How Psychologists Meet the Needs of the “Power Structure”: A Talk at the Psychologists for Social Responsibility Conference


By the 1980s, as a clinical psychology graduate student, it had become apparent to me that the psychology profession was increasingly about meeting the needs of the “power structure” to maintain the status quo so as to gain social position, prestige, and other rewards for psychologists.

The Backward March of Psychologists

The academic psychology that I entered as a psychology major in the 1970s was by no means perfect. There was a dominating force of manipulative, control-freak behaviorists who appeared to get their rocks off conditioning people as if they were rats in a maze. However, there was also a significant force of people such as Erich Fromm who believed that an authoritarian and undemocratic society results in alienation, and that this was a source of emotional problems. Fromm was concerned about mental health professionals helping people to adjust to a society with no mind to how dehumanizing that society had become. Back then, Fromm was not a marginalized figure; his ideas were taken seriously as he had best sellers such as The Art of Loving, and he appeared on national television.

However, by the time that I received my Ph.D. in 1985—from an American Psychological Association approved clinical psychology program—people with ideas such as Fromm’s were at the far margins. By then, the focus was the competition as to what treatment could get patients back on the assembly line quickest. The competition winners that emerged, owing much more to public relations than science, were cognitive-behavioral therapy in psychology and biochemical psychiatry in psychiatry. By the mid-1980s, psychiatry was beginning to become annexed by pharmaceutical companies and forming what we now have, a “psychiatric-pharmaceutical industrial complex.” And increasingly marginalized was the idea that treatment that consisted of manipulating and medicating alienated people to adjust to this crazy rat race and thus maintain the status quo was a political act, a problematic one for people who cared about democracy.

My “Tactical Withdrawal” from Mainstream Psychology

After graduating, it seemed clear to me that academic clinical psychology and psychiatry departments, hospitals, and the mainstream clinical institutional worlds were going to depress, damage, and enrage me more than I was going to make a dent in reforming them, so I made a “tactical withdrawal” into private practice. Only several years later, in the late 1990s, did I begin to go public—writing articles and books, giving media interviews and talks about the problems in the mental health profession.

A major motivation for my going public was that I was embarrassed by the direction of my profession, and I wanted to separate myself from it. I remember thinking, half seriously, that when all these kids who were having a difficult time fitting into dehumanizing environments and who were getting increasingly drugged—first with psychostimulants and then with antidepressants and antipsychotics—grew up and figured out what had happened to them, they would get pretty enraged; and if ever there was a revolution and it resembled the French Revolution, then instead of kings, queens, and priests’ heads being placed in guillotines, it would be shrinks’ heads; and I thought that if I spoke out, maybe I might get spared.

Over the years, I discovered a handful of other psychologists and even a few courageous psychiatrists who were also speaking out against mainstream psychology and psychiatry, and most of them have paid a severe professional price of marginalization. I also came across psychologist authors who were not routinely discussed by mainstream mental health professionals but whom I respected. One such psychologist author/activist was Ignacio Martin-Baró.

Martin-Baró was a social psychologist and priest in El Salvador who popularized the term “liberation psychology” and who was ultimately assassinated by a U.S. trained Salvadoran death squad in 1989. Most U.S. psychologists are unaware of him, though he is known to many of you here at this Psychologists for Social Responsibility conference.

One observation by Martin-Baró about U.S. psychology was that “in order to get social position and rank, it negotiated how it would contribute to the needs of the established power structure.” We can see that in many ways. I want to start with the most visible evidence of this at the tip of the iceberg, but I also want to talk about the more submerged part of this iceberg that may even be more troubling for democracy and democratic movements.

Meeting the Needs of the Power Structure: The Tip of the Iceberg

On the obvious level, we can see psychologists meeting the needs of the power structure for social position and rank in the recent policies of the American Psychological Association (APA). For several years, the APA not only condoned but actually applauded psychologists’ assistance in interrogation/torture in Guantánamo and elsewhere. When it was discovered that psychologists were working with the U.S. military and the CIA to develop brutal interrogation methods, the APA assembled a task force in 2005 to examine the issue and concluded that psychologists were playing a “valuable and ethical role” in assisting the military. And in 2007, an APA Council of Representatives retained this policy by voting overwhelmingly to reject a measure that would have banned APA members from participating in abusive interrogation of detainees. It took until 2008 for APA members to vote for prohibiting consultations in interrogations.

Also at the tip of this iceberg of how psychologists have met the needs of the power structure are the efforts of perhaps the most famous academic psychologist in the U.S., who is also a former president of the APA, a man who once did some worthwhile work with learned helplessness. Of course, I’m talking about Martin Seligman, who more recently has consulted with the U.S. army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program—this for not only social position and rank but for several million dollars for his University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which quoted Seligman saying, “We’re after creating an indomitable military.”

