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Liberation Psychology and Re-learning Our Outrage

Traditionally, psychology has served to fit the status quo and protect the power structure. A philosophy that places individual pleasure above social structures is fundamentally flawed in that it alienates us from each other.

So says Dr. Bruce E. Levine, author of Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy. The remedy, says Levine, is a massive dose of “Liberation Psychology.”

From Z Magazine:

The term “liberation psychology” was popularized by Ignacio Martin-Baró (1942-1989), the psychologist, priest, and activist who was assassinated in El Salvador by government troops. Martin-Baró focused on the oppression of his fellow Salvadorans, Central Americans, and Latin Americans. It is increasingly apparent that U.S. citizens need Martin-Baró’s insights along with their own special kind of liberation psychology.

Why, in the United States, when the majority of people oppose the taxpayer bailout of the financial industry and the military occupation in Iraq, are the streets not regularly occupied with large numbers of protesters? Given 47 million people in the U.S. without health insurance and many millions more who are underinsured or a job layoff away from losing their coverage, and given the current sellout by their elected officials to the insurance industry, why are there not millions, rather than thousands in Washington, DC protesting this betrayal?

In contrast to the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who risked their lives to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, few in the United States took to the streets to protest their own disputed 2000 presidential election. The U.S. corporate media, which often fails to report many injustices, did not hide the non-democratic nature of the 2000 presidential election. It reported that Al Gore received, undisputedly, 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush. It reported that the Florida Supreme Court’s order for a recount of the disputed Florida vote was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in a politicized 5-4 decision, of which dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens remarked: “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

When people become broken, they cannot act on truths about injustice or about how they have been victimized by the government-corporate partnership that can lead to shame about how they have allowed it. And shame, like fear, is one more psychological way we become even more broken.

U.S. citizens do not actively protest obvious injustices for the same reasons that people cannot leave their abusive spouses. The more we don’t act, the weaker we get. Ultimately, to deal with the painful humiliation over inaction in the face of an oppressor, we move to shutdown and escape with strategies such as depression, substance abuse, television, and other diversions, which further keep us from acting. This is the vicious cycle of all abuse syndromes.

Liberation psychology is quite different than the prevailing psychology that most U.S. mental health professionals practice—which is to modify, manipulate, and medicate “malcontents” so that they are not monkey wrenches for the industrial order. In addition to Martin-Baró’s insights, the U.S. needs its own version of liberation psychology in which we start by recognizing that the U.S. population has been broken, then understand how this has happened, and then find paths to regain morale, healing, wholeness, and strength.

Read the whole article here.


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