8 Reasons Young Americans Don't Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance

AlterNet / By Bruce E. Levine

The ruling elite has created social institutions that have subdued young Americans and broken their spirit of resistance.



Young Americans—even more so than older Americans—appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the corporatocracy can completely screw them and that they are helpless to do anything about it. A 2010 Gallup poll asked Americans “Do you think the Social Security system will be able to pay you a benefit when you retire?” Among 18- to 34-years-olds, 76 percent of them said no. Yet despite their lack of confidence in the availability of Social Security for them, few have demanded it be shored up by more fairly payroll-taxing the wealthy; most appear resigned to having more money deducted from their paychecks for Social Security, even though they don’t believe it will be around to benefit them.  

How exactly has American society subdued young Americans? 


1. Student-Loan Debt. Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A. and even a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt. While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world. The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt.

Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt. During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt. In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life. 


2. Psychopathologizing and Medicating Noncompliance. In 1955, Erich Fromm, the then widely respected anti-authoritarian leftist psychoanalyst, wrote, “Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man.” Fromm died in 1980, the same year that an increasingly authoritarian America elected Ronald Reagan president, and an increasingly authoritarian American Psychiatric Association added to their diagnostic bible (then the DSM-III) disruptive mental disorders for children and teenagers such as the increasingly popular “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD). The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” “often argues with adults,” and “often deliberately does things to annoy other people.”

Many of America’s greatest activists including Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would today certainly be diagnosed with ODD and other disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, “I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.” Heavily tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs (e.g. Zyprexa and Risperdal) are now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States ($16 billion in 2010); a major reason for this, according to theJournal of the American Medical Association in 2010, is that many children receiving antipsychotic drugs have nonpsychotic diagnoses such as ODD or some other disruptive disorder (this especially true of Medicaid-covered pediatric patients). 


3. Schools That Educate for Compliance and Not for Democracy. Upon accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990, John Taylor Gatto upset many in attendance by stating: “The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.” A generation ago, the problem of compulsory schooling as a vehicle for an authoritarian society was widely discussed, but as this problem has gotten worse, it is seldom discussed.

The nature of most classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, socializes students to be passive and directed by others, to follow orders, to take seriously the rewards and punishments of authorities, to pretend to care about things they don’t care about, and that they are impotent to affect their situation. A teacher can lecture about democracy, but schools are essentially undemocratic places, and so democracy is not what is instilled in students. Jonathan Kozol in The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home focused on how school breaks us from courageous actions. Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of “inert concern” in which “caring”—in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action—is considered “ethical.” School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.  


4. “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” The corporatocracy has figured out a way to make our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. Democrat-Republican bipartisanship has resulted in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, the Wall Street bailout, and educational policies such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. In a more democratic and less authoritarian society, one would evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher not by corporatocracy-sanctioned standardized tests but by asking students, parents, and a community if a teacher is inspiring students to be more curious, to read more, to learn independently, to enjoy thinking critically, to question authorities, and to challenge illegitimate authorities. 


5. Shaming Young People Who Take EducationBut Not Their SchoolingSeriously. In a 2006 survey in the United States, it was found that 40 percent of children between first and third grade read every day, but by fourth grade, that rate declined to 29 percent. Despite the anti-educational impact of standard schools, children and their parents are increasingly propagandized to believe that disliking school means disliking learning. That was not always the case in the United States. Mark Twain famously said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Toward the end of Twain’s life in 1900, only 6 percent of Americans graduated high school. Today, approximately 85 percent of Americans graduate high school, but this is good enough for Barack Obama who told us in 2009, “And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.”

The more schooling Americans get, however, the more politically ignorant they are of America’s ongoing class war, and the more incapable they are of challenging the ruling class. In the 1880s and 1890s, American farmers with little or no schooling created a Populist movement that organized America’s largest-scale working people’s cooperative, formed a People’s Party that received 8 percent of the vote in 1892 presidential election, designed a “subtreasury” plan (that had it been implemented would have allowed easier credit for farmers and broke the power of large banks) and sent 40,000 lecturers across America to articulate it, and evidenced all kinds of sophisticated political ideas, strategies and tactics absent today from America’s well-schooled population. Today, Americans who lack college degrees are increasingly shamed as “losers”; however, Gore Vidal and George Carlin, two of America’s most astute and articulate critics of the corporatocracy, never went to college, and Carlin dropped out of school in the ninth grade. 


