Reflections on the Requirements for Inner and Outer Democracy
©Donald E. Kalsched Ph.D.
Panel Discussion on Jung and Politics, Santa Fe, NM January 11, 2013
©Donald E. Kalsched Ph.D.
Panel Discussion on Jung and Politics, Santa Fe, NM January 11, 2013
The aspect of our current politics that has most concerned me of late and that I want to bring some psychological reflection to this evening is the increasingly polarized and polemical nature of our national discourse on almost every issue that faces the nation. This negativity was writ large in our last election cycle where there were more attack ads than at any other time in history, and the negativity continues everyday in the media. Now our democracy thrives on conflict and vigorous debate so there has to be plenty of room for mud-slinging--verbal mudslinging. But something more insidious and destructive has crept into our national dialogue. It's the almost religious fervor--the passion and arrogance that has us idealizing one side of an issue (usually our own side) and diabolizing the other as beneath our contempt--then dismissing it with a slogan. Complicated issues get wrapped in the simplistic formulas of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, weak vs. strong, American vs. un-American. If what's at stake is absolute good or absolute evil, then what is necessary is not debate and compromise but the will to fight things out to the finish. This is an erosion of the symbolic field of democracy in which we work things out in language.
Following the recent Newtown massacre, we see the absurd extent to which this absolutist thinking has gone. The NRA is now suggesting that "an armed society is a polite society" and that "for every bad guy with a gun there should be a good guy with a gun." This leads to exactly what happened in Jacksonville Florida last month--perhaps you heard about it--where four teenagers were sitting in their car at a convenience store blaring loud music. Michael Dunn, a software developer, had a loaded pistol in his glove compartment. He asked them to turn down the music. Nasty words were exchanged. Dunn thought he saw a shotgun pointed at him. So he blasted away at the teenagers car, killing a young boy Jordan Davis who had no gun, no criminal record, and was returning home after a day of shopping at the mall. This tragedy is a direct result of ego-dissolving fear, of defensive rage, and of primitive splitting energies from archetypal affects bursting forth like a volcano, taking over what might have been a verbal altercation. In events like this, the symbolic, cultural human-to-human connection shatters and with it all our efforts to craft a common life on which we can all depend.
The pattern of projection behind this event is a form of absolutist, totalistic thinking and it constitutes a regression in our political life to a more primitive psychology--a primitive psychology, by the way, which is extremely seductive--even addictive-- and pulls us all into it. At least it pulls me into it. (I can feel my blood pressure rising every time I watch MSNBC!) So my meditation tonight is an effort to understand this and involves a "message to self" as much as it is a message to you. I want to explore questions like "why" is this regression occurring now? Why is it so seductive for us and how can we restore some measure of civility to our dialogue. What is required of us as citizens and
what can Jungian psychology contribute? Here are the steps in my thinking about how we got into this situation and how we might get out of it.
Step 1. Foundational to American Democracy and the US Constitution is the separation of church and state. This "wall" of separation, so important to Thomas Jefferson, promotes a diversity of religious expression free of control by the state, giving people freedom to worship as they please. It also means that issues of justice will be decided within a system of secular laws and courts--not by religious councils of Popes, Rabbis or Imams. This separation of matters sacred from matters secular represents a huge step in the evolution of a civil society and in the evolution of a differentiated consciousness per ce. And it has come about only through a great deal of pain and suffering. Only a few hundred years ago in the West, there was no effective separation between religion and civil affairs. Instead there were inquisitions, holy wars, and persecutions of heretics--like Galileo and Copernicus whose discovery that the earth orbited the sun threatened the mytho-religious world-view of medieval Christianity. Hence they were dragged before an inquisition by the church; their books were banned, and they narrowly escaped burning at the stake!
This same undifferentiated merger between sacred and secular is seen in Iran today where the Ayatolahs have power over elected officials. No wonder we worry about Iran getting a nuclear bomb. In the middle East we can see the agonizing struggle to move away from this authoritarian theocratic structure and toward secular democracy where the people affirm their equality with each other and volunteer to subordinate themselves to the rule of law. In a true democracy, no person stands above the law--either through military or financial power or what used to be called "divine right."
This "subordination" of the ego to the rule of consensually established laws is, developmentally speaking, a huge sacrifice of our self-appointed "superiority" or the "divine prerogatives" claimed by leaders.1 The word sacrifice means to render sacred. It's ironic. You make something sacred by giving up your ego's identification with the divine in favor of a more embodied wholeness including all the people. The Greek word kenosis describes this process--emptying oneself of one's "divinity" in order to become human. You "descend" from on high into democracy--from the Greek demos meaning the people and kratos, meaning power--power to the people. Once you're in a democracy you're free to relate to divine energies. But you are no longer allowed to identify with them or arrogate their power to your ego. If you abuse this power you're thrown in jail. Naturally, as Freud said, this kind of civilizing descent of the ego from its heavenly beginnings, has its discontents. We resist it. We'd prefer to be inflated by those energies. Even in this country we resisted it to the point of Civil War. The "All men are created equal" clause of our Declaration didn't apply to slaves until the Emancipation proclamation signed by Lincoln in 1863, nor did it apply to women until 1920 with the 19th amendment. White men were thought to be "superior" to blacks and to women.
