Making a difference in a crazy world

Bruce Levine a clinical psychologist in his latest book Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy asked a question that has been on Hag’s and my mind a lot lately, Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not “set them free” but instead further demoralize them?

The M$M and Internet are full each day of examples of craziness in many areas of American life, especially government and politics that I either didn’t know existed or has been recently exposed due to massive American depression and a crescendo of crisis brought on by multiple disastrous political decisions and broken systems.

I have not read Levine’s book since I only became aware of it yesterday by reading his post in CounterPunch, Are Americans Too Broken for the Truth to Set Us Free? I found the article because I spend eight or more hours every day perusing hundreds of articles/posts putting together a Daily News email I send to over 300 fellow Dems in my Chicago area suburbs and friends around the country. I initiated it so that our very busy and dedicated Dem political candidates will know what truths and falsehoods are being published. My News contains 150-200 Internet links on articles/posts covering town, city, county, state, national and international politics.

I can find the time to do this because I am retired and through my 28 years in military public affairs and a subsequent career in social service in inner-city Chicago, I have developed skills that can be put to productive use. These skills and amazing experiences also help me serve on county committees and canvass my neighborhood as a precinct committeeman.

Far too many Americans have as Levine implies in the question opening his CounterPunch article, become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not “set them free” but instead further demoralize them.

People far smarter and better informed than I, have provided multiple reasons for this rampant mental illness. According to reviewers of Levine’s book he: offers timely insights about the social and cultural causes of demoralization…in this, the Dark Age of the pharmaceutical-military-industrial complex, Levine has given a much needed wake-up call that challenges each of us to find our own antidote, in the healing aspects of integrity, nature, self-transcendence, and community; this well-conceived and researched book illuminates the general malaise tinting the canvas of our lives and validates the background of unhappiness inherent in our contemporary lifestyles—a background often mislabeled as pathological and an epidemic we are all trying to survive; this well-written and insightful book locates depression where it should be situated—in the dehumanization of American culture and the corporatization of psychological health and well-being.

Coming from Levine’s fellow psychologists and psychiatrists, that’s really scary evaluations of American voter minds today. Levine cites as proof of this illness the fact that 47 million Americans are without health insurance, job losses are horrendous, polls show the majority of Americans are opposed to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the taxpayer bailout of the financial industry, yet there is no outpouring of millions of citizens on the streets of Washington protesting these betrayals. He says these Americans are like any abused victim who allow abusers to, “shove lies, emotional and physical abuses, and injustices in their victims’ faces, and when victims are afraid to exit from these relationships, they get weaker; and so the abuser then makes their victims eat even more lies, abuses, and injustices, resulting in victims even weaker as they remain in these relationships.”

Like any effective psychologist, Levine offers a solution. “When people get caught up in humiliating abuse syndromes, more truths about their oppressive humiliations don’t set them free. What sets them free is morale. What gives people morale? Encouragement. Small victories. Models of courageous behaviors. And anything that helps them break out of the vicious cycle of pain, shut down, immobilization, shame over immobilization, more pain, and more shut down.”

For my own county DuPage, I have joined thousands of Dems who are fed up with long-term Repug rule and we are well on the way of turning a once very red county blue. Friday night Democratic Governor Quinn who spoke at our Holiday fundraiser recognized the rapid political change that has happened in a county his father lived in for half a century. At our 07 fundraiser I attended just after joining the effort, only 72 people attended with no state officials joining us. Friday night we had almost 300 there and the room was full of state candidates.

As I reflected on the great evening on my drive home, I told myself the wonderful people I have met who have open minds and think like I do is what has kept my positive attitude alive while daily reading the depressing horror stories of just how broken our country is. A country which is now almost totally owned by imperial, corporate titans who are bent on destroying our middle class and dominating all politics and thinking.

I have also become part of an amazing group of Internet friends, that includes Hag, who met through Greenwald’s UT blog who have provided an abundance of insight and truth and also kept me from sinking into the depths of depression.

Levine is absolutely right. My morale is high because instead of bitching at the TV, I took my wife’s advice and got off my ass and did something productive or else I would have had to “just shut up!”

Take a look at our county website and the people that keep buoying me up. If you can find the time, I highly recommend getting involved and enjoying small victories that in time can lead to larger victories. Victories that may well mean in time we have to take to the streets by the millions.

Dems and liberals who are not suffering from depression are not achieving larger victories even though they are working very hard because of diffusion of effort. The number of emails I receive daily from wonderful organizations who are pursuing a single issue is amazing. Our corporate abusers like it that way. As long as we don’t come together on an overriding issue, we are almost powerless and can’t get millions on Washington’s streets.

I spoke with a fellow township officer Friday night who recognized this problem. She has been very active in promoting green awareness and our township goals. She said, I have to change my course and put my efforts into doing something about our political system that allows money to control our government. “If we don’t attack our broken systems, how can we expect to really get something meaningful done?”


  1. cocktailhag says:

    Great article, rmp. I’d like to read that book. I guess my only cause for hope these days is that the Bush years were so bad that a lot of previously inactive people got active; any time that happens it’s a good thing. Also, the media, once monolithic in its march with the corporatists, now has a few dissenters like Ratigan, Schultz, Maddow, and Olbermann.

