The first “social experiment” is recorded in the Book of Job where God and the Devil make a bet about Job’s faithfulness. The Devil was taunting God about all the wickedness on the earth among his creations and God used Job as an example that man still has the capability of being good. The devil shoots back by saying that Job is only faithful to God because in return he has been given a lot of riches, a healthy life and a great family – take that away from him and he will curse God like the rest of the humans. To see if this is actually true, that Job is only faithful because he had been materially rewarded for his faithfulness, God allows the Devil to test Job’s faith by using any means necessary but the devil cannot take away Job’s life.
The book proceeds accounting the many ways the Devil takes away all of Job’s privileges, kills his family, loses all of his friends, loses his house, cattle and all material wealth. Then he was given a really bad case of leprosy. His so called “friends” try to comfort him – saying it’s that Job has fallen out of favor with God because of something he must have done, Job says no, he’s been faithful to God all this time. Job’s wife comes to taunt him “Where’s your God now?” laughing at him sitting in the dirt with his flesh rotting “Why don’t you just curse God and die.” Nope, Job remains faithful. The story basically ends that Job was rewarded by God 10 times over for showing his faithfulness to God without wavering one bit.
This, my dear readers, was a celestial “social experiment”.
This experiment is different to God telling Adam not to touch the tree of good and bad/knowledge. That was an order for Adam to obey. There was no conversation or challenge in heaven before giving the command. What happened to Job was direct and deliberate, playing a game of “Russian roulette” with Job’s life, health and prosperity.
Since the penning of the account of Job, many social experiments have been undertaken throughout human history. As cruel as some experiments can be, “they” believe it is necessary to do so; to understand the human spirit or how to predict or control the human mind, spirit and body; to understand why people do things the way that they do; and if pressure was applied can they be coerced to act and behave another way? Rulers, teachers and authority figures are interested very much in the outcome of such experiments because they want to have an upper hand on how to manage or “rule” the masses. How does herd mentality behave. What really intrigues them are the free radicals, the ones who don’t run with the herd because in them “they” perceive to be a threat to authoritarian rule. So they need to catch one (if they can), the cage them (if they can), study them (if they can), and test them to see how resilient a ‘free spirit” they are, how radical is a radical and how to control what is free.
Most tests follows the archetypal pattern of the Job, devil and God formula in that there’s a good cop, bad cop component. One is nice to the subject to passively ‘get inside their heads’ tries to understand what makes them tick, and their motivations and then the other is the bad cop (devil) that taunts, bullies and does all sorts of things to knock the subject off their game. Many torture techniques have been performed this way. The good guy befriends the tortured and passively gets some information, then gives the information to the bad cop, and the bad cop uses it to torture the subject even more to get what ever information they are really looking for. This can be done physically, by inflicting pain, or psychologically.
Experiments have been held all throughout the centuries for different reasons, but none was more horrifying than what was done over the last 100 years, especially in the confines of Auschwitz during the Holocaust and shortly thereafter. If fact, experiments were conducted on participants after World War II to try to understand why or how humans can perform such gross and murderous acts during the Holocaust. It really was a lesson on how debase humans can be. For example the Milgram experiment.
One of the most popular experiments and one that Milgram (See: Milgram experiment) regretted performing because it overshadowed the rest of his work throughout his career. Milgram was curious about ‘blind obedience’. He was fascinated by the doctors who performed these horrible acts during the Holocaust and when they were in Court answering to what they had done; their line of defense? “We were just following orders”. Milgram put this ‘we were just following orders’ to the test and the results surprised even Milgram himself. The tests revealed the various ways and levels in which a subject will surrender their “agency” to the experimenter. Many objected but the experimenter said what they were doing was fine and reassured the subject, so the subject surrendered their agency and continued what they were doing when clearly they knew they were inflicting pain on another human being. Just as long as they weren’t “accountable”. Agency means being “accountable” for your actions. The subject relinquishes their “independence”, of thinking and acting independently.
In his book Political Psychology: Situations, Individuals and Cases, Chapter 4: The Psychology of Obedience, author David Patrick Houghton makes a few positive and negative observations about the outcome of Milgram’s experiments:
- Milgram convinced the vast majority of his subjects (65%) to go against their own dispositions (the power of the situation).
- He used quite minimal inducements to produce the high level of obedience observed (e.g. the “authority” was man in a gray lab coat).
- His findings are supported by other related research in social psychology, such as that of Solomon Asch.
- His finding that the level of obedience varies with proximity to the victim is born out by the lessons of modern warfare.
- Milgram cannot explain the dispositionally driven behavior of the 35% who rebelled.
- There seems to be cultural differences in the propensity to obey, presumably related to differing dispositions between nations.
