Effective Tactics for the “Rehumanizing Resistance”: Real Politics 101, Part Two

In Part One, I discussed how the Rehumanizing Resistance has been winning scientific battles but losing the war against the expansion of influence of First-Order Psychiatry (which includes the American Psychiatric Association and Big Pharma), and how this is due in large part to the First-Order’s effective political tactics and the Resistance’s political naivety. In Part Two, I will discuss strategy and tactics for the Resistance, including: (1) Traditional, Personal, and Underground Politics; (2) Direct Action and Confrontation: When It Can and Cannot Succeed; (3) Organizing: Taking Advantage of the Current Cultural Climate; (4) Alliances and Coalitions; and (5) Film and Media.

In its arsenal, the Resistance has scientific truths and the powerful moral principle of informed choice. But First-Order Psychiatry has Big Pharma and their big money, which exerts influence in direct and indirect ways over the politicians, the mainstream media, and the general public.

A strategic goal of the Resistance is overwhelming popular recognition of scientific truths as well as an embrace of the moral principle of informed choice. Only with this overwhelming popular support will the mainstream media and politicians challenge First-Order Psychiatry’s claim as a legitimate authority in determining “mental illness,” and challenge its “treatment” and control dominion.

The Resistance must utilize effective tactics to (1) expose the general public to scientific truths; (2) validate the public’s apprehensions about First-Order Psychiatry; (3) expose the public to rehumanized alternatives; (4) celebrate the principle of informed choice; and (5) energize the public about the Resistance as a human rights movement. There are many tactics to achieve this strategic goal.

Traditional, Personal, and Underground Politics

Traditional politics includes lobbying elected officials, which can be quite effective on issues when the public is already overwhelmingly on the side of the Resistance. For example, Mad in America author and attorney Edward Opton and the National Center for Youth Law effectively lobbied the California state Senate to unanimously pass reform bills to reduce the use of psychiatric drugs to control the behavior of children in foster care; and in 2015, California Governor Brown signed three bills into law that were part of the NCYL legislative package to reduce the abuse and misuse of psychiatric drugs for foster care children.

Traditional politics is much about lobbying, as Mad in America author Michael Cornwall writes about in “It’s Time for a Stronger Political Ground Game to Compete with NAMI and Company on Forced Treatment.” First-Order Psychiatry has been politically astute, as Cornwall states, “They face to face lobby every person who may have any possible effect on tilting the political ground in their favor.” The Resistance must better grasp this aspect of Politics 101.

Personal politics can also be very powerful. Ex-patients “coming out” about their past experiences with First-Order Psychiatry to family, friends, and acquaintances is a powerful way to change outlooks. It was the personal challenge of one ex-patient, David Oaks, that was a major factor prompting journalist Robert Whitaker to research and ultimately write the book Mad in America.

Personal politics is also important for dissident mental health professionals within their clinical practice, with their students, and within their social circles. It can be very powerful when professionals inform others of First-Order Psychiatry’s lies and deception.

There is a rich literature of underground tactics that have been effective in overthrowing oppressive regimes and institutions. Political theorist and sociologist Gene Sharp’s classic From Dictatorship to Democracy, used by freedom fighters around the world, describes nearly 200 “Methods of Nonviolent Actions.” Sharp tells us that: “When one wants to bring down a dictatorship most effectively and with the least cost then one has four immediate tasks:

  • One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;
  • One must strengthen the independent social groups and institutions of the oppressed people;
  • One must create a powerful internal resistance force;
  • One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully.

All these areas are relevant to the Resistance. For example, it is extremely important to strengthen “independent social groups and institutions,” which authoritarian regimes will attempt to target and destroy—as the Resistance has recently seen with First-Order Psychiatry’s orchestrated Murphy Bill that threatens funding to Resistance institutions such as the National Empowerment Center.

Direct Action and Confrontation: When It Can and Cannot Succeed

While “total political victory” for the Rehumanizing Resistance would mean First-Order Psychiatry’s loss of authority to determine any so-called “mental illness” and First-Order’s loss of “treatment” and control dominion, one kind of battle victory for the Resistance is the abolition of even a single “mental illness” being ascribed to a class of behaviors and a group of people. Such a political victory happened with homosexuality.

