You’re Not Deficient, You’re Just Ruled By Assholes

Caitlin Johnstone
5 min readApr 30, 2023


Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

Stress, anxiety and depression are on the rise, and they have been for years. Studies have found that increases in cost of living have a lot to do with this deterioration in mental health, while others have linked it to widespread social media use, and the financial and social stressors ensuing from government Covid restrictions certainly haven’t helped.

What nobody seems to be doing any research at all into investigating is the possibility that all these mental health problems have something to do with the fact that we are ruled by tyrants who are squeezing the working class harder and harder while continually pounding people’s minds with mass-scale psyops.

William Gibson said “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” And speaking from personal experience this is fantastic advice; I’ve found that many of the problems I had previously ascribed to flaws in myself and necessary difficulties that are built into the nature of human living quickly disappeared from my life at the same time assholes did.

But even more worthwhile than pointing out that a lot of your assumed mental health problems have more to do with being surrounded by assholes is considering the possibility that you are in fact ruled by assholes. By tyrants who are making life needlessly difficult for ordinary people while psychologically abusing them into thinking their situation is normal and appropriate.

A popular socialist YouTuber called Second Thought has a good new video out called “You’re Not Immune To Propaganda” which examines the subject from a different angle than you might be used to. Second Thought emphasises the mundane, everyday nature of propaganda in our society as opposed to the shinier, better-known instances of its use like the consent-manufacturing for the Iraq invasion; the way it manipulates our understanding of who we are and what our values should be so that we will blame our struggles on ourselves instead of the neoliberal systems of oppression that are crushing people’s spirits throughout western civilization.

Think about the consequences it would have on mental health to continually be bombarded with messaging that you need to keep working like a machine under whatever conditions your employer sees fit to provide, for whatever compensation your employer sees fit to offer, and that if you can’t thrive in this soul-crushing environment the problem lies with you and not the system which permits such an exploitative relationship. Then consider the possibility that this is exactly what’s happening.

This nonstop propaganda messaging is further bolstered by the just-world fallacy, a cognitive bias which causes people to incorrectly assume that if anything bad happens to someone it’s because they deserved it. This common glitch in human reasoning arises because of people’s need to feel like they’re in control of their lives; they get that feeling of control by espousing the fallacious belief that as long as people always make good common sense decisions, nothing bad will ever happen to them. As a Twitter follower named Joe Ligato recently pointed out to me, this fallacy would cause people to blame themselves for problems in their lives that actually exist because of exploitative systems.

Some people wonder why mental health conditions are so bad, while I marvel at the fact that they’re not much worse. It’s actually amazing anyone’s functioning at all in a civilization that’s ruled by exploiters and abusers who dominate the world using mass-scale psychological manipulation. It’s a testament to human resilience that anyone is sane. When everyone’s mind is always being pummeled with messaging that you’re deficient if you can’t thrive under our oppressive systems, that you’re flawed if you don’t look, think and act a certain way, that poverty is normal and acts of mass military slaughter are acceptable, it’s a wonder we don’t all snap.

When everyone’s consciousness is being continually warped and twisted to suit the agendas of the powerful and keep us all thinking, speaking, working, shopping and voting in ways that advance their interests, it’s surprising we’re not seeing more suicides, more mass shootings, more substance abuse, more clinical depression and anxiety. In a totalitarian dystopia that’s held together by mass-scale psychological abuse, it’s entirely reasonable that people are finding themselves overwhelmed with despair, alienation, depression and anxiety.

Everything seems phony, meaningless and needlessly difficult because it is. This isn’t a statement about human nature or life as it naturally exists, it’s a statement about the artificially constructed systems we live under currently. Systems that were built by people and are being maintained by people. Systems which can be changed and restructured by people, too.

In the meantime, please be gentle with yourself. If you’re struggling to get by, don’t heap extra problems upon yourself by beating yourself up about it. If you’re feeling deficient because you can’t live up to the standards of success and worthiness you’re using, maybe take some time to consider whom those standards might benefit. If they’re the sort of standards that would help turn the population into productive gear-turners of the capitalist machine, they’re probably not the best gauge with which to measure your success as a person.

There’s no real reason life needs to be this difficult. There’s no reason we can’t provide for everyone while technological advancement gives us all more and more free time. There’s no reason we can’t learn to live in collaboration with each other and with our ecosystem instead of in competition for the benefit of a few abusers at the top. All that’s required is for enough of us to decide we’re not going to take it anymore.

Times are hard, and they’re getting harder, but we can turn this thing around. Please be kind with yourself in the meantime.


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