observed man

The Observed Man is Seldom Sincere: How the State Makes Us Sick

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Robert Sapolski had dedicated over 30 years of his life to the study of baboons. He now hates baboons. He describes them as "scheming, violent, backstabbing bastards." Baboons live in complex social hierarchies, with children, females, and smaller males baboons occupying the bottom, and the the largest, most aggressive males occupying the top. The baboons at the top get to do anything that they want, to whomever they want, while the bottom baboons spend their time trying to avoid being victimized. 

After years of blood samples, Sapolski discovered a link between stress and hierarchy in baboons. The baboon's rank determined the level of stress hormone in his system. The lower you were in the pyramid, the more stress hormone you had which also meant you had an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, immune system deficiencies, metabolic issues, out of whack hormones, and depression. This lead to a shorter life span. 

Sapolski's research gave insight into our own health, and how oppression can affect the human life span. It reinforced something obvious but vital; hierarchy is a slow killer. 

Denis Rancourt continued this observation into the human world, stating that aside from obvious physical causes of poor health associated with war & extreme exploitation of populations, science has shown that the next predominant determinant of human health is the individual's real and self-perceived position in societies' dominance hierarchy. Early death in our stable and advanced societies has been empirically confirmed to be a direct impact of the dominance hierarchy on our psychological functions. 


Our main body of imposed hierarchy is the Nation State. There are several ways nation States inject stress. There's hard-stressors like imprisonment, violence, fines, any other type of obvious physical control & restriction. These are the overt, aggressive tactics, sold to us as justifiable under law. But even worse, there are the soft-stressors, which are long term, chronic, self-feeding mechanisms of power. 

Surveillance is one of the most effective soft-stressors that Governments use. The main tactic used to be peer-to-peer surveillance. We saw this completely realized in the Soviet Union, where citizens were conditioned to spy on each other. One of the great stories of Soviet Russia, specifically fabricated as an ideal example of citizenship, was of Pavlik Morozov, a 13 year old boy who informed on his parents for storing extra grain for the long winter, instead of giving it to the State as ordered. His parents were sent to labor camps and he was rewarded and praised. The martyr monuments honoring Pavlik still stand across Russia. 

surveillance states

Peer-to-peer surveillance is just as effective today. Responsibility has been taken away from the individual and transferred to the State. If something goes wrong, we no longer talk to each other for a resolution, we call the authorities. 

The second surveillance tactic is the Panopticon, or as I sometimes call it, the eye of Sauron. The concept was first described in the 18th century as a circular prison with a watchtower in the middle, and one watchman that could see into every cell. The key is for the prisoner to never be sure when and if he's being watched; it is the possibility of constant State surveillance – not the guarantee – which reinforces appropriate behavior and induces the most stress. Today's technology has extended the watchtower's sightline.

Hunters, FBI agents, and hit men are taught to never look straight at their target because of the unease it imposes on their victim. Mammals can feel the eye's gaze. We've all felt it. And today we feel it perpetually, which means we are perpetually stressed. So our lives will be shortened, but that's not the worst of it. Our lives will be lived un-authentically. Remember, not unlike the observed atom, the observed man is seldom sincere. 

So we are subject to hierarchies, hierarchies induce stress, and stress kills. Now what? Sapolski's research didn't end there. 

The baboon troop Sapolski had studied for over 10 years got into a local garbage dump that contained meat tainted with tuberculosis. Because the males at the top of the pyramid always ate first, they all died. What were left were sociable, non-aggressive males, females and kids. What happened? The entire dynamic changed and so did their health. No more stress, anxiety, high blood pressure. The violence was minimal. They spent their time grooming & socializing. Their life spans increased. And it stayed that way. And any aggressive male baboon that joined after, would assimilate to this new, flat social order. 

So when humans like us, criticize our current power structures, when we point out the violent failure of our systems, when we work towards something different…and we get criticized for wasting our time, for being idealistic, for being naive, well I have this to say to our critics; you have less vision than a baboon. 


2 Responses to “The Observed Man is Seldom Sincere: How the State Makes Us Sick”
  1. Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez says:

    An interesting arcticle. The problem is the government won't literally eat tanted meat and if they figuratively ate tanted meat they'd take all of us with them.

  2. So we are subject to hierarchies, hierarchies induce stress, and stress kills. Now what?

    Better find the right hierarchy and climb to the top of it, or die trying. 

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