30 June 2015


The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts

Heroism can be defined as having four key features:
·       it must be engaged in voluntarily
·       it must involve a risk or potential sacrifice, such as the threat of death, immediate threat of physical integrity, a long-term threat to health, or the potential for serious degradation of one’s quality of life
·       it must be conducted in service to one or more other people or the community as a whole
·       it must be without secondary, extrinsic gain anticipated at the time of the act.

The physical risk demanded of civilians who act heroically differs from a soldier’s or first responder’s heroic acts, because professionals are bound by duty and a code of conduct and because they are trained but the style of engagement and potential sacrifice the action demands is very similar.

Other forms of personal risk that qualify as heroic acts include risks to one’s career, the possibility of imprisonment, of the loss of status. For example, heroism might include persistent behavior in the face of known long-term threats to health or serious financial consequences; to the loss of social or economic status; or to ostracism. Sacrifice entails costs that are not time-limited. Typically, civil heroes have the opportunity to carefully review their actions and to weigh the consequences of their decisions, including arrest, imprisonment, torture, and risk to family members, and even assassination. This broadens the definition of heroism considerably. Some forms of apparent heroism might not be heroic but pseudo-heroic.

15 June 2015

Elite Institutions

The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, 1956, Excerpts
No one can be truly powerful unless he has access to the command of major institutions, for it is over these institutional means of power that the truly powerful are powerful. By the power elite, we refer to those political, economic, and military circles which as an intricate set of overlapping cliques share decisions having at least national consequences. In so far as national events are decided, the power elite are those who decide them.

At the pinnacle of each of the three enlarged and centralized domains, there have arisen those higher circles which make up the economic, the political, and the military elites. At the top of the economy, among the corporate rich, there are the chief executives; at the top of the political order, the members of the political directorate; at the top of the military establishment, the elite of soldier-statesmen clustered in and around the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the upper echelon. As each of these domains has coincided with the others, as decisions tend to become total in their consequences, the leading men in each of the three domains of power – the warlords, the corporation chieftains, the political directorate – tend to come together, to form the power elite of America.

Just who exactly is going to the Bilderberg meeting?
10 Jun 2015

The Bilderberg meeting, an annual gathering of some of the most powerful and influential figures in the world, starts on Thursday [Austria]. But who's on this year's guest list? Critics call it a sinister conspiracy, reinforcing without accountability the dominance of a transatlantic capitalist cabal. Those involved say it's merely an informal way to understand better the way the world works and to share their expertise to improve it. Whatever one's view, an invitation to the four-day Bilderberg meeting is a sign that someone has arrived as a politician, business leader, administrator or opinion-influencer.

13 June 2015

Ingrid Betancourt - FARC Prisoner 6 Years

Ingrid Betancourt was born Dec 25, 1961, in Bogota, Columbia. As a politician and a presidential candidate, she was celebrated for her determination to combat widespread corruption. In 2002 she was taken hostage by the FARC, a Columbian guerrilla organization. For six years, the FARC held her hostage in the Columbian jungle. She was rescued on July 2, 2008.

Ingrid Betancourt, without proselytizing politics, describes the day-to-day experiences and struggles of being a war zone hostage, along with other hostages, in primitive jungle conditions, constantly on the move. At one point, she aptly references the Stanford Prisoner Experiment, consciously aware of the psychological horror in her own prison/guard relationships, while trying to maintain her own humanity. This was her uncertain daily reality for six years.

Her book is the perfect companion book to The Lucifer Effect.

Even Silence has an End by Ingrid Betancourt, 2010, Excerpt
My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle

A few months before my abduction, I’d switched on the television and come on a fascinating documentary. In the 1970s, Stanford University had undertaken a simulation of prison conditions to study the behavior of ordinary people. The findings were astonishing. Well-balanced, normal young people disguised as guards, with the power to open and close doors, turned into monsters. Other young people, equally well balanced and normal, masquerading as prisoners, let themselves be mistreated. One guard dragged a prisoner over to a closet, where he could only stand, not sit, and left him there for hours, until he passed out. It was a game. However, faced with peer pressure, only one of them had been able to react “out of character” and demand that the experiment be stopped.

I know that FARC was playing with fire. That we were in an enclosed world, without cameras, without witnesses, at the mercy of our jailers. For weeks I had observed the behavior of these armed children, forced to act as adults. I could already detect all the symptoms of a relationship that could easily degenerate and turn poisonous. I thought it was possible to fight against it, by preserving one’s own character. But I also knew that peer pressure could turn those children into the guardians of hell.

When you’re chained by the neck to a tree, and deprived of all freedom – the freedom to move around, to talk, to eat, to drink, to carry out your most basic bodily needs – well, it took me several years to realize it, but you still have the most important freedom of all, which no one can take away from you: that is the freedom to choose what kind of person you want to be.

