18. Collective Trauma and National Unity
"The Eleventh Commandment: thou shalt not get found out". – Anon.
The unconscious moves in strange ways. On a deep level it bridges otherwise-separate individualities, drawing us all into unconscious or semi-conscious tribes of origin, background, belief or stance. It acts like a kaleidoscopic pool of imagery and emotions, ideas and archetypes, moving of its own accord, in line with its own laws. It does not accept control, though friendly accommodations are possible if messages from the unconscious are fully noted and worked with by the ego. It changes its fermentations in line with collective emotional temperature, follows its own patterns, tides and turnings. Ordinary people are only partially aware of what is going on in the unconscious sphere, yet they nevertheless act it out.
Everyone has a deeply knowing side which offers intimations of the activities of the unconscious and of the unconscious psyches of others – hidden signals between us communicate far profounder messages than our words and intentional actions. It is rare for a modern person to acknowledge a connection between a passing headache and an earthquake in some distant place or an atmosphere which reflects itself in rush-hour traffic-flows, yet such connections happen.
Even though synchronous links between disparate experiences are not scientifically researched or rationally accepted, this does not mean such a link does not exist. A general rule is: the more attention we give to such messages, the more accurate and valuable they are to us. There are times when ordinary people do experience collective, transpersonal feelings: whole nations can become depressed or elated, afraid or relaxed, working together as a one-minded unity or, alternatively, sundered in schism and disarray - yet such atomisation is still a collective experience.
While this can be connected with the fortunes of the economy or the national sports team, it is usually unconnected to anything so rationally simple and clear. And, in this context, events and trends in the world around us are symptoms, not causes, of the process going on within us, even when the deeper process seems to have been sparked by one or a few events in the world.
Our cultural conditioning patterns cause us to interpret and interfere with these messages by editing, exaggerating, stylising, twisting, glorifying, suppressing or rendering them taboo, unmentionable. It has been the habit of the world's organised religions to take control of the public process of psychic intimation by funnelling symptomatic or prophetic messages in certain controllable directions, by hijacking them, by sidelining them into the safe territory of marginalised sects or heretical cults, by reinterpreting, discouraging or anathemising them – depending on the degree of religious centralism or liberalism at the time. Nowadays, imagery from the public unconscious is profitably exploited by the film and publishing industries, and social fantasies are ventilated and defused through timely blockbusters or through psychic tsunamis coursing through modern social media.
Society as a whole is trained to ignore or diminish unconscious expressions. However, psychic intimations are an integral part of the folklore and ancient pre-doctrinal magical religions of all cultures – nowadays they are called shamanism or paganism. Modern enthusiasts tend to package such numinous wilderness-realities as consumable 'isms' to be systematically learned in workshops, sanitised of the danger of dark and cold creepy nights, murky deep forests or searing desert expanses. However, the secret of their power lies in precisely these very inhospitable realms of reality.
In Christian and post-Christian societies, messages from the unconscious have generally been forbidden: they challenge the authority of pope and priesthood, or in modern times, scientists, media and other guardians of public sanity and compliance. The early papal demolition of the original variants of Christian practice such as Coptic, Monophysite, Arian, Eastern and Celtic Christianity, and the later heresy-burnings and witch-hunts of late medieval and Renaissance times were a form of ideological and spiritual 'cleansing' of the European psyche. Whether the European psyche became genuinely cleaner as a result, and whether such cleansing was desirable, is a matter of conjecture – it certainly initiated the waxing European habits of standardisation and social control, reaching horrific proportions in the time of Hitler and Stalin.
Diminution of the power and influence of the unconscious psyche was deeply bound into the stepwise disempowerment of women and reduction of female influence in society. It gradually created a legitimised culture of insensitivity and institutionalised brutalism amongst men – many of whom adopted it out of concealed weakness and fear of exclusion. Interestingly, the modern historic backlash of feminism against this tendency originated in the culture where such suppression of the influence of the feminine was greatest – in Euro-America.
The Islamic world comes next: though Islam itself is not doctrinally anti-feminine (Muhammad himself was surrounded and sustained by many women), Arabic, Berber and Persian cultural traditions imposed strong feminine subjugation, bending Islamic canonical interpretation to follow suit. The Chinese and Indian worlds are also yet to go through a feminisation process.
