Dear Loyal Readers

I apologize, but I believe I must take a leave of absence. I now have a small political talkshow at my school, which I hope to place on a youtube or metacafe later in the future. At the moment, I’m just having things pile up in terms of work, school, and my relationships, so I don’t really believe I have the time nessessary to devote to this project. I WILL COME BACK. I don’t, however, know when that will be.

Thank you for this experience

Mitchell Strand

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My Upcoming Lapse in Posts

Hey everybody, Mitch here. Just wanted to say that I will not be able to post anything today or tomorrow, as I promised my school’s drama club that I would work the sound board for their performance today and tomorrow. Posts will be back on schedule, every weekday, starting back up on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

A Moment of Clarity

After searching forever through this morass we in America call news, I stumble upon things that separate seem inconclusive, but when pieced together with a dozen other incidents with the same headline, make me tired. They make me question why I choose to do this, why I choose to try and wake people up. It is a simple fact that most people in America are sheep. It is a simple fact that is more than likely true in most places of the world. As a member of the iGeneration, it brings me real pain to see the blank faces of my peers when I tell a friend what happened the day before, or the sighs and groans when I bring something up in my American Government class(a required class for seniors in my district). I personally know of no one in my entire school who really cares. To be clear, I do know a few who keep more or less in touch, however they seem to not really understand the global consequences of each individual atrocity.

I’ve heard it quoted that people in their youth ought to be radicals, and try to change the world. I look around and see nothing. Eyes devoid of any emotion at all at every statement. Then, the ultimate slap in the face. They go on to talk to friends about the party last weekend.

I wonder if it is like this everywhere. Is it just here in the land of excess and sunshine, or is it spread out, like a cancer through the liver and lungs? I tend to find out eventually, however, at the moment, I lack resources to do so.

Throughout our once-great nation minds are tuned into television and mind-numbing advertising. I believe mass media is the reason for this mass uncaring. I’ve seen two different methods used together to create this travesty. First, they pummel a young, malleable mind into the ground with images of violence, murders, and car accidents to create a ‘shit happens’ outlook to the world. Then, they placate, by only showing pleasant things, such as celebrities, reality shows, and advertising. However, we as humans know that nothing is without conflict, so, in order to keep us silent, they continue to occasionally through strife into the mix, such as elimination rounds and terrorism.

Without sounding to sappy, I am almost crying now. You can read whatever you like into it, whether a patriotic ‘for his country’s plight’ or a more cynical outlook, it matters not. All that matters is trying to help other people see the truth and getting them to care. I not nearly as interested in how this belief system changes, but merely the fact that it changes at all.

Tasered For A Question

A man was tasered for asking why he was pulled over at a traffic stop September 15th. The full story is here and the video is below.

We had 150 taser-related ‘incidents’ last year and an incredible amount of unresolved cases. There was the tasering of a 6 year old, a 9 year old, a 14 year old that caused a cardiac arrest, a 92 year old, a man who didn’t show ID in his school, a man who was in his own house, the death of a Polish immigrant, the death of a 54 year old, the death of a 63 year old, and I’m sure I could find more links.

The truth is, this has been going on for a long time and it is happening all over our once-great country. Can we restore it? We have the ability, but do the people have the will? Only time will tell.

The Lengths We Will Go To To Conform

From Spring.org.uk – What psychological experiment could be so powerful that simply taking part might change your view of yourself and human nature? What experimental procedure could provoke some people to profuse sweating and trembling, leaving 10% extremely upset, while others broke into unexplained hysterical laughter? What finding could be so powerful that it sent many psychologists into frenzied rebuttals? Welcome to the sixth nomination for the top ten psychology studies and as you’ll have guessed it’s a big one. Hold on for controversy though, as this study has come in for considerable criticism with some saying its claims are wildly overblown.

