20. Projection - Might and Right
As a way of avoiding fear amongst their own populations and covering over national inadequacy, nations project negative imagery on other nations. Insidiously, nations (like individuals) project onto others precisely what they fear or abhor about themselves but dare not acknowledge. They see themselves mirrored in others, but do not recognise themselves in what they see. Acknowledgement of internal fears would entail a significant raising of national truth-levels, which the vested interests of a nation usually cannot bear, since it often exposes their injustices and removes them from power.
Since vested interests usually have significant influence over public opinion-shaping, psychological avoidance-strategies are nowadays relatively easy to inculcate into the national psyche, with populistic support from lower rungs on the social pecking-order. Thus outsiders are blamed for whatever the nation fears taking responsibility for. The classic projection is that of barbarians: it conceals the barbaric atrocities civilisations are not infrequently founded upon.
To assume the moral high ground, then to judge others from that position, betrays insecurity in the heart of the judging society. The European 'mission to civilise' their colonialised subjects during the 1800s concealed the amoral, emotionally severe, hypocritical and unjust social patterns by which the white-skinned nations themselves lived. European culture had grown during a time when most other cultures in the world were at their zenith – the European 'Dark Ages' took place at the same time as everyone else's 'Light Ages' – roughly 400-1000 CE. These 'light ages' are construable as the zenith of material civilisation on our planet.
In this context, Europeans missed out – it was the whiteskins who were, to them, the barbarians. There is a hidden guilt buried deep in the Euro-American psyche over this, a deep-seated need to prove repeatedly that whites are superior when whites are relative upstarts in the art of civilisation. In the fullness of human history it will possibly be the case that Europeans will be seen to have bridged a difficult transitional period between this almost-global age of light and civilisation and the next age of light and civilisation – in a time which, to us, lies in our future.
A modern projection worth looking into is Western abhorrence of Islamic fundamentalists. In the 1980s, Libya, Iran and the PLO carried more blame for fundamentalism than any others – they became the 'bad guys' of the Reagan-Thatcher period and what followed. This was not without a basis in reality, since Libya and Iran were extensively supporting anti-Western terrorism, and since the PLO had in the 1960s vowed to drive the Western-supported Israelis into the sea. However, the strength of Western apprehension exceeded the danger presented, and the Arabic tendency to use Muslim doctrines to support their political causes was misjudged.
This reciprocal phobia between Westerners and Muslims was a two-way expression of the fallacious notion that external threats can bring down a nation. This disguised a deeper truth, that a socially sound and happy nation cannot be undermined as easily as an unhappy and deluded nation. Such projection was necessary on both sides, to cover the lie that each side told itself – the belief that rightness rests with us and wrongness rests with them.
What frightened Westerners was the commitment and fervour of fundamentalist terrorists – they seemed to be willing to go to any lengths in the pursuit of their beliefs. Not only this, but their deep belief in an afterlife scared Westerners, who once had invested great medieval belief and energy in the same 'superstition' and now felt they had risen above it. This commitment had a twofold cutting edge in the Western psyche: for middle-class Euro-Americans, such fervour was frightening because comfortable, educated Westerners generally lacked the kind of courage and boldness shown by Muslim mujahedin – Western society had become addicted to insurance policies, return tickets and guaranteed pensions, and the courage displayed in the preceding world wars was long buried. Unconsciously, Islamic terrorists knew of this fear and played on it to great effect. They knew that jihad, the Islamic philosophy of inner striving (outwardly practised as holy war in defence of Islam and its people), was not a current Western habit – though it lurked unresolved all the same in the Western unconscious.
The strategy employed by Westerners was to refuse to negotiate with terrorists – thereby refusing to acknowledge the wild and violent side within themselves. To the amazement of Muslims, Westerners generally refused to rescue their own people from Muslim hostage-takers unless there was some political advantage. The Western policy of diffidence worked in the short term – validating civilised discipline, conformity and 'decency' – while in the longterm Westerners yet have a deep question to face. It concerns individualistic indifference and fear of commitment to collective causes, fear of acknowledging the uncivilised brutality within Western society and fear of admitting the role Islamic society has played in civilising the West.
