Join 3,494 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


It couldn't happen here, you say?...
March 22, 2003 8:28 AM   Subscribe

As one, the students shouted, "Strength through discipline!" - "The Third Wave", A Dangerous Experiment. More disturbing even than the "Milgram Experiment": "When Ron Jones started teaching at Cubberley High School in the fall of 1968, it was considered the most innovative of Palo Alto's high schools. ....His methods were experimental and his goal was to bring social studies to life.....Jones turned his class into an efficient youth organization, which he called the Third Wave. Some students were informers, and some were told they couldn't go certain places on campus. He insisted on rigid posture and that questions be answered formally and quickly....."It was strange how quickly the students took to a uniform code of behavior. I began to wonder just how far they cold be pushed," Jones wrote....But soon the experiment began spinning out of control.... five days into the experiment, Jones announced, "We can bring (the nation) a new sense of order, community, pride, and action. Everything rests on you and your willingness to take a stand." As one, the students shouted, "Strength through discipline!" ". Ron Jones wrote about it in No substitute for Madness, which is out of print in English but required reading in German public schools. As Umberto Eco notes in "Eternal Fascism", this is a timeless tale of human nature.
posted by troutfishing (40 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
We can bring Metafilter a new sense of order, community, pride, and action. Everything rests on each poster and their willingness to take a stand.

(excellent post, trout).
posted by namespan at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2003


I remember what an uproar this (and the subsequent article in Whole Earth (Co-Ev Quarterly) created. It needs to be brought back every once in a while. Thanks.
posted by gordian knot at 8:44 AM on March 22, 2003


I can't believe I've never heard of this, and I'm definitely going to read Jones's book. I'm currently reading Victor Klemperer's diary and am as amazed as he was at how quickly (virtually instantly after Hitler took power) the raucous freedoms of the Weimar Republic gave way to talking in whispers and thinking about emigration. This certainly sheds some light. Post of the Week, troutfishing.
posted by languagehat at 8:45 AM on March 22, 2003


Troutfishing briefly mentioned the Wave this afternoon; I'm really glad he followed it up. Superb links in here.
posted by Ljubljana at 8:54 AM on March 22, 2003


Languagehat - Thanks for that link. Here's another narrative along very similar lines They Thought They Were Free by Milton  Mayer: "What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people.....What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security.  And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it."
posted by troutfishing at 8:55 AM on March 22, 2003


Google's cache of the first link
posted by srboisvert at 9:05 AM on March 22, 2003


...being governed by surprise


Now there's a phrase which resonates.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:07 AM on March 22, 2003


Mr. Roberts' own telling of the story (found on the Geocities page) an eye-opener, and very chilling. It would take a person of strong character to realize that he had total control over a completely dedicated group of people and not go overboard with it. Big thanks to everyone for their links.
posted by Monster_Zero at 10:04 AM on March 22, 2003


thanks srboisvert, i was about to whine about how bad geoshities is!
posted by triv at 10:20 AM on March 22, 2003


This American Life ran a story about how a teacher in Connecticut turned his 7th grade students into an angry mob as part of the social studies lesson (RealAudio stream; starts about 23' in).

The most interesting part of this to me is that going through some experience like this *might* help a person defend against similar control in the future. Either that, or we're all a bunch of fluffy, stupid herd animals.
posted by Kikkoman at 10:21 AM on March 22, 2003


Oops - did my post swamp that poor little ol' geocities site?
Thanks, srboisvert, for the Google cache. Kikkoman - that sounds like a must listen to be. I hope it's as funny as it sounds.

I have a friend, who specializes in Russian history, who conducted a version of "The Third Wave" in his college level Western Civilization class. Students took on the roles of the various political factions and actors involved in Stalin's Purges - both perpetrators and victims. It was different from Ron Jones' "Wave" experiment in that students KNEW that they were role playing. Nonetheless, my friend told me, it started to get out of hand. The role playing game did recreate the actual dynamics of the purges quite accurately, he said; people with assertive or exceptional personalities, the overtly intelligent - anyone who stood out from the crowd, really - would get "hammered down" and eventually sent to the "Gulags". The problem came when the game spilled over into real life as students playing Soviet secret police, the agents of Stalin's repression, would get too caught up in their roles until they began to actually STALK the other students they were "spying" (within the game) on - outside of the classroom. At this point, my friend had to have talks with some of the more "enthusiastic" game players.
posted by troutfishing at 10:45 AM on March 22, 2003