Explaining human cruelty
“Many wondered after the horrors of WWII, and not for the first time, how people could be motivated to commit acts of such brutality towards each other.Stanley Milgram’s now famous experiments were designed to test obedience to authority (Milgram, 1963). What Milgram wanted to know was how far humans will go when an authority figure orders them to hurt another human being. Not just those in the armed forces, but ordinary people were coerced into carrying out the most cruel and gruesome acts.

But Milgram didn’t investigate the extreme situation of war, he wanted to see how people would react under relatively ‘ordinary’ conditions in the lab. How would people behave when told to give an electrical shock to another person? To what extent would people obey the dictates of the situation and ignore their own misgivings about what they were doing?

The experimental situation into which people were put was initially straightforward. Participants were told they were involved in a learning experiment, that they were to administer electrical shocks and that they should continue to the end of the experiment. Told they would be the ‘teacher and another person the ‘learner’, they sat in front of a machine with a number of dials labelled with steadily increasing voltages. This was the ‘shock machine’. The third switch from the top was labelled: “Danger: Severe Shock”, the last two simply: “XXX”.

During the course of the experiment, each time the ‘learner’ made a mistake the participant was ordered to administer ever-increasing electrical shocks. Of course the learner kept making mistakes so the teacher (the poor participant) had to keep giving higher and higher electrical shocks, and hearing the resultant screams of pain until finally the learner went quiet.

Participants were not in fact delivering electrical shocks, the learner in the experiment was actually an actor following a rehearsed script. The learner was kept out of sight of the participants so they came to their own assumptions about the pain they were causing. They were, however, left in little doubt that towards the end of the experiment the shocks were extremely painful and the learner might well have been rendered unconscious. When the participant baulked at giving the electrical shocks, the experimenter – an authority figure dressed in a white lab coat – ordered them to continue.

Results
Before I explain the results, try to imagine yourself as the participant in this experiment. How far would you go giving what you thought were electrical shocks to another human being simply for a study about memory? What would you think when the learner went quiet after you apparently administered a shock labelled on the board “Danger: Severe Shock”? Honestly. How far would you go?

How ever far you think, you’re probably underestimating as that’s what most people do. Like the experiment, the results shocked. Milgram’s study discovered people are much more obedient than you might imagine. 63% of the participants continued right until the end – they administered all the shocks even with the learner screaming in agony, begging to stop and eventually falling silent. These weren’t specially selected sadists, these were ordinary people like you and me who had volunteered for a psychology study.

How can these results be explained?
At the time Milgram’s study was big news. Milgram explained his results by the power of the situation. This was a social psychology experiment which appeared to show, beautifully in fact, how much social situations can influence people’s behaviour.

The experiment set off a small industry of follow-up studies carried out in labs all around the world. Were the findings still true in different cultures, in slightly varying situations and in different genders (only men were in the original study)? By and large the answers were that even when manipulating many different experimental variables, people were still remarkably obedient. One exception was that one study found Australian women were much less obedient. Make of that what you will.

Fundamentally flawed?
Now think again. Sure, the experiment relies on the situation to influence people’s behaviour, but how real is the situation? If it was you, surely you would understand on some level that this wasn’t real, that you weren’t really electrocuting someone, that knocking someone unconscious would not be allowed in a university study?

Also, people pick up considerable nonverbal cues from each other. How good would the actors have to be in order to avoid giving away the fact they were actors? People are adept at playing along even with those situations they know in their heart-of-hearts to be fake. The more we find out about human psychology, the more we discover about the power of unconscious processes, both emotional and cognitive. These can have massive influences on our behaviour without our awareness.

Assuming people were not utterly convinced on an unconscious level that the experiment was for real, an alternative explanation is in order. Perhaps Milgram’s work really demonstrates the power of conformity. The pull we all feel to please the experimenter, to fit in with the situation, to do what is expected of us. While this is still a powerful interpretation from a brilliant experiment, it isn’t what Milgram was really looking for.

