Politics and Social Justice Archive


Voting: Transcending the Wedge Issue That Divides Democracy Activists

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

I don't vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, 'If you don't vote, you have no right to complain,' but where's the logic in that? … You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. (George Carlin)

Many nonvoting democracy activists argue that participating in U.S. national elections only maintains the illusion of democracy, and so voting can become a wedge issue that undermines solidarity among voting and nonvoting activists on democracy battlefields beyond electoral politics.

The corporate media try to persuade Americans that the problem with the U.S. political process is a lack of bipartisanship between the Democrats and the Republicans, but on the key democracy issues of our era — senseless wars, Wall Street bailouts, unprosecuted corporate criminals, and the surveillance state — there has been Democratic-Republican bipartisanship.

The real problem for those of us who care about democracy is the lack of bipartisanship between voter and nonvoter democracy activists, who often flail out at one another and then can't come together on democracy battlefields where they actually have a chance to gain power and create something closer to democracy.

U.S. Elections and Learned Helplessness

If the Bush administration didn't like somebody, they'd kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don't like somebody, they murder them. (Noam Chomsky)
When the Republicans win, Americans get senseless wars and corporate control. When the Democrats win, Americans get senseless wars and corporate control. Learned helplessness means a belief that no matter what one does or does not do, one cannot decrease one's level of pain, and so one gives up trying. If a society's electoral process promotes learned helplessness, it is not a democratic society.

While Mitt Romney is another Republican "senseless wars/corporate control" candidate, what is President Obama's record here? Military spending under Obama, as a percentage of GDP, has been higher than it was during any year of the George W. Bush administration. And under Obama, there has not been a single prosecution of a high-ranking Wall Street executive or any major financial firms for their criminal practices that helped produce a worldwide financial meltdown. There are differences between Romney and Obama, but not when it comes to democracy activists' helplessness around stopping senseless wars and corporate control.

To extricate from learned helplessness, does it make sense to vote for a third party that opposes senseless wars and corporate control? Because of the power of money in the U.S. electoral process — even worse now because of Citizens United — third parties have no chance of winning. And so voting for a third party that opposes senseless wars and corporate control means that either the Democrats or the Republicans still win, and Americans continue to get senseless wars and corporate control. And more learned helplessness.

Of course, there is another choice: not voting at all. That's the choice for 40 to 50 percent of Americans in presidential elections (and even more in off-years, when the presidency is not contested). George Carlin's case for not voting rings true for millions of Americans:

Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. … Good, honest, hardworking people … continue to elect these rich cocksuckers who don't give a fuck about them. They don't give a fuck about you. They don't give a fuck about you. They don't care about you. At all. At all. At all.
However, not voting doesn't change the fact that the Democrats or Republicans still win, resulting in senseless wars and corporate control. The bottom line is that regardless of what we do or don't do in the election booth, we continue to get senseless wars and corporate control.

Dropping One's Arrogance About a Voting or Nonvoting Stance

While both the Democrats and the Republicans are the parties of senseless wars and corporate control, there are differences between them. And these differences can mitigate real suffering in some people's lives. And this makes it difficult to walk away from a political party that one essentially does not respect.

Obama's capitulation to health-insurance companies was an excruciating blow for single-payer (Medicare-for-all) activists. Even before the presidential campaign began, Obama abandoned his personal belief in a single-payer health-care system. And then, after his election, Obama reneged on his presidential campaign promise to fight for a public option as an alternative to insurance companies (despite the fact that a single-payer health-care system was favored by a slight majority of Americans, and the public option was favored by a large majority of Americans).

Ultimately, Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) could well provide insurance companies with more loot than it exacts from them. Specifically, ACA's perverted use of the mandate — originally meant to make single-payer health care work — is retained in ACA, guaranteeing insurance companies millions more customers and billions more dollars, making them even more powerful and difficult to contend with. If the corporatocracy truly opposed ACA, then the corporatocracy-controlled Supreme Court would not have OK'd it.

However, the reality is that very real suffering for some people has been mitigated by ACA.

I know one young man who, because of ACA, was not forced to choose between destroying his college grades and career plans or financially devastating his family. In college he got cancer and needed a lengthy leave for treatment. Prior to ACA, in order to stay on his parents' health insurance, he would have had to remain enrolled in college, which would have meant missed classes and Fs that would have killed his grade point average and trashed his career plans; or he could have dropped out of college to save his GPA, lost his health insurance, and amassed medical bills that would have financially devastated his family. And with either choice, prior to ACA, his "pre-existing condition" would have made it unlikely that he could get affordable health insurance once on his own. The good news is that not only has this young man survived cancer but, because of ACA, his health crisis has not destroyed his college record, his parents' finances, or his future chances of getting his own health insurance.

It's easy for people who are unaffected by an issue that an election can actually decide to urge others not to vote and argue that participating in national elections maintains the illusion of real democracy.

