101

On Chelsea Manning (and B. F. Skinner)

Philip Roddis

Skinner and Manning

Do I say hero or heroine? Pass. I’ve a head full of thoughts on that subject but it’s not where I want to go here. Chelsea Manning is back behind bars. Not as punishment but as coercion. A grand jury held in secrecy wants him/her to testify against Julian Assange and s/he won’t.[1]

A judge has held Chelsea Manning in contempt and she is being detained after refusing to testify about her disclosure of military and diplomatic secrets to WikiLeaks in 2010 … The former Army intelligence analyst, who served about seven years in prison for the massive leak, objected to the questioning in a grand jury appearance … [in] a continued effort by federal prosecutors investigating the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
CNN today

In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles. I will exhaust every legal remedy available,” [Manning] said. “My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.”…Prosecutor Tracy McCormick said Manning could easily end her incarceration by simply following the law and testifying.
The Guardian yesterday

B. F. Skinner, godfather of operant conditioning, distinguished punishment from what he called negative reinforcement. With punishment, an undesirable past deed – undesirable to whom is a separate issue – elicits unpleasant outcomes for the doer. Negative reinforcement by contrast is a response to ongoing undesirable behaviour.

That behaviour may be a firm’s refusal to treat its employees better, a rich man’s to pay a ransom – or Chelsea Manning’s to testify against a man already paying a bitter price for telling you and me the truth about our criminal ruling classes.

The unpleasant situation – created in response, in tandem or even in advance – may be a strike, a child kidnapped or an unusual use of judicial incarceration. Punishment aims to convey the message, you Did The Wrong Thing so we will make you suffer. Negative reinforcement aims to convey the message, your suffering will cease when you Do The Right Thing.

Skinnerites, aka Behaviourists, aka Learning Theorists, say negative reinforcement affords finer calibration than punishment in shaping behaviour. Nevertheless, our prisons are premised on a punishment model, albeit with a negative reinforcement component in the form of the parole system.[2] Chelsea’s incarceration, however, is pure negative reinforcement. The moment s/he agrees to help the United States – on any number of metrics the world’s most lawless nation; its most ruthlessly warmongering too – to lock up Julian Assange and throw away the key is the moment she walks out a free woman.

Or man. Like I could give a flying fuck about identity politics at times like this. Or the niceties of operant conditioning. What I care about is yet another person of courage and principle paying top dollar for those virtues in a world of morality and sanity stood on their heads.

NOTES:-

  • [1] While I’m more Marxist than Political Realist, the latter school offers astute insights. One being that rulers seldom lie to each other but frequently lie to their subjects. Do bear this in mind if you’re inclined to give the authorities benefit of doubt re a grand jury conducting its proceedings in secret.
  • [2] Since parole boards look unfavourably on prisoners maintaining they were wrongfully convicted, the likelihood of false confessions to gain early release is high.

Scribbler for some sixty years, and for fifteen a photographer too, Philip Roddis began blogging in the early noughties by inflicting film reviews on an unsuspecting public. Soon he was doing the same with illustrated writings on wanderings in Asia and Africa. He writes “to help me think, and because I like to be read”, and finds photography's problem solving aspects "a break from those of writing, as well as an aid to writing and to reflective travel”.

His blog is Steel City Scribblings

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Scribbler for some sixty years, and for fifteen a photographer too, Philip Roddis began blogging in the early noughties by inflicting film reviews on an unsuspecting public. Soon he was doing the same with illustrated writings on wanderings in Asia and Africa. He writes “to help me think, and because I like to be read”, and finds photography's problem solving aspects "a break from those of writing, as well as an aid to writing and to reflective travel”. His blog is Steel City Scribblings

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flaxgirl
Reader

Very interesting. So this is an interview with Chelsea in 2017. She says: “Counter-insurgency is not good guys and bad guys, it’s a mess.” This is a nothing statement. We’re told that some of the low-level documents were found in Osama Bin Laden’s compound after his death. Yeah, right. Nothing statement again. “It’s not black and white. It’s complicated.” Interviewer: “So your despair was not with the 35 year prison sentence. It was …” Chelsea: “… much more immediate.” Interviewer: “It had more to do with your need to be Chelsea.” Chelsea: “Yeah, I’d never done that. I’d never been… Read more »

flaxgirl
Reader

Just to add – doesn’t she almost seem feted by the mainstream media which seems very odd considering? Perhaps feted is too strong a word but doesn’t it just seem like the usual wheeling out the cliche “support responses” and “oppose responses” – the usual polarising nonsense, designed to foment disharmony in order for greater control.

flaxgirl
Reader

Here’s a thought. I think it’s pretty clear that Chelsea is an agent. Her whole story is simply not credible including downloading 400,000 documents in one day and 91,000 on another. We are told she saved the material on CD-RW and smuggled it through security by labeling the CD-RW media “Lady Gaga”. Surely, an impossible number of CDs would have been involved and it would seem very strange to label them all “Lady Gaga” as is implied. That would mean she wasn’t in prison or only for special appearances so perhaps at the time she transed she was only trans… Read more »

