Bruce-Levine

What’s impossible to ignore is how many of the individuals diagnosed with mental disorders are essentially anti-authoritarians. This was potentially a large army of anti-authoritarian activists that mental health professionals are keeping off democracy battlefields by convincing them that their depression, anxiety, and anger are a result of their mental illnesses and not, in part, a result of their pain over being in dehumanizing environments.

Historian Bruce Levine explores the destruction of the old South and the reunified country that emerged from the Civil War in his new book, The Fall of the House of Dixie. He says one result of the Emancipation Proclamation was a flood of black men from the South into the Union Army:

“By the end of the Civil War, nearly 200,000 black men had served in either the Union army or the Union navy, and that alone was an enormous military assistance to the Union at a time when volunteering had fallen drastically and when there was a great deal of hostility to the draft. So these 200,000 men significantly contributed to giving the Union army the volume, the bulk, the size that they needed to cope with their Confederate opponents, and that gave the union the power, ultimately, to overwhelm the opposition.”

photo via slideshare

In every generation there will be: 1) authoritarians, the passionate of whom are fascists, 2) bourgeois/ yuppies, who enjoy anti-authoritarian books, music, and movies, but don’t act on them, and 3) genuine anti-authoritarians, who are so pained by exploitative hierarchies that they take action. Sometimes anti-authoritarian action is obvious, more often it is subtle, and too often it is futile. Only rarely do anti-authoritarians take effective direct action that inspires others to revolt, but every once in a while a Tom Paine comes along. So control-freaks take no chance, and the state-corporate partnership criminalizes anti-authoritarianism, pathologizes it, markets drugs to “cure” it, and financially intimidates those who might buck the system.
—  Bruce Levine, “Depathologizing the Spirit of Resistance”, Z Magazine, October 2005
Young people often ask me why psychiatrists and psychologists don’t understand that it is normal for kids to rebel against being controlled. The answer, I believe, is that many psychiatrists and psychologists are not in touch with how extremely obedient they are.
— 

-Depathologizing the Spirit of Resistance, Bruce Levine, Z Magazine, Oct 2005


i read this article for school and it kinda changed my life. i can’t really find it anywhere on the internet. i would like totes re-type it if anyone is interested in reading it.

 By Bruce E. Levine [2]

How Anti-Authoritarians Can Transcend their Sense of Hopelessness and Fight Back

September 28, 2011  |  

Critical thinking anti-authoritarians see the enormity of the military-industrial complex, the energy-industrial complex and the financial-industrial complex. They see the overwhelming power of the U.S. ruling class. They see many Americans unaware of the true sources of their oppression or with little knowledge of the strategies and tactics necessary to overcome it. They see American society lacking the psychological and cultural building blocks necessary for democratic movements—the self-respect required to reject the role as a mere subject of power, the collective self-confidence that success is possible, courage, determination, anti-authoritarianism, and solidarity. They see how the corporatocracy pays back those few Americans who do question, challenge, and resist illegitimate authority with economic and political marginalization.

Critical Thinking, Depression, and Political Passivity

Research shows that a more accurate notion of one’s powerlessness can result in a greater feeling of helplessness and is associated with depression. Several classic studies show that moderately depressed people are more critically thinking than those who are not depressed. Researchers Lauren Alloy and Lyn Abramson, studying nondepressed and depressed subjects who played a rigged game in which they had no actual control, found that nondepressed subjects overestimated their contribution to winning, while depressed subjects more accurately evaluated their lack of control.

If you are critical thinking enough to see the reality of just how much influence the corporatocracy has and how little power you have, then you are going to experience more pain than those who do not see these truths. To dull this pain, in addition to drugs and other diversions, human beings use depression and apathy. But these “shutdown strategies” weaken us and create passivity, immobilization and what Bob Marley called “mental slavery,” which in itself can be humiliatingly painful. And in this vicious cycle, human beings use even more diversions and shutdown strategies to dull this ever-increasing pain.

When one is in such a debilitating vicious cycle, painful truths about the cause of one’s malaise—the truths of how we are getting screwed—are not positively energizing. Instead, one may take such truths as confirmation that pessimism and hopelessness are warranted. The vicious cycle continues.

When one is already in pain and immobilized, there is a reflexive negative reaction to any proposed solution. Solutions demand effort, and a demand for effort is painful for those with little energy. So, it’s much easier to reflexively dismiss any solution. Of course, many solutions do deserve to be dismissed, as they may well be naïve.

The feeling of hopelessness is a legitimate one. And hopeless people are turned off by attempts to invalidate their feelings. Is it possible to validate that feeling of hopelessness while at the same time challenging the wisdom of inactions based on hopelessness? And is it possible to challenge it in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence of critical thinkers?

Critical Thinking about Critical Thinking

The battle against the corporatocracy demands critical thinking, which results in seeing many ugly truths about reality. This critical thinking is absolutely necessary. Without it, one is more likely to engage in tactics that can make matters worse. Critical thinking also means the ability to think critically about one’s pessimism—realizing that pessimism can cripple the will. Critical thinkers who reflect on their own critical thinking recognize how negativism can cause inaction, which results in maintaining the status quo.

Critical thinking anti-authoritarians who move into hopelessness can forget that while they may in fact be better at seeing ugly truths than are many other people, they cannot see everything. Simply put, critical thinkers sometimes lose their humility.

Abraham Lincoln, considered by many historians to be our most critical thinking president, was also a major depressive. When he was a young man, he became so depressed that twice his friends had to form suicide watches for him. In the 1850s in the United States, the major battle was less over abolishing slavery than merely stopping the spread of it. Lincoln, who fought politically to stop the spread of slavery, wrote in 1856 a pessimistic analysis of the North’s chances of winning this fight:

This immense, palpable pecuniary interest, on the question of extending slavery, unites the Southern people, as one man. But it can not be demonstrated that the North will gain a dollar by restricting it. Moral principle is all, or nearly all, that unites us of the North. Pity ’tis, it is so, but this is a looser bond, than pecuniary interest. Right here is the plain cause of their perfect union and our want of it.

