Why Are Americans So Easy to Manipulate and Control?

By Bruce E. Levine [2] AlterNet [1] / October 11, 2012

Excerpt

What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism! — psychologist B.F. Skinner

The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals….

[Noam Chomsky and Lewis Mumford said] society ruled by benevolent control freaks—was antithetical to democracy...Behaviorism and consumerism, two ideologies which achieved tremendous power in the twentieth century, are cut from the same cloth. The shopper, the student, the worker, and the voter are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects…, there is an insidious incentive for control-freaks in society

The Anti-Democratic Nature of Behavior Modification

Behavior modification is fundamentally a means of controlling people and thus for Kohn, “by its nature inimical to democracy, critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants.”…

In democracy, citizens are free to think for themselves and explore, and are motivated by very real—not phantom—intrinsic forces, including curiosity and a desire for justice, community, and solidarity.

What is also scary about behaviorists is that their external controls can destroy intrinsic forces of our humanity that are necessary for a democratic society….

Behavior modification can also destroy our intrinsic desire for compassion, which is necessary for a democratic society…How, in a democratic society, do children become ethical and caring adults? They need a history of being cared about, taken seriously, and respected, which they can model and reciprocate…

Full text

What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism! — psychologist B.F. Skinner

The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals.

In psychologist B.F. Skinner’s best-selling book Beyond Freedom and Dignity [3] (1971), he argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behavior modification, which he claimed could create a better-organized and happier society.

During the height of Skinner’s fame in the 1970s, it was obvious to anti-authoritarians such as Noam Chomsky (“The Case Against B.F. Skinner” [4]) and Lewis Mumord that Skinner’s worldview—a society ruled by benevolent control freaks—was antithetical to democracy. In Skinner’s novel Walden Two (1948), his behaviorist hero states, “We do not take history seriously”; to which Lewis Mumford retorted, “And no wonder: if man knew no history, the Skinners would govern the world, as Skinner himself has modestly proposed in his behaviorist utopia.”

As a psychology student during that era, I remember being embarrassed by the silence of most psychologists about the political ramifications of Skinner and behavior modification.

In the mid-1970s, as an intern on a locked ward in a state psychiatric hospital, I first experienced one of behavior modification’s staple techniques, the “token economy.” And that’s where I also discovered that anti-authoritarians try their best to resist behavior modification. George was a severely depressed anti-authoritarian who refused to talk to staff but, for some reason, chose me to shoot pool with. My boss, a clinical psychologist, spotted my interaction with George, and told me that I should give him a token—a cigarette—to reward his “prosocial behavior.” I fought it, trying to explain that I was 20 and George was 50, and this would be humiliating. But my boss subtly threatened to kick me off the ward. So, I asked George what I should do.

George, fighting the zombifying effects of his heavy medication, grinned and said, “We’ll win. Let me have the cigarette.” In full view of staff, George took the cigarette and then placed it into the shirt pocket of another patient, and then looked at the staff shaking his head in contempt.

Unlike Skinner, George was not “beyond freedom and dignity.” Anti-authoritarians such as George—who don’t take seriously the rewards and punishments of control-freak authorities—deprive authoritarian ideologies such as behavior modification from total domination.

Behavior Modification Techniques Excite Authoritarians

If you have taken introductory psychology, you probably have heard of Ivan Pavlov’s “classical conditioning” and B.F. Skinner’s “operant conditioning.”

An example of Pavlov’s classical conditioning? A dog hears a bell at the same time he receives food; then the bell is sounded without the food and still elicits a salivating dog. Pair a scantily-clad attractive woman with some crappy beer, and condition men to sexually salivate to the sight of the crappy beer and buy it. The advertising industry has been utilizing classical conditioning for quite some time.

Skinner’s operant conditioning? Rewards, like money, are “positive reinforcements”; the removal of rewards are “negative reinforcements”; and punishments, such as electric shocks, are labeled in fact as “punishments.” Operant conditioning pervades the classroom, the workplace, and mental health treatment.

Skinner was heavily influenced by the book Behaviorism (1924) by John B. Watson. Watson achieved some fame in the early 1900s by advocating a mechanical, rigid, affectionless manner in child rearing. He confidently asserted that he could take any healthy infant and, given complete control of the infant’s world, train him for any profession. When Watson was in his early forties, he quit university life and began a new career in advertising at J. Walter Thompson.

Behaviorism and consumerism, two ideologies which achieved tremendous power in the twentieth century, are cut from the same cloth. The shopper, the student, the worker, and the voter are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects.

