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Institutionalization, Coercion, and Hegemony

by Ren Sun Apr 8th, 2007 at 06:33:02 PM EST

This is my first diary entry since I joined the board some 1000 members ago.  I believe that's over a year back now.  I seem to remember that I've had a few posts way back then, possibly about Peak Oil.  I've been here to read a number a time and I keep meaning to get active, but I've been busy, and I admit that my html is about 12 rusty years behind me and that was initially inhibitive.  Any way, I am going to finally post something.

I was about to post on something about the Lucifer Effect, based on Dr. Zimbardo's famous -- or infamous, depending on one's perspective -- Stanford Prison Experiment.  Fortunately I noticed Robert Feinman's related post and so I've recast this slightly to emphasize what I perceive as a different focus from his.  Though cross fertilization is not out of the question.

Institutionalization -- Coercive and Hegemonic

I have never liked the easthetic feel I get when I think or say the word "hegemony." The accompanying sensation is one of breathing through a dank, brown sponge filled with spores of mildew.  There's probably some psychological subtext in that for me.  However, I find myself able to use it more after hearing this somewhat homespun and refreshingly clear explanation in an audio of a talk Stan Goff gave at a University in Maine last year, titled Iraq and Exterminism.  Here's what he said:

It's much easier to exercise control over a population whenever they consent to their own domination. They sort of accept the official story, accept the official ideology and then we all just sort of go around and cooperate. That kind of control, where we internalize the control, is hegemony. Where when I come up and hold a gun on you and you do it out of naked fear, that's coercion. And the idea is you've got sort of hegemony on one pole, exercising ruling class power and coercion on the other pole and as hegemony fails then coercion becomes the more prominent instrument.

As we look around the world right now, Latin America in particular, we are seeing a sort of continental drift with a definite shift to the left, and it's created all sorts of political instability... The immiseration of the people on the periphery in the world system right now has doubled over the past thirty years. Globally hegemony is not working any more.

As hegemony breaks down as a method of control, which is an indication of a larger sort of crisis of the system itself, then coercion becomes more and more the instrument. What we are seeing is just an acceleration of that process where the neocons sort of jumped on this "surprise from the sky" on 911, the acceleration of an agenda that was already inevitable, hegemony was always going to give way to coercion at some point.

A prison is perhaps the most overt, and depending on your perspective, extreme version of coercive institutionalization of power in U.S. society, and as best I can understand them from a distance, those of most European countries. With some contemplation we can find many elements of institutionalization in other systemic forms of our society, much of which I suspect many take for granted. Nearly all of us undoubtedly experienced our endoctrination to institutional forms during our primary and secondary schooling process, and it will be found in many work environments, like corporations, and in the bureaucracies of government. Much of that people take for granted as the way it needs to be.  So much of our day to day life entails going through various institutional environments.  To a great extent we are so well adapted to the rules of behavior involved we hardly notice them.

In reference to that I'd like to offer some reading that discusses the issue of dress code in a business environment and its relationship to controlling behavior in a work environment: The Low-Down On Dressing-Down.

To the extent that we don't question this daily process and what it entails, or even moreso, when, if questions are raised, we argue in favor of it, as if it were the only way things could be, or certainly the best of any possibilities, I suggest we are engaging in what Stan Goff described above as hegemony.  We are aligned in some way or another with the very basis of our society and what gives it whatever power and force it may have as whole "integrated" collective. In his penetrating and insightful propaganda studies, Jacques Ellul has identified that more or less enculturated behavior, as sociologists might think of it, in what he identifies as sociological and integrative propaganda.  Integral with that his his recognition that modern society itself has taken on a unique systemic characteristic related to its technologically oriented character, which invokes a kind of necessary process of productive efficiency as a  maplike overly over social relationships.

Those of us who have been in the military and through a boot camp experience, have experienced the closest form of institutionalized power -- that I am familiar with -- to a prison environment, and a prison environment was supposed to be the basis of the institutionalization acted out in that 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment.  There are some very key features involved: objectification, dehumanization, and a stripping of individuality to create a sense of uniformity and anonymity.  I like to keep them in mind as I ask other questions about institutionalization.