That slavery would be abolished in the United States less than a decade after Lincoln’s pessimistic analysis of the difficulty of merely stopping its spread was one of those seeming impossibilities that became possible because of unforeseen historical events. In the North, there was certainly not enough concern for African Americans to result in the end of slavery. But less than a decade after Lincoln’s pessimistic analysis about merely stopping the spread of slavery, one unforeseen event after another resulted in the abolition of slavery.

There are many examples from history of seeming impossibilities actually happening, examples that compel critical thinkers to rethink whether they are actually seeing all the possibilities. One recent example is, of course, the Arab spring. Many critical thinkers from that part of the world remain amazed at the huge revolts in Egypt that toppled the Mubarak tyranny.

The collapse of the Soviet empire seemed impossible to most Americans up until shortly before it occurred. Most Americans saw only mass resignation within the Soviet Union and its sphere of control. But the shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, did not see their Soviet and Communist Party rulers as the all-powerful forces that Americans did. And so Polish workers’ Solidarity, by simply refusing to go away, provided a strong dose of morale across Eastern Europe at the same time other historical events—such as the Soviet Union’s Afghanistan war—weakened their empire.

Why Not Just Wait for the Collapse?

History tells us that not just the Soviet empire but all empires ultimately collapse, and so why not just wait for their fall? It is pretty safe to say that the U.S. military-industrial complex and other oppressive U.S. industrial complexes will ultimately fall. These may be transformed by our own efforts or, more likely—given Americans’ current state of political passivity—they will fall owing mostly under the weight of their own stupidity. So, if it is more likely that these will fall under the weight of their own stupidity, why bother with activism?

One reason for democratic movements is that history tells us that not all empires and oppressive institutions fall under the weight of their own stupidity, as some are transformed by a combination of democratic movements and empire stupidity.

There is another reason to work each day on the democracy battlefields at our workplace, schools, the media, the marketplace, etc. Whether an empire and its oppressive institutions fall under the weight of their own stupidity or with help from a democratic movement, there must be people around in the aftermath who have what it takes to create and maintain a democratic society. There must be people who have retained their individual self-respect, collective self-confidence, courage, determination, anti-authoritarianism, and solidarity.

The lesson from history is that tyrannical and dehumanizing institutions are often more fragile than they appear. We never really know until it happens whether or not we are living in that time when historical variables are creating opportunities for seemingly impossible change. Maybe in our lifetime, or our kids’ lifetime, or their kids’ lifetime, the current corporatocracy will fall. It may fall because of the efforts of democratic movements or because of its own stupidity or some combination.

But when it does fall, the likelihood that it will be replaced by an enduring democratic society rests on whether there are enough of us with practice in democracy, enough of us who took seriously the psychological and cultural building blocks of self-respect, collective self-confidence, courage, determination, anti-authoritarianism, and solidarity. And democratic movements are the best place to practice creating those psychological and cultural building blocks required for an enduring democracy.

That’s why “Occupy Wall Street” makes sense, and that’s why I will be at “October 2011” at Freedom Plaza, Washington D.C. beginning next Thursday, October 6.

See more stories tagged with: activism [3], empire [4], fight [5], battle [6]
Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/story/152565/how_anti-authoritarians_can_transcend_their_sense_of_hopelessness_and_fight_back

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bruce-e-levine
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/activism
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/empire
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/fight-0
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/battle-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

A San Francisco student challenges the claims of an AlterNet writer that U.S. youth resistance has been crushed.

DO YOU think that young Americans are self-absorbed products of consumer culture? That they’re too submissive before authority? Do you see youth today as passive and apathetic, nourished by the soft glow of television and computer screens?

If your answers are yes, you’re at the wrong website. But you might appreciate a recent article by psychologist and social critic Bruce Levine, titled “8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance.”

In reality, Levine made one of the oldest mistakes in politics when he wrote that “it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that have subdued young Americans and broken their spirit of resistance to domination.” There’s a long record of self-important intellectuals who have declared that this group or that will never resist oppression, only to be proved wrong–and sometimes in very short order.

 … I find it weird that an older radical like Levine–he was born in 1956–feels so comfortable explaining what makes the kids tick these days. Shouldn’t he consider letting young activists speak for themselves?

 … But it won’t advance the struggle for justice one inch to bemoan the inability of young people to overcome these obstacles just yet. Our responsibility today is to engage in the social movements and struggles emerging today in order to gain the experience and build the kind of organization we’ll need for the future. In that spirit, I’ve prepared a list of my own.

The Myth of U.S. Democracy and the Reality of U.S. Corporatocracy

Polls show that on the major issues of our time – the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wall Street bailouts and health insurance – the opinion ofWe the People has been ignored on a national level for quite some time. While the corporate media repeats the myth that the United States of America is a democracy, Americans, especially Wisonsiners and Ohioans, know that this is a joke.

On March 3, 2011, a Rasmussen Reports poll declared that “Most Wisconsin voters oppose efforts to weaken collective bargaining rights for union workers.” This of course didn’t stop Wisconsin Governor Walker and the Wisconsin legislature from passing a bill that – to the delight of America’s ruling class – trashed most collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. Similarly in Ohio, legislation to limit collective bargaining rights for public workers is on the verge of being signed into law by Governor Kasich, despite the fact that Public Policy Polling on March 15, 2011 reported that 54 percent of Ohio voters would repeal the law, while 31 percent would keep it.

It is a myth that the United States of America was ever a democracy (most of the famous founder elite such as John Adams equated democracy with mob rule and wanted no part of it). The United States of America was actually created as a republic, in which Americans were supposed to have power through representatives who were supposed to actually represent the American people. The truth today, however, is that the United States is neither a democracy nor a republic. Americans are ruled by a corporatocracy: a partnership of “too-big-to-fail” corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials.