Amazing link, troutfishing. Thank you.
posted by brand-gnu at 10:55 AM on March 22, 2003


great follow-up to your 'becoming evil' post troutfishing.

one word: Amway :).
posted by poopy at 11:08 AM on March 22, 2003


We watched the movie made from this incident in my 9th grade gifted and talented class. I know it really stuck with me. Scary stuff, how easily people are led. Definitely a book I'm going to have to track down.
posted by eilatan at 11:09 AM on March 22, 2003


I remember the ABC afterschool special based on this, but had no idea that there was a real project like this. Thanks for the linkage. It is not hard to push people, esp teenagers to ostracize their peers.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 11:09 AM on March 22, 2003


Great post, troutfishing.
posted by LinusMines at 11:12 AM on March 22, 2003


Thanks, everyone, for your compliments - I feel like I'm being such a downer. It's just that atavism - stoked by the US mass media and the Bush Administration - seems to be overcoming the rational thought processes of many Americans. For example, take this real life story, featured in Salon, which I came across in Digby's excellent Blog (warning - a slow load big file page): "...when we suggested that Sept. 11 had nothing to do with Iraq, the conversation immediately shifted. Their faces reddened, and they began to talk quickly at the same time, the businessman slapping his hand against the bar to punctuate his outbursts: "At some point, you have to trust your president! You have to believe that he knows something we don't!"...."They attacked our country. Now we have to get them!"...."I was down there at the Trade Center. I had a burning piece of paper on my face! Burning. Piece. Of. Paper. On. My. Face!" .....our increasingly irate new friends accused us of supporting Saddam over Bush. When we explained that nobody "supports" Saddam, they went ballistic.

"You know what? You two are the reason why this country's going down the fucking toilet."....."This is why I hate you city folks. Fucking city folks. Why don't you go back to New York? The fucking toilet."

"Communists. That's what you are. Communist feminists. Fucking liberals."

As disturbed as we were, at that point all we could do was laugh. They were behaving so preposterously, each yelling louder than the other one, slamming the bar and sweating. A couple who'd arrived halfway through the conversation looked at them and shook their heads at us sympathetically. We shrugged. They didn't appreciate our indifference to their anger. The calmer we were the more enraged they became. The businessman slowly turned to face us directly.

"How 'bout this. You like those people so much? You like those fuckers so much? How 'bout I throw a veil over your head and drag you by your ponytail out the door? Veil. Over your head. Drag you. By your ponytail," he said, dissolving into a bizarre, almost tribal chant. "

posted by troutfishing at 11:21 AM on March 22, 2003


Amazing post, troutfishing. Also, thanks for the This American Life post Kikkoman - the first story in the program is also worth a listen.
posted by ajr at 11:22 AM on March 22, 2003


I recall the story being presented in my high school, but I hadn't read the story in years. As I read Jones's account, last night, I was struck by many narrative problems of continuity and timeline. As it turns out, I'm not the only person who has doubts about Jones's story. At the very least, significant parts of the story must be exaggerated, if not fabricated outright. Read through it, and you'll find a sectional structure: "Monday", "Tuesday". Yet within each section he describes things that could not have taken place within a single class period. He asserts, repeatedly, that he was making this up as he went along, yet the finale of his experiment is a rally that must have taken enormous amounts of preparation, cooperation, and logistics. Friends -- not known to students or faculty -- acting as reporters? A TV feed, and a short film? The AV geeks didn't help, or spread rumors? The whole experience is so shameful, that to this day, Jones himself is the only corroborating witness (and has presumably garnered much in royalties)? Indeed, the vignette about the "trashed" classroom is so confusing that I had to read it twice. He claims he didn't find out until later that the perpetrator was a former POW in Germany, yet within one more sentence claims that he personally found the man sobbing against the door that morning.

No, looking at this as an adult, critically, I can't accept that it happened the way that Jones asserts. Somehow this was acceptable in 1972, as a kind of New Wave journalism, but I'm much more skeptical today. I do believe that the issues raised are important; I think there's a point to the story, that "it can't happen here" is far from certain, that it would be possible to design a similar experiment with the right planning (and a past generation's code of ethics). Milgram's work, to be sure, is much more extensively documented. But I have come to conclude that Jones's story is a well-meaning fable.