Whether you believe the experiment shows what it purports to or not, there is no doubting that Milgram’s work was some of the most influential and impressive carried out in psychology. It is also an experiment very unlikely to be repeated nowadays (outside of virtual reality) because of modern ethical standards. Certainly when I first came across it, my view of human nature was changed irrevocably. Now, thinking critically, I’m not so sure.

Huxlian or Orwellian? The Debate Continues.

I, personally, believe it will be a Huxlian society, rather than that of Orwell, mostly because of the lack of violence associated with Orwell’s vision. With Huxley, we get to keep all our goodies; something the public as a whole is VERY concerned about, leading to a mindset of ‘I’m just living my life. Who cares if I have to show my papers in order to travel between states. Who would want to, anyway?’ I recently read a post at morgansmusings that put it so eloquently, I’m going to post it in its entirety.

I’ve been seeing the word “totalitarianism” a lot these days. It’s not new for me. But when I see Jeff Wells writing about it, with utter seriousness, and with compelling evidence, as in yesterday’s post, I pay closer attention. I wonder how many others of us are thinking the same things. But. I confess that there is something about Orwell’s vision that doesn’t quite sync with what I see going on in the culture at large. I’m not talking about language repression, widespread disinfo campaigns, or militarism. There’s plenty of that, to be sure. What I don’t see is deprivation; what I don’t sense is widespread despair — and both are critical elements of Orwell’s dystopian vision.

I’ve been mulling this “un-synch” or “synch minus” (to employ a kind of Newspeak) problem over for a long time. At least, since the 2004 Presidential Election. At the time, I was working as a teaching assistant in a college writing class. The subject was Political Rhetoric and the Media, and Orwell’s 1984 was the first book on the reading list. I was eager to hear what younger people had to say about George Orwell’s work, and of the grim scenario he presents in the book. As part of their homework, students were required to watch the film version, the one starring John Hurt as Winston Smith, and then compare the two, always with a mind to the politics of language. It was a good class – interesting discussion. But.

It’s important to disclose that most of these students were incredibly jaded by wealth. Certainly, many were quite privileged. A couple had even met George Bush, and had attended school with his brother Neil’s children. Others in the class were self-identified “military brats.” One young man said his parents worked in the higher echelons of Enron. He had grown up in the Middle East, a rich white American boy. Early in the semester, I asked him if his family had suffered economic losses when Enron stock collapsed. I’ll never forget the incredulous look on his face. He obviously thought I must be slightly retarded for even thinking it. With a careless shrug, he said: “No, my dad heard about it way before it happened and took care of it.” I didn’t press him for details. I never spoke to him again, either.

Subsequent discussions on Orwell were revealing. The students were very interested in the concept of “Newspeak”, and marveled at the time and effort Orwell invested in creating an entire language. They wanted to know what made him write such a book. What had happened to him, they wondered, that caused him to imagine a world where Big Brother was watching everyone. We talked about Orwell’s deep fear of socialism, although, paradoxically, he was a socialist. We discussed the reality of living in a surveillance society, which they had already accepted as “the way things are.”

Did they think 1984 would ever come to pass? No. Clearly, these young adults considered the chance of Orwell’s dystopian vision coming to pass in present day America was virtually impossible; it simply could not happen. In general, they acted as though 1984 was a quaint book, useful for understanding political language and its perversions, but the novel’s scenario was hardly pertinent to their current or future lives. That gave me pause. And I’ve been pausing there ever since: why? Why didn’t Orwell’s totalitarian vision of a surveillance society waging a perpetual war, engaging thought police, mind control, and generating fake news frighten the leaders of tomorrow? Did they not see it was already happening?

Here I am, months later, and, like I said, still thinking about it.