Voting for Obama, a cheerleader for the military-industrial complex, expanded drone killing, nuclear power, corporate hegemony, and the surveillance state, means that I lose some self-respect, but to not vote for Obama feels like a betrayal of loyalty to that young man and his family. And so with respect to voting, I'm not sure yet what I will do, except that I'm not going to get stuck in the voting-vs.-nonvoting quicksand.

Extricating Oneself From the Quicksand

First, voting and nonvoting democracy activists need to be more respectful of one another. U.S. national election results may in fact make no difference in terms of senseless wars, corporate control, democracy, and real power, but results can increase or decrease real suffering for some people, which matters a great deal if you are one of those people, or if you care about them. When voting and nonvoting activists recognize the legitimacy of one another's positions, they can unify on other democracy battlefields.

Extricating oneself from this quicksand means recognizing that electoral politics is a narrow part of democracy. The major strategic problem in focusing on electoral politics is in the overfocus on a battlefield where the elite have such an advantage. This results in a lack of focus on democracy battlefields where we have a better chance of winning.

While a case can be made for voting to alleviate certain suffering, much bad can come from an exclusive focus on electoral politics. The bad is that people:

Buy into the elite notion that democracy is all about elections
Give away their power when they focus only on getting leaders elected, becoming dependent on those leaders
Forget that the power ordinary Americans have won has not been so much in the voting booth but on the streets, on the picket lines, in boycotts, and by other withdrawals of cooperation with the corporatocracy
Lose sight of the fact that genuine democracy means having influence over all aspects of their lives
Forget that if they have no power in the workplace, in their education, in their buying and selling of goods, in their entertainment, or in all their institutions, then there will never be democracy worthy of the name
If you can control a people's economy, you don't need to worry about its politics; its politics have become irrelevant. If you control people's choices as to whether or not they will work, and where they will work, and what they will do, and how well they will do it, and what they will eat and wear, and the genetic makeup of their crops and animals, and what they will do for amusement, then why should you worry about freedom of speech? In a totalitarian economy, any "political liberties" that the people might retain would simply cease to matter. (Wendell Berry)
In war, intelligent combatants attempt to force the fight onto the battlefield of their choosing, seeking the battlefield that takes advantage of their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses. So, in the class war, the elite, who are very small in numbers but very large in cash, try to make the battlefield something they can purchase with their money. It turns out that an American election is easy to buy.

Keeping the struggle on a battlefield where money is so influential is an important reason the corporatocracy wants us to believe that national elections equal democracy. These elections keep many Americans thinking that they have a democracy when they don't, and they are a relatively inexpensive way for the elite to control what appears to be democracy. Perhaps most importantly, these elections distract people from thinking about other democracy battlefields.

There are other democracy battlefields not as easily controlled by big money as is the U.S. electoral process. Historically, on these battlefields, Americans have — with persistence, courage, and solidarity — gained power. And having a fair share of power is what democracy is all about. Real power in the workplace is being fought every day by worker cooperatives, labor unions, and the self-employed. Battles for power over housing are being fought by housing activists such as City Life and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. Battles for power over who controls the food supply are being fought by family farmers and others. And other battles for power are being fought in health care, education, and nearly every other arena where the corporatocracy reigns. These real battles for power and democracy are being fought — and sometimes won — and unpublicized by the corporate media.

So, instead of voter and nonvoter democracy activists' arrogance over their position, and instead of them flailing out at one another, let the ruling class tremble at unified voter and nonvoter democracy activists who, instead of overfocusing on electoral politics, join together on winnable battlefields.

Read the rest in Bruce's latest Huffington Post entry…

getupstandup Bruce E. Levine is the author of Get Up, Stand Up

New Guide: A Sane Approach to Psychiatric Drugs

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Millions of people believe that psychiatric medications have saved their lives, while millions of others report that their psychiatric medications were unhelpful or made things worse. All this can result in mutual disrespect for different choices. I can think of no better antidote for this polarization than the recently revised, second edition Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs. This 52-page guide, published by the Icarus Project and Freedom Center, is now available free online in English as well as in Spanish, German, and Greek.

Harm reduction is pragmatic and recognizes that there is no single solution for every person. Instead, as the guide states, "Harm reduction accepts where people are at and educates them to make informed choices and calculated trade-offs that reduce risk and increase wellness." Harm reduction is about providing information, options, resources and support so that people can make choices that fit their situation and who they are.

I wish the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs had been in existence for my entire career as a clinical psychologist. It would have been especially helpful for one particular couple whom I saw several years ago for marital counseling. Cathy and Jim (not their real names) met during their psychiatric hospitalization, both having been diagnosed with serious psychiatric illnesses. After their hospitalization, they dated, moved in together, and married.

Cathy told me, "Jim is an intellectual, smarter than anyone I have ever met in my life," to which Jim blushed and responded, "Bruce, sometimes it's good to have a wife who is a little delusional." Jim then told me that "Cathy is the most beautiful woman in the world," to which Cathy laughed and said, "Sometimes I worry that Jim is hallucinating about another woman."

