One of the apparent issues in contemporary cultural discourse is the separation of stories of individuals from the group. In the first instance, the individual, our collective perspective looks through the telescope of the psychologist, the psychiatrist, or perhaps the entrepreneur. Only if and when a sufficient number of individuals comprise a “group” (or in our terms, a demographic) does that individual warrant consideration from the perspective of public policy. Although it is true that photos of individuals, for example, drowned on a beach on the shores of the Mediterranean, or a father and daughter on the banks of the Rio Grande generate considerable public grief, and potentially generate a new consciousness of various issues. In the two cases mentioned, those issues are migrant refugees from North Africa and migrant refugees from Central America.
Some have even attempted to discern whether the templates deployed in marriage counselling can be appropriately applied to the ‘divorce’ that seems to be taking place in the United States in order to restore the ‘union’ to something resembling political and constitutional health.
Segregation, division of labour, division of academic discipline, and the concomitant division of various “objectives and goals into departmental execution” as a matter of efficiency, seems to flow from a historic precedent based on military exploits, military organization, military hierarchy and a top-down construct of order, management and the execution of power. The church epitomizes the model in the Vatican, with the Pope. The theology exclusively written and practiced by men, adopts and fosters the model of colonization under the rubric of evangelizing. Rationalization dedicated to justification of the exclusion of women by men, and then accepted and tolerated and even obeyed by women, including reverend sisters, even more deeply embedded the hierarchical, pyramidal, male-ordered universe.
Colonization, as a model of expansion of empires, institutions, corporations, and even schools of thought/discipleship has historically demeaned minorities on all continents, with impunity. Only unless and until those minorities rose up, found their voice, perhaps even took up arms, and resisted such colonial power, whether it was imposed over minority races, minority gender, minority faith groups, was that colonial leg-iron loosened or removed. In Canada, for example, the leg-irons attached to the multiple land treaties negotiated between the federal government and First Nations peoples, including the imposition of “reserves” as racial and ethic ghettoes, still impede the full development of individuals and communities across the country.
And, for well over a century, those leg-irons of colonization rarely if ever aroused the shame, guilt and need for change among the majority Caucasian population both French and English. Today, in 2019, over 300 reserve communities have boil water orders on their water supply, given the contamination of the water supplies, and the dangers to health of all adults and children. The right to vote, in the United States, for example, has been excluded from black citizens, from women under a mantra of white male power and political control for centuries, only shifting meagrely in the twentieth century. Voter repression of minorities, under a variety of means and methods, continues to this day, in many states ruled by Republican governors and state legislatures.
The men who pursue these nefarious goals and objectives, in order to preserve their own hold on power, exhibit a degree of narcissism, in direct contravention of the highest aspirations and ideals of the American constitution. Personal performance of public office, in pursuit of private ambitions, needs and goals has been a feature of public life in North America for decades, called out briefly and intermittently, through court cases, journalistic investigative reporting, the occasional movie and television series. Similarly, in private corporations, mostly led and monitored by men, the pursuit of personal stock options has far too often taken precedence over the higher, ethical, moral and public trust issues implicit in the provision of goods and services to each respective client base. In the church, the university and the legal and medical institutions, too, such personal pursuit of self-aggrandizement by those in positions of power and responsibility has rendered its opposite the occasional exception. The interests of the “public” whether the client, the patient, the parishioner, or even the student, have invariably taken a back seat to the overt or covert ambitions of those in power.
Men, for centuries, have adopted a posture that has its own embedded opposite within. In pursuit of those personal self-aggrandizement goals, the corner office, the BMW, the stock options, the bishoprics, the CEO designations, the Chief of Surgery (add any of the many departmental options) have sabotaged their/our true selves, our ego’s, in an unconscious pursuit of what we thought and believed was a legitimate, ethical, moral and sustainable “career path”. In fusion our performance with our ego, our Persona/Mask with our ego, we have lost ourselves in our work. Whether that work generated large pay slips, monumental public reputations, peer adulation, audience applause or some combination of extrinsic rewards, we fell into a trap of feeding the monster of our performance objectives.
Perfect performance, measured by an increasingly comprehensive and complex indices, profits, sales, expansion of production, expansion of technologies, promotions, recognitions by peers who themselves had already subsumed their own ego’s to the “performance” mantra became not only the norm but also the mandate and measurement for success.
We even taught our sons and daughters that our pursuit of “success” was enviable, worthwhile, and so persuasive that, if a son or daughter announced an intention to follow a “dream” to become an artist, a poet, a dancer, an actor, we immediately intoned the long chant of “responsibility, “You need to get a real job!” I know of a graduate from political science whose medical-specialist father reminded him, immediately upon his undergraduate graduation ceremony, “You still do not have a real profession; so, you need to study in a field that will provide one!
Effectively, many of us lost our true selves, our inmost and private interests, ambitions, skills and the culture that sustains those private identities, in pursuit of the homes, the vehicles, the vacations, the second homes, the social status and the public reputations that accompany such “trophies”.
