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On The Indiana State Prison Lockdown

Preface:

This is a statement of fact and analysis written collaboratively between folks on the inside and the outside of Indiana prisons. Our goal here is to contribute to opposing and actively resisting all forms of domination, be they imposed directly by the state or manifested through structural inequalities and prejudices.

Recap of Recent Events:

On the morning of 7-16-2011, an alleged white supremacist was stabbed and killed by two alleged Latin Disciples. The attack took place at Pendleton Correctional Facility in the Maximum Security area of the prison. The murder, coming on the heels of inmate murders at Miami Correctional Facility and Pendleton Correctional Facility earlier in the year, was the stated pretense for putting all institutions in the state on lock down and conducting thorough, far reaching searches. Continue Reading

Post Interference: Nicaragua

For the next two weeks I will be in Nicaragua so the blog will not be updated until I return from my trip. While in the Central American country I will be keeping a journal and paying close attention to the state of the society after over 153 years of direct American involvement (although that involvement isn’t completely severed). I will also try to research how the government plans to address climate change and what affect those changes may currently be exacting on the country.

I have to say, the choice to go to Nicaragua was quite random. Several of my former roommates were planning to go there because a friend of theirs currently lives in the North Western portion of the country. I was subsequently invited and could not turn down the opportunity. For me, it is interesting to note the similarities between portions of that nations past and large portions of the current invasion of Iraq.

Both regions held real material resources that stood to be either exploited or withheld from outside parties (oil and a canal connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific). Both regions were infiltrated by U. S. sanctioned regime changers (Saddam’s CIA backers and the countless American led changes of regime in Nicaragua from the conservatives of 1909 to the Samoza dynasty to the Contras). Both were heavily influenced by ‘National Armies’ personally trained and armed by the United States (Samoza’s Guardia Nacional and the New Iraqi Military & Police).

The difference that I want to explore and note is the fact that Nicaragua has been dealing with this for almost 200 years while Iraq has only dealt with U.S. interference for roughly 50.

I’ll be sure to have a full report for you all when I get back.


Propaganda’s Place In Human Affairs

In many ways information can be seen as the essential catalyst, or lifeblood of change and readjustment. Because of this characteristic, as problems and obstacles mount, the need to disseminate accurate and useful information in a timely manner becomes increasingly important. And, it is clear that the stakes in the next fifty years are rising. Climate change is purported to cause massive meteorological, agricultural and biological damage. Oil depletion is poised to heavily disrupt agricultural and energy production. And weapons proliferation is slated to trigger intense struggles over these dwindling resourses while continuing old ideological conflicts. In light of these proceeding facts, what is the most effective way to transmit pertinent ideas to large numbers of people? And, what, if any, are the contentious aspects of these communication methods?

Generally, when people think about transmitting pertinent information they gravitate towards what we can call the 18th century consensus – a view that upholds rational argumentation, clear analysis and complete explanation as the optimal means of conveying data and ideas. The goal of this view is to win over your opponent with empirical datum, and to approach an objective truth via a continual process of readjustment: personal beliefs are formed and changed by proven facts. The work of Bertrand Russell certainly comes to mind when thinking of this approach, and Noam Chomsky still swears by the 18th century consensus. But does it work?

Unfortunately, not in all instances – mostly because human social and personal interactions rarely permit this mode of data transmission to occur unadulterated. There are two core issues with the consensus view (both the consequences of synaptic connections). Firstly, the same piece of information is analyzed differently depending on who the messenger is. If a renown doctor were to give advice to a patient, it would more than likely be accepted as trustworthy, but if that same advice was given by, say, a street musician, the patient would be less likely to accept it as valid. Prejudices and other preconceptions are remarkably strong, and can easily push their subscribers to simply analyze the messenger, rather than submitting to the ‘tedious’ task of analyzing actual data.

Secondly, persons with strongly established worldviews will rarely analyze information that even remotely seems to contradict their ideological foundations. A study out of Emory University offers a poignant example of this phenomenon. In 2004, clinical psychologists from the university studied a sample of steadfast Democrats and Republicans during the months prior to that year’s U.S. Presidential election. The subjects were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their preferred candidate. And, during the task, the subjects were given functional neuroimaging scans (fMRI) to see what parts of their brain were active.

To admirers of the 18th century consensus, the results are unsettling: As Drew Weston, the study’s lead author recalled, “we did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning.” Even more troubling was that the researchers found that areas associated with conflict resolution were activated during the task, hinting that rather than actually analyzing information, the subjects were simply ignoring it or were even attempting to suppress their urge to act out emotionally in protest.

