On Therapeutic Activism



Libertarians resemble statues of ancient heroes. They appear carved out of conviction and adorned with courage. They broadcast lively and energetic ideas across the web and world and imbue protests and media with bursts of principle and truth. Larken Rose, Christopher Cantwell, Jeffrey Tucker, Toni Bones and Stefan Molyneux represent a few active content producers for liberty. Their work dances with passion. They show few signs of distress or emotional fatigue.

This thrust for human emancipation suggests that a climate of fearless and healthy libertarian activity is emerging or already flourishes—but even the staunchest activist suffers from fear in the form of anxiety. Even the greatest activist accomplishes goals while besieged by mental instability. If liberty lovers and anarchists did not experience these feelings, their lives would be at risk.

Evolution has geared humans to experience some panic and fear in states of arousal and emergency. These biological processes arose as a result of instinct and survival strategies. To fight against or repress these inborn fear-responses could exacerbate anxiety, be hazardous to mental functioning and cripple the libertarian’s ability to pursue freedom.

But what exactly is fear?

It is the body’s physiological and emotional response to scary thoughts or possible danger. For anarchists, fear imposes a gnawing sense of imminent imprisonment, which can compromise overall well-being.

Government threats induce these responses in libertarians. Threats include chilling effect, surveillance and other attacks on liberty. There are several ways to help activists cope with the resulting fear and anxiety through practical, meditative and pharmacological means. These coping skills oblige a movement towards therapeutic activism, which can diminish the harrowing nature of civil disobedience and revolt.

Therapeutic activism is the principle of challenging government and acting against authority while maintaining an emotionally stable, healthy lifestyle. This is the anarcho-therapeutic maxim: the more psychologically healthy the activist, the more fruitful activism generated for freedom.

Bear in mind, the term “anxiety” will be used interchangeably with “fear,” but anxiety expresses the specific physiological effects of the fear-response.

Many people might scorn this idea for implying libertarians are emotionally volatile or “mentally ill,” but the intention is to empower libertarians as well as people who are on the fence about freedom. Critics might also say this can be generalized to any person, but few therapeutic resources have been devoted to the sovereignty-inclined individual, and there are many threats they face on a regular basis. Immediate danger from government typifies the main concern

Government Threats that Instigate Therapeutic Activism

The American government is in its final stages of life and it is clamping down viciously on people seeking to disentangle themselves from its clutches. It is akin to the dying sea monster that attempts to drag its slayers into the abyss. Its tentacles are skimming the surface for the final combatants.

That is why government oppresses everyone to justify its authority and sustain a moribund aura of relevancy. A primary method it does this is through making examples of “criminals” by assaulting and caging them. Bureaucrats also write confusing laws that are obscured by incomprehensible legalese, which motivate enforcers to accuse and arrest anyone. This type of control makes life nerve-wracking, because anarchists often expose themselves to controversy, enter into black market trades or break laws outright.

However, government is not likely to arrest large amounts of political activists at once. It is more likely to arrest those whom it perceives as threatening, or has committed a crime it can profit from; if the opposite were true, anarchists would be hauled to prisons by the dozens. Instead, vague laws create an emotionally strenuous chilling effect.

“Chilling effect is a term in law and communication that describes a situation where a speech or conduct is suppressed by fear of penalization at the interests of an individual or group.”  ~US Legal 

This definition fails to expand on all possible implications of chilling effect; it mainly applies to speech codes. For the anarchist, this phenomenon impedes on almost every domain of life. Not only do activists enjoy speaking about their freedom or how to obtain it, they enjoy living it. This problem adds an extra layer of fear. Anything an activist chooses to do—even loosely outside “law”—might paralyze him with terror.

For example, some freedom advocates or “hippies” grow psychedelic mushrooms. They are “illegal,” but the spore syringes used to grow them are legal. Merely attempting to purchase syringes, then, induces the chilling effect and causes anxiety. Weight scales are a more obvious example, because anarchists sell pills and marijuana based on weight. Therefore, the idea of purchasing a scale, much less the drugs, invites debilitating anxiety and panic.

