Posts Tagged ‘depth psychology’

Psychology and language as forms of control: gender, race etc

August 9, 2017

Psychology is always ingrained in politics, because politics is about the ways that people think that the world, and its people, work.

In general psychologies will support the ruling groups – no real surprise there. Aristocratic psychologies say that members of the aristocracy possess particular virtues and innate abilities which justify their position, and that non-aristocrats generally do not have them. Capitalist psychologies explain that people are primarily selfish, competitive and accumulative, and so on. In this psychology, the wealthy are wealthy because of their abilities and virtues which are not possessed by the poor. Racist psychologies explain that the master race is inherently better at whatever is required for ruling and the other races are naturally subordinate, lazy and stupid. Patriarchal psychologies attribute all public virtues to men, and explain that women need, or want to be, controlled, and are naturally inferior or subordinate, only interested in children etc.

Evidence can easily be found to explain and support these positions. It usually is.

I suspect that most of these psychologies are actually based upon violence. Patriarchy is a good example as, statistically, men have more mass, more musculature and more leverage than women. Socially they are trained in, or have experience, applying violence, while women are discouraged or forbidden from learning. Hence women, as a whole, are subordinate to males of their class. Culture and social practice increases and reinforces the subordination. People who don’t feel they match the categories in play have to be careful, or they will suffer.

I tend to accept those depth psychologies which suggest that we all have characteristics which are defined as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ – the question becomes do we integrate them, or do we suppress our ‘opposites’. Patriarchy tends to inculcate the idea that men are either better women than women, or that the male ‘feminine’ parts (like real women) should be suppressed. Depth psychology is more in favour of awareness, integration or synthesis. I also suspect that as nature and environment tend to be identified with women, they are also suppressed as a matter of course in patriarchy. In a racist society similar forces could be at work. We could associate some of the repressed parts of our ‘selves’ with the supposedly other race.

The point is that whatever your theory of psychology, it will likely flow from your politics, and affect your politics and affect your sense of self.

Language is also political.

This should not be surprising either. Language expresses and conditions how we perceive and categorise or classify the world.

Patriarchs fight hard for the right to talk of people as ‘Man’ or ‘Mankind’ and to use the pronoun ‘he’ for the general person. This is because this classification renders the default and important person male. It implies males make history and culture, while women are entirely secondary. The language incorporates power relations. If you don’t believe it try calling a male patriarch ‘she’ and see what happens.

Logically those opposed to patriarchy, prefer to talk of ‘people’ rather than ‘men’ and humanity rather than ‘Man’, and use gender neural pronouns to talk of people as a whole. This form of classification also strikes me as more accurate.

Personally if a person asks you to use ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘hir’ or whatever to refer to them, I think it is polite to do so. It is not polite to obliterate an entire gender.

The distinction often made in the social sciences between sex and gender, is a technical distinction, not to obliterate gendering but to clarify issues and remind us that gender descriptions and requirements may vary with culture and with individuals. Gender has also used been used in linguistics and grammar for a long, long, time as some languages classify things without sex as having gender.

Naturally this distinction challenges patriarchy, because patriarchy looks pretty stupid if gender categories/classifications are not absolute, and is therefore resisted by patriarchal gender police.

In general, social categories tend to provide people with their place in society giving other people expectations about what they can expect from those people and defining how they can behave towards them.

If you want to govern large numbers of people then constructing and enforcing the categories in which they insert themselves and from which they construct their identities, is a great step towards that governance.

So if you support patriarchy it helps you if you can make sure gender categories are tight, and people define themselves in terms of gender. If you run a racist society it is helpful if you can make sure racial categories are tight and people define themselves in terms of race and so on.

Language and psychology are rarely politically neutral.

Climate Justice???

July 25, 2017

The idea of “Climate Justice” perturbs me. It seems self-destructive, or self- undermining.

‘Justice’ as it works, usually involves two kinds of processes:

1) Defining someone as evil and punishing them for it. This requires violence for enforcement, and creates resentment and self-righteousness. It encourages projection, shadow play, in Jungian terms. In this set up there is only good and evil, whereas in a complex ecological and social systems there is neither, there is mainly mutual implication.

