The Politics of ISEPP
Chuck Ruby, Ph.D., Psychologist
Within the past few weeks, we’ve seen many comments on the ISEPP Listserv expressing support or displeasure with political figures in America. I’m sure you are all familiar with the current difficulties felt by many U.S. citizens and even by those beyond our borders who are significantly affected by what political leaders are doing in this country. I posted a comment about this on the Listserv encouraging people to refrain from such political postings, but given its importance, I also wanted to share my thoughts about the “politics of ISEPP” with everyone, not just members.
As a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, we are prohibited by the Internal Revenue Service from endorsing or opposing any particular candidate. Also, we cannot have a substantial portion of our efforts, in time or money, spent on influencing legislation. We have filed the proper paperwork to authorize our support or opposition to specific policies and legislation, not candidates, but we have to be careful how much of our time is spent doing so in order to keep it under the “substantial portion” level.
Obviously, this prohibition does not apply to our individual members in their private lives. To the contrary, I encourage all of us to speak up about our political views, to use critical thinking in informing ourselves about significant issues, and to vote for representatives who we believe will best ensure policies consistent with our views. But, and this is very important, we cannot use ISEPP’s platforms, including the Listserv, in that effort. Our other platforms that are also off limits are our website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn sites.
Our mission statement declares that ISEPP is “not affiliated with any political or religious group.” While this is true, it doesn’t mean ISEPP isn’t political. In fact, I think the bulk of our efforts are political. What I mean by this is that our work is focused on critiquing the conventional mental health industry with the goal of eliminating the inhumanity in the system and of encouraging the development of more humane and respectful ways of assisting people who are suffering from emotional distress. Thus, our motto: “Restoring Humanity To Life.”
This is a political mission in the sense that it has to do with power and who exercises that power, even when our efforts are not through formal legislative bodies. We believe in self-determination and human dignity. This means the individual should maintain that power. In opposition to this, the conventional mental health system believes they, with the backing of the State, should hold that power.
This is the power to decide whether people are acting, thinking, feeling, and believing things in socially appropriate ways. In essence, it is a moral judgment about the proper ways of being. It is a travesty that the mental health industry has been given the reigns of this power since they have no expertise in morality and shouldn’t be given the authority to make moral decisions.
Laws about appropriate social behavior are necessary in a civil society, but that is the jurisdiction of representative legislatures, not medical or mental health professionals, especially since the people labeled with mental illness diagnoses are not literally ill. But, neither legislative bodies nor the mental health industry should try to prescribe or proscribe beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. That would be for each person to decide in the context of his or her own religious, spiritual, and intellectual views. ISEPP’s political mission is to ensure individuals retain this power.
In order to be true to our mission, ISEPP cannot ally with any political party or candidate. We ally with political policies. Given that our focus is on creating a humane system of assistance to people in distress, and respect for human autonomy, our principles span across candidate and party lines. We support the notions of compassion for fellow human beings, self-determination, dignity and worth of human life, concern for the effects of distressing social contexts, the value of faith and trust in the “process,” appropriate governmental assistance to people in distress, the ideas of personal responsibility for one’s actions, and the avoidance of harm and dependency. When, as ISEPP members, we limit our support to a particular party or representative, we can weaken our ability to fulfill the mission, because no one party or candidate encompasses all these tenets and many are in opposition to them.
It is easy to get wrapped up in political intrigue. Many of the painful things we see happening among our elected representatives of all persuasions seem beyond the pale. I think our human tendency to resort to anger and attack in order to soothe intolerable feelings like this is behind the political polarization that occurs. Perhaps it is an evolutionary holdover from when anger served a survival purpose – anger is more useful than despair (I think Arnold Schwarzenegger said that in Terminator 3). For what ever reason, resorting to anger in today’s world, along with the accompanying bashing, blaming, name-calling, personal attacks, demonization, and righteous indignation, does not serve us well when distressing things happen. They only make things worse.
Instead, it would behoove us to recognize the incredible variation of our desires, interests, and goals. Each of us is stuck “inside” ourselves forever and we must make choices, not only in what we do, but also in how and what to think. Our reality is limited to ourselves. This includes what kind of representatives are best for us. But, we cannot get “outside” ourselves to see a universal or absolute truth about the matter, and then go back inside in order to see if we are “right.” Therefore, we must accept that fact that we will forever disagree, sometimes vehemently. But, still, it is possible to cooperate respectfully instead of competing, especially when it comes to prosecuting ISEPP’s mission.
ISEPP is not a forum for political ideas outside our mission. Venturing outside that political mission will only serve to create friction among us. We have plenty of real enemies to battle, we don’t need to create more within our ranks. Let’s move forward together, not apart.