The Philosophical Basis of Happiness

Ron Henson
Humanities 620

Happiness comes from within and happiness comes from experiences we have with people we love. For thousands of years philosophers were asking about happiness and talking about happiness but without any scientific data. It has only been within the last 30 or 40 years that we have collected scientific data, rigorous data, measured happiness and started to begin to see what it is that leads to happiness. In happiness research they ask people how happy they are on a 1 to 10 scale. Ed Diener has gathered data on nearly a quarter of a million people and has found that people who are happy have better health, better relationships, better careers and better just about everything. The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses, lose themselves in daily activities and, most importantly, forgive easily.

A couple of years ago there was a buzz around Hollywood because of a film called “the Secret.” In it, they said that your thoughts determine your destiny. If you had positive thoughts, you would be attracting positive things into your life. Conversely, if you had negative thoughts you would be attracting negative things into your life. “The Secret” is just one example of a self-help program. Norman Vincent Peal is a well-known promoter of the Power of Positive Thinking, which is not only the title of a book but also a philosophy of living that basically says that what you can conceive and believe you can achieve. He was a very influential man in his time and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest honor bestowed upon a civilian in the United States. As a minister, his mantle passed to Dr. Robert Schuler who founded the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County and approached spreading the message of positive thinking with evangelistic zeal building a multimillion-dollar empire including The Hour of Power television show that was in its time the most widely watched hour-long church service in the world . The point is that the precepts of The Secret are nothing new.

Last year Americans spent about 10 billion dollars on self-help. The founder of Hay House claims to have cured herself of cancer. Her books have sold over 35,000,000 copies making her one of the best selling authors of all time. Hay believes that thoughts are the cause of all problems. She teaches that the thoughts we think can actually make us sick. She says she doesn’t believe in Science. She believes in her “inner ding.” Some hard scientist would look at that and reply, “She’s dingy all right.”

Social support is a key factor in becoming a resilient individual. We cannot do it alone. You need other people. Everybody needs a way of communicating with other people to establish friendships that are supportive and to establish relationships that provide a guidepost as you get through the tough times. Highly resilient people have a strong religious or moral belief, strong role models and a strong streak of optimism. You learn resilience by falling down and getting back up again. Adaptation is something that the mind does when there’s nothing else it can do. We adapt to misfortunes when we know we can’t change them but when we stand a fighting chance, we fight. That’s why we struggle so much with temporary misfortunes.

Being unemployed obviously makes us unhappy but the reasons aren’t entirely financial. When a person asks us who we are we often tell them what we do because work is a part of our identity. That’s why when we lose our jobs we lose a part of ourselves. The same is true of illness. Being sick makes us unhappy but the reasons are not entirely medical or even physical for that matter. Illness like unemployment can tear a hole in our identities and leave us wondering who we really are.

Self-help appears to be a simple and inexpensive alternative to therapy or counseling. Over the last 20 years psychology professor John Norcroft has engaged in a systematic study of the self-help industry. He says that we should be cheering the proliferation of the self-help industry. “Approximately 75% of those who successfully changed a behavior or relationship did so on their own without any professional treatment. At the same time there are limitations to self-help. More than 95% of all self-help books are published without any scientific research attesting to their effectiveness or safety and we estimate that nearly 99% of Internet self-help sites are launched without any scientific research attesting to their “value.” Self-help offers quick and easy solutions to complicated problems. One of the most popular self-help gurus is Dr. Phil who says that he’s not trying to keep people away from therapy but giving them a wake up call .

One of the more effective self-help groups is Alcoholics Anonymous, which is a free, peer-based support group offering meetings across the country. Researchers have found that AA is very effective and one of the things to which that success is attributed is social support or what AA people call “fellowship”. Besides going to meetings its members are encouraged to engage in service opportunities such as setting up for meetings, cleaning up after the meetings and sponsoring other alcoholics. One of the findings from the research is that people who “sponsor” others have a greater chance of success in the program because by helping others with their addiction, they are helping themselves. There are twelve steps in AA that its members are encouraged to follow. It starts with admission of powerlessness over their addiction and continues with such principles as turning to a “higher power” for help and guidance, taking a personal moral inventory, asking the higher power to remove defects of character, listing people who were harmed by the addiction, making amends to those you have harmed, accepting personal responsibility for any wrongs you may have done, continuing to take a personal moral inventory and to improve your conscious contact with a higher power and finally taking the message of AA to alcoholics who are still suffering. The theme in the end goes back to the idea that by helping others, you’re helping yourself.

After mulling over some of the research on happiness, reading some of the positive thinking and self-help literature, considering my own career choices and how personally fulfilling it is to do volunteer work it is clear that one of the greatest sources of happiness for myself is investing in others. Teaching is not something that people go into for the money. For myself and other colleagues the reward of teaching is seeking your students excel. The monetary compensation is secondary to the joy of watching your students develop and grow.

It wasn’t at all surprising to find that research on happiness affirms the notions that happiness is contagious, happiness can be reinforced by social support and maintaining a positive mental attitude.

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the Notion of Evil

Ron Henson
Humanities 620
Dr. Polk

Key Thoughts on Evil

In the Hebrew Bible, evil—a euphemism for sin– is anthropomorphized in the following statement; “You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master .” I suppose a quote from a sacred text seemed appropriate when it comes to a discussion of evil. Aside from being a literary device the conflict between good and evil sounds a lot like a religious experience. The Hebrew Bible is replete with examples of the classic dichotomy:
And the LORD God planted all sorts of trees in the garden — beautiful trees that produced delicious fruit. At the center of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… But the LORD God gave him this warning: “You may freely eat any fruit in the garden 17 except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16&17.) According to theologians in the Christian doctrine there is “original sin” which is something that all humanity inherited from Adam and Eve though views differ somewhat depending on if you’re protestant (John Calvin, a well know protestant reformer refers to total depravity as being a human condition); or Catholic—who believe that a state of sinfulness is in contrast to the state of holiness but that humanity isn’t necessarily culpable for Adam and Eve’s particular sin. In Eastern Orthodoxy they prefer the term “ancestral sin” that is passed on from generation to generation. The doctrine of original sin is not found in Judaism as it is a Christian belief based on Paul the Apostle’s statement that “Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12)
Judaism teaches that the soul is pure at birth and that humans are born with yetzer ha-tov (a tendency to do good) and with yetzer hara (a tendency to do evil). Islam doesn’t have a doctrine of original sin but it does teach that there are those who do good and those who do evil and evildoers will be punished in an afterlife. A more atheistic view was expressed by one of the survivors of the 911 attacks in NY City. From the transcript of the PBS Frontline report, Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, Ian McEwan, Author and atheist proclaims, “I don’t really believe in evil at all. I don’t believe in God, and I certainly don’t, therefore, believe in some sort of supernatural or trans-historical force that somehow organizes life on dark or black principles. I think there are only people behaving, and sometimes behaving monstrously.
And sometimes their monstrous behavior is so beyond our abilities to explain it; we have to reach for this numinous notion of evil. But I think it’s often better to try and understand it in real terms, in real, you know, either political or psychological terms. There’s something, at the same time, very, very attractive about this word. It’s sort of- it’s a great intensifier. It just lets us say that we thoroughly abhor, you know, this behavior.
So I think we have to beware of treating September 11th as the only and most spectacular event of human cruelty. There’ve been many acts of cruelty, some of them on an even larger scale. I think it’s inherent. I think one of the great tasks of art is really to explore that, all those many, many sides of human nature.