Who are Easiest to Manipulate?

Those who rise to power in the corporatocracy are control freaks, addicted to the buzz of power over other human beings, and so it is natural for such authorities to have become excited by behavior modification.

Alfie Kohn, in Punished by Rewards (1993), documents with copious research how behavior modification works best on dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people. And so for authorities who get a buzz from controlling others, this creates a terrifying incentive to construct a society that creates dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people.

Many of the most successful applications of behavior modification have involved laboratory animals, children, or institutionalized adults. According to management theorists Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham in Work Redesign (1980), “Individuals in each of these groups are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they most want and need, and their behavior usually can be shaped with relative ease.”

Similarly, researcher Paul Thorne reports in the journal International Management (“Fitting Rewards,” 1990) that in order to get people to behave in a particular way, they must be “needy enough so that rewards reinforce the desired behavior.”

It is also easiest to condition people who dislike what they are doing. Rewards work best for those who are alienated from their work, according to researcher Morton Deutsch (Distributive Justice, 1985). This helps explain why attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-labeled kids perform as well as so-called “normals” on boring schoolwork when paid for it (see Thomas Armstrong’s The Myth of the A.D.D. Child, 1995). Correlatively, Kohn offers research showing that rewards are least effective when people are doing something that isn’t boring.

In a review of the literature on the harmful effects of rewards, researcher Kenneth McGraw concluded that rewards will have a detrimental effect on performance under two conditions: “first, when the task is interesting enough for the subjects that the offer of incentives is a superfluous source of motivation; second, when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not immediately obvious.”

Kohn also reports that at least ten studies show rewards work best on simplistic and predictable tasks. How about more demanding ones? In research on preschoolers (working for toys), older children (working for grades) and adults (working for money), all avoided challenging tasks. The bigger the reward, the easier the task that is chosen; while without rewards, human beings are more likely to accept a challenge.

So, there is an insidious incentive for control-freaks in society—be they psychologists, teachers, advertisers, managers, or other authorities who use behavior modification. Specifically, for controllers to experience the most control and gain a “power buzz,” their subjects need to be infantilized, dependent, alienated, and bored.

The Anti-Democratic Nature of Behavior Modification

Behavior modification is fundamentally a means of controlling people and thus for Kohn, “by its nature inimical to democracy, critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants.”

For Skinner, all behavior is externally controlled, and we don’t truly have freedom and choice. Behaviorists see freedom, choice, and intrinsic motivations as illusory, or what Skinner called “phantoms.” Back in the 1970s, Noam Chomsky exposed Skinner’s unscientific view of science, specifically Skinner’s view that science should be prohibited from examining internal states and intrinsic forces.

In democracy, citizens are free to think for themselves and explore, and are motivated by very real—not phantom—intrinsic forces, including curiosity and a desire for justice, community, and solidarity.

What is also scary about behaviorists is that their external controls can destroy intrinsic forces of our humanity that are necessary for a democratic society.

Researcher Mark Lepper was able to diminish young children’s intrinsic joy of drawing with Magic Markers by awarding them personalized certificates for coloring with a Magic Marker. Even a single, one-time reward for doing something enjoyable can kill interest in it for weeks.

Behavior modification can also destroy our intrinsic desire for compassion, which is necessary for a democratic society. Kohn offers several studies showing “children whose parents believe in using rewards to motivate them are less cooperative and generous [children] than their peers.” Children of mothers who relied on tangible rewards were less likely than other children to care and share at home.

How, in a democratic society, do children become ethical and caring adults? They need a history of being cared about, taken seriously, and respected, which they can model and reciprocate.

Today, the mental health profession has gone beyond behavioral technologies of control. It now diagnoses noncompliant toddlers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and pediatric bipolar disorder and attempts to control them [5] with heavily sedating drugs. While Big Pharma directly profits from drug prescribing, the entire corporatocracy benefits from the mental health profession’s legitimization of conditioning and controlling.