To give you an example of how positive psychology is used in this Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, in one role play, a sergeant is asked to take his exhausted men on one more difficult mission, and the sergeant is initially angry saying that “It’s not fair”; but in the role play, he’s “rehabilitated” to reframe the order as a compliment, concluding, “Maybe he’s hitting us because he knows we’re more reliable.”

This kind of “positive reframing” and the use of psychology and psychiatry to manipulate and medicate people— one in six U.S. armed service members are taking at least one psychiatric drug, many in combat zones —so as to adjust to dehumanizing environments has concerned many critical thinkers for quite some time, from Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, to Erich Fromm in The Sane Society, to more recently, Barbara Ehrenreich in Bright-Sided.

The Submerged Iceberg: How Psychologists Subvert Democratic Movements

I want to turn now to the more submerged, less visible but more ubiquitous ways that psychologists are meeting the needs of the power structure and subverting democracy and democratic movements.

One major area that concerns me is the everyday pathologizing and diseasing of anti-authoritarians. This is quite scary because anti-authoritarians are absolutely vital for democracy and democratic movements. I want to talk about how this is being done, but first let me define authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism

Authoritarianism is unquestioning obedience to authority. Authoritarians in control demand unquestioning obedience, and authoritarian subordinates give them that unquestioning obedience. In contrast, anti-authoritarians question the legitimacy of an authority before taking it seriously. Does the authority know what it’s talking about or not? Does it tell the truth or lie? Does it care about the people who are taking it seriously or is it exploitative? And if anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they then challenge and resist it.

So, of course anti-authoritarians are essential for democracy and democratic movements. And by pathologizing and “treating” anti-authoritarians, psychologists and other mental health professionals are taking them off “democracy battlefields.”

I began to think about this problem of psychologists pathologizing anti-authoritarians when I was in graduate school in the early 1980s. Prior to that, in 1970s—when mental health professionals were moving forward instead of backward—psychiatry, in response to the pressure of gay activists, had removed homosexuality as a mental illness from their diagnostic bible, the DSM. But 1980 was a sad year—Erich Fromm died, Ronald Reagan became president, and the DSM III was published in 1980, my second year of graduate school.

The DSM III was a huge expansion of psychiatric disorders, with many more child and adolescent diagnoses, and I immediately noticed that the DSM III was pathologizing stubbornness, rebellion, and anti-authoritarianism. Some of these new diagnoses subtly pathologized rebellion, but one diagnosis was in-your-face obvious pathologizing of rebellion—“oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD).

For those of you who are not clinicians, ODD kids are not doing anything illegal. ODD kids are not the kids who once were labeled “juvenile delinquents”—that’s “conduct disorder.” No, the official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”

When I discovered ODD, I told some of my professors that I was already a little embarrassed by the profession but now I’m really embarrassed—didn’t psychologists realize that just about every great American activist from Saul Alinsky to Harriet Tubman, to many great artists and scientists, to scientist-activists such as Albert Einstein would have been diagnosed with ODD? In response, they diagnosed me as having “issues with authority.” I definitely do have issues with authorities who don’t know what the hell they are talking about—this another reason that I withdraw from the mainstream mental health professional world.

Anti-Authoritarians Kept Off Democracy Battlefields

So, I went into private practice, and I have received many referrals for these teenagers diagnosed with ODD from colleagues who are uncomfortable with these kids. As I worked with these kids, I found that not only did I like most of them but I also respected the vast majority of them, as they have real courage. They don’t comply with authorities whom they consider to be illegitimate, and most of the time, I concur with their assessment. If they do respect an authority, they aren’t obnoxious, and usually they clamor for adults whom they can respect and who genuinely respect them. Not only are these kids not mentally ill, many of them are what I consider to be the hope of the nation.

Over the years, I have worked not only with ODD teens but also with adults diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse, and with psychiatric survivors who have been previously diagnosed with various psychoses. What’s impossible for me to ignore is how many of these individuals diagnosed with mental disorders are essentially anti-authoritarians. It began to be increasingly clear to me that 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 solely a result of their mental illnesses and not, in part, a result of their pain over being in dehumanizing environments.

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for AlterNet called Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein?” about why anti-authoritarians are diagnosed with mental illness, and it was picked up by several other Internet zines. I received a huge response, including many emails from people who have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder who positively resonated with this particular sentence: “Often a major pain of their lives that fuels their anxiety and/or depression is fear that their contempt for illegitimate authorities will cause them to be financially and socially marginalized, but they fear that compliance with such illegitimate authorities will cause them existential death.”

So, over the years, I have become increasingly confident that there is huge group, a potential army of anti-authoritarian activists who are being pacified by the mental health profession and taken off democracy battlefields. And this, I think, is one important reason why the number of Americans actively involved in democratic movements is so low.

