Producing Tractable Humans: Human Resources

Human Resources is the second film written and directed by Scott Noble. The title is very apt because it captures how humans are regarded as a resource by corporations, something to be exploited for pecuniary gain. The film chronicles the gamut from psychological conditioning experiments to educational shaping to establishment experiments on mind control.

Human Resources begins with the psychological research on animal behavior, how rat, dog, pigeon behavior might be shaped. Behaviorist scientists John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner applied the behavior-shaping experiments to humans.

The human experiments turned even more sinister with an emphasis on eugenics, which is based in the notion that there are superior and inferior humans, superior and inferior races. Academia was very much involved in this movement, and as the documentary points out, it went to the highest levels of government, as president Calvin Coolidge supported eugenicist notions. Corporations funded the research, with the Rockefellers playing “a particularly devious role,” said historian Sharon Smith.

Rebecca Lemov, author of World as Laboratory, said the Rockefeller largesse made for the most funded social science project in history.

Taylorism and the Disempowerment of Workers

Even though moral philosopher Adam Smith had warned against the division of labor, another man, Frederick Taylor, disagreed. He atomized the workplace and work tasks. He set target times for worker tasks. This increased efficiency but at a cost of de-skilling workers and disempowering them.

Skilled labor was undermined by the atomization of tasks, the result being a loss of power and control by skilled workers. The exemplar is the assembly line instituted by anti-worker Henry Ford, which consolidated hierarchical control.

Human Resources calls it dehumanizing.

Labor does not need to be dehumanizing though. Human Resources interviews Michael Albert who, with Robin Hahnel, espouses an economy called participatory economics – or parecon. Albert says the corporation is pathological.1 The pathology is the drive for profit without concern for people or the environment. The parecon workplace is egalitarian.

Paradoxically, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin supported Taylorism’s scientific management although it was disliked by workers. Human Resources quotes Lenin: “Socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly.” If this is the case, then the state has merely replaced the corporations in the economic system, and the Marxist refrain of a dictatorship of the proletariat becomes a meaningless slogan.

Human Resources argues that Lenin and Trotsky destroyed socialist institutions and waged a war against anarchists. They forced industrialization, leading to totalitarianism.

Thus, argues anarchist professor, Noam Chomsky, the term “socialism” became degraded.

Mikhail Bakunin, an anarchist opponent of authoritarian Communism, had foreseen the dangers of the state. Consequently, hierarchical political systems became entrenched worldwide.

Political scientist Stephen M. Sacks discusses the Hawthorne experiments, which looked at the quantity of work and worker satisfaction. It found that having discussions with workers, regardless of whether or not workers concerns were taken into consideration, increased productivity. Sachs says it doesn’t have to be that way. The workplace can be democratized.

Why should the economic system not be rational, for example, like a parecon?

Educating Workers

Educator John Taylor Gatto, author of Dumbing Us Down, illustrated how the education system makes people unable to think in context. Initially, he says, compulsory schooling was resisted by parents (who battled for control) and enforced by state militia.

Corporations, however, feared educated workers, and students were converted into “obedient tools.”

Educational theorist Alfie Kohn extolled on the paucity of critical thinking and debilitation of forced competition. He argues against grading because grades 1) cause a loss of interest in learning; i.e., it is no longer learning for the sake of knowledge, 2) lead to shallower thinking, and 3) lead students to choose easier tasks (the logical choice).

Competition, says Kohn, undermines character and destroys relations. He points to research which shows that competition isn’t necessary for excellence and tends to impede excellence at most tasks. Competition disrupts more difficult tasks and problem solving.

“Excellence,” he says “pulls in one direction and competition in another.”

If the system is one of competition, then that system must have winners and losers of competition. What does that mean for a society?

The Origins of Violence

Noble segues into causes of violence. He turns again to behaviorist psychology (which really does not have that much sway in contemporary psychology) and the frustration-aggression hypothesis which states that thwarting people from achieving their just rewards frustrates them and leads to aggression.

Human Resources portrays rampant hatred of the other in American society that is promulgated by the media. Historian Howard Zinn, in one of his last interviews, saw an intentionality in design; the hatred of others is scapegoating — deflecting the anger onto to others so the system can perpetuate itself.

