And what’s crucial is that dissent without disobedience had no value for the victim.
Dissent is not the same as disobedience, as a person may voice protest with an authority but still obey. People who are capable of dissent but incapable of disobedience are often uncomfortable challenging the very legitimacy of that authority to wield power. In contrast, genuine anti-authoritarians are comfortable with both dissent and disobedience when they deem authority to be illegitimate.
Dissent alone may be effective in a genuinely democratic society, but authoritarians—be they Milgram’s experimenter authority or U.S. corporatist government—ignore dissent. Authoritarians realize that simply ignoring dissent is often an effective way to marginalize it, even when that dissent comes from the majority of the people.
As I describe in Resisting Illegitimate Authority, within the human family there are anti-authoritarians-people comfortable resisting illegitimate authority; but at present, for reasons that I discuss, there are not enough of them.
Anti-authoritarian patients should be especially concerned with psychiatrists and psychologists—even more so than with other doctors. While an authoritarian cardiothoracic surgeon may be an abusive jerk for a nursing staff, that surgeon can still effectively perform a necessary artery bypass for an anti-authoritarian patient. However, authoritarian psychiatrists and psychologists will always do damage to their anti-authoritarian patients.
Psychiatrists and psychologists are often unaware of the magnitude of their obedience, and so the anti-authoritarianism of their patients can create enormous anxiety and even shame for them with regard to their own excessive compliance. This anxiety and shame can fuel their psychopathologizing of any noncompliance that creates significant tension. Such tension includes an anti-authoritarian patient’s incensed reaction to illegitimate authority.
Anti-authoritarian helpers—far more commonly found in peer support—understand angry reactions to illegitimate authority, empathize with the pain fueling those reactions, and genuinely care about that pain. Having one’s behavior understood and pain cared about opens one up to dialogue as to how best to deal with one’s pain. Because anti-authoritarian mental health professionals are rare, angry anti-authoritarian patients will likely be “treated” by an authority who creates even more pain, which results in more self-destructiveness and violence.
It is certainly no accident that anti-authoritarian psychiatrists and psychologists are rare. Mainstream psychiatry and psychology meet the needs of the ruling power structure by pathologizing anger and depoliticizing malaise so as to maintain the status quo. In contrast, anti-authoritarians model and validate resisting illegitimate authority, and so anti-authoritarian professionals—be they teachers, clergy, psychiatrists, or psychologists—are not viewed kindly by the ruling power structure.