These examples expand the definition of chilling effect to indicate dread of repercussions for doing things that are not strictly illegal. The chilling effect also suggests that libertarians become “paranoid” at the thought of breaking the law or ignoring cultural taboos. The chilling effect also dissuades freethinkers from exploring the philosophy of freedom. Tragically, this drives fence-sitters and newcomers away from exercising autonomy and accepting liberty, which is what government desires.

Other than psychological warfare, agent provocateurs and spies serve as serious threats that libertarians have to consider. The State routinely places double agents amidst anti-government and counter-cultural movements. Although it is now defunct, in the 1960’s, the FBI ran COINTELPRO or counter intelligence program. They used this agenda to introduce operatives into socialist and communist organizations.

Mathieu Deflam noted the intended effects of COINTELPRO in his book, Surveillance and Governance: Crime Control and Beyond:

  1. Create a negative public image for target groups (e.g. by surveilling activists, and releasing negative personal information to the public)
  2. Break down internal organization
  3. Create dissension between groups
  4. Restrict access to public resources
  5. Restrict the ability to organize protests
  6. Restrict the ability of individuals to participate in group activities

This threat of infiltration suggests the fear that libertarian’s face is justified. It is not imagined. It is not paranoia. It is real. As a result, freedom lovers must exercise caution, commonsense, charisma and courage when conducting business, especially if they intend to organize protests or other campaigns. Yet, COINTELPRO is no longer in service, so what new attacks on privacy and freedom exist?

The Surveillance State has reached its ghastly pinnacle in today’s modern, globally digitized world. The controls look like something out of George Orwell’s 1984, and some would even say Orwell was a pie-eyed optimist in light of current affairs.

The Patriot Act and PRISM epitomize modern Orwellian programs. Politicians introduced The Patriot Act after 9-11, which gave the government the legal precedent to spy through roving wiretaps and to collect information on suspected “terrorists”; although recently, the Patriot act has been defanged, but congress passed the “Freedom Act” to compensate, which allows for the continuation of some of the programs. How much of the overall spying will be stopped is up for debate. PRISM was revealed by Edward Snowden. It was implemented as a result of 9-11, and it is the program that collects the meta-data on citizens by working with companies like Google, AT&T and Verizon. It is also debatable whether this program will be fully disassembled, but it is doubtful that all these controls and shadowy agendas will be erased in their entirety.

The depth and complexity of these and other surveillance agendas is beyond the scope of this article, but the fear and crippling anxiety that results from acknowledging these blatant attacks on liberty is understandable. It is no wonder many people choose not to pursue freedom.

Agent provocateurs and spy programs are not the only problems that incite fear. What about the families of libertarians? What about the children?

Many liberty advocates have kids. This creates a situation where any potential action anarchists take may oppose those in power, giving government reason to nab their offspring. The Child Protective Services requires little evidence to kidnap a young one. The agency is known for removing children from homes with little more to go on than alleged incidents of abuse or neglect. This tragic fact may discourage libertarian parents from engaging in certain activities, or scare fence-sitters away from learning about liberty. This is yet another example of how the chilling effect, plus acts of violence, elicit wholesale fear.

Practical Suggestions to Reduce Threat-Based Anxiety

What the previous examples prove is that government has initiated psychological and physical warfare on innocent people through coercing, bullying, spying, assaulting, kidnapping and caging them. Thus, anyone who opposes government must protect and insulate themselves and their families from harm.

But how do libertarians continue to practice and spread liberty under this horrific paradigm? How do they stay sane while undermining government? How do they handle their fears and not give into the temptation of the harmful or useless coping strategies?

There is some practical advice, which helps answer these questions.

Anarchists should cover their tracks: never leave incriminating evidence or paper trails. If freethinkers know they have been cautious by operating under the radar, it is likely they will experience less anxiety and fear of being caught or subjected to State violence. Even government follows some of their own laws to keep the illusion of justice and prevent mass rebellion. The libertarian should take advantage of this.

Dissidents also ought to be aware of whom they associate with, and only enter into public debates or speeches if they know the content is not a red flag for government agents. This does not mean to distance themselves from friends. It does not mean stay silent. It does not mean bypass social events. It does not mean hide in the attic. It means be wary that direct threats against an enforcer or politician could mean indefinite detention in a cage. For some activists, covert and subtle activities may be more compelling. It is just beneficial and less emotionally painful if activists stay out of prison.