The reality is that Americans, for quite some time, have opposed the U.S. government’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but We the People have zero impact on policy. On March 10-13, 2011, an ABC News/Washington Post poll asked, “All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not?”; 64 percent said “not worth fighting” and 31 percent said “worth fighting.” A February 11, 2011, CBS poll reported Americans’ response to the question, “Do you think the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan now, or should the U.S. not be involved in Afghanistan now?”; only 37 percent of Americans said the U.S. “is doing the right thing” and 54 percent said we “should not be involved.” When a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll on December 17-19, 2010, posed the question, “Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan?” only 35 percent of Americans favored the war while 63 percent opposed it. For several years, the majority of Americans have also opposed the Iraq war, typified by a 2010 CBS poll which reported that 6 out of 10 Americans view the Iraq war as “a mistake.”

The opposition by the majority of Americans to current U.S. wars has remained steady for several years. However, if you watched only the corporate media’s coverage of the 2010 election between Democratic and Republican corporate-picked candidates, you might not even know that America was involved in two wars – two wars that are not only opposed by the majority of Americans but which are also bankrupting America.

How about the 2008 Wall Street bailout? Even when Americans believed the lie that it was only a $700 billion bailout, they opposed it; but their opinion was irrelevant. In September 2008, despite the corporate media’s attempts to terrify Americans into believing that an economic doomsday would occur without the bailout, Americans still opposed it. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in September 2008, asked, “Do you think the government should use taxpayers’ dollars to rescue ailing private financial firms whose collapse could have adverse effects on the economy and market, or is it not the government’s responsibility to bail out private companies with taxpayers’ dollars?”; only 31 percent of Americans said we should “use taxpayers” dollars while 55 percent said it is “not government’s responsibility.” Also in September 2008, both a CBSNews/New York Times poll and a USA Today/Gallup poll showed Americans opposed the bailout. This disapproval of the bailout was before most Americans discovered that the Federal Reserve had loaned far more money to “too-big-to-fail” corporations than Americans had been originally led to believe (The Wall Street Journal reported on December 1, 2010, “The US central bank on Wednesday disclosed details of some $3.3 trillion in loans made to financial firms, companies and foreign central banks during the crisis.”)

What about health insurance? Despite the fact that several 2009 polls showed that Americans actually favored a “single-payer” or “Medicare-for-all” health insurance plan, it was not even on the table in the Democrat-Republican 2009-2010 debate over health insurance reform legislation. And polls during this debate showed that an even larger majority of Americans favored the government providing a “public option” to compete with private health insurance plans, but the public option was quickly pushed off the table in the Democratic-Republican debate. A July 2009 Kaiser Health Tracking poll asked, “Do you favor or oppose having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all?” In this Kaiser poll, 58 percent of Americans favored a Medicare-for-all universal plan, and only 38 percent opposed it – and a whopping 77 percent favored “expanding Medicare to cover people between the ages of 55 and 64 who do not have health insurance.” A February 2009 CBS News/New York Times poll reported that 59 percent of Americans say the government should provide national health insurance. And a December 2009 Reuters poll reported that, “Just under 60 percent of those surveyed said they would like a public option as part of any final healthcare reform legislation.”

In the U.S. corporatocracy, as in most modern tyrannies, there are elections, but the reality is that giant corporations and the wealthy elite rule in a way to satisfy their own self-interest. In elections in a corporatocracy, as is the case in elections in all tyrannies, it’s in the interest of the ruling class to maintain the appearance that the people have a say, so more than one candidate is offered up. In the U.S. corporatocracy, it’s in the interest of corporations and the wealthy elite that the winning candidate is beholden to them, so they financially support both Democrats and Republicans. It’s in the interest of corporations and the wealthy elite that there are only two viable parties–this cuts down on bribery costs. And it’s in the interest of these two parties that they are the only parties with a chance of winning.

In the U.S. corporatocracy, corporations and the wealthy elite directly and indirectly finance candidates, who are then indebted to them. It’s common for these indebted government officials to appoint to key decision-making roles those friendly to corporations, including executives from these corporations. And it’s routine for high-level government officials to be rewarded with high-paying industry positions when they exit government. It’s common and routine for former government officials to be given high-paying lobbying jobs so as to use their relationships with current government officials to ensure that corporate interests will be taken care of.

The integration between giant corporations and the U.S. government has gone beyond revolving doors of employment (exemplified by George W. Bush’s last Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, who had previously been CEO of Goldman Sachs; and Barack Obama’s first chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers who in 2008 received $5.2 million from hedge fund D. E. Shaw). Nowadays, the door need not even revolve in the U.S. corporatocracy; for example, when President Obama earlier in 2011 appointed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt as a key economic advisor, Immelt kept his job as CEO of General Electric.

The United States is not ruled by a single deranged dictator but by an impersonal corporatocracy. Thus, there is no one tyrant that Americans can first hate and then finally overthrow so as to end senseless wars and economic injustices. Revolutions against Qaddafi-type tyrants require enormous physical courage. In the U.S. corporatocracy, the first step in recovering democracy is the psychological courage to face the humiliation that we Americans have neither a democracy nor a republic but are in fact ruled by a partnership of “too-big-to-fail” corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials.

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2011). 

Depathologizing the Spirit of Resistance, by Bruce Levine (Z Magazine, Oct 2005)

(re-typing this article by popular demand! can’t find it anywhere on the internet) (also i DEFINITELY don’t agree with everything stated here, but i think it’s an interesting article.)

In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association (APA), in step with the election of Ronald Reagan and the US right-wing shift, proclaimed a new mental illness: Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Today ODD has become an increasingly popular diagnosis for a young person who “actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “argues with adults”–symptoms according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM), the APA’s official diagnostic manual. While those once labeled juvenile delinquents are now diagnosed with conduct disorder (CD), ODD is applied to those doing nothing illegal, just bucking authority. 

Two ways of subduing anti-authoritarianism are criminalizing it and pathologizing it, and U.S. history is replete with both. In the same era of John Addams’ Sedition Act, which criminalized criticism of US governmental policy, Dr. Benjamin Rush, “the father of American psychiatry” (his image adorns the APA seal), pathologized anti-authoritarianism. Rush diagnosed those rebelling against a centralized federal authority as having an “excess of the passion for liberty” that “constituted a form of insanity.” He labeled this illness anarchia.

