Category Archives: group psychology

The Perilous Safety of “Hunkerin’ Down”

There is a pale.  And there are those who spend their life beyond the pale, some so far beyond the pale that they merit the term “deviant.”  And then there are those who live very close to the pale, hovering just short of this boundary or just beyond it and do the work that offers art in its full gamut to the human race.  This pale is what defines reality and “reality” must have some definition if there is to be any civilization at all.  But there are times when the “energy” that has constellated at and just beyond the pale appears threatening to those who hover near the center of “reality” and then there is a tendency to “hunker down” and fiercely resist the precious offering of those “pale dwellers”—opportunities for change.  But the “hunker downers”, if they find a chieftain around whom they can rally, often will become adamant about maintaining the status quo and the social body will suffer, especially those who do not have the comfort of the “in crowd.”  Often those in the “out crowd” are easily manipulated and intimidated and can be convinced by their chieftain that it is in their own best interest to oppose the changes that would be good for the entirety of the social body, including themselves.

Change is scary.  As Shakespeare put it, “We cling to these ills we have rather than fly to others we know not of.”  The Bard knew that often we will prefer to maintain our misery rather than dare to take the risk that would be entailed in taking actions that might alleviate our suffering.  A psychiatrist I worked with in a psych hospital one time quipped in a staffing about a patient that we both worked with, “She clings to her mental illness with the same tenacity that most of us cling to our mental health.”  “Hunkering down” gives one, or the whole of a group, the illusion of safety.  As W. H. Auden noted, “We have made for ourselves a life safer than we can bear.”

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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Erich Neumann Opines On Our Collective Unconsciousness

Erich Neumann was a psychologist, philosopher, and student of Carl Jung who in 1954 wrote, “The Origins and History of Consciousness.”  Neumann’s work also had an anthropological dimension, seeing the evolution of human consciousness was beyond the grasp of our conscious mind and would be understood only by utilizing mythology.

Neumann knew that the real “workings” of human civilization were beneath the surface and presented themselves occasionally as eruptions of chthonic energy known as, “archetypes.”  These patterns of instinctual energy, to the astute observer, are an essential dimension of human history and can offer something to one’s tribe, be it a, “prophetic word” or…more often than not…an example of gross mental instability.  These intrusions from beyond the pale of the cultural canon threaten what Neumann called, “the old order” even though the resulting “new order” could facilitate a revitalization of the canon. But the “old order” never goes quietly and bearers of this chthonic energy are “kept in their place” by the tribes’ repertoire of exclusionary devices; for example, shame, humiliation or even crucifixion.  If, however, this chthonic energy somehow penetrates the barriers and finds even a tentative footing, the “old order” will resort to “hunkering down” and reaffirm passionately the traditional values of the canon, often with reference to the prevailing religion.  This is when the leadership, i.e. “the tribal elders” need to use their authority in a mature fashion and facilitate the integration of the new and the old, allowing a healthy venture toward further maturity.  But often maturity is so often lacking in the tribal leadership and the machinery of government will be used to squash what it perceives as an existential threat.

Here are a trio of excerpts from Neumann’s book as he addresses concerns he had for the world in the mid-twentieth century, concerns which are very much related to this historical moment.

Excerpt 1:  Not only power, money, lust, but religion, art, and politics as exclusive determinants in the form of parties, nations, sects, movements, and “isms” of every description take possession of the masses and destroy the individual.  (NOTE:  For an individual to be a meaningful entity, it must have enough independence to not be merely a slave to the dictates of the group.)

Excerpt 2: The picture we have drawn of our age is not intended as an indictment, much less as a glorification of the “good old days”; for the upheaval which, taken by and large, is necessary.  The collapse of the old civilization, and its reconstruction on a lower level to begin with, will justify themselves because the new basis will have been immensely broadened.  The civilization that is about to be born will be a human civilization in a higher sense than has any been before higher civilization, as it will overcome important social, national, and racial limitations. These are not fantastic pipe dreams, but hard facts, and their birth pangs will bring infinite suffering upon infinite numbers of men.  Spiritually, politically, and economically our world is an indivisible whole.  By this standard, the Napoleonic wars were minor coups d’etat, and the world view of that age, in which anything outside Europe had hardly begun to appear, is almost inconceivable to us in its narrowness.