That was just the way things were. Democracy is slow, and painful, and precious and we need to remind ourselves how much sacrifice of our "godly superiority" is necessary to embrace it.
Step 2. Now there is also a democracy of the psyche and it too depends for its health and diversity--as Jung has demonstrated-- on a separating boundary between the totalistic categories and archetypal affects of the collective unconscious with their numinous energies on the one hand, and the relative human categories and personal affects of the individuating ego, on the other. As everybody in this crowd is aware, Jung contributed hugely to our understanding of the psyche by adding a whole foundational layer underneath the personal unconscious that he called by various names--the "collective unconscious," the "ground plan," the "original mind," the "hereditary psyche," or the "objective psyche." This primordial layer is the source of our "spiritual" experience and Jung suggested that we have a "religious instinct" that seeks a relationship with Spirit.
Morover, for Jung there was an "implicate order" to this ground plan....it wasn't just a seething cauldron as Freud called the ID. So "archetypal affects" form the affective basis of the personality, and according to Lew Stewart, there are 7 such affects: Joy, Surprise, Fear, Sadness, Anger, Contempt, and Shame. Later Silvan Tompkins added another, Interest. 2
These archetypal affects are experienced by the immature ego as overwhelming and numinous--Titanic possessing Powers that can take over the ego and sweep it away, generally in one of two directions. The positive affects of joy and interest leave the infant in bliss and conspire towards enhanced development, engagement with the world, integration, and cohesion of parts of the body/psyche. The negative affects, on the other hand--Fear, Sadness, Anger, Contempt, and Shame, conspire towards dis-integration and fragmentation of the evolving ego complex and its withdrawal from the world.
Moreover, when these ambivalent affects reach consciousness in the form of archetypal images, this basic division between "good" and "bad" experience continues. Archetypes are binary structures--bivalent. They have two poles and they are often personified as "great beings" with super-human powers. There's the great good mother and the great bad mother, the monster demon and the guardian angel, Christ and the Anti-Christ etc. In this way archetypes hold together the two poles of psychic life and begin the process of affect-integration and humanization that will have to be completed by the ego as it wrestles and struggles with bearable infusions of affect constellated by life experiences.
In a healthy psyche, everything depends upon a "good enough" environment in which the ego can complete this task or wrestling the ego out of its omnipotent origins. The high voltage of archetypal affects and images will have to be slowly transformed into usable electricity--from 880 volts to 220 and then 110. The transformer is primarily the maternal relationship and it will have to survive the child's volcanic rages and frustrate its blissful projections and expectations. If positive affects predominate in this process and negative affects are not unbearable--that is to say traumatic--then a democracy of the psyche comes about....all the parts integrated in a superordinate whole, emptied of their "divine" voltage, god-like projections having slipped away, replaced by the safety of human-all-too-human interactions. A separation between "Church and State," between the collective unconscious and the ego, grows along with the ego's tolerance for affect and capacity to hold good and bad together without splitting. The numinous mystery of this wholeness, when it is witnessed in dreams or other psychic imagery is what Jung
called the Self. In our civil life, this same imagery (or the political version of it) is part of our national seal on the back of all our dollar bills--a banner in the beak of the Eagle that says: E Pluribus Unam....from the many, One.3
So what happens when the human transformers are not present in a child's life and he or she is left with the overwhelming negative affects of fear, sadness, anger, contempt and shame? Here we enter the realm of trauma. These feelings become unbearable for the immature ego. We cannot metabolize them alone--and so we regress back to the archaic fundaments of the psyche. We become "fundamentalists" once again. We crawl back into our innocence and identify with the pink, blissful side of the archetype living in terror of the violent other pole upon which we project absolute evil. We then interpret the world through the totalistic categories and projections of the collective world into which we have regressed. As we all know, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Splitting the world into good and bad, we can never see the good in our adversaries, or the "bad" in ourselves. There is no separation of church and state in the traumatized psyche. The fragile ego finds itself surrounded by the ambivalent "great powers" of the archetypal psyche and tries to use them to defend itself from an impossible life in reality.
Now as I said at the beginning, this kind of regression to a primitive all-or-none psychology seems dangerously close to a description of the way we are behaving in our political affairs these days--which leads naturally to a question about our own trauma as a nation. And here, I don't think we have to look too far. Newtown is far enough. An assault rifle in the hands of a troubled kid shooting twenty 5-year-olds in the face at close range--brains and blood spattered on the surrounding walls. It is too much to bear. And it makes no sense in terms of the ways we have always made sense of the evil in our world. It shatters us and makes us numb and it makes us angry and it makes us want to act instead of understand. Our fear and terror leads to primitive defenses and so we find ourselves thinking in the stereotypical patterns of the primitive archetypal mind. Adam Lanza, the Newtown killer, we say, was a psychotic predator--insane, evil. Let's get rid of him. End of the story. And now let's put armed guards in our classrooms so we can kill someone like him before he kills others. Terror has gotten into our system and its contagion has pulled us into its seductive world.
