“As events in wartime have clearly shown, our mentality is distinguished by the shameless naïveté with which we judge our enemy, and in the judgment we pronounce upon him we unwittingly reveal our own defects: we simply accuse our enemy of our own unadmitted faults. We see everything in the other, we criticize and condemn the other, we even want to improve and educate the other.”(516)
So said Mr. Jung almost a hundred years ago in the wake of the First World War. Have things changed at all since then? People will say that history repeats itself, and that we should learn from past mistakes to avoid them in the future. Look at how Napoleon tried to invade Russia in the winter, and then Hitler made the same mistake. History will show whether this current war was a mistake or not. But so far, it is certainly looking like one.
Carl Jung, psychologist, devoted a great deal of time and effort to dream interpretation. He believed that the dream state was a definitive part of the subconscious that had not risen to the conscious level. This could include suppressed feelings and memories, or information that we didn’t want to deal with. There could be a lot of symbolism and enigma to the dreams, and to understand them required a concerted effort, by a psychologist of course, to make sense of the dreams.
Jung continues: “Our mentality is still so primitive that only certain functions and areas have outgrown the primary mystic identity with the object. Primitive man has a minimum of self-awareness combined with a maximum of attachment to the object; hence the object can exercise a direct magical compulsion upon him. All primitive magic and religion are based on these magical attachments, which simply consist in the projection of unconscious contents into the object. Self-awareness gradually developed out of this initial state of identity and went hand in hand in hand with the differentiation of subject and object. This differentiation was followed by the realization that certain qualities which, formerly, were naively attributed to the object are in reality subjective contents.”
“But as everyone knows, our self-awareness is still a long way behind our actual knowledge. When we allow ourselves to be irritated out of our wits by something, let us not assume that the cause of our irritation lies simply and solely outside us, in the irritating thing or person. In that way we endow them with the power to put us into the state of irritation, and possibly even one of insomnia or indigestion. We then turn around and unhesitatingly condemn the object of offense, while all the time we are raging against an unconscious part of ourselves which is projected into the exasperating object.” (516)
Has George Bush been irritated by Saddam Hussein? Or by Iraq? Is his entire basis for war and destruction of the enemy more of a projection of his own neuroses?
“Such projections are legion. Some…are favorable, someare unfavorable, but in practice these are never regarded as obstacles because the unfavorable projections usually settle outside our circle of intimate relationships. To this the neurotic is an exception: consciously or unconsciously, he has such an intensive relationship to his immediate surroundings that he cannot prevent even the unfavorable projections from flowing into the objects closest to him and arousing conflicts. He is therefore compelled-if he wants to be cured-to gain insight into his primitive projections to a far higher degree than the normal person does. It is true that the normal person makes the same projections, but they are better distributed: for the favorable ones the object is close at hand, for the unfavorable ones it is at a distance. It is the same for the primitive: anything strange is hostile and evil. This line of division serves a purpose, which is why the normal person feels under no obligation to make these projections conscious, although they are dangerously illusory. War psychology has made this abundantly clear: everything my country does is good, everything the others do is bad. The center of all iniquity is invariably found to lie a few miles behind the enemy lines. Because the individual has this same primitive psychology, every attempt to bring these age-old projections to consciousness is felt as irritating. Naturally one would like to have better relations with one’s fellows, but only on the conditions that they live up to our expectations-in other words, that they become willing carriers of our projections. Yet if we make ourselves conscious of these projections, it may easily act as an impediment to our relations with others, for there is then no bridge of illusion across which love and hate can stream off so relievingly, and no way of disposing so simply and satisfactorily of all those alleged virtues that are intended to edify and improve others. In consequencethe negative projections become increasingly conscious. The individual is then faced with the task of putting down to his own account all the iniquity, devilry, etc. which he has blandly attributed to others and about which he has been indignant all his life. The irritating thing about this procedure is the conviction, on the one hand, that if everybody acted in this way life would be so much more endurable, and a violent resistance, on the other hand, against applying this principle seriously to oneself. If everybody else did it, how much better the world would be; but to do it oneself-how intolerable!” (517)
Wow. Now Jung would possibly claim that Bush is a neurotic. Did Jung meet Bush in a dream? Or perhaps Bush lives in a permanent dream state that makes all these happenings right now seem like reality to him. The self-aggrandizing, do-no-wrong posturing by him is nothing more than this illusion and projecting of personal wrongs onto the other.
“The neurotic is forced by his neurosis to take this step, but the normal person is not. Instead, he acts out his psychic disturbances socially and politically, in the form of mass psychoses like wars and revolutions. The real existence of an enemy upon whom one can foist off everything evil is an enormous relief to one’s conscious. You can then at least say, without hesitation, who the devil is; you are quite certain that the cause of your misfortune is outside, and not in your own attitude. Once you have accepted the somewhat disagreeable consequences of interpretation on the subjective level, however, the misgiving forces itself on you that it is surely impossible that all the bad qualities which irritate you in others should belong to you. By that token the great moralist, the fanatical educationist and world-improver, would be the worst of all. Much could be said about the close proximity of good and evil” (518)
The terrorists are evil. They want to destroy our way of life. We will not let the evil-doers win. The forces of good will defeat the forces of evil. Mr. Bush seems to know who these evil people are. He has told us so, since he is the authority on these matters. It must be a real relief to him that we have these evil-doers in the world. Anything and everything that goes wrong can be blamed on them. Heaven forbid that something bad might happen that would be our fault. The quagmire in Iraq. The prisoner abuse scandal. Enemy detentions. Wedding bombings. Nope, not our fault-we are stopping the devils’ work.
Jung: “The consequences for our psychology, too, can scarcely be imagined: we would no longer have anybody to rail against, nobody whom we could make responsible, nobody to instruct, improve, and punish! On the contrary we would have to begin, in all things, with ourselves; we would have to demand of ourselves, and of no one else, all the things which we habitually demand of others.” (524)
Wake up George! Come out of your dream and face yourself in the mirror. What would Jung like to interpret about your current state of mind? Maybe he would find you to be in a permanent state of sleepwalking. And attempting to run the world at the same time. Pretty talented, eh?
C. G. Jung, Dreams, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1974. Excerpts from “General Aspects of Dream Psychology” (published 1916, edited 1948)
ERIK CUMMINGS lives in New York City. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org