Read more:

Mr. McEwan correctly points out that when something happens with the same disastrous proportions as 911, it’s easy to fall back on some sort of religious notion of good and evil. My personal bias has already been revealed and that is that there is no such thing as magic—at least not the type of magic that purports to enlist the assistance of supernatural forces–because magic is simply science that is not fully understood or a type of technology that is hidden. Still, it is undeniable that there is evil in the world in terms of something being profoundly malevolent and one of the ironies of 911 is that we often think of religious people as being custodians and protectors of virtue but these Islamic extremists viewed the taking of thousands of innocent lives as an act of piety. That type of twisted thinking is the reason why some people really hate religion.

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The Good Life

Ron Henson
Humanities 650
Dr. Von Mayrhauser

Reading Response III

The readings for Part III have something in common with the readings from parts one & two; they were all dense and bountiful. There were so many interesting topics to explore it was difficult choosing two or three on which to focus and address in the reading response. The first one I chose has to do with a personal matter. As an undergrad, I was a student assistant for a man by the name of Samuel P. Oliner who had the unique distinction of being the most published professor at Humboldt State University. He was the founder of “The Altruistic Personality Project” but before I get into describing that, it would make sense to first explain a little bit about his background. Samuel Oliner was a fair skinned Polish Jew who was just a boy at about the same time that Hitler came to power. He is alive today because of the generosity of strangers who took him in, treated him like their own son and successfully passed him off as a Polish boy. Later in life, he became fascinated with answering the question, “why would strangers at great personal risk to themselves save a others from the death camps?” The Altruistic Personality Project morphed into The Altruistic Personality and Pro-social Behavior Institute at HSU. When I was his assistant, he was compiling a rather long list of people who had survived the holocaust under similar circumstances. He wanted their stories and was eager to find out about what motivated those people who acted as sort of surrogate guardian angels. Naturally, the Kidron article entitled Embracing the lived memory of genocide” was of particular interest to me after having that background of working for Dr. Oliner. He looked at two aspects of human behavior. One he called “the nature of evil” and subsumed under that were things like racism, anti-Semitism, genocide and homophobia. The other side of that were people who demonstrated pro-social behavior with altruism being an extreme example of it. It was really easy to tie his research and work in with the work Carol Kidron did at the House of Being. Just as Dr. Oliner noted the two sides of human nature, the people at the House of Being recognized the sort of yin yang by allowing both the life words and the death words to exist simultaneously. Obviously this topic has great depth; however; it’s necessary to move onto the next matter.

Regarding the Patnaik piece about the central area of Korwa India, in the mid 80s there was a revision of government policy that allowed displaced groups to return to their homeland. It mentioned that the people were locating the pain and suffering in their own bodies. Pain is actually physically felt. One of the questions is: What about his thorny issue of colonialism and the good life? One of the themes that has come up in class and in some of the readings is when we consider the good life, how much of our good life is at the expense of someone else? In class we talked about the British and their ideology that they were superior to everyone else (some Brits are still like that) and saw what they were doing as improving the lives of the natives—not exploiting them. In retrospect it is easy to see that wasn’t the case and today, as a nation, we have our own issues of exploitation going on with the American Empire. The Farquhar article addresses some of the history of China and no doubt the revolution was partially brought about as a rebellion against a small minority who were able to live the good life at the expense of the majority.

Social responsibility was an underlying theme of Part III and that is that part of living the good life involves giving back which is why it is important to do some type of charitable or community service. I would love to elaborate further but unfortunately am out of time (and space).

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The Elusiveness of Consciousness

Ron Henson
Humanities 520—The Self: Body & Mind
Final Paper
Dr. Weimin Sun

The Elusiveness of Consciousness

Personally, I don’t feel well qualified to write a top-notch philosophy paper. It has to be one of the greatest academic challenges I’ve faced not so much because of the writing part—that comes relatively easily for me—it’s the sheer volume of reference material one has to consult in order to make a paper at least appear half witted. I mean, Dennett leads to Hume and Descartes, leads to Chandlers and Churchland, leads to Metzinger, and Metzinger leads to Russell who leads back to Dennett and Dawkins. By the end of the day your head is spinning. Trying to take on a subject as difficult as consciousness is only setting myself up again for another marathon of plowing through ever more philosophical information and the end of the day ending up with a rough draft that is analogous to a giant megalopolis hopelessly searching for a downtown.

My first objective is to establish a thread for the Humanities program. My first paper, the “Digital Native,” focused on the changes brought about by the digital revolution and included some research on virtual reality and how nearly constant use of technology effects the brain. The next paper, Caprica, dealt with religion of course–since it was a religion class–but also addressed some interesting questions such as; “will we as a species be able to achieve a sort of immortality in the embodiment of a digital form?” This paper, while not necessarily taking on the topic of artificial intelligence per se, talks about consciousness and finds a common thread with the question; “will artificial intelligence eventually achieve consciousness?” In order to answer that question, one first needs to define consciousness from a philosophical perspective and that, I’m finding, is not a simple task.

On the matter of consciousness, science has become more integrated into our daily lives—evermore so in today’s world where our understanding of the mind keeps growing exponentially. Dennett has achieved celebrity status for some of his work on consciousness among other things. Bertrand Russell wrote a great deal of his works about 80 BYT (before you tube) and we’re still talking about him today, which is a significant accomplishment for any academic. In fact, Bertrand Russell on God (1959) has had 106,694 hits on You Tube at the time of this writing.

You see my thesis in the title. Consciousness, at least trying to define it from a philosopher’s point of view, is elusive. What I intend to do here is to look at two well known philosophers, Metzinger and Chalmers, analyze their take on defining consciousness and offer a synopsis of why the thing is elusive. When dealing with the names I mentioned, you can’t go from the simple to the more complex. They’re both complex so I’ll start with Chalmers who lays some of the groundwork for Metzinger.
Chalmers’ principle of organizational invariance:

David Chalmers is a well-known philosopher from the University of Arizona in Tucson who has developed some interesting arguments that were initially proposed by Nagel who said that experience is the hard problem that makes the mind-body problem intractable.