One idea for libertarians to avoid trouble is to conduct their activity in secret, on the internet. They can accomplish this by using Tor servers to browse the dark web, or using bitcoin or other digital cryptocurrency for exchange. These methods evade state controls and grant more anonymity, but even these activities are being closely monitored by spies and enforcers. Ross Ulbricht, the alleged Dread Pirate Roberts was recently convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for being the mastermind behind the underworld market, Silk Road. In the end, Ulbricht was paraded as an example for what happens to people who challenge Leviathan.

There is a good book that has chapters dedicated toward working anonymously around the system. It is called The Freedom Outlaws Handbook by Claire Wolfe. It is recommended for activists who prefer to stay out of public scrutiny. There are many other practical routes anarchists can take that will hide their activities below the radar. All of them will also help the iconoclast remain emotionally and mentally stable.

Meditative and Medicinal Techniques to Reduce Threat-Based Anxiety

For mental stability, psychological techniques are superior for maintaining self-care, because there is no way to ensure the practical measures will prevent psychotic breaks or emotional distress, much less a government assault. These Anxiety-reduction and fear-reduction practices include meditation, synthetic drugs and psychedelic plant consumption.

Anytime liberty advocates become beleaguered by stress and anxiety, they should use their mind as a cleaver to cut away the agony. Spiritual guru Deepak Chopra explains the process. It is called meditation:

“Everyone thinks that the purpose of meditation is to handle stress, to tune out, to get away from it all. While that’s partially true, the real purpose of meditation is actually to tune in, not to get away from it all, but to get in touch with it all. Not to just de-stress, but to find that peace within, the peace that spiritual traditions talk about that passes all understanding. So, meditation is a way to get in the space between your thoughts. You have a thought here, a thought here, and there’s little space between every thought.”

Meditation, then, is not an escape button. It is a technique to help process emotional baggage. It is used to cope with fear in a healthy way. For some, this is a deeply “spiritual” experience. It does not have to be spiritual though.

There are many different types of meditation that hail from different paths and philosophies. A popular brand of meditation, that has gained prominence in the western hemisphere, is mindfulness practice. It is also used in counseling work, therefore it is smart to enlist a professional who is trained to teach the procedures in order to get the most out of them. Mindfulness consists of being present thoughts and emotions. It is not used to achieve a mental blank slate or to mask negative thoughts. It is about clarity. It is about concentration. It is about reaching “Nirvana,” or that place of perfect happiness. Some practitioners even call this state, “brilliant sanity.”

Following is a brief, nonprofessional explanation of how to utilize mindfulness training.

Sit in a relaxed position. It could be a traditional Zen Buddhist position, like Zazen or crossed legs, but it could also be any comfortable and relaxed position. Make sure that the back is straight, not rigid. Then close the eyes and focus on breathing. Notice that many different thoughts arise, and pass away. The goal is to be with those thoughts; to be totally present in the moment. Of course, there are other ways to achieve mindfulness, but the goal is always the same: relax the nervous system and observe the mind, regardless if the incoming thoughts are pleasurable or fearful. This practice will culminate in a deeper understanding of the self and less anxiety, but it takes time and effort to achieve mastery.

The end result could be a stronger will to instigate more therapeutic activism. Libertarians can also use this practice to understand why they choose to fight against the system, which will allow their work to maintain a therapeutic, blissful and goal-oriented trajectory.

Anyone interested in meditation or Buddhist practice can look into Jean Smith’s book, The Beginner’s Guide to Zen Buddhism, or Zen and the Brain by James H. Austin.

A quicker, considerably less efficient way to achieve similar results involves the use of synthetic drugs. There are many different drugs that help alleviate anxiety and stress.

The most useful drug for quickly diminishing anxiety is the pharmaceutical pill Xanax. It is a benzodiazepine. It readily removes anxiety. It is so powerful that a small dose will calm the nerves and instill feelings of invincibility, not to mention the drug is “legal.” One way of acquiring it is by getting it as a prescription, which may or may not be a possibility depending on the situation. However, if one assumes the risk, the chemical can be purchased on the black market for about 2-5 dollars a pill depending on availability (although this is not a suggestion to attempt that).