For those interested it would be wise to cross reference “nudge” and political theory with not only Milgram’s experiment but also that of B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism which emphasize the determining power of the social environment in shaping how we act. B.F. Skinner’s brand of psychology he championed became most notably was known as “radical behaviorsm“. Yet it’s worthy to note that the founder of behaviorism, John B. Watson, banned both B. F. Skinner and another prominent behaviorist, Edward Thorndike, from practicing psychology all together with other contents of the mind, such as ideas, beliefs, desires and feelings. Both Skinner and Thorndike tended ‘to think of the human mind as a blank slate or a tabula rasa onto which practically anything could be written using environmental conditioning.’ This is the same theory in which the behaviorist in charge of the MK Ultra projects done in Montreal for the CIA back in the 70s, prescribed to. The results of his testings should further support why Watson banned Skinner and Thorndike in the first place. Watson said they were “subjective, unmeasurable and unfit for science, which studies only objective and measurable things.” Milgrams experiment, on the other hand, went on to inspire many experiments by behaviorists under the same theory. Behavior psychologists found different ways to exploit the human mind to see how far one would go, if they could be ‘nudged’ this way or that way. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky who undertook experiments calling it prospect theory vs utility theory; even won a Noble prize for their work. It’s called Neuroeconomics. According to Yale here’s a definition:
What is neuroeconomics?
Neuroeconomics tries to bridge the disciplines of neuroscience, psychology, and economics. Think of “economics” and “psychology” as really, in some sense, one discipline. I know that that’s a strident statement to make, but they really are siblings separated at birth. Psychology and economics are complementary disciplines, in many cases studying the same phenomena: decision making, value-based judgment, heuristics. One side approaches it from a phenomenological, experiment-driven perspective and the other from an abstract, theoretical perspective.
Neureconomics and behavioral psychology are very popular subjects these days. There are a variety of reason for this. But one I keep coming to is the ‘control’ factor. People want to control rather than provide the right conditions for prosperity. The focus is to get inside your head to reveal what makes an individual or a collective “tick” so they can control the subject(s), to prevent something (more often than not disastrous). They spend all this money and time to learn how to control rather than creating the right conditions for a person or collective to not have to resort to such behavior. For example terrorism. Terrorism usually is a result of a society’s social and economic breakdown – very loosely put- the “haves” taking away from the “have not’s” and the have “not’s” are getting pissed off so they revolt. Instead of trying to get into their heads to control them – just create the environment in which they can prosper so they are not a menace to society. Create jobs, provide food, shelter, stop hoarding money, share the wealth, and so on. The same amount of money it takes to control and subdue a crowd could easily be invested into creating the right social and economic conditions for which much of this tyranny would be reduced.
Or simply just respect the decisions and life choices of others – there’s variety in humankind and that needs to flourish.
In the book Aftermath: Seven Secrets of Wealth Preservation in the Coming Chaos, author James Rickards pens a chapter entitled: The Cost of Freedom. In it he reflects on the Milgram’s experiment and a few others. What strikes me as interesting is that in behavioral psychology there are 180 specific cognitive biases and new ones are being added. There is one experiment in particular that caught my eye created by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein who are co-authors of a book entitled “Nudge“. They’ve come up with a theory called ‘choice architecture. It’s a new social and economic science of choice architecture that proceeds from the necessity of design. “Every system includes design elements that involve choices made by the designer about, placement, ease of use, color, vocabulary and other factors. At the same time, the human user facing a designed system with embedded choices has choices of her own.” They provide an example, “as a consumer moves through a line in a cafeteria, she asks herself, “Do I want cheesecake today? Should I have more carrots to help cure a vitamin deficiency? Consumer choice meets design choice in every day settings.”
By presenting design choices in a certain way, you can predictably affect consumer choices by preying on biases unveiled by behavioral psychology. This interface between design choice and consumer choice is the domain of choice architecture. In Thaler and Sunstein’s own words:
“Decision makers do not make choices in a vacuum. They make them in an environment where many features, noticed and unnoticed, can influence their decisions. the person who creates that environment is, in our terminology, a choice architect….Our goal is to show how choice architecture can be used to help nudge people to make better choices (as judged by themselves) without forcing certain outcome upon anyone [notice they didn’t say if the the subject is “rewarded” for making a certain choice over another which would influence the outcome of the results – the subject will be looking for the “reward” and will choose accordingly rather than using free agency to make her ‘real’ choice – they study will then be biased] a philosophy we call libertarian paternalism. The tools we highlight are: defaults,…feedback, structuring complex choices, and creating incentives.“
Rickards points out that Thaler and Sunstein’s agenda goes beyond science. “Behavioral psychology is supported by an enormous body of empirical data derived from well-designed experiments on real human subjects. It’s sound science, not mere conjecture or ideology masquerading as science. Yet the application of science is another matter.” [Emphasis added] With simple design choices consumers can be influenced, for example, to buy more and donors to give more to charities [or voters in an election] thus lowers excess risk. Why is the manipulation needed in the first place, there are a variety of reasons that motivates people in their decision making. Some decisions have a positive out come while others do not – isn’t that how we learn? Or perhaps it’s a “trust issue” that ‘they’ don’t trust certain decision-making so “they” feel the necessity to employ ‘nudge’ theory for a supposedly superior outcome. “To put Thaler and Sunstein’s title of their book Nudge into perspective “a nudge is any aspect of choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any option or significantly changing their economic incentives. Nudge is a euphemism; hard shove is a better descriptor given what we know about the power of behavioral science. Euphemism is the refuge of the authoritarian. The rationale for Thaler and Sunstein’s regimentation is that they’re smarter than you and me.” concludes Rickards.
