In his seminal book Arms and Influence, Thomas C. Schelling addresses the comparative efficacy of brute force and the power to hurt in influencing or controlling others.1 A classic example is the application of American power to achieve the unconditional surrender of Japan in World War II: continuing to use brute force to overcome Japanese military forces and occupy Japan (as the Allied Forces had done in Germany) was deemed far more cumbersome than terrorizing the Japanese through the use of atomic bombs against two civilian targets. This use of the power to hurt, with the implicit threat of its further use on a wider basis, got virtually immediate results.
The application of these two sources of power by the power elite is not hard to find. With respect to brute force, it is no secret that the US military has been training and arming state and local law enforcement across the country, including supplying some of the same weaponry used in a war zone against an external opponent. Even more alarming, the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team Unit, fresh from action in Iraq and having access to both lethal and non-lethal weapons, including tanks, has recently been assigned to a 12 month tour of duty for domestic security operations.2
Regarding the power to hurt, as the populace witnesses the official acceptance of torture, as well as the increasing brutalization of ordinary citizens (e.g., the use of taser guns to inflict massive electrical shock and even death), it inevitably adopts a mode of self-protective retrenchment or “self-censoring.”
In a pervasive climate of fear, protest and dissidence become less and less likely, and the march to a full-blown police state is thereby facilitated. Among the most blatant applications of the power to hurt, used as a form of terrorist manipulation, have been the elite’s obscene threats of a massive depression and nationwide martial law in the service of its bailout legislation.
“We are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy…to get people to love their servitude….There seems to be a general movement in the direction of this kind of…a method of control by which a people can be made to enjoy a state of affairs by which any decent standard they ought not to enjoy.”
A powerful form of psychological control used by the global elite is to induce widespread depression stemming from a feeling of futility or helplessness. This brings to mind the famous quote from Thoreau that most humans live “lives of quiet desperation,” which he elaborated on by stating that “what is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” It also brings to mind the concept in clinical psychology known as ‘learned helplessness’.
The phenomenon of learned helplessness was discovered through psychological experiments in 1967 by Martin Seligman and Steve Maier. A group of harnessed dogs was given painful electric shocks, which they could end by pressing a lever. Another group received shocks of identical intensity and duration without a means to stop them. The dogs who could stop the pain recovered from the experience quickly, but those who could not learned that they were helpless and exhibited symptoms similar to chronic clinical depression: when they were put in a shuttle-box apparatus in which they could escape electric shocks by jumping over a low partition, most of the dogs just lay down passively and whined rather than trying to escape the shocks.5
Klein sees the solution as contained in the problem: as we gain awareness of the same pattern playing out again and again, we can become prepared for the next shock and its exploitation by disaster Capitalists:
- “If we understand how our states of shock are exploited, if we can recognize the signs, then the next time there is a crisis (and it can be an economic crisis)…then when the next shock hits we can prepare.”
- “I have a quote…from Milton Friedman, who says that only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change, and…when the crisis hits, the change depends on the ideas that are lying around. So it’s not just about recognizing a pattern; it’s also about having your [reformist] ideas lying around when the next shock hits.” 7
As our best minds address the hair raising elitist victory represented by the bailout legislation, I encourage their deconstructing just how this criminality managed to succeed by tracing its origins in history in terms of the threefold model of power given in this article. In my own view, the current crisis is a crisis in the Chinese sense of the term, i.e., an opportunity in disguise. Because the crisis is rightly perceived as a conflict between Wall Street and Main Street, as an incongruence between the actions of government and the political will and best interest of its constituents, and more generally as a power grab by authoritarian capitalism that is in full daylight for all to examine, it is an opportunity like no other for educating the populace. It is an opportunity like no other to awaken and educate the people so they are no longer sitting ducks for the three forms of power delineated in this article. Especially the third: history abounds with examples of how the first two forms of power lose their hold, indeed in many cases back off, when confronted with a people who value the quality of life over life on any terms, a people who will go to any lengths to protect their basic rights as human beings.
It is that spirit that infused the birth and early life of our Republic. I am betting that it is still alive and well in America.
1. Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1966
2. Gina Cavallaro, “Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1,” the Army Times, September 30, 2008.
Schuster, New York, 1953, pp. 49-50
5. Christopher Peterson, Steven F. Maier, and Martin E. P. Seligman, Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, Oxford University Press, USA, 1995
6. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Company, New York 2007, passim.
7. Keith Olbermann interview with Naomi Klein: “Iraq Is the Classic Example of The Shock Doctrine” December 2, 2007
Judith H. Young, Ph.D., has a B.A. and an M.A. in Philosophy and a doctorate in Political Science (Brandeis University, 1973). In the 1960s she was a published think tank researcher with a Top Secret security clearance in the areas of arms control, strategic studies and international aerospace activities.
In the 1990s Judy became a practitioner and teacher in several venerable healing arts, including animal-assisted therapy and traditional Reiki. She founded a nonprofit animal and nature center dedicated to promoting the healthy development of children and youth, which she directed from 1994-2004, and she published widely in the field of equine-assisted activities and ecotherapy. After the shocking events of 9/11/2001, Judy returned to her earlier vocation as a writer and educator in the field of International Politics, while also maintaining a professional practice in complementary and alternative healing.
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