Historically, both direct and indirect resistance to authority have been medicalized and diseased. In an 1851 article in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, Louisiana physician Samuel Cartwright reported his “discovery” of drapetomania, the disease that caused slaves to flee captivity, and dysaesthesia aetiopis, the disease that caused slaves to pay insufficient attention to the master’s needs. As with anarchia, few took drapetomania and dysaethesia aethiopis seriously–but this was before the diseasing of anti-authoritarianism was accompanied by Big Pharma drugs and marketing blitzes. 

While drapetomania has given way to ODD and CD, dysaesthesia aetheopis has given way to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The vast majority of kids “with ADHD” are capable of paying attention and being cooperative in environments that they are comfortable in. Studies show that they will pay attention to activities that they have chosen, that they find stimulating, or for which they are getting paid. They routinely pay attention to what interests them but tend to blow off school, especially homework. In 1992 the then-director of the APA proudly described the relationship between the APA and pharmaceutical corporations as a “responsible, ethical partnership” and, in 2001, the Journal of the AMA estimated that four to six million ADHD-labeled US kids were taking Ritalin and Ritalin-like drugs. 

Young people often ask me why psychiatrists and psychologists don’t understand that it is normal for kids to rebel against being controlled. The answer, I believe, is that many psychiatrists and psychologists are not in touch with how extremely obedient they are. Acceptance into medical school and graduate school requires lots of A’s, and achieving a PhD or MD means jumping through many meaningless hoops, all of which require much behavioral and attentional compliance.

When compliant MD’s and PhD’s begin seeing noncompliant patients, many of these doctors get uptight and anxiety is often a prelude to diseasing that which is quite normal. (Homosexuality was a DSM disease until 1970’s gay rights activists forced its removal.) In the institutions where I trained, there were a small minority of medical and graduate students who challenged authority, but they were commonly labeled by higher-ups as “having issues with authority” and were pressured to seek psychotherapy for that condition.

Many substance users, while routinely destructive to themselves and others and not to be romanticized, are often anti-authoritarians. Researcher Craig MacAndrew developed a scale that distinguishes alcoholic and drug user personalities from “normal” subjects. The most significant “addictive personality types” had discipline problems at school, were less tolerant of boredom, were less compliant with authorities and some laws, and engaged in more disapproved sexual practices.

Among anti-authoritarians, some prize only their own liberty, but many care so strongly about social injustice that its absence can overwhelm them. They feel alienated and their greatest desire is to connect with like-minded souls. But it is not the 1960’s or the 1890’s and there are no well-known “scenes” where they can find others in “the movement” or “the cause.” So they get depressed and become self-destructive, and some seek treatment.

In every generation there will be: (1) authoritarians, the passionate of whom are fascists; (2) bourgeois/yuppies, who enjoy anti-authoritarian books, music, and movies, but don’t act on them, and (3) genuine anti-authoritarians, who are so pained by explosive hierarchies that they take action. Sometimes anti-authoritarian action is obvious, more often is it subtle, and too often is it futile. Only rarely do anti-authoritarians take effective direct action that inspires others to revolt, but every once in a while a Tom Paine comes along. So control-freaks take no chances, and the state-corporate partnership criminalizes anti-authoritarianism, pathologizes it, markets drugs to “cure” it, and financially intimidates those who might buck the system.

These days the managed-care police are working feverishly to speed patients out of treatment. Along with pressuring me to refer my clientele for drugs, these cops—more benignly—often demand that I assign homework. And so for clients who I believe would identify with Emma Goldman, I “assign” her autobiography.

In the first 50 pages of “Living My Life,” Goldman tells how in the late 1880s the Haymarket martyrs gave her unhappy life a cause and how that cause energized her to leave her boring husband and move from Rochester, NY to New York City, where she quickly hooked up with a lover, a mentor, and a community of like-minded souls. I am happy to report that “Living My Life” provided instant self-help for one middle-aged female client of mine, an anti-authoritarian previously diagnosed with substance abuse, depression and several personality disorders. She has a passion now for reading and forgoes booze when captivated by a good book, and so the 993 pages of Goldman’s epic provided a longer detox treatment than provided by many insurance companies. Now this woman is fairly certain that she would not have become depressed or abused alcohol if she, too, had a cause and community. She has become energized, in her search.

The Missing Piece in the Battle for U.S. Democracy

Activists routinely become frustrated when truths about lies and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But as a clinical psychologist who has worked with abused people for more than 25 years, it does not surprise me to see that when we as individuals or as a society eat crap for too long, we become psychologically too weak to take action.

There are at least three major pieces to the puzzle of transforming the “corporatocracy” (rule by giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials) into something closer to democracy. And activists often neglect the third piece.

First, it is necessary but not sufficient that Americans be informed about the truths of corporatocracy rule. The good news is that despite the corporate media’s failure to reveal many important truths, polls show that the majority of Americans know enough about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wall Street bailouts, and health insurance to oppose corporatocracy policies here (see “The Myth of U.S. Democracy and the Reality of U.S. Corporatocracy”).

Second, in addition to awareness of economic and social injustices and loss of liberties, it is also necessary but not sufficient to have knowledge of strategies and tactics that oppressed people have historically used to overcome tyranny.

Third, a routinely overlooked piece of the puzzle is overcoming the problem of demoralization. Singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen pointed out in 1988, “Everybody knows that the good guys lost.” If not everybody, then certainly many Americans understand the reality of corporatocracy rule. It’s a truth that triggers frustration and anger, and some of us are able to use that frustration and anger to energize constructive actions. However, there are a great many Americans who have been so worn down by decades of personal and political defeats, financial struggles, social isolation, and daily interaction with impersonal and inhuman institutions that they no longer have the energy for political actions.

Many Americans have developed what Cohen called “this broken feeling” or what Bob Marley – the poet laureate of oppressed people around the world – called “mental slavery.” Social scientists have also recognized this phenomenon of subjugation resulting in demoralization and defeatism. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Ignacio Martin-Baró, the El Salvadoran social psychologist and popularizer of “liberation psychology,” understood this psychological phenomenon of fatalism. We must first acknowledge the reality that for millions of Americans, subjugation has in fact resulted in demoralization, fatalism, and mental slavery. Then, we can begin to heal from what I call “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse.”

