It seems that over the last two to three years, there has been an increasing focus on partisan politics and the presence of identity in the public sphere.
The ways in which we make sense of the world and the criteria and methods we use to do so have become decoupled from a common basis. We never really had this common basis, to begin with, but it seemed that we had a general and unifying sense that we were moving towards facts, reason and evidence-based policy, and away from the rhetoric, mythologizing and scapegoating that were the hallmarks of the great political upheavals of the last century, of National Socialism and authoritarian Russia and China.
Now, with the election of unprincipled populist candidates the world over, who have run successfully on campaigns of fear, division and false promises of wealth and security, it seems that we are far from being past the specter of fascism and authoritarianism. It has assumed a new form, using the laissez-faire legal (hands-off) attitudes to capital and the dealings of corporations to rapidly redistribute vast portions of the overall wealth of society into the hands of a small few.
We are seeing a resurgence of the robber-baron archetype from the early twentieth century, a neo-feudalism where instead of the lord, king, and church, we are subject to the manager, CEO, and company. The same Stockholm-syndrome idolization that colors black the camp of libertarianism is now seeping like ink into the mainstream, with intelligent yet poorly informed individuals providing justifications for unethical and inhumane conduct under the pretense that what is profitable is unquestionably a societal good.
Thanks to advances in the way large corporations and social media companies use algorithms to filter and generate content, the average news-feed on any given social media site have become increasingly self-confirming, an echo-chamber phenomenon that pushes opinion ever towards the extreme end of its spectrum. In addition to this back-of-house programming of the social space, the absence of physical contact between parties leads to far greater degrees of misanthropy and harsh conduct, being that there is no immediate pheromonal or gestural information being communicated between parties.
Subtle paranoias, mistrust, othering, the demonization of the out-group; all of these have become the norm for us over the last few years. We have become severely disconnected from the basic unifying factors of our human existence, and we are being manipulated in our weakened state to accept policies and political changes that are not in the best interests of ourselves, our families, and our futures.
Politics, it is oft remarked, is the shadow cast by business over society. Nowhere in the world is this more apparent that modern-day America. Their elections are bought and paid for by wealthy candidates and their moneyed backers in a wealthy society. Policies are routinely passed that severely compromise the quality of life of those living under them, often to accrue some small material benefit to the already wealthy ruling class.
Various public figures looking to cash in on this phenomena have appeared, among them Stephen Crowder, Milo Yiannopolous, Richard Spencer, Steve Bannon, Ben Shapiro and others. These self-proclaimed radical thinkers have cultivated a large following of mostly young white males, using methods of psychological manipulation and priming common among white-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups to paint their followers as being targeted for destruction or obsolescence by a conspiratorial elite infected by a deadly ideological madness. In a world where women and people of color are increasingly being accepted into positions previously unavailable to them due to discriminatory behavior, white males, who traditionally slid easily into such roles, are the perfect target for this kind of manipulative and divisive rhetoric. It appeals to their sense of entitlement and to their egoic sense of self-reliance and masculinity.
This growing movement of thinly-veiled racism, sexism, and xenophobia has associated itself with a sort of counter-culture, a self-proclaimed “intellectual” movement that sees through the apparent “illusions” propagated by the media. These sorts of vague claims and self-reinforcing narratives are hallmarks of fascism and authoritarian thinking and should be held in the highest degree of suspicion.
In the universities, an increasingly fractious and schismatic leftism has been growing alongside this alternative right. Throwing all eggs into the basket of identity, many scholars and professors and their students are becoming dogmatic around political correctness, demanding at the threat of the termination of employment or the smearing of a person name that they conform to a narrow, prescribed band of thought with regards to the identity and status of marginalized groups of people. While the intent is clearly to create safe spaces for people who are routinely targeted by others and subject to bigotry, verbal abuse and often physical violence, the application of these mindsets tends to veer quickly into the policing of speech and, by extension, by thought.
