Archive for the ‘Socio Cultural Theory’ Category

My grandmother has a bumper sticker that reads, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I’ve always gotten a good chuckle from that, especially when considering my grandma’s eccentric personality and her unorthodox methods of getting shit done. Sometimes I think that her bumper sticker should be on the front of the car and not the back, that way, at least we’d all get a fair warning that she’s coming and have a good idea of what sort of behavior to expect.

The sticker speaks for more than my grandma, I think. It speaks for more than women in general. Human behavior that deviates from what society considers to be the norm jumps out at us like a blip on an empty radar screen or a spike in a polygraph printout. Deviant behavior is a huge factor in the evolution of human culture because we are compelled, for some reason, to address it and how it is addressed often makes it the catalyst for some sort of change in the larger social group’s behavior patterns. Sometimes it happens on a micro level, like in a family or a community, but sometimes one person’s divergent actions can affect a macro level shift in the culture of a city, of a country or even of the entire world.

People whose brains function in ways outside what society considers to be normal have a bit of a propensity towards this sort of thing. Psychopaths, in particular, seem to be programmed to inspire change. A psychopath is made to behave selfishly and is not equipped, mentally, with the wiring necessary to conform on a pathological level. The sociopath and the psychopath have to learn and consciously apply these behavior patterns in order to fit in with the rest of the world and try to experience some sort of happiness.

Often, the psychopath’s true nature leaks around the edges of the mask or tears entirely through it. Once the psychopath abandons the restrictions of conformity and begins to impose his own nature upon the larger group, he emerges as a catalyst for an overall behavioral shift. This can happen in one of two ways or in a combination of both. In the first, the deviant behavior is pathological with no intent whatsoever in controlling the larger group. Numerous instances of serial killings have prompted all sorts of changes in society, particularly related to passage of legislation, but none of this change was intended. To the psychopath, the associated shift in the larger culture was not even considered with regards to the behavior; the deviant behavior is it’s own motivation and the resulting societal shift is…coincidental. However, when the psychopath seeks to intentionally change the nature of the larger culture by imposing himself upon it, look out, because all bets are off.

Think of it this way: mass shootings like the ones in Colorado and Connecticut have brought about a lot of talk regarding the expansion of gun regulation and have added momentum to an anti gun subculture. If tighter gun laws come as society’s expression of need for them in the wake of these sort of incidents, this was probably not considered by the shooters when they locked and loaded. There is no grand design and maybe the need for heavier handed gun restrictions might be justified. This is a natural reaction to a pathologically deviant behavior which causes harm. There are some people, however, who claim these shootings were actually carried out by unknown conspirators in hopes of drawing support to overreaching international small arms legislation which was up for vote around the same time these shootings went down. If these guys are right, and they seem to present a fair amount of evidence, it means the behavior (shooting a bunch of innocent people) itself was not actually pathological, and that it merely served as a conduit of influence towards achieving whatever pathological need that heavier duty gun laws might serve.

Can you see the difference? The psychopaths who use their capacity to engage in deviant behavior as a means to an end are infinitely scarier than those whose behavior, as bizarre and/or terrifying as it can potentially be, are relatively benign on a macro level. Think of it this way: who is more harmful and has done more damage to the larger group…Ted Bundy or Dick Cheney?

Ha.

So all this being said, I have two absolute favorite psychopaths about whom I simply must share…

The first is Joshua Milton Blahyi aka General Butt Naked. I first learned about the General from a Vice documentary called “The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia.” During the early 90s, Liberia was engaged in a very nasty civil war. Blahyi, who was supposedly initiated as a tribal shaman at the age of eleven, had already participated in ritualized human sacrifice and cannibalism before the war ever began. With the onset of the war and his subsequent commission under warlord Roosevelt Johnson, General Butt Naked continued to engage in violent antisocial behavior, although on a much grander scale.

In Butt Naked’s heyday, he led a small army of child soldiers into combat, wearing nothing but sneakers and tightie whities and often carrying purses along with rifles and machetes. He described heavy use of alcohol and drugs, along with regular ritual killings and cannibalization in conjunction with the atrocities that were already being committed as a part of the war.

It was funny, in the Hostel movie, when the little kids used the bad guy’s head as a soccer ball. Dark and twisted, but still funny. It wasn’t funny when Blahyi talked about doing it for real. To my knowledge, he’s never been tried or held accountable for any of his past actions.

These days he’s a traveling evangelical Christian preacher with a wife and four kids. He wears clothes, along with his shoes and sports a bible instead of an AK-47 and a purse. These days he delivers seemingly relevant and well penned sermons throughout churches in Liberia. The documentary showcased one such sermon that I found to be, given the social context of post civil war Liberia, quite poignant and generally good advice on how the country should conduct itself in the future.

This crazy bastard isn’t my favorite psychopath because I venerate anything he did or does, it’s because he makes me think. Without a doubt, the guy is a monster all the way down to his marrow. His behavior, historically, has proven his status as a monster. I question, however, the nature of his pathological need…is it slaughter, blood drinking and severed head Olympics, or were these activities simply a means to some other end? Or both?

Personally, I don’t think monsters stop being monsters. It’s an ingrained part of a person’s identity. I do think that people often change tactics and evolve with the changing of the times. This is what I suspect has happened with the General. He’s still the same old rotten bastard he always was, he just conducts his business in a different way. He now speaks to people in a way which, from what I can tell, is likely to have a substantial effect on the social culture of the country. My question is, given who he is and what he’s done, do his words still carry value?

Absolutely. Words are, well, words, and they all carry value. By removing the source context, the cannibal General, the words alone amount to, in my opinion, pretty good advice. If we disregard the history and very existence of General Butt Naked and consider only the family man Joshua Blahyi, it truly seems as though he speaks from a place of wisdom and honesty.