Of course this is not the only reason for political passivity in the United States, as there are many spokes on the U.S. political passivity wheel. The decimation of labor unions disempowering working people, as 35% of working people in the 1950s were in unions, compared to 12% today and only 7% among non-public employees. Increased workplace surveillance to go along with government surveillance which pacifies people. Social isolation—25% of Americans don’t have a single confidante in their lives—preventing even the possibility of solidarity. Staggering student-loan debt, which breaks young people’s spirit of resistance. Extremist consumerism that weaken us. And so forth. But the pacifying spoke in the wheel that I feel the greatest obligation to talk about most loudly is how our mental health profession is taking anti-authoritarians off democracy battlefields.

Psychologists’ Unavoidable Political Choice

If you look at the history of top-down hierarchical civilization, the reality is that there have always been power structures. There has been the ruling power structure of the combination of the monarchy and the church. And today in the U.S. and many other nations, the ruling power structure is the corporatocracy—giant corporations, the wealthy elite, and their politician collaborators.

All power structures throughout history have sought to use groups of people, especially among so-called professionals, who will control the population from rebelling against injustices. Power structures have used clergy—that’s why clergy who cared about social justice and who were embarrassed by their profession created “liberation theology.” Power structures have certainly used police and armies, as has been done throughout American history to try to break the U.S. labor movement. And the U.S. power structure now uses mental health professionals to manipulate and medicate people to adapt and adjust and thereby maintain the status quo, regardless of how insane the status quo has become.

So, mental health professionals have a choice. They can meet the needs of the power structure by only focusing on adjusting and adapting to what I think is an increasingly insane U.S. society. By insane I mean multiple senseless wars that Americans don’t even know why we are fighting. By insane I mean prisons-for-profit corporations such as Correction Corporation of America buying prisons from states and demanding in return a 90% occupancy guarantee—this actually occurred recently in my state of Ohio. And so on.

Or mental health professionals can act very differently. Clinicians can recognize that many among their clientele diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse are not essentially biochemicaly ill but are essentially anti-authoritarians. Not all of them are anti-authoritarians but many of them are. And that self-destructive behaviors are fueled by a variety of pains, one such pain is the direct and indirect impact of illegitimate authorities at all kinds of levels in people’s lives. And pained anti-authoritarians can be exposed to the idea that throughout history many people, famous and not-so-famous, from Buddha to Malcolm X, have transformed their pain and their self-destructive behaviors to constructive behaviors through art, spirituality, and also activism.

And once anti-authoritarians have their pain and their anti-authoritarianism validated and feel more whole, they are likely to become less on the defensive and more secure. That’s when the real fun begins, as we can move to the next level—we can learn to get along with one another. When anti-authoritarians regain the energy to do battle with the corporatocracy and learn to get along with one another, watch out—we might actually achieve something closer to democracy in the United States.

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. His Web site is This article is also being simultaneously published in the October Z Magazine.



Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Interesting proposition. I agree with many of your main points: the unwarranted pathologization of legitimate behavior, the need for society to improve the ways in which each of us can negotiate social influence with more fairness, and the obvious fact that power structures have a tremendous influence on distress.

    All that being said and agreed, I also think there is a possibility of occasionally overreaching by focusing too much on the political context, and external powers, for factors where it is secondary. I don’t think that corporate power can be the scapegoat for every individual or family ill; for instance you mention social isolation: isolation is more likely to be solved by education and emphasis about social skills, valuing other people (including temporary opponents), and how to reconcile tolerance, respect and assertiveness.

    While being a psychologist helps bring credibility to the critique of the psychology field, there would be an irony from choosing to be or stay a psychologist (rather than a teacher, politician or journalist), and wanting to explain distress only at the level of the big societal power struggles, while never mentioning the existence of self-destructive states or dysfunction at the individual or familial level (that are not caused or maintained by the influence of a larger power structure).

    It might also be appropriate to warn that sometimes abusive local or familial power can be maintained under the cover of an anti-authoritarian stance (by somebody undermining any other authority except his own).

    There is two questions I have:
    – when looking at the evolution and direction of power structures, do you see any significant period since the start of history having lived in a society that is less repressive (economically or otherwise), more open to anti-authoritarian stance, having more freedom of expression than America today?
    – When you put 100 anti-authoritarian people in a room, do you end up with the most cooperative crowd you can imagine, or with typical power struggles?

