A mouth that prays, a hand that kills.
– Arabian proverb
“How do you find a lion that has swallowed you?” asked Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, commenting on the moral dilemma posed by the “shadow,” his insightful term for the dark, hidden side of the human psyche.
The answer to Jung’s questions is “you can’t find or see that lion”–not as long as you are inside the beast. And therein resides the essential dilemma of a group’s dark side or shadow: it is nearly impossible for those caught inside a group’s belief system to see their own dark side with any clarity or objectivity.
This hidden side grows over time, regressing, becoming more and more aggressive. It’s the “long bag we drag behind us,” says poet Robert Bly–where, as individuals, we dispose of all those things that are too uncomfortable to look at. “The long-repressed shadow of Dr. Jekyll rises up in the shape of Mr. Hyde, deformed, an ape-like figure glimpsed against the alley wall.” Now imagine millions of Mr. Hydes and you have a sense of the group shadow of fundamentalist, right wing extremists dressed up as “compassionate conservatives,” led by George W. Bush. It’s like shifting from a hand gun to a nuclear bomb. And it began long ago in both the Moslem and Christian worlds. The invasion of American Democratic institutions by fundamentalist, historically militant (as in crusades, witch hunts, inquisitions, and support of slavery) Christianity has significantly increased the stench coming from the already disturbing dark side of U.S. politics. It’s like a nightmarish replay of the Christian crusades–politics with a militant, convert-the-heathens dark side. Potent, cult-like group dynamics combine with unacknowledged and unseen shadow qualities to easily overwhelm the individual’s sense of right and wrong, often unleashing pure evil en masse.
As the political world and the media divided the U.S. into red and blue states, I found myself feeling uncomfortable even thinking about driving through one of those “red” states. I would imagine that every red-state person must be a card-carrying, right wing fundamentalist. From the other side of the mountain, those “blue” states are full of liberal, soft-on-terrorism, big government socialists. Both are examples of projecting our group’s shadow onto the “enemy.” And both views prevent us from “seeing” individual human beings. We see only that group, those people. With remarkable ease, we slide into a “programmed,” either-or, group-think: we’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys. It’s like seeing everything through red or blue-tinted glasses that color all we see and think–we’ve been “swallowed.”
Group shadow dynamics can shift the focus of our beliefs with stunning speed to another “evil” enemy. Petty dictators are convenient “hooks” on which groups often hang their collective shadow, their dirty laundry; a perfect example being Saddam Hussein who, in 1990-1991 magically transitioned from being a relatively obscure U.S. ally (receiving military aid, weapons, satellite intelligence, and high tech equipment) into an incarnation of evil and a dire threat to humanity that we had to eliminate. Such is the hypnotic power of group paranoia combined with propaganda in stirring up a nationalistic, lynch mob mentality. In 1986, an article about Don Rumsfeld in the Chicago Tribune listed helping “re-open U.S. relations with Iraq” as one of his career achievements when he served as Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East. The State Department reported that while Rumsfeld was opening relations with Iraq, Saddam Hussein was murdering thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons.
Once a belief system gains control, those beliefs are much more likely to move us to action, propel us into roles and conduct we would never contemplate on our own. Voltaire warned, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Moreover, under the influence of any fundamentalist ideology, beliefs (often paranoid and delusional) tend to override facts–a very dangerous mental environment for making life and death decisions, or declaring war. Independent critical thinking and logic–qualities that are most threatening to any destructive group–expose absurdities. Consider this excerpt from a speech by the Nazi Party leader Rudolph Hess on June 30, 1934: “The National Socialism of all of us is anchored in uncritical loyalty…” (my italics). “What good fortune for those in power that people do not think,” observed Hitler, who knew that thinking citizens were a real danger to his political ambitions.
Ignorance of the group shadow and its destructive consequences locks us into a mutually destructive embrace with our “enemies.” In a perverse way each side needing the other–an ironic, group co-dependency on the others “evil” in order to perpetuate themselves. Thus the twisted rationale for a never-ending “War on Terror” that is the mirror image of the never-ending Islamic Jihad against the West. The president made this unending mission clear when he announced, “There’s no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland.” The notion of permanent war against a designated “evil” or “tyranny” is a classic dark side of Christian fundamentalism that mimics the Moslem worlds’ fundamentalist doctrine that declares non-Moslem countries as “Dar-al-Harb,” which means “The Home of War.” It’s no surprise to realize that George W’s fundamentalist dark side also echoes Islamic fundamentalism’s oft-stated goal of a global Moslem theocracy, which a prominent Iranian ayatollah made perfectly clear: “It will . . . be the duty of every able-bodied adult male to volunteer for this war of conquest, the final aim of which is to put Koranic law in power from one end of the earth to the other.”
Sounding a lot like a description of our current world situation, Erasmus (d. 1536), a peaceful, educated, psychologically savvy, Catholic humanist observed: “There is no injury, however insignificant it may be which does not seem to them [Christians] sufficient pretext to start a war. They suppress and hide everything that might maintain peace; they exaggerate excessively everything that would lead to an outbreak of war.” In his book, People of the Lie, author M. Scott Peck explains the slippery nature of good and evil. He points out that “evil people are often destructive because they are trying to destroy evil. Instead of destroying others they should be destroying the sickness within themselves.” This paradox is similar to Jung’s observation that “a so-called good to which we succumb loses its ethical character,” meaning that we paradoxically facilitate evil when we become one-sided, when we believe our group is on the side of goodness and virtue. When one-sided, a so-called quest for peace inevitably produces a group shadow filled with aggression and violence.
This one-sided, assumed superiority or “elitism” is at the core of the Bush administration’s dark side, especially their pretentious, religious and political elitism. George W’s elite base includes the wealthy and the powerful. They are the hidden people he really represents, those economically “elite,” special interest bosses he described so accurately in a speech at one of his private, campaign fund raising dinners: “You’re my base: the haves and the have mores.” They must have been some of the people he was referring to at a 2002 meeting with his economic squad about a second round of tax cuts: “Haven’t we already given money to rich people?”
You know a group’s shadow is active when “…our belief is in the republic and the republic is declared endangered,” explains author and psychologist James Hillman. “Whatsoever the object of belief–the flag, the nation, the president, or the god–a martial energy mobilizes. Decisions are quick, dissent more difficult. Doubt which impedes action and questions certitude becomes traitorous, an enemy to be silenced.” “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today… is my own nation,” observed Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who practiced nonviolent social and political change. Shakespeare (in Julius Caesar) eloquently described the bright facade of this fundamentalist, political shadow in his play about another “super power”: And let us bathe our hands in . . . blood up to the elbows, and besmear our swords. Then we walk forth, even to the market place, and waving our red weapons o’er our heads, let’s all cry “peace, freedom and liberty!”
“There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world,” proclaimed Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson. The Treaty of Tripoli (1797), carried unanimously by the Senate and signed into law by John Adams, contained this statement: “The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.” We’ve been here before. The fundamentalist invasion into modern politics has resurrected a nightmarish apparition in the form of Wilsonian political monotheism. We could summarize Wilson’s foreign policy as “the imperative of America’s mission as the vanguard of history, transforming the global order and, in doing so, perpetuating its own dominance,” guided by “the imperative of military supremacy, maintained in perpetuity and projected globally”–all thinly veiled religious elitism and hubris, missionary theology masquerading as “peace, freedom and liberty.” Similarly, in a much applauded speech in 1899, Theodore Roosevelt (just before becoming President) proposed “righteous war” as the sole means of achieving “national greatness.” And, speaking through his group’s fundamentalist “mouth that prays,” Bush made his paranoid mission quite clear: “We will rid the world of the evildoers.”
Like it or not we are stuck in a psychological dilemma fueled by the collision of two toxic groups–groups with deadly shadows created by literalized Christian monotheism and literalized Islamic monotheism–both fundamentalist, both virulent strains of group-think, both after mental territory, economic and political power. One of the symptoms of fanaticism is the belief that one’s mission has been “blessed or even commanded by God,” says Dr. Norman Doidge, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. George W. Bush, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, told Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, “God told me to strike at Al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.” In every sense of the word, destructive, group-based beliefs are the real weapons of mass destruction that we all need to be very worried about.
“God wanted me to be President,” said George W. Bush. Regarding Iraq, Lieutenant General Boykin recently declared that our “spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.” “We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name,” Bush declared when announcing his “strategy” for his evangelical, political crusade” Thus, warfare is applied theology. And from either side of the bloody plain, “every war is a just war, a battle between the forces of good and evil,” a ghastly, incurable, repetition–the darkness of utter evil created by what appear to be the noblest of ideals. It creates a culture of immorality governed by hypocrisy, which further reinforces a collective blindness. Hypocrisy, as Hillman points out, “holds the nation together so that it can preach, and practice what it does not preach. It makes possible armories of mass destruction side by side with the proliferation of churches, cults, and charities”–the bright “good” side covering a very destructive dark side.
This fundamentalist, political shadow has become ever more insidious as their ideological assault erodes the constitutional separation of church and state–a separation that marked a stunning acceleration of individual human freedom, establishing a nation that respected the tension between two old enemies: Enlightenment rationalism and organized religion. Americans lived no longer under religious totalitarianism. Instead they lived in an age of religious freedom and an age of reason. America embodied the revolutionary notion that only a clean separation of church and state can guarantee freedom from religious tyranny and true religious freedom.
In 1962 Supreme Court Justice Black described the intent of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause: Justice Black observed that history had demonstrated time and again that “a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion.” The American historian, Clinton Rossiter wrote: “The twin doctrines of separation of church and state and liberty of individual conscience are the marrow of our democracy, if not indeed America’s most magnificent contribution to the freeing of Western man.”
When someone shines a spotlight into a group’s dark side it arouses, almost without fail, righteous indignation along with virulent, “kill-the-messenger” attacks. That is also why it is so utterly frustrating to have any meaningful, rational discussion or collaboration with a shadow-bound individual; you can never quite reach the real person. Instead you are stonewalled; you keep getting programmed, group-speak jargon designed to abort any real scrutiny of the group’s always secretive dark side. Exposing torture and gross violations of the Geneva Convention means we are guilty of “not supporting our troops.”
Mark Twain would have seen right through all this shadow-speak, language intended to “demonize” and kill any serious criticism. Twain once wrote: “Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutation of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders,” said Hermann Goring, at his trial in Nuremberg. He added: “This is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.” George W. Bush brings up Bin Laden and 9/11 over and over: “The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11.” Constant repetition of certain ideas is a common method of indoctrination used in destructive cults. “It is the absolute right of the state to supervise the formation of public opinion,” declared Josef Goebbles, the Nazi propaganda minister, who knew that tyrannical governments require brainwashed followers. And here’s George W’s not-quite-so-articulate, fundamentalist equivalent: “See, in my line of work, you got to keep repeating things over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda,” quipped our self-titled “War President” in a 24 May 2005 speech.
So the Bush administration “fixes” intelligence reports, “fixes” scientific data on climate change and greenhouse gases, “fixes” reality on the ground in Iraq for the unthinking, uncritical, patriotic, loyal, citizens. These so-called “fixes” are really “lies”–the Bush group’s program to “supervise the formation of public opinion,” as Goebbles stated. Indeed, the purpose of all propaganda is to program individuals to act according to group beliefs and aims. Moreover, presidential scholar, Michael Genovese suggests that 9/11 helped to create a mass illusion: “The public needed to believe that [Bush] had grown,” so “we chose to see him …as bigger, better and different than he was.” You could say that we temporarily projected a “savior” image onto the president; psychologists call this the “halo effect,” the same sort of illusion that can make quite ordinary people suddenly appear to be superhuman, until the truth rattles our projections and reality returns.
Bush precisely articulated his own treacherous dark side when he announced, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” An incredible statement considering the current U.S. nuclear weapons program and the decades-long “cold war” between Russia and the United States, the latter having created nuclear weapons technology while the former copies it and both proceed to manufacture and infect the planet with over 60,000 nuclear bombs and warheads–enough destructive power to end all life on the planet many times over. Never mind the fact that the United States actually dropped two atomic bombs on innocent civilian populations in Japan during the Second World War.
Perhaps the most insidious face of the ever-darkening shadow of evangelical, fundamentalist politics and its bright, shining slogan, “compassionate conservatism,” is their in-humane, COMPASSIONLESS disregard for the suffering of others. Of course war is not compassionate for either side. “Compassionate” conservatives care more about the welfare of corporate America than for human suffering. Hypocritical, shadow-laden “compassion” is not new. Hitler and Stalin were two of the most vigorous “pro-lifers” of all time, as were numerous other tyrants. They (Hitler and Stalin) also criminalized previously legal abortions immediately upon taking power. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a soldier and then as the thirty-fourth President of the United States, knew firsthand the savage, inhumane consequences of warfare. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
Looking closely at the whitewashed rhetoric of fundamentalism, we hear plenty of black magic–oft-repeated mantras like, “family values,” the “right to life,” and a “culture of life.” But what about a trickle of compassion for the estimated 29,000 children under five who die on our planet each day from preventable neglect, starvation, disease, and abuse–a horrific “slaughter of innocents.” What about their “right to life?” In Iraq (at this writing), well over 2,100 American soldiers have been killed and another 15, 000 wounded, many horribly crippled and disfigured for life. Incredibly brave young men and women–yet in reality victims of a fundamentalist/political cult’s deadly shadow. The independent public database, http://www.iraqbodycount.net, reports over 27,000 innocent civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military action by the United States and its allies–definitely not good for our “image.” But this barely-seen slaughter by a “compassionate,” hide-the-coffins Republican cult must be kept in the shadows because, as our President recently explained: “Those people (Iraqi insurgents) kill innocent civilians… women and children.”
Then we have the shadow travesty of religious fundamentalists’ attempts to stop stem cell research. George W. Bush, replying to questions about proposed stem cell legislation, said “…the use of federal money, taxpayers’ money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life — I’m against that.” Here’s the shadow: No life-saving stem cell research but immense, treasury draining, scientific research into anti-missile systems, nuclear bunker-busting weapons and a whole new arsenal of mini-nuclear weapons–sounds a lot like “using science which destroys life in order to save life!” I hear that lion roaring! Over time, fundamentalist leaders tend to become increasingly paranoid, unpredictable, and treacherously impulsive. This toxic mix of fundamentalism, politics, and explosive shadow dynamics has placed civilization in serious jeopardy at best–a doomsday scenario at worst. Robert J. Lifton, the author of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, explains that fundamentalism exists “always on the edge of violence because it ever mobilizes for an absolute confrontation with a designated evil, thereby justifying any actions taken to eliminate that evil.”
So what can you and I do about this group shadow dilemma? Shadow work requires brutally honest self-examination, the courage to admit one’s errors and mistakes, and the moral integrity to change policies, ideas, and opinions that have proven to be fallacious or harmful to others. It’s time for civilized, compassionate, courageous people everywhere to refuse to participate in sanctifying a morally bankrupt administration hiding behind patriotic doublespeak. James Madison warned, “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” In his book, Faces of the Enemy, Sam keen explains the “first rule” for understanding our own shadow: “Listen to what the enemy says about you… Borrow the eyes of the alien, see yourself from afar. …Look with suspicion on the rhetoric of your nation.”
As for religious groups, the Dalai Lama has a straightforward strategy: “This is my simple religion,” he says. “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” At some point, so-called moderate, non-violent Christians and Moslems must take responsibility for the militant consequences of their beliefs systems. Like the German peoples’ denial of Nazi death camps or the world’s ongoing blindness toward genocide, every peace-loving Christian and every peace-loving Moslem who remains silent, has the blood of innocents on his or her hands, as does each and every politician who has cowardly fallen to their knees before the brutal gods of religious fundamentalism, fanaticism and war.
Unless we change, I see an increasingly dangerous slide into the past, into a sinister dark side that poets describe best: “And we are here as on a darkling plain…Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
John Goldhammer, Ph.D., is a Seattle, Washington (USA) psychologist and author of three books including, Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics (New York: Prometheus Books). He created and taught these university classes: The Psychology of Hate and The Psychology of Groups.
For article references and notes see website: [http://goldhammer.com].
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