16. Geopolitical Disneylands
While the conscious sees one thing, the unconscious recognises another. This arises in situations which symbolise symptoms of old ghosts and dragons, seething as they do in the hidden dungeons of suppressed memory. This dualism of seeing causes many gross misperceptions of current reality, providing excuses for unconscious and improper behaviour-patterns concealed as proper and rightful behaviour.
Thus, the British and French, attached to controlling the Suez Canal (which they had built in the 1860s to improve links with their far-flung empires), precipitated the ruinous Suez Crisis of 1956. They did this rather than acknowledge that their imperial days were over and that such people as Egyptians were fully capable of playing their part in the international order. Similarly, Britain and France have jealously protected their nuclear deterrents, even though, by rights, such obsolescent deterrents should be scrapped.
Meanwhile, the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997, though officially presented as a normal business take-over of marginal consequence, symbolised a major and nervous bonding of China with the world economy, an opening of China to foreign influences and of the world to Chinese influences – inasmuch as Hong Kong was a shop-window for each sphere to look at the other. Few recognised the immensity of implications of this transfer and its underlying symbolic importance.
The transfer could have meant the end of Chinese isolationism as well as increased world vulnerability to the exigencies of life in China. Alternatively, it could also have meant an awkward reinstatement of Chinese isolationism bred from suspicion of the negative effects of foreign influence – an equally dangerous option for the future. Many ghosts hover around Hong Kong, unacknowledged. China seeks to absorb Hong Kong to eliminate and control Hong Kong's seductive dangers, while the world seeks to absorb China to eliminate and control Chinese might.
In the case of individuals, suppressed innate creativity and buried life-purpose lead to complex deflectory patterns. Chewing gum becomes a substitution addiction to replace personal tranquillity and calmness. Boozing becomes a substitute for innocent bliss. We eat, drink and smoke down our deeper selves and any suggestion of breaking this habit leads to a nervous increase of addiction and to avoidance of any situations revealing our psychological emptiness and submissiveness. Whole nations too can engage in industrialism and consumerism as a way of evading a deeper search for national identity. Military and political adventures can be engaged to deflect attention from internal weaknesses.
History can thus be re-examined in the light of psychological avoidance-techniques, revealing hidden agendas of tremendous proportions. Imperialism becomes a symptom of cultural self-doubt. Political succession problems or indecisive elections become symptoms of wholesale directionlessness. Natural disasters become symptoms of deeply unresolved social-ecological imbalances. Wars become symptoms of enormous cover-ups of real and true issues. How can the international illegal drugs trade be curtailed when the use of pharmaceutical drugs, coffee, hypnotic TV and music, institutionalised dishonesties, media hallucinations and the general sleep-inducing routines of civilised life are so central to life in the modern world?
Mercifully, the unconscious works another way too: unconscious urges can cause people to reform their lives or to bring about unusual ways of effecting positive change. In other words, the symbolism of current events can raise issues which cause the public to redraw lines and re-set standards – sometimes of great historic import. This symbolism can arise in two main forms: blatant symbolism (such as the hellish bloodbath in Rwanda in 1994) or implicit symbolism (such as the furore over the book Satanic Verses in 1989). In the former case, nightmares of the unconscious became directly visible – Rwandans were acting out the worst horrors the unconscious can muster – while in the latter case a relatively innocuous event (the publication of a book) catalysed the surfacing of unconscious material which need not have been associated with the event.
Atrocities can evoke reformist reactions, pressing a button deep down which says 'enough is enough'. Thus the Soweto massacres of 1980s South Africa turned the historic tables against the white Nationalist regime, causing all involved parties to realise that they would be treading on the tail of disaster if they carried on as they were doing. Disasters, or the threat of disaster, can cause sudden acceptance of realities previously passed over – the earthquakes of Los Angeles in 1993 or Kobe in 1995 drew attention to the growing decline of California and Japan and the vulnerability even of the world's richest countries. Relatively insignificant events can raise enormous historic questions by dint of their symbolism – the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the dwindling Habsburg throne, in Sarajevo in 1914, lit the match which sparked the First World War.
Sometimes the language of the unconscious is too strong to speak directly, even for willing seekers of truth to hear. In WW2, the British and American allies denied the existence of the Nazi 'Final Solution' and concentration camps simply out of an incapacity or unwillingness to believe that it was actually happening. When the camps were later liberated in 1945, the shock of the acknowledgement of this horror was palpable. Sometimes the symbolism is insufficient to penetrate the thick skulls of national egos – the German fear of a revival of European war, stated clearly in 1995-96, was passed off by anti-European British as a ploy to steamroller European integration, even though the German observation was historically quite justified.
