Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Dare we ditch our demons?

Reflecting on the inflamed state of global antagonisms, it’s obvious that humanity is passing through a long dark tunnel of inflamed hatred, and that all over the world what Jung called the ‘Dark Shadow’ is uppermost in peoples’ consciousness in the current phase of history.

Every single person in the world knows that he or she is good, and does their best according to their lights [which of course are very varied according to race, religion, culture, family traditions, education, and many other social influences]. We all do whatever we do “for the best” as we perceive it. We also know that there are less satisfactory sides to our character, and that we are capable of, and frequently commit, dishonest, unkind, wicked, and sometimes cruel deeds.

The internal conflict which these different aspects of our inner selves sets up needs to be resolved, and there are various ways of doing this. The most beneficent and constructive is to confront our contradictory impulses and seek to harmonise them as far as we can by reducing the influence we allow the bad side of us to exert upon our conduct. This can be done by increasing self-awareness and self-scrutiny through introspection, therapy, or religion. But for many if not most, that is too austere a path to follow; and so they practise the age-old psychological trick of ‘splitting’ and ‘projection’, internalising the good not merely as “the best of me” but as “ALL of me”, and projecting their bad or discomfiting components outward onto an external Other who becomes ‘the enemy’ and has to be fought.

This is a fatally easy way of escaping from personal responsibility; and it is mass irresponsibility from which the world is suffering so much today. Hardly anyone takes responsibility for their thinking or behaviour any more – whatever goes wrong is someone else’s fault, for which ‘they’ deserve to be punished. And so the escalating cycle of hatred and violence spins on.

Even worse, our habit of perceiving groups, nations, societies, and faiths as monolithic entities, as if they were single giant individuals instead of a composite and complex mixture of a myriad different individuals, allows us to shrug off responsibility and impute blame indiscriminately. ’They’ – the hated other – are ALL guilty, and so we need not worry if we decide to get rid of them, even literally by nuking them. Dehumanising those whom we perceive as our foes permits us to treat them as objects – things – which is the ultimate wickedness.

By demonising our fancied enemies we invite them to do the same to us, and precipitate the holocaust which everyone says they wish to avoid. But do they? There is a destructive urge in some paranoid people which makes them secretly – and increasingly publicly – exult in the prospect of approaching mayhem and disaster. These people are a public menace, and too many of them occupy positions of power and influence.

In the 1980s, when many people were dismayed at the prospect of nuclear war, the psychologist Dorothy Rowe wrote a book called Living with the Bomb. Can we live without enemies? In it, she described the widespread depression and mental ill-health engendered by the precarious state of world peace, and answered her question with the sage observation that unless we exorcise our demons, and learn to live alongside those whom we now regard as enemies, we shall all cease to exist quite soon. In today’s even more precarious state of affairs, her thoughts are even more urgently relevant.

Unless we can stop demonising those with whom we disagree, or fear, we are on the fast track to Doomsday. We must give up ‘magic’ thinking, and press on with building bridges. Instead of seeing only the worst in those we are opposed to, we have to look for the answering spark of innate goodness that exists in everyone. Although I sometimes despair of human nature, that is what keeps me on blogging in the Arena.

Years ago, Lord Wolfenden, who was renowned in his day as the best committee chairman in England, said to me that he had spent his life building bridges, and that those who build bridges must expect to be trampled on. Those of us who seek to be bridge-builders today are indeed going to get trampled on. But there is no other way. Amidst all the raucous voices clamouring for war, conflict resolution is the noblest cause of our time.


Emmett said...

