Waging the War We Are

“We wage the war we are.” This poetic quip by W. H. Auden is probably the quotation that I use most often in this venue and even in the whole of my life. And, this is no coincidence as I am realizing and experiencing that my life has been one “hell of a battlefield” all of my life. Only now am I finding the maturity and courage to dive into this fray and be a more “present” factor in my life.

This paragraph itself reflects this warfare as I posit the notion that there is an “I” which is only now willing to engage in this fray. That reflects a schizoid dimension of my psyche, a division in the soul that is present with all of us when we have the courage to acknowledge competing and conflicting voices in our heart. Simply stated, it is recognizing there we have a consciousness as well as an unconsciousness, a division that is very painful to acknowledge due to the pain of the chaos that this realization will lead us into. It makes us aware that we are always out of control is some way in that our conscious reality is more complicated than we think, that in some sense it is a contrivance we have ensconced ourselves in to deal with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” during our very brief sojourn on this lovely planet. Or, as Norman O. Brown put it decades ago, “Our ego is but a veil we have spun to hide the void.”

Now that realization will cause us to experience some “shakin’ in our booties!” That realization and experience in the depths of our heart will humble us which is necessary before “Life” can begin to flow through us. And “Life,”, which is intrinsically a “flow,” is scary if we dare to embrace it fully; for doing so will bring vulnerability into our life, a frailty which at times can become very intense. It is much easier to just avoid “Life” and toil lamely and banally through our “three score and ten,” on automatic pilot, basking in our unquestioned assumptions, speciously comfortable in in the “small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which likes the darkness.” (Conrad Aiken) I shared months ago my interpretation of a verse in Hebrews, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God” to mean “It is a fearful thing to fall into ‘Life’” It is a “fearful thing” to come alive….one might even say “to be born again.” I kind of think this is what Jesus had in mind.

An after thought to offer is that this same “waging of the war we are” is also relevant to us as a social body, as a culture and even as a species. And I intend to “hold forth” on that matter next time.



NOV 15, 2014




  1. H. Auden’s observation, “We wage the war we are” also applies to human collectives. Carl Jung eloquently described the “collective unconscious,” one example seen often in mob psychology where otherwise law-abiding people can have subterranean demons stirred up to the point of violent behavior. And sociologists and anthropologists…and other social scientists…are adept at delineating how our connection with social groups influences our behavior much more than we ever would like to acknowledge. Psychologist ________ has very interesting recordings on YouTube and TedTalks in which he show evidence that my “firm conviction” to be a liberal Democrat is not without unconscious motivation just as Conservative Republicans are also driven by similar needs.


Even the species as a whole can be compared to an individual child, still early in development, struggling to integrate fragmented impulses into a working, harmonious whole. Just in my lifetime, with technological advances like computers and the internet, our world is so much “smaller,” so much more a “whole”, and we are so very near, yet so very far, to being able to come much closer to world peace and harmony than ever before. We have the means, but lack the will. And I recently came across someone who pointed out the “coincidence” that terrorism has emerged as a formless (i.e. “stateless”) expression of the violent dimensions of our collective unconscious. Jung would say that our collective unconscious is telling us that all of our accomplishments deriving from our conscious need for structure and organization, are finding their complement in the chaos of violence. It is as if our collective unconscious is reminding us, “Oh yes. Technology and progress is great. But it comes by sublimating repressed violent impulses and these violent impulses need to be given attention.” The goal is to continue to seek meaning and coherence in our world while simultaneously acknowledging and addressing the violent unconscious impulses that are within us all. And this can be done through sublimation such as with religion, literature, art and mythology. But I issue a caveat re religion—“Danger, danger Will Robinson.” For religion can easily become just another form of violence as we see so often today.



3 thoughts on “Waging the War We Are

  1. Stephanie Lucas

    The Collective Unconscious is a very powerful energy…and formless or not, as you stated it can be rather harmful or a very good thing – depending on the focus of the intent. Excellent piece Lew…very powerful words!



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