Fear and guilt, programmed into us over the centuries, distort the imagery of the unconscious. As a result we suffer serious cases of mistaken collective identity. In many countries, the rise of reform movements seeking to emancipate or assist underprivileged sectors of the population have been taken to constitute threats to national security or the rule of law, when in fact the threat was to the controlling interests of but a privileged minority.
Such situations are routinely misperceived from the very beginning, and misperceptions are then used to justify a strengthening of control and repression which leads, in the longer term, to many unintended consequences – ranging from an amplification of the opposition (as was the case in 1980s Poland) to the killing and exiling of so many valuable people and the wrecking of so many resources that the nation is later unable to revive from its plight (as has been the case for Albania, Cambodia, Rwanda and Afghanistan).
The main solution to such horrific situations lies in foresightful prevention of such polarisation from the very beginning – but this relies on the receptivity and wisdom of the ruling elite. Another solution is to liberalise slowly, such that pressures are lifted gradually in manageable amounts. The problem with the latter approach is that, once reform has already grown late, moderate reform can be too slow for a needy or restless population, leading to the sidelining of moderates and the headlong battling of radicals and reactionaries. Either that, or the longterm thread of gradual reform can get lost in the clamour of shorter-term demands and interest-group rivalry.
The moral of this story is: a wise government stays tuned to the collective unconscious and gives it credence. This is a challenge to stay tuned to public undercurrents and to stay on the pulse of social need. It also is a hint to include continual and regular public referenda as a part of the constitution (as is the case in Switzerland and California, where the collection of a critical number of signatures guarantees that a question must be aired by referendum).
While the ego tends to control the unconscious, this does not mean it must be abolished or killed off for the whole psyche to breathe again. The true purpose of the ego is to keep us alive and functioning in daily life. It coordinates the outward expression of different parts of the psyche in a pragmatic, realistic way. There is a point to which maintenance of ego-control is helpful and productive – as long as such control is flexible enough to remain legitimate and open enough to hear the voices of other parts of the psyche.
The balance of ego with the rest of the psyche has been distorted for millennia, ever since the principles of wisdom and mutuality were superseded by more personal agendas. This contrapuntal balance – and its dangers – has been reflected in 20th century Chinese history, a long saga of painful relations between the state and the masses of the people.
After the fall of the conservative Ch'ing (Manchu) dynasty in the first Chinese revolution of 1911, the nationalist Kuomintang, led by Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan), strove to end meddlesome foreign interventions in China, to favour democracy (ending the imperial system) and to introduce social reform. This reform programme gradually edged out of control and evoked reactionary elements. In itself, the first Chinese revolution represented the outcomes of subverted Manchu reforms of the late nineteenth century, legislated but not implemented. It also arose from the abortive Triad Boxer rebellion against foreign powers in 1900.
The country was however racked with division, and the revolution went into a spin. To maintain unity, Sun resigned as provisional president in favour of Yuan Shihai, a Manchu military strategist, who appeased military and conservative elements. However, dictatorial methods pursued by Yuan caused the breakup of China, and Sun established a South Chinese government in Canton in 1921 – a revival of the old north-south divide mentioned earlier. This led to two decades of friction, to the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek and to eventual Japanese invasion.
This action-reaction game of reformers against authoritarians arose from an already-overdue need for change, and from a consequent ignoring of the need to take change slowly and to educate the public into new democratic, non-imperial ways. The power-jostling led to national polarisation and eventual disaster in WW2. The Chinese collective unconscious was beaten, yet it rose up again after WW2 to produce the Maoist revolution of 1946-49. Mao Tse-tung started well (given the circumstances), by pursuing an inclusive, gradualist approach to reform until, from 1958, in response to internal power-struggles, he forcefully accelerated the pace of collectivisation and change in the Great Leap Forward.
This proved unpopular and unsuccessful – 20 million people died in floods and famines between 1959 and 1962. In response to this Mao stepped back, allowing moderate influences to soften the programme. However, the imperial archetype got the better of him: later striking back against what he saw to be a return to capitalist revisionism, Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution (1966-69), a virtual coup d'etat and civil war, which both brought popular grief and artificially raised his status to that of a demi-god, an emperor.
