Are Americans Too Broken by Corporate Power to Resist?
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Editor's Note: The following is the transcript of a recent interview with Bruce E. Levine by OpEd News' Joan Brunwasser. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy(Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).
Joan Brunwasser: Back in December, you wrote 'Are Americans a Broken People? Why We've Stopped Fighting Back Against the Forces of Oppression.'Could you tell our readers about your theory?
Bruce E. Levine: There are times when human beings can become so broken that truths of how they are being victimized do not set them free. This is certainly the case for many victims of parental and spousal abuse. They are not helped by people explaining to them that they are being battered, exploited, uncared about and disrespected. They know it already and somebody pointing it out is not helpful.
So, it seems to me that it is also possible that human beings can become so broken by the abuse of the corporate elite that they also are no longer set free by truth.
While certainly the corporate-controlled mainstream media does not report many important truths, the majority of the American people do know enough to oppose the war in Afghanistan, but they do almost nothing in response to recent troop surges.
Polls show that the majority of Americans actually support single-payer, Medicare-for all plan and even a larger majority support a public option, yet there are relatively few people on the streets protesting the Democratic party betrayal of them.
And look at the 2000 U.S. "banana-republic" presidential election, in which Gore beat Bush by 500,000 votes and the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount, and 51 million Gore voters were disenfranchised. Yes, there were small protest demonstrations against this election farce, but the numbers of protesters were so small that they empowered rather than concerned the future Bush administration, which went on to almost vaunt its regime of anti-democracy and piss on basic human rights. How humiliating for an entire nation. The shame many Americans feel, at some level, for allowing torture and other abuses is similar to the shame that spousal abuse victims feel -- and this routinely makes people feel even weaker. So, while not all Americans are broken, demoralized and feeling powerless, many are.
I wish the answer to restoring democracy was simply one of people getting more journalistic truths through a non-corporate media --and certainly I am all for that -- but I think that much more is required. We need to take a look at what forces in American society are breaking the American people from the ability to resist tyranny and dehumanization, and we must start considering what are the antidotes to this. At least that's what any psychologist or social scientist who gives a damn about genuine democracy should be doing.
JB: So, our feelings of powerlessness are rooted in modern life, exacerbated by present political realities. I'd like to point out another factor, which is what Paul Rogat Loeb refers to as our 'historic amnesia.' Historian and social activist Howard Zinn spent decades trying to offset that amnesia by providing an alternate history of our country, emphasizing various movements that have spanned decades (or generations) and eventually brought about change. He told stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and his book, A People's History of the United States has sold two million copies. So, it's obviously struck a chord. What do you think about the power of stories as an antidote to the ennui you describe?
BL: Stories of resistance to tyranny are great for the morale, so Howard Zinn did a great service by popularizing historical examples. These can be inspirational. A broken person and a broken people need morale. Inspirational models whom people can identify with can be energizing, and energy is exactly what demoralized people need.
It is important for people to know that, yes, there are historical examples of people rebelling against the elite. It is important, for example, for us to know that there once was something called the People's Party in the U.S. and a huge populist revolt that scared the hell out of the elite in the 1880s and 1890s.
But historical truths are not enough because sometimes people say, "That's just history, now is different, rebellion isn't possible." That's why not only historians need to report rebellions but journalists must report current resistance to the ruling elite corporations and their political lackeys, current resistance to this "corpocracy."
Bill Moyers has done a good job reporting on current resisters. I have seen a couple of examples on his recent shows. One is Steve Meachum and his group City Life, which has successfully kept people from being thrown out of their homes in foreclosure. Another example is pediatrician Margaret Flowers, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, jailed for the cause of single-payer/Medicare for all.
JB: Good examples. I interviewed Dr. Flowers last May, shortly after she was released from jail.
BL: Historical examples and current examples of resistance against the corporacy can be inspiring, energizing and morale-boosting.
The elite know that to win the class war, just like winning any war, the goal is to crush the spirit of resistance of your opponent. So if you want to win the class war, you must care about the morale of your class.
Remember the "Tank Man" in China? While it is important for the people in China to know all the ways that they are being victimized, the problem is if they are completely terrified of their authoritarian government and too broken to resist, what's the good of knowing more and more about how they are being victimized? So, that one image of the guy getting out in front of the tank -- "the Tank Man" -- is hugely important.
I can tell you for sure that what I need is more models and fewer lectures. My sense is that is what many of us need.
JB: Your comment points to one of the big problems we Americans face. The corporate media is often part of the problem, rather than performing its historic 'watchdog' function. That's difficult to overcome, especially when so many exclusively read and listen to that right-wing echo chamber. Wasn't it Hitler's propaganda minister who said that all you have to do is repeat a lie 1,000 times and it becomes true? Those of us trying to practice responsible journalism online are fighting an uphill battle. Any recommendations?
BL: It's only going to make genuine journalists feel more powerless and broken if they focus on the ability of the corporate media to pound the airwaves with bullshit. The good news is that with all the money and power behind them, not all that many people take the corporate media seriously.
Of course, people don't get how impotent the corporate media is if they just watch the corporate media. But the polls show that, despite all their propaganda, the American people know that big business, the Democrats, the Republicans and the corporate media are all special-interest groups that work together for their own interest and not for the people.
I'm not going to worry about people like NBC's Brian Williams who spends a good part of his life appearing on every program possible to get his face and name out there. Williams makes it as clear as possible to anybody with half of a brain that what he's desperate for is publicity -- not truth.