a five-year old who accepts a Jewish identity, what is really known is that he or she is
connected to a group of people, and that these people accept a common interpretation of reality.
Without knowing the details of this reality, it is known by the child that one thing these people
have in common is their identification with the Jewish religion or tradition. If everyone in the
child's experience were Jewish then this would be the only available version of reality. If others
who were not Jewish were known to the child, what would become clear is that the reality of
others is not relevant, and only the reality of those with whom one has close social relations is of
importance. First among these would be one's family. The self, being accepting of that shared
reality, would have to accept itself as Jewish. The type of social influence being described here
is known by many social psychologists as the "information process." In information processes,
the individual accepts, and internalizes, the interpretation of the group because he or she uses the
group as a source of information about what is true.
          To be able to use the group as a basis for one's interpretation of reality, or as a means to
reduce uncertainty about social reality, one must maintain some bond or connection to the group.
To accept oneself as being Jewish is connected with being accepted by the group of others who
are Jewish. The overt behaviors that reflect acceptance of the group and its interpretations of
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                   Fragile Realities
reality are rewarded by inclusion. One is not allowed by the group to deviate behaviorally from
its norms, for such deviation, if sufficiently extensive, would result in exclusion or rejection. For
such reasons, called "normative processes," the Jewish child cannot denounce the contents of
Jewish ideology, nor because of "information processes" would one want to; but ironically, one is
not required to know those contents either.
       Many of the functions to be served by acceptance of an ideology are purely social and
have little relationship to ideological content. Acceptance of a family’s or a group’s ideology is
usually a prerequisite for full inclusion and for all the benefits such inclusion might provide.
Being a member of a group may offer security, identity, friendships, entertainment, and maybe
even material well-being. But to have these will require acknowledging the validity of the
group’s interpretation of reality. The content of that ideology is less important than the fact that it
is shared.
       As an adult, these conditions of childhood identification with and acceptance of an
ideology may not have changed much. The Catholic girl of our example may have become a
Catholic and her acceptance and identification with Catholicism may have been a result of such
processes. If never challenged to defend her faith, such content-free acceptance of an ideological
position will continue to serve the functions of promoting, through social identity, the means for
integrating and organizing the self-concept, and the functions served by inclusion in a social
group. Most people live in a social context where direct threats to the validity of their
ideological identification are rare, or at least are short-lived, fragmented, or without much force.
When such threats do occur they are readily diffused by the use of internal resources for coping
with threat, or by the use of external resources, reasserting ties to the social groups with whom
one shares a consensus.

       The personal identity relates to ideology in terms of its content. Issues such as
consistency, completeness, relevance and complexity will be important. Threats to the system
will involve inducing of inconsistency, etc., and coping with such threats will be primary related
to internal resources, such as described in some detail in the previous chapter. In terms of
theories of persuasion or attitude-change, the approach likely to be most successful in altering
such a system is central rather than peripheral. In terms more relevant to group processes, the
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                    Fragile Realities
influence of groups is most likely to be effective where they utilize information processes rather
than normative processes.
       In contrast to personal identity, the social identity's relationship to ideology is relatively
content-free. Threats to the system will be not in terms of the inconsistency or incompleteness of
the ideology, but in terms of the social functions served by maintaining such an identification.
Changing a system based primarily upon social identity will involve undermining of external
resources for coping with threat. The types of persuasion likely to be most effective are
peripheral rather than central, and the kinds of group influence likely to be effective are
normative rather than informational.
