Home > Uncategorized > Freedom, Or Something Just Like It

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:

A SLAVE SOCIETY

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

A FREE SOCIETY

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

Choice

Involvement

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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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 24, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Interesting.

    I’ve met people who are substantially outside the “situational psychology” net. They know what they’re at and march to their own inner drummer. I think that these are the people whose genes get culled by genocidal states, local governments, schools, social groups etc. The non-conformists who become non-ancestors at the hands of lesser men.

    One aspect of the ongoing Facebook debates, is, I suggest, a healthy sign. Some people want more control, more choice, more individuality. That drives them to, often inarticulate, rage at Facebook. (An important experiment in it’s own right and worth watching.)

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Lena Feldt
    August 27, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Your ideas about a free society and good but there are certain glitches. For example, people being encouraged to be themselves wouldn’t work, since we all want to be someone else because we are judged for who we really are. However teenagers getting up late and working late would deffinetly make them happy, but would it work? It isn’t changing their duration of sleep, just when they sleep, and the hugging is a good idea but many people would be against it.
    Gender equality is unfortunately something that might happen in the very distant future for men tend to be very sexist, and so can women. Maybe one day the society will stop trying to separate women and men, most commonly giving women the lower job and will accept that women can do some things better than men.
    But I would hardly call our society a slave society and there is enough body contact, some of the schools have hidden orgies all over the place. And the TV isn’t that bad for people, children’s knowledge mostly comes from the TV, some of it wrong but they aren’t ignorant.
    I’m not saying all your ideas are bad but I’m just trying to show you how unlikely some of them are.
    I find your thoughts very interesting and wonder if they could actually work in the world we live in.

    • omnimanofnothing
      August 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      Hi Lena, thanks for dropping by. Your response raises as many questions as the original article. I’ll try to answer some of them. First of all, your last comment as to whether these principles would work – I see no reason why not, but there will have to be a sustained and concerted effort to make them. I think you are correct when you use the word ‘unlikely’ though. It would require several areas to be covered simultaneously, one of which is self-knowledge – which also relates to your first comment about people not daring to be who they really are. My contention is that self-knowledge should be the first and foremost item in a school curriculum.

      Teenagers getting up late does work. I’ve used this in the past when teaching astronomy and such-like. They’ll put in the same amount of hours, but be more awake when doing so. I’ve heard of a school or schools in North England experimenting with this now, but I haven’t managed to verify this.

      I actually like TV a lot and I agree with you about its benefits, but I have definitely noticed that kids who have had unrestricted access when growing up are often poor at imagining things in creative writing. They may be good, however, at fan fiction, where they write stories about their favourite TV or film characters such as ‘Twilight’. That’s hardly original!

      I do question your take on body contact though. Your phrase ‘hidden orgies’ seems quite the opposite to an everyday, easy sensuality – which will usually be non-sexual – and that is what I’m suggesting. As I suggested in the article, some countries do not have a problem with this e.g. Spain or Italy.

      Gender equality? Yes, you’re probably right in that we’re not there yet. I read recently that only 5% of main players in Hollywood movies are women, and 15% in Iran! What does that say, if true?

      All in all i agree with you. My ‘ideal’ is not going to happen any time soon. I’m convinced it is pragmatic though. I just need to get a few million people on board.

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