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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Testing the waters (again) of archetypal psychology...

 Public discourse, including the cataract of words in mass media, is focussed primarily on the extrinsic, empirical and observable data in any given situation, always seeking some kind of meaning or purpose, motive or implication of the act/word/attitude/bill/photo or whatever.

Actions, especially those actions that have a big sound, a big impact, a tragic or a romantic impact, are the things of public notice, public reflection, public journalism, political rhetoric, and the debates around those issues, dominate our consciousness and our watercoolers.

Numbers of dollars, numbers of refugees, numbers of missiles, drones, cancelled flights, pandemic deaths, numbers and dimensions of forest fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes…these are apparently the benchmarks of our achievement and our worst fears, hightest aspirations and dreams. Even the degrees of temperature (heat or cold) and the number of inches of precipitation have a significant impact on many of our decisions.

As our ‘technical capacity’ to measure, record, and then both store and curate things we call ‘data points’ has exploded exponentially, we have dived even more deeply into the multiple rivers of data where the rivers themselves have also evolved more and more into threatening eddies, whirlpools and under-currents. Those who have official, public and disclosed information abut those who have a completely different vault of data, on the inside, that is classified, secret, and proprietary, at least to those who have the clearances to be trusted with this bank of information.

And so public debates have shifted from the relative importance and relevance of specific ideas of how government, for example, best spends public money, to what are the  legitimate facts, opinions, emotions and manipulations in any situation. Opposing sides, both official and informal, now have become engaged in the validation of their ‘unique’ and ‘truthful’ verification of the facts….and most of those justifications amount to little more than the collision of dramatically exclusive opinions that are designed to manipulate their “base”.

Indeed, we have replaced a public discourse about ideas on how to govern with a flood of incendiary and fact-devoid utterances designed, at least in the radical right, to inflame, to incite and to foment what is perceived as a repressed volcano of residual anger, frustration, bitterness and alienation. And while there is some validity in the acknowledgement of residual anger and resentment, many of those who pander to this most base and nefarious political well-spring, are attempting to manipulate the votes of the dispossessed for their own retention and/or acquisition of power.

Underlying the words and attitudes, perceptions and beliefs of the forces representing the radical right and those attempting to hold the ground for the moderates and the left are mythical figures in their collective unconscious about which the public and the participants themselves are either unaware or wish to keep secret.

My tentative view is that, for the most part, they and the public are largely unaware, unconscious of the “gods” that undergird the worldviews and the approaches on both sides.

 “A God is a manner of existence, an attitude toward existence and a set of ideas….A God forms our subjective vision so that we see the world according to its ideas. A Saturn will shape order slowly overtime, so the puer eternus (eternal boy), winged and fiery, will turn matter into spirit-quick now, here now, said the bird.’   The child will see the future in each event and thereby force its coming, while each of the Goddesses will form a distinctly different vision of relationship, nurture and interiority….(S)ince ideas present archetypal visions, I do not ever truly have ideas; they have hold, contain, govern me. Our wrestling with ideas is a sacred struggle, as with an angel: our attempts to formulate, a ritual activity to propitiate the angel. The emotions that ideas arouse are appropriate, and authentic, too, is our sense of being a victim of ideas, humiliated before their grand vision, our lifetime devotion to them and the battles we must fight on their behalf.” (James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p. 130)
Also from Revisioning Psychology, we read:

“The liberating hero sees repression everywhere, while the old king sees the very same events as order, duty, and tradition. He has a different role to play in events because he has a different idea; both role and idea are archetypally governed…..So too might we proceed with basic psychological ideas about the nature of soul: that the soul is a harmony or a multiple and varied unity, that it is born in sin, that it is divine and immortal, that it is a quest for meaning or self-knowledge, that its essence is life and warmth, that its essence is death, that it is structured in three or more parts which enjoy a psychomachia in strife of oppositions, that it is in enigmatic relations with the body, that it is fundamentally like air or water or a vaporous mixture of them.”(p.126-7)

Conversation seems to be saturated with feelings about various projections onto specific individuals, a loathing and contempt for trump and his MAGA crowd, and a hatred and vilification of Biden and democrats. People who retain some hope and trust and moderate view that the extremes will eventually burn themselves out are a diminishing breed. We are in a situation in which the rhetoric itself, including each word, the timing and the staging of each public utterance, is weaponized, and the public is left with the cynical and desperate task of discerning which side each spokesperson is on in what is projected as an existential war of elimination. It is not rocket science to observe that in many ways the model of thought, idea and action of radical Palestinians to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and Israelis attempt to continue to exist and to forge a future in the face of such an existential threat has been transposed onto the political landscape in America and beyond.

Analogous to the elimination of Israel are those in the radical right who, in their attempt to gain permanent control of the levers of power, seek to block immigration, who seek to preserve a ‘national’ racial and ethnic purity on their national turf, who seek to retreat from globalization and its perceived unfairness and who reject the open border-open ideas-open opportunity melding of the most desperate with those already established, and who see opportunity in a world that tries to work together on global issues to the degree that such a posture is feasible.   