2) Appeals to fairness. But it is never fair that we have to give up anything while others benefit… hence we do nothing. Piers Ackerman was arguing the other day that it is unfair for Australia to do something when we produce so little CO2 (even thought we produce massive amounts per head of population). This is a common anti-global warming tactic, which avoids responsibility.

Justice arguments are continually used by India and China to justify their massive expansion of coal. They are used by the Australian government to justify the Adani mine – shared prosperity for all, the war on poverty and so on. They are routinely used by people to argue that Australia can make no difference, so those people who request that we act are making unjust, or unfair, demands upon us, consequently we don’t have to act.

As a result of these problems or co-options, it might be better to avoid ‘justice’ altogether and phrase action in terms of “climate generosity”, attempting to come from humans ‘good’ side (and through modes of status acquisition through gifting) rather than our punitive side.

Climate Generosity requires that we do more than is necessary or just – we are generous, we act beyond what is required of us, without much hesitation. We are magnanimous, excessive.

Climate generosity does not have to involve allocations of guilt and blame and suggests that we are ‘in this together’ and ‘working together’, and thus acknowledges the systemic nature of the problem.

Generosity upsets the power relations based on old habits, while justice requires enforcers. Generosity combines both individual and social action, and appeals to the greater good of everyone, without demanding victory. It does not say ‘we won’t act until its fair’, it simply sets an example to be emulated or ignored. It gets on with the job, and cultivates a sense of responsibility.

If we only do what is just then we will not do anything much, we will only go to the boundaries of what is needed – we will be continually check to make sure others are not freeloading or acting unfairly. We will not act first.

However, if we replace justice by generosity, then we can go over those boundaries – “yes it might be cheaper and just to sell goal, but how about we help you build renewables? How about we cut back more of our emissions than would be our fair or just share? Why should we wait for others to act so that it is fair, lets be generous and act now!”

Jung and Gods

July 23, 2017

In his analysis of Nazi Germany in 1935-6 Jung argued that that the true symptom of what was going on was possession by an archetype; an archetype which had its roots in German history; the archetype of Wotan. It was a return of the Gods. Wotan was characterized by restlessness, movement, violence, sacrifice, ruthless heroism and so on. In this view Hitler was an unaware shaman who stirred these dormant unconscious forces into action.

This leads to the question of what are the current archetypes being stirred up….

I suggest two possibilities:

First: the “killer god.” The God that demands wars, sacrifices, serial killings, while pretending that he protects his followers. He demands the suppression of thought, of any aspiration beyond death – making the dream of death, and the death bringer, the only valid reality. Face death, your death, your friends death, the death of martyrs, the death of society, the death of the planet. There is nothing but death. It is heroic to kill. Serial killers become dark and dedicated heroes. Kill while you have the chance.

We watch endless deaths on TV every night as drama; Sometimes these lawgivers are as brutal as the killers, they demonstrate the virtues of death, even is they punish the original numinous perpetuator, death still wins.

The message is to give up, resistance is futile. Good is death, evil is death. Death is all. Do not bother to listen. Death is all.

Second: The other archetype we are likely to become possessed by is Hermes, God of communication, lies, theft, promises and magic; all of which arise from communication, yet we need communication. Hermes is necessary but ambiguous.

Hermes talks all the time. He is the internet. He is the whisper that flies around the world. He is the force that gives you constant misinterpretation, and allows you to blame others for your own mistakes.
He will steal things from you and persuade you he hasn’t got them, or you gave them to him – and you will love him for it. He is the god of smooth talk, the blatant lies we ignore, and endless advertising – he is the cunning adorable heart of capitalism, or priestly religion, that tells you if you just give him your trust, your life and your property, you will gain happiness and satisfaction.

He is the god of “the Secret”; he espouses the idea that if you think, say and desire hard enough then what you wish for will be come true. And if you don’t get it, all you need to is give him more of your money, or listen to him with more attention, because he has your best interests at heart…

Hermes is the magician, the conjurer, the quick of hand and feet. He is the person who promises esoteric knowledge beyond the ken of ordinary people. He is Nyarlathotep telling you that he is unambiguously the good guy.


June 19, 2017

Alchemy was an art of all kinds of transmutation and ‘perfection’: of metals, human bodies, souls, agriculture, pottery, politics and so on.

