Friday, November 12, 2004


The postelection reaction continues, composed of analyses, harranges, acid jokes, hopeful statistics and expressions of sadness, emptiness, fear and despair. There are numbers, maps, riddles, conspiracy theories, exhortations, and bitter litanies flying through cyberspace--- even a poem, posted on T. Goddard's Political Wire:
The election is over, the results are now known.
The will of the people has clearly been shown.
We should show by our thoughts, our words and our deeds
That unity is just what our country needs.
Let's all get together. Let bitterness pass.
I'll hug your elephant.
You kiss my ass.

Some rose to even greater eloquence, though we readers of the SF Chronicle have come to expect it of columnist Jon Carroll. He reminded those inclined to flee the country or otherwise give up the fight that "The same people are underserved as were underserved on Nov.1. The need for courage and compassion and hard work is as great as it ever was. If you quit now, the bastards have won....We are political players in the most powerful nation in the world, and that is a responsibility." You can find the rest of this column here:

Despair and deep sadness still hover and the consequences of the election will continue to devastate: the Iraqi children and the American Marines dying in Fallujah, the polar bears dying in the Arctic, the suffering that will ensue in a million lonely ways, when pain goes untreated for want of health care, and the politically deluded as well as the disenfranchised struggle for their uncertain survival.

There is also plenty of anger. More than one politico has advised that it's time to play just as dirty as the opponents. One analyst pointed to an attack ad in which the Republicans portrayed their congressional opponent literally as the devil, with graphic suggestion of the apocalyptic consequences of his election. This Democrat's advice was not just to go negative but to get vicious, because it works.

There is undeniable emotional satisfaction as well as some political sense in unrelenting attack. If the Republicans want total war, let's see if they can take it. But then, it's the appeal to only emotions that in itself is scary. Do you defeat the enemy by becoming the enemy?

For some it is the losing, and the manner of it that fuels anger: the cheating and lying that put the triumphant smirk back on the dopey face of the man we are ashamed to call this country's choice for president. The disasters, ineptitude and stupidities of this administration are writ so large in such garish colors, yet they won. (Or did they? There's just enough evidence of fraud, tampering and suppression to seriously doubt whether George W. Bush actually got more votes, especially in Ohio and Florida, than did John Kerry.)

In any case, we know our society needs to change, and there are lots of people doing that work. Awhile back, I wrote about what I called the Skills of Peace. I started out exploring a variety of subjects, efforts, people that seemed to me to contribute to dealing with conflict and creating peace on various levels. I came to see that there were three essential divisions: the political skills (which also meant economic, sociological, history etc., anything that applied to the world, nations, regions, and large groups), communication skills for all of these large groups, and also for small groups and relationships; and skills applied within individuals (spiritual, psychological.) In other words, the outer worlds, the inner worlds, and the interfaces (communications.)

I managed to get a little of all these into a single magazine piece, though it was the psychological that got the shortest shrift. In some ways it was the hardest to quickly identify as a skill area. People understood that Peace Studies equipping students with geopolitical knowledge is pertinent, and so are various methods of communication, especially if the purpose is mediation or resolving conflict. Readers also understood the search for inner peace through meditation or religious study or even philosophy.

But it was a harder sell to include the relevance of psychological concepts as tools, and their use as skills of peace. Yet to me this is equally essential. We've seen what politics alone can and can't do. Spiritual quests alone don't do much for Iraq. But as an added skill in conceptualizing geopolitical problems and their contributing factors, in judging right and wrong actions, and in communicating, it seems to me psychology---specifically Jungian psychology and its derivatives---offers essential tools.

Jung offers a wealth of tools and insights, but I believe that if people learned only a few, and worked with them, the improvement would be enormous. If every school taught the basics of the conscious and the unconscious, the personal and collective shadow, and the tendencies towards projection, inflation and denial, we would be on the way to a better world. More to the point, to one with a better chance of surviving more or less intact.

But what does this have to do with politics? Let me quote the opening of Jung's essay, originally titled "The Present and the Future," and published in English as "The Undiscovered Self." Jung wrote this in the mid 1950s, responding to the specific history of World War II and the then-current Cold War: the ongoing gathering of the world into two camps ostensibly based on ideology, fueling the nuclear arms race and threatening Armageddon at any moment.

"Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly intelligent, mentally stable substratum of the population.

One should not overestimate the thickness of this stratum. It varies from country to country according to national temperament. Also, it is regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely disturbing factors of a political and economic nature. Taking plebiscites as a criterion, one could on an optimistic estimate put its upper limit at about forty percent of the electorate."

"Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic."

Individuals can arise as leaders and participants whose "views and behavior, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced unconsciously by pathological and perverse factors....Their mental state is of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgments and wish fantasies. In a milieu of this kind they are the adapted ones, and consequently they feel quite at home in it. They know from their own experience the language of these conditions, and they know how to handle them. Their chimerical ideas, sustained by fanatical resentments, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there; they express all those motives and resentments, which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight."

