Are Americans a Broken People? Why We've Stopped Fighting Back Against the Forces of Oppression

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JimN's picture
Joined: 5-06-09
Jan 13 2010 12:53
Are Americans a Broken People? Why We've Stopped Fighting Back Against the Forces of Oppression

A psychologist asks: Have consumerism, suburbanization and a malevolent corporate-government partnership so beaten us down that we no longer have the will to save ourselves?

Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not "set them free" but instead further demoralize them? Has such a demoralization happened in the United States?

Do some totalitarians actually want us to hear how we have been screwed because they know that humiliating passivity in the face of obvious oppression will demoralize us even further?

What forces have created a demoralized, passive, dis-couraged U.S. population?

Joined: 29-09-06
Jan 13 2010 13:44

I don't mean to be rude, but it is obvious that not only Americans, but many people are overly passive, lazy, disorganized, unfocused and not prepared to organize themselves to fight back. One of my theories is that many movements in the US are ineffective because they are merely hobbies for the bored or those looking for personal satisfaction or socializing and rarely get to the concretes of having goals and a plan for movement building and action.

So my comment to this is yes it is true, but rather than trying to analyse the causes, it would be good is somebody was working on the cures.

Boris Badenov
Joined: 25-08-08
Jan 13 2010 15:41

pinkertonism, red scares, cold war isolationism, religious fundamentalism, yeah I'd say there is a special case to be made for the US, but ultimately, workers in "socialist" Europe are just as apathetic and/or stuck in the groove of empty politics.

JoeMaguire's picture
Joined: 26-09-03
Jan 14 2010 00:22

Possibly another thread, but what would the US as an imperial power in full decline look like? What would the political ramifications be? I think thats a more interesting question.

cosh's picture
Joined: 19-12-07
Jan 14 2010 06:59

For imperial decline, just read your daily paper.
Most Americans are complacent. As Machiavelli noted, where neither their honor or property are threatened, most are content to live in peace.
As homelessness and joblessness increase, things will start to come apart at the seams.
It is a good time to organize!
Joined: 19-12-09
Jan 14 2010 10:22

OK here's my take:

1. Labor has been and is in retreat. With notable exceptions, it is like unions in this country can't bend over far enough over such things as forced overtime or wage cuts. Struggles are isolated and whatever constituted movemnt regarding labor is on life support. The Democratic Party serves the ruling class well in sabotaging anything remotely benificial to workers or better yet just keeping it from ever gettting mentioned.

2. Media. Propaganda cannot be underestimated. Corporate ownership of all major media is epidemic here. TV, Radio and Newspapers are owned by big players who have no desire to mention the word workers much less unions or actions. If they do, its always "there's big labor trying to hold the little guy down again" or some such swill.Cultural representations of workers are as alienated consumers who have everything and that there is no working class America. Poor people only exist in Africa.

3. Radical movements are mired in everything but working-class struggles. Primitivism and anti-civilization tendencies show up with all too much frequency. There is also a "its all going to collapse anyway, so just kick back attitude"....this can be found in fundamentalists and new-agers alike. Anarchists need to produce clear, relevant propaganda which addresses not just wages, hours and conditions in the immediate sense, but powerful transitional demands like longer vacations and shorter workweeks accross the board and integrating class analysis into ecological issues and anti-war actions. The need to talk to actual workers (ones that eat meat and don't give a fuck about 2012 or who John Zazeran is) and get literature into thier hands. And lastly, do so on a massive scale, I don't think radicals here don't appriciate the problem of this country's size!

4. Things already mentioned: religious fundamentalism. You bet. You shold see the letter column in our local paper with all the cranks writing about the evils of socialism,many which scarcly an idea of what th word means. Overwork. We all suffer from too much of it. True many workers are complacent drones (including yours truely at times), living such precarious lives,paycheck to paycheck and our labor laws are some of the shittiest in the world, so zero protection if you rock the boat. Just toil away and hope you can make it to retirement to enjoy your tiny lump.

Do I see hope? A small light, but its there. I know there are good working-class anarchists here doing stuff, but whatever the number is, we need ten times more of them. The public needs to be polarized and struggle intensified, fortifying people against the media's bullshit and the political circus act that is party politics.
Thanks for letting me spew my 2 cents!

waslax's picture
Joined: 6-12-07
Jan 14 2010 11:10 wrote:
Corporate ownership of all major media is epidemic here. TV, Radio and Newspapers are owned by big players who have no desire to mention the word workers much less unions or actions.