After a year of marriage, their marital bliss began to erode over the issue of psychiatric medications. One day, Jim quit taking his antipsychotic Zyprexa. Cathy, who continued to take her antipsychotic Risperdal, was worried that Jim, without Zyprexa, would become agitated, do something "crazy," and would be forced to return to the hospital. Jim said, "Even if Cathy is right that I am increasing my chances of going nuts again — and I don't know that she is right here — the reality is that with Zyprexa I can't take a decent crap and I can't concentrate when I read, and books — besides Cathy — are the most important thing in the world to me." And then Jim added that he was worried about the short-term and long-term adverse effects of Risperdal on Cathy, and that he wished she would stop taking it.

Ultimately, and quite beautifully, both Cathy and Jim came to see that risk in life was unavoidable, and they learned to respect each other's choices and risks with respect to psychiatric medications. Both would have appreciated the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs, which is all about informed choice that allows one to take the risks that make most sense given one's situation.

Read the rest in Bruce's latest Huffington Post entry…

getupstandup Bruce E. Levine is the author of Get Up, Stand Up

Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein? How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
Originally published by AlterNet
We are increasingly marketing drugs that essentially "cure" anti-authoritarians.

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by 1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians; and 2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.

Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.

Why Mental Health Professionals Diagnose Anti-Authoritarians with Mental Illness

Gaining acceptance into graduate school or medical school and achieving a PhD or MD and becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist means jumping through many hoops, all of which require much behavioral and attentional compliance with authorities, even those authorities one lacks respect for. The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities. Thus for many MDs and PhDs, people different from them who reject this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one.

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.

In graduate school, I discovered that all it took to be labeled as having “issues with authority” was not kissing up to a director of clinical training whose personality was a combination of Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich and Howard Cosell. When I was told by some faculty that I had “issues with authority,” I had mixed feelings about being so labeled. On the one hand, I found it amusing, because among the working-class kids I had grown up with, I was considered relatively compliant with authorities. After all, I had done my homework, studied and received good grades. However, while my new “issues with authority” label made me grin because I was now being seen as a “bad boy,” I was also concerned about just what kind of profession I had entered. Specifically, if somebody such as myself was labeled as having “issues with authority,” what were they calling the kids I grew up with who paid attention to many things that they cared about but didn’t care enough about school to comply there? Well, the answer soon became clear.

Mental Illness Diagnoses for Anti-Authoritarians

A 2009 Psychiatric Times article titled “ADHD & ODD: Confronting the Challenges of Disruptive Behavior” reports that “disruptive disorders,” which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and opposition defiant disorder (ODD), are the most common mental health problem of children and teenagers. ADHD is defined by poor attention and distractibility, poor self-control and impulsivity, and hyperactivity. ODD is defined as a “a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior without the more serious violations of the basic rights of others that are seen in conduct disorder”; and ODD symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”

Read the rest of the article.

getupstandup Bruce E. Levine is the author of Get Up, Stand Up

Battle for Brooklyn Makes Oscar Short List, Thanks to Occupy Movement

Monday, December 5th, 2011

The 2011 Oscar documentaries short list is in, and the good news is that Battle for Brooklyn — snubbed earlier this year by many major film festivals — is on that list. The Occupy movement has made Battle for Brooklyn impossible to ignore.

Battle for Brooklyn asks: Do we really accept that Big Money — through intimidation, bribery, or some other coercion — can shove us out of our homes and obliterate our communities? The film is about the abuse of eminent domain by the rich and powerful. Eminent domain is the government's right to seize private property (usually with compensation) for the public good. However, it is the elite — not ordinary Americans — who have the power to define what is the public good. Battle for Brooklyn documents a group of the "99 percent" who, between 2004 and 2011, staged a courageous battle against the "1 percent" at a time when most of us had lost our fight.

Co-directed by Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, Battle for Brooklyn is an account of the fight waged by residents and business owners of Brooklyn's Prospect Heights neighborhood facing demolition of their property to make way for the Atlantic Yards project, a massive plan to build 16 skyscrapers and a basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets.

The Atlantic Yards project was conceived by the powerful mega-developer Bruce Ratner when he was the majority owner of the New Jersey Nets (he since has sold the team to the Russian multi-billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov). Ratner's cheerleaders included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, all of whom were important to Ratner because Atlantic Yards relied heavily on New York state and city subsidies (over $2 billion of taxpayers' money), and a good part of Atlantic Yards was to be built on rail yards owned by the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This giant project also required a great deal of private property, and thus Ratner needed government to wield the weapon of eminent domain.

Battle for Brooklyn focuses on Daniel Goldstein, whose newly purchased condo sat at what was to be center court of the planned arena. While all the other condo owners in his building took the money and ran, Goldstein fought back, rejecting the idea that eminent domain can be used –without the say of either his community or his local elected officials — to take his home and those of his neighbors' and hand them over to a private developer.