Individual Differences
       Existing research strongly suggests that people differ in terms of the extent to which their
self-concept is dominated by social or personal identity. We might think of it as a continuum
from totally dominated by social identity at one end, to totally dominated by personal identity at
the other, with nearly everyone somewhere in between. If this is the case, then threats to social
identity will have little effect on the belief system of an individual whose system is strongly
dominated by personal identity. Likewise, for an individual whose system is dominated by social
identity, attacks on personal identity would be ineffective. For most people, however, both types
of identity are probably of sufficient importance that threats of either type could be effective, and
threats of both types simultaneously would be most effective. The Six-Component Model
suggests that threats that undermine internal resources for coping, relevant to personal identity,
may be at least partially compensated for by resort to external resources, relevant to social
identity. This is what occurred in the example of the young Catholic woman. It also follows that
threats to one's social identity might be compensated for by resort to internal resources to
strengthen personal identity. It is interesting to speculate on whether our young Catholic
woman's belief system, following threats to her personal identity and strengthening of her social
identity, while she is still accepting of her original ideological position, is nevertheless now a
different kind of person. On our continuum we might guess that she has shifted away from
reliance upon personal identity and toward reliance upon social identity as a basis for her
ideological commitment. One might also ask if a person having an original system dominated by
personal identity could become converted to a new system that is dominated by social identity; or
could change from a social identity dominated to a personal identity dominated system? Our
model does not require that the social relative to personal orientation of the new system be
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                     Fragile Realities
similar to that of the old system. In fact, cults and other powerful groups are exceptionally
effective in creating and maintaining conditions conducive to social identity, but they seem to be
not as effective at fostering personal identity in members. Personal identity is typically based
upon long-term unique experiences, a lifetime perhaps of learning, the equivalent of which
cannot be readily recreated in a cult environment.

       In the model of ideological conversion, sufficient external resources for coping with the
massive threat posed by the first component can prevent the undermining of the original system,
which must occur if conversion is to take place. This is what happened in our story of the
Catholic girl. If she had not been able to reassert her connection to others with whom she shared
a consensus concerning her Catholic faith, the end of the story might have been different. A loss
of faith followed by a possible conversion could have resulted. The young man of the story, had
he been sufficiently knowledgeable about the role of social support, and had he been callous
enough or single-minded enough to do anything within his power to effect a conversion, would
not have been so accommodating in returning her to her family. Case studies of cult involvement
show that successful cults do go to great lengths to prevent potential converts from reasserting
the connection with their support groups at times such as these.
       As was the case with threat, and with internal resources, individuals may be selected for
potential conversion based upon the lack of available external resources. If such deficiencies of
external resources do not exist, however, they can be induced by those promoting conversion. In
our example, the external resources available to the young woman had already been reduced as a
result of her moving away from her family and hometown to a large and unfamiliar university.
They had not, however been made completely unavailable. She could and did contact her family
by phone on a regular basis, and she visited home frequently on long weekends and vacations.
As we saw, in an emergency she could usually be back home with her family in a matter of a very
few hours.
Susceptibility and Availability of External Resources
       External Non-social Resources. While my emphasis has clearly been on social factors as
a basis for external support of the original attitude-belief system, it needs to be pointed out that
non-social aspects of the external environment can also be important. An example may once
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                  Fragile Realities
again make it easier to convey how this is so. Suppose a man has a belief system dominated by a
self concept that is organized around his identity as an English-speaking American psychology
professor, but also includes his interest in cooking and eating gourmet foods and drinking fine
wines and his distaste for violent sports. His external environment is supportive of his identity in
many ways. Speaking English is quite functional where everyone else does also and where all
signs, media, and texts are in English. Suppose he were to find himself in a situation where all
traffic signs were in Japanese, and no people of any kind were present. Imagine that his word-
processor only used Japanese characters rather than the English alphabet, and the only reading
materials were in Sanskrit. Furthermore, wine was not available in the environment and the only
food was rice and beans. Perhaps the only thing on his television was kick-boxing. Contrast this
with an environment, equally absent of social support, in which he was surrounded by signs and
posters in English, had a library of English language texts and an English language word-
processor available, and had a kitchen fully stocked with all his favorite foods and groceries and
a wine cellar with his favorite varieties of fine wines. Perhaps he had a television with a video
library of PBS shows such as his favorites, Nova and Masterpiece Theater. We would suspect
that he would be much more capable of maintaining his original belief system in the second set
of circumstances, even if he were subjected to threats to adequate functioning.