Now, Jeff Wells has decided that America is already a totalitarian state but we just don’t know it. I understand what he means, and I agree with him. But there is still a problem, an “unsynch” if you will, with what I’m seeing or not seeing, in the culture at large. That is to say, I don’t see widespread deprivation and despair. Sure, people are griping about gas prices and the way Bush keeps sneaking his agenda past impotent Democrats. Sure, there are rumblings about impeachment. And down in Crawford, Texas, Cindy Sheehan is camping out, in hopes her protests over the Iraq War will bring the Bush Administration to its knees. Meanwhile the MSM talking heads speak derisively about Sheehan; Brian Williams, in particular, called her “that woman.” So what’s going on here?

The other night, I decided to watch 1984, and as I did, I tried to imagine the future landscape of the United States looking anything like the mise-en-scene of the film. It suddenly struck me that Orwell’s vision isn’t the one that will come to pass. Aspects of it will, yes, and already have done. The perversion of language, the disinfo, the surveillance, the militarism – the things that are easy to perpetrate on the unsuspecting populace – have already been done. But where are the squalorous living conditions? The bleak, blasted buildings? The chocolate rationing? The government imposed celibacy? The complete subjugation of individual will to The State?

I have to say I agree with my former students that Orwell’s dystopia certainly appears to be utterly unfathomable. I will go further: the level of suffering depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 will not manifest in The United States of America anytime soon, and perhaps never will. Realistically, I must qualify this statement by also agreeing that an apocalyptic level of domestic catastrophe, or a series of catastrophes, of the magnitude of 9/11, will bring us close. I do not hold such a high level of scholarly hubris that I speak in absolutes, particularly about totalitarianism. However, in my heart of hearts, I think it highly unlikely. Instead, I believe that, as long as people have ways to earn money and commodities to spend it on, we will somehow manage to keep living conditions pretty close to the status quo. Indeed, I will argue that the totalitarian vision presented in Orwell’s 1984 could only happen in the complete absence of capitalism and conspicuous consumption.

However, if we examine Aldous Huxley’s vision of totalitarianism, with sanctioned drug use, open sexuality (without consequence of childbearing), conspicuous consumption, and genetically pre-determined social status (which makes class warfare a moot social determinant), Brave New World creates a scenario that makes far more sense, in terms of American culture and values.

Americans are highly trained consumers – and they will do anything to preserve that right, that ‘entitlement,’ even going so far as to allow their president to engage in pre-emptive war. Anything to keep the suffering of war far away from American soil. Ideology and partisan politics aside, what other reason could there be for the average Joe or Jane to allow the Iraq War to continue? After all, war itself is so unreal! Our kids aren’t fighting. It’s the other guy’s kids. It’s those people on the other side of town. Never us. War is easy as long as it is happening someplace else and with someone else’s kids. We have no problem with this cognitive dissonance.

Many of us have already accepted that war is a necessary evil in a post-9/11 world. However, few of us are touched by the reality of war. To most Americans, war is an action movie plot, or a Game Boy program. No real blood. No real dead bodies. In fact, I’ve often considered that many Americans were initially undisturbed by George Bush’s jump-suited, “Mission Accomplished,” antics precisely because they fit so perfectly into the bizarre, larger than life, video game culture that defines our lives.

The Main Stream Media delivers images that we have become conditioned to anticipate, and even welcome, in a media-mediated society. Thus, we have accepted the delusion that, if we keep working and spending, life will go on. So what if there are troops in the streets – they’re keeping us safe! So what if we have to show our papers in order to travel to another state? It’ll keep out the terrorists. We have nothing to hide. We just want to get on with our lives. Aye – there’s the rub. It’s the “getting on with our lives” thing that makes us so vulnerable to totalitarian-style persuasion. But like I said, it won’t be the kind of persuasion that Orwell’s Ministry of Peace exerts on the unfortunate characters of Julia, Winston, and all the other thought-criminals of Oceania. It will be quite painless, really. At least, for most of us.

