Podcast Interview: Paleolithic vs. Neolithic Social Power

Finally, someone interviewed me about something other than food and guts. Moreover, something I think I speak with more authority, as I’ve been studying and writing about this stuff for 23 years and there’s not an argument in the universe I haven’t seen 100 times.

Justin Wisor is a young fella of about 21 but unless I told you that, you’d never guess from his voice and insights he already possesses. What a podcasting voice. Watch out, Angelo Coppola. :) Oh, to have gotten a 10 year jump on this powerful way of thinking for yourself, under your own exclusive authority.

Have a listen.

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  1. John Lash on August 23, 2014 at 05:20

    I remember reading Custer and Crazy Horse by Ambrose and being struck by his description of the Sioux way of life. When things weren’t going the way you liked in the band or you just felt like leaving, you could. Nobody cared much. Leaders, as you talk about in the interview, arose from ability. If someone got a group together to go steal horses or something and two or three people got killed then no one else is going to go with him next time. In my work I often talk to people about conflict and how much of it arises from language that is a reflection of top down power structures. It isn’t unusual that I explain the development of agricultural societies and how before that there weren’t strong control structures. Language that carries the implication that I am responsible for your emotions or whatever (and you are responsible for mine) is a reflection of these neolithic structures that teach us to externalize control. I was in prison for a long time and have had a lot of experience with being controlled. The best weapon in the authorities’ arsenal is getting the prisoners to internalize the control, to take on the desires of the institution as some kind of moral guide, or else to array yourself directly against it (which they know how to deal with).It is a struggle to keep thinking for yourself and not be driven by the powers “over” you. The same dynamics (as you mention) are at play on the outside too, though the violence that underlies control isn’t always as apparent. In prison there are people doing all kinds of crazy (and non-crazy) shit in an attempt to make it through their sentence. I realized that the situation was so bizarre and unnatural that there wasn’t a “normal” reaction to it. I think the same dynamic plays out here as well. We are so immersed and conditioned in it that it is hard to see the truth. This seems a little rambling to me so I’ll stop here. Thanks for the interview!

    • John Lash on August 23, 2014 at 16:51

      Prisons around the country are different of course. I have seen guards tolerate a lot of violence but not for sport, though infamously Angola in LA was known for it many years ago. We did use humor, as I guess most people do in hard situations. Many also loved to read, or watch T.V., do drugs, have sex and many other things to get through their time. Specific examples from my own experience: we were inspected for having our beds made, locker arranged in a certain fashion, etc. If someone wasn’t up to the standard the warden would often punish the whole group by removing the television or denying access to recreation etc. This would turn us against one another if we weren’t together. After enough years of that kind of stuff (I was in for nearly 25) people become self enforcing, telling on each other or pressuring them to do something to meet the standard. The authorities would also egg on racial division as a way to keep us occupied. I knew a man that was murdered for walking on a wet floor that someone had just mopped. Many of the men became obsessed with the cleanliness of the dorm or winning prizes for best dorm. The constant degradation was also something to fight off. Being treated like a POS day in and out can make it easier to see your fellow prisoners that way, and yourself. Identity is always a control method, but for me the threat of violence is greater. If a police officer stops me and asks me to get out of the car it could turn violent. If I don’t pay my taxes it could turn violent with the seizure of my property, imprisonment etc. In prison it was much easier to see and connect the dots. If I didn’t do what an officer told me I could find myself beaten up and placed in isolation.

  2. Rita Weasel on August 25, 2014 at 08:44

    John – that is absolutely fascinating, and brave of you to discuss. I’ve never been through anything like you’ve been through, though I feel like I sort of understand. I often feel psychologically imprisoned by the corporate structure of my job, and I don’t know how to “free” myself. It’s been spoken of by many, however, the soul-sucking experience of becoming a part of the corporate identity. When corporations and jails have so much in common, that seems a scary commentary on society, no?

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