Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Learned Helplessness

There have been many reports in recent years that the U.S. government used psychiatrists and/or psychologists to assist in designing torture techniques to be used against Muslims in the middle east in connection with the U.S. War Against Afghanistan and Iraq. And maybe additional wars to come.

The reports are that the U.S. military trains its own people to survive torture and, in connection with that training, devised certain methods of torture that they believed no human being could withstand. Or at least at the conclusion of the use of these types of torture, the human psyche would be destroyed even if the body continued to function.

The desired outcome from the torture was to create in the prisoners a state of "Learned Helplessness." This is a term that comes from experiments done on dogs by an American psychiatrist who was invited by the CIA to lecture the U.S. military on his experiments, and his conclusions. Those lectures were, in turn, used by the CIA and the U.S. military in developing these torture techniques designed to destroy the human psyche.

The experiments done on animals, specifically dogs, showed the following: one group of dogs were put into a cage and given certain options for their behavior. They could, for example, try to escape, they could push a lever. But no matter what they did, no matter how hard they tried, they continued to be subjected to electrical shocks. They learned that they had no ability to stop the abuse. No matter what they did, the torture continued. When those dogs were allowed out of the cages, they simply laid down and submitted, no longer tried to avoid further abuse and torture. They had learned that they were helpless to have any control over their own lives.

This is the desired goal of the U.S. widespread torture programs in the middle east, as well as those which have been conducted in Central and South America by people trained by the U.S. at the School of Americas.

The original experiments were used as part of an investigation into depression and other forms of mental disease in which people feel helpless to do anything to improve their lives. No matter how bad the conditions, they are psychologically trained to believe that they must submit, they are helpless to change or to stop the abuse. This is probably a good explanation of the battered spouse, but also of large numbers of people in our society who are in unhappy relationships, or who are abused and mistreated in their work, but feel unable to try to make any changes. Often, changing jobs isn't a real solution if a country allows workers to be mistreated and underpaid, denied benefits or rights. So a state of learned helplessness exists in the American workforce. For good reason. They've been mistreated and abused, fired if they stand up for themselves, and have learned that they are helpless to stop the abuse.

Is it possible our entire society has been conditioned into a state of learned helplessness. No matter what people do, the government continues to simply take bribes from the corporations, lie to the people, conduct foreign wars of choice, steal our money, send our jobs overseas, give tax breaks to the rich and deny healthcare to the rest of us. This despite the historic number of people who got out and campaigned last year. All the people who believed in change are right now being taught the underpinnings of the state of learned helplessness.

Think about it: the Democrats control the House, have a 60-seat control of the Senate, and control the white house, and despite that they refuse to end the wars, they refuse to provide a real healthcare program for people, they refuse to create job programs, they refuse to hold the Bush administration responsible for its numerous violations of our constitution and other laws, they refuse to hold Wall Street responsible for its criminal theft from the public. They have, quite simply, done nothing for progressive or even for liberals since taking office, except to routinely bash us by calling us names. "The left won't like it," but they need to live with it. And we, as it turns out, are just now learning that we are completely helpless to do anything to affect what our government is doing.

Below is link to an article on the psychiatrist who developed the theory, and how it is the CIA and U.S. military used his theory to develop a program of torture designed not to get information, but instead to destroy human beings, to drive them crazy, to take away their will to live.

Naomi Klein argues in her book The Shock Doctrine that torture is often used after a coup to create a state of submission in the civilian population. Torture a few thousand, make it public, make it particularly brutal, get the information out to the rest of the public, and most people are likely to stop resisting, just do what they are told and try to survive.

We've heard a lot about the "ticking time bomb," by which people argue that we need to torture to find out whether someone has a nuclear weapon ready to go off in our country. But no one has ever provided any factual support to show that's why we began a program of systematic torture throughout Afghanistan and Iraq. Isn't it more likely that the torture program was designed from the outset to destroy human beings and create a state of submission among the other civilians, so the U.S. could keep its permanent military bases in the region, steal all the oil, bomb and attack the neighbors conveniently, with the majority of the population too terrified to do anything to stand up against them.

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