By Rashma Imhasly Gandhy
In times of peace archetypes lie latent, like a volcano. When violence breaks out they are activated and devour anything that comes their way. The author, a psychotherapist, was forced to reflect on humanity's darker side by the events in Gujarat.
Anthony Storr, in his book, Human Aggression (1968), says: 'The sombre fact is that we are the cruellest and most ruthless species that has ever walked this earth; and that, although we may recoil in horror when we read in the newspapers or history books of the atrocities committed by man upon man, we know in our hearts that each one of us harbours within himself those same savage impulses which lead to murder, to torture and to war.'
The fact that we as human beings are blamed for our 'animal nature' for perpetuating such heinous crimes is a misplaced statement, for animals would not in their wildest moments conceive of the crimes that we humans have committed and continue to commit. Consider the 15,000 Bulgarian captives when Basil the II had them all blinded in 1014; boiling Turkish children alive as did the 12th century Greeks; sending six million Jews to the gas chambers during the Nazi regime; burning train bogies; killing, looting and burning a minority community.
The propensity for perpetuating such horrendous acts is dormant in every one of us. It is the ego that controls and keeps the 'animal' in us locked away in what the psychologist Jung termed the 'shadow'. In psychology we recognize 'shadow' in dreams as the 'shady dark character; the inferior creature', the kind of person I can never acknowledge being. Integration of the Shadow-acknowledging the devil within and coming to terms with one's own evil-is the first and most important stage of conscious evolution
Aggression is an unavoidable fact of human life. Territorial rights demand the use of aggression. Without being taught the 'first come, first served' principle, it is an inherent trait. Consider walking into a train compartment, do we not automatically recognize the territorial rights by asking the person already there: ''Is this seat still free?'' Animals too mark their territory.
He who occupies the territory first sets the order that is followed. Holding on to territory demands the use of aggression, boundary markers and fencing follow. The need for security leads to the formation of social grouping; surrounded by one's 'socially accepted group' one feels more secure. Xenophobia too is an instinctual, innate propensity. A child does not dare to go into the hands of the unfamiliar person; it is reluctant to venture out of its 'known' territory.
The existence of territorially linked social groups is the essential condition for warfare. Sir Arthur Keith, in his book, Essays on Human Evolution (1946) says that 'the conditions that give rise to war-the separation of animals into social groups, the 'right' of each group to its area, and the evolution of an enmity complex to defend such areas-were on earth long before man made his appearance'.
Andreski, in his book, The Origins of War (1964) expounds the theory that evolutional advance disturbs ecological balance. Populations rise and so does the competition for resources-that is where mutual killing started.
Wars between humans have not only been about territories, resources, and succession, but also about ideologies-religious and other. Ideological warfare makes man rigid about ideals. History has proven that they turn out to be the most bitter and protracted of all conflicts. Durbin and Bowlby, in their book, Personal Aggressiveness and War (1938) say men will 'die like flies for theories and exterminate each other with every instrument of destruction for abstractions'. The sinister truth for groups to thrive is that we need the enemy just as much as we need friends.
Why is this so? The external threat to a group eradicates interpersonal in-house differences that bond the group against the external enemy. It provides the glue for a community to hold together. When there are no external enemies, tribes are known to turn against each other. The countries most prone to internal rioting are those that are least inclined to international territorial gains: Africa, Latin America, Indonesia and the Indian sub-continent. On the other hand, if we look at the more peace-loving communities like the Tibetans, for instance, they have been forced to migrate.
Is it any wonder that the prospering nations need to have an enemy to project their shadow. The enmity is used to create divisions. The reasons are twofold: it creates patriotism-love for one's own land and people-and it channels the negative emotions onto the 'enemy', and at the same time it allows the war industry to prosper. Shadow projection is used as a mechanism to turn the 'other' community into the devil. It is the systematic use of indoctrination of the 'them' vs. 'us'.
The difficulty with this methodology is to be able to contain the polarity. The balance is precarious and it does not need much for violence to break out. Social prejudices become politicized, they move from one impasse to another. All political controls give way when the floodgates of violence break out.
Individuals get caught in the archetypes; archetypes are instinctive drives that repeat themselves. In times of peace they lie latent, like a volcano. When violence breaks out they are activated and devour anything that comes their way. Archetypes are highly contagious, they trigger our own patterns of being betrayed while we go on betraying; the ring of hate and revenge alternates. Man does to others what is done to him; he is forced to take sides. 'You are either with us or against us.'
The Nuremberg trials made the Germans aware of what had possessed them: there was an almost virtual collapse in the authority of the personal father. The psychologist Alexander Mitscherlich, in his book, Society Without the Father (1969) says that when there is a lack of the personal father 'it exposes us collectively to the ills of alienation, social and personal irresponsibility, neurotic anxiety and uncontrolled aggression. In the absence of direct paternal instruction, individuals orient themselves by reference to each other, thus giving the peer group its contemporary significance, with its concomitant infantilism of envy, rivalry, and trendy 'other-directedness''.
When the weak personal father is replaced by the weak 'collective father figures'-national leaders who abdicate their responsibility to punish undisciplined elements-anarchy rules. It perpetuates the recurrence of mob violence. Man then easily falls prey to the archetypes: civilization has not managed to domesticate the fury of the slumbering primeval beast when awakened. As a matter of fact, leaders are well known to use factionalism for their political games.
