Archive for May, 2010

Freedom, Or Something Just Like It

This is something just hot off the press. It is loosely to do with Omni, in that over the course of the comic’s storyline we explore a world which is struggling to be reborn as a sort of Utopia, a place where everyone can be happy and fulfilled. But really that’s just an excuse to come back to a common theme in my work and studies, which is to do with what is wrong with people, with society, that we seem hell-bent on self-destruction, and how can we remedy this? That is a thesis in itself, or innumerable theses, and already I have devoured books on the nature of social capital as well as several on the psychological dark side of humanity. I regularly meet and work with people who strive for a better world, sometimes environmentalists but not always, and some sort of a picture has started to form. I am convinced, for instance, that until a recognition of the prevalence of psychopathy in society comes about (about 1 in 150 people are psychopathic) then very little progress can be made. That is a subject for another day, but an interesting indication of a healthy society was presented to me in an odd way, reading Philip Zimbardo’s book ‘The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil’. Professor Zimbardo was the instigator behind the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in the 1970s. For those who don’t know, the experiment involved dividing psychology students up completely randomly into prison ‘guards’ and ‘detainees’. There were rules clearly in place, including the banning of any violence whatsoever, but within days the experiment had to be abandoned because it turned seriously nasty, with the ‘guards’ exhibiting sadistic behaviour, and even Zimbardo himself caught up in the ‘game’. There is much more to be discussed here, of course, but this is not the space. I do though recommend the book to everybody, I actually believe it to be one of the most important books ever written because of what it reveals about human nature and what we can do to stem our destructive forces. What I did when reading the book was something a bit unusual, something I don’t think even Zimbardo has done.

A main thrust of the book is the argument that we need to employ situational psychology rather than just individual psychology to understand what happens in groups. For example, Zimbardo was brought in as a consultant to work out what had happened in the infamous Abu Graib prison in Iraq; one of his conclusions was that the guards were as much victims as the detainees due to the oppressive and fascistic conditions forced upon them by those higher up.

My approach to the book was that I took note of a lot of throwaway lines from Zimbardo, lines where he simply mentions in passing the conditions necessary to create the oppressive nature of a prison. My thinking was that we all live as slaves or prisoners anyway, to varying degrees – slaves to society, to work, to fashion, to ideology; so if I could list the key elements needed to create a ‘prison society’ then the opposite factors would theoretically create a free, liberated society. ‘The Lucifer Effect’ is a long book and I managed to extricate a large number of key factors of oppression. So what follows here is only a short list of oppressive factors and their counterparts:


Deindividuation – make people conform

Disruption of circadian rhythms – e.g. force people to go to bed and wake up at certain times

Indiscriminate punishing- ‘the law man beating up the wrong guy’, as David Bowie put it

Minimal body contact

Problems always perceived as individual

Lack of answerability in authorities

Lack of choice

Increased passivity – keep ’em watching TV but never actually getting involved with anything

Diffuse time – where no day is different from any other

Separation from Nature

Gender segregation


Individuality- encourage people to be themselves

Following natural rhythms e.g. teenagers should get up late and study late, workers have siestas

A just system emphasising social rebalancing rather than punishment

Hugging etc.  Go Latino!

Recognition of situational psychology, where the context needs to be considered

Answerability and transparency from those in charge



Sense of progression and cycles – celebrate birthdays, times of year etc.

Contact with Nature

Gender integration and equality

So there you have it. It’s inevitably overly succinct, but I thought just as a bullet-point summary of my recent work on this subject, it may well suffice. Have a look at the list and decide for yourself: how free are you?

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Update – May 2010

Howdy everyone.  This’ll be a quickie as I’m back in the saddle in Wales, attempting to save the world through a community centre.  The idea is to prepare the community for the effects of climate and economic chaos by creating a new kind of centre that serves to bring the community together as well as providing vital services.  If we pull this off, we could well have created a template for other community centres elsewhere – even worldwide.  So keep your fingers crossed for us.  A major influence on my way of thinking recently is the conclusion from an international think tank of scientists that climate change is only No.3 in the list of environmental catastrophes.  No.1 is loss of biodiversity, which is so extreme that we really do seem to be facing the Sixth Extinction.  Unless we do something about it.  Now.  No.2 is nitrogen pollution, mostly from excessive use of fertiliser around the world.  This is running into the seas thus creating dead zones through hypoxia, lack of oxygen.  Ironically and horribly, the Gulf of Mexico was already dealing with a massive dead zone before the recent oil spill from BP started heading that way.  Scientific American recently published a list of solutions to all these problems, for all these top 3 have long exceeded safety parameters. and the project I’m working on now is seeking to employ these solutions in its infrastructure.  Vital to this is a close working relationship with local food producers.  So I’ve gotta go and save the world.  Will be back by lunchtime.  (Actually, I will be back before long with another blog as I’m working on something regarding healthy societies that could well be of interest to y’all.  I may even remember to mention Omni.)

Categories: Uncategorized