It's pretty much the same everywhere, u.s. red. Except in some places there is some government ownership of the major media. Would that be any better? Maybe just very slightly, but not really (e.g. the BBC in the UK or the CBC in Canada). The government everywhere is no more a friend of working class struggle than are private corporations. But I don't agree that there is hardly any mention of unions in the major media. I think there is a fair amount of it, relative to the rather declined scale of unionization in the U.S. And there is little mention of labor actions partly because there aren't many of them these days in the U.S. It is true, though, that the major media often blackout stories about significant workers' struggles, or thoroughly minimize and simplify them if not outright distort them in their coverage.

JimN's picture
Joined: 5-06-09
Jan 14 2010 13:13
akai wrote:
I don't mean to be rude, but it is obvious that not only Americans....

Yes, when you read the article it's only too clear that this applies anywhere. It's just that the writer is American.

The writer does suggest some solutions that they think could be applied. But, where as I agree that individuals suffering from 'abuse syndrome' with regard to an abusive partner etc can start to slowly raise their morale with 'small victories', I don't agree that this is transferable to the population as a whole seeking small political reformist victories. I think that is ultimately the road to complete demoralistion, frustration and apathy.

Armed Sheep
Joined: 21-03-09
Jan 14 2010 18:58 wrote:
Radical movements are mired in everything but working-class struggles. Primitivism and anti-civilization tendencies show up with all too much frequency.

On behalf of mired radical movements, don't you think that worker struggle is the impetus, the mother, the root and stock of these tendencies? That it is a working public who attended the birth and growth of modern civilisation so that select anti-social ne'er-do-wells could accumulate power without any personal activity beyond threatening gestures with a bull-whip and locating mathematicians to count their money? That some workers get a little pissed about the whole scene and no longer desire the erection of useless pyramids and cell-towers? That others are equally pissed, but prefer the activity construction work gives them, having come to know no other kind of activity? That they have come to define themselves by their productivity? That they can do a cell-tower sit (a working class version of the hippy tree-sit) so the bosses will go away but they can keep working their jobs in peace? That many think this stand is reformist, whereas revolution addresses totalities? That self-sacrifice for the greater good may be a psychological disorder when slavery persists after the masters have gone extinct? That the desire for the extinction of masters so that workers can perform the same tasks unimpeded seems to some reminiscent of lab rats returning to the cage for the illusion of security after the animal liberation front has released them? That it is a bit strange but really only demonstrates a learned helplessness after a life-time of struggle within a locked cage and not only do they no longer know how to live free of confinement, the very thought of it fills them with dread and they die of starvation wishing for the old days of predictable injections of carcinogen with their well-deserved meal, provided by others on completion of a successful performance on the treadmill? That self-management and capitalist management still produce a managed life? I'm only askin'.

On behalf of mired radical movements promoting a bit more spontaneity, free-play, sex, disorder in our lives (chance & uncertainty to replace a banal, hum-drum existence), some are coming to appreciate the logic of past labour movements and are calling for a universal general strike. A vigilant strike. A permanent organisation. A social organisation. The permanent revolution whose patron saint is not today's Marxist, but Marx' favourite son-in-law who really understood the master's notion of the self-abolition of the proletariat in the abolition of work. Vigilancy to prevent the renewed activity of scabs. A universal permanent organisation set out to round up labour and put it back into fairy-tales where it belongs with the other monsters so our children will know of their existence and be prepared should monsters return to everyday living. I'm only sayin'.


Dave B
Joined: 3-08-08
Jan 14 2010 19:33

hopefully the following maybe relevant or just informative a bit as an easy listen on the 'Frankfurt School';.

Joined: 21-03-05
Jan 21 2010 21:34

I spoke recently on this at the Historical Materialism Conference in New York City, USA. If anyone wants, drop me an e-mail and I will send you the article. It is much too long to post here unless the admins wanted to drop a copy in the library.


Steven.'s picture
Joined: 27-06-06
Jan 21 2010 23:59
redtwister wrote:
I spoke recently on this at the Historical Materialism Conference in New York City, USA. If anyone wants, drop me an e-mail and I will send you the article. It is much too long to post here unless the admins wanted to drop a copy in the library.


Chris, good to hear from you again, it's been a long time!

Why don't you post a copy in our library? Just click submit content - library and paste it in.

Joined: 25-11-06
Jan 22 2010 06:42

The original article clearly has the weakness of psychologizing a social/political/economic/total problem.

