Capitalism Makes Solutions Impossible: A Review of ‘Rebel Minds’

Megan Wildhood
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Susan Rosenthal (2019). Rebel Minds: Class war, mass suffering, and the urgent need for socialism. ReMarx Publishing, 288 pages, $18

Life should not be this difficult. One of my prominent thoughts lately. A sentiment I’ve heard expressed in many ways by more and more of my millennial peers too busy trying to make ends meet in modern America for meaningful relationships (think about that for a minute: we are social creatures. We need each other on so many levels for survival. And yet, so many of us are working so much just to survive that we have no time for the main component of survival: each other).

Life should not be this difficult is also the first sentence on the back of the bookmark that came with my review copy of Susan Rosenthal’s Rebel Minds. Rosenthal is a retired Canadian physician who doesn’t know how deeply her work validated and saw me. And, if you’ve been struggling, wondering what’s wrong with you that you can’t make the system work for you the way you’re being told “anyone” can, if you’re heavy with doubt that you have anything useful to give the world, if your skills and talents are worth more than minimum wage at a dead-end job, then she sees you, too. And if you’ve been having trouble diagnosing “the problem” — having tried everything that seems to be on offer in the marketplace: career counseling, therapy, coaching, deep breathing, rapacious self-care — then Rebel Minds will be a balm to your brain.

I’d put down nonfiction for the last year or so, I thought for good, because it seemed that every book followed the same pattern: spend the first 98 percent of the book delivering an annotated explanation of the problem in monstrous detail and the last two percent presenting platitudes the author calls “solutions.” I hit fear fatigue — there is only so much being thoroughly terrified by all these huge problems and just as powerless that one’s adrenals can take — and switched to reading novels. (All you nonfiction authors out there, take note: informing the reader of just how big, bad and ugly your problem of choice is will not motivate them to take action, especially if no clear ways to action are evident.) But I’m so glad I didn’t miss Rebel Minds.

Rosenthal seems to follow the pattern outlined above, but she has a good reason for it. In the first place, most of us are confused about what capitalism is. Many think it’s an economic system where goods and services are exchanged for currency. The dictionary definition is “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” Even if the state were not, as Rebel Minds makes extremely clear, itself an extension of capitalism, Rebel Minds argues that capitalism is in fact neither an economic system or a political system. It is actually a caste system in which there are only two classes: the privileged, first-class owners and the lowly workers who could actually crash the system if they banded together (which capitalists have disabled through the propagation of abusive ideologies that go totally against human nature like “individualism,” which has translated to the frenetic, fruitless busyness I mentioned above) and simply refused to continue providing the services the owning class absolutely depend on since they’re not willing to do the work themselves. In that way, capitalism is full of irony: it claims to be a system based on merit (work is proportionately rewarded); yet those that do the least work feel entitled to the most money. While we’re here, if capitalism were truly truly based on merit, the richest people in the world would either be women in sub-Saharan Africa who haul water for their families eight hours a day and/or garbage men, whose likely unpleasant work keeps the rest of us from dying nasty, undignified deaths of infection or unseemly disease.

In the second place, the McCarthy area baked fear of socialism and the conflation of communism and socialism (deliberately concocted by the capitalist class) into mass consciousness that lingers today, such that even many people my age and in my city (Seattle, where we have a registered Socialist on our city council) seem confused. Her synthesis of a metric ton of research is justified even as it paints a grim picture — one of her chapters is even titled “We Are In Deep Shit.” In the case of Rebel Minds, though, the volume of material detailing the problem struck me as educational not just because I was not (again, deliberately) taught much about the history of the worker’s movement and was (again deliberately) miseducated about the Russian Revolution (how many others of you readers think “Bolshevik” is basically a four-letter word?), but because, though I don’t equate communism and socialism, I didn’t know much about the latter at all. I don’t think I’m the only one.