Gezzah Potts
Reader
Gezzah Potts

Flaxgirl: respectfully but strongly disagree. Evidence for this theory? Also, one only has to look at how incredibly vindictive the Neocons are plus look at the rampaging round the World of the Empire. Chelsea Manning strikes me as a real and authentic victim of these bastards.

flaxgirl
Reader

I’m not sure what other evidence you require, Gezzah. I thought I’d provided more than enough in my comment below or did you miss it? https://off-guardian.org/2019/03/09/on-chelsea-manning-and-b-f-skinner/#comment-149635 But even the brief post above supplies more than enough I’d say. I’d say it is an impossibility in a highly-secure environment to download 400,000 files in one day and put them onto CDs and then, supposedly, by labelling them ALL “Lady Gaga” (there is nothing to suggest that they weren’t all labelled Lady Gaga), be able to smuggle them through security. And then do the same for 90,000 files a few days later… Read more »

mark
Reader
mark

That seems pretty unlikely to me. You have to be on your guard of course, and there is a lot of history to support this. There were a lot of very high level communist spies in the wartime and immediate post war governments of the UK and US. Hiss, White, the Cambridge apostles, Fuchs, the Rosenbergs, and a host of others. And the Nazi leadership was riddled with traitors and Allied spies, Bormann being the most notorious example. In post war Germany the aide and right hand man of Chancellor Brandt was a Soviet agent for decades. This sort of… Read more »

Helmut Taylor
Reader
Helmut Taylor

As I were say’n…der plotte thiquens……..where lies the “fount”? Is there a common thread to be found amongst alla der developments? And what part – if any – can be ascribed to Dave Rocketfella and pals?

flaxgirl
Reader

I didn’t dismiss Assange as a fake but I think the evidence that Manning is an agent is beyond contradiction. Her Wikipedia entry is full of inexplicable anomalies and the explanation given for how she leaked hundreds of thousands of files has no credibility. What evidence do you think supports her being a genuine analyst and leaker?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Manning

Helmut Taylor
Reader
Helmut Taylor

Wow – the plotte thiquens….or verds to that effet!

Bryan
Reader
Bryan

Blimey what a storm of comment! For me it is a reminder that concerns on a macro level that identity politics have moved into the centre of the current Ovington window at the expense of the politics of economic class must continue to be mindful of individual lived experience and oppression.

writerroddis
Reader
writerroddis

“… identity politics have moved into the centre of the current Ovington window at the expense of the politics of economic class …”

I think you’ll find it’s Ovaltine Window, Bryan. That apart, I completely agree.

flaxgirl
Reader

I do not believe it. Innocently, I start to read an article on Off-G, having no suspicion that fakery will be involved, and then wham! my suspicions suddenly arise. Of course, there’s loads of things I do think are fake but the furthest thing from my mind was that Chelsea Manning would be some kind of fake. However, I think she may well be an agent rather than a genuine leaker. My suspicion was raised from the photo – she just struck me as looking like a very upmarket transwoman whose look has been achieved by a reasonably large sum… Read more »

Helmut Taylor
Reader
Helmut Taylor

Well fuque my boots is all I can say to this “revelation”!

Arrby
Reader

B.F. Skinner?! Oh. My. Gosh!!!

Starac
Reader
Starac

This is a site where everyone is free to come or go.
Perhaps the ones who can’t focus on the content of a paragraph when they notice one illegible word, should go and seek perfection somewhere else and good luck with that. They push the whole conversation of the track.

milosevic
Reader
milosevic

Surely, isn’t this reason the he/she dichotomy existed in the first place?

One suspects that the originally observed dichotomy was between those persons who might reasonably be expected to produce babies, at some point, and those who might not.

Unfortunately, not only is reality anti-semitic, it’s also anti-transgender. Bad, bad reality. You are hereby sentenced to undergo sensitivity training, until all discrimination ceases in the matter of who may produce babies, and who may not.

notheonly1
Reader
notheonly1

Next step: Off OffGuardian. Here is an article about Chelsea Manning that readers of the one above should read instead. It is on the World Socialist Web Site and makes clear what kind of agenda was followed by publishing the above opinion piece. No wonder the word ‘Socialism’ creates convulsions in the brains of the haters. Socialism does not need to be told how to treat a Human Being that adjusts its gender as it aligns best with its identity. It does not need to be told that women are not a sub species to man – because it is… Read more »

barovsky
Reader

I concur! No need for gender identity to ‘clarify’ things (as if it does) in the WSWS piece. As I said in the first reply to this piece, it’s an irrelevancy, which is why I objected to it in the first place. It sets Manning apart from the rest of us. It conditions who she is as our responses to issues of gender/sexuality are deeply ingrained in our patriarchal culture. Surely, isn’t this reason the he/she dichotomy existed in the first place? Critics of the critics talk about our objections as if they have nothing to do with the objective,… Read more »

Jo
Reader
Jo

“Why bring her gender into it, not just once, but several times? What is the author trying to tell us?”

