avatar
The Chomsky Boson


It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. ~Harold Pinter

Now, from the outset, I’ll divulge my failed attempt at humor, rather than scribble onward with the eloquence I do not possess. I do pine for the compositional skills of a John Cheever or a John Pilger, but I don’t possess their superior craftmanship.

The metaphor, the Chomsky Boson, is a bad joke, but it might be useful momentarily for presenting what seems to me a most glaring irony, yet one which required considerable effort on my part to see the obvious.  I am both embarrassed and curious further.

Much human intensity and much money has been overtly thrown at the search for elementary particles or structures of the universe. All this bustle of activity occurs within the glaring spotlight of both science and mass media. Curiously, all of this occurs within the phenomenological context wherein the same people are working feverishly to avoid pointing a telescope at the directly evident human social behavior within a physics lab where people wear two hats–scientist and administrator, or move back and forth between these formal domains.

Physicists spend billions of dollars in search of reality, while preventing social scientists from taking a pad and pencil inside to observe and describe how the people called physicists and scientific laboratory administrators behave. Isn’t that something?

I worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Briefly. As a scientific editor. I worked there long enough to learn that one and the same person can claim to uphold high standards of honesty, openness, and curiosity about the remote, minuscule sub-atomic domain, while applying contradictory principles within the domain of human power structures found between the very same institutional walls.

What interests me are the walls, human walls, blocking the investigation of the apparent tendency toward hierarchical power structures within relatively large human social groups. What I would call the Chomsky Boson (tongue-in-cheek) is the missing particle of knowledge about what drives the power structure of large institutions, in contrast to the flat, egalitarian power structures of small groups.

A formal group of a hundred people won’t naturally self-organize into a monarchy with a king and nine guards enslaving ninety others. Doesn’t happen. On larger scales, people have more tenuous personal connections with others, not having the cognitive capacity to “know” 20,000 people. Domination and control of one over others seems to require personal distance, giving cognitive room for dehumanization, depersonalization, and objectification as objects available for exploitation. Us-and-Them human social group boundaries form internal to large populations. The Chomsky Boson is the elementary particle of human social interaction accounting for the power dynamics of human social organization, and representing the unit of mass of institutional power as its discrete lumps are disparately distributed . As elusive as the Higgs Boson, the Chomsky Boson, may be technically easy to discover but such understanding is overtly impeded by people in power. The powerful don’t want to allocate a few millions dollars to send scientists with paper and pen into major scientific and other large social institutions to directly examine how one person can carry two diametrically opposed principles of social interaction within one institution. The Pilger Uncertainty Principle, wherein direct observation precludes the possibility of observing the “Honest Scientist” and the “Dishonest Administrator” simultaneously is beyond the scope of this essay.

What I would like to describe directly, without nonsensical metaphor, is that pursuing understanding how the world of quarks works will lead down the path of social  and monetary capital. A Nobel Prize is waiting. Daring to allow oneself to see the elementary particles of human social behavior within large institutions leads down the path to condemnation as a pariah.

In retrospect, it’s astonishing how feverishly I worked to adopt denial as a mode of cognitive adaptation to blatant hypocrisy. I wanted to be a “team player.” I wanted to be accepted into the “company of scientists.” I had earned the right to be a “card-carrying scientist” but I failed to build a functional, efficient wall of denial between what I could observe in my scientific domain, and what I could also see in my social domains.  I think I was trained too well as a scientist. There was my failing. I could see the dishonestly, the hypocrisy, and the abuse of power—and I didn’t like it. I was unwilling to be a cynical opportunist, and I was unable to devise internal psychic mechanisms of denial. 

Denial aint just a river in Egypt ~Mark Twain

Denial is a way of life among the privileged and the powerful. Learning how to lie to oneself is a core job skill, and smooths the way to lying to others. We're only doing this for your own good—said father, boss, president.

Power and privilege is bestowed upon those who are supplicants of those with more power and more privilege. Getting out of this cultural cage of power-and-privilege hierarchy is surely our most pressing challenge. The challenge is institutional, but the doing rests upon each of us individually.

Leave a comment