Westerners, during the 20th century, were saved from self-examination by their dominance of the world political agenda, and by the dependency of Middle Eastern autocratic regimes on Western oil money, weapons supply and financial connections. Minority Islamic groups had no chance to be heard, either in the West or amongst the ruling dynasties and dictatorships of the Middle East. Thus they resorted to loud methods with which to make their point. When this message went unheard, a deeper resentment was created which is yet to be healed.
In the Western way of thinking, if a terrorist is willing to give his life for Allah, then this must mean either that Allah is very well worth working for, or that He is a very demanding God, or that ignorant terrorist fanatics are living in a dangerous fantasyland. The 'fanatic' conclusion is preferred. It is a judgement formed from a comfortable, self-satisfied place – even though, whenever thunderstruck with awe or terror, even agnostic westerners begin to say prayers too.
Looking on fundamentalists as subversives conceals the cultural atrocities the West perpetrates throughout Asia – through satellite TV, commercialism, interest-bearing easy credit and other perfidious degenerative social diseases which Muslim fundamentalists so abhor. It was this all-pervading penetration which the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran sought to arrest – although by doing so he entered into similar totalitarian methods as he was seeking to counteract. Both sides had something to hide: the outcome has been bombs, cruelty and misunderstanding. Both sides have some big truth to face.
Western abhorrence and suspicion of Islamic – and also Chinese – civilisation betrays an underlying fear that these civilisations have a more highly-developed and deep-rooted culture than Euro-Americans have. Western civilisation is, after all, the youngest. While the West historically legitimises itself by means of its indirect classical Greek origins, it conveniently forgets that Muslims actually preserved Greek knowledge while it died in the West, transferring it to Europe during the Renaissance.
Earlier, after the fall of Rome, Europeans had destroyed or forgotten much of this knowledge, bathed as they were in growing Christian fervour. Plato and Aristotle, judged as heathens by medieval Christians, were brought to Europe in the Arabic language – largely by Sephardic Jews fleeing the inquisitorial Spanish regime, which was in process of taking over the Moorish civilisation of Spain. The very paper technology on which Western business and printed literature took off came from China via Baghdad, together with many other things such as citrus fruits, silk, chickens, gunpowder, plastics (lacquer), coal-burning, magnetic compasses and tea.
Both the Islamic and Chinese civilisations have their many hypocrisies, failings and forms of outdatedness. This does not give the West a moral right to judge them, when it possesses major internal failings too: each civilisation needs to examine itself and learn from others. Unfortunately we humans tend to examine our failings only in times of threat and loss – something which has beset the Chinese and Islamic spheres more than the West in recent centuries. Islamic society, at heart moderate and tolerant in its views, has undermined its own rational and progressive tendencies through the corruption and self-interest of its ruling elites, which have (in the view of Arab nationalists and fundamentalists) sold out to Western economic imperialism – taking on many of its self-serving traits.
Thus fundamentalist rhetoric, while undermining Muslim society from within, also served as a convenient way of avoiding a timely re-evaluation of Islamic values. Islam stands at a crossroads, since Islamic values and traditions have proven in part to be past-oriented and not entirely appropriate to modern global conditions. Similarly, recent pronouncements from Asia on the moral superiority of post-Confucian Asiatic society conceal a fear of opening to the penetrating insight of western rationalism.
Ancient Asia's historic tendencies towards nepotism, societal collusion, immorality, secret societies and authoritarianism have caused much suffering over the centuries, and many Asians have some difficulty acknowledging the partial release Western values have brought from the clamping effect of Asian tradition. This globalisation process, while tending toward an unwise standardisation, has a culturally liberating value to it which obliges deep self-examination upon every culture.
Every country regards itself as the centre of the universe: this is a natural perception, since people's home ground is most known and significant to them, and everything else radiates therefrom. However, there comes a point where a nation or people must acknowledge that it plays a part in something larger and is affected by it. This is humbling to a national or cultural ego if there is something to hide. This question of cultural centrality becomes a challenge where major cultural gravity-centres meet – in such places as Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Beirut, Marseilles, New York, the Khyber Pass, Johannesburg, Bosnia, Kashmir or California – with a variety of results.