ALL Good & very much to the human point of it all, except this last line: '...[T]hose who build bridges must [/sic/] expect to be trampled on'. An expectation of all this jolly trampling is just a bit over the top, I think. What I mean is that when I catch myself going ''s a funny old World' in just this particular way, why, I am rather witlessly 1) giving scope to a certain show-offy knack for egoistic 'martyrdom', and 2) I am expounding a certain secret pessimism. All fine & good, mind you, as long as I am /aware/ that I'm doing this -- because with actual awareness, after all, the /ego/ positively then can not keep it up very much longer with anything like a good conscience. However, a great help, on the less-and-less frequent occasions when I at least try to do 'good' is to NOT then hang about, like a fart in a phone-box. Having done no more, perhaps, than having had a kind thought -- /these/ are rather more powerful than one knows in our anachronistic 'scientific' atmosphere -- about someone, then it is imperative that 'I' /not/ stand about, leering & peering after /results/. This last always introduces conflict & doubt simply because there are then two physical mammalian bodies animally & present with all the instinctive conflict thus implied. This, biologically, is just deleterious because it allows the other person to rather automatically react with erect fur & hisses, and other resistances & tergiversations. It's whenever I've announced that /I've/ been up to something & otherwise paraded with chest shoved out, and 'of course' all 'for' someone else, that I (deservedly!) have gotten my head washed!

Jose said...

I beg to give my personal opinion on this blog.

This circumstance did not occur when the world's population was much lower in numbers. There were cases of social egotism or the ever present generational clash, but respectful attitudes were generally speaking imposed by parents on children.

Today the circumstances have changed considerably, mainly the exorbitant increase of the world's population giving way to more serious problems related to education, employment,nourishment, housing and social levels, the ill-understood concept of democracy - or rather the ill-applied concept of democracy - and the gender equality.

I remember my younger years when mothers had as one of their most important tasks to make children respect the fatherly authority. Fathers generally were imposing individuals to their children and people because of this imposition since childhood grew keeping this respect towards the rest of people, fathers or not fathers.

I am of course speaking about the western world, particularly Spain.

People generally speaking consider that democracy is a full condition of freedom, regardless of the rights that appertain to the other human beings. Lack of respect is rife the world over. And this condition comes from that very same lack of respect in the families. The base of coexistence among humans is the family. I have no doubts about this.

There exists no longer the sense of security I had in my young years. I remember playing out in the streets in the first hours of the night, something that I cannot see happens these days. The doors of the houses were left wide open and nobody dared to burgle them. Something unthinkable today.

It is true that many aspects of our social life that were considered taboo have been modified as science has found more and more explanations to our life, but unfortunately respect has not been the company of this improvement.

Laws should abandon that path that diversify the different transgressions considered as such by specific individuals, and turn their eyes to modify the laws to consider RESPECT the mother of all laws, everything else orbitting around this fundamental aspect of our coexistence.

At this stage what I am thinking brushes the limits of Utopia.

I apologise for it.

anticant said...

As always, Jose, there is much truth in what you say. I am sure that most people of our generation respected their parents and loved them too - I did, and you also. And it was not so much that burglars dared not enter open houses, but that far fewer wished to burgle.

Lack of respect has grown because fewer and fewer of those occupying seats of authority in the family, in society, and in government, behave in ways that are worthy of respect, and their hypocrisy breeds first contemptuous indifference and then disobedience. It is this "do as I say, not as I do" and "anything is OK if you can get away with it" attitude, which in my memory first became widespread during the 1970s, which has resulted in the current lack of respect for parents, businessmen and politicians.

My Father and Grandfather were both highly regarded Chartered Accountants in their day. They would never have signed a balance sheet they thought was falsified, even for a longstanding and well-paying client with whom they were personally friendly. My Father once offered to resign a company directorship because he thought he might have inadvertently given an insider 'tip' to an old school friend. But nowadays, the inventors of 'creative accounting' [= smart ways of defrauding the revenue and the public] are lauded to the skies unless they go a step too far and end up in jail.

It's a strange world!

anticant said...

Oh - I see I've just ended up doing what Emmett rightly cautions against - saying "Tut, tut, what a funny old world" [or "Aint it Awful?" - see Eric Berne: 'Games People Play'].

What Wolfenden meant about being trampled on, though, was that he had been a very patient and skilled chairman of many important government and private committees, and that after all the effort of reconciling different viewpoints and achieving sufficient compromise to produce an agreed - or at least a convincing majority - report, he knew that their conclusions, whatever they were, would be bitterly assailed by sections of the press and public.

