In any society, a human embraces a pyramid of relationships or bondings: we relate closely and personally on a daily basis with up to perhaps twenty people; we find neighbourhood or extended family security amongst up to 100ish people – nowadays including work-mates, neighbours, associates and members of our peer-groups; we identify with up to perhaps 500 or so people on 'hello' terms; we identify with a few thousands as a localised or specialised identity-group, and with tens of thousands or some millions as a regional, national or ethnic identification. When relationships reach into the thousands, they become more abstract, custom- and law-bound, impersonal, vicarious, functioning through public mechanisms and arrangements.
Identification with large numbers of people, in thousands and millions, happens through social structures. To form such structures, people find common-ground linking factors, shared beliefs or interests which offer a bridge to communication, exchange and co-identification. Membership qualifications of some kind become important.
People form sub-groups in order to feel bigger than we are as individuals. We form larger confederal identity-groupings where membership can be loose and unstructured, yet nevertheless with certain rules and norms, stated and unstated. Membership confirms belongingness amidst a vastness of human variety and world geography. Sometimes common-ground factors can be quite vague, even artificial: the identification of 'Christians' distinguishes them from non-Christians, but it does not exclude the possibility of some Christians excommunicating, banishing or killing other Christians, or of some Christians considering themselves to be more Christian than others. Similarly an ethnic or national group might think of itself as one nation of a common gene-stock when in fact it is quite extensively mongrelised.
The tribal identification process arises out of a need to classify other people as Us or Them. We have a factual difficulty personally bonding with more than a certain number of people, plus a subjectively-felt insecurity in the face of masses of people. Thus they implicitly form a potential threat to us. Insecurity surfaces when the proportion, influence or position of them in relation to us shifts or is deemed excessive or potentially overwhelming.
This insecurity arises from unconscious memories of being on the receiving end of incursions into or impositions on 'our' geographical, economic, religious or social home-space. Such incursions and impositions leave a mark of hurt which, if not consciously felt, nevertheless influences people's values, choices and actions. These might not be consciously remembered and might go far back in history, but they reside as ghosts in the collective or tribal psyche, ready to be revived when certain prompts or reminders come along. This isn't a rational response to situations but, for those experiencing them, they can nevertheless be quite real.
Every social subgroup and every nation has its own definitions of 'us' and 'them', and frequently sub-streams within such groups define these differently too. At times certain people or groups recognised as 'us' can suddenly become 'them' whether they like it or not. This can become quite fluid and schizoid. Westerners regarded Soviet people as 'them' during the Cold War, then suddenly to see them as 'us' in the Gorbachev-Yeltsin period. During the Putin period Russians became half-them again - risky and slightly strange, not quite like us. Meanwhile, Muslims became the new 'thems' once the nasty 'Reds' had packed their ideological bags and become good capitalists.
Geopolitically, the separation or individualisation we have so far discussed is embodied in our concept of nations. By 'nation' I mean peoples who co-identify with each other – whether by race, culture, belief, activity or geography, and whether or not a nation is politically recognised to be a nation. Nations are collective selves, identity-structures.
Despite the existence of the United Nations, an association of national selves which exists to act concertedly as a kind of 'overself' of nations, nations do not yet consent to act as one global whole, with a unity of purpose and without coercion or manipulation. The rowdy rabble of nations today rubs along with a mixture of skill, blunder and luck, occasionally sorted out by the big guys, sometimes falling into quagmires, taps, pits, overflows and outright clashes.
Unity of intent and action is crucial to world salvation, to redemption of the ills of history and to the fulfilment of history's successes. The insecure self-interest pervading international relations – especially rampant nationalism – blocks progress in this. Unity does not have to imply uniformity, imperialism, the influence of dominant powers or the suppression of important issues – such forms of unity conceal and suppress the important fact of human diversity. Our diversity is a human strength, not an obstruction to progress. To put ourselves in another's boots, to see what the world looks like from there, does not have to diminish or threaten our own identity. So it becomes necessary to examine closely the reason why we identify so strongly with our separated collective identities – nations.
There is a complicating factor. Many people live in nations with which they do not wholeheartedly identify – usually because national identity has been imposed on them by someone else - either foreigners or their own ruling elites, or quirks of history - rather than freely and thoughtfully chosen by them. Before people may feel okay about putting national identifications into second place – prioritising essential global unity – we need first to find out what our national identities truly are, on our own terms, unimpeded by foreign values or dictates. In some cases this is relatively simple – Kurds, Welsh or Tibetans are peoples without independent nationhood yet possessing strong ethnic identity and sense of distinction to their neighbours. In other cases it is very difficult – Arabs, Canadians, South Africans, Belgians, Bosnians, Kashmiris and Caucasians are peoples who have complex ethnic identifications to get to grips with - and to some extent such identifications are unproductive.
