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Johann Hari’s new book “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” provides new, compelling evidence to support the argument from “We Are All Very Anxious” by the Institute for Precarious Consciousness. The argument is that most of us are deeply unhappy, and this unhappiness is a completely rational response to the unhappy conditions of our lives that capitalism has produced.

Specifically, Hari points out how the routine of work under capitalism is making us miserable: “There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful – that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. It’s a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing – our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are “engaged” in their work – they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are “not engaged”, which is defined as “sleepwalking through their workday”. And 24% are “actively disengaged”: they hate it.”

Even the United Nations has concluded that “We need to move from ‘focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’’ to focusing more on ‘power imbalances'”. So if we want to be happy, we also need to democratize the economy and give people the power to determine how they want to spend their time and what kinds of work they would actually enjoy doing. [alex]

Is Everything You Think You Know About Depression Wrong?

Originally published by The Guardian, January 7, 2018.

In the 1970s, a truth was accidentally discovered about depression – one that was quickly swept aside, because its implications were too inconvenient, and too explosive. American psychiatrists had produced a book that would lay out, in detail, all the symptoms of different mental illnesses, so they could be identified and treated in the same way across the United States. It was called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the latest edition, they laid out nine symptoms that a patient has to show to be diagnosed with depression – like, for example, decreased interest in pleasure or persistent low mood. For a doctor to conclude you were depressed, you had to show five of these symptoms over several weeks.

The manual was sent out to doctors across the US and they began to use it to diagnose people. However, after a while they came back to the authors and pointed out something that was bothering them. If they followed this guide, they had to diagnose every grieving person who came to them as depressed and start giving them medical treatment. If you lose someone, it turns out that these symptoms will come to you automatically. So, the doctors wanted to know, are we supposed to start drugging all the bereaved people in America?

The authors conferred, and they decided that there would be a special clause added to the list of symptoms of depression. None of this applies, they said, if you have lost somebody you love in the past year. In that situation, all these symptoms are natural, and not a disorder. It was called “the grief exception”, and it seemed to resolve the problem.

Then, as the years and decades passed, doctors on the front line started to come back with another question. All over the world, they were being encouraged to tell patients that depression is, in fact, just the result of a spontaneous chemical imbalance in your brain – it is produced by low serotonin, or a natural lack of some other chemical. It’s not caused by your life – it’s caused by your broken brain. Some of the doctors began to ask how this fitted with the grief exception. If you agree that the symptoms of depression are a logical and understandable response to one set of life circumstances – losing a loved one – might they not be an understandable response to other situations? What about if you lose your job? What if you are stuck in a job that you hate for the next 40 years? What about if you are alone and friendless?

depression

Illustration by Michael Driver

The grief exception seemed to have blasted a hole in the claim that the causes of depression are sealed away in your skull. It suggested that there are causes out here, in the world, and they needed to be investigated and solved there. This was a debate that mainstream psychiatry (with some exceptions) did not want to have. So, they responded in a simple way – by whittling away the grief exception. With each new edition of the manual they reduced the period of grief that you were allowed before being labelled mentally ill – down to a few months and then, finally, to nothing at all. Now, if your baby dies at 10am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01am and start drugging you straight away.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A few years ago, I wrote about “The Paradox of Capitalism,” which reflected on the reality that we are dependent for survival on the very system that is threatening the survival of our entire planet.

paradoxWith the passing of time, the paradoxical nature of our world has only revealed itself more. The most powerful man in the world right now is perhaps the very worst possible person one could choose to hold such a responsibility. We’ve also seen a string of sexual abuse scandals begin to emanate from the most powerful people in Hollywood.

Why is it that those who abuse others seem to wind up in positions of authority and are enabled in their abuse, while those abused are often silenced for years or even decades? 

Let’s investigate this question through the use of paradoxes – I hope they will shed some light on the subject. I’ll begin with the most obvious and then build toward to the core of our question.

Age

The young take great pains to appear older; the old take great pains to appear younger.

For the young, time passes excruciatingly slowly; the older one gets, the more one realizes how rapidly time passes, and consequently how young one actually is.

Knowledge

The least knowledgeable are the most likely to declare what they think they know; the most knowledgeable are the most likely to admit what they don’t.