I want to link this article: The Stanford Prison Experiment: Still powerful after all these years?

I'm interested in why authority works both in a prison setting and in society. So is Zimbardo, especially it seems after the way his experiment went. I don't see "society" and a prison as necessarily distinct or seperate issues once the notion of "institutionalization" is added to the mix.  Zimbardo's experiment raised some serious questions about the institutionalization of power and inherent features built into institutional power that appear to effect behavior, potentially in all of us, in ways that are not necessarily obvious. It can raise some very serious questions about our own sense of autonomy, our range of self actuation, and perhaps our own self conceived heroic efforts to be good persons in the world.

From that article I linked above:

Zimbardo's primary reason for conducting the experiment was to focus on the power of roles, rules, symbols, group identity and situational validation of behavior that generally would repulse ordinary individuals. "I had been conducting research for some years on deindividuation, vandalism and dehumanization that illustrated the ease with which ordinary people could be led to engage in anti-social acts by putting them in situations where they felt anonymous, or they could perceive of others in ways that made them less than human, as enemies or objects," Zimbardo told the Toronto symposium in the summer of 1996.

Most of us may be confident about our sense of individuality and may believe that we are immune to the effect a systemic institutionalization of power can have on our behavior. This experiment raises questions that may challenge such beliefs. The question I have asked about it, since I first heard of it years ago, is what psychological effect institutionalization of power has on each of us, subtly or overtly, since we are always engaged in various ways with these environments? And what, if anything, can we do about it? Is it possible that by knowing and understanding it better, we can in some way mitigate those affects? Or is it even possible that some people, for various reasons, would rather not?

On a bit more hopeful a note, Dr. Zimbardo concludes that resistance is not futile, though awareness to what needs resisting is important in the process.  He has a section on his website The Lucifer Effect offering strategies for developing awarness and "Resisting Influence.

Over here many actually believe.  Coming to grips and grasping the concepts, I mean the true depth and vastness of the control mechanisms employed against the population of America is just mind boggling.
To most I am seen as a raving lunatic.

I like that one.  I know there is the Overton window and lots of other more acceptable mainstream ones.

These things though take time and time is something I don't think we have.  I even theorize as to the amount of division prevalent in the event of a major catastrophy.  We would revert back to a local feudalism.  In this scenario knowing everything might be a survival asset as one could adapt to the prescribed pablum of the majority of wherever one might end up.  Ideals be damned in an environment of simple survival so to speak.

I hang onto my memories.  I have had a good life.
On a warm summer night my wife and I came down the mountain on a 4 wheel ATV.  Bugs flashed like streaks across the headlights as we headed back to camp on this old mountain logging road.  We were going 35 miles per hour when we spotted two moose cantering down the very same road in front of us.  One even kicked up some rocks which just missed me.  I can almost touch these majestic creatures and they seem content to go upon their way.  My wife is pounding my back now saying don't get too close and we follow for almost a half mile but I slow down and increase the distance between us.  A fork in the road comes up and the moose in the rear stops and turns its head my way.  Her long legs support a body I could almost ride under. She stares at me for a second as I lock up the brakes then continues on her way.

It is one of the memories of nature I cherish.  Perhaps that is our problem.  Tech so removes us from nature we know not which end is up.  But here in America people would now dump on me for having the audacity to ride an ATV on a remote mountain road three years ago.  Well, it was fun, I used to be allowed to do it and at the time carbon footprints were not an "issue".

Yes, I can still tack up my Apocalyptic horse.

by Lasthorseman on Sun Apr 8th, 2007 at 09:04:33 PM EST
Extremely evil men and women who make up the world's power-elite have cleverly cultivated a virtual pasture so grass green that few people seldom, if ever, bother to look up from where they are grazing long enough to notice the brightly colored tags stapled to their ears.


I always kind of figured the vision of a Rollerball future was a form of feudalism as well. Think that's where all this is headed as the states ever more get back seats to the corporate collectives and their elites who revolve through our governments.  Halliburton I believe recently cut the apron strings and floated off to its own island somewhere.  The rise and fall of statism, you see?