In the American Psychiatric Association’s 1968 DSM-II, homosexuality remained a mental illness. First-Order Psychiatry was apparently oblivious to a changing cultural climate which included the Stonewall uprising in 1969 in New York City where gay activists challenged authorities’ attempts to deny their basic human right to congregate in public. By 1970, gay activists began challenging the APA and the First-Order’s labeling of homosexuality as a mental illness. Gay activists confronted First-Order Psychiatry at the annual meetings of the APA between 1970 and 1972. Bowing to political pressure, the APA agreed to meet with gay activists, who ultimately achieved victory of sorts in 1973, when homosexuality was no longer labeled a mental illness (though those homosexuals who were “in conflict with” their sexual orientation were still considered by the First-Order to be mentally ill).

This victory by gay activists over the APA was a major setback for First-Order Psychiatry’s claim of authority to determine “mental illness,” as it clearly showed that politics and culture—not science—determine DSM mental illnesses. It was never so clear than at that moment in time that First-Order psychopathologizing was a political action—not a scientific one—which could be overturned by political activism.

That moment in time was a political opportunity to continue charging and to abolish First-Order’s authority to determine any “mental illness.” However, the Resistance did not continue to charge, and so First-Order’s retreat did not turn into a rout and a surrender. Instead, the APA pivoted, scapegoated psychoanalytic psychiatrists for homosexuality being labeled as a mental illness, and First-Order biopsychiatrists actually used this event to solidify their political power within the APA.

In 2003, in a far more authoritarian U.S. society, MindFreedom announced another direct action: a “Fast for Freedom” if the APA (and other proponents of First-Order Psychiatry) did not factually respond to their letter requesting scientific evidence for the First-Order’s claim that “mental illnesses” were biologically-based diseases, as well as the scientific evidence for First-Order Psychiatry’s claim that psychiatric drugs could correct a chemical imbalance.

The APA offered a dismissive response that falsely stated that such evidence was in the scientific literature, offering text citations; these texts were examined by MindFreedom’s scientific panel, which declared that these texts in fact offered no scientific evidence for First-Order Psychiatry’s claims, actually quite the contrary. The APA’s response letter also included a politically strategic retribution: a declaration that the proposed hunger strike was “ill-considered”—a preemptive blaming of the strikers and their scientific panel should there be any illness/death consequence to the strike; though in reality, illness/death consequence, should they have occurred, would have been brought upon by the APA’s dismissiveness.

In this 2003 authoritarian era, the Fast for Freedom received little media coverage, and the hunger strike was wisely ended. Thankfully, none of the braver hunger strikers died.

The Fast for Freedom has historic parallels with slave abolitionist John Brown and his groups’ raid on the U.S. federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, a direct action designed to foment a slave revolt. Both the Fast for Freedom and Brown’s raid failed to achieve their immediate results. However, the courage of failed direct action can have inspirational value, as Brown’s raid was inspirational for slave abolitionists, and the Fast for Freedom remains inspirational for the Rehumanizing Resistance.

These historical events remind us that success and failure of direct political action depends much on societal and cultural climate.

Organizing: Taking Advantage of the Current Cultural Climate

Today, our society remains authoritarian when it comes to corporatist control by industrial complexes; however, it is clearly a new political era in the realm of diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation. The United States has recently seen an African-American win two presidential elections, a woman slightly favored to win the upcoming presidential election, and self-identified gay and lesbian politicians elected to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Many in Generation X and the Millennial generation take pride in their generations’ acceptance and celebration of diversity in the areas of race and sexual orientation, and the youngest generation, so-called Gen Tech, sees this diversity as “normal.” And so especially for these generations, it should not be difficult to expand diversity to include personality, temperament, cognitive style, and states of consciousness.

I have found that it is almost always easy to get the general public and even mainstream media to laugh at the idea of psychopathologizing stubborn and noncompliant young people with “oppositional defiant disorder.” In the current cultural context of greater acceptance of diversity, it is quite possible to expand diversity acceptance/celebration to all kinds of personalities, temperaments, cognitive styles, and states of consciousness.

