Guil Dudley, Ph.D. January 11, 2013
Guil Dudley, Ph.D. January 11, 2013
For many of us the results of the election brought a sigh of relief, and for some a degree of elation that may or may not be justified. The approach I am going to take is to extract from the election and its aftermath more questions than answers. I’d like frame those questions around two quotes from Jung. One is from Vol. 18, The Symbolic Life, a section entititled “Civilization in Transition”:
“I see more health in our [Swiss] Fatherland than in fervent speeches about regeneration and hysterical attempts at a reorientation. Sooner or later it will be found that nothing really ‘new’ happens in history. There could be talk of something really novel only if the unimaginable happened: if reason (as in common sense), humanity, and love won a lasting victory.” (p. 588, par. 1356)
In a very real sense the election was a triumph of egalitarian democracy over a covert form of white male supremacy and plutocracy.( My colleague on the panel, Don Kalsched, will flesh this out in psychological terms.) But instead of heralding this triumph as something new in America, it is, ironically and paradoxically, exactly what Republican rhetoric was calling for: a return to the founding principles in the Constitution. On the Yale University law website, Jack Balkin, professor of Constitutional Law at the Law School, writes: “the Constitution does more than simply provide fair ground rules for cultural struggle. It also actively intervenes in some status hierarchies and requires that they be dismantled, or at the very least, that the support of law be withdrawn from them. The Constitution has an egalitarian demand, a demand which is more than a demand for equality in civil
rights, and more than a demand for equality of political rights. It is a demand for equality of social status, a demand that exists even though it cannot be achieved by legal means alone. This egalitarian demand is what connects the Constitution to our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. It is the deep meaning of the American political experience. It is the soul of our Constitution.”
In this sense the election was, as the height of irony, a conservative victory insofar as it conserves the egalitarian spirit enshrined in the Constitution, allowing the election to be determined by people regardless of gender, race, ethnic background, or economic status. It is a return to the soul of our Constitution. On the other hand, we could ask whether something new has emerged in the degree to which our American egalitarian spirit has shown forth in the re-election of an African-American president, especially under economic conditions that ordinarily would doom most presidents’ second term bid, a President Barack Obama who does indeed exemplify the qualities Jung cited: “reasonableness, humanity, and love – love of country, family, and love of ordinary struggling men and women from every walk of life. Psychologically the “something new” includes another step in exposing and struggling with the nation’s shadow: slavery and racial bigotry, as well as the equally insidious gender oppression. It can be argued that nothing new has emerged, and it can be argued that something very new has emerged. It’s an open question: has something new in the collective psyche begun to appear, or is regeneration premature?
However, Jung’s psychology reminds us that all individuals and social movements have their shadow sides. We know the shadow of the other side, one part of which is the hubris of class superiority and entitlement. This shadow aspect was voiced not only by Romney’s outrageous comment about the 47%, but after the election by Tom Davis, a former Congressman and Republican operative, who said and I quote: “It was an election won by the underclass...The darker people are
getting out of their chairs and voting.” That was the voice of the white male supremacist referring to his political opponents as the darker people, racially and in every other way. But what is the shadow side of egalitarian democracy and its recent triumph at the polls? A dangerous shadow side would be a feeling of moral superiority among Democrats and progressives, opposing claims of class superiority and plutocratic entitlement with moral superiority. The feeling of moral superiority is often summoned as a defense against collective inferiority complexes to which the dispossessed, downtrodden, and financially limited among us have succumbed, understandably -- complexes that have not been worked through individually or collectively.
A second question also bears on the issues of denial and delusion, but is more somber. Can we recover from the denial, delusion, and dissociation into which we have fallen with regard to climate change? The question arises naturally from the disturbing fact that climate change was avoided in both Presidential campaigns. Both campaigns knew that most of the electorate didn’t want to hear about it. Again, let me turn to a quotation from Jung.
“The four sinister horsemen [of the apocalypse, imaged in the Bible’s Book of Revelations], the threatening tumult of trumpets, and the brimming vials of wrath are still waiting; already the atom bomb hangs over us like the sword of Damocles...” (vol. 11, par.733)
I think Jung, if he were still living, would add climate change as a second sword of Damocles, a sword that will start to fall, though not all at once, when we pass the tipping point from which recovery is no longer possible. Scientists tells us there are tipping points, or thresholds, for climate destabilization to begin a fatal cascade of interlocking events and feedback loops, such as oxygen depletion as carbon dioxide percentages rise, species extinction, as habitats are destroyed, flooding from a melting Greenland ice sheet, forest fires, dust bowl formations, and storms
on an unprecedented scale. The brimming vials of wrath that Jung speaks of can force nature’s hand beyond any remedial effects that technology can offer, including public health responses to diseases and pandemics caused by the trauma of such a cascade of runaway climate destabilization.
At one point Jung implies that we may be able to avoid dooming ourselves and our planet undergoing a symbolic death. In the context of the hydrogen bomb threat he writes: “We are threatened with universal genocide if we cannot work out salvation [by which he means individuation] by a symbolic death.” (Vol. 18, par. 1661) What Jung means by a symbolic death is on the archetypal level and it requires our understanding the union of opposites in the God-image, focused on the crucifixion of Christ, without identifying with that archetype in some literal or exclusively religious way. He leaves it an open question as to how we would undergo a symbolic death as a collective, though what springs to my mind is a sacrifice of lifestyle and nationalistic pride, in order to cooperate with other nations in the spirit of egalitarianism. After all, the catastrophic effects of climate change do not distinguish between nationalities, races, bank accounts, or political parties.
Thank you for letting me share a few ruminations about where we are, post- election, in light of some of Jung’s insights.