“The twin social engineers are explicit about their superior smarts.” says Rickards ” They subscribe to a process described as “taking steps to help the least sophisticated people while imposing minimal harm on everyone else. This is not that difficult to do because “humans are not exactly lemmings, but they are easily influenced. With reference to framing a kind of behavioral manipulation, Thaler and Sunstein write, “Framing works because people tend to be somewhat mindless…” They acknowledge that deception is sometimes needed to put their smart ideas over on the less sophisticated. Thaler and Sunstein advise “If you want to nudge people into socially desirable behavior, do not, by any means, let them know that their current actions are better than the social norm.” The author claim that “individuals make pretty bad decisions – decisions they would not have made if they had paid full attention and possessed complete information, unlimited cognitive abilities, and complete self-control.” Since Thaler and Sunstein are in the nudge business,” concludes Rickards “presumably they are the ones with unlimited cognitive abilities, not you.” What they don’t understand is that ‘nudge theory’ was already and always been in use since the dawn of man. It’s called “learning from your mistakes”. When you make a mistake you are naturally “nudged” to make better decisions. That’s how you mature and become a better person – no need to be manipulated from others who ‘feel’ they are superior than you by presenting what options they think are best for you. Only YOU know what’s best for YOU. It’s called trial and error.
This is a little scary for a variety of reasons but most of all the authenticity of your decision making is not all yours – and what if you made the wrong decision because you were nudged? That’s the beauty of the story of Job, while the devil was testing him in all sorts of measures he wasn’t nudged – he stayed true to his course. I think that’s called faith. His friends and wife acting all superior tried to nudge him but he stayed his course. His decision was made and his faith was locked in. Like every experiment there’s positive and negative results that can be pulled from any study. But this nudge theory is a little worrisome since the theory can be applied in many and any areas. My mind immediately draws its attention to democracy and all the different and subtle (yet probably legal because of its subjectivity) ways a voter can be ‘nudged’ to think a certain way or ‘nudged’ to vote for a certain party or leader.
A leading behavioral psychologist post-Nobelist Daniel Kahneman, Dan Ariely‘s ethical approach to behavioral psychology differs from Thualer-Sunstein’s methods. He’s more interested in pure discover and inquisitive about how humans make decisions. Rickards differentiates Ariely’s approach to by observing the fact that Thaler and Sunstein are driven more by the need to manipulate human behavior in pursuit of what they define as enlightened ends. Ariely as well as many scientists have used choice architecture for corporations and political parties. Initially choice architects weren’t worried about behavioral manipulation because early adopters worked on campaigns such as 2012 Obama reelection effort and since they generally favor liberal causes they were happy to see its affects such as Obama adviser David Plouffe out perform Republican door-to- door campaign methods. He used these methods through savvy use of social media, text messaging, data mining, and choice architecture while Karl Rove’s adviser maintained traditional canvassing techniques. Eventually Rove’s team caught up and leap-frogged the democrats, but Trump, Hillary Clinton they all used these techniques that were actually questioned during the Russian intervention inquiries. By 2018, Rickards notes the use of choice architecture on digital platforms by neofascists was widespread. Even China implemented its use in their “social credit score” program, thus taking it to a whole new level.
But what is worrisome the most is what the premise of Rickard’s book is about and his other publications, Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis, The Road to Ruin: The Global Elites’ Secret Plan for the Next Financial Crisis, The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System. And if you read my previous blogs you will notice I’ve been writing about a financial crisis (along with an environmental crisis) that is about to have us all.
How do we manage the masses during times of crisis?
How do we manage the mass fear, anger, resentment and anxiety people will have when they finally find out that they’ve been duped? 2008 crisis in nothing, absolutely nothing compared to what’s coming. Given the power of choice architecture to affect outcome there’s an obvious scope for politicians to use this technique of behavioral psychology to sway voters to support their platforms and programs or reject rivals and competitors. This can be dangerous in such emotional and turbulent times as choice architects can trick voters into voting one way, or another, or staying home on Election Day and not vote at all. The latter would mean lost votes for an opposition candidate and victory for the candidate using behavioral tricks. An authoritarian for fascist style of leading I could easily see using these techniques tricking the vote to think the leader would be establishing order to a chaotic society.
