Calamity Howler/A.V. Krebs

Coping with 'Stockholm Syndrome'

Although the term "Stockholm Syndrome" is not ordinarily applied to political parties, nation states and cultures, it could be argued that that is exactly what we are faced with today.

"Stockholm Syndrome" has been used to describe the behavior of kidnap victims who become sympathetic, during the duration of their abduction, to their captors, the term having derived from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden.

At the end of their six days of captivity in a bank, several of the kidnap victims not only resisted rescue attempts, but afterwards declined to testify against their kidnappers.

However, the most notable example of this condition came in 1974 when media heiress Patricia Hearst was abducted by the radical Symbionese Liberation Army. Over the several months of her captivity she would become an accomplice of the group, using an assumed name (Tania) and participating in several bank robberies. Recaptured, she disassociated herself from the SLA and her involvement with the radical group.

It is generally believed what precipitates the syndrome is that the victim starts to identify with their captors as a defensive mechanism, stemming from fear of violence. Small acts of kindness by the captor become magnified and rescue attempts are viewed as a threat to the victim, for the possibility persists that the captive will be injured during such an attempt.

Compare these characteristics with the current situation where our government, our politicians, our media, our freedoms, customs, folkways and mores are being kidnapped by a ruling plutocracy, buttressed by a doctrinaire theocracy and obedient to a self-serving corporatist culture, and it doesn't take too much of a stretch to realize that "we the people" are indeed suffering from a not so subtle form of the "Stockholm Syndrome."

Likewise, just as in the "Stockholm Syndrome," we find a majority of Americans "identifying" with this ruling plutocracy, driven primarily by their fear of both economic and physical violence to their person.

Thus, workers see their jobs either disappearing here at home or being shipped abroad as their families are forced to take two and sometimes three jobs merely to survive in an economy built on a house of cards while, outside of government employees, less than 10% of the work force remains unionized.

And family farmers watch as their land is bulldozed into housing and strip mall developments even as the prices they receive for what they produce dips further and further below the cost of production.

Meanwhile, since 9/11, we, the kidnapped, are constantly being told by our captors that unless we are willing to surrender certain of our freedoms, "the terrorists will have won."

In fact, as Newsweek's talented and incisive columnist Anna Quindlen points out, "The terrorists did win. Since 9/11 we've become more like them. The essence of the way zealots think about the world is polar: good and evil, holy and profane, them and us ... The terrorists wanted to kill infidels. We aim only to silence them."

As she concludes, "America has been hijacked [ed: kidnapped] by those who cannot tell the difference between opponents and enemies, between disagreement and heresy, between discussion and destruction."

But as historian Howard Zinn repeatedly reminds us in his brilliant A People's History of the United States, this condition dates not simply from 9/11 but to the very founding of the country.

"Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next 200 years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, politics and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.

"When we look at the American Revolution this way," Zinn continues, "it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most efficient system of national control devised in modern times and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command."

Zinn, in explaining the motives behind the Progressive Era, refines the efficiency of this system of national control when he explains that "the United States was behaving almost exactly as Karl Marx described a capitalist state: pretending neutrality to maintain order, but serving the interests of the rich.

"Not that the rich agreed among themselves; they had disputes over policies. But the purpose of the state was to settle upper-class disputes peacefully, control lower-class rebellion, and adopt policies that would further the long-range stability of the system."

It is in the process of maintaining the "stability of the system" that we have seen the "Stockholm Syndrome" being played out to the point whereby the cry of "where's the outrage?" has become but a whisper as the general public both shuns the ballot box and struggles in an attempt to determine the course of their own lives.

As Quindlen reflects, that today "having strongly held beliefs means expressing contempt for those of others, particularly if you are a cable-TV talk-show host and can interrupt incessantly or extravagantly mime disparagement ... Politicians and pundits are now no better than corner men in an ideological prizefight."

Standing for the most part on the sidelines, witnessing this "prizefight" in the fear that they might be drawn into it and be injured, the American public has shown increasing signs of resignation, identifying themselves with their captors as a defensive mechanism, stemming from their economic and political fear of violence while accepting small acts of kindness by their captors and rejecting any rescue attempts as a threat to their current precarious state of captivity.

Thus, if we are to realize the degree of freedom proclaimed in our own Declaration of Independence it is imperative that we recognize certain truths.

First, we acknowledge Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous refrain, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Second, we end our slavish allegiance to politicians who constantly wrap themselves in the flag while their corporate paymasters vigorously and relentlessly pursue a self-serving economic agenda under the guise of adhering to "cultural values."

Third, and perhaps most importantly, as Frederick Douglass reminded us in 1857:

"Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of the waters. This struggle may be both moral and physical, but it must be struggle.

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will do and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them. And these wrongs will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, PO Box 2201, Everett, WA 98203. He publishes a free email newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner; email;

Home Page

Copyright © 2005 The Progressive Populist