6. The Normalization of Surveillance. The fear of being surveilled makes a population easier to control. While the National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s email and phone conversations, and while employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States, young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check Web sites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, are monitoring their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use the GPS in their children’s cell phones to track their whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes. Increasingly, I talk with young people who lack the confidence that they can even pull off a party when their parents are out of town, and so how much confidence are they going to have about pulling off a democratic movement below the radar of authorities? 


7. Television. In 2009, the Nielsen Company reported that TV viewing in the United States is at an all-time high if one includes the following “three screens”: a television set, a laptop/personal computer, and a cell phone. American children average eight hours a day on TV, video games, movies, the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and other technologies (not including school-related use). Many progressives are concerned about the concentrated control of content by the corporate media, but the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent (private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards).

Television is a dream come true for an authoritarian society: those with the most money own most of what people see; fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy; TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities; and regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video games is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite. 


8. Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism. American culture offers young Americans the “choices” of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism. All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the “opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulativeness, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form democratic movements. Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.  

These are not the only aspects of our culture that are subduing young Americans and crushing their resistance to domination. The food-industrial complex has helped create an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity. The prison-industrial complex keeps young anti-authoritarians “in line” (now by the fear that they may come before judges such as the two Pennsylvania ones who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated). As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed: “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.”


Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite  (Chelsea Green, 2011). His Web site is www.brucelevine.net

Excellent Post

thanks very much. Like in the 1960's, the youth are so very important to any movement. And they have the most to lose! So where are they?! The answers are above.

Last year I attended a talk by Richard Gage at a university. I was so disappointed to see very few students attending, when just outside there were students everywhere.

A related question is "What happened to the Antiwar Movement?". They seem to have dissipated, when Bush was replaced by a better-spoken, better-dressed fellow who has turned out to have similar policies.

"What happened to the Antiwar Movement?

read the fine print

This is a GREAT article.

Everyone read it and weep.


Peace symbol?

This is one very sinister, Orwellian double-speak poster: the deliberate framing of peace activists as purveyors of violence and death, and the the association of anti-war sentiment, alongside the (depiction of) the "counter culture", with terrorism.

I wonder if the photo was a random picture taken of two young women at an anti-war rally by the cops, and used by the UK Home Office for their own nefarious manipulative schemings, or whether these two were paid stooges, made up to look like anti-war activists. From what I understand, the UK Government can run roughshod over whoever they want, without being sued... as they are protected by sovereign immunity.

I would hazard a good guess that this picture is of real demonstrators, as opposed to a photo-op with stooges: But if so, the UK Home Office overlooked something: the "peace symbol" drawn on that girl's cheek is not actually a peace symbol: it's the Mercedes-Benz logo. (!)

The incompetence of officialdom might be a factor on our side!

Great pick on the Mercedes logo

I imagine the two in the photo are models.

I wound up looking a little more closely AT the Mercedes logo. It could be advertising.

Occult Symbols in Corporate Logos (w/Mercedes right at the top)

Left out:

The effeminization of American boys. Note how expressions of anger or aggression are automatically met with "anger therapy" as if anger is an abnormal human emotion.

This is all part and parcel of what happened as a result of the 60's (ironically) "flower child," the glorification, idolization, and extension of childhood well beyond it's traditional years. Now, a person is barely considered to be an "adult" until they are in their forties. Everyone younger is into partying and drinking. Look at teen alcoholism.



I would express this

I would express this differently. First of all, I think gender has nothing to do with it. Certainly sexual orientation has nothing to do with it. One of the most effective direct action campaigns in my lifetime was the work of Act-Up, the advocacy group for AIDS patients, comprised mostly of gay men. Now there's an example of some serious anger being channelled into productive rage.

