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Are the Young People That Shrinks Label as Disruptive Really Anarchists with a Healthy Resistance to Oppressive Authority?

Many young people diagnosed with mental disorders have acted on their beliefs in ways that threaten authorities.

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  • Do you hate coercion and domination?
  • Do you love freedom?
  • Are you willing to risk punishments to gain freedom?
  • Do you instinctively distrust large, impersonal and distant authorities?
  • Do you think people should organize themselves rather than submit to authorities?
  • Do you dislike being either an employer or an employee?
  • Do you smile after reading the Walt Whitman quote “Obey little, resist much”?

Young people who oppose inequality and exploitation, reject a capitalist economy, and aim for a society based on cooperative, mutually owned enterprise are essentially left-anarchists—perhaps calling themselves “anarcho-syndicalists” or “anarcho-communitarians.” When they discover what Noam Chomsky, Peter Kropotkin, Kirkpatrick Sale, or Emma Goldman have to say, they may identify with these thinkers. These young people have a strong moral streak of egalitarianism and a desire for social and economic justice. Not only are they not mentally ill but, from my perspective, they are the hope of society.

There is another group of freedom-loving young people who hate the coercion of parents, schools, and the state but lack an egalitarian moral streak, and are very much into money and capitalism. Some of them may have been dragged into the mental health system after having been caught drug dealing, and are labeled with conduct disorder and/or a personality disorder. While these young people rebel against they themselves being controlled and exploited, many of them are not averse to controlling and exploiting others, and so are not anarchists, but some have spiritual transformations and become so.

An Underground Resistance for Oppressed Young Anarchists

There are at least two ways that mental health professionals can join the resistance: 1) speak out about the political role of mental health institutions in maintaining the status quo in society; and 2) depathologize and repoliticize rebellion in one’s clinical practice, which includes helping young anarchists navigate an authoritarian society without becoming self-destructive or destructive to others, and helping families build respectful, non-coercive relationships.

If a nonviolent anarcho-communitarian (politically conscious or otherwise) is dragged by parents into my office for failing to take school seriously but is otherwise pleasant and excited by learning, I tell parents I do not believe there is anything essentially “disordered” with their child. This sometimes gets me fired, but not all that often. It is my experience that most parents may think that believing a society can function without coercion is naive but they agree it’s not a mental illness, and they’re open to suggestions that will create greater harmony and joy within their family.

I work hard with parents to have them understand that their attempt to coerce their child into taking school seriously not only has failed—that's why they’re in my office—but will likely continue to fail. And increasingly, the pain of their failed coercion will be compounded by the pain of their child’s resentment, which will destroy their relationship with their child and create even more family pain. Many parents acknowledge that this resentment already exists. I ask liberal parents, for example, if they would try to coerce a homosexual child into being heterosexual or vice versa, and most say, “Of course not!” And so they begin to see that temperamentally anarchist children cannot be similarly coerced without great resentment.

It has been my experience that many rebellious young people labeled with psychiatric disorders and substance abuse don’t reject all authorities, simply those they’ve assessed to be illegitimate ones, which just happens to be a great deal of society’s authorities. Often, these young people are craving a relationship with mutual respect in which they can receive help navigating the authoritarian society around them.