Supporting Goldstein's "Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn" organization are his neighborhood's elected officials as well as other residents and business owners who are angered that they had no say in the development of their community (neither the community itself nor any elected city or state officials voted on the eventual approval of the project). On Ratner's team were his army of lawyers, public relations spokespersons, and high-profile politicians, as well as those residents excited by the promise of jobs and affordable housing. There was also a celebrity battle. On Ratner's team were Brooklyn-born hip-hop mogul Jay-Z — who owns 1 percent of the Nets — and his wife Beyoncé. Supporting Goldstein and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn were Brooklyn-born actors Rosie Perez, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro.

The shameless Ratner used his money to attempt to make Atlantic Yards a racial issue. He funded a synthetic grassroots ("astroturf") black community group and tried to inflame black residents against Goldstein, a white graphics designer. The truth is that all African-American officials who actually represented the neighborhood, including City Councilmember Letitia James, were adamantly opposed to Atlantic Yards, as they saw through Ratner's empty promises of local jobs and affordable housing. While Goldstein is the citizen hero of this film, James — who went on to win her second term in a landslide — is the kind of public servant that every community wishes it had.

On November 24, 2009, after almost a six-year battle, New York's high court, the Court of Appeals, ruled for Ratner and against Goldstein and other property owners and tenants. On March 11, 2010, Ratner held a groundbreaking ceremony at the project site.

At film's end on March 2011, of the 15,000 construction jobs promised by Ratner, there were 114 workers at the site, with 14 of them local residents. And only the basketball arena — not affordable housing — was under construction.

Battle for Brooklyn examines what eminent domain should and should not be used for, and this speaks to the very question of democracy versus corporatocracy (rule by giant corporations, the wealthy elite and their corporate collaborator politicians). Goldstein and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn argued that Ratner's development plan was unnecessarily large, and that real competitive bidding for the rail yards might have yielded a project that would not have destroyed but improved their neighborhood. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn opposed the use of eminent domain as a legal maneuver to transfer real estate from one private owner to another in which the public has no say as to what is in the public good.

While Gailinsky and Hawley clearly have their sympathies with Goldstein and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, they make an earnest attempt to show all involved — including the residents who supported the project for its promised jobs — without mean-spirited shots. One of the painful and powerful aspects of Battle for Brooklyn is the depiction of ordinary people so desperate for jobs that they are willing to get pushed around by the elite. This kind of thing can get many of us cynical about human nature and move us into defeatism. However, cynicism and defeatism are not the messages of Galinsky and Hawly. Instead of having contempt for those job-hungry people who were duped, we feel sorry for them. And though Goldstein loses his battle, he comes out a winner in more ways than one — I won't give away the film's storybook romantic ending.

Battle for Brooklyn transcends typical left-right politics, unites all who believe in self-respect and democracy, and invites Americans to join together in the fight against the elite's abuse of eminent domain. In the end, Battle for Brooklyn compels audiences to ask a question that unifies rather than divides us: Do you want to live in a country where Big Money controls everything?

Bruce E. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His latest book is Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green, 2011).

How Can We Rouse Police and Other Protectors of the Corporatocracy — "Guards" of the Status Quo — to Join the OWS Rebellion?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011
Police, teachers, the corporate press, mental health professionals — the guards of the system — are given small rewards to pacify and control the population.

“In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers. . . . They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls.”

    —Howard Zinn, from “The Coming Revolt of the Guards,” A People’s History of the United States,

For those of us who have demonstrated and marched in the Occupy movement, it is obvious that the police and the corporate press serve as guards—buffers between the vast majority of the American people and the ruling “corporatocracy” (the partnership of giant corporations, the wealthy elite, and their collaborating politicians). In addition to the police and the corporate press, there are millions of other guards employed by the corporatocracy to keep people obedient and maintain the status quo.

Even a partial revolt of the guards could increase the number of protesters on the streets from the thousands to the millions. When did Zinn predict the revolt would occur, and how can this revolt be accelerated?

The Other Guards

I am a clinical psychologist, and Zinn is correct that mental health professionals also serve as guards who are given small rewards to keep the system going. The corporatocracy demands that psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals assist people’s adjustment to the status quo, regardless of how dehumanizing the status quo has become. Prior to the 1980s, mental health professionals such as Erich Fromm (1900–1980) were concerned by this “adjustment to what?” problem. However, in recent years there has been decreasing awareness among mental health professionals about their guard role, even though today some of the best financial packages offered to us are from the growing U.S. prison system and U.S. military.

Most guards also perform duties besides “guard duty.” The police don’t just protect the elite from the 99 percent; they also provide people with roadside assistance. And mental health professionals also perform “non-guard duty” roles such as improving family relationships. Guards certainly can perform duties helpful for the non-elite, but the elite would be foolish to reward us guards if we didn’t serve to maintain their system.