Behind and driving these gestalts, we hear words of fear, exclusion, white supremacy, racism, exploitation and nationalism, however they might be defined by whoever is taking leadership positions. The spectre of a violent incursion from outside imposing devastation on the allegedly innocents within, while focused directly on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, hangs over much of the perception elsewhere, as if it were a parallel process. Will China invade Taiwan? Will global warming and climate change finally wipe out millions of people, crops, species and resources? Will economic disparity generate such scarcity that food supplies will be so costly that many will be unable to survive? Will some “accident” of incompetence, willfulness, design or complicity trigger something that ignores national or even regional borders without a co-ordinated and meliorating and neutralizing response?

The internal, reflective and untameable conflicts within each of us about what and whom to trust, what and whom to listen to, what and whom to believe and what shared goals to invest our time and energy in….these interior questions that seem to stretch our capacity to cope, are the questions we are all having to include in our secret lives.

And the manner of our perception, and the manner of the embrace of these “gods” (as it were), is as important as the side to which we consent to join. AS Hillman continues to instruct:

(But) psychology cannot be one department among others, since the psyche is not a separate branch of knowledge. The soul is less an object of knowledge than it is a way of knowing the object, a way of knowing knowledge itself. Prior to any knowledge are the psychic premises that make knowledge possible at all. Most disciplines try, as Jung says, ‘to forget their archetypal explanatory principles, that is, the psychic premises that are the sine qua non of the cognitive process.’ These premises keep knowledge humbly situated within the psychic precincts, where it is linked with all the follies of human subjectivity, the ironies of pathology, but also in the imaginative richness of the soul. These psychic premises, or ‘inalienable components of the empirical world-picture’ as Jung calls them, are a discomfort to the intellectual spirit, which would think them away in order to have intellectus purus (Augustine), ‘pure act’ (Aquinas), ‘pure reason’(Kant), ‘pure being’(Hegel), ‘pure logic’ (Husserl), ‘pure prehension’ (Whitehead), or ‘pure science’…..The archetype is a psychic premise with many heads: one we see in our dream imagery, another in emotion and in symptoms, another styles our behaviour and preferences, while still another appears in our mode of thought….Psychologizing sees through what is taught; it is a learning beyond any teaching. If psychology can be learned everywhere, then it has no field of its own. Rather it is a perspective on all field, parasitical to all  fields, drawing from everything in the universe for its insights…(as Jung said in his Terry lectures), the psyche is both the object of psychology and also its subject. (Revisioning Psychology, p.131-133)

This “lens” in and through which we all ‘see’ and ‘interpret’ and ‘base’ our observations, if we are to open our embrace to its ‘calling’ is not a political ideology, a religious or theological ideology, an economic ideology, or even a literary criticism ideology. Nor is it an empirical, materialistic ideology. Indeed, it seems to transcend all ideologies, as well as all personalities, and their personas, and, like an ever-flowing river flows in and through everything we see and think and say and do, whether or not we are conscious of its existence/significance/reality or not.

And, if, as Hillman asserts, that it is only by reading a life backwards, reflecting upon the situations, people, activities and beliefs and perceptions in which each of us was engaged, only then can we become even modestly and tentatively clear which “gods” had us in their embrace.

For example, the liberating hero will, does and always has ‘seen’ repression everywhere, as integral to his/her romantic notion of a role to liberate those enduring such repression. The notion of ‘chaos’ has obvious connection with the old king archetype which considers tradition, stability and order a very high value, and seeks to preserve it.

Rather than a conventional perception of brokenness, needing to be unified into a coherent, stable and therefore respectable human being, through some form of ‘fixing’ in therapy, through prescriptions, or through some form of re-programming, archetypal psychology, it seems to this amateur scribe, to prefer to look for, to open to and to acknowledge the ‘gods’ in whose embrace we are/were/will be held, as an integral discernment of our human existence.

Rather than circumscribe human behaviour as needing either a legal or a medical intervention, as a starting place, we might look more closely and also sensitively, as which archetypes might be undergirding the various situations in which we humans are engaged. For example, if the archetype of the crucifixion is central to the religion, is it not conceivable and even probable that such an act would be feasible if a Christ figure were projected onto a specific individual…and such an archetypal perspective might have considerable implications for a religion whose followers are unaware of and unconscious of such a dynamic?

From this perspective, our headlines and our public discourse seem like tepid tea, while we engage in heated rhetorical scorched earth conflict that pit one kind of archetype (perhaps the Old King) against the romantic hero, as an example, without acknowledging that such engagements are both necessary and inevitable. And if we were to step back, could we dilute the white heat, the contempt, and the utter disdain for ‘the other’ regardless of whom that other might be to us? 

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