Political Psychology


American elections are a manifestation of a conflict between civilization and the life of instinct.  These phenomena are siblings, but if not managed with wisdom, they can lead to destructive tendencies, a kind of psychic fragmentation of the nation.


Any organization of psyche, whether it is in the structure of the human mind or the structure of the psyche of a nation, is healthy when it approaches “Wholeness,” a concept explored in depth by Dr. Carl G. Jung.  In the case of a nation, this means finding a balance between living within the laws agreed by people and the laws of nature.  If there is anything Americans can agree on today, it is that our national psyche is out of balance.  

In western culture, the Biblical story of Cain and Abel is the classical example.  Genesis 4: 1-16.  There Cain lets his instinctual jealousy rule.  God favored an offering of Abel over Cain’s gift to God, and Cain murdered his brother in a jealous rage.  To this day, some very religiously inclined people pray to Abel as a symbol of righteousness, while Cain is remembered as the first murderer and the son of Satan. 


The entirety of western culture had its origins in that story.  Throughout history civilization is a manifestation of a selection between a way decided upon by people and an instinctual way.  That decision was less important in the ancient past, when there were fewer human beings on the planet, but as the Earth has become more crowded the issues became more complex.  


At the time of Cain and Abel, civilization mattered very little.  If Cain didn’t like the deal Abel got from God, he could have moved over the mountain and never seen Abel again.  Instead, he allowed his rage to get the better of him, and is remembered as the first murderer, a concept that didn’t exist before civilization.  


The instinctual way of survival of the fittest manifested in many ways over the history of western civilization, and the results are exemplified by the monarchies of Europe.  The families who became nobility clearly used the ideas of civilization to control their subjects, but they rose to power because they were the strongest in some way.  If they were wise and managed the balance, they engaged the instincts of their subjects to enhance their power.  If they were not, their monarchies ended.  


Patriarchy and slavery were manifestations of the survival of the fittest.  As humanity grew and divided up the land of our planet, it made sense to divide the labor between the men, who would hunt on, fight for and defend the land, and the women, who would care for the upbringing of the children.  By the same token, groups who were stronger were able to harness the muscle of other groups by dominating them through violence and control.


But the Law of Entropy says that any organization, whether it is the psyche of an individual human being or a nation, will tend to degrade and degenerate.  The strength of the United States has always been its ability to regenerate, because of the constant infusion of new ideas from some of the best brains from every religious, racial, and national group.  Regeneration is infused in the very DNA of the United States of America.  Thanks to this DNA, we always forge a new and stronger country from the best ideas of all.  


Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”  The relative weakness of many other countries is that they don’t try anything else.  


The polarized duality we find in American politics in the second decade of the 21st Century, however, is a manifestation of degeneration.  What seemed like a dominant country in the middle of the 20th Century has devolved into something akin to psychic fragmentation, to entropy, to the “end of empire.”  But the DNA of the nation is strong and diverse, and something new will emerge, which will be even better than before.


Patriarchy, which has been the dominant modus operandi for our species for several millennia, no longer serves us well.  The laws of instinct, which serve the animal kingdom well, call for a sharing of responsibility and benefit between male and female equitably, because both genders must survive and thrive in order for each species to remain strong. These laws are gaining ground within humanity once again as women recognize and assert that there is something beyond their biological role, and that civilization must adjust.  


Thanks to the magic of the Internet, everyone in the world can watch how this works through our Chesapeake Conservancy Osprey camera.  In the cycle of their lives, each year the males and females come together for 4.5 months to fulfill their biological roles, but when they leave they live their lives independently and equally. 


Slavery to the lash has morphed into slavery to debt, in part thanks to the degeneration of the Rule of Law.  Oligarchs, who previously dominated with swords and whips, now control in less visible and more insidious ways that are not understood by most.  But in the end, their policies impoverish the people, and when that happens a revolutionary spirit of the age emerges, and change is in the air. 


We have seen those revolutionary spirits of the age in the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the American Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement of the 1960s, and the Women’s Rights Movement.  The “Baby Boom Generation” was a major contributor to three of those battles.  It was natural enough for the generation that followed to promote a return to balance.  But that balance has been disturbed once again, and our politics are simply a manifestation of that.  


Image credit: © Waamel | Dreamstime.com - Cain Killing Abel In Stained Glass Photo


Skip Conover is an international businessman, author and artist. He is a Founder of the Archetype in Action™ Organization .  You can follow him and his work on Twitter using @skip_conover  or on Pinterest .  Skip's latest book is Political Psychology: New Ideas for Activists.  He is also the author of Tsunami of Blood  .  

Jung for Laymen

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