People who speak the most often have the least to say; people who speak the least often have spent the most time in quiet observation, and therefore have the most wisdom to share.

Confidence

Those who project confidence have likely spent the least effort challenging their own understanding — this is shallow confidence; those who reveal uncertainty likely have forged the strongest understanding in a cauldron of self-doubt — here is deep confidence.

Shallow confidence won’t stand up to scrutiny but is the least likely to be challenged – its brazenness and loudness leads to wide acceptance; deep confidence is constantly overlooked, challenged and dismissed, despite its actually being the strongest.

Power

Those with the least power in society are the most likely to blame themselves for their failures; those with the most power are the quickest to blame someone else. This helps ensure that those in power tend to remain in power, and vice versa.

People most likely to act on behalf of the best interests of everyone, i.e. those who would make the best leaders, are the quickest to doubt their own ability to lead; people most likely to seek leadership positions are also the most likely to act on their own self-interest and consequently make the worst leaders.

The concentration of power into the fewest hands accelerates the efficiency of the exercise of that power; it also ensures that the exercise of power will be divorced from the actual will of the people. This explains the creation of every system of abuse – from patriarchy to capitalism to the U.S. government to Hollywood.

Conclusion

Using this paradoxical viewpoint, especially highlighting the constant tension between what appears true on the surface and what is actually true deep underneath, opens up a window into the logic that has brought us to the terrible conundrum we are in – where the world is upside down.

The conundrum can only be escaped through democracy, the decentralization of power, and on a more personal level, the active practice of listening, asking questions, and philosophical self-doubt.


The following book review was published in the Fall issue of Fifth Estate.  I originally wrote a much longer version here. This one’s short and sweet. [alex knight]
calibanwitch250
Silvia Federici’s book, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, is an essential read for those of us seeking to overthrow systems of domination and build a liberated future.

What is most fascinating about Caliban and the Witch is how it challenges the widely-held belief that capitalism, though perhaps flawed in its current form, was at one time a “progressive” or necessary development. Uncovering the forgotten history of the Witch Hunt that consumed Europe in suspicion and fire for more than 200 years, Federici demonstrates that capitalism has always relied on spectacular violence, particularly against women, people of color, workers, and those cultivating a more egalitarian future.

The book recalls the enormous and colorful peasant movements of the Middle Ages, which pointed towards non-capitalist futures for Europe, and by extension, the world. However, these paths were blocked. The “shock therapy” of the Witch Hunt was used to terrorize rebels and visionaries, impose new discipline on the body, on female sexuality in particular, and usher in a new social system based on a landless working class and the devaluation of women’s labor.

Federici writes, “It is impossible to associate capitalism with any form of liberation or attribute the longevity of the system to its capacity to satisfy human needs. If capitalism has been able to reproduce itself it is only because of the web of inequalities that it has built into the body of the world proletariat, and because of its capacity to globalize exploitation. This process is still unfolding under our eyes, as it has for the last 500 years.”

Read the rest of this entry »


I’m excited to bring a guest post from my friend Jack Grauer, a Philadelphia-based political writer. Over the last couple decades, as academia has gotten increasingly competitive, forcing more and more alienated labor out of students, many have turned to Adderall and other drugs to artificially keep focus through coma-inducing schooling. Now schools are attempting to crack down on drug use, especially against those students not deemed worthy, such as working class students and students of color. Jack’s article sheds light on this hypocritical clampdown.

What is the function of academia for the capitalist system? Certainly the free/cheap research for corporate and military institutions is important. The classification and indoctrination of students, preparing youth for lifetimes of service in the capitalist apparatus, is absolutely necessary as well. But what is less mentioned is the more pervasive enclosure and specialization of knowledge – the creation of a dichotomy between the few “experts” who have done years of research on increasingly specialized and miniature fields of study, and the general public, which is put into a position of ignorance and helplessness simply by failing to possess a degree. Academia does not pursue or create the kind of knowledge that is useful to ordinary people; it creates knowledge which serves the system.