Underlying public consensus is increasingly, in all sectors of world society, being influenced by women and by feminine values, through women's own actions and through the indirect influence women have on men. However, even though Euro-American society is largely secular, roughly similar psychodynamics continue as in the Christian period, so deeply ingrained are they. Unhelpful historic psychological patterning takes a lot of time and effort to shift.
In the case of repressed 'devil-worship' and 'avoiding evil' material in the European psyche, such a fundamental shift involves willingly facing up to things we have been trained to fear and dread – it involves adapting, amongst other things, to the raw menstrual-cyclic power and post-menopausal perspective of womankind, and to the insights women have to which men are not privy.
Some people do intentionally plumb the depths of the unconscious: artists, poets and writers, seers and intuitives, or simply sensitive ordinary people. Men who have stepped out of line and ventured into the realm of the imagination through hereticism, mysticism, adventure, creativity, deprivation, drugs or even boredom have had the dubious advantage of a clearly-split hemispheric psyche, emphasising the contrasts between left- and right-brains and broadcasting it through the arts or dissident movements.
Women, with generally more highly-integrated brain-hemispheres, are blessed with a relative capacity for integral rather than extremist forms of thinking. Today, it could even be said that the world relies on women and feminine-oriented ideas and perspectives for the maintenance of peace and sanity – outlooks which emphasise interdependence and sensitivity, dream-stuff, compassion and daily-life practicality, instead of individualistic, competitive materialism.
Sensitive and creative people might or might not be aware of their receptivity to the unconscious, and they might or might not act on it consciously. Nevertheless, one thing which seems to be true is that many if not most of the great initiatives, innovations, discoveries and radically new developments in history have begun as a message from the unconscious – a dream, a hair-raising feeling, an 'aha' or 'eureka' experience, a hunch or instinct, a specific inwardly-received calling or an unexplainable urge.
A small proportion of these dreams make a dramatic effect on people and history – though many are the dreams which have been unexpressed or never manifested, and many are the visionaries who stayed at home, kept quiet or landed up in jail or dead. Many dreams land up drowned in the bottle, too: our officially rationalist society does not welcome brilliance, innovation or insightfulness except in commercially or institutionally acceptable forms.
The unconscious develops its imagery and its bundles of deep psychic energy in connection with the distilled underlying experiences of people. Serbia gives a classic example of the evolution of a national victim-master complex, arising around a subjective feeling of basic inadequacy as a people and precipitated by shocks and traumas arising from both internal and external historic sources. This feeling is not unique to Serbia – humanity as a whole has, deep in its past, turned away from its soul and its inherent purpose, and the psycho-spiritual price for this is built into history, civilisation and their discontents.
There is in the collective psyche an underlying, indefinable feeling of having failed ourselves. This feeling feeds a propensity for guilt. Every culture, in its own way, reflects this underlying empty feeling of abandonment, of having wrought wrong or of having been wronged – this emptiness arose because humanity abandoned the spirit for apparently richer materialistic pastures. Yet it found a poverty of meaning and spirit to which we have never, as whole cultures, owned up. However, some nations and peoples nowadays carry a heavier load of collective guilt than others, on behalf of others – American blacks, Welsh, Basques, Indian Dalits (Untouchables), Jews, Sikhs, Kurds and Mayan Zapotecs provide examples. This guilt is not necessarily their own, though it is borne by them.
The Serbian story started in the earliest times, when Serbs first felt themselves to be a distinct family of tribes. Driven west and south from the quiet forests of heartland Russia by incursing Hsiung Nu and Avars, groups of Slavs, Serbs with them, entered the Balkans, settling in what is now Kosovo in the late 500s CE. Their emotional links with Russia were then cut off by a convergent Bulgar and Germanic expansion along the Danube valley. Thus the Serbs became a surrounded and embattled people: they had suffered long insecurities, and now there were more. Embattled peoples, once they find a land or national symbols to hold onto, do so with vigour.
They had moved into the Balkans during a weakening of Byzantine influence there. The Byzantines had tried to affiliate Serbs to the power of Constantinople through evangelisation: they succeeded, but this did not achieve the outcome they sought. The Serbs adopted Christianity, but they adapted it in their own manner as an independent national symbol, bolstering them against both Byzantine and Latin influence. Religious affiliation in those days was an intensely political issue, bringing with it both sacred and profane influences – and it meant a lot in business, tithes and taxes.