Our future solution is not a standardisation of humanity into a bland global, bar-coded superstore-culture. Just as biodiversity and genetic diversity strengthen the survivability of an ecosystem, so ethnodiversity protects humanity. The primary urge of nationalism is to delight in one's own cultural characteristics, yet this needs to happen within the larger context of humanity and its implicit unity and cooperation. The nationalism we see today represents actually a neurotic loss of the heart-pulse and core character of a nation or people - arising from an unclarity or uncertainty over core values and characteristics, a nation can build walls around itself, nominally to protect itself but actually ultimately eroding or ossifying itself from within.
Each nation has a valid contribution to make to the world matrix, on terms acceptable both to itself and to others. This sounds like a tall order to the jaded sceptic of today, yet it is a practical necessity. Each nation constitutes a thread in the world tapestry. If the world is to correct its ways, corrective action must be global, voluntarily and independently agreed to by all nations and peoples. Is this possible?
European colonialism of the 1500s-1900s was, initially, a straight case of imperialism in the pursuit of European self-interest. However, it can also be seen as a manifestation of a deeper aspect of the world psyche seeking to unite itself. This is no convoluted justification for imperialist atrocity – it is rooted in the observation that the collective unconscious, if it does not get its way, achieves its objectives by roundabout, even perverse routes. In this context, the world psyche made use of Europeans to assert an international commonality on the world, bound by trickery, materialism, trade and technology. If humanity wouldn't do it by enlightened means, it had to do it by perverse means.
This was probably a last-ditch historical attempt by the world psyche, after several unsuccessful tries, to get humanity to unify. Impossible to bring about consciously because of the resistances we humans throw up, the urge-to-reunification unconsciously manifested itself through the rapacious, flea-ridden, cannon-firing, grog-boozing Europeans, who successfully battered everyone's resistances to pieces.
Had humanity made such a reunifying step earlier in time, the pain of recent imperialist centuries might have been avoided. Interestingly, it was indeed possible for either the Chinese or the Arabs (or both) to achieve this catalytic role too, back in the 1300s-1400s. The Mongols tried it, as did Alexander the Great and his men. Renaissance European culture was brash, raucous and uncouth, likely to succeed in imposing its ways on others worldwide, without compunction – even reaching to hidden tribes in far-distant jungles. Who could resist the cannonball, the trinkets and the demon fire-water (alcohol)? European colonialism was superseded by the techno-economic imperialism of its historic birthchild, USA: Coca Cola is drunk, Big Macs are munched and jeans are worn in every country of the world, so penetrating has American outreach been.
This done, something else began happening in the late 20th century: the previously-colonialised and co-opted nations began to grow in wealth, stature and self-determination, partially through adoption of Western ways and partially through an innovativeness and determination of their own. This led in the 1990s to a shift in the centre of gravity of world economic power toward the Sino-Japanese orbit, and since 2008, the Western recession, other parts of the world - Latin America, Africa, South Asia and the Middle East - joined in. This came hand-in-hand with a shift in moral sway to the Islamic and post-Confucian nations. Euro-Americans are now becoming aware they are a minority, and an ageing one, affected by their past. They are anxiously becoming supplicants. All things do reverse in time!
Yet the future is not about domination: it is about cooperation. At least, this is what the soul of humanity would probably like to engineer, if humanity's ego allowed it. Cooperation is most rational and viable in today's context. The logic of competition which fired imperialism and the growth of modern global culture is also a logic of destruction – survival of the effects of this implies a new international behavioural paradigm. It means fundamental inter-cultural respect and accommodation. It implies an immense meeting of people and of their ways and beliefs: this is the agenda of the coming decades. What we do with that agenda is our choice. In the 20th century we integrated economically and technologically: in the 21st century we encounter the real business – human, moral and cultural accommodation. The acknowledgement of the human family.
Global unity of action to tackle the world's problems can arise either through collective, grassroots choice, made jointly and severally by people of all nations from below, or it can arise through coercion from above, brought about through some form of sophisticated international hegemony or dictatorship, or by trickery. Hegemony or totalitarianism, if successful, will create new forms of damage to the human collective psyche, and while forced cooperation and tolerance might lead to short-term solutions, it would create new longterm problems. This 'dictatorship' might not even be political-governmental: it could be corporate, built from the global structures of multinational business. Such a possibility would likely lead to further historic difficulties. In the short term, though, it might be more effective in dealing with the immense urgencies at hand. That's our option, in our time.