We have all been trained to think like capitalists. Everything is about monetizing, marketing and selling. An astounding amount of effort is spent on trying to resolve funding issues — how to get enough, whether to take “dirty” money (as if there’s any other kind in a capitalist system), budget reviews, people building entire careers on helping other people get jobs; literally everything is about how to make the system work better or work for you. No one talks about simply trying to end the need for/dependence on/addiction to money itself. As the late Ursula Le Guin, prominent sci-fi author, once said: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” Rebel Minds makes a superb case for why failing to try to imagine the end of capitalism will guarantee the end of the world.

After establishing a clear case for capitalism being at the root of the gratuitous suffering in the world today, Rosenthal delivers her call to action toward a socialist movement in a clear, direct voice that offers as concrete of solutions as possible, given the subject matter. After all, the entire point of socialism is that people are free to create and innovate ways to take care of everyone’s needs; a prescription for how to do so would be more of the same of what we have now. Which is the main reason Rosenthal argues capitalism must end: coercion. If you equate money with access to life-sustaining resources, you compel people to work. Undergirding this philosophy is the lie brought to you by the owning class (the capitalists) that people are inherently lazy and will not work unless you force them to do so. But coercion, especially for as little compensation as possible — for that’s really what a minimum wage is: it’s saying “I would pay you less but it’s illegal to do so” — motivates people to find ways to rebel. As Rosenthal explains, “Self-determination is the ability to make your own decisions. It is the opposite of standardization, where those with more power impose their decisions on you… It is impossible to deny the right to self-determination and also relieve suffering.”

Coercion is not the only damaging feature of capitalism. Rebel Minds discusses everything from the creation of the nuclear family unit as an instrument of capitalism (not to mention an ostracization tool commonly wielded, often unwittingly, against those who do not have a nuclear family) to the reliance of capitalism on the philosophy of individualism and the psychiatry industry. “Distressed people need support,” Susan writes. “While some are helped by the ‘mental-health’ industry, many others are made worse. The capitalist system offers no alternative. . . . The ‘mental-health’ industry was not established to support people, but to individualize and medicalize the social misery created by capitalist rule.”

Reading Rebel Minds made it clear to me the nature of my suffering. It’s not that I lack needed skills. It’s not that I haven’t found my perfect career and just need to keep slogging through skills assessments, personality tests and cognitive measures. I don’t need to listen to more podcasts, take this or that expensive and impersonal online course in job search prep or manifesting money, hire a “heart-centered life coach” who will claim to help me align my soul with my work in the world to “magnetize abundance.” I don’t need to figure out how to make the system work for me; “capitalism,” as Susan writes, “is not a broken system. It is a system that breaks human beings.”

And then it blames, to the tune of nearly $8 billion dollars, those human beings for being broken. Psychiatry is not just about the work of categorizing and labeling people in order to make them into sources of recurring revenue for a few self-appointed experts, as damaging as that in itself is. Psychiatry is a goiterish outcropping of the capitalist system that requires human beings to become machines — in other words, replaceable if not unbreakable — whose purpose is to mass produce whatever the capitalists have convinced people they need. In order to turn human beings into machines, the human beings have to become as standardized and mass-produced as the products “the market” needs. Psychiatry’s role, Rebel Minds makes clear, is to prepare the population for capitalism’s purposes, and to cull the humans who it fails to prepare.

The relationship, Rebel Minds points out, is symbiotic: just as capitalism needs psychiatry, so, too, does psychiatry need capitalism. Psychiatry trades in medicalizing and biologicizing human suffering, which capitalism produces an endless supply of; it’s a match made in heaven (which is, incidentally, often portrayed with gold-paved streets you access through giant pearly gates). As if manufacturing human suffering, treating the human soul and experience as a marketplace and then profiting off it weren’t enough for these two, they push it even further and delegitimize that mental and emotional suffering is real at all by concatenating it with physiological pain. And, as Rebel Minds illustrates, the capitalists have taken most of what’s been produced by the working class for themselves, leaving the workers to scramble to make ends meet. This, as I mentioned at the outset, results in no time for anything else, including the time and slowing down that mental and emotional distress demand of us if we want to treat them properly, which leaves people feeling like they have practically no choice but the “quick fix” medication is marketed as.

