Wednesday, May 28, 2008


The slogan “Change we can believe in” has become a prominent and inescapable component of every television appearance of Senator Barack Obama, but what is the change that would really make a difference; what is the change that would create a just society; that would allow human beings to complete the journey from subject to citizen; that would create functioning democracies, true governments of the people, by the people, for the people; what is the change that would ignite and release the mental acuity that remains an unrealized potential of the human species and allow us to solve traditional, chronic problems like poverty, crime and drug abuse; and, confront and overcome more recent contretemps like global warming?

The change that would precipitate this miraculous transformation in our circumstances would be if we ceased to rely on coercion as the means used to motivate the other, as we have done from the beginning of the human story; and, adopt and embrace positive reinforcements as the stimulus utilized and emphasized to motivate the other to act.

As the following passage from an introductory text in the discipline of Sociology indicates and documents, the fundamental choice that confronts the humanity species is between relying on the carrot or the stick, between relying on coercion or positive reinforcements:

Reward and punishment play a part in all learning, but one rather than the other may be stressed. Repressive socialization emphasizes punishing wrong behavior, participatory socialization rewards and thus reinforces good behavior. In toilet training, for example, parents may be on the lookout for mishaps to admonish; or they may ignore mishaps and concentrate on praising instances of self-control and compliance.

If the modes of socialization are compared with laboratory conditioning of animals, repressive socialization is similar to administering an electric shock to an experimental rat when he takes a wrong turn in a maze. Participatory socialization is like giving the rat a pellet of food when he selects the right path. Both forms of conditioning extinguish “wrong” behavior, one by the negative act of punishment, the other by the positive act of reward. (Broom 100)

For the past three decades I have been attempting, without success, to galvanize humanity to examine the consequences and implications of using one or the other of these types of motivation.

I have suggested that coercion has been the means relied on from the beginning of the human story to motivate the other to act; that this has created a culture whose ethos is competition, one in which might is right, that is unashamedly elitist, that generates as a consequence high levels of conflict; and, is the root cause of the chronic, apparently immutable, problems of poverty and crime.

This world view is diametrically opposed to the civilized values of simple justice and equity and only is sustained because the application of coercion based culture lames the higher mental processes of human beings so that they cannot objectively and intelligently process information with regards to which type of motivation is the basis for their social interaction.

Time is running out for the human species because we have developed weapons of mass destruction, and, these will destroy the civilizations we have so arduously and painstakingly built - unless the decisions to use, or, not to use these weapons are limited and informed by the dictates of conscience and intelligence.

And, I suggest, there is a viable alternative to reliance on coercion to motivate the other.
We must become adept at utilizing positive reinforcements in our relations with other human beings; a development that would produce a diametrically opposed outcome to the human story.

If we can find the moral courage to effect this fundamental change in our attitudes we could create a culture whose ethos is cooperation; one in which right is might; a social system that is a functioning, not pretend, democracy; a matrix in which human beings overcome the neurosis and ambivalence that lames their intellects; and, which would create the possibility of happiness for ever increasing numbers of human beings.

I suggest that one reason for my failure to ignite this very necessary and urgently required debate on the relative consequences, implications and worth of these two types of motivation; is the fact that I too, am an agent of coercion based culture.

I too am a victim of this neurosis that lames my intellect; I too am subject to the dichotomies and ambivalence that is the most obvious and remarkable feature of human existence; and, during these past thirty years as I have tried unsuccessfully to ignite this debate that would precipitate the redemption and salvation of my species, I have been stripping from my consciousness, layer by agonizing layer, the attitudes and patterns of behavior to which I have been socialized while growing up in a small, minor outpost of Western civilization.

The first premise and fallacy, that buttresses and perpetuates coercion based culture, that I shall attempt to debunk and discredit; is the notion that the world of men and women can be divided into good and bad individuals; the evidence strongly indicates that every single human being plays the role of territorial predator or prey in every social interaction; that some human beings appear to be ‘good’ only because they are better at pretending and dissimulating; and, thus are able to better conceal that they are in fact agents of coercion based culture.

This was aptly and comprehensively exposed in the life and times of Frank Serpico, the New York policeman who was shot in the face for trying to expose the graft and corruption in that metropolitan’s police force; his story makes clear that from time immemorial good guys come last.

This has been my experience in nearly every workplace in which I have been employed, beginning with my first real job as a refinery technician in the Esso Kingston Refinery.

Every employee, regardless of rank, who worked on shift, regularly pilfered gasoline; yet no one was punished for so doing during the more than a decade that I was able to observe that practice.

I stopped stealing gasoline when I witnessed a Laboratory Technician, on his way to his honeymoon in Negril with his new wife in the car; engaging in this illegal enterprise; and, concluded that this had become such an established practice that we were too complacent, and, that someone was bound to be caught sooner or later, and, since I could not bear the shame of that being me; that I would no longer participate in this pattern of behavior.