When we try to metabolize a horror like Newtown, we are being asked to look right into the mirror of our own archaic beginnings--right into the vortex of the collective history of the race, where violence against infants and children was common. The slaughtering of innocents erupted everywhere in our history as a race, often inspired by "religious" fears.4 In Adam Lanza that horrifying history has broken through again to remind us of how absolute evil can take hold of a personality--can take hold of us--and lead to unspeakable violence.
So the work of democracy--even in cases like Newtown--is to struggle to understand the common ground between ourselves and our adversaries, the human ground--free of our projections of totalistic categories. Jung often quoted the old maxim of Terence, “Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto” I am a man; I count nothing human alien to me.5 This suggests that we must try to understand the human motivation of even a monster like
Adam Lanza or someone possessed of archetypal evil like Osama Bin Laden. We can kill them in self-defense or give them the death penalty if they survive our efforts to stop them, but we must still try to understand them separate from the archetypal categories that otherwise allow us to dismiss them as evil. When we look at them we're looking at ourselves--not what we've become, but where we started. We may conclude that archetypal evil has taken over these personalities--possessed them. But we should still be interested in what human circumstances, what human weakness or pathology, allowed the possession by archetypal evil to take place.
When I look into the face of Adam Lanza I am reminded of the haunted face in Edward Munch's "The Scream." There's a story there--a human story--even if we're too angry right now to look into it. But as citizens of a democracy, we must look into it because this is our work--finding the humanity in the enemy, even if the enemy has been possessed by evil. We don't do this because we are bleeding heart liberals and want to re-habilitate the likes of Adam Lanza, but because we must understand. More effective prevention of this kind of event in the future will come from this understanding. As "trust holders of democracy"6 we must make this effort.
1 Wolfgang Giegerich calls this "self-sublation" and he believes that in having suffered and struggled against our own authoritarian religious traditions and overcome them, we have, in the West, entered a level of consciousness "superior" to the "shame and honor culture" of Islam. He feels we should not be ashamed of this. See Giegerich, "Islamic Terrorism" in Jungian Reflections on September 11, (2002) L. Zoja & D. Williams (eds), Switzerland, Einsiedeln, Daimon Verlag. I think he is probably correct about this from a developmental and structural perspective, but to smugly identify with this superiority would be to undo what democracy has accomplished and avoid the work of democratizing that still needs to be done.
2 See Stewart, C., (2008) Dire Emotions and Lethal Behaviors, London, Routledge, p. 8.
3 It should be noted that in the process of transformation from Self to ego, from collective to
personal, from divine to human, it is extremely important not to lose the divine spark at the center of the human personality--the vital core, the life-instinct or soul. Too severe a disillusionment leads to trauma and a regression back to the archetypal drama of splitting, absolutism, totalistic categories of good vs. bad etc. Heinz Kohut said the process of disillusionment should be "phase appropriate" i.e, not too fast, not too slow; and D.W. Winnicott spoke of "transitional processes" in which those idealizations and diabolizations that are a part of normal infantile omnipotence and its "divine inheritance," are slowly transmuted --into ego-agency, symbolic capacity, and true-self living.
Any of you who are parents will remember what a stormy poignant process this is, coaxing your 2-year old child out of his or her "divine" entitlements and rages without collapsing the "enthusiasms" that support mature ideals or soulful aliveness. As Edward Edinger used to say, the key for the child is to dissolve his or her identification with the Self while maintaining a relationship with the Self. He called this a healthy ego/Self axis. Those of us in the psychotherapy profession are struggling with this all the time, struggling to find it, or keep it in view--either as analysts or patients.
I'll never forget leaving my training analyst's office one day--crestfallen-- after an especially disillusioning session of confronting my own limitations and grief about something, and my analyst said "well if you felt pricked you must have been a balloon." Then he tried to soften it a bit--helping me to hold onto my idealizations...."that's why they call us headshrinkers," he said,
"and you're going to be one of us someday, so you might as well get used to it." Here I think he was helping me out of my inflation and into a human community while keeping some of my inflated ideals intact. So, the point is that optimal psychological health of our evolving selves-- personal and collective, depends on the slow and painful separation of spiritual, divine, or religious energies/powers and identifications from our human all too human limitations and reality. Once we've separated from our omnipotent and "divine" beginnings, then we can relate to spiritual realities across a secure boundary--across a separation of "Church and State."
4 A familiar example is Herod's slaughter of all infants under 2 years of age in Matthew 2:16-18. 5 Terence, Heauton Timorumenos, l.l.25 quoted in Jung, Vol 18, par 91n.
6 This is a phrase used by Parker J. Palmer in his important book Healing the Heart of Democracy (2011), San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, p. 4.