Anthropologist Elliot Leyton even implied the system as being partially responsible for mass murders. He saw multiple murderers as “alienated individuals … that represent central cultural themes” that “are relatively ignored by government institutions…”

Governments, said Leyton, focus much more on control of public than serial and mass killers. “Governments and politicians are the main killers.” The state is a mass murderer.

Human Resources holds that modern military training best encapsulates the frustration-aggression hypothesis. The military funnels frustration into hatred and fear of a group.

Fear was used to manipulate human behavior.

Mind-control Experimentation

The CIA’s mind-control project MKULTRA “abandon[ed] any pretense to morality, leading to a nightmarish search for the holy grail of social engineering: a fully controlled, fully obedient human being.”

Projects included Artichoke, Bluebird, MKULTRA (truth serum, mind wipes) etc. Since 1973 these projects remain classified.

Under the auspices of the government, military, CIA, academia (universities and “leading professors”) drug, electroshock, brain surgery, noise manipulation, and other experiments were carried out on animals, patients, soldiers, citizens, and even children as “unwitting guinea pigs” for various drugs. Among the outcomes were psychosis and death. Compensation is denied for many cases.

Psychiatrist Colin Ross says authorities typically deny human experimentation, or when undeniable blame the laxer restraints of the time period. In the case of children used in mind-control experiments, national security was proffered as a justification.

MKULTRA was deemed a failure except that it produced Kubark, in essence a “torture manual.” It detailed deprivation experiments, stress positions, and electric shock – all used by US personnel on humans at Abu Ghraib, as horrific video shows.

How is that humans can live in a system that subjects them unwittingly to dangerous experimentation? How is it they can allow their country to terrorize people in other countries in a “war on terror”?

Human Resources points to TV and its fear-based programming which becomes reality. TV entertains but it also induces passivity and suggestibility in people.

Eugenics underlies Human Resources. Yet, a capacity for cruelty has been demonstrated in supposedly learned people, even by those who might consider themselves superior: management, politicians, commanders, and doctors.

Human Resources is another excellent documentary by Noble – a documentary that should cause all people to question the nature of the society they live in, who the authorities serve — and even more — should society have authorities, should it exist as a hierarchy? The film causes us to ask who we should fear – the authorities who pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction, who develop and implement the practice of torture, who use their own citizenry as unwitting guinea pigs? Who is the genuine terrorizer? Who is the genuine enemy?

  1. The thesis of another excellent documentary, The Corporation. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 22nd, 2011 at 9:14am #

    i am not satisfied with lenin’s use of the label “state”. looking for or trying to ascertain the meaning of lenin’s or anybody else’s meaning of the label “state”, represents hunting for the snark.

    thus anyone who uses labels such as “socialism”, “industrialization”, “state , in my knowledge, either deliberately or unwittingly obnubilates simplicities and thus clarities.
    which only cld be understood. or if not immediately, then eventually! labels, on then other hand, representing overgeneralizations, cannot ever be understood.

    thus their nauseating overuse in all media, schooling, discussions, and even on alternate media.

    the natural order of evaluation requires that one first of all posits all of the salient facts that pertain and only thereafter concludes, wishes, etc. tnx

  2. bozh said on February 22nd, 2011 at 9:27am #

    kim:
    “Thus, argues anarchist professor, Noam Chomsky, the term “socialism” became degraded.”

    o boy, what a way to talk to or with people!! surely as an anarchist, NC, also, to use his word, “degraded” the meanings of the label “socialism”.
    and all personal and faith supremacists!
    But why use of the word “degrading” [and whatever that means to NC] when saying that supremacists and anarchists lied about it, wld fit reality much better? tnx

  3. bozh said on February 22nd, 2011 at 9:54am #

    “Human Resources begins with the psychological research on animal behavior, how rat, dog, pigeon behavior might be shaped. Behaviorist scientists John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner applied the behavior-shaping experiments to humans.”

    i assert that [mis]shaping of human behavior happened millennia ago and over a period of time.