The underlying cause of this social grief was uncertainty in the Chinese national psyche over the relationship between stability and change – both of which have tended toward excess. Excessive attachment to stability under various dynasties had given birth to a restive radicalism at the time of the nationalist revolution. Yet the centralist imperial model would not go away – it was maintained by a combination of powerful conservatism and by mass habituation to submissiveness. Successively assumed by dictators such as Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung, centralised control fought hard against a true democratisation of the Chinese people. Emergent needs which periodically came up in the national unconscious through mass rebellions, tragedies and hardships, confronted the selfhood and ego of China – Confucian centralist tradition – causing struggles for control which continue today.
Interestingly, both sides in any such conflict tend to miss the point, so preoccupied are they with reacting to each other: centralism overreacts repressively against local or popular mass movements, while the masses react with directionless rebellion or, more recently, with demands for western-style democratic procedures questionable in their applicability in China's case. Both of these occur despite China's customary sophistication in political philosophy and its recent experiences in Maoism which, despite its posthumous unpopularity, brought forth many noble social reforms and experiments. Yet a middle path – a balancing of the psyche of China – is eliminated by this very dualism. China is thus betrayed by its own shadows – or rather, by its unwillingness to look at them. Thus, despite a century of faltering movement toward democratisation, the Chinese people continue to lack experience in its practice.
The truth of the unconscious can be painful: every modern nation has had cases of horror breaking out in its streets – rapes, serial killings, child-murder, supprressed protest and cruelty toward the downtrodden – to expose the pretence that peace and harmony arise naturally as a result of democracy. The rise of criminality with an increasingly senseless randomness to it reflects the inattention nations have given to their innate moral fibre and to social justice. While an ideology of law and order has been incanted time and again, ruling elites have denied the concealed criminality they themselves have fostered. Yet, paradoxically, the symbolic impact of serious localised outbreaks of horror can bring positive changes which eliminate the need for bigger crises.
The 1995 bombing of a government building in Oklahoma city, indiscriminately killing children and office workers, ventilated an issue which had been lurking for years. This issue was dissatisfaction with overbearing government control. It drew attention to important issues such as firearms control, right-wing extremism and state over-extension. While solid reforms arising from the bombing were neither demanded nor forthcoming, these issues were chalked up on the wall, moved an inch higher on the agenda for eventual attention. The question now is whether the American psyche has the balls to look into its internal shadows – its deeply riven social unity. Or will America rely on blaming external influences such as Muslim fundamentalists, Cubans or Mid-Western right-wing survivalists for unconsciously trying to spark a truthful show-down with reality?
Whenever unconscious signals emerge strongly, the ego fights. It digs in to make sure change doesn't threaten it. Addictions, delusions, distractions, obsessions and blockages become overriding determinants of ego's behaviour. We become slaves to our resistances, locked into a prison constructed with the building-blocks of falsity and untruth. The stronger the signals from deep down, the more ego fights – unless it has already reached a tired and beaten state arising from the failure of its own agendas.
This systemic exhaustion and vacuousness was demonstrated in the long, drawn-out Brezhnev period in USSR, 1964-82. This regime was born of resistance to reform, offering no new agendas or strategies, maintaining an increasingly crippling status quo which grew ever more incapable of finding new and appropriate solutions. By the time a new breeze blew through the Kremlin from 1986 onwards, the need for change was already so great and so late that gentle structural reforms were near-impossible. Their time had passed in the 1960s. The consequence of Soviet rigidity in the 1960s – tested out in the 'Prague Spring' of 1968 – was its downfall in 1986-92. Twenty years is a short time in history.
If ego (the ruling order) is open to change, and if change is assimilable and pragmatically possible, an interactive dialogue between ego (government) and the unconscious (popular energies) results. This gives rise to styles of governance which are genuinely responsive to popular will and effective in providing sufficient positive reforms to engender continued popular cooperation and support. It involves both constitutional change and a genuine transformation in the psychology and behaviour of leaderships and societies. It also involves patience, understanding and hard work amongst the people, since any government is but a coordinator of social energies, not a provider of them.
Thus, after the Maoist revolution of the late 1940s, Mao would have done well to harness social energies as they were, modifying existing systems and laws rather than forcing major collectivist systems-changes and mass dislocations. People in China needed stability, economic growth and justice without corruption, vice and over-control – they had suffered sufficient hardship in preceding generations.