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    • I am 64 years old. As the years have gone by from my childhood to now I’ve observed some interesting developments, all of which Bruce mentions. It frightens me how America is essentially in the hands of the large corporations. The Supreme Court made that ludicrous ruling that corporations are people. I also remember how large numbers of young, African American men began showing up in the mental hospitals in the 1970’s after the riots in the inner cities. If you were an angry young African American man you ran the risk of being labeled as mentally ill, and of being locked up for “treatment.” African American children from the inner cities were and are the target of massive drugging campaignes done in the name of catching bi-polar and other quack diagnoses before they get out of hand. Give me a break! This is the same kind of tactics that the Soviets and the Red Chinese used on their dissidents; if you spoke out against their repressive regimes you found yourself drugged to the gills in a mental hospital. Have you not watched the polarization in Congress that’s happened over the past two years? It’s so bad that our country faces terrible economic possibilities due to certain groups trying to control everything that happens in government.

      I find your quesitons Problematic at this point.

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      • Stephen, I agree with Bruce (and with you too) much more that my comment wording might show, or that you might speculate.

        If I am allowed a little humor, I would say that on a text that praises the anti-authoritarians, toeing the line of the author without questioning would have been a self-contradictory attitude.

        But humor aside, my questions were meant to be serious. FWIW I am not happy with the current oppressive state of society, but asking whether in the big picture we are currently regressing or progressing, and whether there are better role-models (in past history or other areas of the world) for inspiration is a pretty mild question.

        The ability and will to cooperate has an influence on power structures. The corporate world knows when to work together on their power, while competing for customers. Asking ourselves whether there might be some internal factors contributing to the fragmentation of the opposition is uncomfortable, but IMHO a useful question.

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        • Hi Stanley,

          I read through this whole thread before coming back to this comment you wrote above:

          >Asking ourselves whether there might be some internal factors contributing to the fragmentation of the opposition is uncomfortable, but IMHO a useful question.>

          I think that David Bates is addressing these ‘internal factors’ in his comment below ( after Anonymous). David continues to express many uncomfortable truths about our inner, individual fragmentation.

          I appreciate that you have challenged the status quo and employed humor as you performed the role of anti-authoritarian, questioning the line of reasoning of the author. What I find most interesting about your questions and your support of them, is that you address the only real power source any of us has, ourselves. It is all too obvious that there is a lacking in the ability to cooperate amongst those who have the most righteous causes to champion. Or perhaps, it is just more difficult for a lone wolf to join a pack?

          FWIW I have to say that there is a clear advantage present amongst our prevailing power structures. They seem to reach consensus in record time and stand together without hesitation ! The APA is a great example of this ‘will to cooperate’ phenomenon. Whatever lies at the core of their secret for success has to be a human ability that we all share in the potential for exhibiting.

          Thanks for the gentle nudge to the next level.

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    • “the unwarranted pathologization of legitimate behavior”

      No behavior warrants pathologization, apart from maybe late-stage rabies or brain tumors or something such, dementia, and even then, no vigorously complex behavior emerges (as is pathologized with “psychosis” in the young for example), no, a fading brain (objectively proven diseased and decimated on autopsy) is best looked at as confused desperate last attempts to defend oneself from a nurse the person doesn’t recognize in the late stage rabies “patient” for example. It’s still better to look at that as the last fading candle of consciousness of a real human being deserving of dignity, who is losing their faculties. These real brain disease have a predictable course, are objectively demonstrable, and are not the complex, meaningful experience of thoughts led astray by trauma and so on, that the subject matter of this site deal with.

      “Behavior”, as something seen as “legitimate”, “warranted”, or “unwarranted” is a political and moral judgment dressed up as “medical” throughout society, and the fact that millions believe in doing this, is a giant problem.

      “when looking at the evolution and direction of power structures, do you see any significant period since the start of history having lived in a society that is less repressive (economically or otherwise), more open to anti-authoritarian stance, having more freedom of expression than America today?”

      Of course there have been and are more authoritarian and repressive times and places than present-day America/western world.

      The modern day omnipresent strong nation state, where your foibles and bad habits are seen as something to be regulated by government (New York soda cup size law, smoking, liquor, drug regulation, building codes, on and on and on and on and on), are much different from the Jeremiah Johnson pioneer era of opening the west up and laying down a log cabin.

      America is the most pure experiment in liberty in the history of man, and probably, there was more liberty in the past, if you were white, etc, than anybody experiences today. But that is what mass society and massive populations brings, overregulation.

      I didn’t say ‘overpopulation’, who’s to judge? what the best population is, I said mass population.

      “- When you put 100 anti-authoritarian people in a room, do you end up with the most cooperative crowd you can imagine, or with typical power struggles?”

      I don’t think this is the right question to ask. What happens when you put 100 million prudes in a nation with 300 million? What happens when you put 100 million death penalty advocates in a nation of 100 million?

      Democracy is nothing but the 51 percent dominating and having their will by enforceable violent force over the other 49 percent.

      It’s the best system we’ve devised, but I don’t believe in pretending for a moment it is pretty and beautiful.

      It’s an ugly game of year by year brinkmanship over whatever the majority and minority believes and holds to true about how to run the place.

