Monday, December 30, 2013

Blackfish and mind control

The powerful documentary Blackfish is discussed in this previous post.

That post noted that Blackfish is an important film on many levels.  One of those levels, of course, is the question of the treatment of the orcas shown in the movie, especially in light of the evidence that these amazing and intelligent creatures are highly social, highly emotional, and -- by almost any definition of the word -- sentient.

But -- as important as that question is -- another very profound aspect of the film is the question of how this kind of treatment could have gone on for so long and been not only tolerated but bathed in a kind of wholesome glow by the public at large.  After watching the film, one asks oneself how it is possible for almost all of us to have collectively failed to see through the glamorous spectacle to the foundation of captivity and exploitation that propped it all up?

While there has always been a vocal but relatively tiny minority trying to bring attention to the moral issues surrounding the keeping of orcas and other intelligent sea mammals in captivity, most of us (and I include myself in that group) did not really think too much on the issue until the movie Blackfish came out.  So, one really important question that this fact raises, it seems, is the question of how something that (in retrospect) is so wrong could have gone largely unnoticed and unremarked-upon by so many for so long.  How could we all have been so collectively "hypnotized" that we didn't really "snap out of it" until the movie Blackfish snapped us out?

This question is related to the question of "mind control," which this previous post asserted can be thought of as the opposite of "consciousness" -- the kind consciousness which John Anthony West described as that thing whose acquisition the ancients believed was the goal of our existence in this life, during an important 2008 interview.  What techniques of hypnosis so clouded our judgment that it basically hid the question of captive orca shows behind a smokescreen and kept us from paying serious attention to it, until the film Blackfish blew the smoke away?

The question has important ramifications for other areas of our lives, especially if we suspect that there are other areas where we are collectively hypnotized and where the shouting of a vocal but relatively tiny minority seems to be having no effect.  Remember that in the previous post on mind control, master pickpocket and "gentleman thief" Apollo Robbins told us that "Actually, it's often the things that are right in front of us that are the hardest things to see -- the things that you look at every day, that you're blinded to."

One of the most powerful aspects of the Blackfish movie is the courageous testimony of the former trainers who, as young men and women, were employed to perform in the orca shows and who now have reached the conclusion that what they were participating in was wrong.  Their testimony about the experience is not one-sided, either: they talk about the remarkable experience of bonding with the animals, the excitement of participating in amazing shows in front of crowds.

I can very much relate to their mixed emotions as they reminisce about the good aspects of their time in an industry they now see as including a very dark underside, because I myself spent a large portion of my young adult years in the US Army, and can testify to the very same kinds of memories of camaraderie and amazing experiences, even though I now have a completely different perspective regarding the bigger picture of what the young men and women in the military are being used for.

Very early in the film (near the 2-minute mark, in fact) there are several interview clips in which trainers reflect on the circumstances that attracted them to the idea of becoming a trainer in the first place.

More than one of them mentions the spectacle of seeing a show themselves, when they were young (perhaps as a child, or as a teen).  One of them specifically tells about seeing "the night show at Shamu Stadium" and describes it as being "very emotional, you know, popular music, and I was very driven to want to do that."

The footage of the shows themselves gives the viewer a chance to see some of the components that he is talking about, and they are the same as those that surround the public face of the military in many countries (certainly in the US): there is music, there is costume (with all the trainers typically dressed in distinctive wetsuits, which are all the same), there is the attractiveness of youth (young men and women in their 20s or early 30s, fit and active and fearless in the face of danger).

What is it about this kind of pageantry that turns us from critically-thinking, analyzing, conscious human beings into a roaring crowd?  There is certainly something going on with these components of pageantry that are used by the producers of orca shows, or by the military in its parades.  Maybe it is related in some way to the concept Apollo Robbins discussed in his talk on "misdirection" and pickpocketing -- getting the part of our minds that he calls "Frank" to turn around, to access our memory bank, during which time "Frank" cannot monitor the incoming signals in the same way that he normally does.

This is not to say that spectacle, pageantry, or being part of a cheering crowd is inherently wrong -- it's not.  But seeing the way it can be used to throw up a sort of "smokescreen" to our analytical reasoning, it might be a good thing to be aware of its power as a potential tool for "mind control." If you happen to be watching Blackfish with teenaged children, for example, you might point out the fact that more than one trainer mentions such shows as having a very powerful impact on their career choice, and you might discuss together other areas where these elements might be used to turn off the critical judgment that seems to have been so sadly lacking in the analysis of the orca captivity question for so long.

Another mind control tool mentioned by a trainer in a powerful piece of testimony (shown in the clip above) is the use of ridicule to quell dissent and to shut someone up who is raising questions about the morality of behavior that they perceive to be wrong.