This is not to say that no radical or revolutionary ideas can be found in the university, because of course the academy is one of the few careers that radicals can enter without totally surrendering their integrity.  However, if one is to attempt to remain true to a revolutionary transformation of society from within academia, one must constantly subvert the kind of knowledge-production inside its walls and attempt to translate any useful ideas into practical language for social movements and regular folks on the outside. [alex]

Adderall and Higher Education’s Delusion of Meritocracy

 by Jack Grauer

adderall-brain-side-effects1Universities have good reasons to call for stiffer regulation of stimulant study drugs; they are addictive and potentially dangerous. But defending the wheezing fantasy that postsecondary education was ever fair in the first place is not one of them.

Imagine you’re a college teacher. Some of your medically insured students have diagnoses for ADHD, i.e. the inability to stare at paper for a long time. They take prescription drugs like Adderall to treat it. Other students of yours buy and use these drugs illicitly; they do so not only to enhance their academic performance, but also to get high. Still other students of yours feel uncomfortable taking Adderall, which the DEA groups with oxycodone and morphine in terms of addictiveness and abuse potential, to do well in school. What you don’t know is which of your students get and take what drugs, how, or why.

You must now assign final semester grades.

Read the rest of this entry »


the following 12 songs were written/compiled by me for the People’s Victory Parade, hosted by Occupy Philly on 12/31/11.

they’re mostly Christmas/holiday tunes transformed into Occu-Carols, with a couple others thrown in as well. my favorite is #6 “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

let’s be a movement that sings!
alex

image by Larry Swetman

OCCUPY PHILLY SONGBOOK

1. WE WISH FOR A REVOLUTION
(by Alex Knight to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)

We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
In the coming New Year!

Tunisia was first
Egypt heard the call
Then Occupy Wall St.
Inspired us all.

(Chorus)

In Chile and Greece
Now Russia we see
The people are rising
For democracy.

(Chorus)

Now Philly has joined
We’re ready to rock
We’re just getting started
And we’ll never stop!

We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
In the coming New Year!

2. THE TWELVE DAYS OF OCCUPY
(inspired by other versions, including one by Gina Botel)

On the first day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
A tent and a community.

On the second day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Two woolen blankets and…

On the third day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Three warm meals…

On the fourth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Four clarifying questions…

On the fifth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
FIVE LONG GA’s…

On the sixth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Six working groups…

On the seventh day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Seven drummers drumming…

On the eighth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Eight signs a-painting…

On the ninth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Nine marchers marching…

On the tenth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Ten locked arms…

On the eleventh day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Eleven cops a-raiding…

On the twelfth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Twelve new encampments… Read the rest of this entry »


I’ve been meaning to post this for a while!  It’s a great short essay / pamphlet on race and racism, written for the Occupy movement.  Please read!  Race is an issue we ignore at our own peril. [alex]

Whiteness and the 99%
By Joel Olson

Originally published by Bring the Ruckus, 10/20/11.  A printable PDF of this piece is available for download here, and a readable PDF is available here.

Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.

Left colorblindess is the enemy

Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it.

Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.

As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.

The white democracy

Biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to define it. That’s because race is a human creation, not a fact of nature. Like money, it only exists because people accept it as “real.” Races exist because humans invented them.

Why would people invent race? Race was created in America in the late 1600s in order to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. So, they cut a deal with the poor English colonists. The planters gave the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to never be enslaved, to free speech and assembly, to move about without a pass, to marry without upper-class permission, to change jobs, to acquire property, and to bear arms. In exchange, the English poor agreed to respect the property of the rich, help them seize indigenous lands, and enforce slavery.

This cross-class alliance between the rich and the English poor came to be known as the “white race.” By accepting preferential treatment in an economic system that exploited their labor, too, the white working class tied their wagon to the elite rather than the rest of humanity. This devil’s bargain has undermined freedom and democracy in the U.S. ever since.

The cross-class alliance that makes up the white race.

As this white race expanded to include other European ethnicities, the result was a very curious political system: the white democracy. The white democracy has two contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand, all whites are considered equal (even as the poor are subordinated to the rich and women are subordinated to men). On the other, every white person is considered superior to every person of color. It’s democracy for white folks, but tyranny for everyone else. Read the rest of this entry »


A very useful article showing how the needs of people to be heard, to listen, and  to have their voices count for something, are met through the General Assembly process of the Occupy movement. [alex]

A Therapist Talks About the Occupy Wall Street Events

Occupy Philly General Assembly, October 6, 2011

By Lane Arye

Originally published by In Front and Center.