The principle of structural coherence

Awareness is a purely functional notion: you see something with your eyes, it is processed in the visual cortex & it contains cognitively accessible information. There is a direct correspondence between consciousness and awareness. It is this isomorphism between the structures of consciousness and awareness that constitutes the principle of structural coherence. Given the coherence between consciousness and awareness, it follows that a mechanism of awareness will itself be a correlate of conscious experience.
Principle of organizational invariance.

This principle states that any two systems with the same fine-grained functional organization will have qualitatively identical experiences. Chalmers draws the conclusion that consciousness (experience) has to be a fundamental ingredient of reality. He links experience with physical processes. Let’s examine the following neural replacement scenario…

“We can imagine, for instance, replacing a certain number of my neurons by silicon chips. In the first such case, only a single neuron is replaced. Its replacement is a silicon chip that performs precisely the same local function as the neuron. We can imagine that it is equipped with tiny transducers that take in electrical signals and chemical ions and transforms these into a digital signal upon which the chip computes, with the result converted into the appropriate electrical and chemical outputs. As long as the chip has the right input/output function, the replacement will make no difference to the functional organization of the system. In the second case, we replace two neighboring neurons with silicon chips. This is just as in the previous case, but once both neurons are replaced we can eliminate the intermediary, dispensing with the awkward transducers and effectors that mediate the connection between the chips and replacing it with a standard digital connection. Later cases proceed in a similar fashion, with larger and larger groups of neighboring neurons replaced by silicon chips. Within these groups, biochemical mechanisms have been dispensed with entirely, except at the periphery. In the final case, a chip has replaced every neuron in the system, and there are no biochemical mechanisms playing an essential role. We can imagine that throughout, the internal system is connected to a body, is sensitive to bodily inputs, and produces motor movements in an appropriate way, via transducers and effectors. Each system in the sequence will be functionally isomorphic to me at a fine enough grain to share my behavioral dispositions. But while the system at one end of the spectrum is me, the system at the other end is essentially a copy of silicon robot.” (footnotes are lost in WordPress but that quote was from Chalmers).

This goes back to the question of, “will artificial intelligence achieve consciousness?” Chalmer’s conclusion that any functional isomorph of a conscious system must have qualitatively identical experiences and the silicon robot must be conscious too affirms the imagination of the writers of “Caprica” who envision a world in which Zoe, one of the main characters, achieves consciousness in a virtual reality universe and then later when her consciousness is downloaded into a flash drive and embedded into a cybernetic life form she actually takes on a physical albeit mechanical body. Flashback to Star Trek TOS–they’re on a planet investigating some rather strong temporal disturbances when they encounter “the guardian of time” in the City on the Edge of Forever Kirk asks, “are you machine or being?” to which the guardian replies, “I am both and neither.”

Double Aspect Theory of Information

According to Spinoza , the mental and physical are two aspects of the same substance. Chalmers’ elaborates on Spinoza’s theory with his double aspect theory of information, which can be summed up as follows:
1. Information is physically realized
2. Information is phenomenally realized
3. Whenever we find an information space realized phenomenally, we find the same information space realized physically

Smart said “…suppose we identify the Morning Star with the Evening Star. Then there must be some properties which logically imply that of being the Morning Star, and quite distinct properties which entail that of being the Evening Star.”

He goes onto explain that the fact that for the sun “there must be some properties (for example, that of being a yellow flash) which are logically distinct from those in the physicalist story.” He characterizes the objection to physicalism as “the objection that a sensation can be identified with a brain process only if it has some phenomenal property … whereby one-half of the identification may be, so to speak, pinned down…” alluding to the idea that the problem of physicalism will arise for that phenomenal property even if the original mind-body identity is true. This debacle spurred the “dual-aspect” theory .
Over the past four decades, both neuroscientists and cognitive scientists have been researching something that was traditionally the realm of the philosophers. Part of this renewed interest in the study of consciousness can be attributed to an increase in the number of researchers represented in the fields of neuroscience and cognition, part of it can be credited to substantial leaps forward in the technologies that are utilized to map out and study the brain. Metzinger’s enthusiasm for the subject is quite clear. He writes, “Consciousness is the most fascinating research target conceivable, the greatest remaining challenge to the scientific worldview as well as the centerpiece of any philosophical theory of mind.”


Thomas Metzinger is a prominent German Philosopher. He is best known for his work in consciousness studies, neurobiology, and his philosophical writings on the self, which according to him doesn’t exist. Metzinger’s Phenomenal Self Model (PSM) the Self Modal Theory of Subjectivity (SMT) and the Phenomenal Model of the Intentionality Relation (PMIR) are three of the most important concepts he deals with in his book, “Being No one—the Self Model Theory of Subjectivity.” His thesis is that, “no such things as selves exist in the world: Nobody ever was or had a self. All that ever existed were conscious self-models that could not be recognized as models. The phenomenal self is not a thing, but a process—and the subjective experience of being someone emerges if a conscious information-processing system operates under a transparent self-model. ” This was really quite exciting to read in light of some of the things that have been brought up in “Caprica.” (again–footnotes were lost but Caprica is a prequel to the popular SciFi series “Battlestar Galactica”).

If Metzinger is correct, the conscious self is a paradigm created inside of our brain—an internal image. If that’s true, everything we experience is a virtual self in a virtual reality. This means that in the not too distant future we will be able to create artificial intelligence and implant a sort of cyber “consciousness” into cybernetic “life forms” well—maybe not but the prospect is fascinatingly in line with Caprica.
The self-model theory of subjectivity (SMT)

Table 20.1 (cannot be seen in the online version) outlines a neural representation of a phenomenal representation and it’s a good idea to have a look at some of the earlier work Metzinger has done before plunging into the SMT. One thing that is crucial to keep in mind is that Metzinger is not only a philosopher but also a neuroscientist and he has done a lot of research into artificial intelligence, cognition, and neuropsychology. When he approaches philosophy, it’s not necessarily from an abstract point of view. His perspective also includes a lot of work that he has done on the physical properties of the brain. He describes the phenomenal self as the first person perspective. The central questions motivating the SMT are: “How, in principle, could a consciously experienced self and a genuine first-person perspective emerge in a given information-processing system? At what point in the actual natural evolution of nervous systems on our planet did explicit self-models first appear? What exactly made the transition from unconscious to conscious self-models possible? Which types of self-models can be implemented or evolved in artificial systems? What are the ethical implications of machine models of subjectivity and self-consciousness? What is the minimally sufficient neural correlate of phenomenal self-consciousness in the human brain? Which layers of the human self-model possess necessary social correlates for their development, and which ones don’t? The fundamental question on the conceptual level is: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for the appearance of a phenomenal self?”