      Whoever is in power for four years, or whatever years, maxes out their power and prestige, spends their political capital, and goes and retires and plays golf. It’s like a rental car you drive like you don’t own and don’t care about the engine.

      If you’re only borrowing it for four years, why think about down the line?

      Same with the way we treat the planet, and the way we treat each other, all too often.

      If some young person, a stranger to you, and you work as a psychiatrist, nurse, etc in a state hospital, becomes owned by you for a while, why get to the bottom of her distress? when the law says you can rape her brain with tranquilizer drugs and numb her out and shut her up if she’s talking about Jesus too much or think’s she the reincarnation of a religious figure. They don’t care.

      Don’t pretend for a moment that people paid to care, care.

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      • And I would add, that the Republic, was supposed to be contain protections from the tyranny of the majority, but year on year it descends into nothing but a “democracy”, as I described above.

        There are some rights that are supposed to be inviolable. When the Supreme Court of the United States is fine with any given distressed person being forcibly drugged with life shortening tranquilizer drugs/ toxic brain poisons, on the whim of any quack who threw their chance away to become a real doctor and specialized in psychiatry, then you’re in trouble.

        Just as when the Supreme court says government created corporations, are “people”, etc. (It is corporations law that created giant business).

        Just as when the Supreme Court is fine with the mayor of New York dictating soda cup sizes in fast food restaurants.

        And on and on and on.

        Certain rights are supposed to be inviolable.

        If you live in a society that lets you hang-glide, mountaineer, drink, smoke, eat burgers, but considers a teen cutting their arms “a medical emergency”, you live in a sick, twisted, metastasized, ugly mish mash of tyranny, instead of the decent, firm hard Republic the founders intended.

        Millions of innocent young newborn baby boys have 40% of their penile tissue amputated, and its called “circumcision”, but “female genital mutilation” is condemned.

        There OUGHT to be inviolable human rights, and we OUGHT to be able to stay calm and move on with life when some people use their freedom to destroy themselves, instead of taking away everyone’s freedom, in a ham-fisted attempt to create “somebody’s” version of a perfectly regulated world.

        Liberty is more important than anyone’s version of perfection being foisted on the majority.

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      • Anonymous… all due respect for every aspect of your individual rights and freedoms….

        I wonder what is behind your lack of caring for those you defame, insult and judge with your broad sweeping generalizations?

        A wise person does not attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by ignorance. What you fail to realize is the extent to which the basis for ‘psychiatry’ is believed. It is no easy task to correct erroneous beliefs. Maligning everyone who holds erroneous beliefs is a sure bet that you won’t make a lick of progress !

        You are doing your share of ‘treating people badly’, labeling, condemning and proclaiming, “They don’t care.” When, in fact, the truth is, there is so much you just don’t know!

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  2. Stanley… about your 2 questions, are you serious?

    American society less repressive?…more open to anti-authoritarian stance? THIS current, right NOW, American society???

    Oh yeah, we are free to speak up, challenge authority– if we want to get another job! Just the first example that comes to mind. I think maybe you are jumping up and down about how we aren’t being executed or even beaten and humiliated in public.Is that what makes us a more open society than any other at any time in history? Oh boy, lucky Americans. WE aren’t going to be locked up or punished without due process.Right?


    Groups of activists need only hash out purpose, goals that unify and solidify. The result is pooling resources; making the most of diversity; appreciation for each other.

    Step one: Unity of purpose. That’s what the dialogue is about…

    Stick around, you’ll see how on the mark Bruce really is.

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  3. “All power structures throughout history have sought to use groups of people, especially among so-called professionals, who will control the population from rebelling against injustices. Power structures have used clergy—that’s why clergy who cared about social justice and who were embarrassed by their profession created “liberation theology.” Power structures have certainly used police and armies, as has been done throughout American history to try to break the U.S. labor movement. And the U.S. power structure now uses mental health professionals to manipulate and medicate people to adapt and adjust and thereby maintain the status quo, regardless of how insane the status quo has become.”

    For me the fundamental question posed here is a perception of power in a “top down,” structure, as a mirror reflection of the mind’s sense of top-down perception in all our motivations? In a typical cause and effect analysis, the top-down nature of power seems so blindingly obvious to our individual ego? Yet is there a hidden bottom-up, and wholly unconscious need involved in the nature of human dependency? Is anti-authoritarianism really a struggle against one’s own dependent nature, and part of the emotional glue which binds our familial and by extension, our societal status-qua?

    How much is our own need of personal power, projected in a rationalized denial onto form and structure, in the world “out there?” An example of one our most common slight-of-hand rationalizations is, “ If *you* look at the history of top-down hierarchical civilization, the reality is that there have always been power structures,” when in reality we can only say “when *I* look at the history.” On the level of intellectual posturing, is there a need of group inclusion in the word “you,” which politely distances oneself from the more visceral need of personal power, contained in the use of “I.” Is this one the simple ways we “deflect” from the reality of our own nature, to pretend that all the ills of the world, belong to “them,” and “their” need of power?