       People typically live in environments that are closely matched with and supportive of
their own attitude-belief systems. Undermining of that support may take the form of systematic
removal of such non-social features of one's external environment as these, without which
continued reliance upon one's original system would be more difficult.
       In terms of susceptibility to influence, resulting from absence or inaccessibility of non-
social external resources, people may be selected because they have already, voluntarily or
otherwise, been subjected to such conditions. For example, being on vacation and traveling to
places with which one is unfamiliar is common. We choose to do so partly because it subjects us
to new experiences which are stimulating and interesting. If one's new environment is one in
which everything from language to food to toileting facilities is markedly different from one's
usual environment, it may be highly entertaining, but even if it is relatively benign, one is
nevertheless increasingly dependent upon others as a source of guidance for behaviors and
interpretation of experiences. Prolonged exposure to such novel environments does often induce
anxiety. The resulting "culture shock" can be quite debilitating. One means of reducing such
anxiety is to restore some part of one's usual external environment, perhaps by phoning home.
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                Fragile Realities
The joy some travelers experience upon the chance encounter with another person from their own
country is almost humorous at times, as is the pleasure or finding a McDonald's hamburger place
10,000 miles from home.
        While often times such separation from our usual external environments is voluntary, or
has for other reasons already been accomplished, it is also common for those motivated to induce
conversion or radical revision in people's attitude-belief systems to induce reductions in the
availability of such external support. The more radically different that environment is from that
to which the potential convert is accustomed, the more effective subsequent influence attempts
are likely to be.
        Consider, for example, the experience of an American teenager who finds himself or
herself in a temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, many of which are
located in the heart of major American cities. The visual environment is exotic, filled with
statues and artifacts of Indian Hindu culture uncommon to usual American environments. The
sounds may also be exotic, including perhaps the repetitive phrases of Indian music played on
unfamiliar musical instruments. Even the aromas present are strange to one's experience,
containing a mixture of incense and the smells of Indian spices. Many visitors to such places
experience an otherworldly disorientation, some of whom find it pleasurable, even exhilarating,
and others of whom find it frightening and anxiety producing.
        I have previously discussed the experience of a new Marine recruit encountering the
environment of "bootcamp." My emphasis had been on the social factors operating to facilitate
susceptibility to influence, but the external physical environment is also a factor here. The sights
and sounds and smells of this new environment are clearly distinct from those of the
environments from which these young enlistees has come.
        Perhaps the most extreme removal of non-social external resources for support of one's
attitude-belief system occurred in the abduction of Patty Hearst. Being blindfolded, on the floor
of a closet, for weeks at a time, constitutes stimulus deprivation such as is not common to one's
usual experience. Sustaining of the original system without any external support or even
reminders of it would have been extraordinarily difficult.
        This non-social external environment may be thought of, in terms of principles of
learning, as the "discriminative stimuli," in the presence of which certain responses will be
rewarded and others will be punished. When the discriminative stimuli we encounter are those
with which we have had much experience, we know what to expect as consequences of the
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                Fragile Realities
behaviors available to us. We have conditioned operant responses, or more likely cognitive
expectations about such responses, that serve us well in deciding how to behave. When we
experience unfamiliar stimulus conditions, such prior learning is not relevant to how we might
behave or to the consequences to be expected from different behaviors. A change to a novel
external environment reduces the overall ability of one's attitude-belief system to adequately
prescribe behavior, thus contributing to susceptibility to new learning or influence.
         External Social Resources. The most important external resources for supporting of
one's belief system are social. These consist of groups or collections of others with whom one
has some type of psychological connection or identification. In many of the early social
psychological theories, such as Theodore Newcomb's, these were called reference groups. To
Newcomb (1949), these were groups to which one already was, or at least aspired to be, a
member. In Leon Festinger's (1950, 1954) social comparison theory, the important consideration
was how similar to oneself these others were perceived to be. In the famous research on fear and
affiliation by Stanley Schachter (1959), the important factor was the extent to which others
shared one's circumstances, or as he put it, were perceived to be, "in the same boat," as oneself.
