Ghosts and Ghouls of Nations

Issues that nations avoid facing


Fear, guilt and shame: these are common hidden factors in geopolitics.

Fear is an aversion to being revisited by past horrors, actual or imagined - an anticipation of danger or loss of control making a situation into a threat. Healthy fear alerts us to danger, readying us for action. Unhealthy fear comes from painful memories, preventing or skewing action.

Guilt is a tainted feeling of culpability for actions believed to be wrong or harmful. We fear being singled out and held responsible. Sometimes it is incorrect, exaggerated or misplaced. It is relieved by taking responsibility and correcting things. Then there is projected guilt - false or inaccurate accusation.

Shame is a feeling of having failed oneself or others - one could have done better. Mere association or complicity feeds shame - and enormous compensations are made to avoid it.

These feelings undermine the self-respect of peoples and nations, distorting their sense of reality. They cause irrational behaviour and elaborate avoidance tactics. They lead to great expense, complexity and loss of vitality, standing and integrity.

Situations reactivating such feelings are often rewritten, re-edited or forgotten, to make them more livable with, yet they nevertheless affect people's and nations' feelings and actions from underneath. However much re-editing of memory goes on, unconscious memory remains active and does not delete what has happened. So unconscious behaviour follows, exposing the true agenda through public errors, slips of the tongue, body language, tone of voice and over-reaction to charged situations. Or accidents, disjuncts, crises, weather extremes, tragedies, riots or social shocks.

Guilt and shame hover near the surface when nations and people approach sensitive thresholds such as independence, peace after war or the joining of an international organisation. Hidden history generates nervousness over national weaknesses or past crimes being exposed.

Quirks of forgiveness


Guilt drapes itself around the smallest of things. Australians love thrashing England at cricket - it's a get-back at age-old Pommie imperialist arrogance. The English no longer excel in sports they once invented. This exposes British pride - more paintwork than substance.

Relief and release can be feared most of all. In conflict-ridden places a violent minority can dedicatedly maintain a climate of fear to stop peace. Peace gives space for shame, guilt and accountability to emerge - fearsome not just for perpetrators but also for victims who don't want to feel their pain. Continued hardship seems better.

Social truth can involve a cooling down of the social heat that created conflict or hardship and a warming up of the social coldness that permitted polarisation and atrocity to break out. It involves re-knitting society to bring social extremes in from the margins. This works fine if there is reciprocal movement by all parties, but badly when some parties seek resolution while others don't.

Regret or reparation are less important than clear signs that behaviour is now acknowledged and ended. Past error can add to future benefit, but only when error is seen and genuine justice restored. 'Owning up'.

Everyone must re-enter the present and drop the past. To do so, we must own up to our actions in the past.

Troublemakers express bottled-up energies for the collective unconscious. Like leaders they are a lightning-rod for hidden issues, otherwise unarticulated. It takes a hurt person to be a terrorist, publicly expressing feelings a society dare not think privately to itself. Terrorism lives in every one of us. Officially we want peace - unconsciously we create terror. To free the world of terrorism, we must own up to our part in it.

We create unconsciously whatever we most fear. For Israelis, the fear of exile is so strong that they can overreact, seeking to annihilate those who threaten them. This has created Palestinian suicide bombers in retaliation. This high-stakes purgative path is not advisable.

Yet, to make things better, things sometimes have to get worse. The unconscious dynamics of this conflict are enormous, as if both sides are trying to make things so bad that something deep is burned out on both sides.

Fear and horror as medicinal healers


Every year, a new horror breaks out somewhere. Standards of negativity are getting worse. Nuclear war is less feared now than 30 years ago, yet eight nations still have 20,000 nuclear warheads between them.

We cannot vainly expect nukes and arms to go away. There are as many automatic weapons in the world as agricultural implements. This is a disgrace to us all.

World violence has escalated to a point where the world's people, fed by the media, personally witness every kind of ugly action humans can possibly concoct.

Human sensitivity has increased too - in the 1950s-70s horror and violence in films and TV were more accepted than today. Our growing sensitivity vies with 'compassion fatigue' and image-saturation, but each few years it shifts forward another notch.