Another lie from the capitalists is a tributary to the almighty individualism so many people pride themselves on upholding: that people are competitive by nature. But what I need, and what Rebel Minds makes an excellent case for us all needing, is true belonging, which is the giving and receiving of care that includes but goes beyond sustaining life into supporting everyone to grow and create as humans yearn to grow and create. Capitalism — not bad parenting, not “mental illness,” not homelessness, not poverty, not anything else we’ve been told — is what causes people to be ugly to each other. Capitalism causes bad parenting, “mental illness,” homelessness and poverty. Let Rebel Minds convince you if you’re uncertain. And let Rebel Minds be the starting place for what you (when you join with others) can do about it.

Rebel Minds charges those of us who wish to see the end of mass suffering with the task of daring to imagine what it would be like to end capitalism before it ends the world, and then to create a new world. “The task of planning a future society properly,” as Rosenthal says, “belongs to those who live in it, and they will use whatever methods or models meet their needs at the time. Our task is to organize a socialist revolution to end class rule so that humanity has a future to shape.”

19 COMMENTS

  1. Somehow, that “metric ton of research” that Ms Rosenthal gathered failed to include the use of psychiatry in the gulags of the former Soviet Union, or in China today. Mao was correct when he said that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Those at the top of the food chain will employ any and all weapons and methods at hand to ensure they stay at the top. The particular form of rule does not matter.

    • True, Subvet, giving power to psychiatrists and social workers is part of the communist manifesto. It’s not a capitalist concept. From the communist manifesto:

      “Transfer some of the powers of arrest from the police to social agencies. Treat all behavioral problems as psychiatric disorders which no one but psychiatrists can understand [or treat].”

      Which, of course, negates the rule of law concept.

      And socialism leads to communism, also from the communist manifesto:

      “Support any socialist movement to give centralized control over any part of the culture–education, social agencies, welfare programs, mental health clinics, etc.”

      The real problem is our central banking system, because it’s a private banking cartel. The Fed creates money out of nothing, then charges our government interest on that money, but it never creates the money to pay the interest, so it’s a thievery system. We need to get rid of the private Federal Reserve banking system.

      Crony capitalism is bad, I agree, but socialism and communism are worse. And the need for psychiatry is a communist belief, not a capitalist one. There is no need for psychiatry or psychology, other than to maintain the status quo for the wrong banksters, who control our government puppets.

      Those of us who would like to return to an actual competitive market, which would require getting rid of the Fed, their Federal Reserve notes, and returning to a valid monetary system. The best way to do this is likely starting up public banks, which loan out money without interest.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mk2gW36px0

      We know capitalism is not the problem, the central banking system, and it’s “invalid” “omni-potent moral busy body” “mental health” and social worker minion are the problems.

      • Correction: “The best way to do this is likely starting up public banks, which loan out money without interest” initially charged to the states. In other words, there would be no national or state deficits, since the interest money is not lacking from the overall monetary supply in the first place.

        I’m trying to give solutions to our society’s problems, not just point the problems out. I think this is a good solution, but I am still researching. It does seem to have worked well for North Dakota for a long time, however.

  2. An end to “mass suffering”? Its being passed through our Parliament as we speak in the form of a Euthanasia Bill. Plenty to go around, not a lot willing to share.
    Got a Minister for Health telling us that there are “protections” in the Bill for the vulnerable. And yet I’ve got an email from him refusing to even recognise the protections afforded the public in the Mental Health Act. With zero evidence he calls anyone he disagrees with a “mental patient” and thus the slander means he wins everytime yay. One has to wonder how these protections are to be enforced once he gets this rushed legislation through the Parliament. And it will happen because Santa has made the kiddies a promise for Christmas.
    Sounds like a good book Megan but given that my State has taken to snatching folk from their beds, torturing and kidnapping them and then calling them “patient” via fraudulent documents distributed to lawyers, and threatening and intimidating citizens families and witnesses to conceal their human rights abuses I might not get the chance to read it.
    But good luck ending the suffering, My governments plan seems to be a little different to those who have a more humane approach to these matters.