Second, equating the unhealthy repression of anger with the female gender is understandable, but flawed thinking. The repression of anger is just as damaging for women as it is for men. I'm a mental health professional who works everyday with women who have been conditioned to stuff their anger their entire lives.

That said, I fully agree with the idea that the pathologizing of anger is a convenient tactic of control by establishment institutions and their conscious and unconscious allies. The real "anger issues" are 1) people not having adequate insight into the sources of their anger and 2) people not having learned effective ways to channel their anger.

A leading topic is born

(That is how much I think of that). I was immediately struck when reading into this article. I was immediately struck with thoughts of how college campuses should have protesters in times like these. They would be looking into their world and screaming about things that they got inciteful about and read into and then acted upon. What happened to the youth rebellion in the 9/11 truth movement? It looks like people of all ages. Yes, there are young people for sure, but also, young people dominate the Internet and the platform upon which people become informed.

I am reminded by this article about comments from Aaron Russo about things the Rockefellers would say. One of those things was a Rockefeller saying that they funded women's lib, such as via the Rockefeller Center, because they wanted to put moms in the workplace, double the taxpayers, and destroy the American family. This would turn the children over to be raised by the state.

While making such good points, I would watch out for this one. I think that to say that educational levels, on average, has changed from 1900 to the present day is not what went wrong, here. Rising levels of education come with the 20th Century with engineering, science and technology. The modern world is full of things that nobody in the 19th Century would be able to know. Look at it this way... In 1850, MD was an 8 week course (early days of the AMA). In 1800, college was bible study. Educated people were people who could read and write and do arithmetic. They didn't have physics and chemistry in school - those were exceptional individuals from history, not from any classrooms. More education today is from technological advancement. (Target the industrial education problem instead - next paragraph)

Thank you for the very pithy quotes: Barack Obama and Mark Twain. I'm using those already! It really makes one stop to think about the difference between praising school and not what a person learns. It isn't about education or learning - it is about the "school". Nobody cares about learning in school - with NCLB it is all about meeting federal requirements. The beautiful contributions of individuals in schools, such as teachers, are being destroyed and replaced by being cogs in a giant wheel, where only the giant wheel is needed in the minds of today's participants. Cookie cutter education came with the industrial age. That was led by the state to make factory workers who all met the same level, or measure. Look to the more advanced educational systems of Germany and Japan, where children are tested very young (like 3rd grade) to find out what they want to do and put them into more vertical schooling very early - the kind they personally are curious about and apply themselves at. The cookie cutter school is where the American educational system first decayed. I think it is very important to raise the point made in this article about reading levels dropping off at 4th grade. As creative and organic and diverse human beings, these kids are probably shutting down with all of the homogenization, pasteurization and purification of their most redeeming qualities.

This is a great, new topic. It is here and I think it will stay. I often find myself reeling from the news and trying to adjust to it. The last one that almost gave me a heart attack was to exempt cancer in the Zadroga bill. They just keep hammering away, don't they? Well, this article looks at decades worthy of making me step back think again about the world I live in. It's those damned Rockefellers and the like.

Thanks very much for the article and the new topic - Mark

Here's another one: I believe

Here's another one: I believe that the cheapening of human relationships through the ubiquity of pornography and easy sex has damaged our youth. The excitement of discovering intimacy, that experience of bonding with someone in that "us against the world" kind of passion has been replaced by a consumerist attitude toward sex. I'm no prude, but I do think that the commodification of sex is sapping our youth of their precious bodily fluids (comical Dr. Strangelove reference)

Can't include everything, but a great article.

Excellent article, and sadly for us all, so relevant.

One thing left out: the absence of a military draft. Back in the days of Vietnam, it was the presence of the military draft that triggered the mass mobilization in university campuses against another war that was started on the basis of falsehoods. Had the lies surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin aspect been widely known back then the anti-war effort would have been even stronger than it was. The chief motivating factor was that most students were not keen to compulsorily put their lives on the line for a war that, even without the Tonkin factor, was never justified by the government in terms of defending America and its Constitution.