Schachter's definition seems particularly apt for what more recent research calls social support
groups, in which oftentimes the major similarity binding people together is a common problem,
such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or spouse abuse (Wallace, Downing, Motta, and Siegel,
         The previously discussed view of Marc Galanter (1969), which is specifically related to
his research on religious cults, is that the social support function in reducing psychological
distress is dependent upon two factors. The first of these he calls cohesiveness, by which he
means the extent to which the individual feels connected to and identified with the group. The
second factor, the experience of shared values, which may come from adopting the position of
the group, reduces distress only if the cohesiveness of the first factor has been present.
         Usually, these various factors, such as similarity, being in the same group, being in "the
same boat," and experiencing high cohesiveness with the group, are highly associated with each
other, and which theoretical variation we use is unimportant. One's family members, as an
example, constitute a group of which one is automatically a member. In many respects they will
be similar to oneself, ethnically, racially, socio-economically, geographically, etc., and for many
purposes they can be said to be "in the same boat." Economically, for example, they may sink or
swim together. Cohesiveness with one's family may also be high.
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                              Fragile Realities
       Many of the powerful groups we have discussed in previous chapters, especially cult
groups, share these characteristics of families and in fact often emphasize that fact by calling
themselves families and by using other family terminology to describe their relationships with
each other: brothers, sisters, children, fathers, mothers, babies, and even, in the Divine Light
Mission, "preemies," a term for premature infants used by the group to designate neophytes.

       External Social Resources may be, in a person selected for potential conversion, quite
strong and readily available, in which case they may provide substantial support for the original
belief system even when it is under severe threat. One may be selected, however, because such
resources are essentially absent, or are weak, or are physically or even psychologically
unavailable. In these cases, threat is much more likely to be effective in undermining of the
original system.
       Whatever the condition of the person selected, it is always possible to induce an absence,
weakness or physical or psychological unavailability of such resources as part of a program for
radical revision or conversion of the belief system.
       Absence of External Social Resources. Not many individuals are likely to be totally
absent some connection to social groups, for even groups that are not physically available can
and do continue to serve social support functions. An extreme of isolation would be required for
individuals to have no family, no friends, and no co-workers or peers or associates with whom
they feel a sense of similarity, cohesiveness, or shared identity. The sense of connectedness that
allows others to serve a support function, while it may require cohesiveness and shared values,
may do so only in a minimal fashion. For example, for some purposes one may use Americans
as a source of social identity. One may feel very identified with the group defined as Americans,
and may rightly or wrongly perceive a broad sharing of values by those millions of people who
comprise that group. As a male social psychologist and a college professor I, for example, might
for some purposes use men as my reference group, at other time using psychologists, or social
psychologists, or college professors, etc., as my reference group. In many respects such "groups"
are not real groups but are mere abstractions of others conceived in some important respect to be
similar to oneself. Even groups such as this, however, can provide important social support in
times of threat or stress. Recall the importance of being an American to POW's. Loss of such
support was induced by undermining of the similarity or cohesiveness important in maintaining
of the connection. Patty Hearst used the establishment, including the legal system, as a social
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                  Fragile Realities
support for her own beliefs until she became convinced that she was rejected by it and considered
its enemy. This destroyed the bond she felt with the establishment, and the possibility of using it
for social support.
        Because social support can be achieved through psychological connections with even
abstract collections of others such as described here, and because people under threat will be
highly motivated to assert such connections to avail themselves of such support, a total absence
of social support would be expected to be very rare.
        Weak External Social Resources. Complete absence of social support is rare, but the
degree to which individuals experience connections to such groups is quite variable. People
might be selected as potential candidates for conversion because such connections are already
weak, or such weakness may be induced by the conversion environment.