You can please some the people some of the time.....

Emmett said...

BRIDGES, By definition, do get 'trampled upon'. The question is how good is the bridge-rigger? We had one that fell into the river here, in Minneapolis, back in August -- it, too, was a work of the 1960s (!)

I Had friends in the US military in Europe in those days -- they said that travel through Franco's Spain /was/ "real relaxing!" One could leaves ones baggage on the floor in the waiting-room and wander the town -- no problem! Whatever else excessive nationalism may yield, in this case the /guardia civil/ made the projected careers of perv & slasher & baggage-thief altogether jsut too bloody awful of consequences even to contemplate.

NOW, When I send a book-order to Spain, it is rather likely to be knicked by someone in the PO, upon reading the declaration-value. (In Morocco, in Fes, in the late 1970s the clerks used to charge us foreigners a dhiram a pop, to retrieve our letters /postale restante/!)

Jose said...

I think our politicians should attend a crash course in resignations. Have you observed that politicians who resign mostly are those who have been found out to behave in a scandalous way whilst those whose aptitudes to rule are seriously questionable seem to be glued firmly to their posts without any sign they are embarrassed for what they have done wrong?

I remember the times when nobody out in the streets - almost nobody mind you - dared to behave in an unbecoming manner. Today everywhere I go I hear people commenting on illegal activities as though they were absolutely legal. Cheating the system seems a kind of sports nowadays. The problem is that the bad example is shown by those who must set the correct attitude: Rulers, MPs, parents, teachers, policepersons, they all seem to live in their own world not in everybody else's.

anticant said...

The last honourable political resignation that I can recall was that of Lord Carrington as Foreign Secretary, over the Falklands. [The same Lord Carrington who, ironically, is fingered by the Illuminati/Bilderberg conspiracy theorists as one of the sinister all-powerful men secretly ruling the world!]

Genuine respect can only grow from self-respect, which isn't entirely an inborn quality [though genetic inheritance plays a part] but is internalised - or not - by early socialisation.

When a baby is born, it knows only Self - there is no 'Other' until it starts experiencing the huge frightening world outside the cosy womb. The way the baby is received into the world, how it is handled and greeted, is crucial to its budding self-esteem. If it feels unloved and unwanted it will grow up into an angry child and a violent adult.

Children do not understand hypocrisy. They are baffled by adults who say one thing and do another. But they quickly learn to imitate this behaviour, because if the grown-ups do it, it must be the way to get on in the world.

When I was a teenager I fought some hard battles against hypocrisy. For two years I was at a school where the declared philosophy was voluntarism - you could choose what you did and did not do. But in practice, if you did not do what was expected of you - such as play team games or join the Cadet Corps - you were penalised by other compulsory tasks during the allotted time. I considered this unjust [I still do!], and fought so long and hard against it that in the end the headmaster allowed me to use the time as I wished. He was a clever man, and a good teacher, but I had no respect for him.

In short, Jose, I believe that it is the hypocrisy of those in authority that induces misbehaviour and lack of respect for others in the public domain. Mrs Thatcher's famous remark that "there is no such thing as society" explains why her brand of politics went so badly off the rails.

Jose said...

Imitation is perhaps a human trait, but as far as children are concerned, Anticant, I wonder what game instincts have to play in everybody's life. Where instincts are derived from. What those little cells in our brains have been taught BEFORE we have been born, the DNA inheritance.

Don't you think there are too many questions that are still unanswered?

Emmett said...

JOSE'S Point about instincts is well taken. Everything, including 'society', the arts and sciences (this last ever-open category of course /including/ religion, by definition), all stems from this embodiment. Or at least phenomena are anchored /in parallel/ in bodily existence. This last way of phrasing it may be mathematically 'more' accurate, or so says a young mathematrix of my acquaintance, Ms Ferret....

Wook, South-Central MN Regional Crank & Tergiversant