    the modern shapers or conditioners of human behavior have not changed the system already in place 8k yrs ago!
    i view social ‘sciences’, psychiatry, sociology, politics, economics as ancient ruses and misteachings in order to enslave us.
    i do not split asunder serf- or slave-making into ancient and modern.

    dehumanizing people goes on today as it did millennia ago. however, those people who escaped from asia and landed in n. america, circumvented that process.
    did indigenes run away from asia to amerika because some asians wanted to dehumanize them? well, we don’t know. all we know that they had been until very recently quite civilized in civic affairs!
    some africans have also managed to prevent own dehumanization; at least, until arabs or europeans arrived.
    lte’s faced it, even religious ‘teachings’ represent dehumanization of people!

    but even driving, tank, chariot, car, presiding a meeting, writing a law, dehumanizes people! tnx

  4. bozh said on February 22nd, 2011 at 10:02am #

    “Human Resources is another excellent documentary by Noble – a documentary that should cause all people to question the nature of the society they live in, who the authorities serve — and even more — should society have authorities, should it exist as a hierarchy? The film causes us to ask who we should fear – the authorities who pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction, who develop and implement the practice of torture, who use their own citizenry as unwitting guinea pigs? Who is the genuine terrorizer? Who is the genuine enemy?”

    butifully said. tnx

  5. Josie Michel-Bruening said on February 22nd, 2011 at 10:47am #

    I regard this article by Kim Peterson as an excellent one. Although, the underlying thoughts and scientific findings being represented herewith are not new at all – I was educated in education sciences in the 1970s – the author seems to be right to refresh them just now.
    The so-called pragmatists ppursuing their individual profit within our worldwide dominating establishment ignored them ever since leading us into the disastrous circumstances not only “we” are facing by now, but they do also.
    Why do we let us part from each other into different “whistleblower-groups”,
    who can easily be ignored, smiled at as “idealists”, or attacked or put in isolation confinement, tortured or just shot down.
    This kind of short-sighted “pragmaticsm” will not save our “elite” either.
    I am personally wondering just now, why the European “face book” generation, much nearer to Egypt, for instance, than US citizens are don’t join each other in large solidarity demonstrations.

  6. John Andrews said on February 23rd, 2011 at 12:35am #

    Education is obviously fundamental to creating a “good” and “healthy” society. The problem is who should provide it, how and what should it be?

    200 years ago, when public education was only just being born, the Mechanics Magazine perfectly identified the problem:

    “Men had better be without education than educated by his rulers; for then education is nothing but the mere breaking in of the steer to the yoke.”

    Also the competition thing is a tired and worn-out argument now. There’s nothing wrong with competition, per se. The problem is when it’s used (as it nearly always is) to favour the privileged at the expense of the deprived. Most people who play sport for pleasure, for example, love competition and voluntarily choose to enter competitions in the sports they love to play. The key ingredient here is “voluntarily choose” to compete – something which is completely absent from the education system.

  7. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 3:26am #

    {http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/maps/}

    Speaking of corporations take a look at that that’s January 2011 and on that page you will see projection type it say’s regular well look and that then click on that to see polar. Will you see that on CNBC or the Weather Channel, CNN, MSNBC, Fox no you sure will not as they are corporations and I guess feel it’s better we don’t see that because we are of course just savages. You know shop at Wal Mart, work real jobs and just like football games and movie stars. The corporations could have a point there and we might need to change that if we wish to survive. How humans are regarded as a resource by corporations, something to be exploited for pecuniary gain. Based in the notion that there are superior and inferior humans, superior and inferior races. Will I don’t know about anybody else but some of my friends are ex felons and many people I know are from South of the border and are very hard workers and take care of there families. Do I know any of these so called superior human’s sure and I treat them the same as anybody else and ever now and then will hear do you know who I am, no please tell me am a great listener.