In South Africa in the 1990s – a peaceful revolution – a delicate balance between stability and change was attempted. A key ingredient of success was the receptivity and inclusiveness of the ANC, which largely depolarised society and trained national energies in a coherent direction.
In a changing society where truth and awakening are possible or encouraged, such dialogue between ego and unconscious becomes a source of magic solutions. The best of all worlds are drawn on. Deeper consciousness is given the opportunity to inspire solutions in which everyone wins – the psyche of a nation moves toward integration and general happiness-levels rise. In a materialistic sense, this happened in Sweden in the 1920s-40s, where a social democratic deal was forged between the government, capitalists and workers to create a consensus merging the interests of all social parties. This was effected in the backdrop of near-revolution in Sweden, of the kind which had occurred over the Baltic in Russia. It was also motivated by the shadow of famines experienced in the late 1800s.
The outcome was the achievement of one of the most advanced modern states in the world, possessing both prosperity and justice. However, a shadow has emerged from this comfortable social democratic arrangement: the staid conservatism of affluence, which dreads shortages, disruptions and decline. Social democracy, once a guiding light and a fulfilment of human aspirations, has transformed in time into a shadowy addiction to nanny-statism which is difficult to shake off.
The light and the dark within us each play their valuable role. Aspiring to better times, humanity must paradoxically look at the painful shadows of former times in order to move forward – otherwise these unconscious shadows rear up behind us, dragging us back until we genuinely face certain basic truths. The impetus toward European integration has invoked old separative, nationalist shadow-tendencies in Europe – these ghosts of distrust and self-interest have not yet been exorcised.
Thus, while the Cold War has ended, a plethora of lethal local disturbances worldwide points to the fact that humanity, despite all talk about peace, has not resolved the question of warfare, arms or aggression. A world honesty-process reappraising the value of war has not been carried out. Worse, widespread aggression was, before 1989, held back by the control of the two rival super-powers while, post-1989, it has become uncontrollable, channelled into our daily reality by terrorists, freedom fighters, ideological and religious maniacs, errant generals, threatened presidents and even ten-year old boys with guns.
Nevertheless, the unconscious speaks truths which cannot usually be gainsaid. It presents bottom-line truths which emerge whenever social formalities and normal energy-containment exhaust themselves. When agencies of suppression grow enfeebled or when pressure for change builds up within the body politic, the collective unconscious spews into the streets amidst crowds of people.
Or it can operate surreptitiously through public attitudinal swings, through vandalism, terror outbreaks, civil disobedience or consumer boycotts. Occasionally it is enacted within the ruling elite when that elite realises it is doomed: key people subvert the system, or battles break out in the corridors of power. And occasionally a strong reformer or movement effects a more radical, fundamental change.
Often a need for change is brought about by events which carry yeasty and potent symbolism. In 1990s Ireland the conviction of ordained priests on charges of paedophilia and rape undermined not only the Catholic church but also the whole traditional political mind-set of the Irish. Suddenly everyone was living in 'post-Catholic' Ireland. In USA in 1995, the trial of OJ Simpson, a retired baseball star, captivated the nation for months and cost millions, all because of its symbolism and wider implications – not to mention an American fixation on the rise and fall of public stars. The world was shaken by Sarin-gas attacks in the Tokyo subway in 1994 by a born-again Buddhist sect seeking to hasten the apocalypse – this exposed a common human tendency to take extreme beliefs to crazily excessive conclusions, even in orderly countries such as Japan. The horrors which face each nation reflect directly on its hidden agendas and unresolved issues.
However, fear and dread can nevertheless act as a redeeming influence. The horrific vision of nuclear winters, lurking in the world's collective psyche in the early 1980s, definitely contributed toward the cause of peace. However, the reluctance of humanity to go the whole way, to look at the full question, set a gaping trap for the future. President Chirac received a blast of this from the collective unconscious when he announced nuclear testing in Muraroa Atoll in 1995 – yet even then the world's public let the issue quickly drop once the heat had subsided.
This demonstrated unwillingness to countenance large-scale longterm questions means that, sometime in the future, the collective unconscious must present a threatening shadow-form so great, so potentially horrific, that large-scale action becomes necessary and expedient.
The collective unconscious, when befriended, becomes a helper and guide at least as much as the spirit or superconscious. The difference is that we react in extreme fear to our dragons, ghosts, cans of worms and dark clouds – to our eventual detriment yet by our own unconscious choice.