Regarding the importance of television in pacifying the masses, there is a striking example of this in the UK in the mid 1970s. Inflation in Britain was running at some 25%, and the UK government, by law, imposed a wage increase ceiling of 5% per annum to try to combat inflation. The (then) militant trade unions adhered to this rule until one group decided to challenge it: the broadcast engineers union demanded a 15% pay hike and threatened industrial action unless this demand was met. There were only three TV stations in the UK at the time (BBC1, BBC2 and ITV) and the prospect of the great pacifier, television, suddenly ceasing to exist scared the authorities into making damned sure that the engineers gpt what they wanted. Sure enough, they got their 15% pay rise via a technicality/loophole to get around the law, thus ensuring that the great sedative remained on tap. (Heaven forbid if people actually started talking to each other!).

There is a quote from Wiliiam Colby the former Director of US Central Intelligence: "The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media." (By owns, he probably meant "have some degree of content placement/control"). The intelligence community is very well versed in the huge part that the (corporate) media plays in shaping the collective public awareness, and the importance of media control when it comes to "educating" (read manipulating and lying to) the public as regards "broadcastable" matters of national security, especially the greatest fearmongering tool of them all, terrorism. Which brings us to this:

One area in which the CIA and other government agencies have had a huge stake, is Hollywood and the movie/entertainment industry. Author Jack Shaheen brilliantly documents this decades long program of deliberate indoctrination in his landmark encyclopedic book "Reel Bad Arabs", in which he systematically catalogs how Arabs (and by extension, Muslims) have been universally and relentlessly vilified by Hollywood and the US entertainment industry as "evil," "uncivilized", "violent" and pretty much every and any negative trait which can be arbitrarily lobbed at one group. I mention this particular instance of indoctrination and institutionalized racism because there is a strong 9/11 factor here: The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were undoubtedly aware that as a result of this decades long program to brainwash the US public that "all Muslims and Arabs are evil", it became very easy to sell the "radical Islamic" aspect of 9/11.. because that is exactly what Americans WANTED to hear.... it was an explanation that conformed neatly with their preprogrammed comfort zone.... even when a big steaming heap of B.S. and lies.

This preconceived notion in the collective US psyche enabled the 9/11 perpetrators some wiggle room, as regards potential errors/foul-ups as regards the execution of the attacks, which, as we all know, did happen... and I would bet that they were aware of this :"room for error" factor and planned accordingly. So, even in the absence of solid facts to blame the designated guilty party/parties, and in the presence of proven facts which point directly at *other* parties, there was still enough distrust of "the dark skinned Muslim/Arab middle easterner" to sell the idea to a dumbed down, corporate media infected public. Even otherwise rational people have swallowed this toxic brand of koolaid.


Star Trek the original became Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then it became Deep Space Nine and Voyager. That's a pretty clear pattern.

Reading skills

Average SAT scores in critical reading dropped from 543 in 1967 to 502 in 1980, and these scores are still around 501.
Math scores have not changed from 1967 to today.

Census bureau SAT data:
Excel sheet: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2011/tables/11s0263.xls

Good article. We are the answer.

We all run into this dilemma. In fact, a national reporter recently asked a group of 9/11 Truth activists "Why aren't more people active on this issue? Many people know the government is not telling the whole truth about 9/11, even my close friend, but where is the activism?"
Of course, one answer is that mainstream media does not report on dynamic activism.

There are things which we can do to counter the "apathy". We can positively influence aspects in our sphere of influence. Large or small, the actions add up.

For example:
We can continue to "repeat the message". Continue to get the word out. Continue to promote.
We can set an example.
We can try to inspire.
In conversations with others, we can reinforce or validate those deceptions which another person has now suddenly recognized.
We can utilize different entry points of conversation, approaching topics of substance with which the listener can more easily digest.
Changing minds and attitudes is often a gradual gradient, step by step, incremental approach. The Powers-that-Be use this to shape society. We also can use this.

I am sure that the people on this board know of many more methods to help counter this apathetic cultural meme, because they are actively doing them.