The psychologist Carl Jung warns that all mass movements need to be treated with a lot of suspicion. He explains that the total psyche of the group is below the level of the individual psyche. It inevitably sinks to the level of mob psychology. A so-called collective experience as a member of a group, takes place on a lower level of consciousness than if one had the experience alone.
In a crowd, one becomes a victim of suggestibility. Masses on the other hand can have positive effects too, if the group energy is channeled in the right direction; it encourages individuals into performing heroic tasks, human solidarity being one of the greater examples. But masses have the sinister side too. If a proposal is backed by the entire crowd, one is all for it, even if the proposal is immoral.
We may ask ourselves why this is so? In a crowd one feels no responsibility but also no fear. It does work a change but it does not last. As soon as one is removed from the crowd one is unable to create the previous state of mind. It is because the mass is swayed by what is called 'participation mystique'-there is no differentiation between subject and object. The mind cannot step away from the ego; it is merged with the collective reality. This is the reason why mass movements are breeding grounds for psychic epidemics. Altruism to the kith and kin removes the guilt, and the personal sense of responsibility is redefined concurrent with the morality of the group.
Is silence considered a crime, we may ask ourselves if we do not speak up for what we think is morally right. Are we aiding and abetting and allowing the atrocities to continue? Why was the majority of the German population silent while the Nazis exterminated six million Jews? It is not the question of morality, which comes up at such times; it is the unconscious fear of survival that paralyses one into inaction.
There is fear of the oppressor. If the peer group is capable of committing such atrocities on a minority community, if I am not part of the 'us' vs. 'them' and if I am not on the side of majority and want to show my solidarity, then there is every possibility that the monster might turn against me?
As long as the monster within us is not tamed, most people live within the constraints of the archetypal instinctive aggression. As long as we do not deal with our personal shadow we will get drawn into the collective shadow and displace or project it onto others. It is blindness to abdicate our moral sense, and to conceive evil as always outside the individual as well as the group.
What are the solutions? Jung believed that reconciliation is possible when the two moral opposing poles are brought together. He called it the 'Transcendent Function'. This knowledge didn't come from the West but originated in the East.
By grappling with the paradoxes that we constantly face in life, the conflict between two opposing views becomes clearly defined. Torn and tormented by conflict, man attempts to reconcile the opposites. The 'Transcendent Function' cannot proceed through the well-known path of logic and reason. Reason leaves no space for ambiguity.
But when there is space for self-reflection and when permitted to do so, the psyche transcends reason and the rules of logic, for it sees no problem in the simultaneous perception of incompatibilities. The strange must be 'thrown together' with the familiar, only then can the bridge connect the known and the unknown. When the enemy within is quelled there is no more enemy to fight since the foe has turned into a friend
Today India faces a crisis that has fragmented our perceptions. We are killing our fellow citizens over a dispute regarding a small piece of land (the site of temple/mosque dispute in Ayodhya, a place in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India). We have no leaders to look up to like Mahatma Gandhi. Leaders who have dealt with their personal shadow and have come to terms with the opposites. Leaders who are beyond duality and who have the courage to rise beyond personal fear and who transcend factionalism.
Today we are no farther as a society than the Pandavas and Kauravas (references found in the Mahabharata, an Indian epic) both are who destroyed each other. History has not managed to civilize the 'monster' through the ages; instincts remain in their primordial form and erupt when the necessary mechanisms are provoked. It is not about a kingdom that the nation is fragmented over, but a small piece of land on which each opponent wishes to worship his respective God!
When President George Washington wanted to buy land that belonged to the Indians, this was the reply of Chief Seattle. Such solutions are only possible when the leader has reached the 'Transcendent Function'. (I take the liberty to adapt the spirit of the Chief's letter to suit our present crisis that the nation faces today).
'We understand that you, the present leaders, have bought our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? If we do not own the freshness, the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to us people. If you have bought our land, you must remember that it is sacred. If you have bought land remember it is precious to us all, that the prana shares it spirit with all the life it supports.
It is the prana that gave our grandfather the first breath and also receives his last sigh. It is the prana that will continue to give our children the spirit of life. So if you have bought our land you must keep it sacred, as a place where man can go to breathe the prana that is made so sweet by the fragrance of the champa, an Indian flower and the chinar. Will you teach this to all the children what we have taught our children?
That India is our Mother-whatever happens to her happens to us all. We know India does not belong to us but that we belong to her. All things connected like the blood connects us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is just a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself. India is precious to him as it is to every one of us; to harm her or its creatures is to heap contempt on the creator.
So if you have bought this land, love it as we have loved it, care for it as we have cared for it, preserve it for all the children and their children. India is precious to us, as it is also precious to you. One thing we know, there is only one god: your god is my god, and his name is Ram, Rehman, Jesus, Mahavir, Buddha, Zarathustra, Waheguru, Shiva, and Vishnu''.
Do we understand the word 'karuna'-Buddha's term for compassion, for the immanence of all living things in each other, for the attraction of life in its likeness? Or do we ourselves need to go though a similar upheaval to wake up? Are we so used to such violence that we have become anaesthetized and complacent about the present state of affairs? Each one of us is responsible for the state of our nation-its future-not the previous generation, not the political left or right but us, you and me.
The author is a psychotherapist/counselor and author of The Psychology of Love-Wisdom Of Indian Mythology (Roli).
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