Thus, I became an oddity and absurdity for this naïve perception; socially, a square peg in a round hole; because no one, has ever had to bear the consequences of being caught, just as no New York policeman is ever publicly castigated or successfully prosecuted for taking graft.
But it is another glaring inadequacy that has been for most of my life, my Achilles heel, that I shall confess and lay bare to demonstrate the seemingly immutable, ubiquitous and monolithic nature of coercion based culture.

I remember, with a clarity little diminished or lamed by the effects of repression, occasions on which my former wife employed a new domestic servant who ignited my lust, while we resided in my native land; on the first occasion that household drudge and myself were alone in the domicile together, going to her, taking her hand and leading her to a location where we would not easily be observed; and, having my way with her, without conversation, foreplay or even a vestige of anything that could be described as a courtship ritual.

It was years later, when I read the following passage from “The Sociology of Slavery” by Orlando Patterson, that I began to appreciate and be aware of the moral implications and unrelieved depravity inherent in a pattern of behavior in which I had so casually, thoughtlessly and mindlessly engaged:

The sexual exploitation of female slaves by white men was the most disgraceful and iniquitous aspect of Jamaican slave society. Rape and seduction of infant slaves; the ravishing of the common law wives of the male slaves under threat of punishment, and outright sadism often involving the most heinous forms of sexual torture were the order of the day. It was common practice for a white man visiting a plantation to be offered a slave girl for the night. Moreton tells us that many of the white employees on the estate had a rotation system whereby
they seduced every desirable female on the plantation over and over again. He also informs us of the practice of many of the attorneys who made a grand annual tour of the estates under their supervision with a large retinue of friends remaining at each estate for a number of days during which there were indescribable scenes of debauchery, the female slaves being primed in advance of their coming.
(Patterson 42)

I feel constrained to interject that I have not copulated with any female since 23rd April, 1993, a discipline that comprehensively demonstrates the degree and extent to which I repudiate, reject and renounce coercion based culture; even as it exemplifies the tragic fact that good guys come last because no human being can satisfy any innate or socially learned drive - unless he, or she, is willing to play the roles of territorial predator or prey.

I am suggesting that at the beginning of the human story, as homo sapiens evolved in the ‘state of nature’ created by the cooling and contracting of the planet before it attained a state of relative equilibrium; the human mind developed a learned adaptation to these very extreme and life threatening circumstances; it divided into two compartments, the conscious and the subconscious.

This development, this involuntary development, was crucial to the very survival of the species; because it allowed human beings to demonstrate a powerful duality - to simultaneously be intelligent; and, harness and utilize fire; and, act with the unrelieved barbarity and savagery that not only allowed them to survive by becoming an efficient and deadly predator; but, facilitated, in the long term, their becoming the dominant species on Planet Earth.

This development also unleashed the ultimate paradox and consummate irony of human existence for it produced in human beings, the almost unlimited capacity for self delusion.
I am constrained to interject at this point, evidence, contemporary evidence that supports this remarkable, incredible and iconoclastic hypothesis.

It is clear that children who suffer at an early age extreme degrees of physical or sexual abuse, or, live in conditions so sere and severe that they approximate the circumstances and conditions that existed in the ‘state of nature;’ these hapless, pitiful individuals develop, involuntarily develop, multiple personalities to allow them to survive these harsh, pitiless environments.

Consider also, the fact that currently human beings who experience the intense mental anguish and traumas occasioned by life threatening incidents, are insulated from the unbearable burden of constantly reliving these moments; by consigning the final moments before the car crashed, or, the memory of witnessing an horrendous act of violence; by consigning these memories to their subconscious where they exist to be retrieved when the individual has regained the capacity to confront them; or, where they are buried forever.

We might also examine the fact that most children are taught to be diplomatic, to not literally describe the inadequacies of other human beings; to not state that the new neighbor is disgustingly fat or ugly; and, consider if this training in diplomacy does not soon extend to the individual and cause them not to think about or accurately describe their own inadequacies or moral failings.

For most of human history to reveal or confess the inadequacies of another human being, or yourself, was to put your life or the life of another in serious jeopardy; to survive human beings had to be socialized not to ‘snitch’ on themselves or anyone else; they learned to consign experiences to their subconscious where they were buried forever.

The extremely sere and extreme conditions combined with the circumstance that human beings had a subconscious compartment to which experiences could be consigned to provide a near unlimited capacity for self delusion; which in turn combined with the socialization that was required for functioning in coercion based culture to create the means for human beings to consign experiences at will to the subconscious compartments of their minds.

There are human beings who have the means to beat a lie detector test, individuals who can bury memories so deeply that they cannot be detected because they do not affect their involuntary responses.