Many teachers went into their profession because of their passion for education, but they soon discover that they are not being paid to educate young people for democracy, which would mean inspiring independent learning, critical thinking, and questioning authority. While teachers may help young children learn how to read, they are employed by the corporatocracy to socialize young people to fit into a system that was created by and for the corporatocracy. The corporatocracy needs its future employees to comply with their rules, to passively submit to authorities, and to perform meaningless activities for a paycheck. William Bennett, U.S. Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan, was clear about the role of schools, “The primordial task of the schools is transmission of the social and political values.”

If you are comfortably at the top of the hierarchy, you reward guards to make your system work. In addition to the police, the corporate press, mental health professionals, and teachers, there are clergy, bureaucrats, and many other guards in the system, all of whom are given small rewards to pacify and control the population. Some guards have rebelled from their pacification and control roles, most have not.

When Will the Revolt of the Guards Occur?

Howard Zinn predicted the revolt of the guards would occur when guards recognize that they are “expendable.”

Historically, the elite’s strategy is to pay what is necessary to fill guard jobs, and when the time is ripe, reduce the rewards of guards and ultimately eliminate the guards. Union teachers—similar to union prison guards who’ve been replaced by non-union guards in for-profit prisons—have discovered that they too are expendable. It is logical for the elite to first use teachers to pacify young people, then use corporate-collaborator politician guards to reduce the rewards of teachers, and finally replace teachers with various technologies (such as computer programmed instruction) that the elite can profit from.

While the corporatocracy once paid us mental health professionals fairly well to provide therapy to help people adjust to the status quo, we now receive relative chump change for therapy, and it’s clear that psychotherapists and counselors are expendable. Mental health professionals are increasingly pressured by insurance corporations to treat the “maladjusted” with drugs, which create wealth for drug corporations and reduces labor costs for health insurance corporations. Today, a psychiatrist can still make good money prescribing drugs, but in the future, the corporatocracy will likely reduce rewards to its drug dispensers. That future is here in the U.S. military, as troops in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan are, without prescriptions, given psychiatric drugs by military medics.

So, law enforcement officers, beware. Cameras and other surveillance technology are becoming increasingly inexpensive, and law enforcement labor costs will increasingly be replaced by inexpensive Orwellian surveillance.

How to Accelerate the Revolt of the Guards

For guards, it is not easy coming out of denial of our role and our fate. As Upton Sinclair observed, “It is difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

To accelerate the revolt of obedient guards, I recommend two strategies: (1) create unpleasant dissonance about their role as guards; in other words, put guards in some pain for their unquestioning obedience that maintains the system. (2) offer encouragement for even small acts of rebellion against their guard role; small acts of rebellion may well be major financial risks.

It is my experience that guards are far less defensive when they are “off-duty.” So, if you are at protest demonstration, don’t try to lecture police about their role as a guard for the system or stroke them for any act of humanity. When we guards we are on duty, we are extremely vigilant about being manipulated. Off-duty, we are more receptive.

If you have social contact with off-duty law enforcement officers, you might ask them “Wouldn’t it be more satisfying putting the handcuffs on some billionaire tax dodger than arresting some small-time pot user?” I’ve asked police officers if they’ve heard of Jonathan Swift’s quote, “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” On-duty police will respond with “no comment” or a blank stare, but some off-duty cops will smile and even agree. And should off-duty police ever tell you an anecdote in which they ignored a law designed to catch a small fly, give them encouragement.

For off-duty corporate journalists, you might talk to them about how much you admire journalists such as Bill Moyers, former press secretary of Lyndon Johnson, and Chris Hedges, former New York Times reporter, for their rebellion from the their guard role. Remind journalists of their expendability, as the corporate media is increasingly eliminating reporters for the sake of profitability. And if they give you anecdotes in which they created tension with their editor by challenging the system, be encouraging.

If you know any mental health professionals, ask them if they think insurance companies care at all about either patients or providers. They will likely laugh, and say that insurance companies care only about their profits, and most will agree that other giant corporations care only about their profits. You might ask them, “Just how unjust does a society have to become before helping people adjust to it with behavior modification and medication is immoral?” If they have validated their patients’ pain over an increasingly undemocratic and authoritarian society and helped them constructively rebel against a dehumanizing system, encourage these stirrings of rebellion.

Most teachers despise the tyranny created by “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” with its fear-based standardized test preparations and computerized learning programs. Ask teachers, “Is it possible that you, like manufacturing workers, are also expendable?” You might also ask them, “Have you ever told parents of a disruptive kid that it is possible to effectively teach their child without any medication if there were fewer children in the classroom, which would allow their child to receive the attention and structure necessary?” Certainly give teachers encouragement if they have put their job in jeopardy by explaining the purpose of schools in the corporatocracy to any of their anti-authoritarian and alienated students.

In order to rouse more guards to revolt, we should not let obedient guards “off the hook” for their refusal to question, challenge, and resist illegitimate authority. Do not say, “Hey, I understand, you are just doing your job.” Guards must be confronted with the reality of the misery that results from blind obedience. Guards must deal with the reality that history looks unkindly on those who “just followed orders.” And guards must be given confidence that there are revitalizing satisfactions and new community that will emerge for them when they join the revolt of the guards.

