Chauncey DeVega

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Philip Zimbardo, the head warden of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, a dress rehearsal of sorts for Abu Ghraib, has misgivings about his most infamous research, which featured 18 college-aged male students playing jailers and inmates in a scene that rapidly deteriorated, acknowledging mistakes were made. He still would do it all over again, however.

While the cruel exercise reminded us that humans, under just the right (or, more accurately, wrong) circumstances, can forget their decency, a species that needed to receive that memo just 26 years after the fall of Nazi Germany may be too plagued by a short-term memory to survive its worst instincts. 

In his more recent incarnation, Zimbardo has argued that technology is diminishing males, making guys receptacles for “porn, video games and Ritalin.” Sounds dubious. I don’t know that the geeks at Comic-Con are really what mainly ails us.

I suppose two examples, even such outsize ones, don’t equal a trend, but it would seem Zimbardo is very distrustful of young males, consistently believing them ready foot soldiers for one sort of evil or another. There’s some truth there, but it’s usually their elders who truly drive large-scale violence, conjuring up the sordid scenarios. 

In a Salon Q&A conducted by Chauncey DeVega, Zimbardo considers the danger of America’s resting bitch face, Donald Trump, a Simon Cowell-ish strongman who would undo democracy itself if permitted. The psychologist makes a lot of good points, though his rationale for maintaining that he would still go forward with the SPE if he had it to do all over again is positively Trump-ish: “It’s the most widely known experiment in psychological history,” he points out in defense.

An excerpt:

Question:

You are perhaps most well known for the Stanford Prison Experiment. In hindsight, how do you feel about it?  

Philip Zimbardo:

It’s the most widely known experiment in psychological history. I would do it again. Only I would not play the role of superintendent because in that role you get sucked into it. It was me and two students working around the clock. The prison is breaking down every day. There are parents visiting, parole board hearings, police and prison chaplains coming. There’s escape rumors. It was overwhelming. I know I could not have gone another week.    

Question:

What lessons do you think the Stanford Prison Experiment holds for American society at present?

Philip Zimbardo:

What was dramatic about the study was the rapidity and ease with which intelligent college students who were otherwise normal and healthy followed their roles as prisoners and guards. We gave them no clue of what it means to be a guard. You know, in our culture prison guards are people who have power over prisoners who have less power — except that prisoners have the power of numbers. Guards have to convince prisoners that even though there are fewer of them, they have the weapons; they have other means of power to suppress them. You make them feel helpless and ineffectual.

Question:

What scares you right now? What gives you hope? 

Philip Zimbardo:

Despite all the Trumpism, I’m optimistic about human nature that right will prevail over wrong. Heroism will prevail over evil. For me, again as an educator, it’s really important that teachers have to be anti-Trump in their own political mentality, their own morality. Whether or not they can present those political views in class, they can certainly prevent the Trump political views from being espoused. When kids act Trump-like, they can stop it cold. They can stop Trump-like bullying. They could call it for what it is.

I’m optimistic that Trump and his ideals will go away and people will laugh about it in the near future while saying, How could we have been so stupid?•

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Donald Trump may have been denied a North Korean military-style parade down Pennsylvania Avenue for his inauguration, but Kim Jong-un, even more than Vladimir Putin, remains the current world leader who most matches him in temperament. Vainglorious, vapid and vicious, he’ll purposely (and sometimes accidentally) harm millions of Americans and send the nation ass-backwards into the dark, bankrupting us both financially and spiritually. He’ll project onto the nation all that is awful inside him, an endless pool of bile. Perhaps U.S. democracy will survive the onslaught of Trump and his cabinet of kleptocrats and bigots or perhaps not, but we we’ll be left, at the very least, with blood coming out of our wherever.

The worst unforced error in our modern history was a long time coming, the product of an education system that failed to produce critical thinkers, the Balkanization of news, our need to turn everything into entertainment, unexplored prejudices and many other factors.

All those who aided Trump’s rise are culpable for what comes next, from the opportunistic Chris Christie to the political hacks Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani to a “genius” like Peter Thiel, who was certain there were WMDs in Iraq and is now totally confident that a singularly sociopathic bully is the best person to lead America. 

Several excerpts follow.


The opening of Mehdi Hasan’s blistering New Statesmen piece:

What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective.”
 
It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.•


From Chauncey DeVega’s Salon article “The Butcher Bill Has Come Due“:

There are many explanations for why a voter would might choose a candidate who is likely to do that person harm. The American electorate, to put it kindly, is not particularly sophisticated. The country’s schools are broken: a high percentage of graduates of either high school and college lack critical thinking and reading skills. They also cannot read and properly evaluate an editorial in a newspaper, ordiscern whether a story is from a reputable source or is “fake news.” Voters also privilege different issues in their calculations. For committed conservatives, winning the “culture war” may be more important than basic pocketbook or bread-and-butter issues.

Social scientists have repeatedly shown the ways that American voters reason backward from their conclusions and ignore inconvenient information. The vast majority of Trump voters received their information from Fox News: Disinformation and lies are taken as truth; the phenomenon of circular and self-limiting knowledge that social scientists call “epistemic closure” creates right-wing political zombies. Racism, authoritarianism, bigotry and ethnocentrism are a toxic (and politically intoxicating) mix. And perhaps the most basic truth is that Trump’s voters simply wanted to elect a human grenade as president. They pulled the pin and then forgot to run away from the explosion, likely because they were fascinated by the spectacle and eager to witness the harm they believed Trump would do to their enemies.

The butcher’s bill is due.

Donald Trump’s proposed policies will not make America great again.

Rural Americans will suffer because of Trump’s environment, trade and agricultural policies. Wealth and income inequality will become more extreme, thus punishing and constricting the life opportunities of the vast majority of Americans of all races and backgrounds. Efforts to roll back and destroy Obamacare will deprive millions of health insurance, and may lead to the hundreds of thousands of deaths. Potential deportations of undocumented immigrants will further damage the economy by raising the cost of food and services while also requiring large expenditures of federal money. The expansion of the “stop and frisk” Terrordome against black and brown communitieswill likely increase the number of people killed and brutalized by police while also draining the public coffers to pay for the prison-industrial complex as well as to settle innumerable lawsuits against police.


From David Randall at Reuters:

When U.S. President-elect Donald Trump criticized United Technologies Corp’s (UTX.N) Carrier unit in November for its plan to move some 800 jobs to Mexico, the parent-company made a swift decision to keep the factory in Indiana.

Yet, the move did not translate into saving jobs. Instead, the company decided it would move toward automation as a way to cut costs.

“We’re going to make up [the] $16 million investment in that factory in Indianapolis to automate, to drive the cost down so that we can continue to be competitive,” chief executive Greg Hayes said on CNBC last month. “What that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs.” 

Swapping robots and software for human labor has underpinned much of the productivity gains in the United States over the last 25 years. Now, with a greater political push to keep factories at home, investors are betting that automation will gain speed in industries ranging from auto manufacturing to chicken processing to craft beer breweries. …

Republicans are likely to push tax policies that provide incentives to manufacture goods in the United States, regardless how the work is done, analysts say.

The result could be that there are more goods made at home, without a significant reduction in the unemployment rate.•

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