Perhaps that’s why he changed his name…maybe he understands something that everyone else should.

Once a man kills a child and eats it and then gives it to other children to eat before arming them and sending them into combat, once that happens, we can understand never to trust that person. That person is capable of anything and the behavior proves it. In order to ever be considered credible, the person has to distance their self from the behavior…or reinvent their identity entirely.

This is dangerous for everyone else. If Liberia forgets who General Butt Naked is, and engages Joshua Blahyi the preacher by adopting his ideas and teachings, they risk giving him power once more. In a few generations, the truth of Butt Naked will fade entirely and people will only know a famous preacher as a preacher. And we all know we can trust preachers, right?

This brings us to my other favorite psycho, one with whom we are all familiar, though only by his preaching name. Most folks have no idea who Saul of Tarsus actually is. Like General Butt Naked, he assumed another name and took up the cross.

Saul was born in Tarsus, now Turkey, to a Jewish father and a Roman mother. He is assumed to have been well educated, Tarsus having been considered the first century equivalent of a modern university town. Tarsus was also rich, both academically and culturally, and Saul supposedly came from a notable family with the means to provide just such an education. He was, in fact, educated in Jerusalem as a Pharisaic Jew and it is this element of his education which made his life notable.

Saul grew into a great persecutor of the early Christians, attempting to erase the new faith and it’s followers from the Earth, and he was there from the beginning. In the book of Acts in the New Testament, Saul is noted as approving of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first recorded incidence of Christian martyrdom. According to his own words, he persecuted Christians “beyond measure” and was both known and feared by those he encountered. Typical executions of Christians by Jews used stoning as the primary method, while those referred to Roman authorities were generally crucified (as in Jesus) or beheaded (like Paul). Speaking of Paul…

Our good friend, Saul of Tarsus, was headed south towards Damascus when he was engaged, supposedly, by the martyred Jesus, who told him he was being naughty and had better straighten up. Saul fell down and worshipped Jesus, became a Christian, and is thereafter known as Paul the Apostle. If you are unfamiliar with Paul, perhaps you have read some of his work, fourteen of the twenty seven books of the New Testament. He also carries the burden of responsibility for the formation and ideology of the Christian church.

Paul never wrote about his conversion or when he was visited by the ghost of Jesus. Whoever wrote the book of Acts recounted that story, sometime after Paul’s death. Paul, according to scholars, didn’t actually write half of the books attributed to him, most of which are sermons and communiques directed towards the budding Christian churches in the places he visited. Depending upon who you ask, only between four and seven of Paul’s “works” were actually even written by the same person. And that person could have been anyone. Outside of biblical accounts, Paul is virtually devoid of mention in other historical records of his time. His execution, thought to have been at the hands of Nero, was not documented until more than a century after it happened. The bible even neglects to mention his beheading. The Catholics, however, claim to have unearthed his remains in 2009.

To Christians, Paul is central to the theology, with his teachings assigned value comparable to those of Jesus, even when they might not seem to be on the same page. Unfortunately, we are not usually presented with a historical context from which to interpret events coming from one source. Most of us, for example, are unfamiliar with the historical connotations of the term ‘Pharisee.’ If you ask the Sunday school teacher, she’ll direct you to the preacher who will tell you they were the Jewish rabbis who killed Jesus. That’s maybe a little bit true. No, actually it’s not really true at all.

They were Jewish church officials and they did happen to be Pharisees, but that term represented much more in those days. The Pharisees were actually a sect of Judaism, generally considered dominant over the Saducces (their primary rivals), the Essenes ( monks thought to be responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls) and the Zealots (more of a renegade political movement, think Jewish Taliban). During the first century, violence amongst these groups was common and it is likely that Paul was engaging moreso in sectarian terrorism as opposed to the active persecution of Christianity, a concept which hadn’t actually come together yet.

It is important to remember that during the time of Paul, and especially his former days as Saul, there were no Christians. There were Jews who believed Jesus was the messiah, but there did not yet exist a true creation of a new people. Paul, or Saul I suppose, wouldn’t necessarily have identified as a persecutor of a new religion. I think he would be more accurately described as a member of the Pharisee sect, possibly identifying with the Zealots politically, who did his best to stamp out the beginnings of a a group of heretics before subsequently joining them and becoming a church leader.

Also worth considering is Jewish tithing law, which did actually specify a ten percent contribution to support the priest class. The high council of priests, the Sanhedrin, was subsequently behind the execution of Jesus. Ten percent of everyone’s salary was, and still is, a lot of dough and it makes sense that the governing preachers would have a vested interest in protecting that. A splinter sect of Judaism that virtually absolved it followers from the authority of the Jewish temple would have been considered to be a major financial threat and it is through this context of history that Saul of Tarsus emerges as an enforcer for a religion-based protection racket.

In doing such, Saul had people stoned. Later, when he wrote the verses that would be used to formulate the first Christian church, he even boasted of it. I think he was a dirtbag who was capable if manipulating and inciting other people to do some awful shit. Through a modern understanding of human nature, the established patter of behavior indicates that the Apostle Paul was actually a dangerous psychopath.
Incidentally, Paul was not even technically an apostle. According to Jesus’ homeboy Peter, you had to be a disciple before you could be an apostle. Paul never even met Jesus. Furthermore, much discourse exists regarding fundamental differences between the teachings of Paul as opposed to those of Jesus, some being downright contradictions. In these respects, as well as all others mentioned, feel free to do your own sound research and make up your own mind.

Regarding Paul’s theoretical identification as a psychopath, he is not all that different from General Butt Naked. Both men engaged in violent and manipulative psychopathic behavior before adopting a new identity and becoming traveling evangelists. As with Butt Naked, Paul’s historical pattern of behavior raises questions as to the validity of his later teachings and writings.