This article was first published on AlterNet, where you can read the original and comment.

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

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

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.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

getupstandup Bruce E. Levine is the author of Get Up, Stand Up

Phil Ochs, Tom Paine and American Redemption

Friday, March 4th, 2011

In the 1960s, singer/songwriter/revolutionary Phil Ochs was sometimes described as “Tom Paine with a guitar.” Without regard for political correctness, both Paine and Ochs confronted all illegitimate authorities and hypocrisy. America paid them both back by marginalizing them at the end of their lives and ignoring them for decades following their deaths. With Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, documentary filmmaker Kenneth Bowser has helped America take a step toward redeeming itself in terms of its treatment of Phil Ochs, hopefully in the same manner that America eventually redeemed itself with respect to its treatment of Tom Paine.

In their respective eras, Paine and Ochs were the guys churning out the sure-fired material that inspired the troops. No publication did more to spark the American Revolution than Paine’s Common Sense, and his American Crisis helped keep George Washington’s troops from quitting on him. During the 1960s, Ochs supplied major energy for the anti-war movement. Ochs’s performance of his “I Ain't Marching Anymore” during a protest concert outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention inspired hundreds of young men to burn their draft cards.

Bowser’s movie is true to the Phil Ochs whom I remember as a teenager. That Ochs had a special talent for giving truths power. He knew that liars such as Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson required mockery and laughter, and Och’s humor was far more energizing for teenagers such as myself than the tired harangues of his anti-war contemporaries. But Ochs did not stop with easy targets.

Read the full article on Counterpunch.

getupstandup Bruce E. Levine is the author of Get Up, Stand Up, releasing in late March 2011.

Confronting Bigots Intolerant of Alternative Mental Health Treatment

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

"Webster's Dictionary" defines bigot as "a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion." Despite the success of alternative mental health treatments for many people, there still exists bigotry against these approaches.

For many self-defined "ex-mental health patients," "mental health treatment consumers," and "psychiatric survivors" who attended Alternatives 2010 Conference (September 29 through October 3 in Anaheim, California), D.J. Jaffe's September 30, 2010 The Huffington Post piece, "People with Mental Illness Shunned by Alternatives 2010 Conference in Anaheim" was insulting. Mr. Jaffe writes of the Alternatives 2010 Conference:

By failing to include 'people with mental illness' in the list of 'consumers' and 'survivors' who are invited, they are sending a not-so-subtle message: mentally ill not welcome.

Mr. Jaffe's statement can most politely be described as disingenuous. Mr. Jaffe knows full well that the Alternatives Conferences are attended by many people who have been in fact diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses, but who have found that neither their diagnoses nor their standard treatments have been helpful. In other words, not only does the Alternative Conference welcome people who have been labeled as mentally ill, the conference celebrates them, and provides them an arena and a platform.

Why is there a need for alternatives to standard drug treatments? A long-term outcome study of schizophrenic patients who were treated with and without psychiatric drugs was published in 2007 in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, research psychologist Martin Harrow, at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, discovered that after 4.5 years, 39 percent of the non-medicated group were "in recovery" and 60 percent had jobs. In contrast, during that same time period, the condition of the medicated patients worsened, with only six percent in recovery and few holding jobs. At the fifteen-year follow-up, among the non-drug group, only 28 percent suffered from any psychotic symptoms; in contrast, among the medicated group, 64 were actively psychotic.

Mr. Jaffe states, "For the 'labeled' participants, there will be a workshop on how to go off medications. That could be a dangerous, if not deadly, 'alternative'." And Mr. Jaffee also implies that the keynote speaker is anti-medication. It is Mr. Jaffe who is dangerous here, dangerously misleading. Neither Will Hall who led a workshop called "Coming Off Medications" nor keynote speaker Robert Whitaker are "anti-medication." I know both of them, and they are proponents of people being able to make informed choices.

Whitaker, as a medical reporter for the Boston Globe, won a George Polk Award for medical writing, a National Association of Science Writers Award for best magazine article, and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. In the solutions section of Whitaker's recent book "Anatomy of an Epidemic" (Crown Publishers, 2010), he describes how doctors in northern Finland use antipsychotic drugs sparingly and in an extremely selective, cautious manner when treating first-episode psychotic patients; also, a variety of alternative therapies are provided, and treatment decisions are made jointly with patients and their families. The results? "The long-term outcomes are," Whitaker notes, "by far, the best in the Western World."

Mr. Jaffe is again misleading when he states that Alternatives 2010 did not include people like his sister-in-law, "who suffers from the most devastating and debilitating mental illness: schizophrenia." Mr. Jaffe, I assure you, that both you and your and sister-in-law are welcome to any and all Alternatives Conferences.