Excerpt 3: The collapse of our archetypal canon in our culture which has produced such an extraordinary activation of the collective unconscious—or is perhaps its symptom, manifesting itself in mass movements that have a profound effect upon our personal destinies—is, however, only a passing phenomenon.  Already, at a time when the internecine wars of the old canon are still being waged, we can discern, in simple individuals, where the synthetic possibilities of the future lie, and almost how it will look.  The turning of the mind from the conscious to the unconscious, the responsible rapprochement of human consciousness with the powers of the collective psyche, that is the task of the future.  No outward tinkerings with the world and no social ameliorations can give the quietus to the daemon, to the gods and devils of the human soul, or prevent them from tearing down again and again what consciousness has built.  Unless they are assigned their place in consciousness and culture they will never leave mankind in peace.

We are now witnessing the collapse of our culture’s archetypal canon as its “givens” are being challenged.  These “givens” are the medley of preconceptions and premises that we take for granted that are so subtle they are not apparent to the naked eye.  The absence of “apparent-cy” is necessary for this unconscious dimension to continue unthreatened by an “observing ego” which could be a reality check that would allow these subterranean influences to be moderated.  But keeping these influences unquestioned, and therefore unassailable, is the primary objective of the status quo which deems questioning as threatening to its very being.  However, without a reality check on the “very being” of a tribe, its heart will be nothing but a darkened prison, “where we bask, agreed upon what we will not ask, bland, sunny, and adjusted by the light of the agreed upon lie.”  What we will take for light will actually be darkness, “having eyes to see but seeing not.”  And though it might be very comfy for those within the safe confines of Auden’s “agreed upon lie,” those who live beyond its pale will suffer.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Auden, Despair, Picnics, and, “Build that Wall!!”

W.H. Auden is probably the poet I quote most often here. The story of his life and his beautiful poetry has been a great inspiration because it encourages us to look beneath the surface of things and find that the effort is worth the pain of the process. The first step in this process is to recognize there is a “surface of things,” an insight which in itself is challenging; for any culture imprints into the depths of our being that the “surface of things” is something to take as a given and not to be questioned.  To ask one to question the existence of this “surface” is like asking a fish to see water.

In the following excerpt of Auden’s, “New Years Letter,” the reader is encouraged to peek beneath this surface of life though with a warning that only, “despair can shape the hero who will dare the desperate catabasis,” and face the “snarling abyss” which always lies beneath the surface of life’s contrivances. However, it must be noted that despair is not necessary for all who travel Auden’s road to redemption.  “Despair” is for the “heroes” such as poets, artists, religious and even political visionaries.  Most of us mercifully face only a watered-down version of despair and encounter a mid-life crisis, or some persistent duress which cues us to also look beneath the surface in our non-heroic manner and do battle with our relatively tame horde of demons.  Auden and his sort were faced with, “slaying the demons” and most of us merely have to step into the ring for a moment with our “benign” demons, and gain the wisdom from the encounter that is there to be had, and then return to our very routine life.  But the wisdom gained from the encounter can empower us to lead a more productive and meaningful life.

Auden described the superficies of life, those amusements which distract us from the gut-level issues of being a sentient human being as a, “jolly picnic, on the heath of the agreeable, where we bask, agreed on what we will not ask, bland, sunny, and adjusted by the light of the accepted lie.”    Here Auden brings to our attention the façade of normal, everyday, routine life which is too subtle to actually notice.  This “jolly picnic” is delightful for some…let’s say, for example, “the haves,” though the “have nots” are not so fortunate and look sullenly, angrily, and despairingly at the picnic, wishing they could have been invited also. Auden also notes that those who have been invited to this picnic always, “bask” in comfort, “agreed on what we will not ask,” tanned and relaxed in the comfort of the, “accepted lie.”

This “accepted lie” is essential for group coherence, providing the biases and premises which allow the group to exist in the first place.  For example, one basic premise of a group is exclusion; and Auden notes elsewhere there is no, “us” without a, “them.”  But these “lies” are necessary for the group to cohere, the problem lying only in circumstances in which the “lie” is so sacrosanct that it cannot be relaxed a mite to allow more access to those who are excluded.  But usually a siege mentality evolves in a social “lie” and letting down its guard and allowing any of the excluded to have some degree of access will be perceived as an existential threat.  Then will the cry go out far and wide, “Build that wall!”