In Ephesians, Paul instructs slaves to “obey your earthly masters.” Apparently, it’s more important to set a good Christian example as a slave than to experience God given free will. He also writes, in Romans, that governments and leaders should be obeyed and that they are “ordained by God.” Isn’t that interesting?

It is also through Paul, in his same letter to the Romans, that a renewed justification in the persecution of homosexuals is derived. It is more likely that he was referring to the pederasty associated with some forms of pagan religions. I find it darkly comical that the same form of sexual deviancy he spoke against has persisted in the very church he founded for centuries. That was a direct stab at the Catholics, by the way.

In a handful of passages, good ol’ Paul sets our women folk in a place of submission, asserting authority over them and directing that they quietly learn from men. I’m not kidding or even exaggerating about that. Look in Corinthians, Timothy and Ephesians. I think it’s elsewhere as well. This doctrine, sadly, is actually still applied in some American communities and written words attributed to a proven dickhead who existed two thousand years ago.

The trouble, again, with people like Joshua Blahyi is that eventually we forget he used to be General Butt Naked and that he fed people’s children to other children. He has also, as Paul did, boasted of it in an expression of feigned repentance. Disassociating the historical context from the identity of the teacher is very dangerous and leaves people open to manipulation. The changing of the name is significant and coincidentally, symbolic of the act of a wolf zipping up a sheep costume.

Paul, or rather Saul, is of much more concern than Butt Naked, however, because his teachings not only reach a global audience but have established much of the doctrine that his audience subscribes to. Furthermore, these teachings have persisted for generations, with each becoming more ignorant of the cultural implications of the belief system than the last.

I think I agree with Thomas Jefferson when he claimed that Paul did more to subvert the message of Jesus than any other man in history. Considering how much of the foundation of the Catholic Church, and the Protestants actually, is based upon Paul’s teachings, an assertion that much of the church itself is a subversion of the very idea of Christ is not at all out of the question.

Paul’s influence is, in fact, prolific, and he is certainly notable as one of the most influential psychopaths in history. Butt Naked is small potatoes, compared to Paul, but I think they are cut from the same cloth and find society’s acceptance of their “conversions” and veneration of their teachings to be both fascinating and horrifying. Imagine being a sheep and seeing a wolf. Just as you start to flee, the wolf says, “Wait…hold up…give me a second to put on this sheep suit and then you won’t have to run. You can just go back to eating grass and breeding. Every now and then, my homeboys and I will eat one of you and it’ll be ok because Jesus said to do it like that.” So you say, “Ok.”

Indeed.

The accepted perception of a person’s conversion from a homicidal maniac to a respected follower and teacher of Christianity is not an easy feat. Serial killers and other criminal psychopaths try that shit all the time. In these two cases, Saul and Butt Naked, the success is notable and the results are, particularly with Saul, measurable on a grand scale. It’s why I say they are my favorites. Of all the psychos and socios that exist in history, most are known for deeds directly associated with anti social personality spectrum disorders. These two guys, the ones I enjoy reading about, have been able to reinvent their personas entirely, right in front of their victims, and then be warmly accepted as new men.

I don’t believe in conversions. I only understand calculated tactical shifts in behavior designed to elicit a response and I’m telling you, these guys are motherfucking masters at it.

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It’s supposed to be scary when someone pulls a gun on you. I realize that now. When I was sixteen, I’d never given it much thought. I have to think about and actually experience such things to gain any understanding.

Picture Halloween night in a subdivision in small town America…a bunch of teenagers shooting basket ball in the street…nothing sinister…nothing to be afraid of. Except there was this one house… Most of the houses were nice, well kept and the neighbors were friendly but this one house, it was different. Unkempt. The paint was peeling. They never mowed but they didn’t have much living grass so it didn’t really matter. There were dirty old rusty cars in the driveway. The occupants didn’t look much different. Sweaty with long hair and not particularly friendly.

That Halloween, they weren’t home. The creepy guys that drove up in the old Cutlass realized it pretty quick. We watched one of them knock and then get back into the car. Instead of leaving the neighborhood, they drove past us, turned in the cul de sac and headed back. When they got to us, the car stopped and the passenger rolled the window down. He was greasy looking with a floppy brown hat on. He looked like something from Deliverance when he slid the long barrel of a single shot shotgun out the window and directed a racist statement at the black kid in our group.

Everyone broke and ran for my cousins house. I watched them running for cover and then looked back at the car. The guy never even looked back at me. The gun disappeared inside the car and they drove away. I scratched their tag number into the dirt with a stick.

My friends, for some reason, were impressed that I hadn’t run like a big chicken. I wondered to myself why I hadn’t perceived the same threat they had and reacted in a similar way. The reason is that I don’t have the same relationship with my fear response system that most people have.

Brain scans of individuals on the psychopath end of the Socio-spectrum have indicated severe dysfunction and sometimes a lack of any function at all in the centers of the brain relating to fear processing and response. This suggests either an extreme desensitization or a simple lack of appropriate wiring necessary to experience fear and perceive it in others. Had I not gotten scared and ran away with my friends because that part of my brain simply didn’t work? Was I born that way?

Recent research into “brain plasticity” suggests that might not be the case at all. The science basically states that most functions of our brains are essentially adaptations based upon our environments and sensory inputs. Our biological functions, in other words, are not necessarily as predetermined as originally thought. For example…when musician’s brains are scanned, several areas, especially memory, show much more electrical activity than that of a non-musician. This increased activity is due to increased need for use of that part of the brain. As a result of continued use, new neurons are produced and that part of the brain becomes stronger.