This sense of being pressured and surrounded by foreign forces was to characterise Serbian mentality to this day, rendering national survival into a question of domination or subordination by others. This master-victim complex is a symptom of perceived inferiority. Sense of subordination or shortcoming might actually be the driving force behind all expansionist empires. The master-victim virus variously infected many peoples at that time. Some peoples 'won', some 'lost'.
Governance and national unity
Within the political systems of all countries there have been thoughtful, far-sighted, public-spirited individuals who tend to contribute to the general good, and there have been self-seeking people with a need to achieve notable things for their own gratification and power – power over others rather than for and on others' behalf. Then there are majorities of more ordinary folk with moderate and modest aspirations, dedicated to living a relatively simple and satisfactory life. The internal state of health and happiness of nations rises and falls according to atmospheric qualities and agendas at play at any time, reflected in the tone of treatment with which people deal with each other.
True national greatness doesn't arise from conquering neighbours or from valiantly defending the nation, notable though this might sometimes be – this is greatness only in a heroic sense acting out the concocted dramas of a nation's narrative. It is rooted in an artificial strength derived from strife, and strife itself represents a failure or breakdown of social integrity. A nation is truly great when it is in a state of infrastructural peace, security, fruitfulness and creativity, such that its people are inherently happy and making meaningful progress – its children may grow up with encouragement, safety and hope, without trauma.
In such a situation, coercion and force function either at a low level or not at all, and the individuals within nations voluntarily consider themselves all to be sharing a common destiny. Even if such a society is stratified, subdivision is seen to be acceptable or fair, to everybody's advantage, if the powerful and the deprived have a mutually-beneficial relationship, where the rich and powerful serve the poor as well as the poor serving the rich. Stratification becomes unhealthy when it becomes excessive, unjust, stultified or immobile.
National trauma – nightmarish insecurity, harm or horror – arises both from internal tensions and external threats. As both Lao Tzu and the Arthurian romances sought to convey – both of these expressed ancient fundamental cultural wisdoms – a nation becomes great when the ruler or governing organ and the public are aligned to nature, to each other and to the 'mandate of heaven'. This archetypal notion of 'divine right' to rule was rooted in a concept of power-channelling, of service by a ruler to the people – a notion subsequently twisted and abused by rulers to justify their unwholesome behaviour and illegitimate claims on temporal power.
When rulers, however chosen, regard themselves as servants of the public, and when the public perceives the benefits of good governance and the legitimacy of the ruler as a just interpreter of divine and social order, there tend to be integrity and fruitful relations in the land. Additionally government, however defined, renders itself supportable and legitimate in the eyes of people by building a consensual atmosphere of creativity and mutual support. However, lasting order is not something which can be imposed from above – such control inevitably disintegrates since it rests on shifting foundations.
Rather, true order is assumed and reinforced by people of all social levels themselves, by mutual agreement and implicit consensus. One of the mistaken ideas of modern democratic thinking is that it is presumed that ordinary people wish to participate in ongoing social decision-making: often they do not, preferring instead to participate mainly in crucial pattern-forming decisions. As Confucius pointed out, misgovernment and unjust social order deserve overthrow, and the people do possess a prerogative to assert their will if things have gone irreversibly wrong. This is an item of Confucian philosophy which Chinese traditionalists have often forgotten or kept quiet about.
Many people have seen social justice and genuine security only occasionally – it is an exception in folk-memory rather than a norm. However, this rarity does not render social justice and equity into 'just an ideal'. More realistically, justice is a practical situation which humanity has ongoingly failed to create. It is what nations unconsciously strive for. Justice is the very basis of the western mythology of the Millennium – a prolonged period of right relations, good conduct and semi-divine happiness on Earth, following a conflagration of truth which eliminates the ills of the past.
However, different nations have differing relations with their own collective unconscious, and while they might unconsciously crave such an earthly order, they can also suppress such a possibility by perceiving liberation or change as an anarchistic, chaotic and threatening force – after all, true law and order demands that ordinary folk as well as rulers rise to their full human potential and act maturely from that viewpoint. That's frightening – it's much safer to cower in the cesspool of suffering we know so well than to risk the happiness we don't know! So nations can and do fight against the possibility of fulfilling themselves as nations, heading instead in the opposite direction. Once a nation enters into such a self-undoing habit, such a habit is hard to break.
