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Q&A

How to go from a free person to a slave

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This question is a little nebulous unfortunately and perhaps a bit disturbing.

The evil-empire in my WIP captures Mages and breaks them down into loyal and obedient servants. The Mages aren't as dehumanized as the Sul'dam, no their breaking is much slower and insidious working on both mundane and magical levels and, if executed successfully, produces true subservience and loyalty.

It is from the mundane side of training and conditioning.

So I ask what are some of the techniques and practices used to breakdown an individual's will and recondition them specifically to servitude?

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4 answers

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It's different for every person. There won't be any guaranteed method that operates on human psychology (without magic).

If you keep them for long enough then one effect might be Stockholm Syndrome. Over all situations this is not very common, occurring in about 8% of hostage situations. It's a strange thing that people do, kind of similar to battered person syndrome. With no guaranteed way to achieve this the attrition rate for captured Mages will be quite high.

If you allow the use of magic, including devices like for the Sul'dam, then things become a little easier.

The trick is the same as for training any animal (including humans), consistency. With consistent, unfailing feedback on actions that are ok and those that are not ok a person can be trained to be subservient in far less time with much better results. This is the principle that makes things like shock collars for dogs incredibly effective. It is also the reason people don't try to walk through walls on a normal basis, because the wall always wins.

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DJMethaneMan was IMHO on the right track. These mages would essentially be similar to slave soldiers such as Janissaries or Mamluks. So recruit young, strict discipline etc. And yes, the methods are not really that different from those use by any other military. Discipline is discipline. The difference is that it would encompass the entire life from early on to the grave.

But those wikipedia links should give you some ideas.

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My father was in the USMC and they screamed and exercised his defiance out of him. If he didn't exercise and obey he got beat up (it was in the late 60's) and screamed at until he did. After a while he mindlessly obeyed without question. Run your future slaves through some sort of boot camp where those who don't make it get executed. Break their will this way and build them back up to live to serve you.

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To break people, recruit them into a cult.

Steven Hassan has written several books about the mind control practiced by destructive cults. The acronym BITE refers to Hassan's four factors of brainwashing: behavior control, information control, thought control, and emotional control.

  • Behavior control: The organization teaches believers to behave without questioning, not to associate with outsiders, and to spend time performing rituals or proselytizing.
  • Information control: The organization is the only source of truth; other sources of information shall be distrusted.
  • Thought control: Believers are expected to internalize the organization's doctrine as "truth". They are encouraged to adopt an us-and-them mentality and refrain from critical thinking.
  • Emotion control: Associating love with the organization. Guilt. Fear of the outside. Fear of punishment for not meeting the organization's standards, up to and including everlasting punishment.

See also more details about BITE and how it applies to human trafficking.

In fact, several real-world religions have been accused of practicing BITE techniques, especially Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons. Jehovah's Witnesses in particular are known to use shunning to cut off former members from their families. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS, Daesh) uses BITE as well, according to Hassan's article in HuffPost.

Try to catch the mages when they're children, before they've been given a chance to go to a more relatively mainstream magic school such as Hogwarts. Children are especially vulnerable to BITE techniques.

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