The Meaning of America

Peter Pan never grew up!    While Wendy, his anima in the beloved tale, did grow up, Peter went back to Never Never Land—a fantasy land where he could fight fantasy pirates and have fantasies about things the way he wanted them to be.  

Unfortunately, the world of the 21st Century is quite different from the story.  We face real pirates, who have come of age on a diet of greed in our business schools and misbegotten religious doctrines.  America’s Lost Boys don’t want to think about that, because to do so would be to put aside infantile solutions and diversions, which hide what has been done to the great work of earlier generations.  

Dr. Carl G. Jung wrote extensively about the archetypal passages of life.  These archetypes of our unconscious are constellated by various events in our external lives, and they guide us instinctively through a normal human life.   Unfortunately, for most American men the process was skewed by major events in the real world, and many of them never grew into the appropriate mental attitudes of maturity.  

Three of the key archetypes of male psychic development are The Lover, The Warrior, and The King.  Most men have no problem with the first of these because, as soon as puberty strikes, they learn how to be a lover.  Some woman matches his anima well enough, and they’re off to parenthood.  American men have always done just fine with that phase of psychic development.

Many American men seem to have gotten hung up on the first phase of the second psychic step, which is The Warrior.  It is quite natural and instinctive that American men heard the call to arms after 9/11, and the warrior archetype emerged from their psyches as it has for all beings since the beginning of everything.  The natural reactions are fight or flight, and for maturing young men the tendency has always been to fight.   This was the point Osama bin Laden failed to understand, thereby constellating the warrior in all Americans, while failing to appreciate the strength of American resolve in battle.

But there is a later stage of The Warrior archetype, which seems missing among many returning veterans.  According to my friend, Dr. Jean Raffa, “In his final phase The Warrior is like a Hercules, Samurai Warrior or Star Wars Jedi Master, who uses his expertise, self-discipline, courage, caring and moral maturity to heal the broken, protect the vulnerable, defend human rights, and preserve every form of life.”  

In some sense our culture cuts American men off from development into this final phase of The Warrior archetype.  Our failure to adequately recognize our Vietnam Veterans gave rise to a childish regression, where we thump our chests and seek new recognition for doing our duty in a dangerous time.  The result is that we have super-hyped Veterans Day, where all of us want to be thanked, but have forgotten to thank school teachers, medical professionals, civil servants, hospice workers and so many others, who labor in obscurity and very difficult situations for decades without special days of remembrance.  

Here American manhood is defined by prowess on the sports field, or if we cannot play because of skill or age, then at least an obsession with sports as a primary interest is expected.  Maturity and society be damned!  

A symptom of this is the televised ritual preparation of “the bracket” by the President of the United States during “March Madness,” when he gives his predictions for the results of the NCAA championship basketball tournament.    In my wildest dreams I cannot imagine Dwight Eisenhower agreeing to do this, but somehow our infantile sports networks need this to reassure this generation of American men about their manhood by establishing the importance of their obsession.  If it’s important to the President, it must be important.  

Another symptom is the angst being shared with us by the sports networks, which keep wanting to suggest that the idea of the permissibility of professional athletes abusing their wives and children is a subject for us to debate.  Is that really the kind of society we want to promote?  These are not the kind of heroes we want! Only an infantile person with arrested development would suggest that it is or give a debate on the topic any television time at all.  

Don’t get me wrong.  Sporting events are fine as an entertainment and diversion, but so many of my fellow American men are obsessed with knowing everything about every play by our modern day gladiators, who are invariably young men.  By this vicarious occupation of their mind, they have avoided the responsibilities of a mature man in society.  Our world is complex, and requires the best of our minds applied to it.  Our wives and children need our appropriate attention to their needs, just as we expect them to have concern for ours.

The mature man is represented by the archetype of The King, who is a mature and wise masculine sovereign of his psychic life.  Things like sporting events can amuse him, but like the King Arthur of legend, he needs to put aside childish things and be an active promoter of healing change, order, virtue and justice in himself and society.   

This was the legacy of The Greatest Generation, which made America the envy of the civilized world.  Have we lived up to their promise? The problems we have are real problems, which cannot be solved by make believe about our manhood as it was thirty years ago, nor by the infantile behavior of sporting figures, who never grew up and may not have had father figures to teach them to respect women and children.  

I ask you to consider whether you are using sporting events for what in psychology is called “avoidant coping,” where they become an excuse for avoiding your mature responsibilities as a man.  Or are they simply an amusement, in reasonable measure? If you talk about your military experience, what are you trying to achieve?  Is it just camaraderie among your fellow veterans, or are you trying to puff yourself up with reflected glory? 

In the play Peter Pan, while the Lost Boys are adopted by Mrs. Darling and do grow up, Peter never does.   I’m sure this is a painful essay for some of my fellow men to read, but if it is painful to you, perhaps it’s time to grow up!

Some of the important issues mature men need to address right at home are:

1. Teach your sons proper respect and consideration for women and children.  People who condone sexual activity without consent of women need to be chastised, wherever they are found.  

2. Teach your sons that violence is a last resort to settle any fight, and it is certainly entirely unacceptable against vulnerable women and children.  

3. Demand that professional sports organizations suspend any member that gets involved in a child or spousal abuse controversy, and let those cases be tried in the courts, not on our television screens, where “fairness” makes it look like there is a question that is open for debate.  Mature men know better.   

4. Promote the values that made America strong, including the tolerance of opposing views.  Our vigorous debates are the cause of our strength as a nation, not a weakness.  Countries that stifle debate ultimately fail in important ways.  

5. Recognize that the strength of our country is based on the best ideas from every national, cultural, religious, ethnic and racial group in the world, each and every one of which is represented among American Citizens.

6. Make America the shining example of a better world, led by the best of the best of every group, which respects the rights of every human being.

7. Recognize that all cultural groups evolved in their own ways, based on their own environments and ideas, and each of them will continue to evolve at their own speed.  It is not the job of America to change them directly, unless they directly threaten us because of their own psychic epidemics.  Even if war is occasionally called for by circumstances, we can never expect that we can change the psychological development of another society.  The best we can and should do is defend ourselves from the aberrations that emerge.  

8. It is our responsibility to provide an example of what is possible, and do what we can to facilitate the psychological maturity of all societies, including our own.  As I often say, America represents the essence of the human spirit allowed to develop to its fullest potential.  Are you contributing to that example?


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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