Jeff Kaye’s Sunday (May 16, 2010) diary, APA Scrubs Pages Linking It to CIA Torture Workshop, reports his discovery, that the American Psychological Association has recently engaged in a bit of historical engineering (and Scott Horton features it in a post today, APA’s Unpredicatable Past, on No Comment at

Besides busting this latest attempt at manipulating our shared narrative, Kaye’s article also brought out the best in many commenters. The thread should be read by anyone interested in the psychology of what ails us today. My own reply, which Kaye called a "nice mini-essay," with which he is "totally in agreement," follows.


I second Kaye’s appraisal of APA. I see a deliberate turning of APA into a defense contractor in the 50s, most notably with the 1956 convention.

Psychology’s attempt at independence thus amounts to breaking away from one field, philosophy, only to subject itself blindly to the methodological and epistemological dictates of another, physics, with equally sterile effects upon the refugee-discipline. Almost a quarter-century after Robert Oppenheimer’s warning at the 1956 APA convention that the worst thing psychology might do would be "to model itself after a physics which is not there anymore, which has been outdated" (p. 134)*, almost all of psychology continues to fashion itself basically upon variations of this moribund model.

*Oppenheimer, R. Analogy in science. American Psychologist, 1956, 11, 127-135. In Kinget, G.W. (1979). Objective psychology: a case of epistemological sleight-of-hand. Journal of Phenomenological Research, 11, 83-96.

That goes hand-in-hand with Cold War mythology, as described by Chomsky (and detailed in my recent diary here).

The problem to which this book is addressed is that of giving a "functional analysis" of verbal behavior. By functional analysis, Skinner means identification of the variables that control this behavior and specification of how they interact to determine a particular verbal response. Furthermore, the controlling variables are to be described completely in terms of such notions as stimulus, reinforcement, deprivation, which have been given a reasonably clear meaning in animal experimentation. In other words, the goal of the book is to provide a way to predict and control verbal behavior by observing and manipulating the physical environment of the speaker.


Careful study of this book (and of the research on which it draws) reveals, however, that these astonishing claims are far from justified. It indicates, furthermore, that the insights that have been achieved in the laboratories of the reinforcement theorist, though quite genuine, can be applied to complex human behavior only in the most gross and superficial way, and that speculative attempts to discuss linguistic behavior in these terms alone omit from consideration factors of fundamental importance that are, no doubt, amenable to scientific study, although their specific character cannot at present be precisely formulated. Since Skinner’s work is the most extensive attempt to accommodate human behavior involving higher mental faculties within a strict behaviorist schema of the type that has attracted many linguists and philosophers, as well as psychologists, a detailed documentation is of independent interest. The magnitude of the failure of this attempt to account for verbal behavior serves as a kind of measure of the importance of the factors omitted from consideration, and an indication of how little is really known about this remarkably complex phenomenon. [Source: A Review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, by Noam Chomsky. In Leon A. Jakobovits and Murray S. Miron (eds.), Readings in the Psychology of Language, Prentice-Hall, 1967, pp. 142-143.]

What a convenient way to define humans, if you’re a "modern war-fighter:" nothing more than targets on a firing line. Words are reduced to quantum energy packets, to be fired at targets with the intention of changing the target’s behavior irregardless of its internal state. "War of words" is a perfectly apt phrase for the Pentagon’s "influence operations."

Leading the political elite, Kissinger adopted the absolute Newtonian reduction, turning the living world, most notably us, into automata the behavior of which, ever and always, is determined by outside forces. Got a problem, any problem under the sun or sea, including interrogations? Apply more leverage.

As Henry Kissinger later explained in his academic essays, only the West has undergone the Newtonian revolution and is therefore “deeply committed to the notion that the real world is external to the observer,” while the rest still believe “that the real world is almost completely internal to the observer,” the “basic division” that is “the deepest problem of the contemporary international order.” But Russia, unlike third word peasants who think that rain and sun are inside their heads, was perhaps coming to the realization that the world is not just a dream, Kissinger felt.

Note that that assumption removes humanity from nature qua humans. If the world is external to the observer, where is the observer now? Obviously, the reflexive nature of psychological inquiry has been neglected, in favor of pretending people aren’t people, we’re just Newtonian voodoo dolls.

If the cosmos, and us along with it, really is as Kissinger assumed, then there are no truly human values, just blind kinetic forces. And as we all know, that’s how they’ve been acting.

Does political power really grow from the barrel of a gun? Is it not also present in the psyche of the soldier? Isn’t that the point of boot camp?

My point is, we’re organisms who’ve come to believe in themselves as mechanisms, by the power of the Newtonian myth, making war and torture only "natural." Not until we reclaim our inalienable humanity, especially in the social sciences, will we humanize our affairs.


PS: Oh yeah, and note that the dealings of Kissinger and Assoc. are vewy vewy secwet. So while they’re assuming the world is a mechanism, theirs for the dominating, they’re acting behind the scenes in ways that materialize the reality they intend.

We can assume, study, and act in the world as if it were a mechanism, but that doesn’t make it (and us) into a machine. We, Western scientists, have adopted the Newtonian reduction as a given. What happens when we let it go? Having done so, now what world are we in?

They only think they’re external to the hellscape they’re creating. And as long as they live within the state-within-the-state, absolutely shielded from the return effects (to borrow a phrase from sociobiology) of their reality-manifesting intentions, they’ll be right. Thus the importance, for example, of citizen arrests.

If the nation is thought of as a cell (bounded by a semi-permeable membrane: where is the self-other divide now? not simply discovered, it’s asserted, right?), they’re method is to dominate the nucleus, thereby infecting other cells like a retrovirus.