All of these multi-syllabic utterances may seem difficult and complicated to grasp, but that’s really not the case. Part of it is quite simple as can be seen in the illustration below (again word press has limitations). Metzinger seems to be drawing a parallel between man and machine and in a sense, that’s what we are—biological machines. To break down his model to its component parts, it would be best to illustrate it.

Our brains are not that much different than machines when it comes to processing information. There is a notion of a first person perspective. There is a notion of the self from which this first person perspective originates. Metzinger gives us an overview the phenomenal first person perspective by describing three target properties.

Mineness: A higher-order property of particular forms of phenomenal content. For example, I experience my leg as belonging to me. I experience my thoughts and emotions as belonging to me. There is a sense of ownership. I would use an example here but for the sake of time & space will embed a hyperlink to one of the articles that describes the rubber hand experiment in which “a subject sees a rubber hand plausibly positioned to extend from her arm while her real hand is hidden. If the fake and real hands are stroked simultaneously, she may feel the stroking in the location of the rubber hand, not the real one.” The moment you have the feeling that this is my hand—although cognitively you know it is not—you have what Metzinger calls, “the phenomenal self.”
Selfhood: This is a way of being infinitely close to yourself before starting any thought or cognitive activity. For example we say, “I am someone.”

Personal Perspective: This is an inward perspective where you switch from a third person perspective of talking about a property of conscious space to a first person perspective of myself.

This is where you get into the Phenomenal Self Model (PSM). From a logical point of view, you can distinguish three classes of informational processing systems. Some can do simulations. Then you have emulations. The difference between an emulator and a simulator is that a simulator duplicates as closely as possible any given phenomenon. The Doppler Radar is a good example of a simulation. An emulator duplicates the function of one system using a different system so that the second system behaves like and appears to be the first system. My computer has a feature called “dashboard” and when it’s activated, a calculator (or emulation of a calculator) comes up. The self-modal is a third class of informational processing system that both simulates and emulates.

The phenomenal self-modal is a plastic, multimodal structure, possibly evolving from a partially innate and “hard wired” model of the spatial properties of the system.
An active self-model is not a little man in the head (although I love the Men in Black cinematic metaphor) it’s a sub-personal person state. When you wake up in the morning, the organism that you are has to perform a number of complex computational operations that involve sensory motor integration. Conant and Ashby describe this as a transient computational module, which is episodically activated by the system in order to regulate its interaction with the environment.

Astronauts in space have several difficulties that emerge when one is in a zero gravity environment. They get disoriented because they can’t feel where up and down are in their bodies. It’s a type of motion sickness. They can overcome this disorientation by hitting their heal and instantly the body image locks in again and their conscious experience recognizes up and down. What that demonstrates is that the human model is a virtual model. It’s just a hypothesis the system has about its current states. If it’s under constrained in a spaceship, it becomes very context sensitive. So the self-model is a virtual model. This is where the idea of phantom limbs comes in.

One of the main problems schizophrenics have is that if they cannot integrate their own thoughts into their cognitive self-model they cannot experience their own thoughts as their own. “Unilateral Hemineglect” is very well documented and studied phenomenon that occurs when a patient has the misimpression that they are disassociated with one of their limbs. In alien hand syndrome the patient will pick up the phone with one hand while the other hand tries to hang up the phone. Woody Allen in his film, Hollywood Ending, plays a character that has psychosomatic blindness and in spite of this limitation, has to direct a movie. All of these demonstrate how a system uses different and alternating self-models in order to deal with traumatic situations.

There is something in your conscious experience that is so invariant that it is almost unconscious and it has something to do with the background sensation of your own body. You have a part of your body that is autonomically active and it tells yourself, this is I. There’s an empirical hypothesis in which Ronald Melzack postulates that your have a hardwired partition of a neuromatrix underlying the spatial model of your body. There’s also an anchor of your emotions according to renowned neuroscientists, Antonio Damasio who in his “Neural Computation Theory” explains that the feeling of intuition that a person has sometimes that cannot be rationally accounted for is actually a function of the pituitary gland. Metzinger calls this, “emotional embodiment.”

As a science fiction fan, I love the work of Thomas Metzinger. I suppose that’s because thanks to a vivacious appetite for SciFi literature some of these things that he expresses philosophically, have already been expressed thematically in things like AI. About 4 minutes into the clip, we see an android’s answer to the question, “what is love?” They bring up dreams in that clip and that is precisely what is elusive about consciousness and it brings up another question, “if we are able to eventually reach the point technologically where we can create an artificial intelligence that is so advanced that it can achieve consciousness, would dreams be a necessary component of that consciousness?” That’s actually a good place to start for another paper. For now though, according to Metzinger, the V-Club is possible and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that immortality in the form of a digitized form is theoretically not that far fetched. It flies in the face of Cartesian Dualism and makes some of the classic philosophies seem a bit quaint but in the words of Aldous Huxley, It’s a brave new world.

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Nine to Five Warriors in the Age of UAV’s

Members of the cohort were informed early on that we would eventually need to find a unifying theme that would tie all of the papers we’ve done together. I knew from the onset that I wanted to take a look at technology and how it has impacted how humans interact with each other. For me, this paper is a good opportunity to expand on the first paper I did for Dr. Greg’s class, “A New Species—the Digital Native” and explore a couple of things that were casually mentioned but not really explored in depth. The first topic deals with the predator drones the US military and the CIA use for missions in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The second topic, which is related to the first, looks at the role of virtual reality (VR) with new developments (new since I wrote Digital Native) in the field of research specifically dealing with how the US military trains soldiers to wage war, deal with PTSD and how army recruiters use VR to entice potential soldiers to join the military.

Many of us are immersed in technology all of the time from multi-tasking to MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, email, Moodle , Solar , DVR’s, smart phones, voice interactive navigational systems, smart boards and laptops. All of these things are thrusting us into the virtual frontier. We’ve come a long way since the days of; “is it real or is it Memorex? ”

Dr. Jeremy Balimson runs the Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. His research shows that the distinctions between real and virtual are becoming blurred. He says; “we’re not wired to differentiate between wired stuff and real stuff.” In the book that he co-wrote with UCSB Dr. Jim Blascovich, Infinite Reality, the publisher writes, “Infinite Reality explores what emerging computer technologies and their radical applications will mean for the future of human life and society. Along the way, Bailenson and Blascovich examine the timeless philosophical questions of the self and ‘reality’ that arise through the digital experience; explain how virtual reality’s latest and future forms—including immersive video games and social-networking sites—will soon be seamlessly integrated into our lives; show the many surprising practical applications of virtual reality, from education and medicine to sex and warfare; and probe further-off possibilities like ‘total personality downloads’ that would allow your great-great-great grand children to have a conversation with ‘you’ a century or more after your death. ”

One of the more intriguing aspects of their work involves kids. When children swim with whales in the virtually world if you ask them a week later about the experience they will believe that they had actually gone to SeaWorld or some other place where you can find wales in captivity and swam with real whales. This brings up some really interesting questions. If the brain isn’t wired to differentiate between virtual and actual reality does that mean that there will be a new branch of psychology to treat neurosis that develop in the virtual world? That may seem like a sardonic question but it certainly is not .