David Oaks is director of MindFreedom and an attendee of Alternatives 2010. Oaks, as a young man, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, for several decades now, with alternative solutions and without psychiatric drugs, Oaks has not relapsed, and he has been a highly effective advocate for the rights of those diagnosed with mental illness. Oaks, understandably, was more than annoyed with Mr. Jaffe's piece. Oaks responded:

For 25 years the United States federal government has done at least one thing really well in mental health: They've funded an annual gathering of mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors who lead innovative peer-run programs for mental health. You'd think a blog like The Huffington Post would be intrigued about how a marginalized population has been finding its own voice, creating its own groups providing effective peer-delivered services, and influencing Washington, D.C.

To David Oaks, I say, Mr. Jaffe doesn't speak for The Huffington Post or its many bloggers. Mr. Jaffe sure as heck doesn't speak for me.

Read the original article onThe Huffington Post.

Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy.

Teaching "Positive Thinking" to the Troops; How Psychologists Profit on Unending U.S. Wars

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

While U.S. military psychiatrists are prescribing increasing amounts of chill pills, America’s psychologists are teaching soldiers how to think more positively about their tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever else they are next ordered to kill the bad guys and win the hearts and minds of everyone else.

The U.S. Army is planning to require that all 1.1 million of its soldiers take intensive training in positive psychology and emotional resiliency. Army Research Psychologist Capt. Paul Lester, who leads the assessment of the program, told the National Psychologist (“Army to Train its Own in Positive Psychology,” July/August 2010), “As far as I can tell this is the largest, deliberate, psychological intervention in human history. . . . We don’t know when the global war on terrorism is going to end so we’re preparing to have to be engaged for a long period of time.”

Lester said the program would develop “communication skills, cognitive reforming skills and help soldiers not to catastrophize — don’t think of the worse case scenario about every potential problem.” The program also teaches soldiers to focus on “expressing appreciation” and “correcting negative views of ambiguous events.”

In August 2009, the New York Times reported that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army’s chief of staff, said the total cost of this program would be $117 million. The New York Times was alerted to the program by psychologist Martin Seligman, director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, who has been consulting with the Pentagon. Seligman’s particular program at Penn is costing the U.S. Army $25 to $30 million, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which in its profile of Seligman (May 30, 2010) noted that he “confidently walked the line between grand and grandiose”; and it quoted him asserting, “We’re after creating an indomitable Army.”

Seligman initially thought that training the entire Army would be nearly an impossible chore because of the enormous number of teachers required. However, Gen. Casey informed him that the Army had 40,000 teachers. “You do?” Seligman said. “Yes,” Casey retorted, they’re called drill sergeants.” Now 150 sergeants come to Penn each month to take a course in positive psychology.

At one training session given at a hotel near Penn, according to the New York Times, 48 sergeants in full fatigues sat at desks, took notes, and role played. In one exercise, Sgt. First Class James Cole of Fort Riley, Kansas and his classmate transformed Sgt. Cole’s negative thinking about an order late in the day to have Sgt. Cole’s exhausted men do one last difficult assignment.

“Why is he tasking us again for this job?” the classmate asked, pretending to be Sgt. Cole. “It’s not fair.”

Sergeant Cole gave the “correct” positive-thinking response, “Maybe he’s hitting us because he knows we’re more reliable.”

While positive psychology makes some sense for teenagers who are catastrophizing their first relationship breakup to the point of becoming suicidal, how much sense does it make to teach soldiers who are trying to stay alive in a war zone to put a positive spin on everything? Moreover, wouldn’t soldiers like their officers to consider worst-case scenarios before ordering them into combat? And wouldn’t soldiers like politicians to take seriously worst-case scenarios before embarking on a war? The healthy option to negative thinking is not positive thinking but critical thinking. Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bright-sided and astute critic of the dark side of positive thinking and positive psychology, points out:

It’s easy to see positive thinking as a uniquely American form of naïveté, but it is neither uniquely American nor endearingly naïve. In vastly different settings, positive thinking has been a tool of political repression worldwide. . . . In the Soviet Union, as in the Eastern European states and North Korea, the censors required upbeat art, books, and films, meaning upbeat heroes, plots about fulfilling production quotas, and endings promising a glorious revolutionary future. . . .The penalties for negative thinking were real. Not to be positive and optimistic was to be ‘defeatist’. . . . Accusing someone of spreading defeatism condemned him to several years in Stalinist camps.

While the U.S. military has only recently become excited about positive psychology techniques, it has, for the last decade, increasingly used psychiatric drugs to keep soldiers going. One in six service members is now taking at least one psychiatric drug, according to the Navy Times (“Medicating the Military,” March 17, 2010), with many soldiers taking “drug cocktail” combinations. Soldiers and military healthcare providers reportthat psychiatric drugs are “being prescribed, consumed, shared and traded in combat zones.” While soldiers’ increasing use of antidepressants is troubling enough (as the Food and Drug Administration now requires warnings on antidepressants about their increasing the risk of “suicidality” in children, teenagers, and young adults), what’s as or even more worrisome is the increase of other psychiatric drugs. In the last decade, antipsychotic drug use in the U.S. military has increased more than 200 percent, and anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills have increased 170 percent. These kinds of drugs impair motor skills, reduce reaction times, and generally make one more sluggish — or what soldiers call “stupid,” as the Navy Times notes.