It does make maybe one useful point that isn't addressed quite as often as it should be:

"Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not "set them free" but instead further demoralize them? Has such a demoralization happened in the United States? Do some totalitarians actually want us to hear how we have been screwed because they know that humiliating passivity in the face of obvious oppression will demoralize us even further?"
Despite all the many horrors of life in the US, there is greater access to information than ever before - obviously not on mainstream news but on the Internet one can get just about anything you're looking for. Obviously, most people aren't looking for anarchism or communism but more are able to learn something about it than twenty years in the US (though much less than seventy five years ago in the US).
This information access has generally not lead to greater action, despite how fucked-over the American working class is.

But beyond this point, things get a bit shady.
"In the United States, 47 million people are without health insurance, and many millions more are underinsured or a job layoff away from losing their coverage. But despite the current sellout by their elected officials to the insurance industry, there is no outpouring of millions of U.S. citizens on the streets of Washington, D.C., protesting this betrayal."
Well, it's not really a matter of which horrible insurance reform thingy actually would involve a concession to the working class in present capitalism. Despite my excessive and obsessive interest in health care economics, I have no idea what practical scheme would be anything like a concession to the working class given so many private layers drinking at the trough of health care profits.

And so I doubt that most people have slightest concept of which state policy would actually help them. Even with things that should be clearer, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the complexity of the situation makes judgments less certain if a person is trying to decide on the basis of what would improve the existing capitalist world.

Thus my conclusion is that in many ways, people are paralyzed by not having any language for describing how their world works. You could say that this is a matter of capital's world becoming more and more complicated or you could call this the Integrated Spectacle but the problem is still there.

And there isn't a contradiction between not having a language to express your condition and having access to more information than ever before - the information just doesn't contain the key to people's condition. Indeed, the problem of capitalist social relations can't be solved through discussion even it can be described.

The way out is impractical demands made through collective struggle, etc. Now, I don't know exactly when we'll bootstrap that up...

Armed Sheep
Joined: 21-03-09
Jan 22 2010 20:19

Some found psychologisms from wikimedia edited to fit your screen:

Akathisia: Not sitting still. The revolt, the worm in the butt causing an itch to move, characterized by unpleasant sensations of "inner" restlessness. Dangerous except during periods of general insurrection. It may in fact, not be a disorder, but a symptom which produces disorder, unless accompanied by

Akinesia: the inability to initiate movement, a result of severely diminished dopaminergic cell activity in the direct pathway of movement – Ie., a "blockage". May take the form of slow motion, rigidity or instability. Often the result of mass intake of opiates.

Psychasthenia: Literally, 'no psychic strength'; excessive doubts, compulsions, obsessions, and unreasonable fears, a kind of weakness in the ability to attend to, adjust to, and synthesise one's changing experience resulting in loss of integrity or form and meltdown into the environment.

Neurasthenia: 'Weak nerves'. Psychasthenia when thought to have a neurological source, although George Miller Beard, who coined the term in 1869 considered it a medical condition resulting from exhaustion of the central nervous system's energy reserves, which he attributed to civilization – people were attempting to achieve more than their constitution could cope with – ie., the stresses of urbanization and the stress suffered as a result of the increasingly competitive environment. Initially, it was a complaint of business owners and, by contagion, their wives, as workers were already accustomed to a life of toil and had discovered their own remedial outlets.

Freud disagreed with Beard and, you guessed it, thought it was the result of excessive masturbation, indigestion and gas – not to be confused with authentic anxiety neurosis: the fear of punishment for wanting to off dear old dad and desire to fuck mom. Had Freud understood his own poetry, his might be a compatable explanation: the contradiction of a rejection of isolating patriarchy, The System, and a desire to re-immerse in the context, the 'mother'; in the end able to do neither.

Insensitivity: tactlessness, loss of sensibility, sensuality, sensation, concern, conscious attention:
1. Not reacting to the emotions or situation of other people or not caring about others.
2. Not reacting to something or not appreciating something.
3. Not experiencing physical sensations, numb.

Compartmentalization: the process of splitting an idea or concept up into (sometimes more or less arbitrary) parts, and trying to enforce thought processes which are inhibiting attempts to allow these parts to mix together again in an attempt to simplify things; the limiting of access to information to privileged persons in order to perform certain tasks; the formation of cellular compartments or cellular aggregations; the construction of boxes and low-rent housing or living in boxes and low-rent housing; and in archi-texture, the evolutionary growth from enclosed space to cubicle space, where room dividers are more virtual than real and paradoxically, more effective.