Exponential leaps in technology have opened up a host of new possibilities many of which go well beyond what was envisioned in science fiction forty or fifty years ago. Today, we have United States Air Force personnel who wake up, have breakfast with their family, drive the kids to school, fight traffic to get to work, arrive at their post, and sit in an air conditioned, high tech workstation for an 8 hour shift. It sounds like an ordinary day typical of any American worker. The big difference is that these workers are utilizing a variety of technologies that allow them to fight virtual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 7,500 miles away using high tech tools like GPS, night vision and unmanned drones equipped with stinger and hellfire missiles. At the time of this writing, it was reported by the NY Times that the Pentagon now has 7,000 unmanned aerial drones (UAV’s) compared to only 50 a decade ago. This changes the dynamics of war completely. The drones have demonstrated that it is possible for United States Air Force and CIA personnel to strike targets with incredible precision from 7,500 miles away with absolutely no risk of being shot at. It has also been reported that it is quite possible that the overall success and effectiveness of these drones have been used as a good argument to accelerate the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The way things are headed; we may see a robotics war similar to the one in Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones in our lifetime.

In his book, Wired for War, author P.W. Singer writes, “Technology is wrapped up in the story of war. You know, look at all the things that surround us, everything from the Internet to jet engines, these are all things where the military has been a driver for technology. And technology opens up new frontiers, new directions we can go in, but it also creates new dilemmas, new questions you need to answer. ”

One of the questions I intend to answer in my paper is, “what is the psychological impact, if any, on the Air Force personnel who engage in the battlefield from a virtual environment thousands of miles away?” It is my intention to put a human face on these virtual warriors who go to work, kill the bad guys, get in the car, drive home and have dinner with their wife and kids. “How was your day today honey?” “Well, let’s see, I blew up a weapons depot, and eliminated several Al Qaeda operatives. It was just another day at the office.” A few weeks after writing that scenario, in preparation for this paper, I read the book, Predator: the Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story written by a genuine U.S. Air Force predator drone pilot named Matt J. Martin. In it, he describes a remarkably similar scenario.

Although Leonardo d Vinci was among the first to raise the specter of using flying machines for war, I doubt he could have conceived a time when a pilot could fight a war long distance: commute to work in rush-hour traffic, slip into a seat in front of a bank of computers, “fly” a warplane to shoot missiles at an enemy thousands of miles away, and then pick up the kids from school or a gallon of milk at the grocery store on his way home for dinner .

If you look at the work environment of these pilots who sit in comfortable chairs in front of multiple screens controlling the drones with a joystick, it’s easy to notice the similarities to playing a video game at an arcade. The pilots know though that they are not playing and their work is not a game. One researcher pointed out that drone pilots have a higher number of cases of PTSD than their counterparts who are physically present in the battle zones because unlike their comrades in arms in the non-virtual battleground, they are relatively solitary so they’re not physically part of the assault teams and they don’t go through the same debriefings following an attack like the ground troops do. P.W. Singer, who was quoted earlier, dubs it “cubical war” although I would call it unilateral cubical wars because the United States is the only nation with the global infrastructure to wage war remotely. It takes a lot of infrastructure on earth and in orbit to wage drone warfare. Also, it should be plural not only because we’re fighting three wars now in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya but also because these drones are also used south of the border for surveillance in the so called “drug wars.”

Before looking at the psychological impact on the pilots of waging war remotely, I want to back up a little and look at how the army recruits new soldiers in this day and age. In 2009, the PBS televised newsmagazine called “Frontline” did a special report on the Army Experience Center (AEC). According to their statistics:
As of October 12, 2009:
• The AEC had registered nearly 13,000 new visitors
• The AEC had contracted a total of 149 recruits — 134 for active duty and 15 for Reserves
• The AEC had obtained 72 “quality enlistments,” referring to recruits who scored in the 50th percentile or above on the Armed Forces Qualification Test
• On average, 80 people visit the AEC per day
• The HMMWV [Humvee] is the AEC’s most popular simulator

The above statistics come from one AEC in the Philadelphia area where the army has invested millions of dollars on a high-tech recruiting station that entices young people to join the adventure (of being a soldier) by offering them virtual combat environments. The Army knows that teenaged boys are predominant users of violent war themed video games and they use these games some of which are more than just a screen—they’re motion simulators—to give young men the feel of being in an adrenalin pumping danger filled environment. You have to be 13 years old to use these centers—the army is thinking five years ahead—and some of the young impressionable boys get very excited about the prospect of going to war.

These types of centers are obviously not without controversy. Some parents were outraged and can be heard chanting, “shame, shame, shame—war is not a game” during protests outside the centers. One of the criticisms is that they are concealing the harsh realities of war because they are just showing the exhilarating parts while concealing the experience of watching your best friend stepping onto a mine and having his leg blown off. Having been keenly interested in this topic it was really quite a surprise recently to have U.S. Supreme Court justices saying that there is no definitive evidence that exposure to violent video games increases a child’s propensity toward violence because I have seen plenty of studies that show a direct cause/effect relationship between participating in these video games and an increase in aggressive behavior in both adolescents and adults but that’s a topic for another paper. The point here is that the simulated experiences at these recruiting stations are almost as real as being in a combat environment in real life. Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on video games each year and the gaming manufactures continue to improve on their technologies. When you merge 3D technology with gaming, something that has already been done, and you couple that with a motion simulator you’re getting something that is close enough to reality that the brain isn’t able to distinguish it from real reality.

There is plenty of scientific evidence that these games do indeed desensitize young people to violence and proof of that can not only be found in numerous studies but also the manner in which the army takes another step with their virtual environments. You see, the army knows that these games desensitize young people to violence because when they encounter soldiers who in combat situations freezes because they are reluctant to kill, they put them through additional training in simulators. According to one source, the U.S. Army has invested 50 million in combat training games .

Some have applied the same criticism (that the military is concealing the harsh realities of war) to the drone program and have questioned the ethics of waging a war that is so unilateral or one sided, the pilots who carry out their lethal missions are in absolutely no danger whatsoever. They can sit in their air-conditioned cubicles and dole out what has been appropriately termed, “hellfire” without any anxiety associated with the risk of the enemy shooting back. Back in the day, warfare required a certain resolve that if you were a soldier engaged in battle, you would be in an environment that is so dangerous, there was a very real possibility that you would never see your loved ones again. Contrast this with the drone pilot’s account of killing the bad guys and picking up the kids and some milk on the way home.