There is a deeper dimension to this matter of governance. Governments of all kinds, whether elected or autocratic, can have times of beneficence and inspiration, though there can arise key problems. In a specialised and stratified society, those specialising in government (legislators, executives and administrators) inevitably lose touch with their populations unless there is a deep-seated moral-administrative ethic of service and impartiality inbuilt into the system. Chinese mandarins (educated, examination-selected appointees) and Ottoman janissaries (educated administrator-eunuchs and slaves) represented attempts to create innovative power-structures in large-scale empires – in both cases, these administrators were put in charge of regions where they were themselves outsiders, they were disallowed from land-owning and regularly moved around to prevent the growth of corruption and regional power-cliques.
Without such systemic quality-control over governance, regimes of all kinds inevitably become self-oriented and self-perpetuating, dissociated from ordinary society and increasingly seeking to control and to bleed it of its innate wealth and humanity. The interests of the people are overridden by the interests of privileged groups. This leads to inevitable trouble, however long it takes to break out. The people (the unconscious) inexorably rise against or subvert the institutions of state (the ego) unless the latter recognises and responds to the former.
However, deep in the unconscious memory of peoples there lies the memory of more ancient, simpler societies where governance was much more of a consultative, tribal and consensual arrangement. On key issues, elders or chiefs would call assemblies, consult oracles or enact systems where the people's issues were heard and where balanced outcomes were often achieved. They thought on behalf of the whole and consulted the whole when necessary.
The survival and health of any tribe depended greatly on the wholehearted and equal support of all its members, since relationships were inter-personal, not abstract and impersonal. Not only this, but there is deep memory of times when the members of tribes were emotionally and genealogically interconnected with one another as kith and kin, strongly positioned to think and act as one being, as one collectivity with a soul of its own. Families have such resonant commonalities within them and so do tribes. The ancestors were invoked to give this tribal soul continuity and maturity of wisdom.
Collective consciousness thus deeply 'remembers' a crucial aspect of human potential: the capacity of a people to carve out their lives as one people, to act as a psychic-spiritual family and to act with a co-responsibility and co-integrity of a kind unavailable today. This leads towards the notion of abolition of government (or much of it) – which is what communists and anarchists have vaguely sought in recent centuries. Such an image has more recently been captured by right-wing populists to attract support for exclusivist, deregulated free-market agendas which actually favour only the privileged – reduction of government power is thus seen as a way of softening the moderating justice a government can offer.
However, this is not what we are talking about here – we are looking at inclusive, emotionally-bonding social structures, which represent a higher order of social organisation rooted in enhanced human awareness and social love. It is an extension of tribalism yet it steps beyond it by sheer dint of its scale and sophistication. Governmental institutions as we know them thus can become partially or wholly obsolete – if individuals and nations have evolved to such a stage that enforced laws and social rules become unnecessary. Or, more pragmatically, government becomes a genuine coordinator and enabler of social energies without controlling and enforcing in the way they do now.
Theoretically, norms and practices to reinforce social integrity need to be internalised by all individuals, who then maintain social standards by dint of consensus. While this seems to be an improbability in the eyes of most modern commentators, it nevertheless exists as a deep-seated image or ideal in the collective unconscious. Being there, it rises to the surface occasionally, to activate human ambition and vision – sometimes in a progressive, sometimes in an irritating way. The cry of "Freedom and Democracy" uttered in 1989 was an example of this deep dynamic at work – every person whose feelings quickened to this call has a buried utopian vision stored in their genes.
Sometimes, however, such ideas are prematurely flouted in opposition to repressive or sclerotic regimes while, on the downfall of such regimes, libertarian innovators who gain power either moderate or reverse their ideas when in office or they are forcibly superseded by populist power-merchants – thus the French and Russian revolutions ended in dictatorship. True social freedom is not just an idea to buy into or vote for – it is a daily-life condition resting on a deep maturing of the spirit and fabric of society.
A case in point was demonstrated by the Palestinians in recent decades. Thrown off 60% of their land in 1948 and then the rest being occupied in 1967, they lived with no proper governance except a military dictatorship for several decades. Yet during this time they formed a consensus to cooperate with each other - crime plummeted and social support systems operated through families, clans and neighbourhoods to the extent that life was manageable, even under great duress.
