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The Wheel Turns Again

I try to avoid writing about politics, not because I am apolitical or count them as unimportant, but because politics runs in the same spiral-cycle as everything else. We are politically (vide socially and fiscally) better off now than ever before, despite renewed conflicts over war, health care, abortion, and GLBT rights, not to mention the faltering global economy and environmental issues. All of this is on a spiral track; we keep seeing the same scenery over and over again, but always from a progressively higher vantage point. Consider, for instance, the frequently made comparison between our current “recession”; and the Great Depression of the first half of the last century. We are still much better off than our recent ancestors were. While I worry for individuals and communities, I am overall unconcerned for our civilization or for my country.

There are certain constants in politics, at least until our next major upheaval. One of these factors is opportunism. Very few politicians are in any functional sense “evil”, despite the mud slung by the supporters on any given side; it is also unfortunately true that at least as few truly act in a moral or ethical manner.

While my own feelings and ideas more often than not agree with those of “progressives” (a euphemistic term for “very, very liberal”), I was not excited by the election of Barack Obama. He seems a decent fellow, and I’d probably love to spend an evening with he and a few beers, but when even the most saintly of women and men act as “politicians”, they must of necessity check their ideals and morals at the door. At the best of times, and in the most jaw-clenchingly polite of terms, politics is a game of compromise within and psychic manipulation without. To these points, Dr. C. G. Jung, in his essay The Undiscovered Self (2006, Signet; first copyright 1957) wrote, “The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.” Further:

Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into psychic epidemic. In this state all those elements whose existence is merely tolerated as asocial under the role of reason come to the top. (pp. 4 & 5)

And, later:

The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses. The rulers, in their turn are just as much social units as the ruled and are distinguished only by the fact that they are specialized mouthpieces of the State doctrine. They do not need to be personalities capable of judgment, but thoroughgoing specialists who are unusable outside their line of business. State policy decides what shall be taught and studied. (pg. 12)

It is fascinating, to me at least, that relevant to this same topic the anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot had this to say:

I am not able to cite by name any black magicians among the occultists I know, whereas it would not be too difficult to name some politicians who, for example, have nothing to do with occultism—and who would even be hostile to it—but whose influence and impact agree very well with the classical concept of that of the “black magician.” Indeed, is it difficult to name politicians who have exercised a deadly, suggestive influence on the popular masses, blinding them and inciting them to acts of cruelty, injustice and violence, of which each individual, taken separately, would be incapable…and who, through their semi-magical influence, have deprived individuals of their freedom and rendered them possessed? And is not this action to deprive men of their moral freedom and to render them possessed the aim and very essence of black magic? (Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, author unknown, corrected English translation 2002, Tarcher/Putnam, pg. 160; author’s italics)

All of this sounds rather sinister, and at times it is, but it is really quite normal. Manipulation of the public and politics go together like tea and honey or, say, the sublimation of free will and autonomous thought with an social group of sufficient size. We may safely call these “natural human tendencies,” not quite as basic as instincts but certainly common to the species.

As social units, humans are little more evolved than wolves and apes. We have well-defined hierarchies (even when they go unstated, or only semi-consciously recognized) and culturally (cultically)-elected pariahs, though our methods of breast-beating, scape-goating, marginalizing and casting-out are increasingly sophisticated and subtle. Doctor Jung’s “individuation” and Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” are our most hopeful prospects for further evolution, and they are strictly limited to individual application only.

Senator Arlen Specter’s recent defection to the Democratic party, set against the backdrop of a dual-house Democrat majority and Democrat executive, presents a fine example of the underlying (and overarching) principles at work. Everyone, from high-level Democrats and Republicans to man-and-woman-on-the-street constituents and supporters, views this move on Specter’s part as sort of coup, a final nail in the GOP coffin, or the dramatic sign of a final, eschatological changing of the guard. Only the most insightful acknowledge it as an act of political survivalism on Specter’s part, but even they won’t go far enough to say that it really is “merely” an act of survivalism. Specter has not aced out of some powerful idealism arisen from his unconscious but, like the “mass man” that he is (and I say this in all humility arising from the realization that I, too, am a potential criminal, madman or politician), out of the growing knowledge that he has backed the wrong horse the past election cycle or two. While that fact may be ethically grating for most people—myself included—it is in no way abnormal. Instead, it is a dramatic flaunting of “business as usual.”

As bad as all this sounds, and for as many complaints as we can level against our officials and the system which they embody, we are still forced by the facts of history to admit that we are all far and away better off in the modern West than at any other time. I promise that we will make mistakes, that politicians, social groups and nations will continue to falter, but barring a massive catastrophe of unthinkable and unforeseen proportions, the spiral will carry on. Around and around so that we see little or no progress in a single lifetime, but up and up so that progress always occurs in the long haul, human social orders will carry on as always. I therefore try not to get to worked-up by any one event or any given conflict. With one eye to history, and the other to psychology, I feel that we can safely hold to our most passionate ideals while soberly living in a culture and climate which so often disappoints.

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  1. April 30, 2009 at 2:33 am

    All we can do is keep trying, eh? Doesn’t sound like so bad a way of doing things at this point. Good perspectives all around.

    • April 30, 2009 at 11:56 am

      Humble optimism is by far a better way to procede than any other, in my opinion, so I don’t think we’re all that bad off. I just wish that people would examine and experience more rather than blindly stumbling.

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