Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More thoughts on the parental state

“Parental control,” in the scientific literature on parenting, usually refers to parental intrusiveness, or pressure, or the extent to which parents attempt to dominate their children’s lives. The opposite of control is “parental support for autonomy.” A contrast is often made between psychological control and behavioral control. Psychological control has to do with parental coercion and manipulation directed at children’s thoughts and feelings, whereas behavioral control includes such things as mentoring, monitoring, and setting rules.

Behavioral control tends to have positive effects on children, while psychological control has been linked to a variety of negative effects, including psychopathological conditions such as anxiety and clinical depression.   

Our consumer-based world is a world of arrested development and wide-spread infantilization: in effect. a society of children in perpetual need of corporate/governmental “parenting.”

Intrusive corporate marketing targets our underdeveloped emotions, grooming our fragile and easily manipulated emotional states through highly refined psychological devices. Paranoid governmental institutions direct and redirect our behavior through an escalating array of coercive tactics underwritten by violence and the threat of violence. 

A community with unanimously agreed-upon rules, and ways of coordinating behavior to everyone’s advantage that respect personal autonomy, provides a healthy backdrop for development of personal maturity. A society in which corporate interests establish the rules—where personal desire is manipulated to channel consumption for corporate advantage—is a society that breeds chronic immaturity, dependency, and psychopathology.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Are you my mother? Techno-propaganda in children’s literature

Voted as one of the most popular picture books of all time, P.D. Eastman’s 1960 classic, Are You My Mother, has an insidious—and blatantly obvious—message for young readers about the intrinsic beneficence of industrial technology. My parents were big Dr. Seuss fans, but not so much with Eastman, so I somehow missed reading this until my daughter inherited her own mother’s well-worn copy. I assume that it is now part of my granddaughter’s library.

Here's a nice youtube version. Propaganda always seems more easily digestible with an accent.

Briefly, it’s a story about a young bird that falls out of the nest and goes in search of its mother.  It runs into a variety of creatures, a cat, a hen, a dog, and a cow, among others, and asks them the question that is the title of the book. Things are looking pretty bleak for the little bird when it runs into "the snort," a giant, red, noisy, smoke-billowing mechanical creature (a steam shovel). The bird hops onto the toothy bucket of the machine and nervously asks it the question of the day. The machine responds by snorting loudly and carrying the by-now completely terrified bird up into the air and then drops it gently back into its nest, where the bird’s actual mother returns momentarily with a juicy worm for breakfast.

There are two related take-home messages here:  first, machines may look scary, but they really have our best interests at heart; second, mechanical technology (more specifically, technology that we don't personally comprehend) is how our problems get solved. 

The next generation of genetic modification or nanotech or weapons systems or crowd control technology may look scary, but it really has our best interests at heart.  

We are lost. We have lost track of our true home, and with it, contact with our authentic human nature. But there is a technological cure, an innovation just around the corner that is sure to make everything better. The next corporate digital distraction is sure to pick us up and sweep us right back to where we belong.    

Friday, March 22, 2013

Egoist anarchists and other mythical beasts

A great review of the book Enemies of Society here: 

The book is a collection of pieces that highlight “the egoist side” of the anarchist “family tree.” 

I haven’t read the anthology. And frankly, after reading the review, I’m not sure that I really want to. But the collectivist/egoist distinction is an interesting one.

I have always had a problem with the whole idea of old-school collectivist anarchism. The more socialistic versions seem to be an attempt to have and eat the same cake, to have voluntary and egalitarian participation while simultaneously retaining the ability to systematically structure human activity, as if it would be possible to equally partition the benefits of industrial technology and at the same time maintain the essential inequality of the industrial process itself. Anarchistic collectivism is possible, perhaps, but not without abandoning all technology more complex than simple craft.   

As for those folks on the egoist side of the anarchist family tree: I strongly suggest giving them a blood test. I think for the most part you’ll find a bunch of illegitimate Hobbesian red-in-tooth-and-claw bastards. The kind of self-serving individualism being offered by most of these “egoists” as a mode of social (dis)organization is a pathological reaction to the isolating effects of civilization, and in no way consistent with our evolved human design as social primates.

The low-tech lifestyles of our egalitarian foraging ancestors and our still extant but rapidly disappearing hunter-gatherer brothers and sisters seem to be ideal models of collectivist modes of living that also qualify as anarchistic. No bosses. No arbitrary social hierarchy. Free and voluntary association. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

On personal risk

An anonymous poem (?) found scrawled on a scrap of paper in a used bookstore:

Participation is a form of tacit approval. 
But rebellion is risky. 

At some point, the stakes get high enough to offset the risks. 

At some point continued participation becomes too risky—what price the loss of your soul? 

But between those two poles of personal risk lies a large gray wasteland, a foggy desert of self-doubt and self-loathing where one can get lost for an entire lifetime.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Granny git yer gun: an anti-civ thought experiment

The specter of public mass shootings by heavily armed psychopaths is not going to be reduced by stricter gun laws. If the goal is to reduce the fear and misery of living in the kind of society in which school kids and moviegoers and random drum majorettes and babies getting a diaper change in the backseat and [insert media example du jour here] can be shot dead at any moment, then a better option might be to arm everyone, without exception, from the moment they are old enough to pull a trigger.

[Disclaimer: Although I own guns, I am not now, and never have been, a member of the NRA (Neurotic Redneck Association? Nut-less Republican Ass-wipes?)] 

A thought experiment:

Suppose that, starting at the stroke of midnight tonight, all laws making murder with a gun a crime were eliminated forever. Anyone could kill anyone else for any reason without fear of legal repercussion. And further, suppose that instead of regulating people’s access to firearms, we made it so that everyone everywhere had the option of packing a loaded weapon at all times.

It would be chaos, of course, a total bloody mess. Paranoia and fear would be the order of the day. And there would very quickly be a whole lot of dead people. 

Here’s the "thought" part of the thought experiment:


What is it about the nature of our society that it would immediately disintegrate into total chaos (or, at least, everyone has been led to believe that this would happen) if not for the active presence of an enormous corpus of laws and policies and regulations—and heavily armed systems of enforcement sanctioned to administer overwhelming violence to potential violators?

The Bushmen of the Kalahari don’t have any official courts of law. Nor do they have any law enforcement officers. Nor do they have anything that really corresponds to the idea of a law. Instead, they have traditional "expectations" with respect to how people should treat each other.

One group in particular also has a lot of poison arrows. In fact, just about everyone has them. And if someone wants to commit murder, it is extremely easy to do and the chances of getting caught are close to zero. And even if you are caught, you have little more than potential social disapprobation—and maybe a vengeful widow—to worry about. Despite this, community life is generally peaceful and highly congenial.  Although murder happens now and then, it is exceedingly rare.

There are, of course, numerous differences between civilization and an authentic human lifestyle that might account for this. But they all converge on the simple fact that in a hunter-gatherer band each person has direct access to the resources—physical, technological, and social resources—necessary for full involvement in community life. Individual people have very little in the way of power to restrict, direct, regulate, or otherwise control access for anyone else. 

Civilization, by definition, is a collection of systems of mediation in which an individual’s access to resources to satisfy his or her own needs is systematically regulated and controlled by other people, a tiny minority of whom are granted immensely greater access. If everyone were given equal access, and the power to dispatch anyone who tried to obstruct that access, civilization (and especially the tiny minority who now enjoy disproportionate access) would evaporate overnight. 
The end of civilization would mean the end of weapons manufacturing plants and, with time, the end of anything more powerful than poison arrows. But more than this, it would mean a return to modes of living based on direct-access, and with them, a loss of much of the need for weapons in the first place.