If you go to the geniebusters site, you'll find a fascinating and challenging series of articles, which seem to be under constant revision. The author seems a bit of an intellectual gypsy. One of the more disturbing ends, I should warn you, is that he tries to use an idiosyncratic epistemological analysis to look at things as diverse as Nazism, the drug war, and nanotechnology. There's even a section where he challenges you to agree with certain key points of Holocaust revisionism, although he is not himself a revisionist. I don't believe the case is made, by the way, but his approach is worthwhile. (His section on the festival of Nazi-era German film alone is worth the read.)

I do wish that there were a critique of Jones asking these questions that didn't go into these areas, as it will be easy for some to marginalize the one above. But I can't accept the Third Wave account as presented in the available materials. Is Jones more honest in his published book? Does he resolve the issues of timeline and logistics that simply don't make sense in his briefer, charged account? Are there other corroborating sources which verify key details? We can say that the Palo Alto Weekly article is a strong enough corroboration, but the article itself contains quotes only from Jones. They couldn't find a single student or teacher? They didn't interview the vandal? Is there a single photograph of any of the events in the book?

Is it indeed possible that a story which many of us have accepted as a truth since our teens is not, in key respects, true? Are we being told we're critical thinkers, as Jones says, while not applying critical thought to his own tale? I really have to wonder.
posted by dhartung at 12:23 PM on March 22, 2003


Digby's blog is excellent, although a bit alarmist. But I wanted to point out something else on his page, in which he quotes Rush Limbaugh: “I’d like to keep one liberal around in a museum so every body could see what they look like.”

We live in a country in which a popular figure makes such astonishing, vile statements virtually unchallenged. The hatred -- the boundless, consuming hatred -- towards liberals is potentially terrifying. I'd like to hear one conservative acknowledge that so I can sleep just a bit better at night.
posted by argybarg at 12:27 PM on March 22, 2003


Dhartung - Yes, that Lyle Burkhead piece is a bit fruity ["...on one level, it's a matter of redesigning our cells. however, what i mean by evolution also involves a change of consciousness. it includes, among other things, the ability to go into trance states. it also includes the ability to engage each other's attention in such a way as to increase the bandwidth of our communication....when students are all there together, all focused the teacher, they enter a new space in which their intelligence is amplified. that is our goal....the question is how we can make use of trance states without falling into the trap of group-think. i know it can be done, at least by person. whether it can be done by more than person is an open question. this is a non-trivial problem.] But this does not detract from Burkhead's specific critiques of inconsistencies in Jones' narrative. Note, however, that Burkhead recognizes the "Authority trance" effect Jones' so vividly describes. Burkhead's real disagreement with Jones' book lies in the fact that Burkhead believes that the "authoritarian trance state" is a good thing.

It is, apparently, hard to research the veracity of Jones' narrative on the web. It seems to have - like Chief Seattle's alleged speech - seeped into popular mythology. This does not make it untrue though. There have been several documentaries made of the alleged incident, and so I am curious: are there interviews of Jones' students in any of these works? It would be fascinating to track down these students and see what they remembered.

I tend to give the story creedence because Ron Jones' narrative - the overall sweep of it and not the minutia - comforms with everything I have learned about recent research into human instinctual behavior [I don't have time at the moment to conduct a search on hard, peer-reviewed, empirical research on this. I'll try this evening and tack some material onto this thread]. I've heard personal anecdotal testimony from one friend who conducted a similar experiment (see above). Meanwhile Genocides, and large scale massacres, conducted by mobs led by authoritarian leaders are all too real, and most likely rooted in part in human instinctual tendencies (see: Becoming Evil).

I would agree with you that there are suspicious aspects to parts of Jones' narrative. I would guess that 1) the story wasn't quite as dramatic as he paints in his book, and that he embellishes the details somewhat and 2) he decided, several years after the alleged incedent, that it would make for a great story.

