NOTE: The following interview was recently conducted by Devon DB and originally posted on the What About Peace blog on February 6, 2013. It concerns James Corbett’s new podcast entitled Film, Literature and the New World Order and discusses the first episode of the podcast in which Mr. Corbett examines the Jack London book The Call of the Wild.
Devon DB: Why did you decide to start this podcast?
James Corbett: The concept of “predictive programming” is one that I have long been fascinated with. Perhaps my background as an English literature major gives me an insight into the ways that language and story shape our perception of the world and influence our understanding of what is possible (politically and otherwise). Orwell famously wrote about Politics and the English Language and had a keen understanding of how propaganda (both subtle and blatant) can direct society, so I feel in good company when exploring this subject.
Also, many more people are interested in books and movies than are interested in detailed explorations of parapolitics. We can lament this fact and bemoan people’s lack of interest in these important issues, but it does not make it any less of a fact. Thus it is arguably more productive to harness people’s natural interest in these stories and pop culture phenomenon to invite them into an exploration of these themes and topics. By doing so, we can help spread awareness of these ideas to an audience that would not normally be seeking it out.
Devon DB: You chose Call of The Wild as the first book to premiere on FLNWO. Why specifically did you choose that book as the first to start off your podcast (if there was any special meaning to it at all)?
James Corbett: Although the podcast series is new, I started Film, Literature and the New World Order as a video series some time ago so I have already explored works like Kafka’s The Trial and the Hollywood film “The Insider.” As far as why I have started the audio series with “The Call of the Wild,” I’m afraid there is no grand scheme behind it. I was given a second edition of the book (dating from 1910) as a gift from Aaron Franz of TheAgeofTransitions.com, so I thought it would be appropriate to begin the series with a conversation with Aaron about the book and its deeper meanings.
Devon DB: In the first episode you talked about the domestication of animals and humans, going into how the current systems we have in place create humans that are, in fact, domesticated. Do you think there is a way to undo this domestication, specifically in an intellectual sense?
James Corbett: That we have been subjected to conditioning on a societal scale for decades (at the very least) is beyond question. We know directly from the writings of social theorists like Walter Lippmann and the actions of public relations pioneers like Edward Bernays and by practicing psychologists like B.F. Skinner that a concerted effort has been made to influence and shape people’s behaviors through various conditioning techniques. The question of how to break this conditioning is an extremely complex one, but perhaps the simplest answer is simply to become aware of it. If we are aware of various messages and propaganda as techniques of conditioning, and are able to apprehend them in that light, they are much less likely to be effective on us. Other answers suggest themselves in the work of Martin Seligman on the topic of “learned helplessness.” If people can be conditioned into internalizing powerlessness, they can also be reverse conditioned into understanding the power and effect of their actions. Is fighting fire with fire (or conditioning with reverse conditioning) a viable answer? That is not a rhetorical question, but I will leave it as such for now.
Devon DB: You also talk about people who are domesticated and how they are somewhat needed, for if not we wouldn’t have civilization. How do you balance the need of the suppression of instincts with the social engineering that has and is going on?
James Corbett: To be clear, I was not making the case for the necessity of “domestication” in this conversation so much as summarizing Freud’s ideas on the origin of civilization from his most famous work, “Civilization and Its Discontents.” Must we really frame the argument as one of suppressing instincts in order to achieve society? Perhaps there are other ways of conceptualizing our social constructs. It may be more useful, for example, to look at the problem from the perspective of the individual rather than making blanket statements about humanity as a whole. After all, how many problems have you ever encountered that can truly be solved with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for everyone on the planet? I would venture to say “not many.” Counterintuitively, the problem of man in society might only be resolvable by understanding that society is itself a fictional concept, and that in the end only the individuals that comprise it really exist. In such a formulation it is up to each individual to understand how best his/her individual desires and sublimated urges can be “balanced” with those around them.
To some extent, this is what we are observing in the course of “The Call of the Wild.” From such a perspective, the book is about Buck discovering how he can best balance his own urges with the needs to fit in with those around him. That looks different in each situation: with Mr. Miller in California, with Perrault and Francois in Alaska, with Thornton, and finally with the wolf pack. Interestingly, the question is not necessarily whether Buck was “suppressing” his true feral nature when he lived on Miller’s property, so much as whether that feral nature would have made any sense or benefited him in any way at Miller’s house. If one’s “nature” is taken to be a contextual construct rather than a reified universal, we arrive at a very different reading of the book.
Devon DB: One of the themes in the book is ritual abuse, specifically how Buck is abused and how this abuse drives him to become a tougher animal. Would you say there is ritual abuse today in our modern society and if so, what effects would you say it has on us?
James Corbett: I’m not sure of the definition of “ritual” in this context, and am not sure it is necessary either way, but certainly the effects of abuse in conditioning the mind are well documented. This ties in with the “learned helplessness” I mentioned earlier: the abused dog in Seligman’s experiments eventually gave up trying to escape his “fate.” It is not a huge leap to extrapolate to our current political situation: election after election, people go to the polls hoping to be able to shape society in their image. Election after election, people vote for a candidate who promises them the moon. Election after election, people are let down by politicians who fail to deliver on their promises.
When this process is repeated over and over throughout the course of one’s life, the implication is clear: nothing you do will alter the situation, so stop trying. This to a large extent explains the baffling levels of apathy we see in the general public even as institutions of nightmarish proportions (the Department of Homeland Security, the globally-expanding NATO alliance, the takeover of the world economy by central banks) continue to grow. The answer, of course, is to realize that the political process as we have been presented it is precisely meant to have no fundamental effect on the direction of society. Once that is realized, and the corollary that all true change happens from the concerted actions of motivated individuals (not from the pulling of a lever in a voting booth), people can once again learn their true power to shape the world around them and reverse the “learned helplessness” conditioning that has resulted from this political abuse.
Devon DB: Finally, you bring up the topic of losing our past. Now, we all know that important events consistently go down the societal memory-hole, never to be bought up again, but would you say there are any extremely important events that connect humanity as a species that have been forgotten? Do you think there is a way to remedy this?
James Corbett: In a very real sense we are in danger of losing “humanity” itself. I do not mean this in an abstract sense, but in the most literal and concrete terms. Now that we are experimenting with the alteration of our genome (and that of the planet generally), we are on the cusp of a revolution that few, if any, can yet imagine the implications of. One of the very obvious implications is that all of the things that biologically and empirically have defined us a species are now up in the air for alteration. This leaves us in the position of having to directly confront for the first time in the history of the species the old philosophical conundrum of what it means to be human in the first place. Is there a human spirit at all? Is there something that transcends our genetic coding, or are we an infinitely malleable biological machine? This is a question that has long been rhetorical, but which we are about to find the answer to one way or another whether we like it or not. In many ways, this is the giant brick wall that we are collectively hurtling toward at 100 miles per hour. I cannot provide any answers to these questions, of course, but I do know that if we do not begin to tackle these problems in a sustained societal conversation we will stumble into the future blindly rather than making rational decisions with regards to what is in our best interests. Hopefully, explorations like this one about “The Call of the Wild” will help to motivate more people to join that conversation.
Devon DB is a 21 year old independent writer and researcher. He is studying political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He can be contacted at devondb[at]mail[dot]com.