There exist solid strategies and time-tested tactics that people have long used to battle the elite (which I detail in Get Up, Stand Up). However, these strategies and tactics by themselves are not sufficient. A vitally important part of the solution is creating the “energy to do battle.” Thus, for large-scale democratic movements to have enough energy to get off the ground, certain psychological and cultural building blocks are required.

Historian Lawrence Goodwyn has studied democratic movements and written extensively about the Populist Movement in the United States that occurred during the end of the nineteenth century, what he calls “the largest democratic mass movement in American history.” Goodwyn writes in The Populist Moment that “individual self-respect” and “collective self-confidence” are the cultural building blocks of mass democratic politics.

Without individual self-respect, people do not believe that they are worthy of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and they accept as their role being a subject of power. Without collective self-confidence, people do not believe they can succeed in wresting power away from their rulers.

What today, culturally and psychologically, has destroyed individual self-respect and collective self-confidence? One goal of Get Up, Stand Up is to examine this question. The good news is that answers to it provide, within the ordinary daily events of people’s lives, a road map of opportunities to regain individual self-respect, collective self-confidence, and real power.

Bruce E. Levine
 is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011).

I have this problem when I’m doing research for something I’m writing, even something as simple as trying to find the source/exact wording of a quotation, where I start clicking links to related articles and blogs and WikiPedia pages, etc. and soon I’m in a k-hole of interesting stuff that a. has only a marginal connection to my original topic and b. can easily be used as a tool of procrastination which inhibits me actually writing the piece that the research was for in the first place.

All this is to say: I was trying to find this Bruce Levine article because of one specific quotation I’m citing in an essay, and that led me to spend my afternoon reading ALL THE BRUCE LEVINE. Oops.

Insel finally recognizes what mental health treatment reform activists and investigative reporter Robert Whitaker have been talking about for years—the research shows that American psychiatry’s standard treatment protocol has hurt many people who could have been helped by a more selective and limited use of drugs

How Ayn Rand Seduced Young Men and Helped Make the U.S. into an Uncaring Nation

By Bruce Levine on December 17, 2011

Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society… . To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.— Gore Vidal, 1961

Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African-Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where health care is for only those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

Rand’s impact has been widespread and deep. At the iceberg’s visible tip is the influence she’s had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” Rand’s ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006. In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, “Am an admirer of Ayn Rand.” Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan of hers. A short list of other Rand fans include: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush’s second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

But Rand’s impact on U.S. society and culture goes even deeper.

The Seduction of Nathan Blumenthal

Ayn Rand’s books such as The Virtue of Selfishness and her philosophy that celebrates self-interest and disdains altruism may well be, as Vidal assessed, “nearly perfect in its immorality.” But is Vidal right about evil? Charles Manson, who himself did not kill anyone, is the personification of evil for many of us because of his psychological success at exploiting the vulnerabilities of young people and seducing them to murder. What should we call Ayn Rand’s psychological ability to exploit the vulnerabilities of millions of young people so as to seduce them to kill caring about anyone besides themselves?

While the most famous name that would emerge from Rand’s Collective was Alan Greenspan (tagged “A.G.” by Rand), the second most well-known name to emerge from the Collective was Nathaniel Branden, psychotherapist, author, and “self-esteem” advocate. Before he was Nathaniel Branden, he was Nathan Blumenthal, a fourteen-year-old who read Rand’s The Fountainhead again and again. He later would say, “I felt hypnotized.” He describes how Rand gave him a sense that he could be powerful, that he could be a hero. He wrote one letter to his idol Rand, then a second. To his amazement, she telephoned him, and at age twenty, Nathan received an invitation to Ayn Rand’s home. Shortly after, Nathan Blumenthal announced to the world that he was incorporating Rand in his new name: Nathaniel Branden. And in 1955, with Rand approaching her fiftieth birthday and Branden his twenty-fifth, and both in dissatisfying marriages, Ayn bedded Nathaniel.

What followed sounds straight out of Hollywood, but Rand was straight out of Hollywood, having worked for Cecil B. DeMille. Rand convened a meeting with Nathaniel, his wife Barbara (also a Collective member), and Rand’s own husband Frank. To Nathaniel’s astonishment, Rand convinced both spouses that a time-structured affair—she and Nathaniel were to have one afternoon and one evening a week together—was “reasonable.” Within the Collective, Rand is purported to have never lost an argument. On his trysts at Rand’s New York City apartment, Nathaniel would sometimes shake hands with Frank before he exited. Later, all discovered that Rand’s sweet but passive husband would leave for a bar, where he began his own affair, a self-destructive one with alcohol.

By 1964, the 34-year-old Nathaniel had grown physically weary of the now 59-year-old Ayn. Still sexually dissatisfied in his marriage to Barbara and afraid to end his affair with Rand, Nathaniel began sleeping with a married 24-year-old model, Patrecia Scott. Rand, now “the woman scorned,” called Nathaniel to appear before the Collective, whose nickname had by now lost its irony for both Barbara and Nathaniel. Rand’s justice was swift. She humiliated Nathaniel and then put a curse on him: “If you have one ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health—you’ll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve potency sooner, you’ll know it’s a sign of still worse moral degradation!” Rand completed the evening with two welt-producing slaps across Branden’s face. Finally, in a move that Stalin and Hitler would have admired, Rand also expelled poor Barbara from the Collective, declaring her treasonous because Barbara, preoccupied by her own extra-marital affair, had neglected to fill Rand in soon enough on Nathaniel’s extra-extra-marital betrayal. (If anyone doubts Alan Greenspan’s political savvy, keep in mind that he somehow stayed in Rand’s good graces even though he, fixed up by Nathaniel with Patrecia’s twin sister, had double-dated with the outlaws.)