If culture can be simply defined as a shared set of values, it is fair to say that what Americans most value is our right to the good life. With that in mind, I think we should consider how easy it is to control people if you keep them fat and happy. If we accept that people are mostly concerned with maintaining the status quo, so they can continue to earn money, and spend it on luxuries, we should also accept the fact that the government will aid and abet them in their pursuits. Why? Because nobody is going to revolt against a government that gives tax breaks to the rich in times of war. That doesn’t, in fact, even ask for citizens to sacrifice anything for the war. Except for the poor, that is. And they don’t really count, do they? Second, as my Red State Sister is fond of pointing out – Americans have it better than anyone else in the world. And don’t we want to keep it that way? That is why the PNAC’s multi-theater war vision of the future will be so easy to implement. Not through deprivation and force, a la Orwell, but through the satisfaction of desire, a la Huxley.

Here’s something I read that is worth bringing to this discussion.

A while back, I read a fascinating book by Anthropologist Stephen Fjellman: Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America (1992), which presents multiple theses about the dizzying, disorienting, impact of Walt Disney World on American culture. His years of participant-observation style research at Disney World supports much of what I’ve already said about our consumer-driven culture and our problems with reality. In the chapter, “Consumption and Culture Theory,” Fjellman visits the Orwell/Huxley dichotomy I’ve just put forth:

“Postmodern culture is anchored in the breakdown of the signifying chain. The referential functions of normal, everyday language have been shattered and the signifier disconnected from the signified. Orwell wrote about one type of referential dismemberment, a relatively straightforward kind based on naked repression and lexical control. But the postmodern world is not Orwellian. It is Huxleyan – and the fortunes of signs, symbols, and human meaning have taken a different form” (299).

In seeking examples of symbols and meaning pertinent to a Huxleyan world, Fjellman cites writer Joel Achenbach, who analyzed the text on a package of Pepperidge Farm cookies to prove that people will accept any lie that feeds their perception of what is normal. Believing that a corporation as large as Pepperidge Farm (which is owned by Campbell’s Soup) would individually craft cookies is ridiculous. So why did the company design a machine that makes the cookies look like a human made them, and then confess to the fakery on the wrapper? Why doesn’t this bother us? Achenbach refers to this phenomenon as “creeping surrealism” – the general fear, brought about by manipulation of the narrative and public discourse, that “nothing is real anymore” [so why care?]. To wit:

“Americans … no longer think the distinction matters… lies have been raised to an art form in this country, information manipulated so delicately, so craftily, with such unparalleled virtuosity, that you can no longer tell the genuine from the fake, the virtuous from the profane” (Achenbach, in Fjellman 1992).

Fjellman takes the notion of unreality a step further:

“Human beings have been and are being decentered and fractionated, especially in the United States. Furthermore, the hyperreal is being forcibly exported around the world as the U.S. way of life and death. Living in a rich country, trained to expect an ever-increasing set of entitlements, and led to embody those entitlements not in any civic notions of the social good but in private accumulations of what George Carlin calls ’stuff,’ Americans insistently implicate themselves in this process.”

Satisfying our desire by acquiring things has become an American raison d’etre. We want fast cars, nice houses, cool clothes, exotic travel destinations, and the chance to become American Idols. Furthermore, it is precisely because we are conspicuous consumers, who believe themselves entitled to the ‘good life,’ that makes the continuation of the Iraq War and the Big Lie of 9/11 self-perpetuating.

As Fjellman argues, “As long as we act in terms of our shared symbolic universe, life – even if difficult – is explainable. Further, we will not threaten those who control the goodies.” He’s right! If you have a good job, a roof over your head, a car in driveway, food on the table, and can afford your medicine, why would you complain? Why would anybody want to rock the proverbial boat? Why care about people on the other side of the world, anyway? Their suffering is simply not real. Which is one reason why Cindy Sheehan’s protest is causing such a stir. It’s unpleasant. It’s disruptive. It’s a rude attempt to awaken people from their Soma-induced dream state and realize that war is not fun, not hip, not pain-free. As long as possible, Americans will resist the onslaught of reality. Perhaps it will never come – at least in the version that hurts and deprives.