  2. dirigo says:

    I understand what you’re driving at, RMP. However, I’m more queasy than ever about relying on too much therapeutic rhetoric and jargon to solve political problems, even while believing this tack (or tendency) to be a significant byproduct of the manipulation during the recent era, not to mention a generation-long boom for the “psychotalk” industry (apologies to Ed Schultz).

    I reinforce this queasiness by citing my own experience forty years ago, including the military, and the sorting out I had to do. It took time, and while there was great pain to work through and enormous history to understand, I relied more on my innate good sense than any therapy I was exposed to. And I did do some of that too.

    Something happened to me. Something was done to me. But at a certain point, I refused to think of myself as a mere victim, because I could catch the weakness in myself and felt a bit ashamed, while at the same time seeing how manipulative people would, with a wink and a nod, go right on manipulating if they sensed that weakness.

    But it does take time to get up off the mat. That’s certain.

    For your present discussion, I would dial back the psychotalk a bit, at least enough to let people stand up, get focused, take aim, and exercise their bullshit detectors to their hearts’ content.

    Many people have been fleeced, certainly hosed. The damage is deep and wide. But playing the role of victim in the arena won’t necessarily get everyone to the goal line, or even past mid-field.

    The “players” will keep pressing those victim buttons for as long as they can, for as long as they sense weakness.

    Power isn’t just given up; it has to be taken. And as unsavory as it may be, you are, after all, talking about power realignments, to re-balance perhaps the democratic gyro in this country.

    • rmp says:

      Exactly. It’s no different than what a battered wife has to do after entering a battered women’s shelter. She has to stop being a victim and take charge of her life for things to change. By succumbing to victimization, you give your power over to others. Victims on the right, blame others instead of taking charge and those on the left, say what’s the use I don’t have any real power.

      • dirigo says:

        Well anyway, I had some debate training and have spoken before elected officials on occasion (not very often really; I don’t like it much).

        I just know I want to get my point across, or make my case, as clearly as possible, without digressing into irrelevant stuff about my psychological state, or consult my autographed copy of Dr. Phil’s latest, while receiving a reasonable hearing and maybe have a give and take based on substance instead of a personal attack.

        What’s not to like?

        • cocktailhag says:

          Well, Dirigo, due to circumstances beyond my control, I have had a few run-ins with abusive people in my life, and the techniques they use to induce helplessness in their victims are the same the political types do. They both have lots of ready ammunition to tell dissenters to STFU, but their preference is always for no dissent to occur at all. Call it psychobabble, but it’s valid.

          • dirigo says:

            Right. Psychobabble, or psychological bullshit dressed up as debate (or maybe just righteous indignation as a filibustering technique), aimed at shutting down any real give and take.

            I’ve experienced it too and have no more patience with it, and think they are the mental cases.

            The exceptional, American mental cases.

  3. rmp says:

    What strikes me the most about Levine’s article is not what is already well known about the crazy right and their authoritarian minds which have been well explained by experts like Altemeyer, but how weak the abuse and large number of vital issues has made the left. That’s the most important tragedy and raising morale or keeping a positive attitude is essential to turn that around.

    When someone as knowledgeable as you Dirigo keeps concentrating on the right’s craziness that takes focus away from solutions and from all the left groups working together on fixing broken systems instead of discussing the psychological illness of leaders.

    • dirigo says:

      Not sure that I’m concentrating on it, though I’m mentioning it here.

      I’m fed up with bogus debate tactics is about all I’m saying.

      A debate hall should be for debate, not psychoanalysis.

      I read today that Noam Chomsky gave a speech at Columbia, got an award, and laced American leaders (as he’s done before) for their split personalities.

      That’s old news to me. I heard Noam say that at MIT thirty years ago.

  4. rmp says:

    This just in. Dana Perino is giving the Bush Administration full credit for the Copenhagen Summit. So typical of the Right Wing denial/blame psychology. Never take responsibility for any mistakes and look for the slimmest reason to take credit and blame others for doing the wrong thing and not being nearly as smart as you are.

    Perino credits Bush for Copenhagen climate talks

    • dirigo says:

      Dana is “not a scientist,” as she says; but she is a blonde, albeit not a Danish blonde.

      It still concerns me that she has no idea what the Bay of Pigs was about, or about how many pigs were there.

      Has she addressed that anomaly? Can she spell Kyoto?

      Does she, therefore, know what happened the day before yesterday?

  5. Skeptic says:

    Great post, rmp!

    Speaking from personal experience, I can say that making one’s self as healthy as possible (especially given the current health care system) is both morale-boosting and encouraging. It’s hard to stay in touch with your self-esteem when your vitality is at an ebb.

    It is possible to keep your morale up even when your health is sub-par, but it is not easy to do so, and you don’t have as much energy for other things, in the end.

    While you’re mentoring people, of any age… it’s good to remember, and maybe remind them, too, of how many things we can do for ourselves to improve our health.

    Just cutting out the smoking, sodas, high-fructose corn syrup, and trans fats can make a huge difference, and still leave a person enough room (and a few dollars) to enjoy some better quality junk food. And… more importantly, you are also making a political statement that you won’t allow the corn lobby (King Corn) or the tobacco lobby to run your life.

    • Skeptic says:

      I should have added that better physical health also leads to better mental health, too.

      • rmp says:

        Great point about health. Also when I am out walking, jogging, running by myself without distractions, I do some of my best thinking about myself and what is concerning me politically.