How does this apply to fear and my seeming response malfunction? Imagine if Mowgli from the Jungle Book were inserted into a basketball game in suburban America. What would happen if, just as he had begun to understand the game, two rednecks rolled up and pulled a gun? All the teenagers should naturally be inclined to run, except Mowgli, who wouldn’t have a fucking clue what a gun is or what to do when someone whips one out.

Mowgli would likely stand there, just as I had, wondering why everyone else was running. It would appear that Mowgli and myself share a commonality. I am not suggesting that Mowgli was some sort of sociopath anymore than I am claiming to have been raised by wild animals in the jungle. The trait that we theoretically share is not based in biology but is in fact simply an affect based upon our respective personal cultures, life experiences and interpretations of external stimuli.

The link between our behaviors is rather specific. Mowgli would likely have no understanding of what a gun is, how it is used or what it is for. Nothing about that situation would initiate a fear response. I, on the other hand, as a sixteen year old American male, was quite aware of all these things (shout out to network television). Our two “experiences” might suggest that an association between the fear response system and a catalyst, such as a gun, is not enough to activate the system and initiate an actual response.

Running away from a gun the way a chicken runs from, well, anything, is also a socially-based association. Human beings are not born with an instinct to run from rednecks with guns; it’s something we have to learn. Mowgli, obviously, wouldn’t have learned the response if he didn’t possess the initial knowledge that a redneck with a shotgun can blow a mighty big hole in a man.

The potential danger of the situation was in no way a foreign idea to me. Between my experiences hunting and the things I’d seen on television, I understood, all to well, how much harm a shotgun could cause. I’m sure my friends had this same understanding. We’d grown up in the Golan Globus era, after all, and we had been the intended audience fora variety of sensationally violent media for most of our lives. They quickly formed the association between the gun and an element of immediate personal danger. Furthermore, they all exhibited an identical and seemingly instinctual response when they ran.

During those moments, their brains registered dramatically increased activity in the regions associated with fear response. When this happens, emotion essentially takes over and overrides the brains ability to rationally process input. The fact is, that by running away towards no visible cover, they made themselves easier targets. During such a crisis, the brain of a sociopath doesn’t register nearly as much activity and tends to remain relatively rational.

I think that this is a learned behavior. The U.S. Navy uses a training method that essentially reprograms the brain’s fear response system through a process utilizing desensitization, re-association and breathing techniques in order to control the physiological effects of fear often present during crisis situations. One of the techniques involves putting a bag over someone’s head and upon suddenly removing it, presenting a situation which ranges in intensity from something as scary as an attack with a meat cleaver to a little old lady asking for directions. Students are evaluated based upon time and the effectiveness/appropriateness of their response. The idea is to weaken the impulsivity of the fear response system and maintain rational mental abilities while engaging in dangerous activities.

I grew up in a household where emotional abuse and violent outbursts were common. Physical violence, while not necessarily infrequent, was certainly not the norm. I liken it to the whole “Terrorist Threat Level” shit on the news. The signs are always there. Always posted. They’re assigning a level of fear, the same way an angry stepfather towers over a boy and screams in the most menacing way possible. Based upon the plasticity research, the fear response centers in the brain might likely adapt to such situations at an early age. Actual physical abuse, in such situations, is not omnipresent and it’s occurrences are often easily predicted by the victims based upon past experience. Simply put, some things precipitate ass beatings and some things don’t. Even if someone is physically threatening you with a hammer for the purposes of inducing fear and maintaining control, you learn more often than not that actually being hit requires some element that would make the individual feel justified to use the weapon. At least with that particular individual. You get a hammer or a fist shaken at you enough times, you stop being scared so long as no causation is evident. Every time the hammer comes out, whether it’s used or not, this pattern is reinforced and the fear response weakens. When it weakens, the brains rational response increases and seeks to better understand and interpret the survival dynamics of the situation. This further weakens the fear response, and so on.

Eventually, a sixteen year old boy sees a gun barrel slide out a car window. Standing toward the rear of car, nearly to the immediate right of the gunman, he was in no immediate danger. The shooter could not have physically gotten a shot into that boy before the boy could take control of the weapon. He was close after all, and the shotgun only had one shell. The redneck only had one useless shot, so far as the boy was concerned, before his object of fear became the boys blunt instrument and the redneck, trapped inside a metal box, got his face bashed in.

It’s not that I do not experience fear or that a certain part of my brain either doesn’t exist or doesn’t work. On the contrary, I think that my fear response system works appropriately during times when I perceive myself to be in real danger but is desensitized to the point that it does not override my ability to rationally process fear-associated stimuli when presented to me. My friends’ fear responses took over their brain function, whereas mine was weak enough that my rational brain had an opportunity to assess the situation and determine that I would be safer staying close to the car and potentially engaging my fight response system.

Being a big chicken, or at least running like one, seems to have more to do with a poorly tuned ability to assess danger and know when to run and when not to run than it has to do with bravery or cowardice or even something as extreme as “having a death wish.” Coming from an abusive and fear-based household, as I did, suggests that my brain simply adapted to its environment. Furthermore, it’s conceivable that such a common trait amongst sociopaths might actually be a learned trait passed down generationally.

This relationship with fear provides for a world view which, while not unique, is definitely uncommon. I see the way other people engage with fear, most often, the way you look into a room through an open window. To me, it’s like a twisted equation scraped into the paint on the wall.

Association(catalyst + perception) = fear.

The catalyst element is what is recognizable to most folks. It’s the thing you’re afraid of and it’s nature can vary from the truly scary, such as a grizzly bear, to something as benign as a big red Christmas candle. Most people are familiar, in some way, with the nature of grizzly bears, even if it’s through television and I think we can all agree that if you get crossways with one, it’s very likely to fuck you up. Like bad fuck you up. Or even eat you. Indeed, an encounter with a grizzly bear should produce a fear response that is based in rationality.