Well, perhaps it’s to avoid confusion. Chelsea, after all, was Bradley when the information was released. It was Bradley who stood trial, was convicted and jailed. Chelsea arrived later. It’s kind of irritating when some pretend Bradley never existed.

writerroddis
Reader
writerroddis

Who would have guessed that the him/her construct, a seventies artifice to avoid sexism in language, would have provoked such ire!

vexarb
Reader
vexarb

So the torturers have not broken her spirit. Unlike the fictional Winston of 1984. There is hope for humanity yet. (There always was; that boot has been “stamping on the human face” a long long time, and not erased it yet).

Gezzah Potts
Reader
Gezzah Potts

Fair Dinkum: really sorry to hear that FD, I hope your home is safe, and you and your family are safe. Lots of homes already lost out Gembrook – Bunyip areas. In New Zealand we get earthquakes, here in Australia, its bushfires.

George Cornell
Reader
George Cornell

Senior academics for 40 y , much at an ancient Uni near you, tend to sound patronizing. Sorry about that. But you should realize that people who have been serially crapped on, build up anger and resentment, often wholly justified. it is unwise to be an outlet for this and wiser to understand and empathize, in my opinion.

George Cornell
Reader
George Cornell

This reply to Phillip belongs far below. Not sure why it popped up here.

vexarb
Reader
vexarb

“The moment s/he agrees to help the United States – the world’s most lawless nation – to lock up Julian Assange is the moment she walks out a free woman.”

Put plainly like that, Negative Reinforcement in this case includes blackmail with criminal coercion by Legal Authorities of the U$A.

Donald Duck
Reader
Donald Duck

Sorry about the name; I put Chelsey rather than Chelsea. Of course Chelsea is an upmarket district in London and I believe in New York also. Chelsea is also the name of a London football (soccer) team owned by a Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and which I personally despise, but that is apropos of nothing in particular.

Long Dong Silver
Reader
Long Dong Silver

It’s a shame Manning is hamstrung with a US lawyer because in a case like this, with arbitrary acts by hack judges who wouldn’t know a right from a bar of soap, Manning is just playing into their hands by invoking her constitutional rights. The constitution’s gone. The only real protection she has is the ICCPR: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx That’s the supreme law of the land, like the Bill of Rights, but unlike the toothless toilet-paper Bill of Rights, crooked courts can’t just blow it off. There are well-developed institutional safeguards at the international level that exert mounting pressure to which the… Read more »

Helmut Taylor
Reader
Helmut Taylor

Sounds very sound advice, Cock! Good onya.

Long Dong Silver
Reader
Long Dong Silver

It’s a shame Manning is hamstrung with a US lawyer because in a case like this, with arbitrary acts by hack judges who wouldn’t know a right from a bar of soap, Manning is just playing into their hands by invoking her constitutional rights. The constitution’s gone. The only real protection she has is the ICCPR: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx That’s the supreme law of the land, like the Bill of Rights, but unlike the toothless toilet-paper Bill of Rights, crooked courts can’t just blow it off. There are well-developed institutional safeguards at the international level that exert mounting pressure to which the… Read more »

bevin
Reader
bevin

I have been wondering now for years how it is that a great mass of ordinary people, angry at the treatment that Assange has been getting, simply because he had the gall to insist that governments and their agents should be made responsible for their crimes. and their lies and their concealing of information that ought to be public…how it is that the people had not marched up to London and past the Embassy in such numbers that one day he would be able to slip out into the crowd and, protected by the sheer number and determination of the… Read more »

Antonym
Reader
Antonym

Also galling is the reliance of European progressives on US Democrats. As late as 1956 these “Democrats” came with their “Southern Manifesto” to oppose racial integration of public places https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Manifesto
These chameleons know promote illegal immigration from Mexico to keep up their stream of cheap labor plus of course cheap votes.

Frankly Speaking
Reader
Frankly Speaking

Very well put Bevin. Divide and conquer is a key chapter of the Imperialist and Totalitatian playbooks.