    In a three decade long struggle to free myself from the cyclic nature of my trauma conditioned manic-depression (apologies to those who hate the sight of the language of the label, yet Buddhism has taught me to give up hiding from myself within a forest of thought/word/symbols, commonly labeled “my mind”), it has not been the willful ignorance of an external system of power that I needed to finally confront, but ignorance of the internal systems which power my own nature.

    Like the self-pacifying nature of a dependent self-preservation need, in an experience learned pattern of habitually repressing/suppressing and constricting my own natural powers, the paradox of the human condition in our need of autonomy, in the midst of group dependence? A paradox which mostly sees us becoming who/what we “should be” rather than unfolding the deeper and truer nature of the being we are?

    My history of manic-depression is also understood as an affective-disorder, and coming to understand the inner nature of the term “affect,” which can only be felt, not thought, has allowed me to finally re-connect my body with my mind, let go the trauma trap, and come to know a deeper, holistic impulse of an innately passive/active social nature in all my motivated actions. Learning to sense my bottom-up self-preservation needs, right along-side my top-down attempts to impose order on my life and emotional relationships, has brought many questions about my previous rationalizations and all-to-quick intellectual assumptions about the nature of what I think I see in the world out there. “Know Thyself!” Advises the famous Oracle, and I suspect its the current era of “I think therefore I am,” which distances the individual from the nature of the a “self,” rather than “compliance with such illegitimate authorities will cause them existential death.”

    Does the mysterious nature of “affect” lie at the root of human motivations, both normal and abnormal? Consider; “Affects as Passions and Actions:

    The notion that affects are invaders that work against our true nature is expressed in the early modern understanding of “passion” as a pacifying force opposed to action, meaning the activity of the soul. (true-self) Up to and including the seventeenth century, to be the “object” of affects is to be passive in relation to them. Such passive states are contrasted with those in which one is active. Thus, when Spinoza talks of an adequate cause, he means a cause that accounts for actions that take place within us or that follows from our nature. On the other hand, “we are passive when something takes place within us or follows from our nature, of which we are only the partial cause.” Passions may work against actions and actualization.

    Passions and passionate judgments are passive as a result of being “affected by the world around us.” We are not acting to actualize our distinctness, but reacting, and in this sense losing the initiative relative to the things that affect us. Yet it is the peculiar nature of such pacifying affects, that they also “affirm” the ego and individual judgments. The distinctness of our individual judgments depends then on the extent to which we are pacified by various affects, and how far this passification or resistance to it, marks one person as different from another. It also depends on the soul or anima that resists those passions.

    Aquinas tells us, “evil cannot be known simply as evil, for its core is hollow, and can neither be recognized nor defined, save by the surrounding good,” which fits in with Lacan’s psychoanalytic definition of the ego as nothing but “lack.” The notion that pacifying passions work against the soul or form they affect, is also a statement that the essence of the self is something other, something distinct from the affecting passions. “It is this distinctness which comes to be lost.” While passion as passivity and action are retained as key categories, they are recast in a mechanistic worldview which “explains nothing,” Descartes action, rather, is the transfer of motion from oneself to another, and passion is being acted upon.

    With this mechanistic turn, it seems that bodies have a “power to resist change,” as well as the power to impart motion. For Descartes, the soul is not the form that is the body’s affective power, it is the capacity to think. While the soul exists, “it is always thinking,” yet as it thinks it loses more of the physicality it once had. The eighteenth century marks a shift, instead of being reactions to invasions from something external to the self, passions become the very activities of the mind, its own motions.

    The term “feeling” which used to be allied with sensation, has become a victim of our lack of precision in “affective” language. No distinction parallels Aristotle’s between our emotions and sensations. Passions or “affects” now claim to be a class of feeling, rather than something discerned by feeling. They seem to be part of one’s self-contained energetic motivation, and the original understanding of passions or affects as pacifying is lost. (thinking has lost touch with being affected, from both within and without)

    Affect and Ego:
    Lacan dates the era of the ego from the late seventeenth century, while Foucault assigns an intensification of knowledge as the will to power, to the same period. Both are aware how the passion to control the other, causes a person to seek knowledge as a means to control, and that the exercise of such knowledge is aligned with discipline from without, or “objectification.” Taken to its objectifying extreme, this process leads to our present madness, which is the destruction of future life, even our own, for the sake of immediate gratification.

    Yet, to understand this, we need to see how the “negative affects,” cohere as an egoistic constellation, and why judging (diagnosing) or “projecting” affects onto others and the self is fundamental to why that egoistic constellation solidifies in the Western centuries progress. Unconscious affects bear on the ego by repressions and fixations as forms of judgment. Judgments based on images, memories, and fantasies about avoiding pain and increasing pleasure. (p, 106.)