        Consider a young man, Fred, from Peoria, Illinois who graduated from high school a year
ago, and has no aspirations to go to college. He has been working for minimum wage in a
department store, with mostly middle-aged co-workers. He is living with his family, but they
have never accepted him as an adult and relate to him only as a child. Nearly all of his high
school friends have left town, for college, or jobs or the military. He has never had a successful
intimate relationship with a woman. When he is not working he spends a lot of time watching
television alone in his room. He does not feel close to his family, is not similar to his co-
workers, and has few connections to peers or even potential romantic relationships. He does not
have a professional, or even avocationally relevant group, even in the abstract, with which he
closely identifies.
        Fred may be susceptible to a promotional campaign by the Marines who are looking for
"a few good men." His relatively weak system of social support will make him more subject to
the types of influence exerted by recruiters and eventually by drill instructors than would be the
case for other young men possessing stronger systems of social support.
        In Fred's case, he was selected already possessing a weak system of social support.
Recruiters of potential converts might seek out such individuals whose social support has already
been diminished. Prime candidates seems to include, for example, people who have recently
broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or who have become separated or divorced from a
spouse, or who have recently experienced the death of a friend, partner, spouse, or parent.
        It is also possible for such weakness in the social support system to be induced. POW's
were frequently coerced into betraying other prisoners by informing on them, or by making false
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                 Fragile Realities
accusations concerning them. Such tactics destroy the bonds necessary for such men to serve as
social support for each other. In many religious cults, peer level friendships are never allowed to
develop internally to the group, and relationships with those outside of the group are, wherever
possible, destroyed.
        Perhaps more important than creating an actual reduction in external resources are those
practices that make existing external resources physically or psychologically unavailable.
        Physical Unavailability of External Resources. Most candidates for conversion do have
some potential external support. They have some connections to others who are sufficiently
similar to themselves that a shared consensus can help them to maintain a threatened attitude-
belief system. The ability of such groups to provide support is contingent, however, on how
salient they are. A group of people who are not present and whose very existence has been
forgotten cannot provide such support. Physical presence is not absolutely essential, but it does
increase the likelihood of salience for the group and for one' s connections to it. Consequently
physical presence increases the ability of a group to provide usable social support.
        Selection of potential converts based upon a pre-existing condition of physical
unavailability of external resources has been alluded to in many of our case study discussions. It
is for this reason, for example, that religious cults often recruit new members in airports, train
stations, and bus depots, where individuals traveling alone are numerous and are easily spotted.
One would never approach and try to convert a family, or an individual otherwise imbedded in a
social network. Students who have recently been admitted to a college away from home, and
who are perhaps away from their families and other primary support groups for the first time, are
often targets of recruiters for religious cults. The lure of fraternities and sororities is also
enhanced for new arrivals who have not yet developed adequate on-campus substitutes for their
hometown support systems. A prohibition from recruiting first semester freshman to fraternities
and sororities, enacted by some college administrations, is vigorously opposed by fraternities and
sororities because it makes it so much harder for them to recruit enough members to retain their
current size. Any individuals in transition from one place to another, or one job to another, or
one role to another, to the extent that such changes involve physical separation from their support
groups, will be more susceptible to conversion efforts.
        Induction of a condition in which those external resources that a potential convert does
possess are made physically unavailable is common practice in cults and other powerful groups.
It is not a coincidence that Moonies take potential recruits far into the countryside, with no clear
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                  Fragile Realities
and obvious way of returning; or that the Marines have their training camp at a place called Paris
Island, an island being both physically and symbolically associated with separation. Retreats,
camps, farms, wilderness and mountaintops, are familiar settings for powerful groups intent upon
inducing conversions in recent recruits. Jim Jones outdid most others in this respect, bringing his
group to the middle of an inhospitable jungle in a distant foreign country.
       At least as important as the physical or geographical distance placed between the recruit
and the original support groups are the physical restraints placed upon communications and other
means of access to such groups. It is not unusual, especially in the early phases of conversion,
for contact with the world outside of the group to be almost entirely severed. This was true for
Patty Hearst, for religious cults such as the Unification Church, and for the Marines in bootcamp.
