Friday, April 19, 2013

The Strategy of Tension (or) James Eagan Holmes + Adam Lanza + Christopher Dorner + the Boston Marathon Bombings =

“In the course of his epoch-making experiments on the conditioned reflex, Ivan Pavlov observed that, when subjected to prolonged physical or psychic stress, laboratory animals exhibit all the symptoms of a nervous breakdown. Refusing to cope any longer with the intolerable situation, their brains go on strike, so to speak, and either stop working altogether (the dog loses consciousness), or else resort to slow­downs and sabotage (the dog behaves unrealistically, or develops the kind of physical symptoms which, in a human being, we would call hysterical). Some animals are more resistant to stress than others. Dogs possess­ing what Pavlov called a ‘strong excitatory’ constitution break down much more quickly than dogs of a merely ‘lively’ (as opposed to a choleric or agitated) temperament. Similarly ‘weak inhibitory’ dogs reach the end of their tether much sooner than do ‘calm imperturbable’ dogs. But even the most stoical dog is unable to resist indefinitely. If the stress to which he is subjected is sufficiently intense or sufficiently pro­longed, he will end by breaking down as abjectly and as completely as the weakest of his kind.


“Stresses amply sufficient to cause a complete cerebral breakdown can be induced by methods which, though hatefully inhuman, fall short of physical torture.


“Turning once again to Pavlov, he learns that, on their way to the point of final breakdown, dogs become more than normally suggestible. New be­havior patterns can easily be installed while the dog is at or near the limit of its cerebral endurance, and these new behavior patterns seem to be ineradicable. The animal in which they have been implanted cannot be deconditioned; that which it has learned under stress will remain an integral part of its make-up.

“Psychological stresses can be produced in many ways. Dogs become disturbed when stimuli are unu­sually strong; when the interval between a stimulus and the customary response is unduly prolonged and the animal is left in a state of suspense; when the brain is confused by stimuli that run counter to what the dog has learned to expect; when stimuli make no sense within the victim's established frame of ref­erence. Furthermore, it has been found that the de­liberate induction of fear, rage or anxiety markedly heightens the dog's suggestibility. If these emotions are kept at a high pitch of intensity for a long enough time, the brain goes ‘on strike.’ When this happens, new behavior patterns may be installed with the great­est of ease.


“The effectiveness of political and religious propa­ganda depends upon the methods employed, not upon the doctrines taught. These doctrines may be true or false, wholesome or pernicious -- it makes little or no difference. If the indoctrination is given in the right way at the proper stage of nervous exhaustion, it will work. Under favorable conditions, practically every­body can be converted to practically anything.”

The above passages are excerpted from Chapter Seven of Aldous Huxley’s 1958 non-fiction book Brave New World Revisited, a collection of essays that originally appeared in Newsday under the title “Tyranny Over the Mind.”  I prefer Brave New World Revisited over Huxley’s far more famous work, the 1931 dystopian novel Brave New World.  By 1958 Huxley clearly had no patience for metaphors or fictional artifice of any kind.  As Huxley writes in Chapter One of Brave New World Revisited:

“Twenty-seven years later, in this third quarter of the twentieth century A.D., and long before the end of the first century A.F. [After Ford], I feel a good deal less optimistic than I did when I was writing Brave New World. The prophecies made in 1931 are coming true much sooner than I thought they would […]. In the West, it is true, individual men and women still enjoy a large measure of freedom. But even in those coun­tries that have a tradition of democratic government, this freedom and even the desire for this freedom seem to be on the wane. In the rest of the world freedom for individuals has already gone, or is manifestly about to go. The nightmare of total organization, which I had situated in the seventh century After Ford, has emerged from the safe, remote future and is now awaiting us, just around the next corner.”

The essays in Brave New World Revisited get to the heart of the problem in as accessible and lucid a manner as possible.  No previous knowledge of Brave New World is necessary to appreciate the essays in Brave New World Revisited.  A relatively short book (only 118 pages long), it’s well worth the brief amount of time it takes to read it.  Of particular relevance to recent events are Chapters Four (“Propaganda in a Democratic Society”), Five (“Propaganda Under a Dictatorship”), Six (“The Arts of Selling”) and Seven (“Brainwashing”).  To read the full text of the book, simply click HERE. 

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