  8. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 4:32am #

    That’s correct on a relentless basis the corporations tell us we need what they have to be a real person and without them we couldn’t survive. Wrong with them we will not survive that’s with known knowledge of course and here’s where blackwhite comes into play at least for a few more years. Amazing to see and hear once you know. If you looked at that chart that’s just the start kind of like first gear with a five speed transmission soon to shift into second and then let’s see who the savages are on the third planet from the Sun. Why won’t the corporations let us tax carbon I mean they let us buy little plastic things made in Mexico and China build us all giant coliseums I mean stadiums and machines made of metal that talk to us and tell us when to turn or not turn. Maybe one of those GPS’s will say to us push has come to shove turn right .05 miles to the Halliburton detention center take a number take a number. Never mind about those big machines you will see there called LRAD’s they will play music for your enjoyment and remember ignorance is strength and we love you very very much.

  9. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 4:48am #

    {http://exiledonline.com/dead-dolphins-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-the-ugly-reality-that-bp-is-hiding-and-that-the-new-york-times-isnt-showing-ht-hajime/}

    Oh look the Gulf is recovering thank you BP we all love corporations very very much what’s your next act old boy’s.

  10. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 4:52am #

    For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.
    — Douglas Adams

  11. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 5:11am #

    {http://omiusajpic.org/2009/02/09/integrity-of-creation-and-tar/}

    There it is again the corporations hard at work pursuing their institutional role: maximizing short-term profit and putting aside externalities. The externalities no big deal just the ability of Earth sometimes called the home planet to sustain life. Why doesn’t anybody say anything well to busy going to football games and buying little plastic things and listening to messages on who to vote for or what to buy to be a real person. Those tar sand’s will do the trick trust me on this one.

  12. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 6:42am #

    One more time an enormous effort that part of will be to slowdown harder than world war two as not bombs, bullets, but reason and knowledge, imagination it’s a tuff one and so far it’s pursuing their institutional role: maximizing short-term profit and putting aside externalities.

    War Administration
    From the beginning of preparedness in 1939 through the peak of war production in 1944, American leaders recognized that the stakes were too high to permit the war economy to grow in an unfettered, laissez-faire manner. American manufacturers, for instance, could not be trusted to stop producing consumer goods and to start producing materiel for the war effort. To organize the growing economy and to ensure that it produced the goods needed for war, the federal government spawned an array of mobilization agencies which not only often purchased goods (or arranged their purchase by the Army and Navy), but which in practice closely directed those goods’ manufacture and heavily influenced the operation of private companies and whole industries.

  13. mary said on February 23rd, 2011 at 8:01am #

    Are there any of these ‘astroturfers’ at work on Dissident Voice? The name of this new? phenomenon is news to me.

    {http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2011/feb/23/need-to-protect-internet-from-astroturfing}

  14. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 8:20am #

    Mary at the end of Monbiot’s article you just posed he say’s what should we do to fight these tactics?

    Let’s see go to a football game, buy gold, a rock concert, go shopping, watch the royal wedding and wish we were there, watch more Fox New’s none of the above.

  15. bozh said on February 23rd, 2011 at 8:27am #

    john,
    ‘ “Men had better be without education than educated by his rulers; for then education is nothing but the mere breaking in of the steer to the yoke.” ‘

    thanks fro that quote. i am not surprised that people beat me to that knowledge.

    i often assert that people thruout ages and in all supremacistic societies have said the same thing.
    i only use diff words to elucidate perils we are since 10 k yrs ago: possible permanence of the master-serf relationship. it is personal and religious supremacists, claiming infallibility, who lead us to wars, poverty, hatred of one another, e[abuse] of too many kinds of one another, etc. tnx

  16. Deadbeat said on February 23rd, 2011 at 9:01pm #

    As I read this review by Kim, I was left rather confused. I wasn’t sure if this review was anti-Left and an attempt to re-frame Left-wing ideas with the ones being presented by Scott Noble’s Human Resources

    My first curiosity has to do with this remark …

    Paradoxically, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin supported Taylorism’s scientific management although it was disliked by workers. Human Resources quotes Lenin: “Socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly.” If this is the case, then the state has merely replaced the corporations in the economic system, and the Marxist refrain of a dictatorship of the proletariat becomes a meaningless slogan.