In the clip, which begins around the 36-minute mark in the film itself, former trainer Carol Ray is describing the heartbreaking story of the decision made by the park management to permanently separate the young whale Kalina (the first orca successfully born in captivity, on September 26, 1984) from her mother Katina, and the grief that Katina exhibited after they took her child from her.

Speaking of the young whale Kalina, Ms Ray ruefully relates:
It was decided by the higher-ups that she would be moved to another park when she was four, four-and-a-half years old -- and that was news to us as trainers that were working with her.  To me it had never crossed my mind that they might be moving the baby from her mom.  The supervisor was basically kind of mocking me: "Oh, you're saying 'Poor Kalina'?" You know: "What's she gonna do without her Mommy?"  And, you know, that of course just shut me up.
How many of us can relate to Carol's experience of having someone else shame them into going along with something that we knew was wrong, or not continuing to speak out against it?  The mocking that she is describing can be very powerful.  Again, this is the kind of thing that -- if you're watching Blackfish with your children, for example -- you might point out to them afterwards, so that they can be forewarned and forearmed when they come up against that sort of pressure in their own lives (and they most certainly will).  Children of even a fairly early age will probably already be able to relate to this subject from personal experience.

Radio show host and teacher Mark Passio has a lot to say about the subject of mind control in all of its various forms, and he discusses the subject extensively on his radio programs and videos.  His podcast archive contains hundreds of his previous broadcasts, and he gets into this subject almost right away in some of the very first episodes in the series.  If you go to his website and go back to the very beginning of his podcast archive, you will find that he gets into this subject right away, and that at around podcast number 12 he launches into a formal investigation of fourteen of the most common techniques of mass mind control -- fourteen!

One very attractive aspect of Mark Passio's talks is his willingness to utter what he calls "three of the most powerful words in any language: I WAS WRONG." They are words that I myself have had to admit about a lot of beliefs I have held in the past. The courage of the former trainers interviewed in the Blackfish video who, by their participation in the documentary, are effectively saying the same thing is to be commended, and cannot be overstated.

The very first mind control technique that Mark Passio discusses in his list of the fourteen most common is the technique of obfuscation -- making a subject seem complicated when it is really very simple.  Again, the Blackfish documentary provides an outstanding opportunity to study this very concept.

It might seem that the question of whether keeping orcas in captivity and forcing them to perform for their meals of frozen fish is a complicated subject, one with many nuances and not something that can be turned into a black-and-white, cut-and-dry issue.  After all, as some people bring up in the film, seeing orca shows at marine parks can inspire millions with a love of the oceans and of the magnificent marine life that they see at the marine parks but might otherwise never see.  In response to the film the major participants in the marine park industry have put forward some of these arguments, which you can read for yourself here and here.  You can also read about some other responses they have sent out through publicity agencies, and you can read some counter-arguments or rebuttals to their arguments here, and here, and here.

A great example of cutting through the obfuscation to get to the very heart of the issue can be seen in an interview that comes in the Blackfish film just after the Carol Ray discussion of Katina and Kalina shown above.  In that interview, which is found around the 38-minute mark in the film, former trainer John Hargrove is discussing another incident in which a young orca was separated from its mother, and the heartrending cries that the mother made when her baby was taken from her.  The whales in question were Kasatka (the mother) and Takara (her daughter):
When they separated Kasatka and Takara, it was to take Takara to Florida.  Once Takara had already been stretchered out of the pool, put on the truck, driven to the airport, Kasatka continued to make vocals that had never been heard before.  They brought in the senior research scientists, to analyze the vocals.  They were long-range vocals.  She was trying something that no one had even heard before, looking for Takara.  That's heartbreaking.  How can anyone look at that and think that that is morally acceptable?  It's not.  It is not OK.
John Hargrove is right.  The issue is just as clear and as simple as that.  And, by extension, the whole issue of keeping sentient, intelligent orcas whose natural habitat is the entire ocean for years and years in small constricted tanks (Katina has been in captivity since October of 1978) for our amusement is not morally acceptable -- it is wrong.  To say that some good outcome, whether it is "greater awareness" or "scientific research" justifies such long-term captivity and mental torture of the whales is reprehensible. In fact, to claim that the best way to foster widespread love of the oceans and of ocean life is to do the things to the whales that are revealed in the film Blackfish, and to imprison them for life, is grotesque.

These questions about the orca question are pretty well settled by the documentary.  But the questions that it raises about us, about our ability to be asleep to things about which we should be outraged, those questions are not settled by the movie at all.  They are stirred up and left for us to ponder.

About what other things going on right in front of our very eyes, day in and day out, can we ask with former trainer John Hargrove, "How can anyone look at that and think that that is morally acceptable?"