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Sun Apr 8th, 2007 at 10:03:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am sure a mountain man would have more wildlife experiences than myself, but Lasthorseman have you been to Anchorage, Alaska.

On the Alaskan Highway on the way up I saw more bears but did see some moose.

The first moose I saw in Anchorage was when I was riding my bike down one of the many trails in the city and had to stop for a bull moose with a rack nearly my arm span. That was north of the airports and later when with my mom, dad and wife we saw another but smaller one just off a trail south of the airports. Definitely a little different to see a bull moose less than 10 feet away with nothing between you and his horns.

During the last winter there, we had 108" of snow for the winter. Then as the snow was melting I would see patches of moose droppings. I would throw them in my compost pile. And nearly every day as the snow melted I found another patch of brown little balls. They had spent a many nights on the side of my house stripping the bark off one of the trees.

And during the summer we would see the cows nearly every week in the neighborhood.

I guess I do have a question:

Over here many actually believe.  Coming to grips and grasping the concepts, I mean the true depth and vastness of the control mechanisms employed against the population of America is just mind boggling.

And how do you think that compares with other societies in the world?

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 12:28:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Have not been to Alaska but would like to.  My moose state is Maine.
As to the question how do we compare to other societies.  I am not aware of a society that has escaped.  Here even in German, the site das gibts doch nichts,is one of my kindred spirits.  
by Lasthorseman on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 07:42:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It may seem ironic that Americans, proud skeptics of government, might be falling to wide coersion. But the induced independece belief can be presicely a part of a totalitarian plan. Notice how the types who preach government skeptisism get into gevernment and prove that they should not have been trusted.

Along with the experiments of anti-social behaviours, are there any experiments done for (confirming or falsifying of) emphatically social behaviour? Don't we need to know how good people can be?

by das monde on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 01:59:18 AM EST
your comment reminded me of a quote i heard the other day:

'man needs the worst in him to achieve the best in him'.

it can be read in different ways, (like almost anything), but it gave me pause...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 03:19:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It may seem ironic that Americans, proud skeptics of government, might be falling to wide coersion.

Seems ironic, yes, but as I see it, the pride is based on quite an illusion.  Having been raised in the heavily indoctrinated illusion of American exceptionalism, and having somehow emerged from that particular form of brainwashing through grappling with the cognitive dissonance I experienced in certain life events, I am one who is somewhat conscious of the source of that pride, now.  I have also discovered that pointing it out to my fellow Americans must be done with great delicacy or not at all.  In fact, in many environments, not at all if one values one's health.

Whether there's an actual plan, or whatever, authoritarianism is embedded in the structures we find in cultural evolutions of institutionalism, is a question that for me remains open.  By I whole heartedly embrace your suggestion that the illusion of independence is integral to enticing the population to embrace the overall ideology in a hegemonic fashion.  That's how I'd try to formulate it.

I agree, we need to look into how we all can act "heroically" as Zimbardo puts it, in the face of what may be inhumanity, both to fellow humans and our entire biosphere, something we have only barely become acquainted with.  I'm not sure a study is needed, so much as the activity generated in becoming conscious by each one of us.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 12:17:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the general subject of the invention of coercion in our society, and the way it extends from jails to your office Open Space, Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish is a very important and interesting essay.

It talks about the creation of discipline, and ways to watch and punish those that stray from it ; how body techniques were invented and then forced upon the population, in order to coerce it into a "scientific" and "productive" social order. It deals with the panopticon as a paradigm of this new, carceral society. The prevalence of CCD cameras in the streets of major cities around the west is pretty much a new implementation of it...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 06:21:07 AM EST
Michel Foucault's  Discipline and Punish is a very important and interesting essay.

