Dispelling the Sensuous

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"Science transcends mere politics. As recent history demonstrates, scientists are as willing to work for a Tojo, a Hitler, or a Stalin as for the free nations of the West." - Ed Abbey

Quite a few web sources that I browse had decided to republish the results of a small, but interesting, psychological research project that was conducted recently. The basic premise of the whole project was that accompanying a verbal request with a light touch on the arm will produce a greater number of 'positive' responses to the request than if it were unaccompanied by the tactile element. Their results confirmed the hypothesis when statistically significant margins showed that a light touch on the arm was effective at producing a 'yes' in situations that would most likely have otherwise produced a 'no'. In this case, a guy was seeking to procure contact info from random women that he encountered in the city (and I guess that's a part of why the story was so popular).

I suppose it's not self-evident that there is amazing power in the simple act of touching, and of withholding touch. I've talked to many people who are incredulous upon hearing the claim that "touch is more important than food for the development of infant primates." And while it overstates the case a bit to make the claim in that way, it's based on some significant research that was actually prompted when doctors noticed clinical effects of touch deprivation in human infants. And the fact remains, that when given the choice between a fake mother that provides tactile stimuli and a fake mother that provides food, the baby monkeys will consistently choose the "soft & cuddly" mother over the 'eat your vegetables' mother.

So it's long been known, in some circles, that touch is extremely important in the normal ontogenesis of humans (and many other species). Most studies tending to support the notion that touch has a lot to do with fostering 'trust', 'confidence', and 'empathy'... and it's been shown that a depressed and withdrawn attitude often develops in children who aren't touched often enough by their parents... progressing in later years to a loss of the desire to explore new situations, and a lack of capability in forming social relationships. Yet in spite of the fact that science has long known the detriment of a lack of physical contact, much of the general public seem ignorant of the fact and shocked to learn it. Especially in a nation of 'rugged individualism' and inviolable 'personal space'.

It's clear, upon further analysis, that common childrearing practices tend to minimize the amount of contact between the parents and the child. Along with several other cultural forces working to atomize and alienate the individual among the mass. And the consequences of such an acculturation are undoubtedly making themselves manifest in our culture... as most everything becomes increasingly objectified, commodified, and devalued.

And in our times, this apparently esoteric knowledge regarding 'the power of touch' is also being employed willfully and maliciously by covert organizations (not just psychologists and grad students plotting to score phone numbers from hopeful ladies that they never actually plan to date). Certainly, if the geeks on Digg can so easily infer how this knowledge could be applied, then you can bet that folks like those mad scientists at the CIA have long since done the same. And it would be a safe bet.

About the same time that I saw the story about the womanizing psychological study, I came across another article which related directly to 'the power of touch' and which seemed to confirm much of what 'mainstream' psychological research has been revealing about it... though the 'researchers' in this case utilized unethical experimentation methods that most psychologists can only dream of employing. The report was titled 'The CIA's Favorite Form of Torture'. And it was all about the agency's long-standing preference for the time-tested, "scientific", and more politically benign form of interrogative torture known as 'sensory deprivation'. In the wake of recent embarrassing scandals involving many instances of severe physical & sexual torture, the article from Mark Benjamin explores the agency's preferred form of torture... one that leaves no visible scars and tends to produce less of a visceral moralistic reaction from the public -- i.e., "psychological torture". The CIA's long-standing preference for this form of torture makes quite clear the importance of 'stimulation' for our well-being... more so than any public psychological research involving monkeys or grad students.

For particularly rapid results, the manual endorses the use of a "cell which has no light (or weak artificial light which never varies), which is sound-proofed, in which odors are eliminated, etc." Following that plan, the manual says, "induces stress; the stress becomes unbearable for most subjects." The manual adds, "The subject has a growing need for physical and social stimuli; and some subjects progressively lose touch with reality, focus inwardly, and produce delusions, hallucinations, and other pathological effects."
The theory behind the CIA's fascination with sensory deprivation, McCoy said, is that subjects are so starved for stimulation that they will even crave interaction with their interrogator. "The idea is that they break down and then they cling to the interrogator, because you are hungry for stimulus..."

The means & the ends that they pursue are 'divide & conquer', invariably... To isolate us from all the sources of power around us -- the restorative & motivating emotional power and the sheer physical support that we receive from other humans and all of creation. This is how the entire system operates, by alienating us from the land, and from each other, and even from ourselves. If the more subtle methods -- like the crib, the car, or the computer -- aren't effective. And the more brutal methods -- like pummeling you into submission or raping your kids while you watch -- aren't politically expedient. They can always snatch you from your driveway, inject you with 'chemical restraints' and chain you to the floor of the van, then the plane... so they can ship you to a secret prison, where they take away your sight, your hearing, your sense of smell and taste and touch. Predictably, you'll be begging to be waterboarded soon enough... You'll be begging for the guillotine or the firing squad or the interrogator's boot on your chest. Just to feel something.


Touch In Labor and Infancy: Clinical Implications -- Hong Kong Journal of Paediatrics

The CIA's Favorite Form of Torture -- Salon

The CIA's Favorite Form of Torture Goes On -- Salon

The Power of a Light Touch on the Arm -- British Psychological Society

The Terrorist You've Never Heard Of -- Salon and Video Is a Window Into Terror Suspect's Isolation -- New York Times -- Discussing how the government's illegal & abusive interrogation and detention techniques drove one innocent American to the point of complete psychological breakdown.