Also, the Resistance can take advantage of the political success of once marginalized groups by reminding them—especially politically powerful individuals in these groups—that First-Order Psychiatry was their historical oppressor via psychopathologizing and “treatment” used as social control. For example, it would be especially politically powerful if Resistance women reminded other women how First-Order Psychiatry oppressively pathologized them, especially assertive and anti-authoritarian women. Similarly, it would be especially powerful if Resistance gay and lesbian activists reminded other homosexuals how the First-Order oppressively psychopathologized them. And Resistance African-Americans and Native Americans can remind members of their groups that for them, First-Order’s oppressive “profiling-pathologizing” has not ended.

Groups that were historically singled out for social control and oppressed by First-Order Psychiatry must be reminded that there continues to be politically powerless groups, especially children, who are now subject to social control via pathologizing and drugging—and that it is especially the moral duty of members of those groups who have faced that same oppression to speak out.

This “reminding” is a vehicle for political organizing to increase the base of support for the Rehumanizing Resistance.

Organizing is a huge part of Politics 101. Perhaps the greatest organizer in the history of Rehumanizing Resistance is David Oaks. Well-schooled in political organizing, Oaks’ keen eye for potential Resistance members among ex-patients and their families and professional dissidents has brought many of the Resistance’s current activists into the movement.

Alliances and Coalitions

In addition to organizing, wise alliances and coalitions are also politically important to increase the base of support.

First-Order Psychiatry, fighting for its very survival in the 1970s, formed an alliance with Big Pharma creating the Psychiatric-Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex, a powerful force in maintaining the First-Order’s power and influence.

Given First-Order Psychiatry’s alliance with Big Pharma, the Rehumanizing Resistance will likely continue to be financially outgunned, and so the Resistance must counter by grassroots base-building, which includes forming alliances and coalitions. But the Resistance must be wise about who they form those alliances and coalitions with.

The Rehumanizing Resistance is part of a greater societal movement against coercion, oppression, and authoritarianism, and the Resistance is fueled by the energy of anti-authoritarianism and morality. A long-standing internal conflict within the Resistance is whether or not it should ally with organizations that are enemies of First-Order Psychiatry but who themselves have reputations for coercion, oppression, and authoritarianism—I will discuss this and other Resistance internal conflicts in Part Three.

The good news is that there are natural allies who, by reputation and reality, clearly oppose coercion, oppression, authoritarianism, and dehumanization.

One natural ally is the anti-coercive, anti-oppressive, anti-authoritarian, and rehumanizing “de-schooling” movement. This world, which includes a growing number of home schoolers, is a very large movement and is a natural ally for the Rehumanizing Resistance. De-schoolers recognize the oppressive nature of standard schooling, and it resonates with them that “chemical imbalances” are not the reason that children are inattentive and disruptive but rather that this is often a product of oppressive standardized schools; and so they are open to the idea that psychopathologizing and drugging inattentive and disruptive children further increases their oppression.

Another natural ally for the Rehumanizing Resistance is the large group of people frustrated and angry by “assembly-line medicine” and physicians who fail to correctly diagnose their conditions but instead label them with psychiatric diagnoses. This group has been damaged and stigmatized by unscientific mental illness labels.

There are many other groups who know nothing about the Rehumanizing Resistance’s struggle against the Psychiatric-Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex but are very much interested when they discover its existence. In 2011, I spoke at a conference called the “Military-Industrial Complex at 50”—comprised of peace activists, ex-military whistle blowers, fiscal conservatives, and others who (like Dwight Eisenhower who coined the term Military-Industrial Complex in 1961) see it as a grave threat to Americans. This group was easily won over as an ally when they heard how First-Order Psychiatry, through diagnoses such as oppositional defiant disorder, is pathologizing and drugging future anti-authoritarians before they achieve political consciousness—and thus reducing resistance to illegitimate authorities in general.

The Rehumanizing Resistance has many other natural allies who oppose coercion, oppression, authoritarianism, and dehumanization, and who become sympathetic to the cause when they see how pathologizing noncompliant people has resulted in de-politicization and a loss of activists.