To be sure, there are instances where data can be analyzed without hindrance. In the first case, which we can call ‘reaffirmation,’ new information is readily received when a subject’s previously established neurological associations allow them to analyze incoming data without outright rejection. When incoming data is seen as seamlessly integrating with the individuals pre-subscribed ideology, the new data is in effect granted access. Access to be analyzed in the areas of the brain where reasoning takes place, access to long-term memory, access to an individual’s overall worldview.

In the second case, which we will call ‘critical self-analysis,’ new information is readily received when a subject truly adheres to an ideology that covets critical data analysis even if the new data will lead to an adjustment of the subject’s current worldview. Unfortunately, this method of approaching reality is probably underused as it requires one to see their current worldview as a work in progress and demands an unwavering cognitive commitment (to hold the belief that one’s current worldview is dynamic in light of verifiable incoming data and that all incoming data demands fair analysis rather than Prima facie dismissal). After all, it is much simpler (not to mention ideologically safer) to revert to old habits rather than to continually analyze incoming data and create new ‘realities’ based on the interpretations of that data.

In the end, it seems that without a catastrophic event acting as the agent of ideological and political change (think Russia during The Great War, Germany after that same war, or America after September the 11th), people rarely give ideologically foreign information honest analysis or waver from their established worldviews. And here lies the problem: In the next fifty years there is a high probability that the stakes will continue to rise, demanding an equal amount of information gathering and sharing in order to create the ideas and courses of action needed to counter these growing threats.

So, my final question is this – as a people, are we capable of overcoming our bias towards ideologically foreign information, or as Edward Bernays advocated for in his 1928 treatise, are we stuck with professional propagandists embedded in the upper echelons of government and business?


Are Ideas Infinite?

Today it seems that the popular consciousness is beginning to understand that many of the coveted tangibles it has taken for granted are, in actuality, finite. The ‘limitless’ western frontier was ‘conquered,’ oil is running out, the energy our sun produces is continually depleting and, even the universe itself will eventually suffer from energy loss. But, as more objects move from the realm of the unlimited to the limited, what, if anything will be left over? In the thoughts that follow, we will direct this question toward what could arguably be the most intangible of objects – ideas… In essence, can the human brain produce an infinite amount of ideas?

Infinity, comes from the Latin infinitas, and essentially means ‘unboundedness’. Mathematics has tended to deal with this concept in literal, quantifiable terms – infinity as an indefinitely great number; an unyielding incremenation (or decrementation). Philosophy, on the other hand, has attempted to decipher the ontological outcome of this concept. For example, to be infinite is not only to continue indefinitely, but to have no decipherable patterns; no perceivable limitations.

So, what is an idea anyway? Are the electrical impulses in our brain that represent¹ ‘getting up from our chair’ an ‘idea’? In the strictest sense, no. But, if this act is explicitly part of something larger, we could say yes. First, let us define an idea as the creation of a mental algorithm – an approach that purports to solve an issue or problem. In other words, the creation of a spear to take down a woolly mammoth would count as an idea. In fact, that idea would contain several other ideas: the conceptualization of the spear, the determination of materials needed to create the weapon, the finalization of planning and strategy needed to take down the game, etc. Even the failed concepts in this enormous undertaking would hold ideas: failed weapon designs, failed strategic maneuvers, etc. So, looking back, we can say that ‘getting up from our chair’ could count as a genuine idea if we were doing so in a conscious effort to fulfill a specific mental algorithm (or plan) – say, during musical chairs. The concept here is that general actions with no overarching purpose will not be viewed as ideas, while plans dealing with creation, execution, or innovation will.

So, armed with our system of categorization for ideas, I would have to conclude that human ideas are finite in nature. Our ideas are based off of pre-existing, finite data, and grow in response to situations which are also finite in nature. We could only build a spear for game if there were game to be hunted, and if the concept of ‘weapon’ already existed. Conversely, one could only decide to stand up from ones chair if a game called ‘musical chairs’ had already been invented, and the idea of that game could only exist if chairs and easily controllable music were already in existence. Even when one adds the possibility of future problems/situations or the fact that ideas are the permutations of old ideas and current data, the result is still finite ideas – because the input is always finite.

Although our conclusion leads to finitude, this is no reason to worry about the ultimate ability of our cognitive power. As alluded to earlier, the world is in no short supply of pressing issues, and only our dedication to human ideas will be of assistance. Luckily the combination and permutations of past instances with current and future data yields impressive returns. And, with the aid of the internet, the rate at which individuals and collectives can create these needed grand ideas is continually increasing.


¹or create, depending on your inclination