Those alchemists working on metals, usually attempted to transform Mercury, rather than lead, into gold. The lead is a popular story and I’m not sure when it originated. However, the mercury may not be what we call mercury, it is the ‘Mercury of the Philosophers’ which is something completely different but like mercury…. alchemy is confusing in that way.

As many people are aware, Isaac Newton was an alchemist and spent far more effort on alchemy and biblical interpretation than on physics which was simply a sideline. Some have argued that alchemy was important in supporting Newton with the otherwise unpopular idea of action at a distance. Robert Boyle and lots of other members of the original Royal Society were also alchemists, although Newton was the most traditional of all of them and incredibly secretive about what he was doing – as he was with everything. The others tended to exchange notes and procedures.

I have read of people using nuclear reactors to do transmutation of the elements but ,as everyone notes, that is way too expensive at the moment – although it can be taken as demonstrating that alchemy is possible 🙂

There are alchemists operating today doing the work on metals, although they seem to be more interested in medical alchemy than gold making. There are also those who see alchemy as more of a psychological or spiritual procedure.

This psychologizing has a surprisingly long history but, while it simplifies, it basically arises because alchemists generally did not see a difference between interior work and exterior work. Everything was connected, the change in the alchemist was as important as the change in the material, and the two were linked. Everything was mutable. Psychologising also serves the function of explaining why any particular alchemist did not make the transmutation, and further explained and justified the altered states of consciousness that arise through inhaling and tasting various substances and concentrating on being a human thermostat for weeks on end. It may also be true of course 🙂

However, separating the spirit work into its own domain becomes more usual during and after the 17th century. By the late 19th century it was often considered that work on the spirit was the secret of alchemy, probably because it became increasingly difficult to see spirit and matter as related.

More interestingly, Carl Jung argued that Western alchemical symbols arose as a kind of collective dream, acting as compensations for the kind of psyche produced by official Christianity. If that is the case, then alchemy can, even today, act as a map of psychological transformation – what he called individuation. James Hillman expanded on this, pointing out that alchemical symbols actually give us a very concrete embodied way of seeing, feeling and engaging with psyche.

I personally think that alchemical symbols can give us a way of thinking about transformations of all kinds, and that they are particularly useful for thinking about chaotic, complex and messy processes. But that is a subject for another blog post sometime.

Spirituality in the Anthropocene

February 26, 2017

I keep reading and hearing people saying, or implying, that what we need is a spiritual approach to fix the problems we face. I hear this a lot in the Depth Psychology community in particular.

I think this is fundamentally wrong. Spirituality is not automatically a solution, and ‘rationality’ is not always a problem. Human knowing is very often fallible, irrespective of its source, and this should be remembered, otherwise both spirituality and reason become props for the ego, its limitations and defence, rather than ways of accessing knowledge or relatedness.

The potential problems with spirituality seem as important to me, in terms of our ecological problems, as is the use of science or technology to ‘control’ nature.

For example, in Western and many other traditions, spirituality has been used to deny the reality of nature, or used as a means to get out of nature or to diminish nature. Christianity and Islam have both taught that our true life is elsewhere. It is not in nature. Nature is a snare, at best a distraction to be mastered. Reality is found after death.

Intensely spiritual people can believe and intuit strongly that everything is in the hands of God, and that humans can do nothing to hurt the cosmos. They can be both calm and beautiful as they destroy the world. They could for example, think it is their duty to cut down forests and destroy fertile fields to bring forth their temples, unaware of what they are doing, or even condemning those who protest as heretics or unspiritual. They can be passionately devoted to killing people or animals as sacrifices to the Gods.

Perhaps one of the most harmful ideas ever proposed, is the spiritual idea/experience usually associated with Plato, that the real is perfect and unchanging and not of this world. This may completely alienate people from any engagement with life and the natural world as it is, as that is constantly in flux, birth, death and decay. The acceptance of such an idea, and the spiritual practices around it, may mark our initial separation from Nature, and our attempts to control it rather than live with it.

There is nothing inherent in spirituality which leads to a beneficial interrelationship with natural processes. Spirituality can impose a hostile order on the world as much as any reason.

