Friday, March 2, 2012

Why the World Thinks I'm Crazy

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

Apple advertising campaign, "Think Different," 1997

From our earliest experiences, we are taught to respect authority. This teaching continues through the socializing experience of our schooling, and its value is proven in the success that people achieve in their careers by learning to "go along to get along." Peer pressure and the media reinforce the lesson every day. It's hardly surprising that those who develop an anti-authoritarian attitude are considered somewhat outside the mainstream of conventional society.

Bruce Levine, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist known as somewhat of an anti-authoritarian himself. He recently published an interesting piece at Mad in America examining the relationship between the mental health profession and anti-authoritarians. He begins by noting a couple of interesting conclusions he's drawn during his career.
In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder (AD) 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.
He follows with a definition of the anti-authoritarian personality.
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.
Dr. Levine then points out that the path to becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist requires clearing any number of hurdles put in place by the medical establishment, and that those hurdles overwhelmingly select for those who are deferential to authority. This parallels my earlier commentary, George Carlin - Wrong About Politicians, wherein I argued that politicians are not a subset of the general population, but consist overwhelmingly of those people with a specific worldview and personality -- one that almost always includes a high level of respect for authority.
Gaining acceptance into graduate school or medical school and achieving a PhD or MD and becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist means jumping through many hoops, all of which require much behavioral and attentional compliance to authorities, even to those authorities that one lacks respect for. The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians.
He then goes on to explain that "degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance," and that attaining certification means many years of conforming to the demands of authorities. Naturally, when someone with that worldview is challenged by someone who tends to question authority, the collision of worldviews can lead to only one conclusion; the other guy must be the one that's nuts.
I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.
Naturally enough, since the professional is the one who respects the hierarchy of authority, his is the viewpoint that rules -- at least within an hierarchical society. When he found himself labeled as having "issues with authority" as a grad student who was stepping slightly off a well-defined path he'd been faithfully trodding for years, he realized just how narrow the definition of normal had become.
Psychologist Russell Barkley, one of mainstream mental health’s leading authorities on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), says that those afflicted with ADHD have deficits in what he calls “rule-governed behavior,” as they are less responsive to rules of established authorities and less sensitive to positive or negative consequences. Opposition defiant disorder (ODD) young people, according to mainstream mental health authorities, also have these so-called deficits in rule-governed behavior, and so it is extremely common for young people to have a “duel diagnosis” of ADHD and ODD.

Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”?
He goes on to point out that as this attitude filters down to society in general, it becomes the "accepted wisdom."
Americans have been increasingly socialized to equate inattention, anger, anxiety, and immobilizing despair with a medical condition, and to seek medical treatment rather than political remedies. What better way to maintain the status quo than to view inattention, anger, anxiety, and depression as biochemical problems of those who are mentally ill rather than normal reactions to an increasingly authoritarian society.
Finally, Dr. Levine points out that those in authority tend to view the anti-authoritarians as a problem to be solved rather than a resource to be mined.
In every generation there will be authoritarians and anti-authoritarians. While it is unusual in American history for anti-authoritarians to take the kind of effective action that inspires others to successfully revolt, every once in a while a Tom Paine, Crazy Horse, or Malcolm X come along. So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”
To end on a high note fueled by a bit of pop psychology, this Tireless Agorist believes that the fundamental truth of the human condition, and the best rebuttal to this accepted wisdom was concisely expressed in an advertisement that Apple first aired in 1997.

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
So thank you, Dr. Levine, for providing another perspective that confirms that while the establishment may consider me crazy, I just might be the lunatic the world is waiting for.

...and that's all I have to say about that.


  1. Came here via a link from Roberta X. Well said.

  2. Over from Tam. Love the Billy Joel quote (and like the rest of the piece). Nice.

  3. Here from the Tam-berta twins as well. This explains much for me.

    My mother told me once that I "..always *did* have a problem with authority". I countered with "No, I don't have a problem with authority... I have a problem with people attempting to *exert* authority over me that they don't have!" (See also: )

    She also accused me on several occasions of 'erroneous thinking'...Yeah, she was a psych-nurse.

  4. Great stuff!

    I have had to balance my anti-authoritarian nature with my first born, Capricorn my whole life.

  5. Respectfully, your writing is good, but your site colors are very hard to read. If you have a Mac, your monitor shows you a much brighter, higher-contrast picture than we PC folks get. Please consider a background color that is quite a bit brighter.

  6. I like this a lot. I've always found it a little troubling that we would diagnose “deficits in rule-governed behavior” as a disorder!

  7. I just watched the YouTube clip embedded in this piece. You realize, I’m sure, that the narrator is one of the best actors of our time (I think) but also one of the biggest liberals in Hollywierd – Richard Dreyfus. (Did anyone notice also, that probably half of the “Free thinkers” Dreyfus was praising, were the very ones who “changed” our society for the worse?)

    Thinking for ones self and not taking things at face value - Especially these days! - is a good thing. The problem I have with those who espouse “change for its own sake” – as with those in the Sixties who’s mantra was “Question Authority!” - is that in my opinion "Questioning" and "Changing" should not be done merely for their own sake. So many lawyers gleefully “challenge the system” while defending people like Charlie Manson. The late fat creep William Kunzler was a prime example of what I mean. The man took gleeful pride in winning cases regardless of whether or not the victory irreparably damaged society. He didn’t give a flying fig for anything, except that he was able to use his superior intelligence to “win”, and to “Beat ‘The Man’ ” and consequences be damned!

    I question "authority" all the time. No one wins my confidence or respect until they prove to me that they are worthy of it (although I’ve been bamboozled, I’ll admit).

    Change is good, as is listening to those who’re Free thinkers. But IMO, before you change the world, you should first be intelligent enough to understand the ramifications of that change, and also moral enough to care that what you create by that change is actually good for humanity.

    I HOPE we can CHANGE back, come November!

  8. Free thinkers are not the same as those who are principled in righteous thinking; as in Wisdom. Authoritative structures, or positions must be challenged to keep in alignment with order. I question authority if darkness reveals itself; I challenge it. It is without honor, and glory; that those who abuse authority; use it in means of selfishness and personal gain.
    Authoritative structure is necessary for the most part to keep peace and order. Mask wearing, and political correctness are virtues of the an undeserving end. Too suck up to someone, just to get somewhere in life; you dishonor yourself, and have fallen prey to deception and iniquity. I have been accused many times over; by the system of worldly stupidity. As understanding is my friend; the naysayers and professional certificate holders cannot confront the power of truth, and the ability of the chosen, who hold the power of life within themselves. When your Light shines, it cannot be challenged, or overcome. Always confront those who ask for it...............then give them a solution.

  9. I did not know this magic word anti- authoritarian until I read Dr. Levine. I was so upset about my son. Now I feel proud of him. He is brilliant and just a bit different from others. His clarity of thought, rational approach and blunt conclusions are shockingly undeniable. I was wrong all the way in pushing him to the harsh and dogmatic authoritarian system. May God in which he does not believe, give him all the success. .... An enlightened father.

  10. I did not know this magic word anti- authoritarian until I read Dr. Levine. I was so upset about my son. Now I feel proud of him. He is brilliant and just a bit different from others. His clarity of thought, rational approach and blunt conclusions are shockingly undeniable. I was wrong all the way in pushing him to the harsh and dogmatic authoritarian system. May God in which he does not believe, give him all the success. .... An enlightened father.