During the genocidal killings in Rwanda in 1994, we witnessed horror of an ultimate, primeval kind. Stung by events like this, the feelings and sympathies of millions are stirred up and churned at a deep level.

As in butter-making, churning consolidates something new. Indifference is slowly transforming through shared pain into a healing balm of conscience and empathy. Horrors like these remind us of our own darkest feelings.

Guilt creates lurking stains on history. There are unpaid national and social debts that élites and the public prefer to forget: it's easier to rewrite history, divert attention and cover the tracks. These avoidance strategies get very intricate. Sooner or later they blow.

Compound guilt has led the world into moral compromise. Nations and vested interests scratch each other's backs in silent complicity, avoiding upsetting an international balance of untruth.

As a result, environmental degradation, corruption, debt, the arms trade, AIDS and corporate proliferation are permitted to continue. The price of disturbing the status quo is seen to be higher than the price of maintaining it. How disastrously wrong this is.

Moral authenticity


A nation is in a sorry state when it resorts to dishonesty to progress its cause.

The psyches of most nations have authenticity problems. The world needs a psychological shake-down, a cleansing of hidden agendas. This will allow things to progress.

Hidden agendas are usually fought out through conflict and manipulation of power, but this cannot continue.

Avoidance of truth and cooperation will, as the years roll on, charge an ever-increasing price: geopolitical games are becoming increasingly transparent.

If a nation mistreats other nations, or its own people, it dishonours and shames itself. It becomes unbelieved and disrespected, ultimately risking making itself a pariah state.

Shame and guilt are unconsciously felt by every nation. This can be internally debilitating. It festers within collective memory, awaiting circumstances in which to rise up and haunt the nation again.

Unconscious feelings are articulated by poets, comedians, freethinkers or priests, enacted by activists, protesters, philanthropists and social deviants, or expressed by women, underdogs or minority groups.

These commentators raise questions, struggle with the issues and implicitly suggest answers. This points to the redeeming grace concealed within guilt: it promotes conscience.

Following WW2, a burst of conscience motivated the UN Charter of Human Rights, an historic landmark. Guilt precipitated the NATO intervention in Bosnia in 1995, three years late. Better late than never.

When a nation or the world can no longer square with its guilt, times of truth inevitably follow. Full reconciliation of profound issues can take generations, but it starts when a nation acknowledges its errors and its shame.

Righting wrongs


Collective realisation quickly re-draws a nation's reality-map. The benefits of truth are suddenly seen to outweigh the costs.

It took USSR thirty years, until the late 1980s, to face the full buckling cost of Soviet centralism and realise it could not maintain its superpower status. Centralism proved a blessing too: if the man at the top makes a decision, it happens.

Meanwhile, the West, which could also benefit from perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (transparency), failed to own up and reciprocate USSR's truth-process.

The West will face the full buckling cost of capitalism, militarism and consumerism when its economies stop generating sufficient wealth to avoid the question, delegating those costs to others. It is constrained by having no central decision-maker at the top - double trouble looms.

Since 1945 Germany has regularly been reminded of its former crimes. Time has now passed. Germany has since been an aid donor, a refugee haven, a diplomatic conciliator and an economic engine benefiting other nations.

Britain and USA rationalised their war excesses as necessary measures to end WW2. This is arguable but not flawless. All sides in a war partake of responsibility. A full catalogue of UK and US errors would be immense - full admission would clear the air. They cannot rightly deliver moral lectures unless their own history is cleaner.

Reparation. The value of compensation is debatable and varies from case to case. Recognition of past errors is meaningful emotionally and historically, but is reparation a solution? The main issue is restoration of justice in the present. This means social and cultural change.

There's more truth beneath this. Many cases of oppression, invasion, enslavement or victimisation arise because the victim nation was already divided and susceptible, by dint of its own errors.

Usually there are layers of truth in any situation. Blame often covers these over.

Things have changed


It doesn't heal anything to be backward-facing. What shall we do about the future? What is genuinely needed by victims and the underprivileged to help them to move forward into the future?