Thank you.  Definitely relevant to my interests.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 12:22:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think people may get confused on the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Democracy Now has a good interview that pretty much explains the experiment in detail.
Understanding How Good People Turn Evil: Renowned Psychologist Philip Zimbardo On his Landmark Stanford Prison Experiment, Abu Ghraib and More
So it was strictly college age men that were the subjects of 12 guards and 12 prisoners chosen out of 75 applicants. The only rules that applied was:
Those assigned to be guards were given uniforms and instructed that they were not to use violence but that their job was to maintain control of the prison.The Stanford Prison Experiment: Still powerful after all these years

So they (guards) were given power and tasks but no code of conduct or rule book to follow. There were no checks and balances in the system. I wonder what the researchers thought they were going to get.
And what we wanted to do was create essential psychology of imprisonment, and that's all about power. Every prison is about power. Guards have to assume more and more power and domination, and prisoners have to have their power stripped away. And so that is the ultimate evil of prison. It's all about power, dominance, and mastery. And that was the same thing we found in Abu Ghraib prison. (DN! link)

True enough, when I was first reading about this I thought about prisoners and what got them to that position. Obviously to me they broke a law and the courts determine through the interpretations of the laws that it warrants separation from the rest of society. In this experiment it was "violation of penal code 459, armed robbery or breaking and entering."

Thus they have lost what power they did have at first. Society has determined that if you can not use your power in the society for productive endeavors or at least non-harming of others then you deserve to have your power taken away.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 03:07:45 PM EST
The "guards" for the experiment were not required to act the way but there was a strong indication that they were to conduct themselves as what they thought guards were to behave like and...
Those assigned to be guards were given uniforms and instructed that they were not to use violence but that their job was to maintain control of the prison.

I know this is brought up again, but I think this is important that they were given very little guidance but on many levels they were encouraged to act a certain way.
Including being provided the right uniform the club (violation of no violence) and the other various accouterments like the closet that was set up for the solitary confinement.

An interesting question would have been what if women was introduced as guards (or prisoners). I would hope that they may have been able to see that abuse was not just physical but could also be psychologically.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Mon Apr 9th, 2007 at 08:04:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After reading through the experiment and some of the commentaries on it, I thought I would think about it in regard to:
    * Positive reinforcement changes the surroundings by adding a stimulus that increases the likelihood of the behavior occurring in the future. Some things which can generally act as positive reinforcers include food, recreational drugs, direct stimulation of pleasure centers in the brain and conditioned reinforcers such as money.
    * Negative reinforcement changes the surroundings by removing an aversive stimulus - such as turning off a painful electric current or removing a conditioned reinforcer such as changing the channel during commercials. There are two types of negative reinforcement. Escape conditioning occurs when the aversive stimulus has already begun, and the behavior terminates it. Examples include scratching an itch or hitting the snooze button on an alarm clock. Avoidance conditioning occurs when the behavior allows an aversive stimulus to be avoided before it starts. Examples include eating to avoid hunger, and taking an alternate route to avoid a traffic jam.
    * Positive punishment changes the surroundings by adding an aversive stimulus following a behaviour in order to decrease the likelihood of the behaviour occurring in the future. For example, a dog is given an electric shock whenever it barks at a novel object or a stranger.
    * Negative punishment changes the surroundings by removing a stimulus that was previously and still a reinforcer. For example, candy is taken away from a child whenever the child behaves inappropriately.

I think it is easy to see the aspect of positive and negative, punishment and reinforcements for the prisoners. This was pretty much laid out in nearly every action that the guards did. Thus we could say their responses to the stimuli was at least predictable
for most of their actions...
But now the question is what rewards and punishments did the guards have to face? There were no punishments aside from the administrators of the experiment to not "abuse". If prisoners tried to inflict corrective measures on guards, that would only mean that order was violated and had to be punished. Also while the rewards seem small (monetary), there is the feeling of doing what you are suppose to do, and in this case it was to maintain order. The other positive feedback loop was respect and honor among the guards as they then became a click that reinforced their own stereotypes and feelings.

I also wonder if the guards ever felt it was a role that they were assigned to and as such it was "just acting". It became a fantasy game for them while not realizing that the other participants were not completely dedicated to their roles. The guards had their real lives to go back to and the prisoners did not. And as such a guards 8 hour shift may not have seemed harsh but taken in the whole with 3 shifts of fresh authoritarians, the stack was against the prisoners.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Tue Apr 10th, 2007 at 04:28:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes we're guards.
Yes we're guaaards.

Team America

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Tue Apr 10th, 2007 at 11:54:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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