Here is the relevant excerpt from Auden’s, “New Years Letter”:

Heroic charity is rare;
Without it, what except despair
Can shape the hero who will dare
The desperate catabasis
Into the snarl of the abyss
That always lies just underneath
Our jolly picnic on the heath
Of the agreeable, where we bask,
Agreed on what we will not ask,
Bland, sunny and adjusted by
The light of the accepted lie?
(Excerpted from “New Year Letter” – 1/1/1940)

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

“Making Nice,” Trump, and the Social Contract

Donald J. Trump is a little boy who needs to be loved.  Never having learned the rudimentary dimensions of making himself loveable, he discovered that he had wealth and privilege to manipulate and intimidate people into a pseudo love.  One of the earliest lessons about love takes place when we enter school and find ourselves on the playground where negotiation with others involves a subtly that a child has often not had to deal with before.  The rules of “being liked” are not explicit but depend on an emotional maturity to pick up on the nuances of social life.  I like to think of it as learning to “make nice,” to not say or do the first thing that comes to your mind when you feel slighted.  It involves a tacit agreement to put up with another’s irksome attitudes and behaviors…to some degree…in return for the tacit response of others putting up with yours. This is the nuts-and-bolts of what we call the social contract.

If someone comes along to the playground who will not abide by the terms of this social contract, he will soon be known as a bully.  If you are “ugly and your mom dresses you funny” he is the one who will point it out while others will not say a thing, unconsciously knowing that you will not point out their own flaws and short comings. This reminds me of Trump on the “playground” of the debate stage in 2016 when he was rude and obnoxious, breaking all rules of civility and decorum.  On any debate stage, the candidates usually have a great dislike of others on the stage but there is an unwritten rule to not attack each other personally. Trump stomped all over that rule and as Senator Lindsey Graham put it, “The rest of ran and hid in the corner.”  When faced with a bully, one has a natural response to try to escape.

There is a certain insincerity to, “making nice.”  It is not, “telling it like it is” which Trump avowed and which many of his supporters cited as a reason they liked him.  “He’ll tell the truth, unlike those lying, hypocritical politicians we are used to,” they said.  Yes, but Trump’s “truth telling” is closely akin to that of someone with Tourette’s Syndrome who, severely lacking impulse control, will “tell it like it is,” and announce to a woman he has just met, “My you have a nice set of tits.”  This Tourette’s Syndrome man is certainly saying what nearly all other men are thinking but most of us have a social filter and would not say something like that.  (And I apologize for the “locker-room talk.”  Seriously.)

Self-awareness and Bullying

In my last post, I shared thoughts about bullying and self-consciousness or “self” awareness.  A couple years ago when I was on Facebook an upper classman when I was in Jr. High at my small Arkansas high school shared his shame and regret about bullying a helpless, self-conscious, insecure lad in his class. This gentleman had been a star athlete himself, later to have a tryout with the Arkansas Razorbacks; he was handsome, intelligent, and headed to success in his life.  On Facebook he shared about his effort to reach out to this man he had bullied to apologize but had received no response.  This gentleman had found awareness and now sincerely rued his cruel behavior to this “nerdy” and perhaps handicapped classmate.

Self “awareness” is something we mature into, slowly becoming aware of the “presence” of other people in our world and becoming sensitive to their reality.  There are times, however, when this maturity never comes and, furthermore, there are times when people are ensconced in a social milieu where this “self” awareness is discouraged.  The best example I find of this occurred in the New Testament with the crucifixion of Jesus, as explained by Fr. Richard Rohr who interpreted the famous words of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” as, “Father, forgive them for they are not aware (or conscious) of what they do.”