Around the same time, Jung gave one of his few lengthy filmed interviews---for a professor in Houston, Texas no less. Probably the most quoted part of it is this:

"Nowadays particularly the world hangs on a thin thread... Nowadays we are not threatened by elemental catastrophes. There is no such thing as an H-Bomb [in nature]; that is all man's doing. We are the great danger. The psyche is the great danger. What if something goes wrong with the psyche? And so it is demonstrated in our day what the power of the psyche is, how important it is to know something about it. But we know nothing about it. Nobody would give credit to the idea that the psychical processes of the ordinary man have any importance whatever."

But even the most cursory glance at this election shows that importance, as well as the legacy of ignoring the psyche. America has never taken the psyche seriously; even its psychology has been dominated by mechanistic behaviorists who insist that designing better drugs is the beginning and end of their job. A still conspicuous victim of this ignorance is the Vietnam veteran.

The first conventional idiocy is that everything we think is under our conscious control is under our conscious control. The second is that the world is divided between good people and bad people, and the good people are thoroughly good, while the bad people are uniformly evil. Not many people would admit that they believe this, but their actions suggest they do.

Most of us recognize, though perhaps we don't admit, that we are prey to compulsions that may arrive with their own delightful rationalizations and excuses attached. And we may even admit that there is good and bad in all of us, though in a very profound way, we can't let ourselves really believe this. It would mean that we aren't totally good, which in our either/or way of thinking, means that I am bad.

When America supported the Vietnam war, all soldiers were good and the enemy people, which included all protestors, were evil. When the majority of Americans got conflicted about the war, and then the U.S. pulled out and our soldiers hadn't won the war, the returning soldiers were abandoned. (I include myself among those who ignored them at first, though for different emotional reasons.) America's shame (for losing, for all the awful killing and the atrocities, for the uselessness of it all) was projected onto the soldiers.

Those soldiers got no help in dealing with their return, and the war was a forbidden subject for decades. The Wall seemed to help heal the veterans and the country, but it wasn't enough, apparently. Because the Republicans found they could exploit (and finance) their residual resentment, and a small group of Vietnam veterans---led by a man who had been Republican political operative for decades, and others who were exposed as bad officers in an historian's biography of John Kerry---not only engaged in character assassination based on demonstrably false charges, but acted out a classic projection in insisting that Kerry had accused all Vietnam veterans of engaging in heinous war crimes, when he had done no such thing.

But our establishment media---from our most august newspapers to the cable news channels of ill repute---doesn't even have the vocabulary to begin to discuss this. And on this politically exploited psychological tangle the election may have turned.

The greatest danger of fundamentalist Christianity isn't that it injects religion into the political dialogue. Between the scientifically-based, purportedly value-free rationalism and moral relativism of the blue state, and the dogmatic, anti-intellectual, intolerant fundamentalism of the red state, lies the psyche as Carl Jung described it. Psyche is one of the Greek words for soul, and Jung believed that religion (which he saw as an attitude and an experience, not a creed, set of dogmas or practices) is as essential to humanity as reason.

The real political danger isn't religion, it is dogmatism, linked with the belief that one group knows the truth and is wholly good, while others believe falsely, and among them are the wholly evil.

Nor is the problem stupidity, or ignorance of what every scientific rationalist knows. It is ignorance of the psyche, and a willful blindness to its workings and its effects, based perhaps on one dogma or another. It is a failure to take responsibility for ourselves, for our own psyche, and to give it over to some church, or some voice on the radio, or some determinist theory.

The Jungian view of the psyche (not exclusive to Jungians certainly) is that there is both good and evil in all of us. That some evil resides in our unconscious, in what Jung called the shadow. Now at least some Christians believe we all have the capacity to sin, that there is sinfulness in our natures, but they believe they can be redeemed of sin either by being born again, or by belonging to the right church of chosen people, or by following their rules of righteousness, or seeking forgiveness in prescribed ways. They don't see how the shadow shapes how they see things.

The Jungian view is that we can't face seeing certain things about ourselves, so we project those exact qualities on others. We think of ourselves as generous, but are afraid to give away too much, but we feel guilty about it. So we project that feeling onto someone else: we criticize them for being selfish. Is that person actually selfish? Maybe, maybe not, but projection invariably exaggerates: you see the bad more powerfully, because in some unconscious way you feel very bad that there might be some bad in you.

Projecting from the shadow is a normal part of our relationships, in marriage, the workplace, the community, and in our dreams. Everyone does it. The crucial difference is in accepting and understanding that this happens, and checking ourselves---asking ourselves the question, am I projecting in this situation? Because the shadow has the energy of the unconscious, most of the time we trick ourselves into believing we are justified. But getting those feelings out of the shadow and into the light of consciousness is a crucial task.