TomT Practices What He Preaches

I can affirm that TomT is not one who just talks the talk.

He is a fine example of how to get it done.

I appreciate all your contributions to this effort.

Thank You Orangutan for posting this article.

2 more by Bruce Levine.

Are Americans a Broken People? Why We've Stopped Fighting Back Against the Forces of Oppression

Are Americans Too Broken by Corporate Power to Resist? We need to take a look at what forces in American society are preventing people from being able to resist tyranny and dehumanization.

Funny Thing

All the young people I have talked too know what is going on and some of them are taking action to stop what is happening and take our country back. I have three kids and they and all their friends know the score. So although some young people are still brain washed by the NWO, not all are. Their approach is different than the approach I (we) used as kids during the Vet Nam War. Demonstrations and marches just don't cut it anymore. You have to take a more direct approach like not joining the Army in the first place or by not paying taxes etc. So don't worry, the young people will step up when the time is right.

Placed a chill on campus...

Shortly after I was placed on Administrative Leave in a very public manner (reported in a press release, newspapers, television, USN&WR, etc.), two professors on the BYU campus came to me and said that this action had had a strong "chilling" effect on campus. It was almost palpable. Professors and students who were supportive of me and my 9/11 research were effectively silenced. If a full professor of physics with decades of service and multiple teaching and research honors could be publicly denounced for pointing out the accelerated fall of WTC 7 and the Towers (etc.), what could they say? did they value their positions/ jobs?

Another professor of physics at BYU told me that while he supported and believed in the results I had found, he had decided he was a "coward". His term. He wanted to keep his job.

At the same time, BYU's Dr. Jeffrey Farrer has spoken out regarding 9/11 research in the recent AE911Truth DVD, 9/11 Explosive Evidence: Experts Speak Out. So I'm encouraged that there are some who are not only persuaded by the hard evidence that the official 9/11 story is false -- but they also have the courage to speak out.

heating up the big chill on campus

I have felt the campus chill and cowardice described by Prof. Jones. It is real and runs all the way to the top. It is expressed directly and unapologetically as the reason why speakers such as Prof. Jones cannot be invited as speakers. The good news is that I've found a way to overcome this in the classroom in a way that no one can complain about.

Here's how it goes. I describe a real research puzzle to my students (juniors and seniors at a Big Ten campus) and show them data for a path of motion through the air by an unusual object. I wanted to know if any lift was involved. We look at the data and see that the thing goes up, comes down, and the acceleration is -9.8m/s^2 from start to end. I ask for a show of hands to see if anyone thinks there was any lift involved. 70 hands stay down and so it's unanimous - no lift. Then I show them David Chandler's video analysis of WTC7 coming down (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVCDpL4Ax7I) and ask them if there was any measurable resistance from the building's columns. No one, regardless of their previous stance on the issue, voices the opinion that there was any resistance. And of course this is unavoidable since moments before they unanimously agreed that -9.8m/s^2 is definitive of no resistance to gravity.

I then ask them how such a large building could so rapidly go from standing rigid to falling unopposed, and how that might have happened. Stunned silence. You can hear a pin drop. No one is text messaging. No one dares to look to the right or left to see what anyone else is doing. It is electric. I highly recommend it.

Regarding the present article on suppression of youth resistance, it strikes me that the high loan debt of college students can be turned to an advantage. All we need is a student movement in which a very large number of students organize and pledge to refuse debt repayment unless there is a genuine congressional or criminal inquiry into the fall of WTC7 and the explosive residues and iron microspheres (etc.) at the WTC site. We're talking about a substantial amount of money in the hands of these new graduates, and so they have real power if only they can organize.

Thank you for a very important "call to action"

Orangutan, thank you for this very pertinent, thought-provoking "call to action". We are all in this together, and your comments and articles add to what James Redfield refers to in his "Twelfth Insight" as "the necessary conscious conversation working toward a new consensus" regarding the current economic and political chaos of greed, corruption and lies. If more of us served mankind as much as you do, the world would become a better, safer more honest place to live and work.