These men did not awaken that morning, convene down at Starbucks, and suddenly decide, “Hey, let’s be mean and nasty, violent and brutal, and put that guy to death who does not see this world as we do.”  They had many meetings at that coffee shop in planning their deed and came to the firm conclusion that they were going to do the right thing, the “lord’s will,” if you please. They were firm in their convictions and many of them I’m sure were morally upright men, probably in a respectable position down at the local church….or, “synagogue” in that day.  They were probably members of the school board, members of the Lions Club, active in what used to be called, “benevolent societies,” and faithfully they bought Girl Scout cookies each spring.  And I’m sure that there were young, unmarried men in the mix also, those who avowed that they didn’t, “smoke, drink, chew…or go with the girls they do.”  But it is possible for good men to do bad things when they are driven merely by ideology, steeped with preconceived ideas about their world and the deep-seated conviction that they objectively understand the world.  When men and women are addicted to their ideas, regardless of how “noble” those ideas may be, they lack “awareness” and are capable of great evil in what they deem as service to the good.  T.S. Eliot summarized this problem, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done, and done to others harm, which once we took for exercise of virtue.”

Reality Tightens its Noose on Trump.

I kick the subject of mental illness around a lot in this venue due to my career as a clinician which has given me a perspective to “sniff out” madness pretty readily.  Oh, we are all “mad” to some degree but then there are times when one’s madness goes beyond the pale and then the Shakespearean question is relevant, “What’s mad but to be anything else but mad.”  There are times when the ordinary madness of day to day life approaches the pale and threatens to go beyond it and enter the realm of “nothing else but mad.”

Trump is demonstrating this.  Here and in my other blogs I have noted often of his need to isolate himself in a private world, to cut off any criticism from those who see the world differently than he does, best illustrated with his hatred of, “fake news.”  But now as his “fake news,” known by most of us as “reality,” continues to tighten its noose on him, he is taking even more desperate moves.  The news about the non-disclosure agreements with his advisers and now the “cleaning house” with his staff and cabinet reveal a heightened need to cut off feedback from the outside.  Like Hamlet, overwhelmed with the duress of everyday life, expressed a desire to, “flee to a nutshell and there be the king of infinite spaces,” revealing Shakespeare’s knowledge of the human need to occasionally want a complete escape, even that of lunacy.

Obama’s, “Clinging to Guns and Religion.”

In 2008 Barack Obama was overheard dismissively speaking of people who, “cling to their guns and religion” which immediately provided fodder for the base of the Republican Party who didn’t really understand what he was saying.  Sure, it was impolitic for him to say that where it might be misunderstood but it was a valid and important observation about the ideologically-oriented base of the Republican Party who “cling” to ideas rather than have a complicated and subtle interior life so that ideas are not taken to be the “thing in itself.”

Guns are fine.  The problem arises when the “clinging” function of the ego gets involved as an innocent device is given an inordinate investment of energy so that “guns plus the emotional energy” becomes another matter all together.  The “guns + emotional valence” takes on a life of its own, becoming a core identity issue to the point where it is no longer about “guns” but is about the individual’s grasp of who he is, of his definition of, “who I am.”  The more tenuous is the grasp of one’s, “who I am” the more desperate will he cling to some idea or group of ideas that he has invested in to keep him from being devoured by an existential anxiety that lies at the root of all cultures.  This abyss of meaningless will destroy one if his spirituality has not equipped him with the ego-integrity to address this spirit of negativity which is an intrinsic dimension of human experience and needs to be acknowledged, not denied.  This “ego integrity” is a spiritual capacity which allows confronting the hidden depths of one’s heart and integrating them into conscious experience and finding empowerment as a result.  Without this acknowledgement and integration, the energy that could be available for deliberate, focused, conscious attention outside of oneself will be turned inward to keep those “demons at bay.”  This is a “divided heart” or the “divided house” which Abraham Lincoln famously noted cannot stand.

But this hopelessness does not have to destroy one if he finds the courage to slowly, gradually, patiently, and humbly confront it and in so doing discover that he can find increasingly an indomitable core beneath this hopelessness…if he is willing to give up the contrivance that his ego has tricked him into relying upon, whatever that contrivance/s might be. The spiritual impoverishment of our culture is now egregiously before us.  Beneath the various contrivances it offers us, guns being but one of them, lurks the abyss of hopelessness which can be addressed if we are willing to acknowledge our “willful ignorance”, an ego driven self-deception who has convinced us that a life of illusion is preferable to a life in which we live as a fully functioning, integrated human being.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/