Why is the story so popular and so widely taught? - Because it does conform fairly well to what is currently known about human tendencies to submit to authoritarian power structures [ more on this tonight, as time permits ].
posted by troutfishing at 1:35 PM on March 22, 2003


dan: There's even a section where he challenges you to agree with certain key points of Holocaust revisionism, although he is not himself a revisionist. I don't believe the case is made, by the way, but his approach is worthwhile. (His section on the festival of Nazi-era German film alone is worth the read.)

Unless I completely misread his site, he calls anyone who believes that Jews were gassed a "revisionist" -- so using that definition he is not a "revisionist."

I have to say, I think I may be getting smaller as I get older (i.e. if I was under 30 I wouldn't trust me). In many ways my tolerance gets smaller, not larger as I encounter guys like Burkhead, even virtually. You know.... really: fuck this guy.

At a certain point I reach a "credibility breach" where I simply have to write off just about anything a person says because they have strained likelihood to the breaking point in one area and it just poisons the rest of the water. Burkhead seems willing to overlook the Nazi holocaust on his way to some intellectual exercise. All to make up for feeling cheated because what he was taught about life in Germany in the 1930's has been distorted by the victors.

His big revelation? Through the movies of the time he has discovered that the German people found Hitler to be urbane and cool with a groovy sense of humor. The shock of it all.

Who was it that said "If you open your mind too much your brain will fall out"

Maybe Jones and the "Wave" is full of shit. But Burkhead as a viable rebuttal?? "Worth the read"? I want my hour of Saturday back.
posted by victors at 1:53 PM on March 22, 2003


Fascinating. I've never heard of this experiment before, but it reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment, the main difference being that the students in the latter were aware that what they were involved with was a role-playing excersize--and yet, found themselves living and breathing the roles of warden, prisoner, etc.

victors: Not to worry, I doubt anyone considers Bush to be "urbane and cool with a groovy sense of humour." Blair maybe, Hussein I have no idea, but Bush? Even his supporters wouldn't say that... yet.
posted by arto at 2:27 PM on March 22, 2003


hey arto, don't blink...
posted by victors at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2003


Bruce, I'd disagree with you on a key point. Burkhead argues that the trance state is a good thing, and is neutral -- where you are clearly not -- on the authoritarian question. I don't believe he's actually advocating authoritarianism so much as questioning the central idea of Jones that being susceptible to an authoritarian trance state as in the Third Wave automatically presupposes that one can then proceed to genocide. I think there are many good reasons to question that. Even in hypnosis it's generally understood that you can't make people do things they aren't predisposed to do. Given what I see as factual and logical gaps in Jones's account, I'm not even certain that the things he asserts happened such as exclusion or conformity, harmless and temporary as they were, can be taken at all at face value. To what extent did the students know -- or at least suspect -- that they were involved in a lark, and exaggerate their behavior to take advantage? We do know that organization, discipline, community, and other values are themselves benign, and may be found in contexts ranging from sports teams to -- it must be said -- activist demonstrations. Ultimately, this came from an era when "Don't push your fascist values down my throat!" was an acceptable response to "You should get a haircut."

victors, I did try to warn you. I think Bruce's assessment of "fruity" and your "brain" quote have merit. But I also think you're missing key points. What I took away from the German film bit, for instance, was less that they saw Hitler as benign and more about how the Germans saw themselves (something that given my ethnic background I've considered more than once, and more particularly relevant to the Third Wave). I was also interested in the extent of propaganda content present; we make jokes about mistranslated war propaganda, but have examples close to home that we all see as stilted anyway (like the Nick and Norm drug-money-funds-terror ads). In any case, I didn't use Burkhead in toto as rebuttal, and thought I made that clear. I simply thought it raised interesting questions, more fully than I had myself to that point.
posted by dhartung at 4:37 PM on March 22, 2003


given my ethnic background I've considered more than once

My parents gave testimony to the Shoah foundation and give regular lectures about their experiences. If you want to know how the Germans (and most Euros) saw themselves in the 1930's you can ask them. They'll be happy to explain these things to you but I will take a crack and you can consider it less (or at least rely less on people like Burkhead in toto or otherwise):

basically they saw themselves all at once as a superior society (urbane, charming with a cool sense of humor) who have been victimized by world circumstances, unable to see the connection between why the world feared/hated them despite years of military aggression and their own loathing, fear and distrust of a semantic ethnicity...