I don’t know anyone who is afraid of big red Christmas candles. That’s because it’s a stupid, irrational thing to be afraid of, but it’s possible. If you take the candle and beat someone with it enough times, the presence of the candle will initiate a fear response. Granted, it’s not quite the same as the bear, but it’s a fear response nonetheless. This is where perception figures in. The grizzly bear provides its own context for the possibility of a negative and maybe even fatal encounter, whereas the big red candle needs some help to become a deadly weapon. The assessed potential outcome of the encounter, regardless of its context, is what defines our perspective.

The fear response engages, typically, when an association is formed between an outcome that is in some way unpleasant and a catalyst. The association equivocates to televised images of bear attacks or the experience of being bludgeoned with a cinnamon apple scented hunk of beeswax.

The funny thing about the equation…the variables are essentially static and can be applied in such a way as to produce a desired effect. It’s referred to as a “scare tactic” and the application requires an additional layer of association. If you encounter a grizzly bear and you don’t have a big assed gun, you’re probably going to run. Running would be the fear response, just as shooting the bear would be if you happened to be armed. Whether it comes from our parents, friends, the tv or nature magazines, a framework of knowledge is provided for us which associates the possible responses to the encounter. Some folks call it common sense.

For the sake of argument, I have an unarmed liberal friend who I want to make run like a chicken. I also have access to a grizzly bear. All I have to do to get the desired response is to apply the grizzly bear to my friends reality and watch him run like a chicken.

Take it a step further. Say I like dinner to be ready promptly at six p.m. When it’s not ready by seven, I pick up the big red Christmas candle from the kitchen table and beat the motherfucking brakes off my wife with it. The next night, I do the same thing at 6:01 and display the candle prominently in the kitchen as a reminder afterward. I have chosen a random catalyst, provided a negative perspective for its existence and associated the two things together. Furthermore, I have provided only one acceptable response, of my own choosing: the establishment of a behavior in another person which suits my purposes.

(If you read this, Penny, I promise never to beat you with a big candle no matter how late dinner is.)

This is how people use fear against other people. The catalyst itself, while the most recognizable symbol of our fear, is often quite random, and it is the perception and subsequent response which are in fact most significant. On a daily basis, our fear responses are engaged. More often than not, the attempts are subtle, as with advertising, but sometimes, sometimes it is blatant. I see it the most in political rhetoric and embedded within religious doctrine.

The reason people use fear against one another is to get something they want. It’s that simple. And if all of the elements in the equation are present…if a motivation can be linked to the established response, that means someone’s pulling some shit on someone.

I like to watch the Walking Dead…it reminds me sometimes of the old George Romero ploy of lacing a horror picture with social commentary. In season three, however, I watched a flu virus overshadow the danger posed by the dead returning as unstoppable cannibals. The response? Acquire pharmaceuticals and get rid of the pigs. That’s not an accident. It’s called fear based marketing and this incidence is rather obvious. Sometimes the fears played upon are more subtle, such as demonstrating a response toward the fear of social rejection by presenting audio/visual examples positively portraying the use of consumer goods and services that we are expected to believe will make us more acceptable to others.

Does that make advertisers any different than a guy who beats his wife with a big red candle? Of course they’re different. But the methodology, it seems, links them intimately and this, to me, suggests a comparable mindset and similar personalities establishing micro cultures of self-perpetuating shittiness.

The fact is, I can fucking smell my own kind.

I am old enough to remember the Stranger Danger campaign back in the 1980’s. I was always on the lookout for guys with mustaches and windowless vans going around handing out free candy. To this day guys in vans with mustaches still creep me out. But, the fact is, no strangers ever offered me or any one that I know any free candy or any free rides in rusty Scooby Doo vans. I do know, however, several people who were molested by either relatives or people in other positions of authority in their lives. This reality is supported by research and statistics whereas people being molested by strangers…that doesn’t really happen all that much. How many headlines have you read reporting the arrest of a guy in a trench coat hanging out in the school yard touching little boys? How many times have you read about a coach or a teacher or a priest or even a parent? See what I mean?

Sexual predators tend to be repeat offenders. Regularly engaging in such behavior is risky and unless the offender plans on killing the victim, measures must be taken to minimize the risk that the child might spill the beans. This is where a process called grooming comes into play.

Grooming is the preferred method used by pedophiles to mentally prepare a victim to be molested as well as conditioning them to accept it and keep it a secret. Effective application of this process allows an offender to operate undetected for many years. Think Jerry Sandusky or the priesthood.

The basis of the principle is to create, within the victim, a sense of complicity with regards to the offense. A child, for example, might be given inappropriate gifts or allowed to engage in some sort of guilty indulgence by the adult in question. This would create a dynamic of complicity within the relationship as well as a perception of shared guilt and sets a precedent for the sharing of secret pleasures. Slowly the secret pleasures begin to take on a sexual overtone and the offender will begin to apply guilt and shame to further ensure the precious privacy a fuckwad like that needs not to get caught with two fingers and a rosary up a ten year old’s butt.

Maneuvering oneself into a position of power such that concepts like guilt and shame may be applied authoritatively requires finesse and an understanding of how to use people’s emotions against them. The desired feelings of guilt and shame are produced my manipulating a persons perception of themselves. Often this is achieved through the introduction of inadequacy.

Inadequacy. There it is again. It’s not going to be a recurring theme is it?

Creating feelings of inadequacy in a person is essential in the grooming process. By allowing an externalized reality (such as the bow hunting “trophy photos” or a pedophiles shame assault) to take control of the self-esteem, a person becomes dependent upon that reality to define and provide measurement of their own personal value.