However, multi-ethnicity itself is now a cultural gravity-centre in its own right, needing increasing recognition and validation – it represents a situation where cultures bend and adapt to each other, a notion anathema to cultural purists. This issue of centrality is perhaps simpler to face in smaller nations which know they are far outsized by other lands and peoples – Dutch, Finns, Koreans and Kurds are accustomed to being trampled and overridden, since their land-mass and populations are relatively small and vulnerable. But for larger or mightier nations, it is easy to believe that the whole world rotates around them, and that other lands and cultures are secondary and tributary. The biggest sufferers of this syndrome today are the Americans and Chinese.
China, throughout history, has regarded itself as The Middle Kingdom, Chung kuo, to which all other powers should thus be tributary. China has a reasonable case to make such a claim since, when all is said and done, it has experienced greatness throughout much of recorded history, and it has for long been the world's richest country. Today, China is again becoming an economic-political centre for the world. It tried to do this during the Maoist period by positioning itself as a leader of the Third World, though this initiative was concertedly blocked by both the West and the USSR. So, on the fall of Maoism, another route was taken – to adopt Western capitalism and to engage in the ancient Chinese art of outpacing all rivals. The Middle Kingdom lives on – yet its ambitions present a new and daunting spectre of past ills stretching into the future, in the form of superpower world dominance patterns.
Americans too, composed of a population of minorities drawn from everywhere imaginable, have a similar isolationist and centralist tendency. This had its 20th century relevance, though such significance now pales as the nation loses its initiative, relative might and world leadership. The impact of such loss is fended off by pretending such a decline is not happening – like the British throughout the 20th century, Americans are in denial of their shrinking power.
Britain is but a small nation whose sense of centrality is no longer justified by geography, population size or vibrancy of culture – even though, after the decline of its empire, there remains a streak of superiority which betrays a weakness of national vision and purpose. Americans would do well to observe the identity-ailments of the 'Old Country', and to boldly by-pass its resistant tendencies.
Each nation has a vision and purpose and a contribution to make to the world as a whole. It is this which redeems and heals the hurts it has suffered – if it chooses to invest energy in its national vision. A nation with vision has true power – or potential. Everyone in that nation knows what direction they're heading in – even if some disagree with it. National vision also, by nature, interlocks into the national visions of other countries since, if genuine, all national visions would (theoretically) be interwoven into the overall planetary vision lying at the heart-core of humanity.
However, too often national vision is expressed in terms of competitive economic or military power (or lack of it), betraying a lack of deeper core purpose. National power is not something to impress on or oppress others: it constitutes a challenge to fulfil a special contribution to the world, as a part of the world tapestry-matrix. Often, a nation's vision or purpose can be lively during its ascendancy, then to grow lax, then to be sharpened by eventual adversity.
The challenge is to develop and maintain a more consistent, self-reviewing sense of purpose endowed with a sense of continuity over time. Each nation needs to recognise at what stage in its lifecycle it actually stands. Such a sense of purpose lies beyond the continuing day-to-day life of inhabitants, beyond territorial issues, beyond the propagandist ravings of political leaders and beyond all cultural superiority.
When Scandinavian nations act as diplomatic mediators in difficult international negotiations, it is because they fulfil an international role as rational, unprejudiced, neutral, peaceable and just nations. Other nations see them in such a light – permitting even the mutually-distrustful Israelis and PLO to meet under Norwegian auspices in 1993. During civil wars, liberation wars and revolutions, it is frequently the Swedish embassy which remains open while others close and withdraw, leading Swedish diplomats to be quiet mediators between competing influences – and, conveniently, the first nation to engage in contracts with any new regime.
On the whole, such a neutral reputation is earned as a result of the nature of Scandinavian society, though there are hypocrisies here too: the Nobel Prizes were financed by an explosives manufacturer, and Saab trades far more in smart missiles and jet fighters than in cars and trucks. Nevertheless, in pursuing these diplomatic ends, Scandinavians display an aspect of their innate purpose: to bring down-to-earth, balanced sense to an otherwise insane world.
