Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PSR) was established in 1982 to promote “the use of psychological skills and knowledge to push for nuclear disarmament and … reduce the threat of nuclear war.” With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, PSR expanded its mission to include also “broader issues” of “peacebuilding,” “social justice,” and “conflict resolution” at the community, national and international levels.
Viewing the United States as the principal wellspring of evil in the world, PSR claims that America, over the course of its history, has incurred a massive karmic debt and consequently will never “be able to escape” its “collective sense of guilt and culpability for the slavery of Blacks and the destruction of American Indian populations”—transgressions that represent “permanent stains” on the country’s “soul and psyche.”
“Racism continues to permeate our society” to this day, adds PSR, citing “the ongoing lack of social justice for communities of color”—i.e., “black and brown men in particular”—who “too often” are victims of “systemic racial bias,” “violence,” and “brutality” perpetrated by “the police and other authorities.” To address these matters, PSR aims to “mobilize psychologists to transform social institutions in ways that reduce racism and poverty.”
Characterizing America as a nation that fails to take adequate care of its poor, PSR has frequently condemned the “misguided priorities” underlying “draconian cuts” to “essential social welfare programs.” Free-market-based proposals to “spu[r] economic growth” as a means of reducing “extremes of inequality between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’,” says the organization, mostly benefit “those at the top of the economic ladder” and thus “engender even greater inequities.” The best solution, in PSR’s calculus, is to empower the federal government to “distribute our resources more fairly.” A key component of PSR’s conception of social justice is the implementation of a government-run “universal healthcare” system.
Deriding what it portrays as America’s leadership role in the “globalization of corporate consumerism,” PSR identifies U.S. greed as a major cause of the plight of “the one billion [people worldwide] who live on less that $1 a day.”
In the early stages of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, PSR expressed its “support for the democratic aspirations” of the throngs of “ordinary people” throughout the Middle East who rallied to “challenge undemocratic rulers,” “choose their own leaders,” and lay down the yoke of “tyranny, oppression, and exploitation.” More often than not, the governments that were toppled in the Arab Spring were replaced by fundamentalist Islamic regimes which were far more repressive and undemocratic.
In October 2011, PSR similarly voiced its “strong support” for the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement, describing it as “a source of inspiration, hope, and unity for millions of citizens” troubled by “the growing inequality that threatens the democracy and social fabric of our country.”
A member organization of the Abolition 2000, United for Peace & Justice, and Win Without War coalitions, PSR contends that the Iraq War—“with all of its deaths, torture, and obvious persecutions of Muslim people”—disastrously “fashioned a global perception of the U.S. government as selfish, arrogant, and immoral, incapable of … being a force for law, incapable of being a force for justice.”
PSR currently administers 6 major programs:
1. The Human Rights & Psychology program works to “change the institutional policies and practices that perpetuate state-sponsored abuses” like “mass killing, torture, ethnic- and gender-based violence, and the suppression of freedom of expression.”
2. The Violence, War, & Their Alternatives program aims to “advocate and educate for nonviolent approaches to conflict prevention and reduction, including the empowerment of potential victims, the use of diplomacy, and the promotion of greater tolerance for personal and cultural differences.”
3. The Peacebuilding & Reconciliation program promotes “individual and social healing, reconciliation, and building sustainable communities” as means of preventing “cycles of revenge, despair, and rage.”
4. The Social Health, Justice, & Well-Being program seeks to “apply psychological principles in order to highlight and challenge the sources of poverty, prejudice, discrimination, and inequality that adversely affect individuals in family, school, work, and community settings.”
5. The Education For Social Responsibility program provides training, classroom materials, online resources, and research reports that “highlight key links between psychology, social problems, and effective policies for social change.”
6. The Climate Change, Sustainability, & Psychology program is rooted in the premise that “urgent concerted action is needed” to curb the “human-caused climate change and environmental degradation” resulting chiefly from “over-consumption by the world’s rich.” “And because environmental problems … are experienced more frequently and severely by the poor,” says PSR, “the growing divide between the world’s haves and have nots” is prone to spark “hostility,” “resentment,” and violent “clash[es] of cultures.” Moreover, PSR claims that “if the U.S. does not quickly lead the way to dramatically reduce carbon emissions,” societal fears about “the growing risks from climate change” will cause “millions of people [to] develop severe and persistent anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, aggression, and other troubled behavior.”
Over the years, PSR has been repeatedly critical of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank. For example:
In November 2005, when the Israeli Army used F-16 jet plane-generated “sonic booms” as a non-lethal response to the hundreds of Quassam rockets that Hamas terrorists had recently launched from Gaza into southern Israel, PSR issued a statement condemning Israel’s “particularly pernicious” use of “psychological warfare.” The loud explosions, said PSR, were causing Palestinian children to cry, wet their beds, refuse to go to school, and have poor appetites.
In August 2010, PSR stated that “the Israeli government’s siege of Gaza”—a reference to the continuing naval blockade that Israel had put into effect in 2007 to quell Hamas-led terror activities in the region—“imposes an unacceptable cost to the health and mental health of the citizens of Gaza.”
In August 2015, PSR issued a statement praising the nuclear deal which the Obama administration had just negotiated with Iran—an agreement that would allow the regime in Tehran to: continue enriching uranium, build advanced centrifuges, buy ballistic missiles, fund terrorism, and eventually have a near-zero breakout time to a nuclear bomb about a decade down the road. By PSR’s telling, the accord had been “rigorously negotiated in good faith” and represented “a triumph of firm diplomacy and a step towards reducing nuclear threats worldwide.” “The best way to heighten security is to make your adversary more secure as well,” PSR declared.