...if you catch my meaning.
posted by victors at 5:40 PM on March 22, 2003


semitic

omg -- love spellcheck
posted by victors at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2003


hmmm....why does that sound so familiar victors?
posted by SweetIceT at 7:26 PM on March 22, 2003


Down with Semants! Syntacts UNITE! You have nothing to lose but your meaning!
posted by leotrotsky at 7:29 PM on March 22, 2003 [1 favorite]


At a certain point I reach a "credibility breach" where I simply have to write off just about anything a person says

I have to agree - although parts of the critique of the Third Wave seem to make sense - this guy blows his own credibility out of the water a number of times.

Exhibit A: Enthusiastic reader of Ayn Rand - beeeeep - alarm bells ring

Exhibit B: "Then came marijuana, which didn't reveal its magic until quite a few years after my first acid trip" beeeeeepMore bells, lights flash

Exhibit C: "I am a skeptical loner who has nevertheless been through quite a few conversion experiences" BEEEEEEEP - bells, lights, klaxons etc

Exhibit D: "The main theme of this site is transhumanism. Some of us are trying to evolve into a higher form of life. Our goal is a state of ultraintelligence" BEEEEEEEEEEP - bells, lights, ground shakes, masonry falls from ceiling

There is a lot of room for doubt in the interpretation of The Third Wave as a factual account, but this guy is a less than reliable resource, methinks...
posted by backOfYourMind at 7:36 PM on March 22, 2003


Dan - I'm not objective on the authoritarian question for this reason - the Greeks had a word for the sort of psychological distortion (psychosis, really) which happens to humans in positions of power. They called it atê: "the intoxicating pride and overweening arrogance that sometimes clouds the minds of the strong." There is research showing that male primates undergoe increased testosterone production as they ascend the dominance hierarchy. At a certain point, high testosterone levels lead to distortions in reasoning.......

In other words, the "authority" in the authoritarian equation will likely have suspect judgement. Hence my "bias" against authoritarian government solutions. I could be wrong, but I choose Democracy.

Sure, the "authoritarian trance state" - or, rather, a crowd under the sway of a charismatic and authoritarian leader - does not immediately lead to negative consequences. But it is the cliche that "power is the ultimate drug" - Power is an intoxicant, one which the Catholic Church now regrets omitting from the official equation as it is revealed that many Catholic priests have succumbed to the great temptation and abused their positions of authority, as Priests, to sexually molest members of the laity. Power over other humans......this is the devil's playground.

Now, I'm sympathetic also to the beneficial power of trance states. I've experienced a number of them (unmediated by drugs) and I have a healthy respect for their power - for good or for evil. But, if the trance state in question is guided by an authority figure, that authority figure carries a heavy weight of responsibility - to avoid the temptations of the position. In the same vein there exist codes of ethics now, in the US and other wealthy industrialized nations, which dictate relationships between humans posessing disparate amounts of power - in business, the military, or elsewhere. But really now: do you dispute that humans can behave in groups as depicted in Jones' narrative, or that such behavior is manifested with dreary regularity throughout human history?

Please - Stalin's purges, The Holocaust, The "Killing Fields", Rwanda, Gautemala in the 1980's.......One need not look any further afield than the 20th century for a wealth of examples (although Paraguay in the war of the "Triple Entente" (1865 or so) might be the most succesful genocide in human history...) These aforementioned episodes of mass slaughter were all instigated by a few, very influential, humans in positions of great authority.

Yes, it is true that "Even in hypnosis it's generally understood that you can't make people do things they aren't predisposed to do." But the problem is that humans have, scientific research now suggests, predispositions towards both great good and great evil - and this ability to sway masses of people multiplies this potential a thousandfold.
posted by troutfishing at 8:32 PM on March 22, 2003 [1 favorite]


In case it wasn't clear to people, the Burkhead link was provided by the Geocities site which hosts the Third Wave story. I did not go out and find that link, it was provided by the link that made up the FPP. As it happens, I was asking questions of the material as soon as I finished it, and the link crystallized some of those questions succinctly, while then going in all sorts of other directions. I didn't see any way to raise the questions without invoking the link as it had already been provided. I put in my commentary that the Burkhead material had serious problems and that I wished it were provided in a form that did not have those problems. Clearly, people would rather discuss the problems with the Burkhead material (tangential to the thread) rather than the problems raised with the Jones material (central to the thread). They would also prefer telling me what I clearly already know, which is that the Burkhead material has problems, which is something I put into my post so that you would know that I understood that.