I am suggesting that human culture was determined in the extreme conditions of the ‘state of nature;’ that humanity came habituated to a certain set of ‘conscious and unconscious premises for thinking and action’ in the state of nature and that these have not undergone any significant change since.

Having said this, I am not unmindful of the fact that there have existed down the long march of human history pockets of civility, what I saying is that these were never widespread, dominant or enduring; that these pockets were erased or absorbed without trace by the prevailing, ubiquitous coercion based culture:

Many of us feel that to allow a child to decide for himself and to act according to his own wish, that is, to be permissive, is to show respect for the unique being of the child. Yet for many of the societies we know, it would be presumptuous for any person to “allow” another to take what is essentially his prerogative - the right to decide for himself. These people do not “permit” others. When the children of the Wintu Indians ask “Can I” they are asking for information the rules of the structure; for instance, they may be seeking clarification about a religious taboo or social custom. They are asking in effect, “Is it permissible for me to . . .? And not, “Do you allow me to . . .? These people do not “give” freedom to their children, because it is not theirs to give. If they do not impose an external time schedule on their infants, but feed them when they are hungry, and put them to bed when they are “sleepy,” they are not being “permissive;” they are showing their deep-seated respect for individual worth and their awareness of the unique tempo of the individual. (Broom 73)

It might be appropriate at this point to examine what happens when force is used to motivate action, how dependent personalities are created.

Currently, children are required to perform certain tasks; they are required to get good grades, to help with the household chores, and, accept schedules that limit play and socializing with their peers.

A child who is forced to clean their room and give up more enjoyable activities, resists this imposition; and, is likely to form habits of cleanliness, but will only clean their rooms when pressed by the parent.

A child who is driven to do homework develops the same attitude, and, will likely never learn to love knowledge for its own sake.

I remember a girl who lived on my street when I was growing up, whose existence was not much different from life in a monastery; until she went to college she had never kissed a boy, had any sexual experiences with the other sex, or, had a date.

Perhaps as a result of this lifestyle, she achieved very good grades and got a scholarship to go to college; where she became so promiscuous she garnered the reputation of being so easy that if she refused any proposition it simply needed to be repeated more loudly, because the only way she would fail to cooperate and participate is if she had not heard the first salacious invitation.

For coercion to work it requires that the arbiter of behavior be present, it does not cause the child to internalize values; it creates dependent personalities.

It worked - in communities composed of extended families where most of individuals lived within a fifty mile radius for all of their lives.

In modern social systems composed of nuclear families or single parent households, children must be taught to internalize values, something that cannot be taught by repressive socialization; and, which is an unusual feature in dependent personalities.

Which brings us to the other very powerful tendency that has emerged from the application and practice of coercion based culture:

In the last days of slavery even the Creole slaves, who had never known what it was to be free, began to organize revolts against their masters, and the last and most damaging of all the rebellions remains a living memory of their struggle for something they had never experienced but for which they felt a need sufficiently strong for which to die. (Patterson 282)

Human beings want to decide for themselves what they should do, where they should live, whom they should love etc. and, even if they have never experienced the freedom to make these choices they will put their lives on the line to attain this inalienable right.

This the source of the intense social conflict that currently rages on Planet Earth, of the conflict between individuals, between employers and employees, between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between governments and citizens, and, most lamentably and destructively, between nation and nation.

The notion that there should be governments of the people, by the people, for the people has not ameliorated this conflict but intensified it.

For years I have been futilely and very unsuccessfully trying to communicate that the net effect of spread of democracy, and, the increased popularity, acceptance and strengthening of democratic ideals, values and institutions has resulted in limitations being placed on the degree and extent to which coercion in any form, overt or covert, can be applied to any citizen; which has had the impact of creating low levels of motivation to galvanize human beings to the patterns of behavior that are absolutely essential for societal functioning and social order.

And, there is no going back to the good old days of Absolutism, of feudal societies, of serfs and slaves, in which rulers had the power of life and death over their subjects; because the balance of power has changed irrevocably and beyond recapture.

The good old days of assegai pitted against the Royal Enfield rifle, of bows and arrows pitted against Winchester rifles, of cannons reducing mud fortifications; those good old days when entire populations could be exterminated without outcry or consequence; when millions of human beings could be kidnapped from their native lands and transported to another continent to provide labor are gone forever, never to return.

It is time for a change, it is time for the human race to embrace a future that permit’s the possibility of happiness; a future in which human beings rely on positive reinforcements to motivate the other; a future in which the ethos of every society is cooperation.


Sociology, A Text with Adapted Readings by Leonard Broom & Philip Selznick,
Harper International Edition Copyright 1955 published Harper & Row New York N.Y.

The Sociology of Slavery by Orlando Patterson 1967. First American Edition published 1969 by Associated University Presses, Inc Cranbury New Jersey

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William E. Virtue
Pembroke Pines, Florida
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