While pushing drugs and teaching positive thinking earns mental health professionals money and brownie points with the elite, there is another path for mental health professionals working with U.S. soldiers. First, offer soldiers respect for their critical thinking, even if such critical thinking brings them to conclusions unwanted by their superiors. Second, if soldiers are anxious or angry because they believe that an ego-tripping commanding officer is going to get them killed, do NOT tell them to stop “catastrophizing”; instead take what they say seriously. And if soldiers are depressed because they have seen too much death, instead of directing them to “express appreciation,” try offering genuine compassion. But don’t stop with only compassion. Speak truth to power. Tell politicians who are maintaining America’s wars and planning still others: Don’t kid yourself into thinking positive psychology and chill pills are the answers, especially if soldiers and veterans discover that you deceived them about the necessity and the meaningfulness of their mission. Psychologists should loudly warn politicians, military brass, and the nation that if soldiers and veterans discover that they have been deceived about the meaningfulness and necessity of their mission, it is only human for them to become more prone to emotional turmoil, which can lead to destructive behaviors for themselves and others.

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and his latest book is Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007). His Web site is www.brucelevine.net

Are Psychiatric Drugs Contributing to Mental Illness Disability?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Investigative reporter Robert Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America (Crown Publishers, April 2010) is the most important book on psychiatric treatment in a generation. I have been in practice for over 25 years and have read hundreds of books about psychiatry, and I can say without question that Anatomy of an Epidemic is the most illuminating book on psychiatric treatment that I have ever read.

Whitaker is the author of four books (including Mad in America, about the mistreatment of the mentally ill), and as a reporter for the Boston Globe, he won a George Polk Award for medical writing, a National Association of Science Writers Award for best magazine article, and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. In the tradition of Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and other investigative reporters who get taken seriously, Whitaker is scrupulous, fair, and describes complex phenomena in a way that is easy to understand.

The starting point of Anatomy of an Epidemic is as follows: In 1987, prior to Prozac hitting the market and the current ubiquitous use of antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs, the U.S. mental illness disability rate was 1 in every 184 Americans, but by 2007 the mental illness disability rate had more than doubled to 1 in every 76 Americans. Whitaker was curious as to what was causing this dramatic increase in mental illness disability.

Since 1955, mental illness disability rates in the U.S. have increased six-fold. At the same time, psychiatric drug use greatly increased in the 1950s and 1960s, then skyrocketed after 1988 when Prozac hit the market, so now antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs alone gross more than $25 billion annually in the U.S. But Whitaker knew that "correlation isn't causation," and that this parallel rise of mental illness disability and psychiatric drug use doesn't necessarily prove anything. In order to get to the bottom of the issue, Whitaker realized he needed to look at two areas:

(1) Do psychiatric drugs, over the long-term, increase the likelihood that a person will be able to function well or do they increase the likelihood that a person will become disabled?

(2) Is it possible that a person with a mild emotional problem may have a bad reaction to an initial drug, and that puts the person on to a path that can lead to long-term mental illness disability? For instance, can a person with a mild bout of depression be given antidepressants that cause a manic reaction, which results in a bipolar diagnosis and chronic disability?

Whitaker took an exhaustive look at what the scientific literature — one that now extends over 50 years — had to say about those questions. In an interview with him, I asked him if he could summarize his findings:

The literature is remarkably consistent in the story it tells. Although psychiatric medications may be effective over the short term, they increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill over the long term. I was startled to see this picture emerge over and over again as I traced the long-term outcomes literature for schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and bipolar illness. In addition, the scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug– say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant — and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder. That is a well-documented iatrogenic [physician caused illness] pathway that is helping to fuel the increase in the disability numbers. Now there may be various cultural factors contributing to the increase in the number of disabled mentally ill in our society. But the outcomes literature — and this really is a tragic story — clearly shows that our drug-based paradigm of care is a primary cause.

Bipolar disorder in children was once rarely ever seen by psychiatrists, but today well over a million children and teenagers have ended up bipolar after being treated with a stimulant such as Ritalin or an antidepressant. Reading Anatomy of an Epidemic and seeing the magnitude of the mental and physical health problems caused by the pharmaceutical industry, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

All is not bleak in the area of mental health treatment, especially if one goes outside the United States. In our conversation, Whitaker, offered one of many examples from his book:

In the solution section of Anatomy of an Epidemic, I write of how doctors and psychologists in northern Finland use antipsychotics in a selective, cautious manner when treating first-episode psychotic patients, and their long-term outcomes are, by far, the best in the Western World. So if you believe in evidence-based medicine, then American psychiatry should look to the Finnish program as a model for reform.

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing).