As a kid Thor comics were my favorites. Every story promised a massive confrontation between good and evil where good could be counted on to come out on top. It fed the deep-seated need of every American boy to see justice vindicated and wrongdoing punished. The very essences of good and evil were personified in these stories so that one could identify with Thor and feel the invulnerable power of pure righteousness as he beat the crap out of some avatar of irredeemable evil.
As an adult I realise that people are complex mixtures of good and bad, concepts we never encounter concretely in their pure form. But there are those who have internalised the message of superhero comics and live their lives as though the line between good and bad had bypassed them entirely, leaving them on the ‘good’ side. Life for them boils down to a dualistic, ‘us vs. them’ competition which unfortunately leaves their loyalty open to manipulation by any unscrupulous hawker of ideology who seems to represent authority and can make a good sports analogy. One might have hoped a generation that grew up with Dylan’s ‘With God on Our Side’ would be immune to such conditioning, but the temptation of feeling that invulnerable power of pure righteousness seems to be winning out these days as we, as a society, embrace a new Cold War.
For people who see the irrationality of this dualistic world-view, where wish-fulfilment trumps objective reasoning, what paradigm can be used as a lens through which to interpret events and propose solutions to our problems? Once again, Thor comics lead to the answer:
Christian child that I was, reading stories of multiple Gods made me uncomfortable. If there was only one God as I was taught, weren’t these polytheistic Thor stories blasphemous? It was only later, when I came across these lines from Jung that I was able to resolve my conflicted feelings:
‘Clement of Rome taught that God rules with a right and a left hand , the right being Christ, the left Satan. Clement’s view is clearly monotheistic as it unites the opposites as being contained in God…Later Christianity however, is dualistic, inasmuch as it splits off one half of the opposites, personified in Satan, and he is eternal in his state of damnation…If Christianity claims to be monotheism, it becomes unavoidable to assume the opposites as being contained in God’
There was my answer! Within Thor comics lay a monotheistic concept of Odin as a unifying character containing both good and evil in the form of his sons, where these three beings together represent a sort of divine trinity; even though, like later Christianity, the unifying message got undermined by stories that focused on dualistic competitive aspects.
In psychological terms, a fully individuated mind is one that has managed to integrate all its good personality contents with those it considers bad. By seeing himself as purely good, our modern dualist goes through life with a fractured psyche constantly warring against itself.
And, of course, in politics the analogy implies that a dialectic between two parties or movements is resolved in a way that takes both sides into account. This is an inclusive, cooperative view of the world as opposed to the exclusive, competitive approach of dualistic thinking. And it’s an embarrassingly obvious model of what US government was intended to be before it got hijacked by ideology hawkers with covert agendas.
But if these founding principles are so obvious, then how is it that we seem to have forgotten them when it comes to politics in the US today? The answer, of course, comes back again to Thor comics. That, and all the other adolescent enticements in society today like sports and video games which pull consciousness down from the unified, integrated level to the place where sides are taken and battle lines drawn. And although it’s a gross generalisation, these appeals are to a distinctly male audience.
For whatever evolutionary and/or hormonal reason, most boys and men are complete suckers for all manner of dualistic interpretations of the world. While it’s true that men can overcome their genetic programming and embrace an inclusive world-view just as women can operate dualistically (and indeed must do so to some extent in order to succeed in many areas), women have been blessed with a more integrative, cooperative disposition. And this is what makes their authentic voice in politics and society necessary as an alternative to the destructive Cold War 2.0 now in its infancy. We’d do well to understand that roles have been reversed now, and men have more obstacles to overcome than women in order to be successful leaders in any movement that hopes to change things for the better.
Steve Cooper is an American expat in France. He’s recently completed Ant Hell, a musical version of Revelation played by ants in 16 acts. Videos of the story have been posted online.