Might and right
Nations turn away from their purposes – this is very common. The deeper purpose of Britain goes far back into the mystical question of the 'Matter of Britain'. Britain has had a strangely crucial influence in the world, disproportionate to its size and position. In Megalithic times (3000s-2000s BCE) it was a centre of advanced metaphysical knowledge, widely renowned – the mathematics and geometry inhering in the design of megalithic stone circles is every bit as advanced as that of ancient Egypt, possibly even preceding it in time and possibly being one source of Egyptian knowledge. One theory goes that the idea of One God, propounded in Egypt and brought into more modern times through Moses and the Hebrews, originated in Britain.
In Rome, around 61 CE, it was captive British Christians, who had been exposed to Christian teachings in Britain before the teachings had come to Rome, who invited St Paul to Rome, thereby seeding the Roman Catholic church. He had been sent there as a prisoner of the Romans, though he had been shipwrecked in Malta – and later came voluntarily, obeying Jesus' admonition "You must bear witness also in Rome". Though he was technically under house arrest at the 'Palace of the Britons', he taught openly. Interestingly, this early foundation of the Roman church, catalysed by Celtic Christians, was centuries later to destroy the Celtic Church in Britain, by being adopted by the invading Saxons as a religious weapon against the Britons – the final confrontation took place at the Synod of Whitby in 664.
In the later Roman empire, Britain became one of the richest of its provinces (in the 200s/300s CE), a renowned centre for crafts, metalwork, textiles and other technologies - this was Britain's first industrial revolution. This in itself was a clear sign of things to come. A shift of power from the Mediterranean to NW Europe 1,300 years later was already beckoning, and had it not been for the fall of Rome, this shift might have taken place much earlier than it did. Nevertheless, it came in the 1500s: the separation of England from the Roman sphere during the notorious reign of Henry VIII (1509-47) made a crucial difference not only for Protestantism but also for the independent mercantile development of NW Europe. The later central role Britain played in jump-starting the industrial revolution in the 1700s unequivocally expressed its world-catalytic role.
This repetition over time of certain key characteristics – other recurrent qualities include individualistic, eccentric and imaginative streaks in the national psyche – suggest the nature of Britain's specific soul-quality, even though it can ebb and flow according to the choices of its people and the appropriateness of time. Today, the attachment of the British to tradition, materialism and power obstructs its deeper role as a cultural influence – a source of ideas, innovations, inventions, music, literature, arts, environmental initiatives, media-productions and human assets.
This cultural strength, nowadays held back except where it is commercial, currently expresses itself in the form of an outflow of enterprising British émigrés who market their creations and seek their fortunes abroad. Britain spawns a disproportionately large number of creative people, yet it does not honour them – except those supported by the establishment or the commercial sector. Only 10% of successful British inventions are actually produced in Britain.
In the 1960s, when 'England swung like a pendulum do', the nation was undergoing a potential psycho-spiritual rebirth, separating from its imperial and military past and encountering a major new choice. It was a choice which concerned the very nature of society and civilisation. It omitted to face this choice, allowing itself to be influenced instead by vested and obsolete interests. Many 1960s innovators went quiet, left the country, went commercial or landed up in jail. As a result the nation failed to recognise its inherent cultural strengths in conservation, music and ideas, publishing and media, in unique services, pure science and eccentric or 'alternative' specialities. A big opportunity was missed.
In the early 1970s, Britain joined the European Community to further its perceived business interests. However, its membership was equivocal. In the 1980s during the Thatcher period, insular tendencies were in the ascendant – however, by now, Britain was inextricably part of Europe. The choice it was faced with in the early 1970s when it joined the EC – either to commit wholeheartedly to developing a European identity, or to commit wholeheartedly to pursuing an independent, non-aligned, specialist identity – was avoided. Default patterns – economic competitiveness – were resorted to.
