Societal “Stockholm Syndrome”

Stockholm Syndrome is defined as loyalty to a more powerful yet abusive entity.  The syndrome was first identified in the early 1970’s as a result of the way hostages of a bank-robbery, under siege with their captors for a week, came to defend their captors, and felt they owed their captors aid.

I propose that we have entered a new era in which the vast majority of the population has Stockholm Syndrome.  And our captor is the United States Government.

Here’s how I got there:

We start with the psychological condition known as learned helplessness.  The condition was first identified from psych experiments in which rats are placed on a metal wire grid and given repeated unpleasant electrical shocks.  Initially, the rats jump and try and to climb the walls to escape the shocks, but to no avail.  Eventually they rats learn that they are helpless to prevent the abuse, and so they stop trying, and learn to suffer the pain, growing more and more accustomed to their predicament, living stressed-out, anxious and frustrated lives.  If they had a voice they would plead for their tormentors for mercy.  Or they would plead for different tormentors.

Learned helplessness happens to people, too, and I have seen many cases in my consulting work.

Instead of electrical shocks that cannot be escaped, the pain is poor and arbitrary decision-making by a highly-controlling executive management that demands that they adhere to the rigid dictates of their administration.  When some adventurous managers make decisions that are opportunistic, they are quickly slapped on the wrist (or fired) and the decisions remanded.

Let’s take this concept further.  We live in a highly complex and specialized technological society.  There are so few areas of living that people can actually master for themselves.   Most people now live in cities or suburbs.   The work that is done by most city dwellers is specialized; many individual contributions make up the whole of production, whether the end-result be a service or a product.  The commute to and from work places people constantly at the effect of other drivers.  Once folks get home, life chores  (auto mechanics, home repair, meal production, clothing, lawn care, housecleaning, etc.) are frequently (or often) outsourced to others.

Technologically, there are more and more things that one “must have” in order to live in the modern world without being a Luddite.  The consequence of this is that there are fewer and fewer technologies that can be mastered.

Businesses must adapt to the ever increasing regulatory burden, or face extinction, thus reinforcing learned helplessness.  And the workers in those businesses understand that those regulations are biblical and must be obeyed, just as they learn that their corporate keepers can do as they wish, with little consequence (or adherence to common-sense).

Is there any reason to think that someone who works for a major corporation in a cubicle or on a production line does not see the ridiculous plunder of wealth that CEO’s and executives get — even when the company does poorly! — and not feel that they are helpless so stop the insanity?!

Rather, it is a mark of psychologically adaptation to identify with those executives (who they are held captive to for their livelihood like indentured servants) and aspire to be like them, rather than to go crazy with all the cognitive dissonance of the insanity, arbitrariness, and unreasonableness of life as a cubical-dweller..

Even with regard to climate, we are told that not only are we powerless to stop catastrophe, but that we must feel guilty because we caused the catastrophe.  As penance, we must bow to the mandates of our supreme Government keepers (who know more than we do).  Again, in Orwellian fashion, our government keepers do not have to abide by the same regulations…remember, “all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others.”)

So people live lives in which there are fewer and fewer things in which they have primary agency, and more and more things in which they are merely cogs in the machine, rather than the one running the machine.

Further, as governments and corporations get more powerful, and technology becoming evermore present, people are not only identifying with the inevitable reduction in freedoms and liberties that are entailed, but are readily agreeing to the intrusions because they are becoming ever more dominant.

The aggregate effect is to make people identify with and defend their captors as being good for them.

Societal Stockholm Syndrome has three primary negative effects:

  1. It means there are fewer people who see themselves as leaders, and who are trained through their life to be leaders.  Rather, most people are trained into a type of get-along apathy through the hundreds of ways that others (and other things) are “in charge” of their daily lives.
  2. This means that there are more people who can be led around easily, particularly by the most powerful entity in their life, their national (federal) government.
  3. As a second-order effect, it means that an unscrupulous government can more readily abuse its power with the willing aid of its constituents.  With the complexities of our society, the government can claim [in Orwellian fashion] it is doing things for the good of the people, all the while running roughshod over the original inalienable rights of the people to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (which has nothing to do really with simply being happy in its original meaning, and everything to do with making decisions for oneself that allowed individual accomplishment in livelihood and personal judgment to rule as the basis for how to conduct one’s life).
  4. As a third-order effect, as people’s rights are abused, they will learn to accept even more abuses, making a run toward their freedom more difficult still as the victims of Stockholm Syndrome come to make up the majority in a democratic republic.  They owe fealty to those who own them, and accept the predations as “necessary and good for the people.”
  5. When #4, above is coupled with the fact that there are fewer leaders who can see clearly, and who are willing to fight the institutional tyranny to cut through this Gordian Knot of legislated obedience to the One, it does not take long to see that the sustainability of liberty and freedom are quite limited.

And so the spiral goes.

The antidote to all this is to educate people of intelligence and capability, to let them gain the insight of this malady, and then to teach them how to be agents of change and leaders among followers, and to forge a path to a return to the principles of liberty and freedom.

There is enough of the rebel in the DNA of humans that will seek to correct this affliction of insidious decline once the awareness of it comes on the radar screen.

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