Film and Media

The Rehumanizing Resistance has put a great deal of effort into writing and speaking about the lack of science in First-Order Psychiatry and its corruption by Big Pharma, as well as the immorality of the lack of informed choice; and the Resistance has wisely also increased its emphasis on rehumanized alternatives.

Exposures to First-Order Psychiatry’s pseudoscience, corruption, and immorality, as well as to rehumanized alternative approaches are politically powerful—but only if larger numbers of people hear about this in ways that are easy to grasp.

Historically, one of the most powerful political weapons in the struggle to abolish slavery was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which became the second best-selling book (behind only the Bible) of the nineteenth century and was also turned into a play. In recent times, nothing is more important in shaping public opinion than film and television.

The 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestCuckoo’s Nest was a powerful indictment of Fist-Order Psychiatry, as it mocks First-Order’s inability to reliably diagnose “mental illness,” depicts First-Order coercion, humiliation, electroshock horrors, and mind-numbing drugs, as well as rehumanizing eccentricity and celebrating resistance to illegitimate authorities. In the anti-authoritarian climate of the 1970s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won the Academy Award for best picture. And to this day, it has inspired many activists in the Rehumanizing Resistance.

Contrast that with the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, a depiction of mathematician John Nash’s “psychotic/paranoid schizophrenia,” which in the far more authoritarian era, also won the Academy Award for best picture. As I detailed in the Huffington Post, A Beautiful Mind’s false depiction of John Nash fits First-Order Psychiatry’s narrative by having Nash, when being considered for the 1994 Nobel Prize, state, “I take the newer medications”—this despite the reality that Nash had stopped taking psychiatric medication in 1970. This falsehood had powerful propaganda value for First-Order Psychiatry.

Both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Beautiful Mind, with big money behind them allowing them high-level production and celebrity actors, had huge impacts on the media and the general public’s view of so-called “mental illness.”

Today, with technological innovations, well-made powerful films need not cost huge amounts of money. The recent documentary Healing Voices (which I reviewed for the Huffington Post and which premiered in April 2016) de-pathologizes, rehumanizes, and celebrates voice hearers. From my experience in two discussion groups following screenings of Healing Voices, the audience was inspired and energized to become activists in the Resistance.

Even more inexpensive to produce but capable of huge viewership are Internet Youtube and similar such videos. Eleanor Longden’s TED talk The Voices in My Head, which depathologizes and rehumanizes hearing voices, has been viewed by between three and four million people. Comedy and video parodies can be quite politically powerful (e.g., one recent short video parody Drugs for Kids effectively mocks the insane psychopathologizing and drugging of normal child behaviors).

Many of the pieces that I’ve written for Mad in America have been simultaneously published on Salon, AlterNet, Truthout, CounterPunch, the Huffington Post, Z Magazine, and other publications. Mad in America authors need not lament that they are only “preaching to the choir” by posting on Mad in America, as these pieces can get reposted on other websites (my Mad in America 2012 piece “Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill” has over 300,000 views because links to the piece repeatedly get reposted on Reddit, Hacker News, Tumblr or other social media.)

In conclusion, I want to make clear that Part Two is not meant to be a complete list of political actions, strategies, and tactics—that would take a book, a fairly large one.

Also, politically-thinking Resistance activists must be careful not to discourage anyone who is also thinking politically, even if another’s tactics appear ineffective to them. History teaches humility here. The reality is that nobody knows for sure what works or how it will work. One historical example: Hugely effective in ending the Vietnam War was rebellious G.I.’s non-cooperation, which frightened the U.S. military establishment (see documentary Sir! No Sir!); and though anti-war demonstrations by the U.S. general public did not stop Nixon’s overwhelming re-election in 1972, non-cooperative G.I.s in Vietnam were encouraged by those anti-war demonstrators (as it showed them that they had support back home); thus, while anti-war demonstrations may have had no direct effect on Nixon and may have even aided his re-election, those demonstrations encouraged G.I. resistance, which was quite powerful in ending U.S. involvement.

