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Activism as Pathology? On the socio-paranoia of activists & TINA

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Psychiatrists and psychologists are opting to declare despair and anger at the state of the world (things that the patient can’t change) as a kind of disease that should be medicated. Never mind that most economists, environmentalists, philosophers, etc., all see catastrophe mounting towards complete cataclysm. Take this pill and chill out. Unfortunately I think this position amongst head-shirkers has a cultural basis in most of the population. We even see this fear and loathing of progressive activism from poor people whether in the Tea Party (“keep your government hands of my Medicare”) or during our protests on the poorest streets of Canada, where people who probably don’t have jobs, are yelling out from the decrepit windows of slum buildings for us marchers to “get a job” (while we’re marching in defense of the cat-callers’ neighbourhood health services!).

The implicit reaction to activists is basically ‘they are constantly bashing us over the head with how fucked we are on this planet’ …. ‘And not only do they hit us over and over again with all this depressing news, but hardly a thing that they’ve protested and let off society-wide stink bombs about has changed, so what’s the point, let’s just get on with living as enjoyably as we can, while we can’. ‘Activist! get out of my mental and emotional way so I can get on with what I can actually affect - the self-interested quality of my own life!’

I was in with a psychologists due to trauma from being assaulted, pretty-well out of the blue, by a cop. This psychologist is pretty radical for his class. His daughter is actually a fairly key direct action activist. And after he’d gotten me through my mild PTSD, I started bringing up my real persistent despair, that of hopelessness and frustration with my society that is clearly committing eco-cide, and he would immediately side-track those issues, as though they weren’t relevant. I don’t think he thinks they’re irrelevant, just that there’s nothing he can do for them in his office, so there’s no point in allowing me to go on about it. This is a common theme amongst another (homeopathic) physician of mine who I know is also radical in his politics.

This is probably the major reason why another activist who’s a PH.D in mental health and co-founder of VanAct (along with the psychiatrist’ daughter), absolutely refuses to practice any kind of professional, market based mental health…  Because a psychology operating alongside a society of atomized isolation (my little box with my deed on that box), must resist the real cures of depression when those cures require breaking into the social realm through radical, collective action. Shrinks must marginalize the real depressing issues because they can’t offer help, let alone charge for cures in their personal realm of cure. And that basic necessity of some kind of blocking-out of the traumatic reality holds true across the society.

When we see such pervasive fear and loathing all the way from doctors to the poor and jobless, we shouldn’t be surprised when an Attorney Generals’ office politically defines activism as criminal, as is likely being done with Alex Hundert.  As Alex’ brother – John Hundert - put it, “The fact that this latest unbelievable charge is coming from the Crown themselves reveals a clear political bias from the Attorney General’s office to keep Alex in jail at all costs and to criminalize political dissenters."

The three main cruxes in most of the anti-activist population seem to be (1) “sure it’s depressing, but almost nothing has brought change and it doesn’t seem like anything will” We’ll call this the Doomsday Waiters position. (2) “Ya, it’s depressing and something should be done, and surely there’s a better way” who we’ll name the Hold-out Participants. And, (3) ‘something must be done, but you activist just talk negatively so you must only want to tear it all down and leave nothing in its place’, which we’ll call Fearful of Rupture.

There are other versions of these, mostly applicable to the (imo) minority of the population that is absolutely blind to or denying the world around them, but we’ll concern ourselves with those who might be reached and brought into the effort to help save their and their children’s’ hides.

 In Vancouver, many of ‘my people’ founded something called COPE, which was basically the socialists trying to get themselves a broader base of progressive candidates so someone, anyone could finally rival the right wing city party – the NPA. COPE went from a medium membership during the Communist Party of Canada’ hay day to a super low membership after the hay day. But then in 2000, thousands of members suddenly flooded in once COPE actually won City power from the NPA (‘Wow, those socialists finally got power, let’s see if we can’t get done some of those impossible goals they’ve talked about for 70 years’). People are attracted to power and winning. If they believe something has enough capacity and support to maybe actually win, then they’ll flood in and give a lot of what they have. If they think joining in will almost certainly be a waste of their time, energy and resources then they’re not going to give up everything to futility, are they?

And certainly activism in its contemporary form, has very few major wins, especially not relative to the major gains that are needed just to reverse the current catastrophic trends. A great example of this is the anti Vietnam War movement. Most think that the War Movement of the 1960s failed: The war went on for years despite massive civil disruptions in the U.S., Vietnam was destroyed, birth defects from Agent Orange are widespread to this day, etc. But some activists say, “but the U.S. might have used a nuke if not for the mass-movement!” And people who know about Agent Orange, all the dykes and irrigation infrastructure of North Vietnam being bombed by the first smart-bombs to destroy agriculture and plunge Vietnam into serious food shortages, etc., roll their eyes, because the damage actually was very comparable to a nuclear bomb. Compared to how bad the current situation is (real politik), activist sound silly: ‘come beat your head against the massive wall-of-crises with us, and then we can celebrate victory when we create cracks in a few bricks (issues) which form the massive wall-of-crises’. I’ve actually had anarchists laugh at me for saying I want to win. Durruti forbid we actually get enough power-with to win a new world!

During the 1930s and 40s the model of ‘communism’, even under Stalin, had large, devoted swaths of the population in the West. Devoted because it was potentially a hopeful alternative vision of society, which, people thought (no matter how fallaciously), also had a viable power – the USSR – to help realize that vision. And the hopefulness of an alternative vision combined with the capacity to viably win it convinced many seriously moral and even privileged people to be willfully blind and rationalize the Soviet starvation, imprisonment and assassination of millions of their own people. Those moral and privileged people blinded themselves so they could continue the purposeful sacrifice of their own bourgeois living standards in order to work for the possibility of systemic change.

So not only was there a (barely) hopeful alternative, but there was a viable capacity (if violent one) in the world that could help make that vision a reality. We don’t really have that viable alternative today; enough of the population considers central command planning (aka ‘socialism’) to be synonymous with tyrannical state rule, gift economics, like we’re anywhere near to that, solidarity economics, nice fluffy idea with no real methodology. But without a viable alternative we shouldn’t be surprised at the prevalence of Fear & Loathing types (1) and (3). And type (2) Fear and Loathingers are probably dead on, even though most people who take the position of ‘there must be a better way’  have no idea what the better way is. Watching Amy Goodman interview Manfred Max-Neef, who is a radical alternative economist, I’m not surprised when even he says he has no idea what the alternative is.  The Derrick Jensen interview is replayed where he says we don’t know what we want, but then offers absolutely nothing other than diversity of tactics (not strategy or vision, but tactics) himself, which isn’t surprising because almost everyone on the show who is asked the same question by Goodman admits they have no answer, and those who come with an answer most often have dubious solutions (like Chavez saying Cuba is a model).

There Is No Alternative (TINA) still stands, and thus the population can’t be inspired to stand with us. Those who label us as futily rupturing this system, aren’t exactly groundless in their extreme marginalization of us.

While we allow TINA to stand, we activist shouldn’t be surprised at our socio-psychic quarantine.

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