How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem

Bruce E. Levine writes on Alternet:

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by 1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians; and 2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority — sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.

Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities…

Read More: Alternet

21 Comments on "How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem"

  1. Anarchy Pony | Feb 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm |

    David Rovics has a song about it. Although it is a little dated.

  2. Personally, I think the world would be well served if authoritarianism itself was described as a psychiatric condition in DSM-V. Unlikely given the relationship of the APA with the Feds.

    • UselessJunk | Feb 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm |

      Authoritarianism is a VIRTUE so long as you don’t call it by it’s name.


      Government officials with seniority are better, wiser, people than you.  Citizens are to be treated like insignificant slime in their presence.  What makes a man respectable?  POWER.

      • vellocent | Feb 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm |

         Can’t tell if you are being sarcastic or not.  What makes an ideal leader? How many authority figures have all these qualities?  Why are people put in power?  What socioeconomic class are they from? Who was their father?  Where are they from?  What is this person’s character? 
        For the most part people get to the top for good reason, but consider these questions and make your own.  For me a leader must be intelligent, ethical and knowledgeable for me to respect his or her authority. 

  3. KREET-n SLAVE | Feb 23, 2012 at 6:04 pm |

    fine no one will respond…im goin home…

  4. Essentially,  a few years ago I did posts on this and related subject matter.


    People trust what they consider to be authoritative, essentially this is what they believe in. That which is said to be an illness, when it is shrugged off will eventually be a punishable offense and become “illegal.”

  5. Conform to the elite’s authority.  It’s strange that some day they will call it an illness and remove you from society until you are more receptive to control.  Question is, what else will they consider an “illness”?  Will they stop when they have reached a totalitarian society?  Or is the mere Thought enough for them to put you away?

    Call it a disease and that will give them the right to try and HELP you.

  6. Apathesis | Feb 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm |

    And this is why I never told to truth to psychiatrists…

  7. Interesting point.

    Well, if is also questionable if “functioning sociopaths”, that is, those who are not to over the top sociopathic should be called mentally sick. Some of those are doing quite well in the society being egocentrical bastards with no “crippling” empathy or remorse.

  8. Liam_McGonagle | Feb 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm |

    I have to admit that I’m a relative newcomer to this notion.  Like a lot of faded “progressives” I thought the problem was merely a non-spec nut behind the wheel, so to speak.

    Now I see that it’s our culture’s misplaced confidence in the notion of authority itself.

    I’m relatively conservative and traditional personally, so this was hard for me to absorb.  And I still believe that there is scope left for the idea of deference to a person of superior ability and knowledge.  I’m not up for attempts to equate the political philosophy of someone like Sarah Palin with Benjamin Franklin.

    But I recognize that my conception is rather fragile.  It depends crucially on a delicate and continuously renegotiated relationship between imagination and pragmatism, guided by a deeply ingrained respect for moral integrity and logical positivism.

    Most people are just too frantically preoccupied or terrified to think straight enough for that.  Which just gives incompetent and corrupt “authorities” more freedom of maneuver.

    • Liquidself | Feb 24, 2012 at 5:34 pm |

       logical positivism?  the Vienna Circle logical positivism?

      • Liam_McGonagle | Feb 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm |

        Broadly along those lines.

        My only reservation in this regard would be that, in my admittedly imperfect understanding of the Vienna Circle, that brand may have been too narrowly materialistic in their outlook.  Maybe not enough respect for imagination.

        I think the real utility of a philosophy comes from approaching it from the outside, realising that all theories are really incomplete and complementary.  Excessive reliance on any one theory is bound to become debilitating at some point.

  9. Monty Diemental | Feb 24, 2012 at 9:32 pm |

    I don’t believe in authority, but meet people every day that expect me to believe in theirs. Unless your the cause of all that is,……..Fuck Off.

  10. I don’t think we’re short of anti-authoritarians. There are plenty of us and we get along fine in the world, making hard choices and compromises when we must.

    But lets not lump us in with people who are contrarians to the point of near explosive violence over trivia and who can’t even work alongside others without fragmenting from frustration. Theres a keen difference between a clear disapproval and distrust for authority figures/institutions…and chronic oppositional behavior. The two are not the same. One is an intellectual understanding that places one in conflict with traditional and conventional norms…the other is a behavioral disorder that can be detected by watching the person change sides instantly just to retain an oppositional status. (ie; “Air is for breathing”—“No! No it isn’t!”—“Okay…chill dude…air isn’t for breathing.”—“Fuck You man! Air is too for breathing, asshole!”—“Shit…whatever makes you happy. Fuck off, ya schizo jerk…before I beat the demons out of you old school style.”) (Side note: I’ve encountered this…more than once…always with people with severe mental health problems. I wish I could say I was always mature and patient…but theres a reason I never  took a career in counseling or psych…I can’t endure hostile bullshit without snapping…because crazy may speak a different language…but knuckle sandwiches are a form of universal communication.)

    I think these two states of being only barely intersect…and might be mistaken as related if viewed only at surface level…but any closer examination shows deep differences in the way that anti-authoritarianism is expressed and self managed. 

    Not to be too harsh to Mr. Levine…I’m sure he means well, but we’ve just begun to inherit a generation of adults whose brain chemistry was permanently altered by overprescription of serious mind altering drugs. Some of the behavior being characterized as ‘anti-authoritarian’ looks a lot more like incoherent random hostility to any expectation of reasonable behavior…as an after effect of brain damage from psychologists and psychiatrists pimping the latest cure alls for 30 years. 

    I will agree that well organized anti-authoritarian visionaries and leaders seem to be on the decline in recent decades. I ascribe this to a multi-tier approach by law enforcement, universities and federal agencies to criminalize activism…often resulting in disciplinary action against students that impairs their future opportunities for advancement. This, over the last 40 years, has slowly ‘pruned the hedges’ of academics and removed radicals from positions where their voices can be heard. Not all radicals…there are still some that toe enough of the line and stay out of legal trouble that they make a career and get published…but they’ve become a notable minority with a small numbers compared to their heyday decades ago. And this very state of affairs…was the intention behind all that law enforcement and federal scrutiny of activism. The goal was to reduce the voice, reduce the legitimacy, and reduce the efficacy of anti authoritarians…so that the simple mass momentum of the majority washes over them and makes their efforts meaningless.

    The bad news for such power brokers is that the age of the internet has come. A PhD and a prestigious university are no longer required to reach thousands…or even millions…of people around the world. The radicals, the questioners, the rabble rousers…have all gained a venue for their words…and even the sneakiest uses of soft power haven’t been enough to silence them. 🙂

    • Leadmelogic | Mar 31, 2012 at 1:09 pm |

      Damn…  Very well put Vox…  I’ve been trying to explain this to so many people (typically older) and they don’t understand.  I disobey the law because those in power no longer are making decisions for my best interest,  but their own.  Why should I obey a law/laws that generally contradict themselves entirely???  Laws that in a century or less will more than likely be non existent.  Laws that aren’t negatively affecting ANYONE nor breaking any kind of objective morality. When the government regulation and law no longer serves the interest and rights of the people,  it should stop being taken seriously…  

  11. being told what to think, what to do is healthy, the authorities should and will decide what is good for you is healthy. Breaking your chains is bad. Bad robot. Some people are extraordinary stupid

  12. brought to you in part by the ministry of love

  13. What a crappy article. Guess I’m Anti-Authoritarian

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