In social systems, the words "bureaucracy", "managerial district", and "ghetto" are preferable. In each case, information (or any other "resource") is either contained or withheld and its movement between boxes inhibited. The processes are identical; the nomenclature is merely a convention such that the difference between the social (artificial) and material (real) is always self-evident. It is unclear whether the fragmentation of whole bodies into isolated groups and the fragmentation of entire psyches and semantic domains reminiscent of tunnel vision (ranging from narrow-mindedness through categorical disassociation and multiple personhood/split personality) represent a primary sequencing or are both secondary emergents or resultants of constraining, sedentary existence.

Euthanasia: The removal of unuseful symptoms when euthenic compartmentalisation fails to improve living conditions. The root of the former is from Greek thantos "death" unlike the latter, from Greek euthenein "to thrive" (eu- 'well' + sthenos "strength"). The once meaningful distinction has been lost in the modern condition, thereby adding to the generalised feeling of hypocrisy or paradox. The healthy attitude when facing such contradiction is to call bullshit. More often, because we have been trained to expect a rational explanation for everything, we come away feeling stupid, as if we've missed something important. The self-fulfilling prophecy works in either case and we are led back into akathisic or akinesic states requiring the administration of more opiates or nerve blockers.

Placebo effects: A scientific mystery. Their basic mechanism has been investigated since 1978, when it was found that the opioid antagonist naloxone could block placebo painkillers, suggesting that endogenous opioids are involved. What a stroke of fortune that exogenous opiates were chosen early on and still form the basis of modern pain remedies. Motivation, conditioning and expectations also play a role in placebo effect. The effect is variably responsibile for miracle cures as well as voodoo deaths, the latter suggesting that antagonists could themselves be blocked.

While it has been consistently demonstrated to be up to 98% more effective than state-of-the-art pharmaceutical commodities, placebo is still considered an unethical "sham" remedy and a taboo topic. Etymologically derived from the root for "pleasing", placebos were in common usage, taking advantage of the power of nurturing the ill and the self-fulfilling prophecy up until the 20th century with the rise of late-industrial capitalism and syndicated pharmaceutical/chemical cartels such as Dupont, Dow, IG Farben, the American Chemical Council, etc., whose own scientists with advanced (but secretive so as to protect necessary patents) methodologies continue to discredit all tried and true (traditional, formerly "patent") remedies in favour of the toxic and untested.

Paranoia: Also known as "poetry" by those comfortably situated in narrow boxes: a backwards thought disorder prone to fetishisation – the fascination and search for patterns in the environment, and attribution of commensurability & agency within it, particularly in the politico-economic "forces" (obviously an unhealthy "mysticism"). Paranoids persist in this stand in the face of overwhelming scientific concensus since the discovery of DNA, statistical tests and parliamentary procedure – proof that subjective impressions and representations are due to certain calculable and therefore modifiable genetic proclivities. The environment itself is thought a useful effect, never a cause! We can make our environment; we can take our environment. Or so they say and so they do.

The obsessive-compulsive, compartmentalised bent may be the result of failure to act. One is helpless. One must obey orders, suggestions, urges, no matter where they originate. One is under control, compelled. Obedience is thereafter translated "freedom and security" and paranoia becomes the normal state.

Infection: Curiously, the war on terror and the war on infection exhibit a 97% philosophical overlap. Even more curious, the members of the boards of directors of corporate medicine (an emerged cartel or syndicate of pharmaceutical, chemical and insurance companies) also sit on the boards of military contractors (although obviously in different seating arrangements, else how could we tell them apart?). They are exceedingly hard to spot, being syndicalists ("connected"), anarchist ("above the law") and internally socialist ("the bucks stop there ... all of them!"), hence the designation, "high society". Now if everyone or even "just anyone" were to transcend law, the epidemic of viral contamination would so furiously spread, the high and low ends would outright disappear, leaving society exposed and without adjective.

CRUD's picture
Joined: 11-04-10
Jul 20 2011 08:37

How did Rome fall? How was that culture "erased"? Was it ideological or material conditions that led to the fall of Rome? Without ideology, as was the case with the fall of Rome, we will most likely end up in some new form of "dark ages". So.....yes, consumerism (fetishized materialism) is a major problem- not providing for ones self but name brand fetishes and such...the perceived and quiet honestly created/manufactured need to accumulate and hoard useless shit is a problem.

Rome (western capitalism) will's just up to people like us to make sure a new form of dark ages doesn't take hold and if possible make the transition before capitalism implodes into itself.

This is cliche' I know but how do you unplug the masses from the matrix if the matrix is what they want? You have to destroy the Matrix or at least let it destroy itself. Fucking Matrix analogies....almost pathetic but it gets the point across.