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Get Up, Stand Up
Toward a Liberation Psychology
by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

The majority of Americans want a single payer, universal heath care system – everybody in, nobody out.

Yet, during the health care debate, there were no mass protests demanding it.

Why not?

Why didn’t we get up, stand up – and confront the health insurance industry and its lackeys in Washington?

Put aside all of the books on health care reform.

For that matter, put aside all of the books on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on clean energy, on corporate crime – on any issue you care about.

And buy a copy of Get Up, Stand Up – Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite by Bruce Levine (Chelsea Green, 2011).

In this remarkable book, Levine puts us on the collective couch and gives us a peek into the American political psyche.

Like I said, you’ll have to get a copy of this book and read it.

But to give you an idea, here are ten snapshots into the American political mind courtesy of Dr. Levine.

Fatalism. "When fatalism sets in, truths about economic injustices and lost liberties are no longer enough to set people free. While a charismatic politician can still garner a large turnout of voters who are angry with whichever party is in power, the majority of Americans appear resigned to the idea that they have no power over institutions that rule their lives."

Learned helplessness. "Learned helplessness is one commonsense explanation for depression and immobilization. When people have been conditioned to believe that no action they take will stop their suffering, they learn helplessness and powerlessness and sink into an immobilized state."

Abuse syndrome. "Are Americans locked into an abuse syndrome of sorts in which revelations about their victimization by a corporate-government partnership produce increased anesthetization rather than constructive action?. . .Abuse is, at bottom, about control. Some abusers may get a rush from inflicting pain, but all abusers are addicted to control. Abusers seek to gain complete control over their victims. When the abuse starts, the victim may have the strength to identify the abuse, confront it, and – if necessary, and if the option exists – end the relationship. If this does not happen and the abuse continues, a vicious weakening cycle – what’s commonly called the abuse syndrome – takes hold."

Social isolation. "One method of breaking individuals and populations is social isolation. When people are kept isolated from one another, they will not have their doubts about authority validated. They are less likely to consider that there are others such as themselves who could potentially band together, achieving greater strength and enough power to overthrow a tyranny."

Self-respect vs. self absorption. "Self-respect is quite different from self-absorption. Self absorption is an incessant focus on one’s own feelings, dissatisfactions, and image. This can ultimately diminish one’s self-respect. People lacking self-respect are often self-absorbed, insecure, and so ego-attached to their opinions that they are incapable of listening to others and having respectful discussions. Thus, self-absorption contributes to social isolation and prevents respectful relationships. . . With self-absorption, people actually lose self-respect and the capacity to work together. But self-absorption is exactly what a consumer culture demands. Self-absorption makes it more difficult to form friendships and other significant human relationships, and loneliness is good news for a consumer economy that thrives on increasing numbers of ‘buying units.’ More lonely people means selling more televisions and DVDs."

Comfortable/Afflicted Dichotomy. "I don’t presume to know what everybody in the afflicted class needs, but I can tell you what would have engaged me when I was a member. I certainly didn’t need lectures or other easy ego-tripping advice on what I should do. From the comfortable, I would have liked to hear some recognition that human beings often become passive not because they are ignorant, stupid, lazy or immature but because they are overwhelmed by their pain, and their primary goal is to shut down or divert themselves in order to function at all. So when I found myself watching too much stupid television to divert myself from the pain of my life, I knew that watching stupid television was destructive for me. People know that alcohol, drugs, gambling, and other shutdowns, escapes, and diversion are not healthy. But they also know that without these shutdowns and diversions, their pain can be so overwhelming that they feel suicidal, homicidal, or psychotic. Comfortable anti-authoritarians need to respect the reality of the effects of overwhelming pain. The assumption that people’s inactions are caused by ignorance sounds and smells elitist to many in the afflicted class who lack the energy to be engaged in any activism. Instead of lecturing to the afflicted, the comfortable might try respecting them and, if possible, sharing resources with them. Respect, resources, and anything that concretely reduces their level of pain is likely to be far more energizing than a scolding lecture."

Depressed reaction. "The desire to rebel against unjust, disrespected, and oppressive authority is valid, and the strategy of disruption is a legitimate one. However, the specific tactics of disruption may or may not be wise ones given the nature of the authority. When people lack self-respect or are depressed, they tend to either do nothing or flail without wisdom. Research shows that significantly depressed parents are more likely to create additional problems rather than solve them when parenting – such parents routinely underact or overreact to their children’s behaviors. Absent morale and healing, human beings tend to be reactive rather than proactive. They tend to be impulsive rather than strategic. Depressed people may be passive or they may be agitated. They may do nothing, or they may flail out and create blowback that makes matters worse."

"Similar to depressed individuals, when a group is demoralized and lacks individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, it can also tend to either do nothing or flail out without wisdom. Thus, there are interplays among self-respect, success, morale, confidence, and the wisdom to size up a situation and select the right strategy and tactics that gain the most power."

Bridging the Left/Libertarian Populist Divide. "One example of an anti-authoritarian movement that I am personally familiar with is the mental health treatment reform movement, which comprises people who identify themselves as ‘on the left,’ others who identify themselves as ‘libertarians,’ and still others who disdain any political labels. I can tell you from my nearly two decades of working with these reformers that they certainly have different political views, but they all share a distrust for Big Pharma, a contempt for pseudoscience, and a belief that people deserve truly informed choice with respect to treatment. Most of these reformers respect Erich Fromm, the leftist psychoanalyst, along with Thomas Szasz, the libertarian psychiatrist – both passionate anti-authoritarians who have confronted mental health professionals for using dogma to coerce and control people."

Individual self respect and collective self consciousness. "Historian Lawrence Goodwyn has studied democratic movements and written extensively about the Populist Movement in the Untied States that occurred during the 1870s through the 1890s, what he calls ‘the largest democratic mass movement in American history.’ Goodwyn concludes that democratic movements are initiated by people who are not resigned to the status quo or intimidated by established powers, and who have not allowed themselves to be ‘culturally organized to conform to established hierarchical forms.’ Goodwyn writes in The Populist Moment: ‘Democratic movements are initiated by people who have individually managed to attain a high level of personal political respect. . .In psychological terms, its appearance reflects the development within the movement of a new kind of collective self-confidence. Individual self-respect and collective self confidence constitute, then, the cultural building blocks of mass democratic politics.’"

"Similarly, the education reform movement includes anti-authoritarians across the ideological spectrum, from libertarian educators such as John Taylor Gatto to left educators such as Alfie Kohn. While there are political differences among them, they agree that most standard schools are oppressive environments that more often encourage obeying orders, apathy, and dependence on authorities rather than nurturing curiosity and critical thinking."

Liberation psychology. "In this war, human relationships are vitally important. It is in the interest of the elite to keep people divided and to keep them distrusting one another. It is in the interest of the people working toward democracy to build respectful and cooperative human relationships across all fields of society."

"When one understands that the battlefield for democracy begins with the battle to restore individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, one then sees the entire society and culture replete with battlefields in which such self-respect and collective confidence can be won or lost."

RUSSELL MOKHIBER edits Single Payer Action.