A freedom advocate can also look at the different generic tranquilizers or pain pills that have similar effects; but unlike meditation, these options also have counterproductive side effects. They have addictive properties that can hurt the anarchist, which is the antithesis of therapeutic activism.

The most powerful drugs for helping libertarians cope with problems are the psychedelic compounds. Defined, “psychedelic” literally means “mind manifesting” or “mind-revealing.” These powerful agents do not deserve the word “drug” to describe them. In aboriginal and native cultures, these chemicals are referred to as plant teachers or spiritual guides, and were used by shamans to mediate between the world of men and the realm of gods.

Because there is a whole pharmacopeia of these chemicals, only the most popular and accessible will be described. There are two main psychedelics that can help the anarchist maintain a sense of emotional peace and a deeper self-understanding, but some people may not want to use them. They can have paradoxical side effects. These include panic attacks and bad trips. But As Timothy Leary said, “set and setting” determines the outcome; “set” being the mindset of the individual and “setting” being environment. The most popular psychedelics are LSD, which is considered semi-synthetic, and psilocybin, which is the naturally occurring tryptamine compound mostly found in small mushrooms that grow on cow dung.

These chemicals profoundly alter consciousness by causing hyper-connectivity in the brain, which induces synesthesia (a cross-wiring of the senses), suggested a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The beauty of these plants is they can also aid the libertarian by allowing access to a repository of previously hidden or repressed thoughts.

The anarchist will be able to “see the future,” because unconscious material is brought to the surface. This information can then be used to comprehend an impending threat or problem. Ancient tribal people used psychedelics for similar purposes. They ascertained weather, decided when to go to war, discovered lost or stolen animals and objects and cured the ill, but these feats were not necessarily supernatural abilities. They resulted from invoking a different perspective. In either case, psychedelics bestow the anarchist with the urge to consider issues before they become a problem, help him cope with stress, anxiety and the fears that come with fighting government.

There are myriad of other ways psychedelics can be beneficial, but they will require exploration and research. Just remember that most of them are “illegal,” and this could add to anxiety rather than reduce it. Nonetheless, the healing capability of the plant teachers nearly exceeds the possibilities of mindfulness meditation, depending on the user. The compounds should certainly be considered quintessential to the movement of therapeutic activism. After all, it was the counterculture LSD use of the 1960’s that caused mass awakenings.

Erowid.org is an indispensable resource for learning about all brands of psychedelic compounds. There is a good reference book called Plants of the Gods by Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hoffman and Christian Ratsch. And Psychedelic Drug Research: A Comprehensive Review by David Jay Brown comes highly recommended.


It is a combination of the aforesaid techniques that give the anarchist self-confidence needed show people the beauty of liberty. It is the deep exploration of the mind—through practical reasoning, meditation and chemicals—that generates the anarchist’s heroic and radiant personality, which gleams with courage and confidence like the noble statue. The anarchists who have made the most progress and handle the most problems are the ones who use the practical and psychological fear-reduction skills.

This therapeutic activism is what makes all activism successful. Non-therapeutic activism is stifled and dead politicking. It fails at to promote freedom in the best possible way, and it exacerbates fear-responses. That is why there needs to be more emotionally savvy activists. Luckily, several have risen from the ashes of modern chaos, thus anarchists have initiated a therapeutic renaissance, which will blossom as freedom grows. It is what society desperately craves in order to overcome the next hurdle to a more peaceful world, and to show people that an anarchist society is a healthy society.

About Author


Sterlin Lujan is a professional writer, editor and aspiring counseling psychologist. He writes for "The Art of Not Being Governed" blog, a local print publication, and has written a peer reviewed scholarly article for the International Journal of Reality Therapy. He takes a special interest in the psychological aspects of libertarianism and voluntary anarchism, and intends to start a movement toward more liberty based theories in psychotherapy and counseling. He BA is in psychology, and he is currently working on a graduate degree for substance abuse therapy. Sterlin also takes interest in a wide variety of subjects, including philosophy, biology, anarchism, economics and neuroscience.