As I see it, then, the problem with accepting a strict Orwellian future for America is that such a view ignores the American culture’s lust for ownership, and the need to carefully maintain the illusion of individual freedom of choice. The Huxleyan future, on the other hand, allows Americans to hold on to their illusions, along with their hard-earned collections of things. Remember that bumper sticker from the 1980s: “Whoever dies with the most toys wins”? It still applies. We’ve simply replaced it with a more appropriately virtuous, “Support Our Troops” – or “God Bless America.” Indeed, one might argue that the bumper sticker is just another commodity that helps to create, and to sustain, the prevailing cultural pastiche.

Finally, in support of my Huxleyan rather than Orwellian thesis, I’ll leave you with a quote by Neil Postman, from the foreword to his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions’. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.” — Neil Postman, 1986.

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Epilogue:

It troubles me to imagine just how much we, as a nation, will put up with to sustain our lifestyles. I think that’s the ultimate answer to why the Germans let Dolphy take over, and certainly, why they let him go so far. It was just easier to go with the flow. Did history teach us anything? Does it ever? As intellectuals, we like to believe we’re smart enough to learn from the past. If that were true, however, George Bush would never have been installed. I don’t for one minute think the conditions that allowed him to steal the 2000 election would have been in place had we leftists been paying close enough attention, and had done the hard work necessary to keep Bush, and his ilk, out of government. We had the chance to vote him out in 2004, but it didn’t happen. Not enough of us got involved. Not enough of us put it all on the line. Too many people didn’t bother to vote, for godsake. It goes back to the 1980s “culture of greed” and Ronald Reagan. That is when the Big Chill descended on the anti-war movement’s Flower Children. When the Boomers became part of the Establishment they once despised, it was all over. There’s no going back now, not without the requisite suffering and deprivation. Are we willing to do it?

The government knows I own this blog, due to a major social networking site

Which, as a whole, I think is very surprising. To have some bloated federal agency interested in me, a small-fry in the politics blogosphere, is interesting, to say the least. Let me explain how I stumbled upon this information.

My step-mom was a civilian contractor for the Department of Defense. She was hired/promoted to a GS(Government Service) job, which she readily accepted. After her acceptance of the job, however, it came to her attention that she needed her Secret level security renewed. This being normal, she went in for the interview. I do not have a transcript(its against regulation for interviewee to record interview), however after she came home, she said that she had trouble at her interview. Apparently, they asked her if they knew about a certain ‘iGeneration’s Concerns’ blog. She stated that she didn’t look at online blogs. After a period of silence, they asked if she knew, to the best of her knowledge, the owner of ‘https://anotheropinionatedyouth.wordpress.com/’. Once again, she stated no, and the interview went along as planned. However, since these questions were out of the ordinary, as she had had a Secret-level clearance interview previously.

When she came home, she looked up the blog, but couldn’t figure out who ran it, since a whois query would only show up wordpress.com. She asked me to help her find out who ran a certain blog, to which I said “Sure. What’s the URL?” “another-opinionated-you…” “Uh, thats mine. Why are you looking it up?” To which she looked at me, and gave an answer of “huh…”, and then proceeded to tell me the previously written information.

So I wondered. How can they find out this information? I purposely used an email I had never used before, and registered both this blog and the email under the same assumed name. I also use Tor, a service which routes all your outbound connections through three different servers(owned by other people, not Tor) before going to the destination.

After thinking a bit, I figured out the answer.

Myspace.

It makes sense too! Where is the one place on the entire internet where we give up all of our information? Our friends, contacts, coworkers, and family? Social networking sites. The one where I post the most information, and the first links to this site, is myspace.com.

I wonder what else they can find out about people online…

UPDATE: I have since updated all my information(name, email) to reflect the fact that now that the government knows about me, I don’t have anything to hide.

My name is Mitchell Strand