After being banished by Rand, Nathaniel Branden was worried that he might be assassinated by other members of the Collective, so he moved from New York to Los Angeles, where Rand fans were less fanatical. Branden established a lucrative psychotherapy practice and authored approximately 20 books, 10 of them with either “Self” or “Self-Esteem” in the title. Rand and Branden never reconciled, but he remains an admirer of her philosophy of self-interest.

Ayn Rand’s personal life was consistent with her philosophy of not giving a shit about anybody but herself. Rand was an ardent two-pack-a-day smoker, and when questioned about the dangers of smoking, she loved to light up with a defiant flourish and then scold her young questioners on the “unscientific and irrational nature of the statistical evidence.” After an x-ray showed that she had lung cancer, Rand quit smoking and had surgery for her cancer. Collective members explained to her that many people still smoked because they respected her and her assessment of the evidence; and that since she no longer smoked, she ought to tell them. They told her that she needn’t mention her lung cancer, that she could simply say she had reconsidered the evidence. Rand refused.

How Rand’s Philosophy Seduced Young Minds

When I was a kid, my reading included comic books and Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. There wasn’t much difference between the comic books and Rand’s novels in terms of the simplicity of the heroes. What was different was that unlike Superman or Batman, Rand made selfishness heroic, and she made caring about others weakness.

Rand said, “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible… . The choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequences of freedom, justice, progress and man’s happiness on earth—or the primordial morality of altruism, with its consequences of slavery, brute force, stagnant terror and sacrificial furnaces.” For many young people, hearing that it is “moral” to care only about oneself can be intoxicating, and some get addicted to this idea for life.

I have known several people, professionally and socially, whose lives have been changed by those close to them who became infatuated with Ayn Rand. A common theme is something like this: “My ex-husband wasn’t a bad guy until he started reading Ayn Rand. Then he became a completely selfish jerk who destroyed our family, and our children no longer even talk to him.”

To wow her young admirers, Rand would often tell a story of how a smart-aleck book salesman had once challenged her to explain her philosophy while standing on one leg. She replied: “Metaphysics—objective reality. Epistemology—reason. Ethics—self-interest. Politics—capitalism.” How did that philosophy capture young minds?

Metaphysics—objective reality. Rand offered a narcotic for confused young people: complete certainty and a relief from their anxiety. Rand believed that an “objective reality” existed, and she knew exactly what that objective reality was. It included skyscrapers, industries, railroads, and ideas—at least her ideas. Rand’s objective reality did not include anxiety or sadness. Nor did it include much humor, at least the kind where one pokes fun at oneself. Rand assured her Collective that objective reality did not include Beethoven’s, Rembrandt’s, and Shakespeare’s realities—they were too gloomy and too tragic, basically buzzkillers. Rand preferred Mickey Spillane and, towards the end of her life, “Charlie’s Angels.”

Epistemology—reason. Rand’s kind of reason was a “cool-tool” to control the universe. Rand demonized Plato, and her youthful Collective were taught to despise him. If Rand really believed that the Socratic Method described by Plato of discovering accurate definitions and clear thinking did not qualify as “reason,” why then did she regularly attempt it with her Collective? Also oddly, while Rand mocked dark moods and despair, her “reasoning” directed that Collective members should admire Dostoyevsky whose novels are filled with dark moods and despair. A demagogue, in addition to hypnotic glibness, must also be intellectually inconsistent, sometimes boldly so. This eliminates challenges to authority by weeding out clear-thinking young people from the flock.

Ethics—self-interest. For Rand, all altruists were manipulators. What could be more seductive to kids who discerned the motives of martyr parents, Christian missionaries, and U.S. foreign aiders? Her champions, Nathaniel Branden still among them, feel that Rand’s view of “self-interest” has been horribly misrepresented. For them, self-interest is her hero architect Howard Roark turning down a commission because he couldn’t do it exactly his way. Some of Rand’s novel heroes did have integrity, however, for Rand there is no struggle to discover the distinction between true integrity and childish vanity. Rand’s integrity was her vanity, and it consisted of getting as much money and control as possible, copulating with whomever she wanted regardless of who would get hurt, and her always being right. To equate one’s selfishness, vanity, and egotism with one’s integrity liberates young people from the struggle to distinguish integrity from selfishness, vanity, and egotism.


Politics—capitalism. While Rand often disparaged Soviet totalitarian collectivism, she had little to say about corporate totalitarian collectivism, as she conveniently neglected the reality that giant U.S. corporations, like the Soviet Union, do not exactly celebrate individualism, freedom, or courage. Rand was clever and hypocritical enough to know that you don’t get rich in the United States talking about compliance and conformity within corporate America. Rather, Rand gave lectures entitled: “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business.” So, young careerist corporatists could embrace Rand’s self-styled “radical capitalism” and feel radical — radical without risk.

Rand’s Legacy

In recent years, we have entered a phase where it is apparently okay for major political figures to publicly embrace Rand despite her contempt for Christianity. In contrast, during Ayn Rand’s life, her philosophy that celebrated self-interest was a private pleasure for the 1 percent but she was a public embarrassment for them. They used her books to congratulate themselves on the morality of their selfishness, but they publicly steered clear of Rand because of her views on religion and God. Rand, for example, had stated on national television, “I am against God. I don’t approve of religion. It is a sign of a psychological weakness. I regard it as an evil.”

Actually, again inconsistent, Rand did have a God. It was herself. She said:

I am done with the monster of “we,” the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: “I.”

While Harriet Beecher Stowe shamed Americans about the United State’s dehumanization of African-Americans and slavery, Ayn Rand removed Americans’ guilt for being selfish and uncaring about anyone except themselves. Not only did Rand make it “moral” for the wealthy not to pay their fair share of taxes, she “liberated” millions of other Americans from caring about the suffering of others, even the suffering of their own children.

Book jacket for Random House  |  Art Director: Robbin Schiff  |  Designer: Christopher Sergio  |  Published 2013

Among anti-authoritarians, some prize only their own liberty, but many care so strongly about social injustice that their pain over its absence can overwhelm them. They feel alienated and their great desire is to connect with like-minded souls. But it is not the 1960’s or the 1890’s and there are no well-known ‘scenes’ where they can find others in 'the movement’ or 'the cause.’ So they get depressed and become self-destructive, and some seek treatment.