Bruce E. Levine [6], a practicing clinical psychologist, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His latest book is Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite [7]. His Web site is www.brucelevine.net [6]

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/why-are-americans-so-easy-manipulate-and-control

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bruce-e-levine
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beyond_Freedom_and_Dignity
[4] http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19711230.htm
[5] http://www.alternet.org/story/153634/7_reasons_america%27s_mental_health_industry_is_a_threat_to_our_sanity/?page=entire
[6] http://www.brucelevine.net/
[7] http://www.amazon.com/Get-Stand-Populists-Energizing-Corporate/dp/1603582983/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1292688109&sr=1-8
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/psychiatry-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/consumer
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/authoritarianism
[11] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

6 Right-Wing Zealots and the Crazy Ideas Behind the Most Outrageous Republican Platform Ever

By Peter Montgomery, AlterNet, August 28, 2012 |  

TAMPA, FLA. — The official 2012 Republican Party platform is a far-right fever dream, a compilation of pouting, posturing and policies to meet just about every demand from the overlapping Religious Right, Tea Party, corporate, and neo-conservative wings of the GOP. If moderates have any influence in today’s Republican Party, you wouldn’t know it by reading the platform. Efforts by a few delegates to insert language favoring civil unions, comprehensive sex education and voting rights for the District of Columbia, for example, were all shot down. Making the rounds of right-wing pre-convention events on Sunday, Rep. Michele Bachmann gushed [3] about the platform’s right-wing tilt, telling fired-up Tea Partiers that “the Tea Party has been all over that platform.”

Given the Republican Party’s hard lurch to the right, which intensified after the election of Barack Obama, the “most conservative ever” platform is not terribly surprising. But it didn’t just happen on its own. Here are some of the people we can thank on the domestic policy front.

1. Bob McDonnell. As platform committee chair, McDonnell made it clear he was not in the mood for any amendments to the draft language calling for a “Human Life Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution and legal recognition that the “unborn” are covered by the 14th Amendment (“personhood” by another name). McDonnell is in many ways the ideal right-wing governor: he ran as a fiscal conservative and governs like the Religious Right activist he has been since he laid out his own political platform in the guise of a master’s thesis at Pat Robertson’s Regent University.

His thesis argued [4] that feminists and working women were detrimental to the family, and that public policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals, or fornicators.” When running for governor of Virginia, McDonnell disavowed his thesis, but as a state legislator he pushed hard to turn those positions into policy. As the Washington Post noted, “During his 14 years in the General Assembly, McDonnell pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out in that research paper, including abortion restrictions, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor his view of the traditional family. In 2001, he voted against a resolution in support of ending wage discrimination between men and women.” As governor, McDonnell signed the kind of mandatory ultrasound law that is praised in this year’s platform. When his name was floated as a potential V.P. pick, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood decried [5] his “deeply troubling record on women’s health.”

2. Tony Perkins. Perkins heads the Family Research Council, whose Values Voter Summit is the Religious Right’s most important annual conference, where activists rub shoulders with Republican officials and candidates. Perkins bragged [6] in an email to his supporters how much influence he and his friend David Barton (see below) had on the platform. Perkins was an active member of the platform committee, proposing language to oppose school-based health clinics that provide referrals for contraception or abortion, and arguing for the strongest possible anti-marriage equality language. Perkins also introduced an amendment to the platform calling on the District of Columbia government to loosen its gun laws, which Perkins says still do not comply with recent Supreme Court rulings.

The media tends to treat Perkins, a telegenic former state legislator, as a reasonable voice of the Religious Right, but his record and his group’s positions prove otherwise. Perkins has been aggressively exploiting [7] the recent shooting at FRC headquarters to divert attention from the group’s extremism by claiming that the Southern Poverty Law Center was irresponsible in calling FRC a hate group. Unfortunately for Perkins, the group’s record of promoting hatred toward LGBT people is well-documented. Perkins has even complained that the press and President Obama were being too hard on Uganda’s infamous “kill the gays” bill, which he described [7] as an attempt to “uphold moral conduct.” It’s worth remembering that Perkins ran a 1996 campaign for Louisiana Senate candidate Woody Jenkins that paid $82,600 to David Duke for the Klan leader’s mailing list; the campaign was fined [8] by the FEC for trying to cover it up.

3. David Barton. Texas Republican activist and disgraced Christian-nation “historian” Barton has had a tough year, but Tampa has been good to him. He was perhaps the most vocal member of the platform committee, and was a featured speaker at Sunday’s pre-convention “prayer rally.” During the platform committee’s final deliberations, Barton couldn’t seem to hear his own voice often enough. He was the know-it-all nitpicker, piping up with various language changes, such as deleting a reference to the family as the “school of democracy” because families are not democracies. He thought it was too passive to call Obamacare an “erosion of” the Constitution and thought it should be changed to an “attack on” the founding document. He called for stronger anti-public education language and asserted that large school districts employ one administrator for every teacher. He backed anti-abortion language, tossing out the claim that 127 medical studies over five decades say that abortion hurts women.