Also, I offered up a personal thought, and victors chose to bash me over the head with a patronizing political cartoon, essentially reinvoking the key problem I have with the Third Wave story, which is an all-too-pat moral conclusion. That, victors, I did not appreciate.
posted by dhartung at 10:37 PM on March 22, 2003


I second languagehat's recommendation of Victor Klemperer's diaries. The most frightening evocation of the creeping tightening of thumbscrews under totalitarian rule that I've come across. Boiling frogs indeed.

I'd also like to mention "Das Experiment," a recent German flick that exploits the Stanford Prison experiment. Here's my review. It's worth checking out.

I grew up in Germany, and the Wave was indeed required reading. To us, one of the main lessons of the Third Reich was that obviously it can happen here, and if you don't watch it very carefully, you too might turn into a Nazi. It took me decades before I could cheer along with the crowd at a rock concert, and any kind of flag or anthem still weirds me out. But the lesson stands: certainly, it can happen anywhere.
posted by muckster at 10:42 PM on March 22, 2003


This is an awesome post. I remember seeing the short about it back in high school, but there's all kinds of new information here. I feel like a regular Johnny Five, yo.
To allow students the experience of direct action I gave each individual a specific verbal assignment. "It's your task to design a Third Wave Banner. You are responsible for..."
(Thanks, monster_zero!)

Fight Club. I am overwhelmed by the power of pop culture knowledge. Even ideas I thought I was already aware of can impress me, and I think I'm aware of quite a few ideas. This is no excuse to be lazy, but there is clearly genius everywhere one turns.

Wish I had caught this post sooner. Probably too late to get into the discussion.

Anybody remember a video where this black kid says, "I'm Afro-American," though? He says it with a lot of enthusiasm. It's a video about diversity and feeling proud of your self-identity. Not as good or timely as this, but there might be material online that would make for interesting reading.

dhartung:

Of course Jones' story is not told exactly the way it went down. Just the way he describes a "film" being played, which is obviously some kind of stock material he had that could be played on a high school (1970's!) projector, tells me this is not the highly-orchestrated work of a genius. The fact that someone who did something so amazing did not later go on to become a guru and prolific publisher could also be a hint. The fact is, he is not a professional researcher, nor a professional historian (not to insult high school history teachers.)

I don't buy the idea that credibility is so important in these things either. Of course, if you want it to go down as hard (social) science, it needs to be verified. If someone does drugs or reads Ayn Rand, though, that makes no difference to me. Those things are only important to professional researchers, who must protect their credibility at all cost against skeptics, lest hard facts be overlooked without reason. It's not so much that credible people don't do odd things, but that dedicated people cannot afford to do those things because some jerk might discredit them.

I know that I am not a professional, and I have no interest in being one. If I do come across great wisdom, though; I do want to pass on that wisdom. Of course, if I were to become the Buddha, my wisdom would be irrefutable and all-powerful. So, Jones may not be a Buddha. He does have a good story, though.
posted by son_of_minya at 11:09 PM on March 22, 2003


I was born to rebel. When someone tells me I must do something it instantly gets my back up. What's the real agenda? What do they stand to gain? Fortunately I am intelligent enough to do enough to keep myself out of jail or from being killed. Still I just can't join the group.

In 1979, grade 10, I was talking with a few of the other outsiders about how people seemed to rush to join any group that would do the thinking for them (the Manson "family", televangelists, Moonies etc.) and I decided to form a church. The Church of Uncle-Authority. We followed Uncle-Authority as Anti-Authority had died. Our greeting code was this exchange:

"Greetings spread the word!"
Reply "And the word is legs!"

It was just a joking comment on the gullibility of people and yet in a very short time people I had never met were asking to join the group and before year-end people from other schools wanted to join.

I think the author's veracity may be questionable but I still think that a significant number of people want to follow someone who is willing to tell them what to do.
posted by arse_hat at 12:08 AM on March 23, 2003


dhartung: Apologies if I seemed too narky in my post, I agree that the Third Wave story has an an all-too-pat moral conclusion.