The independent course could have been feasible, after a time of realignment. British nuclear disarmament or environmental leadership in the 1970s-80s could have created an interesting stir worldwide. Either course – Europe or independence – could have worked well if the British people had bravely examined themselves and made a strong, concerted choice. But they avoided the question.
The outcome of the weakly equivocal decision thus made was that Britain became a grudging member of Europe, obstructing rapid European integration and omitting to pursue a purpose which expressed its true strengths, either within or outsdie Europe. This anecdote is an object-lesson in the making of clear national choices, through open national debate and carefully-construed consensus. Nations need to dare to look into their deeper psyches, their hopes and fears, and to call on their inherent national genius.
For a nation to rise to its inherent greatness, it needs to feel wholehearted and single-minded about it. It needs to address issues which divide it internally, to find resolution. Uniting a nation unready to unite in common purpose is virtually impossible unless force, propaganda or trickery are used. The bottom-line raison d'etre of nations must be courageously sounded out.
There is no one magic factor which catalyses national unity, though various preconditions can arise. The main one is a commonly-felt sense of direction and need – common not just to limited vested interests and lobbies, but to everyone. If the courage to see and live by national purpose fails to arise, it becomes unconsciously manifested in the shape of a threat to the nation, exposing its fault-lines and weaknesses and forcing reassessment. This threat can come from within or without. However, such a situation can often come too late for remedial action.
National unity arises when people have distilled their common experience to a point where fundamental change is publicly sought after. Some examples follow. Unity can arise as a result of weariness with what has prevailed to date: the 19th century irritation in Italy over perpetual retrogressive power-struggles between post-medieval Italian states caused Italians to support the unifying efforts of the Piedmontese Garibaldi in the 1850s-60s. Italy became united to save it from itself.
Unity can arise in reaction to deeply-coalescent national fears: the ascendancy of Nazism in Germany in the 1920s-30s arose out of popular fear of disorder and destitution after the debilitating troubles of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s and the Great War of the previous decade. This underlying social fear led to a polarisation between political extremists – Communists and Nazis – and the weakening of moderate opinions. The nation as a whole did not unite behind Hitler – if anything, much of his support came from people fearing Communists or acquiescing to his initiatives. However, the national psyche needed someone or something to pull Germany out of the Depression and give it a sense of purpose and progress. Hitler fitted the bill – the best of a set of bad options.
Unification can arise from a deep wish to put the past to rest: the support gained by Communists in 1940s China grew out of a deep public wish to be free of ancient imperial restrictions, of the corruption of successive previous regimes, to be free of the earlier social degeneration engendered by opium, and free of foreign incursion. All these goals were implicitly promised by the Communists. Also, hapwise, the red flag of socialism was recognised by peasants as a traditional colour representing the common people, who were used to being overlooked and overridden.
Unity can arise from a deep need to rise to a challenge and a promise of redemption: the phenomenal economic efforts of Americans during the century between the Civil War of 1860-65 and the Vietnam War of 1963-72 was driven by a deep-seated urge to see better times, to quit squabbling over divisive issues and to be free of the oppressions from which America's immigrants had escaped by coming to a new life in USA.
However, each of these circumstantial imperatives noted above is no complete substitute for a conscious public decision to bring out its ghosts and its spirit and to wash them clean.
The collective unconscious talks through symbolism. Symbolism leaks into public consciousness in various ways, making ample use of agents and situations by which to present itself. Small things, often done by nameless people, can take on big historical significance. The hostage-taking of the do-gooding envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Terry Waite, in Lebanon in the late-1980s, held special symbolic meaning, even though eighteen other Westerners had been taken captive too. To give another example, the shoot-to-kill approach once taken by Richard Leakey against ivory poachers in Kenyan national parks certainly put the issue on the world agenda – the great white hunters were back, this time saving big game rather than killing it.
Some images can speak much stronger than speeches or manifestos: the suffragette activities of Emmeline Pankhurst and her supporters from 1906 onwards, in chaining themselves to railings in public places, stirred much action for women. It was potent symbolism which the status quo was obliged to yield to.