We thereby effectively, if unconsciously, became tools, agents and pawns, not only of the systems for which we worked, but also for our own extrinsic persona and reputation. It is not argued here that such a “surrender” of our innate personalities was total; rather the degree to which we became enveloped in the pursuit of these extrinsic, measureable, publicly recognized and rewarded goals and objectives, often compromised not only our private persons; it also compromised those members of our families who found us pre-occupied with our work, or worse, absent in pursuit of work “duties”.
It is not surprising, in retrospect, to take note of such dynamics in the lives of millions of men, and increasing numbers of ambitious and “successful” women. Carl Jung wrote, decades ago, about the law of enantiadromia, borrowing from Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher of Ephesus who discovered a significant psychological law: “the regulative function of opposites…a running contrariwise, by which he meant that sooner or later everything runs into its opposite.” (Quoted by Frieda Fordham, An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology, p. 18, from Jung’s Two Essays on Analytical psychology)
For Jung, “the ego represents the conscious mind as it comprises the thoughts, memories, and emotions a person is aware of. The ego is largely responsible for feelings of identity and continuity. Persona is the public image of someone. The original word means mask, so the mask we wear in public in order to impose a certain image about us: father, mother, chief, artist, official, president. Persona is a result of social adaptation; it may be excessive, that is it may suggest a personality that has nothing natural but it is pure fiction. If the persona is excessive, then our authentic personality evanesces until it becomes practically unrecognizable.” (Jung Archetypes website)
It is the unconscious fusion of persona and ego that we are addressing here. And the question of whether men are more susceptible to this fusion than women will be best left to others more qualified. Suffice it to say, that from my own experience, and from the experience of other men whose lives I have observed, and even documented, our persona has too often subsumed our ego’s to our own detriment, if not tragedy.
Institutions designed and operated by men who suffer unconsciously and thereby without either remediative counsel or personal reflection from enantiandromia, are caught in a trap. We can argue all day that such a trap is of their/our own making and therefore others cannot accept responsibility for the impact. However, others, and that really means all others, who themselves “value” public performances over authentic personal expression, and the rewards such performance brings, (often designed to attract, seduce, induce and recruit the “best” performers) implicitly underscore, support, and sustain the pursuit of extrinsic, public performance goals and objectives, at the expense of an authentic expression of the ego.
This surrender of the authentic self, naturally, undergirds the consumer-based equations that keep the North American economy fuelled, even super-charged as, like lemmings millions of men and women prop up our sense of ourselves (really our public performance, whether our public is our family, our peers, our neighbours, or our workplace colleagues) through acquisition of the goods and services whose brands fit our “image” of our successful self.
In a culture deeply drowning in denial of the ego, both its individual presence, and its collective presence, having surrendered to the dictates of performance, mask, in the Heraclitus’ perspective, the ego becomes its opposite, the mask. And if we are all marching to the same drummer, to the same image-making machine, fuelling the extrinsic measurements of our own collective success, like the GDP, the GNP, the DOW, the TSX, the NASDAQ, the unemployment numbers, without at the same time taking cognizance, real reflective consciousness of how we are sabotaging ourselves and our culture, how can we be shocked that our public discourse, and our public policy and more importantly the low ceilings of our collective aspirations and imaginations are suffering from the malaise in which we are all enmeshed.
Just yesterday, we learned that Iceland has dropped the GDP as a measure of the society’s success, and replaced it with a measurement of wellbeing. “Speaking at London’s Chatham House Think tank, last Tuesday, Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir says “governments should prioritise environmental and socials factors in their budgets instead of GDP, in an alternative future based on wellbeing and inclusive growth. Iceland is part of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, a network of countries and organizations developing frameworks to measure social economic and environmental factors in a way that allows countries to move beyond GDP as the sole marker for economic success.” (Andy Gregory, The Independent, Dec. 5, 2019)
While there is no guarantee that such a proposal will reduce or eliminate the possibility of enantiadromia, it is reasonable to speculate that a public consciousness of the dangers to demographic populations, as well as to individuals of the ravages ensuing from the fusion of ego and persona, can only foster a new awareness of the price many pay for surrendering to the performance of a role, and its many complex and even insidious obligations.
Personally, I write as one who pursued the applause of a public audience, in the classroom, the political arena, the media, and even in the church, to fill what I perceived to be a vacuum of value in my self. If I was not performing, at that at the highest level to which I could attain, I was not able to see myself as “successful” or even worthy, especially in the eyes of those who mattered like my family.
To them, and to all the others trapped in this snare, I seek forgiveness and offer a sincere apology. Knowing others who, in a similar entrapment, actually took their own lives, causing endless and tortuous pain, suffering, guilt and anger to those who loved them, I am conscious that I too inflicted pain and suffering on others who did not deserve that pain, guilt, shame and anger and anxiety. In the hope that primarily men, but also any women who can attest to their partner’s ensnarement, might take a step back from their enslavement to the public image of their performance, and ask themselves some tough questions about who they really are and how their lives comport with that authenticity, I scribble these words.
And I hope these words can be read and reflected upon in the spirit of humility, self-tolerance and self-forgiveness in which they are scribbled.