Through logic, it would seem that the precise methodology and application of the grooming process would be dependent upon the desired outcome and the nature of the victim. While a pornographic image or some candy might be an appropriate tool for a pedophile to implement, a picture of a dude with a bow and a dead animal might not work so well.

So why is it important to understand how a predator uses their victims self esteem against them by implanting feelings of inadequacy? Why? Because that shit is everywhere, that’s why. Like herpes and skinny jeans.

To really grasp the depth of it, it’s necessary to visit the beginning. Not the real beginning, mind you, but the Official Genesis Beginning, that’s right, I’m going biblical.

We all know the Adam and Eve story, at least if we’re raised as Christians we do. Adam, if you don’t remember, was the dude who married the chick who was tricked into eating some manner of forbidden vegetation by a talking snake. She of course went on to convince her husband to join her. God got pissed and kicked them out into the desert. Nuff said.

From this story we are taught the dogma of “original sin.” This teaching implies that the human being, by nature, is a wicked being. A wicked being who, by the way, is deserving of God’s wrath. This theme is an ongoing one if you continue reading, occurring again and again throughout the Old Testament. The teaching is expounded upon in the New Testament with the introduction of Jesus.

Let’s consider the fundamentals of the Jesus-as-Savior story. This is what the Christian doctrine actually teaches us to believe: God looked down upon man and, once again, took notice of how wicked they had become. When God saw this, he became angry and decided that he, once again, must punish man for his iniquities. Bear in mind that man’s iniquities are more often than not explained to be terrible crimes like sodomy as opposed to the more benign, such as systematic enslavement or murder. Nevertheless, naughty children need punishment so what does God do? The only thing an omnipotent being could do…he made himself a son that he could hand over to a bunch of crooked Jews so that they could torture him and then nail him to a board. Three days after the execution, he climbed out of his grave and flew away into the sky. I guess stuff like that happened all the time in those days.

Wait…I’ve always been taught that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Of course he did. Two thousand years ago, the Jewish priesthood nailed a guy to a board because last week I lied to my mother, my neighbor coveted my goat and three gay guys got it on on the Lower East Side. That makes total sense…except it doesn’t. At all. Not from a thinking man’s perspective anyway.

But that’s what many of us have been taught. From the time we are children, we are told that our nature is fundamentally sinful and although we are God’s children that he loves, we just happen to be born with an innate badness that requires us to experience some form of redemption. This redemption comes in the form of being “saved” or “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.” I’ve never entirely understood what it is that I need to be saved from but what I do understand are the personal implications of Christian salvation.

Hold on to your seat because I’m about to compare Christianity to child molestation.

From the beginning, in the Christian culture, we are groomed. We are taught that we are undeserving. This teaching is fundamental to the religion. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says the bible. The book of Matthew goes on to explain that even thinking of committing adultery is just as bad as committing the offense itself. This an interesting paradigm of measurement. From a moral standpoint, man is doomed and was from the very beginning due to his sinful nature. And woman too, for that matter. Especially women. After all, it was that bitch Eve that got us into all this in the first place.

It would seem that nothing except a personal relationship with Jesus and engagement with the Christian church can save a person from spending eternity in hell (more on heaven and hell at a later time). Even Isaiah points out that a persons righteousness is not enough. This means we’re all actually double-fucked from the very beginning. We’re all sinners. Even if our external behavior is perfect, we are all guilty of thought crimes and according to the New Testament, God does not distinguish between thought crimes and actual crimes with real victims. That means when I fantasize about water boarding James Taylor with elephant urine, I’m just as guilty as, say, Dick Cheney. What exists is essentially a moral standard that Jesus himself couldn’t live up to. Not only that, but we’re flat out told that our behavior has little to do with our salvation. No one is good enough and if by chance someone happens to be, we are reminded by Isaiah that good works are not enough.

A dynamic such as this creates, for the potential follower, a dependency upon the belief structure to support their feelings of self worth. This system relies upon the application of guilt and shame in order to cement the dependency, much in the same way a pedophile grooms a child.

Once a person accepts the Christian version of reality, it becomes necessary to assume the role of “Christian” and start to normalize all of the behaviors associated with that role into everyday life. Little by little, the person accepts an externally created identity as their own. Think of a young bow hunter aspiring to be in his own trophy photo or the child who experiences guilt and accepts culpability for abuse to the point that a need to be in an abusive relationship actually arises and potentially abusive mates are consciously selected.

A reasonable question to ask would be: why? For a pedophile, it’s about sex and control. For a sporting goods manufacturer, it’s about turning a profit. For an abusive sociopath, it is often about having a meal ticket for a wife. In each case, an incentive is involved. Sometimes there are several incentives. Without any, evidence of the grooming process becomes circumstantial or even coincidental. Grooming is a process intended to produce an outcome and without having a notion of what that outcome is, it’s hard to establish with certainty that grooming has actually taken place.

How about this for an incentive: last year the Catholic Church reported $170 billion in expenditures. That’s a 17 with ten zeroes tacked on. Plus change. That’s approximately what the Turkish government spent in 2012. As far as expenditures go, the Catholic Church ranks on the lower end of the top third of worldwide national government expenditures. That’s one hell of an economy for an institution that claims to be about salvation.

In the land of the guilt-ridden Protestant, the suggested tithing amount equivocates to ten percent of an individual’s income, payable weekly during a public collection ceremony complete with emotional music, for your enjoyment of course, and an upper third billing on the printed Sunday agenda. I’d like to see a Baptist minister lay a fire and brimstone sermon and then pass the collection plate. I don’t care how much you brainwash people, you’re going to turn a lot less profit when you ask for the money after you’ve pointed out to the congregation that they are black hearted sinners who deserve to burn in the hottest recesses of hell. It’s best to collect the money first and then apply the guilt and shame that reinforces the control aspect of the relationship and ensures return visits the next Sunday.