This matter of good governance and co-responsibility concerns practicalities as well as the human soul: it concerns the investments farmers make in long-term land-improvements; the generational sustainability of soil, water and forests; the affinity people have for other members of their society (particularly its losers); the enactment of wise laws and social arrangements; the quality of education and healthcare; the use of money and resources; the stimulation of culture and the architectural design-quality of streets and buildings.
If resources and young men are invested in warfare, the land and people lose strength in the longterm. If the subtle nuances of natural childbirth are honoured, babies are born happily and society becomes stocked with balanced, sharing, self-determining people. If mutually-assured security prevails, financial, logistical and cultural resources are reinvested in socially-enriching activities. At core, if people act with good conduct, the spirit rules in the land and decisions made will generally be to the natural benefit of the whole. The atmosphere of a country defines its decisions and events.
Returning to our friends the Serbs, recent history demonstrates that such a threshold of social integrity was never successfully crossed by Serbian people. They saw other nations and peoples achieve perceived successes, but they were unable to attain such a satisfying situation themselves. This in not unusual, and the successes of other nations around them had questionable outcomes too, but this unsuccess still stained the Serb national psyche, imbuing it with a sense of ungrasped opportunity and innate deficiency of greatness.
Such a feeling lurks surreptitiously in the closed-off cellars of any national psyche, colouring that nation's historic actions and responses. It ferments over the centuries, released only when the nation goes through a therapeutic purgation or a transformation of that creeping doubt. Central to this transformation is national self-forgiveness and a return to the roots and core of true national purpose.
Some of Serbia's historic power-brokers and public figures will have greatly contributed to national hurt and degeneration of social standards, as in all countries. These power-brokers are of small individual relevance except in terms of what they represent in a nation's psyche.
An important healing process for a nation is to re-evaluate its history by identifying its true villains and its healers from a new viewpoint – looking beyond traditional reverence for national heroes or disapproval of notorious figures or scapegoats. Often such elevation or disdain has been set in motion by the ruling elite, anxious to frame and chronicle national history in the light of its own priorities. This internal factor – the historic behaviour of a nation's own people and figureheads – is possibly greater in its effect on a national psyche than external pressures and problems.
This is because external pressures often (but not always) psychologically reflect the internal state of a nation and its own power-brokers. In all international conflicts it always takes two to tango – even if the apparent aggressor usually tangoes more intentionally than the apparent victim. Even in the case of utter historic surprises – such as the sudden incursion of Asiatic hordes into Europe or the colonial arrivals of Europeans in Africa, Asia and the Americas – there is something in the recipient cultures which either attracts their disruptive or destructive influence or at least allows them in – even if it is misapplied trust.
On the arrival on its thresholds of foreign people and influences, a healthy, vibrant society will enter into internal dialogue, then external negotiation from a basis of strength or integrity, while an unhealthy or arthritic society will enter either into submission or conflict – or worse, one sector of society betrays others for their own advantage. A healthy society can rebuff, absorb, accommodate and utilise new influences, while an insecure society which does not feel good about itself either collapses or fights. It depends, therefore, how psycho-spiritually vibrant or degenerate a nation is.
Social degeneration involves the betrayal of society by self-interested magnates, the killing or suppression of good and valuable people, the hectoring or banishment of truth-speaking individuals, the subversion of unspoken consensuses of social decency and the general breakdown of acceptable norms and cooperative social behaviour. It leads to the rise of social atomisation and defensiveness. In Britain, this is shown archaeologically in the remains of thousands of hill-forts built in the centuries before Christ, when settlements were moved to the tops of hills, stockaded and defensively-built to protect people not against armies but against other tribes.
Magnates are frequently the perpetrators of such socially-degenerating tendencies. It is also true to say that all members of a population have the power to allow this or prevent it - at least at certain critical junctures where action is needed but quite often not taken.
The existence of magnates is not inherently the problem, even though intercommunication between different sectors becomes more difficult as social specialisation grows. The key to the problem is the terms and atmosphere – consensus or coercion – by which specialisation occurs. This itself depends on the awareness and consideration operating amongst individuals in the population. When elites gain power they encourage or exploit apathy, powerlessness and indifference amongst the public as a whole – social degeneracy starts from here. For this reason, the responsibility for social downfall rests with everyone.