Many Americans recognize that the
Second, in addition to awareness of economic and social injustices, it is also necessary 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. 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.
Polls Reveal the Myth of
Americans, for quite some time, have opposed the
The opposition by the majority of Americans to current
How about the
What about universal health insurance? Despite the fact that several 2009 polls showed that Americans actually favored a “single-payer” or “Medicare-for-all” health insurance plan, it was not even on the table in the Democrat-Republican 2009–2010 debate over health insurance reform legislation. And polls during this debate showed that an even larger majority of Americans favored the government providing a “public option” to compete with private health insurance plans. But the public option was quickly pushed off the table in the Democratic-Republican debate. A July 2009 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll asked, “Do you favor or oppose having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all?” In this Kaiser poll, 58 percent of Americans favored a Medicare-for-all universal plan, and only 38 percent opposed it—and a whopping 77 percent favored “expanding Medicare to cover people between the ages of 55 and 64 who do not have health insurance.” A February 2009 CBS News/New York Times poll reported that 59 percent of Americans said the government should provide national health insurance. And a December 2009 Reuters poll reported that, “Just under 60 percent of those surveyed said they would like a public option as part of any final healthcare reform legislation.”
The Corporatocracy in Control
The integration between giant corporations and the
Psychological and Cultural Building Blocks
Activists routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization, 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 a society eat crap for too long, we become psychologically too weak to take action.
Other observers of subjugated societies have recognized this phenomenon of subjugation resulting in demoralization and fatalism. 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. So too did Bob Marley, the poet laureate of oppressed people around the world. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that we, too, after years of domestic corporatocracy subjugation, have developed what Marley called “mental slavery.” But unless we acknowledge that reality, we won’t begin to heal from what I call “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse.” A vitally important piece of the solution is overcoming the problem of demoralization and fatalism and creating the “energy to do battle.”
There exist solid strategies and time-tested tactics that people have long used to battle the elite. However, these strategies and tactics by themselves are not sufficient. 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
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. There are many battlefields—from schools to the workplace—on which self-respect can be either won or lost and it is in the interest of the elite to make sure that their opponents lose sight of these multiple battlefields. If we don’t recognize a battlefield, we can lose an opportunity to create those cultural and psychological building blocks necessary for democracy.
People seeking democracy, in addition to individual self-respect, must also have collective self-confidence—the belief that they can succeed as a group—if their goal is to be achieved and sustained. They must have faith that, though imperfect in their decision making, they are capable of creating a freer and more just society than one organized and controlled by the elite. Thus, in this battle against the corporatocracy, human relationships are vitally important. It is in the interest of the elite to keep people divided and distrusting one another. It is in the interest of people working toward democracy to build respectful and cooperative human relationships across all levels of society.
The Energy to Do Battle
Whether one’s abuser is a spouse or the corporatocracy, there are parallels when it comes to how one can maintain enough strength to be able to free oneself when the opportunity presents itself—and then heal and attain even greater strength. This difficult process requires:
Honesty that one is in an abusive relationship
Self-forgiveness that one is in an abusive relationship
A sense of humor about one’s predicament
The good luck of support, and the wisdom to utilize this good luck
It is a waste of our precious energy to beat ourselves up for having succumbed to corporatocracy abuse. Our energy is better spent redefining ourselves as human beings who have beliefs and values that define us more than our fears and greed (which the corporatocracy exploits to control us). We need to redefine ourselves as worthy of respect and capable of effecting change. And then we can use our energy to provide respect and create confidence in others, which will produce even more energy for ourselves. This is part of “liberation psychology,” in which critically thinking people can regain morale, discover the various ways people are energized, learn how to combat social isolation and build community, and understand how we can forge alliances among anti-authoritarians.
Critical to healing from “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse” and gaining strength is a liberation from one’s fatalism, which has become an internal oppression. External oppression, left unchallenged, results ultimately in fatalism, which makes it less likely one will challenge oppression. One way of extricating from this fatalistic vicious cycle is through what Freire, Martin-Baró, and others have called conscientizacao or “critical consciousness.” With critical consciousness, an individual can identify both external oppression and self-imposed internal oppression—and free oneself from self-imposed powerlessness. Critical consciousness cannot be learned in a top-down manner. It is essentially a self-education process among equals. Liberation from fatalism and powerlessness is a process in which participants are not mere objects of instruction or of treatment. Instead of being acted upon, they are taking actions, learning, and then taking even more powerful actions.
Recent History and Realistic Hope
The lesson from history is that tyrannical and dehumanizing institutions are often more fragile than they appear, and with time, luck, morale, and the people’s ability to seize the moment, damn near anything is possible. We never really know until it happens whether or not we are living in that time when historical variables are creating opportunities for seemingly impossible change.
Until shortly before it occurred, the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed an impossibility to most Americans, who saw only mass resignation within the
Arrogance by oppressive authorities makes them miscalculate the fear and greed variables, important in keeping people passive. In the case of Hosni Mubarak, his greed and arrogance resulted in him not spreading enough of his loot around with enough thugs, so not enough of them cared about his fall from power. Once Egyptians lost fear and took action, they found even more courage. Arrogance of oppressive forces makes them a lot more fragile than they appear.
And in the
Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011). His website is www.brucelevine.net.