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