“When our time is in the dark confusion of Golgotha one need be only a degree or two off course, left or right, and one is kneeling before a thief.”
Insearch: Psychology and Religion, James Hillman
The election process in the United States has been a reflection of acrimonious will across the political spectrum. Kindness and respect are out of fashion; our higher impulses are all suspect. By constellating the fear of a very uncertain future, both campaigns left their people feeling as if the end of the world as we know it was coming if the other party won the election. Regardless of how the election’s transitional days play out it is safe to assume that about half the country is going into an emotional tailspin. Fear places a cold hand around the throat, chills the heart, and constricts the vision of tomorrow’s potential to a narrow band of unwelcome outcomes. For the losers this great anxiety eats away at their sense of security, but the winners are not wholly immune to the tenor of our times.
Back in March when the Academy Awards featured a performance by the sexually abused I wrote about the Spotlight on Rage involved. Perhaps the movie treatment of abuse in the Catholic church prepared us for this election season featuring, for the first time in history, sexual abuse. Hours of talking heads took up the subject, some sincere, others not so much. Just here is another well of fear and pain left in the wake of these historic elections: the trauma among survivors triggered by all the lose talk.
Imagine, now, what fear has grown in the minds of our children as they have watched all this unfold. How do you think it feels for them when they hear talk about sexual attacks on defenseless women and children? This from an adult generation handing them a world burning up its breadbaskets and melting down its ice caps.
Remaining mindful of ecology, it is hard not to see parallels between how we abuse people and the way we abuse the earth. In the enraged, abused child we are looking into the eyes of ecological blowback. This child has no respect for the two-faced authoritarian dark father figure or the scapegoat sacrificing dark mother figure. If depth psychology can be any guide to how these things play out when whole societies are caught up in them, we can expect the constellation of this child archetype to manipulate circumstances in such a way they allow the child to take its revenge; to show the father for a fool, an emperor with no clothes, and the mother for a bewitching mystagogue with a taste for blood.
So far only a few people are able to call a spade a spade, cut through the enchantments of non-ecological will-o-wisps, and offer realistic assessments of our existential circumstances. These are the voices insisting on spreading the most unpopular of messages; that we must place restrictions on the madness threatening everything we hold dear. Mistaken notions of power have blinded modern societies from their total dependency on the functions of the biosphere in which they are embedded. In a parallel fashion modern notions of identity have blinded us to our psychological dependency on the non-dysfunctional family unit. We can walk all over the earth’s fragile ecosystems with Jack Boots, just as we walk all over poor and powerless people in our families, but it would be the height of folly to believe a day of reckoning would never come.
Last week I mentioned sometimes I think it is not the content of our beliefs that can lead us astray but the type of faith people are bringing to that content. We looked at the difference between literal and metaphorical readings of scriptures as one way of differentiating between those who are committed first to reality as it really is and those who are committed first to a story. It is a good model. It explains some important things for us to understand in our time of rising fanatic desperation.
Other times, however, I think it is the content of our stories that matters a great deal. It matters that the airwaves are filled with sensationalist treatment of such sensitive human issues as sexual abuse. The way we speak of these types of things matters a great deal. The actual content of our conversation determines much about its psychological impact. The rating chasing sensationalizing just adds to the cheapening of human dignity in our time. Where were the carefully crafted documentaries covering abuse issues with care and counseling advice? Where were the science programs sharing what neuroscience has learned about the effects of abuse on the nervous system and the biology of violence? Did we take this as an opportunity to have a national conversation, long overdue, to educate ourselves about these issues that run so deep within the human breast? Or were we satisfied just triggering the herd and getting its fear-fogged mind to accept another round of demagoguery?
Content matters as well when we turn our attention to existential questions of ultimate worth as found in our religions and philosophies. There are some tales designed to give an individual freedom, to guide them to the creativity and independence of thought that is their birthright. There are other tales, sadly, designed to enslave individuals. When an abused and hurt person turns to those tales for emotional and philosophical comfort, they become little more than the twice damned. In Hillman’s words, they end up “kneeling before a thief” who robs them of their very souls.
I would like to share with you an explosive truth in the most gentle way I know how, through the means of a story. Regular readers may well recall our discussion of overcoming childhood gullibility in the Parental Unkindness posts. This is not wholly unrelated. Don’t be too impressed that the unscrupulous can build such fine traps. Without the power of fear which deep time evolution bestowed on us within our biological inheritance, their tricks wouldn’t work at all. We do, however, have such an inheritance and as such their dark arts can cause real harm. As our grandparents used to say, it pays to keep one eye on the Devil lest he catch one unawares…
I invite you to read a telling of the ancient Sanskrit story The King and the Corpse.