    So I did a lookup to see if this remark is being taken out of context and I found this on [http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/ichtci/11.htm]:

    V. I. Lenin
    The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It : Can We Go Forward If We Fear To Advance Towards Socialism?

    Below is a more complete in-context excerpt …

    For if a huge capitalist undertaking becomes a monopoly, it means that it serves the whole nation. If it has become a state monopoly, it means that the state (i.e., the armed organisation of the population, the workers and peasants above all, provided there is revolutionary democracy) directs the whole undertaking. In whose interest?

    Either in the interest of the landowners and capitalists, in which case we have not a revolutionary-democratic, but a reactionary-bureaucratic state, an imperialist republic.

    Or in the interest of revolutionary democracy—and then it is a step towards socialism.

    For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly.

    There is no middle course here. The objective process of development is such that it is impossible to advance from monopolies (and the war has magnified their number, role and importance tenfold) without advancing towards socialism.

    Either we have to be revolutionary democrats in fact, in which case we must not fear to take steps towards socialism. Or we fear to take steps towards socialism, condemn them in the Plekhanov, Dan or Chernov way, by arguing that our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, that socialism cannot be “introduced”, etc., in which case we inevitably sink to the level of Kerensky, Milyukov and Kornilov, i.e., we in a reactionary-bureaucratic way suppress the “revolutionary-democratic” aspirations of the workers and peasants.

    There is no middle course.

    If what Scott Noble is presenting to us is OUT OF CONTEXT fragments then shouldn’t we be QUESTIONING his motives. I’m am not fully versed in Leninism and thus would rather have someone else rebut the out of context fragment but I was able to find the complete context of Lenin’s remark on the Internet. I would think that Scott Noble should have been able to do his research in this day and age to fairly and justly present Lenin or any other opponent’s remark within their proper context.

    Also I have to question Chomsky being presented as a anarchist. As a real anarchist he would never profess to be a supporter of Israel or any nation as they are staunchly against any form of nationalism. Thus is it any wonder that Chomsky would make a claim, like his Z-Mag buddy Michael Albert that “socialism” became “degraded” when both Albert and Chomsky have spent decades “degrading” the Left.

  17. Kim Petersen said on February 24th, 2011 at 7:56am #

    As I read the comment by Deabeat, I was left rather confused. If I employ the same “logic” as Deadbeat (who I quite often find common ground with), I could very well write that I wasn’t sure if this comment was anti-Left and an attempt to re-frame Left-wing ideas with his own.

    First, his Left-Right dichotomization of the political spectrum is too simplistic. Deadbeat I am sure is very much aware that the Left is heterogeneous and this fact renders his statement also as too simplistic. The Left is composed of many groups with their own ideological frameworks; there is not just one frame.

    DB: “If what Scott Noble is presenting to us is OUT OF CONTEXT fragments then shouldn’t we be QUESTIONING his motives.”

    This is preposterous. Noble presented a statement made by Lenin that Deadbeat reveals to be authentic. I wrote a review – not a transcription – of the film. Deadbeat apparently did not do all his homework and view Human Resources — otherwise he would have known that the quotation is in context.

    DB: “Also I have to question Chomsky being presented as a anarchist.”

    Now Chomsky is no longer an anarchist according to Deabeat! Deadbeat’s oft repeated anti-Chomsky views have become tedious. I certainly diverge from Chomsky on points. I believe that Chomsky demeans his oft cited “elementary morality” when he “intellectually” presents arguments that present a cover for the continuation of massive Zionist crimes that Chomsky professes to disdain. However, for Deadbeat to then seemingly argue against every word spoken by Chomsky (as if people were Manichean) is gibberish. Chomsky is an exceptionally knowledgeable speaker on the crimes of US imperialism, the complicity of the corporate media, the insidiousness of capitalism, etc.

    Ergo, if Deabeat can get his points wrong, then by his “logic,” shouldn’t “we” be questioning his motives?

    I submit that the logical course is to ditch the focus on personalities and focus on what others say, evaluate the words for factuality and rationale and then choose to accept and incorporate what one considers reasonable and moral and discard what is unreasonable and immoral. Just because one point is deemed unreasonable does not necessitate that all other points are unreasonable.