I think you make a lot of good points and I know you put a disclaimer with the link to Burkhead. Nevertheless, a dodgy reference is always more of a hinderance than a help in making a case.

And, well, Burkhead is far too rich a source for sarcastic point-scoring to go unmined...
posted by backOfYourMind at 1:10 AM on March 23, 2003


dan, I normally appreciate your pov but Burkhead undermines his credibility by being a Nazi holocaust doubter and you undermine your post by calling his approach worthwhile and a worthy read.

je accuse!!! you, dhartung, are an anti-didactic!!

and was that supposed to be a swipe at cartoons? I didn't appreciate that.
posted by victors at 2:16 AM on March 23, 2003


dhartung: Christ.

Jones eventually wrote about it, long after he had left teaching, in 'No Substitute for Madness,' one of his 30 books. From a link in the FPP. So, I guess he did become a "prolific publisher."

That's what I deserve for thinking I know everything. Maybe I should read these 29 other books. That's just crazy.

Did he exaggerate so much in all his books? Maybe the guy really does deserve some serious criticism. If he's trying to hog all this cred with his 30 nonsense books, sure; maybe he's just a hot dog that needs some mustard. Here I thought he was just a high school teacher that did something crazy and wrote about it.
posted by son_of_minya at 2:39 AM on March 23, 2003


I don't buy the idea that credibility is so important in these things either

Actually Minya, in this case, the credibility of the author is important because his admissions in the article undermine his argument. Burkhead argues that there are problems with a factual interpretation of The Third Wave, not just from a desire to establish the truth of the matter, but also because he has an axe to grind about the nature of "trance states". That undermines his credibility.

I also know that you have certain views on drug use, but Burkhead isn't saying "I have a point of view about this topic" and you also happen to know that he likes to smoke a bowl on occasion. He's saying - "The Third Wave is wrong and I know because psychotropic drugs have enabled me to see the truth". That makes him unreliable.

If he was endorsing trance states or drug use in another article, this wouldn't be as much of a problem (although personally I would still regard him as a bit of a crackpot). The fact that he uses the flaws of The Third Wave as a platform for his other views makes the article an unreliable source.

Having said that, it's surprisingly hard to find other critiques of the book, or information about the students invoved - Google hints anyone?
posted by backOfYourMind at 3:16 AM on March 23, 2003


backOfYourMind - Although I couldn't resist snarking on Dan's (uncharactoristically fruity) Burkhead reference, I gave Dan the benefit of the doubt........

"But this does not detract from Burkhead's specific critiques of inconsistencies in Jones' narrative. Note, however, that Burkhead recognizes the "Authority trance" effect Jones' so vividly describes. Burkhead's real disagreement with Jones' book lies in the fact that Burkhead believes that the "authoritarian trance state" is a good thing."

: Because it does seem to be very hard to research Jones' story on the web. It seems to have weightlessly wafted up, out of the tangible world and the world of facts, to some strange pop culture mythological heaven - with a 'Holocaust Halo' on it's head. But there were a lot of books like this in the 70's - the "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" type of book, hokey and almost religiously revered as received divine wisdom. It was a simpler time.

I still tend to believe the core of Jones' story, especially for both supporting research, and the personal anecdote I mentioned earlier in the thread, from a friend of mine, a history teacher, who conducted a similar experiment recently in his Western Civ. class. The phenomenon is quite real.

But what really interests me is the instinctual tendency of humans to go into an "authority trance state" (I may just have to research the peer-reviewed work on this and do it as a post of it's own). And I take serious issue with Dan's claim that this state is benign. Sure, it does not inevitably lead to fascist hell - but authority figures, we all know, are all-too human and so likely to abuse this sort of power over masses of people.

And in the process, these authority figures also undergoe endocrinal and hormonal changes which compound the problem - power actually does change human behavior at the biochemical level. This is why power is so drug-like, why it is so craved, and why the Ancient Greeks coined the words Hubris and atê: "the intoxicating pride and overweening arrogance that sometimes clouds the minds of the strong
posted by troutfishing at 6:48 AM on March 23, 2003


« Older Wakey wakey Mr Blair...  |  NaturArt... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments