This blog contains a talk I gave at The Program in Psychiatry and the Law on September 11, 2019. It was 18 years to the day that Al Queda made a horrific terrorist attack on the United States and killed thousands of innocent men, women and children and injured scores more. As you will hear in the video recording of my talk, I felt the need to acknowledge its personal as well as professional significance for me to be speaking about this topic, at The Program in Psychiatry and the Law, at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, 43 years after my deprogramming from the right-wing extremist Moon group. A destructive cult group that taught members that “democracy was satanic” and who sought to establish a theocracy with Moon as the messiah and his minions as his blind followers. I was trained to be blindly obedient and believe if commanded, I would have flown a plane into a World Trade Center building. Horrifying, but I know I was that thoroughly programmed. It was this realization after my deprogramming that has motivated me to research, publish and create more public awareness to the dangers of radicalization.
I had planned to deliver two talks at the International Academy of Law and Mental Health International Congress in Rome, Italy the third week of July. However, the top leadership of IALMH received credible threats that the entire scholarly meeting, with some 1400 scholars, would be canceled if I was allowed to attend and present. This was the first time anyone I have spoken with was aware of a major international scientific conference being threatened if a single person came and presented. It was certainly the first time it happened to IALMH. So with just three days before I planned to use my non-refundable ticket to fly to Rome, I was reassured that they understood I had published a peer-review Elsevier Journal article and that my work was respected. Indeed, I had presented at the previous IALMH Congress in Prague, Czechoslovakia. I was implored to please protect the Academy from potential bankruptcy. I was told that if I came and the meeting was canceled it would be catastrophic or if I attended and the meeting was not canceled they might wind up in endless litigation in Italy, another no-win proposition. I was promised full reimbursement of all my expenses, an apology letter from the IALMH leadership, and an invitation to do a special presentation in the next IALMH Congress in Lyon, France in 2021. I was also promised that if I did a talk and videotaped it at PIPATL, my presentation would be shared with the entire membership of IALMH via email. The video below is that talk! I found the subsequent discussion with members of the forensic think tank incredibly important and valuable.
It is significant and interesting to note that in the week proceeding this talk, we held a discussion about what took place with the threats to IALMH, and one of the psychiatrists brought up an important point that he strongly objected to the idea of attempting to alter the existing forensic definition of undue influence. This discussion continued over the email listserve and I shared that another option might be to use another term and thereby sidestep amending 500-year-old British legal history. My colleagues in the United Kingdom, including first and foremost Jon Atack, have been discussing the shift to the term “Coercive Control.” This seems to be an especially pragmatic approach since British lawmakers have in recent years instituted a law by that name. This law is currently focused on a man controlling a woman by psychological means and has made it a punishable crime. As you will hear in the video, my mentor Thomas Gutheil did weigh in his comments that he thought this would be a wise idea. For the British government report, visit here for pdf.
In October, Dr. Gutheil and I will be presenting at the annual meeting of the American Association of Psychiatry and the Law on the “Need to update the Law regarding the Definition of Undue Influence” and no doubt more discussion and feedback will be forthcoming. The important thing is that current neuroscience, the science of social psychology, hypnosis must be brought to educate Judges and juries around the world. The “rational agent” model that legal systems around the world have been using is frightfully out of date. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky did psychological research and showed that there were unconscious heuristics or models that humans use much of the time, as well as more careful, thoughtful, analytic thinking. Unfortunately, Dr. Tversky passed away before the Nobel prize for behavioral economics was given for their work. Since Dr. Kahneman survived him, the Nobel was awarded to him. I highly recommend his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Research like this must be incorporated by expert witnesses to help update the law’s understanding of human behavior to challenge the rational agent model.