Progressives have been documenting Barton’s lies for years, but more recently conservative evangelical scholars have also been hammering [9] his claims about American history. The critical chorus got so loud that Christian publishing powerhouse Thomas Nelson pulled Barton’s most recent book – which, ironically, purports to correct “lies” about Thomas Jefferson – from the shelves. Of course, Barton has had plenty of practice at this sort of thing, from producing bogus [10] documentaries [10] designed to turn African Americans against the Democratic Party to pushing his religious and political ideology into Texas textbooks [11]. Barton’s right-wing friends like Glenn Beck have rallied around him. And nothing seems to tarnish Barton with the GOP allies for whom he has proven politically useful over the years.

4. Kris Kobach. Kris Kobach wants to be your president one day; until now, he has gotten as far as Kansas Secretary of State. He may be best known as the brains behind Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, and he successfully pushed for anti-immigrant language in the platform, including a call for the federal government to deny funds to universities that allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition – a plank that puts Kobach and the platform at odds with Kansas law. Immigration is not Kobach’s only issue. He is an energizing force behind the Republican Party’s massive push for voter suppression laws around the country, and he led the effort to get language inserted into the platform calling on states to pass laws requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration.

He also pushed language aimed at the supposed threat to the Constitution and laws of the US from “Sharia [12] law”; getting this language into the platform puts the GOP in the position of endorsing a ludicrous far-right conspiracy theory. Kobach hopes that will give activists a tool for pressuring more states to pass their own anti-Sharia laws. In the platform committee, he backed Perkins’ efforts to maintain the strongest language against marriage equality. Even an amendment to the marriage section saying that everyone should be treated “equally under the law” as long as they are not hurting anyone else, was shot down by Kobach. Kobach also claims [13] he won support for a provision to oppose any effort to limit how many bullets can go into a gun’s magazine.

5. James Bopp. James Bopp is a Republican lawyer and delegate from Indiana whose client list is a who’s-who of right-wing organizations, including National Right to Life and the National Organization for Marriage, which he has represented [14] in its efforts to keep political donors secret. As legal advisor to Citizens United, Bopp has led legal attacks on campaign finance laws and played a huge role in the issue of unlimited right-wing cash flooding our elections. Bopp chaired this year’s platform subcommittee on “restoring constitutional government,” which helps explain its strong anti-campaign finance reform language.

Bopp is also an annoyingly petty partisan, having introduced [15] a resolution in the Republican National Committee in 2009 urging the Democratic Party to change its name to the “Democrat Socialist Party.” In this year’s platform committee, Bopp successfully pushed for the removal of language suggesting that residents of the District of Columbia might deserve some representation in Congress short of statehood. His sneering comments [16], and his gloating fist [17]- [17]pump [17] when the committee approved his resolution, have not won him any friends among DC residents – not that he cares. He also spoke out against a young delegate’s proposal that the party recognize civil unions, which Bopp denounced [18] as “counterfeit marriage.” In spite of all these efforts, Bopp has been at the forefront of Romney campaign platform spin, arguing [19] in the media that the platform language on abortion is not really a “no-exceptions” ban, in spite of its call for a Human Life Amendment and laws giving 14th Amendment protections to the “unborn.”

6. Dick Armey. Former Republican insider Dick Armey now runs FreedomWorks, the Koch [20]- [20]backed [20], [20]corporate [20]- [20]funded [20], [20]Murdoch [20]- [20]promoted [20] Tea Party astroturfing group – or, in its words, a “grassroots service center.” Armey has been a major force behind this year’s victories of Tea Party Senate challengers like Ted Cruz in Texas and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both of whom knocked off “establishment” candidates. FreedomWorks also backed Rand Paul in Kentucky and Mike Lee in Utah in 2010. As Adele Stan has reported [21], FreedomWorks’ goal is to build a cadre of far-right senators to create a “power center around Jim DeMint,” the Senate’s reigning Tea Party-Religious Right hero.