  3. If you read The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanaisa to the Final Solution by Henry Friedlander (some of it is published on google) and then think about psychiatry as a ‘medical discipline’.

    Here Benno Müller-Hill does an explaination/method of the mass psychiatry killing at Bernberg:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uB7S7Ckjvc

    The psychiatrist Imfried Eberl was superintendent of both Brandenburg and Bernberg killing ‘hospital’ see above video. He went on to be the first Commandant of killing centre Treblinka.

  4. Thanks for your contribution. This is not related to the article or book (which I have not read) but I wonder what psychiatrists or therapists would do with their own minds if not for their ‘patients’? I envision a global revolt, leaving all the helpers and healers to sit in their cold offices, having absolutely no clue what to do with their lives, their jobs, their existence. I suppose any persons or club can only stand by the water cooler for so long, lamenting the fact that no ‘sick’ people are partaking of their diagnosis, labels and candy. Want to see a shrink fall to pieces? Deny him patients. Lost in the world, except his old cronies. I think this to be a good movie, lets start a fund. Title of the movie? “broken systems”? “The Empty Seat”? …..I wil contribute, we need a high profile studio behind us.

  5. This is an excellent article that, for any one reading Zizek or any number of political theorist (Zizek a Hegelian, Marxist theorist and Lacanian analyst), is nothing new. But I have to take issue with this quote, precisely because it’s framing is, IMO, too ubiquitous and woefully reductive and simplistic: “It is actually a caste system in which there are only two classes: the privileged, first-class owners and the lowly workers who could actually crash the system if they banded together…”

    I disagree here on several points, but will only make the following point through a personal story:

    I’m simply unable to conflate large swaths of the working poor and lower middle class people with a good 10-20 percent of the “professional managerial class” (PMC). When, for instance, my 42 year old working class sister attempted suicide by taking her ex-husbands sleeping pills, she was arrested, convicted, and spent 6 months in jail, from which her already tragic life spiraled into a successful suicide a couple years later. She had no (zero) criminal record or contact with the criminal justice system before this arrest. Why I use this as an example is that, she was herded through this fate by lawyers, judges, social workers, etc. These fine professionals did their job, precisely as they were educated and subordinated to for the capitalist order. And lets be clear here…my sister is but a drop in an ocean of disposable working class and poor people from which the PMC serve and protect the very system they now decry in droves. Yea… Rosenthal is dead right, we are in deep shit. Welcome to the stink PMC.

        • I still find the attempt to “distance” socialism from communism disturbing and misleading, as socialism for its own sake is a non-starter. The socialist state is a precursor to communism, which is a stateless society; it is not supposed to last for perpetuity. Likewise there has never been and never will be a “communist state”; this is a contradiction in terms.

          • I agree about any efforts to distance socialism from communism, but I wouldn’t equate communism with Marxism.

            “Capitalism causes bad parenting, “mental illness,” homelessness and poverty.’

            Not to mention, and this is something I would definitely add to your current list, let’s see, bad parenting, medicalization, homelessness, poverty, and, oh, yeah, global warming. Rampant unregulated capitalism is, as anyone should be able to see, hell on the environment.

            To modify the Ursula Le Guin quotation a little, if we don’t start imagining an end to capitalism we might be facing the end of the world.

          • Marxism is the science which analyzes class struggle, and posits the end goal of communism — a stateless society — following a) the overthrow of capitalism and b) the successful establishment of socialism (during which there are still classes though the hierarchy is reversed).

            Frank in particular, I’m curious about your reaction to the “Anarchist Mental Health” article, I mentioned you there.