Gezzah Potts
Reader
Gezzah Potts

Bevin: Boom. You nail it. Can I just add to your comment…. Screw fucken identity politics to hell. I sincerely hope I didn’t offend any middle class brat playing at being a ‘socialist’ just then. Bevin – you see it, I see it, many others see it. Just got back home from attending a Free Assange rally in Melbourne organised by the Socialist Equality Party; the only socialist group in Australia (to my knowledge) who have constantly and continuously spoken out in defence of Assange and Wikileaks. Most of the others have been completely silent for years. Shameful. These same… Read more »

writerroddis
Reader
writerroddis

You in turn nail it on Assange, Gezzah. The obsessive distortions of identity politics within the liberal intelligentsia were skilfully played in industrial scale smears of sexual misconduct. Without that factor, it’s safe to assume that many, many more of the (not so) independent minded petit bourgeois would have been at that Melbourne rally.

Gezzah Potts
Reader
Gezzah Potts

Writerroddis: Exactly Philip. I find it shameful and disgusting that certain groups containing the word ‘socialist’ in their name deliberately boycotted this rally (and others). Deliberately. This is hearsay, but was told by a lady that two members of one of these ‘socialist’ groups told her they had been instructed Not to discuss Assange in any way. This same lady told me she had a Free Assange poster and pro Wikileaks items at a stall outside an Anarchist book fair. She was verbally abused, called a ‘rape apologist’ and told to f**k off. I believe her. Some of these same… Read more »

Helmut Taylor
Reader
Helmut Taylor

Why, what’s the goal; where issit heading us……(a shakespeare quote?).

writerroddis
Reader
writerroddis

Dismaying. In particular, as hary stotle – and if memory serves, an OffG piece a few months ago – point out – the moment ‘sexual misconduct’ is shouted, presumption of innocence goes out the window.

harry stotle
Reader
harry stotle

‘The obsessive distortions of identity politics within the liberal intelligentsia were skilfully played in industrial scale smears of sexual misconduct.’ – exactly, ideology allowed the media in general and the Guardian in particular to portray Assange not as an individual but as a symbol of the patriarchy, or as a cipher for other men who have commited sex crimes and not been punished. Under such a rubric it becomes possible to overlook principles like presumption of innocence (unless proven guilty), or accusations taken on a case by case basis rather than applying generic assumptions about male sexuality or patriarchy in… Read more »

Fair dinkum
Reader
Fair dinkum

Sorry I missed that Geezah.
Dealing with yet another bushfire threatening our home.

mark
Reader
mark

What is most galling is how the US Regime uses its “judicial” system, secret laws, secret charges, secret courts, for political persecution, stripping people like Manning naked and throwing them into their dungeons to be tortured for years, forcing them to plead guilty to trumped up charges or remain incarcerated on remand for ever, sentences them to 500 years in prison, and then goes off to climb on its high horse and give lofty sermons and pious lectures to the rest of humanity about their human rights failings, all the while running the largest prison gulag in history. The hypocrisy… Read more »

Mikalina
Reader
Mikalina

This would be the Skinner who experimented on his daughter? Stuck her in a box for a while to see how she responded? Nice choice.

writerroddis
Reader
writerroddis

Agreed. Not a nice fellow. Your point?

Mikalina
Reader
Mikalina

1) Skinner’s theory, upon which you base your premise, was developed through abusing children. If we take the x factor as “abused children” and replace it with “healthy adults”, the theory, as a reflection of society in general, is invalidated. 2) The use of pronouns is a matter of language: Thouless, in his “Straight and Crooked Thinking” says: “There is a very common confusion between the first and third ways of using language; between statements of fact and indications of emotional attitude. 3) Where Manning and Assange are concerned, sadly, the ‘button’ has been pushed so many times, we are… Read more »

Mikalina
Reader
Mikalina

OR, I might have read the name Skinner and reacted with disgust and loathing (for obvious reasons) – then posted a gut reaction reply…….

1) Interesting to find I have a push button;
2) Above post still stands…….
3) Sorry

Robyn
Reader
Robyn

I was shocked to read the first paragraph. It is not what I expect from O-G and unworthy of O-G. Plus it is entirely ridiculous to contaminate logical argument with unrelated trivia.

Chelsea Manning is a hero, her courage is inspirational.

Fair dinkum
Reader
Fair dinkum

Gotta wonder.
Was Chelsea pardoned so she could be used as a public pawn in the psychopathic games of the One Per Cent?

Wilmers31
Reader
Wilmers31

I would think so. It is good to instill fear into people:See, what happens to people who disobey. It is Stalinesque of the countries involved to suppress the truth. If truth no longer matters, and the messenger (Assange) is shot, there is not a lot to defend here in the Western countries. I remember the day when Assange was ‘caught’. Here in Australia, the then PM Julia Gillard was asked to comment, live on air. ‘It’s the wrong thing to do’, she said quite hastily and the tone of voice revealed she said what was expected of her. She probably… Read more »

Francis Lee
Reader
Francis Lee

Bravo Chelsey, you put your accusers to shame. What a brilliant light in the darkness, a darkness populated by trogdolyte little courtesan non-entities on the make. Like Orwell’s hero in 1984, Winston Smith, said, ‘Sanity is not statistical.’