In every generation there will be: (1) authoritarians, the passionate of whom are fascists; (2) bourgeois/yuppies, who enjoy anti-authoritarian books, music, and movies, but don’t act on them, and (3) genuine anti-authoritarians, who are so pained by explosive hierarchies that they take action. Sometimes anti-authoritarian action is obvious, more often is it subtle, and too often is it futile.

—  Bruce Levine, Depathologizing the Spirit of Resistance, Z Magazine, Oct 2005

The Tenfold Path to Guts, Solidarity and the Defeat of the Corporate Elite


Wednesday, 11 May 2011 05:30By Bruce E Levine, Truthout | Author Essay

Many Americans know that the United States is not a democracy but a “corporatocracy,” in which we are ruled by a partnership of giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite and corporate-collaborator government officials. However, the truth of such tyranny is not enough to set most of us free to take action. Too many of us have become pacified by corporatocracy-created institutions and culture.

Some activists insist that this political passivity problem is caused by Americans’ ignorance due to corporate media propaganda, and others claim that political passivity is caused by the inability to organize due to a lack of money. However, polls show that on the important issues of our day - from senseless wars, to Wall Street bailouts, to corporate tax-dodging, to health insurance rip-offs - the majority of Americans are not ignorant to the reality that they are being screwed. And American history is replete with organizational examples - from the Underground Railroad, to the Great Populist Revolt, to the Flint sit-down strike, to large wildcat strikes a generation ago - of successful rebels who had little money but lots of guts and solidarity.

The elite spend their lives stockpiling money and have the financial clout to bribe, divide and conquer the rest of us. The only way to overcome the power of money is with the power of courage and solidarity. When we regain our guts and solidarity, we can then more wisely select from - and implement - time-honored strategies and tactics that oppressed peoples have long used to defeat the elite. So, how do we regain our guts and solidarity?

1. Create the Cultural and Psychological “Building Blocks” for Democratic Movements

Historian Lawrence Goodwyn has studied democratic movements such as Solidarity in Poland, and he has written extensively about the populist movement in the United States that occurred during the end of the 19th century (what he calls “the largest democratic mass movement in American history”). Goodwyn concludes that democratic movements are initiated by people who are neither resigned to the status quo nor intimidated by established powers. For Goodwyn, the cultural and psychological building blocks of democratic movements are individual self-respect and collective self-confidence. Without individual self-respect, we do not believe that we are worthy of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and we accept as our role being a subject of power. Without collective self-confidence, we do not believe that we can succeed in wresting away power from our rulers.

Thus, it is the job of all of us - from parents, to students, to teachers, to journalists, to clergy, to psychologists, to artists and EVERYBODY who gives a damn about genuine democracy - to create individual self-respect and collective self-confidence.

2. Confront and Transform ALL Institutions that Have Destroyed Individual Self-Respect and Collective Self-Confidence

In “Get Up, Stand Up, ” I detail 12 major institutional and cultural areas that have broken people’s sprit of resistance, and all are “battlefields for democracy” in which we can fight to regain our individual self-respect and collective self confidence:

  • Television
  • Isolation and bureaucratization
  • “Fundamentalist consumerism” and advertising/propaganda
  • Student loan debt and indentured servitude
  • Surveillance
  • The decline of unions/solidarity among working people
  • Greed and a “money-centric” culture
  • Fear-based schools that teach obedience
  • Psychopathologizing noncompliance
  • Elitism via professional training
  • The corporate media
  • The US electoral system

As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.”

3. Side Each Day in Every Way With Anti-Authoritarians

We can recover our self-respect and strength by regaining our integrity. This process requires a personal transformation to overcome our sense of powerlessness and fight for what we believe in. Integrity includes acts of courage resisting all illegitimate authorities. We must recognize that in virtually every aspect of our life in every day, we can either be on the side of authoritarianism and the corporatocracy or on the side of anti-authoritarianism and democracy. Specifically, we can question the legitimacy of government, media, religious, educational and other authorities in our lives, and if we establish that an authority is not legitimate, we can resist it. And we can support others who are resisting illegitimate authorities. A huge part of solidarity comes from supporting others who are resisting the illegitimate authorities in their lives. Walt Whitman had it right: “Resist much, obey little. Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved.”

4. Regain Morale by Thinking More Critically About Our Critical Thinking

While we need critical thinking to effectively question and challenge illegitimate authority - and to wisely select the best strategies and tactics to defeat the elite - critical thinking can reveal some ugly truths about reality, which can result in defeatism. Thus, critical thinkers must also think critically about their defeatism, and realize that it can cripple the will and destroy motivation, thus perpetuating the status quo. William James (1842–1910), the psychologist, philosopher, and occasional political activist (member of the Anti-Imperialist League who, during the Spanish-American War, said, “God damn the US for its vile conduct in the Philippine Isles!”) had a history of pessimism and severe depression, which helped fuel some of his greatest wisdom on how to overcome immobilization. James, a critical thinker, had little stomach for what we now call “positive thinking,” but he also came to understand how losing belief in a possible outcome can guarantee its defeat. Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), an Italian political theorist and Marxist activist who was imprisoned by Mussolini, came to the same conclusions. Gramsci’s phrase “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” has inspired many critical thinkers, including Noam Chomsky, to maintain their efforts in the face of difficult challenges.

5. Restore Courage in Young People

The corporatocracy has not only decimated America’s labor union movement, it has almost totally broken the spirit of resistance among young Americans - an even more frightening achievement. Historically, young people without family responsibilities have felt most freed up to challenge illegitimate authority. But America’s education system creates fear, shame and debt - all killers of the spirit of resistance. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and standardized testing tyranny results in the kind of fear that crushes curiosity, critical thinking and the capacity to constructively resist illegitimate authority. Rebel teachers, parents, and students - in a variety of overt and covert ways - have already stopped complying with corporatocracy schooling. We must also stop shaming intelligent young people who reject college, and we must instead recreate an economy that respects all kinds of intelligence and education. While the corporatocracy exploits student loan debt to both rake in easy money and break young people’s spirit of resistance, the rest of us need to rebel against student loan debt and indentured servitude. And parents and mental health professionals need to stop behavior-modifying and medicating young people who are resisting illegitimate authority.

