The sign that Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz held up Tuesday night at the Tannenbaum Chabad House read “Please keep off the the grass.”
When the 40 people in the audience were asked if the sign read “Please keep off the grass,” half of them raised their hands.
“It’s because you’re so used to the phrase ‘Keep off the grass,’ ” Kravitz said. “That’s what you’re accustomed to seeing, so that’s what you read.”
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Kravitz identified this behavior, known as “auto-pilot,” as an example of methods of persuasion and brainwashing, in his lecture titled, “The Power of Persuasion: What do Cults, Telemarketers and Terrorists have in common?” Kravitz, a chaplain with the Los Angeles Police Department and a founder of “Jews for Judaism,” is currently on a speaking tour around Chicago.
Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein said he invited Kravitz to Northwestern because his message of critical thought is central to Judaism.
“Judaism doesn’t want you to practice Judaism in a ‘blind faith,’ ” the Tannenbaum Chabad House rabbi said. “Judaism wants you to exercise your mind, to utilize that beautiful gift that God has given us called ‘free choice.’ ”
Over the course of the two-hour lecture, Kravitz presented ideas on how different groups use dishonest methods of persuasion to achieve their goals. He drew upon historical examples, personal anecdotes and first-person demonstrations. To illustrate how common product placement is, he pointed to the television show “24.” In one episode, Jack Bauer’s office used Apple computers, but in the next episode, the office had Dells.
“What happened was Apple paid for the first week and Dell paid for the next,” Kravitz said. “Whether it’s ethical or unethical, (persuasion) is everywhere.”
Kravitz also discussed American cults such as the Branch Davidian movement, and terrorists from unlikely backgrounds such as John Walker Lindh,. He used Dr. Margaret Singer‘s theory of the “5 D’s” – deceit, dependency, debilitation, dread and desensitization – to explain how people can be tricked into joining a cult or terrorist organization.
Deceit is the key difference between trying to convince someone of a point of view and trying to indoctrinate them to that belief, Kravitz said.
“Everyone has the right to say what they want,” Kravitz said. “But if they’re deceiving you, then they are taking away your right to decide.”
While Kravitz said that the open forum of universities makes students especially susceptible to misinformation, Klein said NU’s recognized religious groups aren’t “high pressure.”
“Do we occasionally have people who join cults on campus?” Klein asked. “We do. But we’re on a campus where diversity is so embraced that really hard, targeting evangelizing doesn’t really happen.”
Weinberg freshman Adam Janet said he was impressed with the lecture.
“I felt like the main point was to take everything with a grain of salt and not to believe anything blindly,” he said.