I know what you’re thinking…it’s a bit of a stretch. It seems like a mean and rotten thing to do and many of the expenditures of the church are legitimately philanthropic. The preacher is a nice guy, too. He wouldn’t do that. And you’re right. The different organized religious systems do affect a lot of change in the world. These days the big churches are spending a lot of money in Africa. Think of it as an investment and competition for territory. Historically, the Christian church has stopped at nothing in its quest to spread the gospel, engaging in both torture as well as genocide in order to solidify its control over a geographic region. Tithes and collections are big business on a macro level and when it goes global, well, there is a lot of money floating around that doesn’t have to be reported the same way everyone else’s income does.

A professional minister in the employ of the United Methodist Conference draws a salary between $45,000 and $70,000 annually, depending upon the location and not necessarily including any provision by the local church of housing accommodations. The subject matter of their sermons is provided to them and they are ultimately responsible to deliver the information to the congregation, cultivate the leader/follower dynamic and provide a positive representation of the church to the media. It sounds like a lot more than it actually is.

Whether the behavior is engaged in consciously or simply because the preacher believes it to be correct, the effect remains the same. It is unnecessary for the preacher to be consciously complicit in the process; it is only necessary that the preacher act out the role correctly. Many preachers, in fact, embrace the belief system with such earnest that they take on congregations with no stipend whatsoever. While these men do mean well and may be trusted to the extent that the genuinely believe what they teach is right, they are ultimately following a play book established by professional preachers who might very well be preaching because they’re too damned lazy to work. Refer back to the shit and shovel analogy from last time…

So a guy gets a job running a church and churches, as we all can agree, do some pretty nice things for people. It’s a good job and it pays well. The catholic priest where I live drives a shiny black Acura with tinted windows. He’s a nice guy. So what?

By the church’s own belief structure, what’s going on is riddled with the stench of sin. Let’s say a mafia guy goes in a small shop and says “assume the role of a victim and pay me a weekly stipend or else the flames of hell will descend upon you.” That’s called extortion and it’s a felony. On the same street, the preacher says, “assume the role of of a victim and pay me a weekly stipend or else the flames of hell will descend upon you.” That’s called tithing and it’s completely acceptable. It’s necessary, in the Christian world, to fulfill the role of being Christian. For a Christian fully engaged in the belief structure, the eternal flames of hell are just as real as some guido-type’s gallon of gasoline and book of matches are to an immigrant shopkeeper in the Bronx.

There is no distinction, neither from a Christian perspective nor otherwise. In each scenario, an offender utilizing sociopathic principles of manipulation assumes a role of power in the victims life and accepts payment of personal resources in exchange for a feeling of security needed only because of the nature of the relationship itself.

It’s still not as bad as child molestation. Well, actually, according to the book of James, there is no distinction between sin. If a person breaks one of God’s laws, that person has broken them all. Even if you think that philosophy is ridiculous, and I do, one is still just as bad as the other. The methodology is nearly identical, the long term impact on the victims self esteem is quite comparable and, as far as what’s being taken from the victim…well conning someone out of anything is fundamentally wrong whether it’s sex or food from their table.

Have I mentioned how fear is applied in exchanges such as those being discussed? Only briefly when comparing extortion to tithing. Fear is a highly effective motivator used extensively in sociopathy. Sociopathic personalities, you see, do not experience nor interact with fear that same way that normal people do. People like this lack the brain wiring required for a functional fear-response system. There is a clear understanding of the concept, mind you, that is developed through behavioral mimicry and it is the combination of this understanding and the inability to be affected by it that makes sociopaths so good at using it against other people. Until next time….

I was sitting in a waiting room when I consciously realized, for the first time, how sinister and manipulative advertising can be. The catalyst of this realization happened to be a magazine for bow hunters. I don’t remember which one and I indeed expect they are all essentially the same.

I am familiar with archery, somewhat. I own a 1953 Fred Bear recurve, a beautiful piece of work which has well stood the test of time and has certainly slain an animal or two in its day. Modern bow hunting pays little attention to traditional equipment. Quality recurves are in fact still manufactured and often comparable in price to the modernized, ultra sleek compound models which are popular these days. That’s no more of a surprise than the idea that both classes of bow perform in a way which is also quite comparable. The fact is, man has been tying a string to two ends of a sapling and slinging barbed sticks toward their dinner for centuries, at least. The effectiveness of the tool is evidenced by the existence of our species.

Let’s dwell on the implications of that thought for just a moment…

Man has hunted for centuries without composite carbon fiber compound bows, titanium alloy broad heads mounted on carbon shafts, laser sighting systems, real-tree camo print aluminum quivers, trigger-release devices with para cord lanyards, $1100 price tags… No. Mostly, we’ve survived with the stick and strip of deer gut model. Not only that, but we’ve done it without a formalized system of understanding the basic principles of physics and engineering that exists today. The fact is, no one really needs that shit.

Nevertheless, an entire industry has emerged around what used to be a simple practice and engaging this industry can get downright pricey. Consider a bow, what it is, and where it comes from.