There is no shame in having a shadow. The unconscious is a completely vital part of us. (Jung believed it was the source of our creativity.) But people can't consciously control what they deny or don't understand, and so they continue to be ruled by the shadow aspect of the unconscious.

But what does that have to do with politics? According to Jung, the individual who withdraws his own shadow projection from his neighbor is doing work of immense immediate political and social importance.

Says Jungian Marie-Louise von Franz, "If more people don't try to reflect, and take back their projections, and take the opposites back into themselves, there will be total destruction."

But there is another level in Jungian thought, which pertains to the section of "The Undiscovered Self " quoted above. Jung believed that in addition to each of us possessing a personal unconscious, there is a collective unconscious that we all inherit. And just as we have a personal shadow, there is in any given time and place a collective shadow: a collection of unwanted tendencies too awful to admit. There are times as well when this collective shadow leads to collective projections.

In Nazi Germany, von Franz said, people fell into a collective shadow through their personal shadows---through personal greed perhaps, or feelings of inferiority, they rationalized Hitler and what Germany had to do, to rule inferior people perhaps, or return itself to greatness, take its rightful share of the spoils, and destroy the evil nations thwarting its destiny. Only a perverse and powerful collective shadow could apply an ugly residual racism to a need for identity and national pride and transform it all into a vicious, inhuman and systematic genocidal frenzy. Taken separately, German grievances against other nations had some validity. Taken more moderately, its aspirations might have been constructive. But the energy of an unleashed collective shadow created a monstrous paradigm, which built up over years before reaching a climax with Hitler's rule. What people would normally SEE as monstrous became rationalized as ultimately good, partly because they believed it, and in the atmosphere created by the force of the collective shadow, it felt good.

"In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age and its sufferers, but also its makers," said Jung in 1934. "We make our own epoch."

The power of projection, for instance, can be seen in the fear of terrorism. In rhetoric and behavior, the Christian Fundamentalists and the Islamic Fundamentalists are mirror images; they are each other's shadow. Yet our media would never suggest that the fear of terrorism is predominantly psychological. But how could it be seen as anything else? Most Americans travel daily at speeds exceeding 60 miles an hour, in vehicles that crumple and kill the occupants when they encounter each other at a fraction of that speed. Drivers, riders and pedestrians, we are all in proximate danger on the street, every day. But most people don't sit in a corner petrified at the possibilities of accidents. On the other hand, even if an individual knew that a suicide attack would take place on New York City on a specific day, the chances that any individual would be at that place at that time is minute. And of course, nobody would have that kind of information, so the odds of being in the particular part of the particular city at that moment must rival the odds of getting struck by lightning while sleeping. 9-11 has become such a symbol because there has only been one 9-11. It is the psychological response to the images, the associations, the fantasies and the projections, that gives terrorism its power.

Note that the only places where Americans experienced 9-11 deaths went to Kerry, while those who voted with their fears were among the most remote. Note that millions of people in heterosexual marriages vote their fear of homosexual unions, which have no impact whatever on their marriages, which are likely not trouble-free (for few if any marriages are.) How much easier it is to fulminate over others than deal with conflicting emotions in the morass of one's own life. Or to project objectless anger over one's economic plight on some symbolic evil, some distant and indistinct alien.

This should remind us not only of the importance of knowing the psyche, but of all that we think, feel and do in making change. So some of us may do the world some good by going to Canada and liberating something stifled within, just as others stay and engage in political debate and action. Those who have retreated these past days into music or Star Trek (I've done both, I'm afraid) or art and drama, may also be performing necessary work, or at the very least, necessary play.

Just as this world needs people willing to battle traffic and idiot bosses, it needs people walking the wilderness in solitude. The world needs people connecting with reality and real people to make a better future, and people connecting with fantasy and unreal people, to summon the archetypes for a better future. We probably all need to talk a little more to the animals, plants, rooms, skies, electronic devices and pots and pans that make our time on this planet possible and good. And don't forget to give that shadow a good--but safe---workout (Robert A. Johnson's little book, "Owning Your Own Shadow" is a good place to start.)


Captain Future said...

This is a test. In the event of a real comment, it would appear here. This includes messages from the unconscious.

Captain Future said...

it's me again. I'm experimenting with new templates, so at the moment this post is the first one that allows comments. Comments should work on newer posts, but not yet on the ones farther down the page.

Captain Future said...

If I may now comment on my comments, I am soliciting comments on this particular template. It has the widest screen, longest lines: does this make this blog more readable? In general is the appearance reader-friendly? I kind of miss the old cream on blue format but the closest in the new Blogger templates has such a short line that a post like this one goes on forever. When reading a long post, do you prefer scrolling down shorter lines, or longer lines across like this one? Tks

WWWinDC said...

BK: I like the new format better although I agree that the blue & cream color (or others) would be nice to have. Less scrolling involved, it feels like. Longer lines appeal to me. Guess I haven't totally abandoned the book as a readable format....hope all is well in NoCal, the month's early disappointment notwithstanding. ..