In the process of doing research for this paper, I came across several articles that anticipate a future where the business of war is completely automated. George Lucas has already envisioned a clone army. James Cameron has envisioned robots called terminators that are programmed to kill and you have to wonder how far into the future will it be before there are robot soldiers? In the film Judge Dredd, a robot warrior was one of the characters and it wouldn’t be right not to mention the Cylons—a race of sentient cybernetic beings who try to destroy humanity in the TV series, Battlestar Galactica. As an avid fan of science fiction the prospect of an army that can wage war with no risk to human life is really astonishing. Just today, Discovery News published an article about the next generation of drone aircraft called the X47B.

The big advance with the X47B besides the fact that it is of a stealth design is that these drones are unmanned and unpiloted. There will no longer be a need to worry about PTSD since these drones will be able to carry out missions without a human pilot unless of course it is possible for the computer programmer who programs the drones to develop the disorder which is highly unlikely. The fact that drone pilots do suffer from PTSD affirms Jeremy Bailenson’s & Jim Blascovich’s research that asserts that the human brain is not able to differentiate between virtual reality and real reality. I read a number of scholarly articles dealing with human factors of using unmanned drones and they deal with fatigue, boredom and monotony as being the downside of high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAV’s. Besides boredom and monotony, there are some much more serious conditions that arise from being a drone pilot. PW Singer, who has been quoted previously, did an interview with Spiegel Online who asked him if the drone pilots suffer from as much stress and trauma as those on the battlefield. His answer was:
Singer: Yes, all this doesn’t mean we’re not seeing all sorts of new stressors. In the beginning we feared that drones may make the operators not really care about what they’re doing. But the opposite has turned out to be true. They may almost care too much. We’re seeing higher levels of combat stress among remote units than among some units in Afghanistan. We found significantly increased fatigue, emotional exhaustion and burnout. Drone operators are more likely to suffer impaired domestic relationships, too.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What explains this stress?

Singer: There are different theories as to why. Traditional bomber pilots don’t see their targets. A remote operator sees the target up close, he sees what happens to it during the explosion and the aftermath. You’re further away physically but you see more. Also, the drone war takes place 24/7, 365 days a year. The war doesn’t stop on Christmas. It’s like being a fireman when there’s a fire every single day, day after day after day. That’s emotionally and physically taxing. On top of that, many units are understaffed .

One of the stressors Singer doesn’t mention is the condition known as “whiplash transition.” It’s a condition that has been dubbed “whiplash” because of the sudden transition from the virtual battlefield to what the military would call civilian life and we’ll get back to drone pilot stress in a moment but first there was something that Singer said that sparked my interests and that has to do with the operation to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden. I don’t want to digress but it is absolutely amazing to me that President Obama and his senior staff were able to watch the operation from the Situation Room in the White House in real time because the assault team had cameras mounted to their helmets .

This is one of those pictures that paint a thousand words I think. Contrast this to 50 years ago when President John F. Kennedy expressed great frustration over the fact that he couldn’t see what was going on in the Bay of Pigs.

Getting back to the drone pilots. In a PBS Frontline interview, PW Singer says that there is an element of truth in the stereotype that drone pilots are just gamers. He mentioned that in the process of doing research for his book, he came across a 19-year-old drone pilot who entered the US Army to be a helicopter mechanic but the military offered to train him to be a drone pilot instead. He’s a high school dropout who turned out to be incredible at piloting drones because he was so good at video games. The US Air force doesn’t like the story because for one he’s in the army, he isn’t even an officer and he has taken out more enemy combatants (the time frame was not specified by Singer) than all of the F-16 pilots put together .

In an interview with Slate Magazine, AP reporter, Scott Lindlaw, asks and US Air Force officer about drone pilot stress. He mentions that the drone pilots work longer shifts and tours than pilots in the war zone. He mentions whiplash. Then, he mentions…
A third reason is that unmanned aircraft, unlike manned ones, are often assigned to remain over the target and assess the damage. “When you come in at 500-600 mph, drop a 500-pound bomb and then fly away, you don’t see what happens,” a wing commander explains. But when you fire a drone missile, “you watch it all the way to impact.” Furthermore, Lindlaw notes, the video in a drone console, unlike the view from a traditional plane, shows the resulting fatalities “in high-resolution detail. ”

In conclusion, one of the main reasons why I chose the theme of how technology has impacted humanity is that it is so current. Some of the references I used I found right up until the time I turned this paper in. For example, in the book, An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, author Glenn Reynolds points out that the emergence of technology and interconnectedness have empowered ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We in the USA take things like freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly for granted mainly because those values are interwoven into the fabric of our democracy but in oppressive regimes such as Libya, Syria and Yemen we are seeing those freedoms asserted and the conduit is technology. The “Arab Awakening” is a demonstration that George Orwell ’s classic iconic futuristic 1984 vision in which technology would be used by the power elite to enslave humanity was unfounded. To the contrary, technology—specifically Facebook, YouTube and Twitter—have been essential tools used by the masses to throw off the shackles of autocratic oppression and assert their independence.
• Zur, O. & Zur, A. (2009). On Digital Immigrants & Digital Natives. Zur Institute available online
• Carpenter, Charli, and Lina Shaikhouni. “Foreign Policy: If Drones Had Feelings, They’d Be Hurt. “National Public Radio FP Foreign Policy (2011): Web. 30 June 2011. .
• Caruso, D. (1998). Critics Pick Apart Study on Internet and Depression. Available online.
• Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. (1994).
• Billitteri, Thomas. “Drone Warfare.” CQ Researcher. 20-28.1 (2010): 1. Electronic
• Quinn, M. J. (2009). Ethics for the Information Age (3rd ed.). (M. Hirsch, Ed.) Boston: Pearson.
• Klotz, Irene. “SMART DRONE AIRCRAFT MAKES DEBUT FLIGHT.” Discovery 02/08/2010, Electronic/online.
• Al Katibe, Talal. “Better Than ‘TRANSFORMERS’: Real Life Robots.” Discovery 06/29/2011, Electronic/online.
• Solon, Daniel. “Boom Times in Warplane Industry Fade Into History.” NY Times 06/20/2011, Electronic/online.
• REUTERS. “Pakistan: Fatal Attacks by Drone.” NY Times 06/27/2011, Electronic/online
• Drew, Christopher. “Drones Are Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda.” NY Times 03/16/2009, Electronic/online.
• Schmitt, Eric. “A NATION AT WAR: MILITARY AIRCRAFT; In the Skies Over Iraq, Silent Observers Become Futuristic Weapons.” NY Times 04/18/2003,Eectronic/online.
• Perlez, Jane. “Drones Batter Al Qaeda and Its Allies Within Pakistan.” NY Times 04/04/2010, Electronic/online.
• Bummiller, Elisabeth. “War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs.” NY Times 06/19/2011, Electronic/online
• Drew, Christopher. “Attack on Bin Laden Used Stealthy Helicopter That Had Been a Secret.” NY Times 05/05/2011, Electronic/online.
• “Fatigue in Pilots of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Before and After Shift Work Adjustment.” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 80.5 (2009): 454-461. Print.