First of all, expect to pay $500-1000. For a custom recurve, you pay a guy called a bowyer. He hand selects the wood and may even locally source it at little cost. He shapes, bends and polishes it. He crafts a string especially for the bow. Then he tests it. The price of the bow is based upon its creators time, expense, knowledge and energy and is determined by the bowyer. A name-brand compound bow will cost roughly the same but the process is different entirely. Many parts are sourced and virtually all parts are factory made by “craftsmen” whose wage and creativity are tightly controlled by the boundaries of the company’s manufacturing process. For example, the pulleys used on a compound bow might be mass produced in a factory in Malaysia and the string might be made in China. Even if the carbon limbs are handmade in America, it all occurs within the parameters of industry standard and everything, right down to the wages of the workers is tightly controlled in order to achieve the highest profit margins. With a custom handmade bow, the user pays the maker directly for the time and energy used to make the bow. With a mass produced bow, the consumer pays the industry. The investors and money-men behind the industry take a solid chunk of profit and divvy what’s left out to those who supplied the energy and time necessary for the creation process. The investors did, well, nothing and take most of the profit (hold that thought-I will address mining of and underselling of human energy at great length in later posts). It doesn’t surprise me that corporately produced media, such as a bow hunting magazine, would avoid encouraging the use of anything other than a corporately produced product. There is no incentive for a big name magazine to feature a small local bowyer making exceptional products when you consider what that persons potential contribution to corporate profit margins would ever amount to. On the contrary, industry can benefit from limiting the popular exposure of such individuals and products. That would certainly explain why two avid twenty-something bow hunters I met one day had never actually seen a handmade wood recurve bow up close and had no idea that people still used them.

It makes me wonder how to get an otherwise reasonable and intelligent person to part with two or three or four weeks salary for a mass produced, over priced tool which, historically, needs to be nothing more than an ash sapling and a dried piece of deer gut, both of which are free.

Industry uses advertising to convince us that we need things that we don’t, everybody knows that. Advertisers create media like the bow hunting magazine I picked up from a waiting room coffee table. No surprise there.

But what happens next? What does the media actually do to get a guy to buy such a toy?

Advertising interacts with our identities, particularly our self-perceptions as well as how we think others perceive us. The imagery and photography in the magazine followed a fairly rigid theme. There were images of products all by themselves, lots of those, but there was also a concentration of “trophy photos.” In trophy photos, a hunter typically poses kneeling next to a large dead animal. The animals head will be lifted and displayed by the hunter and the weapon will be prominently featured in the picture, often resting across the dead carcass. Strangely, there are never arrows sticking out of the animals. I suspect certain groups of individuals might rifle shoot a large animal and then move it several times and pose multiple hunters and multiple weapons. More buck for the bang, so to speak, when it comes to advertising photography, but that’s just my theory.

So what does this imagery have to do with perception and how does it make a person buy an $1100 hunk of plastic and why is that bad? Let’s get right down to the brass tacks.

One thing that is happening is modeling. Modeling is effective because it’s how we learn to be who we are. It’s monkey-see monkey-do. Ultimately our personalities are formulated through the mimicry of various sets of behavioral traits that suit our individual biological needs and tendencies…mostly. For example, a person who purposefully reads a bow hunting magazine might easily carry a desire to be the guy holding up the dead antelope head. That imagery represents a role that that individual may desire to play as a part of his chosen identity. Seeing himself in the picture, however, involves the presence of not only himself and the carcass, but also the bow…the composite carbon compound bow with the sighting system and integrated quiver stacked with state of the art titanium tipped armor piercing arrows. It’s a subtle trick, but it works. Do it enough times and it becomes the standard. The word iconic comes to mind.

In 2014 we find the popular standard of measurement to be success with a technologically superior plastic. Did I mention the two pups at the hunting store actually sneered a little and asked if it would actually take down a deer? The problem with externally applied cultural standards is that human beings exist as individuals with varying strengths and weaknesses which seem never to measure up when applied to a common scale. This system of behavior provides sufficient heat necessary for the incubation of inadequacy in the human mind.

The idea is to create a standard through such iconography as “trophy photos” that the average person can never achieve. How many hunters, in this economy, can afford to fly to northern Alaska to shoot a record mountain goat on a snow capped mountainside? Not that many, I promise. That shit is expensive. What is more affordable, and easier to put on a lower limit credit card, is a bad ass compound bow. The one in the photo maybe. Problem solved, right? Nope. The man with the bow is only part of the picture. The trophy and the mountainside, for many, will remain a blur of inadequacy. Consider the long term effects, however minor, upon a persons self-esteem. I won’t elaborate at present, but consider them and compound them with every other consumer-corporate advertising interaction that a person experiences.

Creating a culture of inadequacy to feed upon is a function of a trauma-based brainwashing/reprogramming system. Evidence of its use exists across our culture, most notably within the military training programs, cults and other religious institutions and on a more grass-roots level, abusive relationships. The idea is to imprint the perception of inadequacy within the human being in such a way that it becomes beholden to a third party for redemption from this inadequacy.

Apply that to the bow hunting magazine. Think back to the drill sergeants methods in Full Metal Jacket. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Think about how cults and pimps prey upon people. If you’re unaware, youtube is full of documentaries. Next consider all the blogs from victims of sociopaths who have been beaten down physically and emotionally in order that they may be fed upon. And stop there.

That’s what it’s all about. In each example, only the identity of the predator changes. The behavior and the methods are the same, as are the outcomes. My postulation, is that elements of sociopathic psychology exist widely across the spectrum of our culture and that human beings, on a macro level, are being manipulated and victimized by this system and for some reason, go along with it happily. I wonder how the increased usage of anti-anxiety meds play into that…but that’s a question for another day.

For today, consider this an introduction of a discussion of what I think I might call Socio Cultural Theory…yeah…I’ll go with that. Let’s give it an abstract too and say “…elements of human culture established intentionally and perpetuated for the purpose of one party harvesting the energies of another party through the utilization of various methods of psychological manipulation…” In normal speak, let’s say I plan to do some serious shit talking about a bunch damned dirty savages that feed off of the rest of us because they’re too good to live in shit and too lazy to work a shovel.

After all, it takes one to know one.