To put Armey’s stamp on the platform, FreedomWorks created a “Freedom Platform” project, which enlisted Tea Party leaders to come up with proposed platform planks and encouraged activists to vote for them online. Then FreedomWorks pushed the party to include these planks in the official platform:

•Repeal Obamacare; pursue patient-centered care

•Stop the tax hikes

•Reverse Obama’s spending increases

•Scrap the tax code; replace with a flat tax

•Pass a balanced budget amendment

•Reject cap and trade

•Rein in EPA

•Unleash America’s vast energy potential

•Eliminate the Department of Education

•Reduce the bloated federal workforce

•Curtail excessive federal regulation

•Audit the fed

An Ohio Tea Party Group, Ohio Liberty Coalition, celebrated [22] that 10 of 12 made it to the draft – everything but the flat tax and eliminating the Department of Defense. But FreedomWorks gave itself a more generous score, arguing [23] for an 11.5 out of 12. FreedomWorks vice president Dean Clancy said the platform’s call for a “flatter” tax “opens the door to a flat tax” and said they considered the education section of the platform a “partial victory” because it includes “a very strong endorsement of school choice, including vouchers.”

Honorable mention: Mitt Romney. This is his year, his party and his platform. The entire Republican primary was essentially an exercise in Romney moving to the right to try to overcome resistance to his nomination from activists who distrusted his ideological authenticity. The last thing the Romney campaign wanted was a fight with the base, like the one that happened in San Diego in 1996, when Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition delighted in publicly humiliating nominee Robert Dole over his suggestion that the GOP might temper its anti-abortion stance. Romney signaled his intention to avoid a similar conflict when he named Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to chair the platform committee.

Keeping Everybody Happy

The new GOP platform reflects Romney’s desire to placate every aspect of the party’s base. It also demonstrates both the continuing [24] power [24] of the Religious Right within the GOP, as well as ongoing efforts [25] to erase any distinctions between social conservatives and anti-government zealots, as demonstrated by Ralph Reed welcoming [26] Grover Norquist to his Faith and Freedom coalition leadership luncheon on Sunday.

 

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/6-right-wing-zealots-and-crazy-ideas-behind-most-outrageous-republican-platform-ever
Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/peter-montgomery
[3] http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/right-wing-finally-unites-behind-romney-anti-obama-hate-fest-tampa?akid=9276.229476.pdsq0L&rd=1&src=newsletter699502&t=3&paging=off
[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/29/AR2009082902434.html
[5] http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/abortion/236437-mcdonnell-tied-to-ultrasound-law-in-planned-parenthood-attack
[6] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/religious-righting-republican-platform
[7] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/religious-right-exploiting-tragedy-blunt-criticism-its-extremism
[8] http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2012/08/flashback-federal-election-commission.html
[9] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/even-more-conservative-scholars-publicly-question-david-bartons-scholarship
[10] http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/david-barton-propaganda-masquerading-history
[11] http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/texas-textbooks-what-happened-what-it-means-and-what-we-can-do-about-it
[12] http://www.salon.com/2012/08/21/gop_embraces_anti_sharia/
[13] http://www.kansas.com/2012/08/23/2460486/kobach-adds-touches-to-republican.html
[14] http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2012/06/board-investigating-complaint-marriage-groups-refusal-disclose-donors
[15] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0409/21638.html
[16] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/gop-platform-committee-disses-dc
[17] http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/dc+statehood+bopp.gif
[18] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0812/79936.html
[19] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/24/did-republicans-actually-endorse-a-full-abortion-ban-maybe-not/
[20] http://www.alternet.org/story/148598/tea_party_inc.%3A_the_big_money_and_powerful_elites_behind_the_right_wing%27s_latest_uprising
[21] http://www.alternet.org/hot-news-views/tea-partys-cruz-vanquishes-gop-pick-us-senate-texas-run
[22] http://www.ohiolibertycoalition.org/republican-platform-committee-accepts-10-of-12-tea-party-platform-issues/
[23] http://www.freedomworks.org/press-releases/republican-party-adopts-majority-of-tea-party’s-“f
[24] http://www.alternet.org/story/153949/5_signs_the_christian_right_still_wields_too_much_power_in_america
[25] http://www.alternet.org/story/150622/tea_party_jesus%3A_koch%27s_americans_for_prosperity_sidles_up_to_religious_right_for_2012_campaign
[26] http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/right-wing-finally-unites-behind-romney-anti-obama-hate-fest-tampa?akid=9276.229476.pdsq0L&rd=1&src=newsletter699502&t=3
[27] http://www.alternet.org/tags/election-2012
[28] http://www.alternet.org/tags/kobach
[29] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mcdonnell-0
[30] http://www.alternet.org/tags/romney-0
[31] http://www.alternet.org/tags/armey
[32] http://www.alternet.org/tags/barton
[33] http://www.alternet.org/tags/perkins
[34] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bopp