    For Lacan, the interlocking of self and other, is an imaginary space, which is imaginary in that fantasies (assumptions) interlock within it. Yet by the power bodily affects, these interlocking fantasies are also physical, just as the force of the imagination is physical. In this respect, they can be something the self does to the self, energetically speaking, or something directed towards the self by another’s goal-seeking aggressive projections. (p, 109.)

    For the ego, comparison is effected by and mediated through images of others and fantasies concerning them. The history of an imaginary slight–in envy or wounded narcissism–can be built into a fantasy or psychical memory, and that history can be conjured in an instant together with its affective associations. This is why we can speak of these “affective” states as passionate judgments. The passionate judgment is what gives the other or the self a negative image, embodying the objectification of narcissism or the contempt of envy. These judgments are at odds with the soul, or actualization drive. (p, 110.)”

    Excerpts from “The Transmission of Affect” by Teresa Brennan, PhD.

    My apologies to Bruce and to readers for such a long comment, it does come from a firm and passionate belief that until we face up to the true and deeper nature of the human condition, the status-qua and the intellects assumptive perceptions of power, will indeed continue to become increasingly insane. Although, paradoxically, perhaps its meant to, like encouraging the DSM-5 to morph into a full-blown delusion of increasing categorization, would paradoxically hasten the collapse of the mental illness myth?

    Know Thy Affects – Know Thyself?

    Best wishes,

    David Bates.

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    • “until we face up to the true and deeper nature of the human condition, the status-qua and the intellects assumptive perceptions of power, will indeed continue to become increasingly insane. Although, paradoxically, perhaps its meant to, like encouraging the DSM-5 to morph into a full-blown delusion of increasing categorization, would paradoxically hasten the collapse of the mental illness myth?”

      From a religious / spiritual perspective, it has been said that we are going through a period of “cleansing”, “purging” and “purification”. Considering that, I’d say that all what ails Humanity will culminate in a critical peak (such as WW3, and I do believe we have already been in WW3 for many years now). Of course, purging and cleansing are very ugly, filthy and agonizing processes.

      I see the global community of Humanity as going through a true Judgment and Balancing phase and I see the year 2020 as a “sign”, indicating “perfect vision”, clarity and understanding (no more chaos).

      Or maybe I just like being faithfully hopeful.


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  4. Hi

    I’m not so convinced that a majority of those labelled as Depressed or Anxious are necessarily anti-authoritarian.

    However, I certainly agree that both Psychiatry and Psychology (in particular the inpatient kind) is utterly unable to deal with patients who are anti-authoritarian. In my experience, they seem to really struggle when dealing with a patient that doesn’t accept everything they say on face value. This was perfectly demonstrated by Rosenhan, where he concluded that the only way to “get out” was to pretend to agree with them.

    People who do question things are just written off as having “poor insight”. All I can say is that I am so glad that I had not read MIA/Anatomy or the Emperor’s New Drugs before I was hospitalised last year – as then I could (and likely would) have seriously gone to town in disagreeing with them.


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    • That I can agree with totally. The hardest thing I have had to do is to try to explain to people on forced treatment orders that the only way they will get off is by being complaint, thanking them for what they are doing, etc, etc, as they consider that having insight and being complaint and once you have those things the forced order can go and then you can choose what you want to do. Unfortunately getting off the orders, the only thing to do is to appear to be complaint. As someone has very wisely stated, one has to be non complaint in thought, long before they can be non complaint in actions.

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  5. By far the vast majority of this article, I agree with. However:

    “And today in the U.S. and many other nations, the ruling power structure is the corporatocracy—giant corporations, the wealthy elite, and their politician collaborators.”

    Hundreds of millions, billions, of the poorest people in the world, vote for governments with policies to keep psychiatry pushing people around, vote for policies to keep the death penalty, vote for policies to keep prohibition on drugs. Are they just dupes of the “power structure elites”, or, rather, is the combined power of their franchise the reason someone’s going to get the needle in Texas today?

    The things that happen in the world aren’t entirely controlled by billionaires, lobbyist, and people who ride around in limousines.

    I don’t see how leftists can on the one hand claim to be for the common man, while at the same time excusing the common man of his support of horrible policies, without infantilizing the common man, and acting as if his support of horrible policies are something implanted in him by the elite.

    “Or mental health professionals can act very differently. Clinicians can recognize that many among their clientele diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse are not essentially biochemicaly ill but are essentially anti-authoritarians.”

    Let’s see… the author lists people with the “depression” label, the “anxiety disorder” label, and the “substance abuse” label… as being “not essentially biochemicaly ill”…

    What do you think I’m going to say here?