Annotated Bibliography

Blascovich, Jim, and Jeremy Bailenson. Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. William Morrow, 2011. Print.

When I wrote, “A New Species, the Digital Native” this book had not yet been published but it was clear as I got into it that my paper shares a lot of the same topics, themes and issues as were addressed in Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. Jeremy Bailenson and Jim Blascovich focus exclusively on virtual reality. As two of the key researches on the subject at Stanford University and UCSB respectively, they have done a lot of research on the topic and have compelling evidence that the brain is not able to distinguish between virtual reality and real reality. Keanu Reeve’s character, Neo in the Science Fiction film, the Matrix successfully demonstrated that it is possible for virtual worlds to be indistinguishable from real reality although our current technology hasn’t caught up to the Matrix (yet). My paper is going to mainly focus on the psychological impact of fighting wars remotely from 7,500 miles away but this book will be a great reference source when it comes to describing how the military uses virtual space to train soldiers and how doctors at VA hospitals use virtual reality to treat Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who suffer from PTSD.
Billitteri, Thomas. “Drone Warfare.” CQ Researcher. 20-28.1
This article gets into the ethical issues that have been raised concerning drone strikes, numbers and statistics regarding the number of drones, the number of drone strikes and the number of civilian casualties. It also provides some useful resources in terms of predicting the trends in the future with the expectation that drone production will double this year compared to 2010. What is interesting is that drone strikes are not just the purview of the military anymore. The CIA is using drone strikes raising legal questions regarding compliance with international law. The relevance to my paper is it will help to lay the foundation regarding how extensive the use of drone attacks have become.
Warren, Peter. Corporate warriors: the rise of the privatized military industry. Cornell Univ Pr, 2008. Print.
This book is basically about the rise of privatized military. It will be an aside really but I want to touch on it because the subject came up in the gateway class with Dr. Greg. It is relevant to my paper because the general idea will be to explore how technology has changed the way we wage war.
Yenne, Bill. Birds of Prey: Predators, Reapers and America’s Newest UAVs in Combat. Specialty Pr Pub & Wholesalers, 2010. Print.
This book hasn’t been delivered yet but it looks as though it gets into the historical use of unmanned drones as well as looking at the latest highest tech versions of the drones.
J., Matt, and Charles W. Predator: The Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story. Zenith Press, 2010. Print.

The reason for including this is obvious. As a collaboration between an actual drone pilot and a professional writer, this takes you inside the air conditioned environment in the Nevada desert at the Air Force base where the drone pilots fight a war that has a video game feel to it. The only difference is that it’s not a game—not at all. The author takes us from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to the Ali Air Base in Iraq & the Balad Air Base in Iraq with personal eyewitness accounts from the perspective of a pilot.

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Foucault and Dystopia

In order to best approach my topic in the context of the readings, I have chosen to focus on the Foucault article mainly because his views are relevant to the types of systems and interactions I will be examining in my paper.  Had he lived to see the explosion of information technology, he no doubt would be fascinated by the fact that so many of the power structures he spoke about can now be reproduced in virtual worlds.

Nietzsche, Kant, and Sartre have influenced Foucault[i] and he is known as a champion for the disenfranchised and marginalized members of society such as prisoners and homosexuals.  Like Jean-Paul Sartre, Foucault emerged as an intellectual who despised the bourgeois and embraced the quirky.

Discipline and Punish is an allegorical history of the penal system in which the influence of structuralism, a philosophical movement that gained prominence in France in the 50s and 60s, seeps through. The foundations of structuralism can be found in various schools of linguistics in Europe but its influence can also be seen across multiple disciplines. As was mentioned before, the ideas of Sartre such as existentialism influenced Foucault as well as other 20th century philosophers who broke with the traditionally accepted notion that man has free will to a model in which man operated within structures. Free will is no longer valid in a system in which power and control is exercised externally. The allegory of a prison provides an excellent example of a rigid system in which every aspect of a prisoner’s life was controlled by an outside authority.  Discipline is a system by which every movement and activity of the inmate is meticulously ordered. Observation is an essential component of power and the image of guard towers in which the daily activities of prisoners are carefully monitored can be seen in the prison model. This principle of power being maintained through surveillance can be expanded to other institutions such as schools and hospitals.  In fact, one could argue that the power to control the movement and regulate the body is even more profound in the hospital than it is in a prison because a person’s respiration, heart rate, temperature, intake of food and fluids are all precisely monitored and recorded. Nursing stations these days look a little bit like mission control with multiple screens being monitored by health care professionals who have access to the most intimate and personal parts of the patient including the insides.

There are two books that come to mind that would be good examples of rigid systems of control and observation. In the 1932 book, “A Brave New World” author Aldous Huxley correctly identifies some things once considered science fiction and are now considered science fact. He describes a future in which the population of the earth is governed by a global authority. Another science fiction classic is 1984 by George Orwell who envisioned a future in which privacy no longer exists. Even a person’s thoughts are monitored and the slightest hint of a dissenting thought is quickly punished. It is interesting that Orwell refers to language as an instrument of control since structuralism developed from a linguistic paradigm.