When the collective unconscious has decided something, changes tend to come about in magic ways, against all odds. Perhaps the sight of Muslims making prayer en masse in Washington, London or Paris city squares would make more impact than fundamentalist suicide bombers. The peaceful and astute protests conducted by ordinary people in Central Europe certainly gave great power to the Velvet Revolutions of 1989.
Symbolism takes hold of the psyche of crowds. A recurring theme is the image of the uprising. However, history has shown that while uprisings can indeed change things, they can be too intense and momentary to catalyse fundamental and irreversible changes before reactionary forces, social apathy, confusion or populist political hijackers move in. In the case of peasant rebellions, which tended toward fighting immediate oppressive circumstances rather than propounding clear ideologies, the result was often defeat by the authorities and conservative retrenchment.
The Great Peasant War in south Germany in 1524-25 had political intents and initial successes, but it degenerated into pillaging, looting and murder and was then ruthlessly stamped out. The result was that agriculture and the peasantry ossified for nearly 300 years until Napoleon's time. People downheartedly accepted the status quo and princes and merchants took the initiative away from the peasants. Over the course of time, particularly since the French Revolution of the 1790s, revolutions have become better organised, often led by the members of professional, moneyed or educated classes and usually, in the end, favouring these at the expense of peasants or workers.
To activate large numbers of people, fomenters of revolution make liberal use of symbolism, either wittingly or accidentally. Sometimes revolutionaries find themselves speaking for or embodying what people need to hear without any preparation or premeditation. The French Revolution, breaking out in 1789, arose through a combination of governmental gridlock, social injustice, economic hardship and a groundswell of libertarian ideas. Few saw in advance what would happen, since there were no clear precedents. People were well acclimatised to things just not changing.
Suddenly, one day, on 5th May 1789, the newly-formed parliament (États Générals) in Paris found itself divided along clear lines – a revolutionary zeal had suddenly built up, and representatives cleaved either for or against revolution. This schism rippled out into the streets and the collective unconscious boiled over into revolution.
The great symbolic event of the revolution was the storming of the Bastille, a 400-year old fortress which symbolically represented the ancien régime's medieval agricultural power and origins. However, while such street-catharses made their mark, the revolution was truly fought in the corridors of power – albeit new corridors and new powers.
Often the bearers of symbolism are outsiders, who have no inherent right or likelihood to come to power. Lech Walesa started out as a welder and union steward in a provincial shipyard, later to become president of Poland. Vaclav Havel, 1990s president of the Czech Republic, spent many years in the oblivion of domestic exile. Such people rise to power because of their human leadership qualities, integrity and timely intuitive skills rather than because of birthright or social privileges.
However, such emergences happen within normal channels of power too: the ascendancy of the political twins Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, both establishment outsiders, embodied an amnesiac public wish to avoid looking the future in the face. They were products of a busy PR machine which excelled in the creation of imagery. Their popularity outweighed their actual skills and policies. They claimed to be leading a rightist revolution, appealing to a 'get rich quick' ethic which legitimised selfishness and created many ardent followers. Yet, by ripping apart many ethics and institutions, they unconsciously laid the foundations of a much larger change away from selfishness which began with the bursting of the perpetual-growth economic model from 2008 onwards.
Sometimes, individual power-brokers are used by the force of history, to be discarded rapidly as soon as their job is done. Winston Churchill's time and opportunity arose in response to Hitler – his resounding speeches ("We shall fight on the beaches... we shall never surrender...") were a modern form of magical incantation which activated embattled psyches. Yet as a peacetime prime minister, Churchill was inappropriate.
Mikhael Gorbachev spoke on behalf of the world as a whole. Everyone agreed. Yet, as soon as his changes became irreversible, history removed him from office. He was spewed out to join the world ranks of retired political elders. Mrs Brundtland of Norway and Willi Brandt of Germany had both expounded similar views to Gorbachev's, yet to limited avail – it was not their time or role to do so.
History is peppered with rapidly-rising leaders who do their work and disappear quickly, or who have a brilliant solution but insufficient skill, support, timing or symbolic presence to bring their suggestions through.