12 June 2015

The War on Terror

The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts

The central premise of The War on Terror following the attacks of September 11, 2001 is that terrorism is the primary threat to national security and to the homeland and that it must be opposed by all means necessary. This ideological foundation has been used by virtually all nations as a device for gaining popular and military support for aggression, as well as repression. It was used freely by right-wing dictatorships in Brazil, Greece, and many other nations in the 1960s and ‘70s to justify torture and death-squad executions of their citizens who were positioned as the enemies of the state.

Fear is the State’s psychological weapon of choice to frighten citizens into sacrificing their basic freedoms and rule-of-law protections in exchange for the security promised by their all-powerful government. Fear is a method [French existentialist author Albert Camus]. Terror makes fear, and fear stops people from thinking rationally. It makes people think in abstractions about the enemy, the terrorists, the insurgents who threaten us, who thus must be destroyed. Once we begin thinking of people as a class of entities, as abstractions, then they meld into “faces of the enemy,” and primitive impulses to kill and torture them surface even among ordinarily peaceful people. Fear was the linchpin that gained the majority support of the U.S. public.

The issue here is that by arousing and sustaining fear of an enemy at our gates, the Bush administration was able to position the president as the Almighty Commander in Chief of a nation at war. By calling himself “commander in chief” and vastly expanding the powers granted him by Congress, President Bush and his advisors came to believe that they were above national and international law and that therefore any of their policies were legal simply by asserting them in a newly recast official legal interpretation. The seeds for the flowers of evil that blossomed in that dark dungeon of Abu Ghraib were planted by the Bush administration in its triangular framing of national security threats, citizen fear and vulnerability, and interrogation/torture to win the war on terror.

11 June 2015

War Transforms

The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts

War provides the institutionally approved permission to kill or wound one’s adversaries. Most wars are about old men persuading young men to harm and kill other young men like themselves. A key ingredient in transforming ordinarily non-aggressive young men into warriors who can kill on command if first to change their external appearance, altering their usual external facade by putting on military uniforms or masks or painting their faces. With the anonymity thus provided in place, out go their usual internal compassion and concern for others

In all wars, at all times, in every country, wars transform ordinary, even good men into killers. That is what soldiers are trained to do, to kill their designated enemies. However, under the extreme stresses of combat conditions, with fatigue, fear, anger, hatred, and revenge at full throttle, men can lose their moral compass and go beyond killing enemy combatants. Unless military discipline is strictly maintained and every soldier knows he bears personal responsibility for his actions, which are under surveillance by senior officers, then the furies are released in unimaginable orgies of rape and murder of civilians as well by enemy soldiers. We know such loss was true at My Lai and in other less well-known military massacres, such as those of the “Tiger Force” in Vietnam. This elite fighting unit left a seven-month-long trail of executions of unarmed civilians. Sadly, the brutality of war that spills over from the battlefield to the hometown has become true again in Iraq.

Wartime atrocities occur in all wars and are committed by most occupying forces, even high tech ones. Combat is about stress, and criminal behavior toward civilians in a classic combat stress symptom. If you get enough soldiers into enough combat, some of them are going to murder civilians.

We must acknowledge that soldiers are well-trained killers who have successfully completed an intense learning experience in boot camp, with the battlefield as their testing ground. They must learn to suppress their prior moral training guided by the commandment “thou shalt not kill.” New military training is known as the science of “killology.” This term was coined by LtCol Dave Grossman, now a West Point professor of military science, is elaborated in his book On Killing.

 Photo Credit: Francoise Demulder 1976 Palestine

10 June 2015

Power Elite Propaganda

The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts

“The power elite is composed of men whose positions enable them to transcend the ordinary environments of ordinary men and women; they are in positions to make decisions having major consequences. They are in command of the major hierarchies and organizations of modern society. They rule the big corporations. They run the machinery of state and claim its prerogatives. They direct the military establishment. They occupy strategic command posts of the social structure, in which are now centered the effective means of power and the wealth and celebrity which they enjoy.  Whether they do or do not make decisions is less important that the fact that they do occupy such pivotal positions: their failure to act, their failure to make decisions, is itself an act that is often of greater significance than the decisions they do make.” [The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, 1956]

When a power elite wants to destroy an enemy nation, it turns to propaganda experts to fashion a program of hate. It requires a “hostile imagination,” a psychological construction embedded deeply in their minds by propaganda that transforms those others into “The Enemy.” That image is a soldier’s most powerful motive that loads his rifle with ammunition of hate and fear. The image of a dreaded enemy threatening one’s personal well-being and the society’s national security emboldens priorities to turn plowshares into swords of destruction.

It is all done with words and images. The process begins with creating stereotyped conceptions of the other, dehumanized perceptions of the other, the other as worthless, the other as all-powerful, the other as demonic, the other as an abstract monster, the other as a fundamental threat to our cherished values and beliefs. With public fear notched up and the enemy imminent, reasonable people act irrationally, independent people act in mindless conformity, and peaceful people act as warriors. Dramatic visual images of the enemy on posters, television, magazine covers, movies, and the Internet imprint powerful emotions of fear and hate.