6. Focus on Democracy Battlefields Where the Corporate Elite Don’t Have Such a Large Financial Advantage

The emphasis of many activists is on electoral politics, but the elite have a huge advantage in this battlefield, where money controls the US electoral process. By focusing exclusively on electoral politics at the expense of everything else,  we: (1) give away power when we focus only on getting leaders elected and become dependent on them; (2) buy into the elite notion that democracy is all about elections; (3) lose sight of the fact that democracy means having influence over all aspects of our lives; and (4) forget that if we have no power in our workplace, in our education and in all our institutions, then there will never be democracy worthy of the name. Thus, we should focus our fight more on the daily institutions we experience. As Wendell Berry said, “If you can control a people’s economy, you don’t need to worry about its politics; its politics have become irrelevant.”

7. Heal from “Corporatocracy Abuse” and “Battered People’s Syndrome” to Gain Strength

Activists routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But when we human beings eat crap for too long, we gradually lose our self-respect to the point that we become psychologically too weak to take action. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that, after years of corporatocracy subjugation, we have developed “battered people’s syndrome” and what Bob Marley called “mental slavery.” To emancipate ourselves and others, we must:

  • Move out of denial and accept that we are a subjugated people.
  • Admit that we have bought into many lies. There is a dignity, humility, and strength in facing the fact that, while we may have once bought into some lies, we no longer do so.
  • Forgive ourselves and others for accepting the abuser’s lies. Remember the liars  we face are often quite good at lying.
  • Maintain a sense of humor. Victims of horrific abuse, including those in  concentration camps and slave plantations, have discovered that pain can either  immobilize us or be transformed by humor into energy.
  • Stop beating ourselves up for having been in an abusive relationship. The energy  we have is better spent on healing and then working to change the abusive system;  this provides more energy, and when we use this energy to provide respect and  confidence for others, everybody gets energized.

8. Unite Populists by Rejecting Corporate Media’s Political Divisions

The corporate media routinely divides Americans as “liberals,” “conservatives” and “moderates,” a useful division for the corporatocracy, because no matter which of these groups is the current electoral winner, the corporatocracy retains power. In order to defeat the corporatocracy, it’s more useful to divide people in terms of authoritarians versus anti-authoritarians, elitists versus populists and corporatists versus anticorporatists. Both left anti-authoritarians and libertarian anti-authoritarians passionately oppose current US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Wall Street bailout, the PATRIOT Act, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the so-called “war on drugs” and several other corporatocracy policies. There are differences between anti-authoritarians but, as Ralph Nader and Ron Paul have together recently publicly discussed, we can form coalitions and alliances on these important power-money issues. One example of an anti-authoritarian democratic movement (which I am involved in) is the mental health treatment reform movement, comprised of left anti-authoritarians and libertarians. We all share distrust of Big Pharma and contempt for pseudoscience, and we believe that people deserve truly informed choice regarding treatment. We respect Erich Fromm, the democratic-socialist psychoanalyst, along with Thomas Szasz, the libertarian psychiatrist, both passionate anti-authoritarians who have confronted mental health professionals for using dogma to coerce people.

9. Unite “Comfortable Anti-Authoritarians” and “Afflicted Anti-Authoritarians

This "comfortable-afflicted” continuum is based on the magnitude of pain that one has simply getting through the day. The termcomfortable anti-authoritarian is not a pejorative one, but refers to those anti-authoritarians lucky enough to have decent paying and maybe even meaningful jobs, or platforms through which their voices are heard or social supports in their lives. Many of these comfortable anti-authoritarians may know that there are millions of Americans working mindless jobs in order to hold on to their health insurance, or hustling two low-wage jobs to pay college loans, rent and a car payment, or who may be unable to find even a poorly paying, mindless job and are instead helplessly watching eviction or foreclosure and bankruptcy close in on them. However, unless these comfortable anti-authoritarians have once been part of that afflicted class - and remember what it feels like - they may not be able to fully respect the afflicted’s emotional state. The afflicted need to recognize that human beings often become passive because they are overwhelmed by pain (not because they are ignorant, stupid, or lazy), and in order to function at all, they often shut down or distract themselves from this pain. Some comfortable anti-authoritarians assume that people’s inactions are caused by ignorance. This not only sounds and smells like elitism, it creates resentment for many in the afflicted class who lack the energy to be engaged in any activism. Respect, resources and anything that concretely reduces their level of pain is likely to be far more energizing than a scolding lecture. That’s the lesson of many democratic movements, including the Great Populist Revolt.

10. Do Not Let Debate Divide Anti-Authoritarians

Spirited debate is what democracy is all about, but when debate turns to mutual antipathy and divides anti-authoritarians, it plays into the hands of the elite. One such divide among anti-elitists is over the magnitude of change that should be worked for and celebrated. On one extreme are people who think that anything is better than nothing at all. At the other extreme are people who reject any incremental change and hold out for total transformation. We can better unite by asking these questions: Does the change increase individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, and increase one’s energy level to pursue even greater democracy? Or does it feel like a sellout that decreases individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, and de-energizes us? Utilizing the criteria of increased self-respect and collective self-confidence, those of us who believe in genuine democracy can more constructively debate whether the change is going to increase strength to gain democracy or is going to take the steam out of a democratic movement. Respecting both sides of this debate makes for greater solidarity and better decisions.

To summarize, democracy will not be won without guts and solidarity. Risk-free green actions - such as shopping from independents, buying local, recycling, composting, consuming less, not watching television and so on - can certainly help counter a dehumanizing world. However, revolutions that truly transform fundamental power inequities and enable us to feel like men and women rather than children and slaves require risk, guts and solidarity.
 

BRUCE E LEVINE

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of "Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite" (Chelsea Green, April 2011). His web site is www.brucelevine.net.


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