The Rehumanizing Resistance, like all political movements, has internal disagreements, and in Part Three, I will discuss those disagreements and frustrations and how not to allow them to result in the kind of dissension that reduces strength. As Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy counsels: oppressed groups must strengthen themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills and create a powerful internal resistance force. Part Three will be about increasing the Resistance’s strength, solidarity, and team work. Without energy to do battle, the best tactics will not be utilized.


3 Responses

  1. Deborah K Jamil
    Deborah K Jamil June 1, 2016 at 10:31 am |

    Psychiatry’s main goal is the suppression and/or elimination of unwanted behaviors, unwanted thoughts and speech, unwanted memories, etc. so that people can “get on with their everyday life.” We’re so preoccupied with the suppression of the unwanted behaviors, thoughts, etc., and then dealing with the effects of that suppression that we’re not realizing the unwanted stuff came out of our everyday life we want to get on with. If some serious effort was made to listen to and understand what people are trying to express with all their unwanted stuff, we might realize the problem is our everyday life we want to get on with, uninterrupted and undisturbed, NOT the people who are interrupting and disturbing us.

  2. Deborah K Jamil
    Deborah K Jamil June 4, 2016 at 1:08 pm |

    When people are in extreme distress they can’t sleep, then act and speak strangely as a result, urinate, defecate, and vomit all over the place and themselves, self-harm, attempt suicide, causing panic and often bleeding or vomiting all over the place yet again. In response, family members or caregivers DEMAND and EXPECT the medical establishment to do something to stop these behaviors/reactions, and the doctors want to do it in the most efficient and economical way possible in this age of efficiency. Supply and demand is driving the mental health industry’s actions every bit as much as greed is.
    The resulting suppression of the unwanted behaviors does not make what caused the distress go away; it isolates the person and leaves them alone with their painful memories, unable to share them or get help from their “caregivers” (a real misnomer in these circumstances–tormenters would be a more accurate description). We should be actively communicating with them to find out what caused such severe disruption to their lives. Instead, we are silencing and shutting them out of our lives and out of society, locking them up, drugging them, etc. This is cruelty, pure and simple; a cruelty we are collectively perpetrating by railroading people desperately needing our love and attention into one-size-fits-all-for-the-rest-of-your-life psychiatric “treatment” that provides neither of these.

  3. Deborah K Jamil
    Deborah K Jamil June 7, 2016 at 7:12 pm |

    A distressed person caught up in the mental health system becomes “one of them,” sectioned off by a multitude of labels designed specifically for “them” that transform “them” into people unworthy of meaningful communication with “us.” The way we treat “them” while “they” are in a distressed state reveals many uncomfortable truths about “us.” We want to see ourselves as good human beings, but our reactions to the distressed person expose our inhumane (without compassion for misery or suffering), thoughtless, impatient, callous, prejudiced, selfish nature. That won’t do, so we must shut “them” out to avoid seeing ourselves as we truly are. We want to continue seeing ourselves as humane, advanced, progressive, free, generous, intelligent, moral humans. “They,” and our treatment of “them,” threaten to damage a deceptive image of ourselves we continually seek to present to the world through all available media. We separate “them” from “us” in order to save face, thus revealing our true character for all the world to see. Our humanity is determined by how we treat one another, not by how many gadgets we invent and sell.

    In the end there is only “us.” The distressed person came from “us,” and psychiatry and Big Pharma are an extension of “us,” controlling the parts of “us” we lost direct control over. The trouble is we are tangled up in a lot of self-contradictory nonsense; we want to stop the unwanted behaviors, but allow the causes to continue. “They” will talk about the causes which is why “they” need to be silenced by being discredited and disowned. The danger their revelation presents to our precious reputations is the main reason we use psychiatry and Big Pharma to distance ourselves from “them.” Getting rid of these two will solve nothing. If we were to wake up from this nightmare to find psychiatry and Big Pharma banished, the void left by their departure would immediately be filled by the rivers of illicit drugs flowing into this country from every direction. The only difference would be the people making money off the drug sales, and the unhappiness of caregivers who think the illicit drugs more dangerous than “medications” prescribed by doctors.

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