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Call Center Case Study

It seems like anyone these days who has a credit card account or has had technical issues with Windows based operating systems has encountered the experience of calling customer service and having the call answered by someone with a noticeable Indian accent reminiscent of the Indian convenience store owner from “the Simpsons” answer the phone, “thank you for calling Microsoft technical support, my name is Bob, how can I help you today?” This scenario is something I have personally encountered although it wasn’t really until viewing the two news reports presented in class that the world on the other side of that telephone line was revealed. I worked at a call center briefly when I was really desperate for a job—any job. I called it the seventh circle of hell. It was a Verizon Wireless port center in Beaverton Oregon that served customers who wanted to “port” their phone numbers into or out of Verizon Wireless. The company boasted that it did not outsource their customer service to overseas call centers boosting its appeal to customers who have difficulty completing technical tasks with someone who doesn’t speak perfect American English. This experience gave me a good idea of what a state side call center environment is like. It’s a relatively new twist though to place a US corporate environment somewhere in India. Doing so creates something of a culture clash the media has already picked up on with shows like “Outsourced,” a sitcom based on a Midwestern call center manager who has to move the entire operation to India. The readings regarding the cultural, economic and self-identity issues seem to focus on what would be considered losses as opposed to gains as we become more entrenched in a global society. Answering the Call tended to point out losses to the individuals who work in these call centers as though they far outweighed any secondary gains. The concepts really in all of the readings were the hybrid cultural mores and a sort of dualism that developed as the call center workers are immersed in American culture during their work shifts; a discussion regarding a virtual diaspora; confronting the reality of white privilege; interconnectedness and interdependence of nations; and globalization.
Outsourcing and the issue of cultural identity
When considering all of the readings, discussions, video journalism, and issues brought up in these various sources, I couldn’t help but be reminded of two works of science fiction the first author of whom imagines “A Brave New World. ” Even though it was originally published in 1932, the author correctly identifies some of the trends that we’re seeing today first with the embrace of technology, then with the depersonalization and complete disregard for the individual in the social structure of a massive totalitarian one-world government. This world government envelops all individuality and people are psychologically and biologically conditioned to not have any sort of identity other than citizens of the world state. The state systematically drives the individuality out of them in favor of the greater good of the larger community. It also teaches them to be docile consumers as the world government is based on a consumer driven capitalist system. Huxley wasn’t the only one to envision a future where conformity and devotion to the state were prized above the needs of the individual. In his book, 1984 , George Orwell describes “thought police.” The idea of privacy is completely obliterated in his futuristic vision of the world as big brother monitors your every movement and even thinking a dissenting thought is punished. Isn’t that what we see here with these call centers? A sort of quasi-totalitarianism only instead of the state having absolute power, it is the corporations that are playing the role of big brother. Any thoughtful person who has read these books would recognize the parallels. The call center employees are having their individuality and cultural background driven out of them as they become nothing more than mere commodities used to fuel a capitalist system. Having worked in a call center, I know that part of the training is to condition the workers to behave much like robots. You are trained to respond a certain way to every scenario. Some companies have tried to do away with the human element altogether as anyone who has experienced the frustration of getting caught in a labyrinth of automated voice recognition response systems while your primary goal is to get through to a human. There is no sense of individuality in a call center cubicle. They all look exactly the same. The corporation monitors your every move and even listens in on whichever calls they wish. In that environment big brother knew what time you logged on, which sites on the computer you were browsing, which headset you were using, what time you took your breaks, how many calls you took and how many seconds were required to resolve the customer’s issue. It was really creepy. I only lasted three months in that place.

Orwell speaks of language as an instrument of control. In his vision of the future, English is replaced with “newspeak” effectively eliminating words or phrases that could possibly be used to incite a rebellion against the absolute authority of the state. It is interesting that learning American English has played such a crucial role in conditioning these workers over in India to think like Americans, act like Americans and study the culture thoroughly so that they are able to chit chat with Americans while completing their various transactions. It reminds me of another fictional character from science fiction, Lieutenant Commander Data—an android who in one episode installs a subroutine in his computer matrix that allows him to engage in small talk.
What does it mean to “be American” or to “be Indian” where the lines of engagement are intentionally blurred?
That’s an interesting question because as Americans, we represent an amalgamation of many cultures that have been integrated into our society. We don’t even have our own national food (except maybe corn). Two of the most widely regarded American foods, the hamburger and the hotdog, are not originally from here. We assimilated them just like we’ve assimilated so many other cultural artifacts from all over the world. Still, there are distinguishing characteristics that have been woven into American culture; competition is one of them. We value prosperity, ingenuity, and a collective determination to overcome adversity. The second part of that question is a little bit more difficult to answer since I’m not an Indian. My sister-in-law is from India. She and my brother run a school called the Center for Music Education in Bangalore but Vennie has never really talked much about her cultural background other than mentioning the tradition of afternoon tea. My parents have been over there for a visit but I haven’t so really all I have to go on is pictures from my parent’s trip as well as some of the cultural distinctions mentioned in the reading that are slowly eroding as the influence of the West impacts their society. In the faculty shot that is on my brother’s and sister-in-law’s school’s website, it is interesting to note that all of the men are dressed in western attire while the women are dressed in more tradition Indian clothing. It gives a vivid visual example of how east meets west and I would not describe it as a melting pot so much as a salad. Some of the traditional cultural identity is maintained while integrating Western values.

Family time and sharing meals as a family is valued in Indian culture and call center employee are prevented from participating in that particular aspect of family life. As in many eastern cultures, it’s not unusual to find three generations living under the same roof. The question though has wider ramifications. While it’s true that the Clifford article, Appadurai article and Rowe/Malhotra/Perez articles all address the Americanization of India’s youth, we’re seeing the impact of globalization affecting even the most primitive tribes of Pau Pau New Guinea. South Korea is another place where globalization has deeply impacted the traditional culture. Their embrace of American culture is clearly evident in the city of Seoul where one can find the Outback, Bennigans, TGIF’s, 31 Flavors, Burger King and of course, McDonalds.

I’ve mentioned two classic Science Fiction literature references drawing parallels to the reading. It was the Clifford article with his discussion of migration and diaspora that brought to mind another literary classic by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath . Devastated by a natural disaster, the Joad family in this story that is set during the Great Depression is forced to migrate to California to try and find work as fruit pickers. While the comparisons to the scenarios outlined in the readings are obvious, the differences were not as easily predicted. All three of the literary references are made toward pieces that were written in the 1930’s and 40’s. While the science fiction authors were true visionaries, it was really quite beyond them to begin to imagine the infrastructure required to make a virtual migration possible. Routine instant global telecommunications from the other side of the planet in real time isn’t one of the things they predicted. They would no doubt marvel at the rapid advancements in technology that make the discussion of virtual migration viable.

When agents are asked to undertake a daily “migration of the mind” in order to service consumers in the U.S., does this fracture their sense of identity and subjectivity?
Coming from a Theatre Arts background, the idea of a daily “migration of the mind” is not that much different than assuming a role or getting into character. There’s a degree to which we all behave differently according to the circumstances and people with whom we’re dealing. Shakespeare wrote that all the world is a stage and we are merely players so I don’t subscribe to the notion that call centers are producing a generation of youth who are susceptible to multiple personality disorder although I can see how all of the cultural indoctrination they are subjected to could create a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. It was especially interesting seeing corporate religious services at the call centers with several of the locals participating: attending the services is likely voluntary. In fact, it’s difficult to couch these workers as innocent victims of corporate tyrants when they are working for these western companies by choice.

In closing, technological developments may eventually make the points made by the article’s authors somewhat moot. Voice recognition software has improved significantly over the past two years and there’s already a push for increased automation taking the place of real people. Some companies already have in place a tier system for people who call in for technical support. If their issue is too complex to be handled on the lower tier, the call is routed to a group of people who have more advanced technical expertise. It’s likely that automated systems will eventually replace humans with routine customer service issues with a remnant of technicians staying on to resolve more complex matters.

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