Last night I was talking with a group of activists/organizers from around the country about their impressions of the OWS movement. They were curious how the insights of a therapist and conflict facilitator schooled in Worldwork (which was developed by Arnold Mindell) might be useful to folks in the movement. After our teleconference, the activists encouraged me to write this.

First off, OWS is surrounded by a host of critics, from long-time social change organizers to mainstream media.  (Much of the media criticism has been debriefed, so I’m focusing on internal criticisms I have heard.)

We can learn from critics in at least two ways. They can help us improve by pointing out what we genuinely need to change. Paradoxically, they may be criticizing us for something we actually need to do more congruently. Seen from this angle, critics may be highlighting strengths we don’t yet know we have.

Take one criticism: The General Assemblies lead to a kind of individualism of people wanting to be heard and contribute, unaware of the impact on the thousand people listening.  In one recent GA, a small group of frustrated men hijacked the meeting, cursing and physically threatening the entire assembly.  Even in less dramatic situations, most GA’s are filled with judgment, fracturing statements, and individuals repeating each other just so they can get themselves heard.

From one point of view, the criticism is valid. Yes, Western individualism can be very problematic and it is always a good time to learn to become communitarian.  But perhaps there is also something beautiful about this individualism. People have the sense that they can finally speak up about the economy, that their voice is important, that they do not have to shut up and listen to talking heads who supposedly know better.

It can be useful to think about this in terms of roles. (Just as an actor plays many different roles, we all play different roles in our lives, sometimes without awareness.) Individuals wanting to be heard at a General Assembly might be in the role of someone who wants attention. “Pay attention to me! I have something to say!”  For years our “democratic” system has ignored these voices.  They have been excluded by money, a political system that merely offers citizens a chance to vote, and a financial system bent on inequality. But now this role is finding a public voice.

Read the rest of this entry »


A timely and valuable article by one of the facilitators of the Occupy Wall St. process, David Graeber. I was there for the occupation’s humble beginnings last Saturday, but since then it has become a sensation among the conscious and concerned population of this country. Why? Because finally there is an ongoing, unignorable, and vibrant manifestation against the Wall St. crooks who quite blatantly stole trillions of dollars from us.

Whether the occupation on Lower Manhattan lasts, or grows, or dies in the coming weeks, the global upheaval will continue and become an ever-present feature of the 21st Century. Our theory is that capitalism has entered a crisis from which it will never recover. The youth can feel it, we know we have no future within the existing system. The only question is, what alternative models can we move to, when everything feels so bleak?

The Wall St. occupiers have followed the examples of Egypt, Greece, and Spain in using the direct democratic process of the “general assembly.” This means thousands of young people are having their first exhilarating taste of their voice being part of the actual exercise of power – participating in a movement.  In truth, this is our best hope, so spread it and bring that exhilaration to your friends and family.

If we have a general assembly in every town, every workplace, every school, then capitalism is over for real. [alex]

“Occupy Wall St. Rediscovers the Radical Imagination”

by David Graeber

Originally published the The Guardian UK, September 25, 2011.

Youth of the multiracial working class - always at the front of things. Police arrested over 80 people during this 9/24 march, and pepper sprayed more. Photo by davids camera craft

The young people protesting in Wall Street and beyond reject this vain economic order. They have come to reclaim the future.

Why are people occupying Wall Street? Why has the occupation – despite the latest police crackdown – sent out sparks across America, within days, inspiring hundreds of people to send pizzas, money, equipment and, now, to start their own movements called OccupyChicago, OccupyFlorida, in OccupyDenver or OccupyLA?

There are obvious reasons. We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt. Most, I found, were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now not just being punished for it, but humiliated – faced with a life of being treated as deadbeats, moral reprobates.

Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future?

Just as in Europe, we are seeing the results of colossal social failure. The occupiers are the very sort of people, brimming with ideas, whose energies a healthy society would be marshaling to improve life for everyone. Instead, they are using it to envision ways to bring the whole system down. Read the rest of this entry »

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