On the other hand, adversity has an immense capacity to galvanise action amongst millions of people, and a grassroots-led transformation is also possible. This implies and invokes an enormous potential resolution of humanity's longterm ills and fault-lines, a healing catharsis of public awareness. Somehow, we all need to fall in love with each other. Yet the way forward is riddled with pitfalls, and much faith and hard swallowing would be needed here too. Grassroots solutions would probably be more difficult to achieve or live with in the short-term, but more effective in the longterm if all worked well. A grassroots-led change-process would probably be more chaotic and lively, more dangerous and potentially triumphant.
Each option would, theoretically, lead us to the beginning of a new chapter, with its own story to tell. Both options lead us very close to the edge of a precipice. Both options have a potential for success, though perhaps only the cooperative model stands to prevail longterm, as far as things now look.
There is a third option too: that humanity bumbles and blunders its way along as it usually does, except that, by dint of either art, intelligence or accident, it bumbles almost unawarely into a period of accelerated change stimulated in parallel from both above and below. Whatever lands up being the case, at the core of all options lies one consistent factor, a change of consciousness, an outbreak of wholesome human qualities and a forward-moving acceleration of change.
I do not count it as a possibility that humanity will destroy itself. It doesn't make sense. It would render all of our past history meaningless, leading toward nothing. It is undoubtedly my perceptual choice to regard history as having evolutionary meaning, with some form of eventual completion and overriding context or narrative, and in this light it is difficult to regard history as meaningless. A point comes where one must make a commitment to play one's part in moving things toward global survival and breakthrough. Even the attempt to predict future scenarios and outcomes is an escape from our true responsibility now.
For me, the main question is: in what way, at what price and in how long a time are we likely to create a new world civilisation – one which embodies all the solutions we need to find? We shall no doubt see. Meanwhile, we have a few things to do.
Women and social medicine
Half of the world's population is female. Written history tends to concern the activities, exploits and ideas of males. Yet when we are looking at the psychology of a nation, women and their feelings about life play a 50% role, perhaps by necessity even a larger role than that at this current time. Women's perceptions of life, their personal happiness and influence feed the collective unconscious quietly and ongoingly – periodically reaching through into the national conscious through the foreground influence of notable women and through the background influence of the mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, lovers and grandmothers of men - or by happenstance.
Women are frequently the moderators of the more rampant kinds of masculine behaviour. They have also been intentional or unwitting manipulators, using men as champions for their causes or sops to their wishes, by direct or vicarious action. Whatever is the case, women have been grossly under-represented in the annals of history, despite an enormous background role. Historians have frequently covered this up, leaving a dearth of reliable records of women's roles in the unfoldment of events. One of the consequences of this has been a recent feminist romanticisation of the role of women in past history.
Yet women, generally more in touch with their sensitivities than men are, with notable exceptions, express the contents of the collective unconscious more readily and more emotionally than men. Women tend to experience and reflect national hurts, feeling, weeping and worrying for the community as a whole, for the young, for domestic harmony, for the dead, for the local landscape and for the soul of the people. Sensitive, principled men exist too, but historically they have been under-represented, overpowered by aggressive, adversarial political systems, keeping their heads down or going quiet when the shouting starts – again with notable exceptions.
Women embody not only a counterbalancing social force to men by ministering to the injured, the deprived and the needy. They are proactively influential, the ones who give birth to, midwife and bring up the whole population in all places and all times. Great is the influence in history of the heated discussion between man and woman, of the tender encounter in love or of the loss of loved ones and kin – mostly unchronicled. Great is the influence of feminine shrewdness and guile. Women's role and influence plays a large part in the dynamics of the collective unconscious – the repressed feelings of millions of people.
It might be a male-dominated world, but it's a female-impregnated world psyche. Held-down feelings surface at poignant times, becoming a major hidden motive force behind many revolutions and periods of change and reform. The elimination of emotionality and feminine observations from historical records now means that a lot of hidden history needs re-examination, not only to restore women to the history books but also to give new significance to sensitivities and feelings as crucial driving-forces in the unfolding of time.
Accumulations of shadowy historical hurts can be healed, and here the role of women is crucial. Women be, while men do – or, at least, this has been a prevalent pattern until today. In the light of this deep psychological complementarity, women generally tend more easily to forgive past excesses and traumas, to avoid power disputes, to build reconciliation and to release past shadows. In this they can be more pragmatic and principled than men.
Social pain is passively healed by time if there is no repetition of hurt. However, if some healing has taken place and the hurt returns again after trust has been built up, it lays a much deeper mark of pain. The lesson to be drawn from this is that the healing process needs to be intentional and consistent – and it probably needs to be managed by a large proportion of women or femininely-sensitive men.