And we’re still trying to deal with the environment and climate change which I think is used as a distraction for what about to happen sooner to us all financially. Just keep the masses occupied focusing on an alternate disaster while the one they should be really preparing for is hidden and kept in the dark.
Neuroeconomics and anything “neuro” is the [for the lack of a better word] ruling classes’ way of controlling the masses. They know how badly that they’ve screwed the system, they’re preparing for the fall [which can happen in 5-10 years] and they’ve been preparing for it for quite sometime. Whether its techniques to “nudge” you this way or that way or put a microscopic chip in your head and whisper ecclesiastical directives for you to follow or else they’ll fry your brain and make it look like a natural death. I dunno – with what they are doing the possibilities are endless. That’s why Yuval Harari says ‘the future belongs to those who are mentally fit’ and cautions us to prepare/train your mind. It’s one thing to know that a herd can turn and run in times of trouble; it’s another to know where, how and when the herd will do so.
And that’s what you’d what to know in times of chaos – how to ‘nudge’ the herd to calm and civil obedience.
Back to Job
Job wasn’t a real individual. Its a story. It’s a parable along with Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (Solomon’s Book). However the Book of Job is a book about human suffering. Plain and simple. In it Job puts God on trial asking why is there so much suffering and wickedness in the world today and why isn’t he doing something more to help. This is the subject that fills the conversations with his “friends”. Its a question that millions of people have asked through out the centuries all down to this very day. The great philosopher Rousseau was very sensitive to human suffering.
The book of Job ends on the spectacular speech from G-d which in my opinion G-d gave him a “non answer” – that’s how I personally knew this wasn’t a real story. In any case as spectacular the answer is given it doesn’t do any justice to answer the simple question of why there is wickedness in the world. Today we are all modern day Jobs suffering in our own right asking the same question. The very same wickedness in Job’s day is reflected in our times and in what we’re about to find out with this imposing global financial disaster because in it we’ll find out just how much we have been deceived by the global elites and for how long! At the very same time we are facing an environmental disaster [possible nuclear threat] and climate change. Coincidentally in the Book of Job, G-d gave an account of how we (humans) are to treat the earth and animals; we receive a detailed account of how G-d created the animals, the earth and how our environment all works in unison together as part of the Divine grand plan for Mother Earth. And look at what have we done! We’ve completely ignored everything! The twin disasters Job was facing back then we’re still facing today!
“Do Something!” is a dangerous demand to make of politicians and it’s being shouted at any available political figure. We want our politicians to so something not anything. “What is not helping us get on that path is this politics of group-based revenge in which one tribe seeks the demoralization, degradation, and disempowerment of the enemy tribe. No matter how you slice it, such thinking can only lead to more abuse and violence, whether perpetrated by lone actors or whole legislatures.” [Jeffery Tucker]
In order to do “something”, we need leaders. We need real leaders. Leaders who aren’t afraid to change laws, that will lay in the framework to help mitigate chaotic circumstances arising from the impending systemic disruption. We need leaders that will inspire hope, calm minds, and lead with confidence. We need leaders who are innovative, who can use all tools available and to use it ethically and responsibly [meaning knowing how to and when not to use them]. We need leaders now who have insight and foresight to plan ahead and manifest that vision and a road map to steer the herd to safety, not by control but by giving them choices to exercise their free will in choosing the security that’s best for themselves and their families. When I look at the present leadership around me today all I see are slim picking, glimmers of hope for some yet needing more time to mature in the direction where we need leadership the most. What we don’t need are politicians feeding into our fear creating tribal wars.
Alternatively, for the religious [or the G-d-minded individual], the Global financial crisis can be interpreted as the direct result of our “impulse of Original Sin, the desire to be like G-d that infects our times and ties together the social chaos. All of the “isms” are merely ways to rationalize and make possible one’s self-actualization, one’s desire to become like G-d.” states the concluding paragraph in The Root of Our Troubles published by the Epoch Times “And if that is truly at the root of our current travails, our times do not end well unless there is a great awakening. No ideology, law, or tradition can adequately beat back the toxin in our collective system. At the end of the day, we must admit that we are in a spiritual battle. Either man will be like G-d or we will humble ourselves and live in accordance with reality.”
“Communities, companies, surveilling technologies, punishment, and deterrence can assist in making the world a more calmer place. Institutions that grant people opportunities in life so that they stop romanticizing death are essential. In the end, however, human evil and terrible tragedy such as we’ve seen have only one solution: a culture of peace and cooperation so widespread and so penetrating that the world around us is thereby made safe. There is no easy path to that place.”
But we all must try.