It is also true in some monasteries, in some drug rehabilitation programs, and in most POW
situations. Telephones may be non-existent in the conversion environment, or they may be only
available to established members or leaders. Sending and receiving of mail may not be possible,
or may be highly restricted, or as in Jonestown, highly censored. Even one-way communications,
such as receiving of news on the radio or television or from magazines and newspapers is
typically denied in conversion environments.
       Travel out of the group to regain contact with distant social support groups is also usually
prevented or severely restricted. Patty Hearst was, initially at least, prevented from leaving by
force, as are POW's. Jim Jones had possession of all the money as well as people's passports.
Marines in bootcamp would not be allowed during their 11 weeks of training to go home for the
weekend. In the Unification Church, such travel is strongly discouraged, and not often supported
except when outside forces are compelling some face-to-face contact. If it cannot be avoided, the
recruit is not allowed to go alone, and the extent of contact allowed is as minimal as possible.
       Psychological Unavailability of External Social Support. A very powerful set of
techniques for minimizing the influence of original social support systems manages to do so by
inducing the potential recruit to voluntarily severe connections with such groups. How this is
done is quite variable, depending upon the nature of the group. In AA or drug rehabilitation,
minimizing of contact may be a condition of acceptance by the new group or by the program. If
participation in the program is voluntary, but is only allowed to individuals who agree to abide by
the condition of minimal outside contact, many will accept that condition. This is also true of
Marine bootcamp. Those in the program knew before they got in that this was a condition and
they accepted it. Nevertheless, in these examples, some element of coercion seems to exist, for
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources                                    Fragile Realities
rejection by the group is a possible consequence of violating the rules against outside contact.
The weakness of such a manipulation is that the recruits may still psychologically avail
themselves of support that comes from recalling, thinking about, fantasizing, or visualizing the
old support system. By imagining it vividly an individual might gain support from the
knowledge that the outside group is one to which important connections and a shared consensus
still exist.
         To undermine even the psychological support one might gain from thinking about the
outside group, the new recruit must be persuaded to believe that the connection no longer exists,
or that the consensus of the old group cannot be trusted.
         A common practice of many religious cult groups is to characterize outsiders as evil, as
agents of the devil. Even the suspicion, that the new group's characterization of the old one as
evil might be valid, is enough to reduce the trust one might have in the old group's consensus,
and to undermine the possible use of the outside group for social support. The old group, which
is now the outgroup, may be characterized not as evil, but simply as weak, stupid, immoral or
hypocritical. In the Marines, the very idea of "civilian" is reacted to with disdain. In a dialogue
recounted in Gwen Dyer's documentary on Marine bootcamp, a recruit being lectured concerning
his prior disobedience is asked by his drill instructor what he thinks will happen to him if he
violates an order again. The young man, choking back tears, says "Sir, I will probable go to jail,
sir." In all seriousness the drill instruction says no, it would be much worse than that, he would
return to life as a civilian. This tendency to view outside groups as grossly inferior to the ingroup
is pervasive in groups of all types, but is especially prevalent in cults and other powerful groups
such as the Marines. Research shows that such a bias occurs even without meaningful ingroup-
outgroup differences, and is more likely in individuals who score above the median on a measure
of "Authoritarianism," (Downing and Monaco, 1986). Once a recruit to the new group starts to
identify with it as an ingroup, all prior groups will become outgroups and the pervasive bias
against them will quickly undermine their ability to provide effective social support.
         The power of undermining the psychological availability of outside support groups is that
once this has been accomplished even close physical contact with them will be ineffective. This
is important, because eventually most converts, to provide adequate service to their new group,
will be required to interact with outsiders whose views are compatible with the old belief systems
they have rejected. I will have much more to say about this topic when I discuss "consolidation,"
which occurs as the final step in the six-component model of conversion.
Chapter 9: Undermining External Resources   Fragile Realities

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