  6. Wow Megan! I’m afraid I’m going to respond in small bits.

    I have exchanged occasional sporadic correspondence with Susan. I remember in particular that we joined in encouraging RW and MIA to publish an account of the emotional and psychic suffering among the residents of occupied Palestine, as a balance to RW’s extensive article based on his experiences in the state of Israel. Anyway it never happened. The point is, I respect her work.

    I also highly respect your work, Megan, and so do many others. I am thrilled that Susan’s book has opened up a new door for you in terms of understanding the world, and I predict many epiphanies to come. Without a class analysis we are all truly in the dark.

    This is where the confusion about “socialism” sets in however. And this is where I and many other “leftists” would part ways with Susan in terms of analysis. But Marxism is largely the study of contradiction so its good to get comfortable with that. I have noted here that, while you mention “Bolshevik” being considered a dirty word — implying that you consider such a characterization to be mistaken — you still seem to use “communism” as dirty word, as if the concept of “socialism” is tainted by it’s association with communism.

    In fact, true socialism as envisioned by Marx is a step on the way to communism, which is the point where humanity has matured enough to return to a stateless society. Meanwhile however the world is dominated and controlled by the 1% (or .1%) of the population, which comprises a de facto dictatorship and controls all the resources, and which has armies and police with which to defend this. Socialism aims to reverse that dictatorship and put the people — the 99% — in charge. This is what is meant by the “dictatorship” of the workers — a term which is twisted around by capitalist propagandists to conjure up the image of one person in charge of everything. However true socialism would be the first occasion since pre-feudal times when the operation of society would be collectively controlled and managed in the interest of serving human needs.

    While I would vote for Bernie, “democratic socialism” is not true socialism; it is an adaptation of capitalism with quasi-socialist features. While I believe Bernie knows this very well, he is a politician after all. True socialism cannot be voted in, as the rulers will not just turn over their wealth and power to the people (be realistic). It will require a more massive and collective undertaking on the part of ALL the people, and will be most likely met with violence. Responding to that creatively will be the collective assignment of the people — so we better start unifying for the sake of our immediate and long term survival.

    The most pertinent part of Marxian philosophy to those involved in anti-psychiatry activism, aside from the basic economic analysis of capitalism and class struggle, is his concept of alienation from the product of one’s labor — e.g. the factory worker who can’t afford a pair of the shoes she/he makes every day (the extensions are endless). Since all of society is based on “being employed” — regardless of whether that “employment” is personally fulfilling or even destructive to the planet — it’s hard to recognize the extent of our alienation from ourselves and our natural environment. It’s sort of like we’re fish not recognizing the polluted psychic water we’re swimming in every day. But the toll taken on our humanity by the day to day reality of living to serve the bottom lines of genocidal corporations and literal war criminals cannot be underestimated, even if we don’t respond to it on a “conscious” level.

    So, this is what I have so far after reading about the first third of your blog. I’ll give us all a break at this point, but I look forward to the rest. 🙂

  7. Megan

    Thank you so much for bringing this book to my attention. I do not think my opinion differs much if at all with the authors, not just regarding the use of psychiatry to ” help people and their suffering ” or as Rosenthal correctly asserts make a ton of money. It might have been you that used this statement in a previous blog.

    “Psychiatry has turned out to be the practice of using someone’s suffering against them for profit.”

    I use that as my signature in my emails.

    Thanks again
    Jim

  8. If Megan’s article falls off the home page before I have a chance to address this more substantially, I want to emphasize that I agree with most and maybe all of Susan’s points (as reported by Megan) pertaining to the alienation of human beings from the labor they perform to survive under capitalism, how this conflicts with their natural aspirations, and the impact this has on their emotional well-being. My disagreements are more tactical, and with the portrayal of “socialism” as a sort of “communism lite,” when true socialism is a step on the way to true communism.

    Sort of surprised Richard Lewis is absent for this.