    Mr. Levine I’ve had some more serious than that slapped on me. Do you believe I’m “biochemically ill”?

    If so I’d like to see the test results, as would many people.

    *Oh hang on a moment, this was a speech tailored for people who would think it was too radical for a person labeled “schizophrenic” to ask for objective evidence their body is diseased. And not a piece written specifically for Mad in America. There is a power structure in even the room this speech was given in evidently.

    He’s right about everything he says about prestige.

    Never underestimate the prestige-seeking that led to your destruction.

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  6. I still think we miss the biggest problem: not all people are depressed/anxious, etc, for the same reason. I agree that lots of people (including me) experience anxiety and depression as a result of untenable conflicts between unreasonable or unethical social expectations and the dictates of their own consciences or personal integrity. But there are plenty of authoritarian folks who are depressed (usually for some good reason, like being abused or neglected or bullied, etc.) who simply accept the doctor’s recommendation of “medication” based on “chemical imbalance” as entirely plausible based on the assumption that the doctor knows more about these things than they do.

    I agree that “antiauthoritarians” are more likely to be diagnosed, and more likely to be diagnosed with more severe “illnesses”, and are probably more likely to be coereced into treatment, because they don’t “go along with the program.” And I totally agree that the profession of “psychologist” has completely sold out to the current power elite, to the point that psychologists in many states are now demanding prescribing rights (Yikes!)

    But plenty of authoritarian-oriented people are victimized as well, and the results are still disastrous. I have frequently met such people at survivor meetings, and their whole worlds have often been shattered by being forced to come to the realization that the “authorities” lied to them and did not have their best interests at heart. And some of the most vehement opponents of change in the psychiatric world are authoritarian-oriented people who are religiously committed to the idea that “these drugs saved my life.”

    It’s a complicated world, but I think the first mistake is to try and classify people who are behaving, thinking, or feeling a certain way as all being the same. Even calling some people “authoritarian” and “antiauthoritarian” risks us going down the same path. I think the more salient point is that allowing the current power elite to define the status quo as “normal” and to label anyone not satisfied with that “normal” as “diseased” is the core of what needs to change. And we’ll need all the people we can, no matter where they fit on the “authoritarian” scale, to support us in challenging that enforced reality.

    —- Steve

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  7. I have the suspicion that most Americans who have never dealt with the system really don’t know what things are really like for people who’ve been labeled and drugged. I certainly didn’t. I believed that psychiatrists actually sat down and listened to people and did therapy. I accepted the quackery about the anti-depressants and took them for a number of years. I actually signed myself into the state hospital thinking that I’d get some real help! I did begin to worry a little bit when the psychiatrist who labeled me could’t even be bothered to look at me the entire 15 minutes he took to diagnose me. I’d just been told the day before that my sister was found murdered in New York City. Never looking up from his note scribbling he asked me how I was doing. I told him terribly because my sister was murdered and I felt that my world was coming down around my ears. He finally looked up at me and said in an angry tone of voice, “That’s stupid!” I suspect that’s when I received my first dose of reality about the wonderful mental health system. My point is, I was a believer and really had no reason to think differently from what I’d been given to believe by the media etc.

    While in the hospital I experienced how the system treats people in distress as less than and not worthy of respect and dignity. It was those two and a half months as a patient on a unit, dealing with the psychiatrists and staff that really opened my eyes to the true reality. I’m antiauthoritarian to the bone and being so served me well in my battles against people who tried to treat me as if I were nothing.

    But the common person on the street has no idea or comprehension about what the reality is concerning all of this. I am wondering what we can do to raise the consciousness of the majority of people across America who have no idea about what is going on with people who’ve been dragged into the system either willingly or unwillingly. What do we do and how do we go about doing it?

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  8. Bruce,

    Re: “… subverting democracy and democratic movements.”

    Comment: This is *not* the problem. Any country can become a *democracy*… voting for their favorite tyrant; allowing the majority to rule the day, and have its way with the minority.

    The United states is a Constitutuional Republic, not a Democracy. The problem is the circumvention of the Constitution when it comes to people diagnosed with “mental illness.”

    The injustice done by psychiatry is “democratic” – it’s what rhe majority seem to want, but it is not only inhumane, it’s unconstitutional.

    We need more true believers in the rule of law, and the Constitution and fewer people who want a democratic process to sort out this mess. Look no further than the ACLU – dead on arrival when it comes to meaningful, lasting reform.

    Liberty or death (call me a radical),


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  9. re: Meeting the Needs of the Power Structure: The Tip of the Iceberg and Psychologists’ Unavoidable Political Choice

    President Barack Obama and David Simon, the creator of HBO’s The Wire, sat down to talk honestly about the challenges law enforcement face and the consequences communities bear from the war on drugs.

    A Conversation with President Obama and The Wire Creator David Simon

    David Simon’s blog:

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