Richard S. Marken and Timothy A. Carey, "Controlling People" (Australian Academic Press, 2015)


The word “control”, with its seemingly instantaneous mental associations with forms of top-down oppression, is one that makes even some cyberneticians nervous and is often downplayed in contemporary descriptions of the field. Perhaps this is one reason why William Powers’ fundamentally cybernetic Perceptual Control Theory, or PCT, has, in recent decades, continued its substantial development outside the disciplinary boundaries of cybernetics proper. But, in fact, PCT stands as one of the most robust and fully developed strands of the cybernetic legacy which, through its impact on psychology via the development of PCT grounded Method of Levels therapy, has had a tangible influence on a mainstream field; not something that can be claimed by all that many developments in cybernetics since its heyday in the 1950’s. Richard S. Marken and Timothy A. Carey cut right to the heart of the nervous-making matter with the title of their 2015 book, Controlling People: The Paradoxical Nature of Being Human from Australian Academic Press. In my conversation with co-author, Richard S. Marken, we get comfortable with the notion that, as Powers put it, “behaviour is the control of perception” and that controlling is, quite simply, what we do all day, every day; from being able to sit upright in a chair without collapsing, to completing our every day tasks at work, to maintaining our sense of ourselves as the kind of people we would most like to be. The good news, delivered by Carey and Marken in clear, highly accessible prose for the general reader, is that, if we take the time to understand the hierarchically nested control systems of which our psyches are comprised and bring their operation into our conscious awareness, we can take great strides in avoiding those facets of control that bring us into uncomfortable and, at times, destructive conflict with others and with ourselves.

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Tom Scholte

Tom Scholte is a Professor of Directing and Acting in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia located on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Musqueam people

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