Many attempts have been made by those in the extreme groups outlined above to suppress and silence opposing views, and many of the average population has been drawn into sympathy with one or the other viewpoint due to a lack of historical context and a lack of genuine critical thought. Many people are now caught in circular arguments around the nature of transgender individuals and their use of language, around the role of capitalism in our society, about the historical nature of socialism, the role of men and women in relation to one another, the presence of racism and sexism in modern culture and so on.
These issues are frankly impossible to resolve at this level of analysis and with this kind of methodology. We cannot reach outwards into the lives of others and fix their issues because we can never know what the fullness of those issues are, nor can we act on behalf of another to heal their trauma. We cannot solve these problems through dialectic, because these problems are not dualistic issues: they have merely been framed that way by the malicious who seek to gain from confusion, and the confused who seek to fix the world before they have addressed the gaping wounds of their own heart and mind.
Fundamentally, the issues we discuss now, whether they be gender politics, racism, sexism, identity, economics, ecological destruction, the decay of democratic forms, these issues are presented in overly simplistic forms and discussed in a manner whereby no genuine insight or change of opinion can occur. They have manufactured distractions from the point where all of us can make the most impact: the immediate present, the here and now of our own lives.
We must recognize that no matter how important these issues feel, they pale in comparison to self-realization, to the process of the self-coming to know itself through deep inner reflection. Indeed, these are issues precisely due to the alienation of mankind from the self. They arise from a schism in the psyche, from the conflict internal to each of us.
“Since men do not know that the conflict occurs inside themselves, they go mad, and one lays the blame on the other. If one-half of mankind is at fault, then every man is half at fault. But he does not see the conflict in his own soul, which is, however, the source of the outer disaster. If you are aggravated against your brother, think that you are aggravated against the brother in you, that is, against what in you is similar to your brother. As a man, you are part of mankind, and therefore you have a share in the whole of mankind as if you were the whole of mankind. If you overpower and kill your fellow man who is contrary to you, then you also kill that person in yourself and have murdered a part of your life. The spirit of this dead man follows you and does not let your life become joyful. You need your wholeness to live onward.”
– Carl Gustav Jung, from “Liber Novus”, “The Red Book”
We rush out into the streets to condemn the fascist, but we have not integrated the fascist in our own heart. We condemn the leftist progressive for his attachment to identity and definition, yet we fear to look inwards to see our own deep-seated attachments to our names, our roles, our definitions of ourselves as good, rational, decent people. Inside each of us lives the murderer, the rapist, the fascist, the tyrannical king and the lowly servant. Inside each of us lies war, death, famine, hatred, evil, misery and caprice, and in our fear and our unwillingness to look deeply into these common human facts, we project our darkness out onto the world and it becomes manifest as fate.
None of us are exempt from this problem. None of us can claim without conceit or egotism to be enlightened beings, free from these inner contradictions and devoid of the wellsprings of great suffering.
So, looking back over these last few years and seeing the great divisions that have arisen, it seems to me that the only sensible way forward is to turn off the news, to set down all of our cherished campaigns and causes and our heady activism, and to draw our attention inwards, to the contradictions within, to the great unaddressed movements of the psyche, and to come to know them as intimately as anything we have ever known. We must each come directly to the addressing of our own lives with our full capacity for conscious attention, with our best critical faculties around us.
There are opposites within the mind that manifest as polarised groups of people in the “real” world. These manifestations are like shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. The substance which creates the shadow is the prima material of the psyche, the innermost mind of each human being. What is unacknowledged becomes fate.
This is the alchemical process, the turning of the lead of dualism and the judging mind into the gold of the marriage of these dualisms into a whole. I cannot stress enough that this is the process by which exterior change will come about, not through the going out into the world or the debating or the formation of theories or groups. The way in which the world changes is through the vessel of the human self, for all life is radial and extends outwards.
The self is the world. The world is the self. If you wish to change the world, look deeply within and discover that the pain and suffering in the world have its origin in you, and nowhere else. The division is within, not “out there” somewhere, and only through the reconciliation of this inner division can the outer wound be closed and healed.
“When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the Kingdom.”
– The Gospel of Thomas, 22