And do treaties and 'final settlements', democracy and economic growth relieve the ache left by history and solve all the problems? Or is it deeper down?

We must invest in re-balancing and redeeming the future. Concealed, unspoken truths need to come up and out. We must have done with them. They are lessons learned for future benefit. Otherwise, as Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind".

To reduce the drag-effect of history we need to adopt forward-facing strategies. We live where we live, and what has been done has been done. Things have changed. We start from here.

Every nation has irrational fears, connected to reality, yet crucially exaggerated, inflated with imagery, stuffed with associations and extrapolated to dreadful proportions - when, that is, we let them out to take a look.

Fear anticipates humiliation, terror, exile, powerlessness and annihilation. It feeds on a feeling that we don't have what it takes to handle and resolve things. This is not an objective, factual truth. It's a complex.

Yet it dominates geopolitical relations: axis of evil, terrorism, infidels, epidemics.

Releasing collective fear, guilt and shame is not easy. It requires a buildup of Gandhi's satyagraha - truth force.

Resistance to hidden truth is so habitual and tenacious that it takes unexpected, uncontrollable events to dislodge it. A nation has to be clamped in a vice, unable to wriggle out.

The paradox of shedding a burden of untruth is that life becomes easier. People forgive someone who owns up and genuinely changes. Compensatory, diversionary actions are no longer needed. Things are straighter and simpler.

Welcome to the 21st Century. Eventually, things will get easier for this reason.

Truth in our times


When things have been tough, the public usually wants just to forget the nightmare. This is initially helpful, since the first aim is to stop the horror and restore some normality.

But amnesia is not helpful longterm: it doesn't heal history's pain. It sets it aside, using palliatives such as economic growth, domestic security and good governance. These help, but they're substitutes.

If hardships return later, ghosts and ghouls can rise up again. Small situations and events can be blown out of proportion, the flames fed by buried feelings.

So the amnesia needs to include or be followed by a time of truth. In the 21st Century we must face this.

To create peace and mutually-assured security worldwide, everyone, reciprocally, must choose to trust. Yet painful truths need to emerge. Paradoxically, painful truths do help the restoration of trust.

Social and geopolitical healing are tricky. They take time.

In South Africa, racial reconciliation has proceeded well, except that improvement in economic justice has been slow. Buried pain is complex and goes back a long way. The collective unconscious, unable to express its pain, ventilated itself instead through street crime and AIDS.

Release of pain is something governments cannot easily direct. It requires a social movement, a new shared norm of openness and redemption. Though tragic, secondary social ills such as AIDS force up deep issues. For South Africa it is keeping the transformation process going. If only this could happen otherwise.

The whole world suffers post-traumatic stress disorder. Americans might look comfortable and satiated, but most of them are descended from exiles, refugees, bitter migrants and slaves.

During the 21st C we must somehow put all this behind us. There's too much to get on with. Yet this challenge might help us - we need our arms twisting.

Birth pangs


Collective truth processes are now a high priority. It looks scary. It involves working out ways of doing it successfully.

Without truth processes, the future cannot properly begin - the past will always be dragged along behind. Problems will take time, generations to resolve, but the world needs soon to cross a critical threshold.

Its population needs to feel that progress is being made. A sense of shared progress changes the atmosphere, shifting our orientation back to the future.

No amount of persuasion, declarations, voting, legislation, aid or investment will do it. The big question of current history is emotional.

In the last fifty years the world has changed immensely, yet the structures and terms of operation of the world have not fundamentally changed.

The full advantages of globalisation will not be gained until the heart of humanity itself changes. Humanity's heart needs to be central in the world process. The next step in globalisation lies in the human and cultural realms. This will allow progress in environmental, political, religious and other matters.

To get to the bottom of this human stuff, we must be willing to dig up our ghosts and ghouls, turning them into something better.

Fear transforms into opportunity. Guilt transforms into clarity. Shame transforms into empowerment.

The pain involved in pursuing this process will be smaller than the pain of not pursuing it. This pain is of a very different quality: it is the pain of giving birth.



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