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.