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.
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?
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.
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?
- The thesis of another excellent documentary, The Corporation. [↩]