Bruce Levine on Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic

I’m reading Bruce Levine’s “Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic”. The story of how I got the book is interesting. I was reading some psychology books a while back (Alfie Kohn, Alice Miller) and a reader of this blog suggested that no psychology reading list would be complete without Levine’s “Commonsense Rebellion”. I read it, and agreed totally. Then the other day I was reading Z Magazine and noticed a book review written by Bruce Levine, and at the bottom of that it mentioned “Surviving”. So, here I am, reading the book.


I’m reading Bruce Levine’s “Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic”. The story of how I got the book is interesting. I was reading some psychology books a while back (Alfie Kohn, Alice Miller) and a reader of this blog suggested that no psychology reading list would be complete without Levine’s “Commonsense Rebellion”. I read it, and agreed totally. Then the other day I was reading Z Magazine and noticed a book review written by Bruce Levine, and at the bottom of that it mentioned “Surviving”. So, here I am, reading the book.

Levine is just so humane and sensible. It really does help me make sense of a lot of things to read his work. I am in a good mood these days, so reading about depression and sensible responses to it feels like an investment in the future. It’s also validating (to use a pop-psychology term) to think about depression the way Levine thinks about it, not as a biochemical defect or a character defect but as a response to emotional pain, pain which is part of the human experience.

Some of the facts and research in it are eye-opening too – like the long-term damage that can be done by antidepressants, or the fact that there is no scientific evidence that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. I’d always been skeptical of that theory: a lot of economics and of psychology has long struck me as pseudo-scientific, claiming the authority of science without a scientific attitude (which attitude, to my mind, is primarily about paying attention to evidence, being clear about reasoning, and being explicit about assumptions).

I took a pause just now reading the part about community. Levine’s right, I think, to argue that the struggle for change can be a place where one can find community. But it has to be said, that much of the political “community” is toxic and alienating, and people can come out of that “community” worse off than when they entered. I have spent a lot of energy trying to protect people from the ravages of that “community”, and that I’ve been ravaged by it myself. And yet I wouldn’t have any of those people without that “community”, so perhaps it isn’t as bad as I think? The very fact that I have people to complain about it to, suggests that people are brought together. But I can’t help but think that if we were less toxic and alienating we would be much more successful at halting the various destructions going on – at stopping the killing train, in other words. Why are we so alienating?

I have thought about this a lot, and written about it a little. The simplest answer I think is that people without any good experiences of community are not very good at making them. We come from the culture we come from, after all. If there was all this great community to teach us how to be a great community, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in – and there wouldn’t be such a desperate need for it.

Where does that leave us, though? We can’t abandon our efforts any more than we can try to do them alone (my own depressive tendency is toward the latter rather than the former, but neither is very productive or useful). Bruce argues that knowing techniques like cognitive-behavioural techniques or active listening or the use of “I statements” won’t help so long as wounds remain unhealed and morale remains low. But maybe some consciousness of the kinds of problems that he raises can help those of us who find there’s nothing for it but to go back even after being burned (or burning others).

Postscript

Someone who has written really thoughtfully about the toxic and alienating aspects of left culture is Ivan Drury, who wrote about it from the inside after getting out. His open letter of two years ago is an incredible document, and I’d recommend it for anyone trying to navigate leftist organizations in North America. It is much more than a note about a specific organization or even a specific type of left organizing. I have seen the kinds of dynamics he describes repeatedly in different contexts in many parts of North America, and in very different ideological guises.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.