Similarly, while we may want to forget, war can be intensely a matter of spirituality. Not just for zen samurai, Vikings, Nazis, shaolin monks, warring Tibetan temples, jihading Muslims, Crusading Christians, and Aztec warriors gathering sacrificial prisoners, but to ordinary people who may frequently tell you that they felt more alive, more connected and more meaningful when the war was on. Not all people feel this way, of course, some live in terror and die in agony. However, this aspect of spirit should not be forgotten.

People can see the position put forward here as an attack on valuable experiences. However, I want to suggest that ‘peak experiences’ or ‘spiritual experiences’ have little to do with ‘spirituality’. They are, in some ways, frequently ‘mundane’, they seem to happen irrespective of whether a person is particularly spiritual or not. They might imply connection, or simply the sheer strange presence of something different from yourself. Spirituality has little to do with this, and is more like a theory of everything or an approach to the world.

Whatever it is, spirituality is often assumed to be good, and in opposition to whatever is bad – many people seem very confident of that. Indeed, contemporary spirituality is often defined by opposition. It is opposed to logos, it is not science, it is not reason, it is not materialism. People also seem to assume that logos, reason and so forth have the dominant position in the world, and are therefore responsible for the destruction we observe. However, even a brief look at our politics should lead to that particular theory being cast aside. Reason, whatever its failings, is not even vaguely dominant. If it was then we would be seeing some attempts to deal with climate change. Science is largely captive to State and commercial interests.

Given the oppositions people set up, it becomes too easy for spiritually aligned people to say science is the problem, and spirituality is the solution, when they may well be both parts of the problem and solution. The Sacred and the Profane are perhaps not separate… Personally I was relieved to discover that anthropologists decided this distinction was not present in many societies.

Historically, spirituality has grown up alongside (and with) logos, science, materialism, reason; and similarly they grow out of it. As mutually dependent, both ‘sides’ are as responsible for our problems as anything else.

Jungians might be expected to sit with these opposites, rather than to declare one side responsible for harm and the other good. We might find that both are necessary, to correct the other, or we might find that we discover something new.

Souls, Cyborgs and Symbiotes

January 3, 2017
I’ve been reading Donna Haraway again and that leads to certain reflectionsThe three terms – ‘souls’, ‘cyborgs’ and ‘symbiotes’ seem to summarise different approaches towards the body and the world, and I suggest that the idea of ‘symbiotes’ suggests a fruitful way of acting towards the ourselves and the world, which could provide a better framework for problem solving and general understanding

‘Soul’, as the term is usually used, implies that everything important (or eternal) about the human is separated from, and independent of, the material world. Usually with this theory the world and the body are obstacles to the perfection of the soul, distractions at best, to be dominated or despised in any case. The body and nature tend to be seen in terms of ‘their’ unholy demands and needs, even as inherently hostile. They must be shut up, shut down or disciplined. Death opens the way to freedom, as the world is a prison and punishment

In this theory, the soul seems usually to be assumed to be what I’ll call ‘the ego’, clear conscious thought untroubled by the world, independent of all physics. The “I am”. Things that disrupt the imagined perfection and singularity of the soul are usually held to stem from the flesh… sex, hunger, pain, disease and so on.

Oddly, there is plenty of Christian theology which suggests that humans are trinities (soul, spirit and flesh) not binaries. However these variants easily get lost despite the importance of their writers (St Paul, Augustine etc). Furthermore, the idea of the resurrection of the dead implies that God wants us to be a body, so bodies could be holy. Other religions are equally flesh despising: *some* forms of Hinduism and Buddhism for example. Christianity is not altogether to blame for this situation.

Some post Jungians (Hillman, Moore etc) use the term ‘soul’ to emphasise the mystery of the psyche, its messiness, and the importance of image and feeling; but it is probably never a good idea to use a familiar term for an unfamiliar meaning, as the old meanings can come through implicitly. I’d prefer to stay with Jung’s ‘psyche’, as that is much now a rarer word and can be given precisely these connotations and does not have to make claims to immortality or purity of some sort or other.

The cyborg idea seems to derive from soul tradition. In it, the human, is independent of any particular body. It can be downloaded into machinic immortality. The body becomes a tool to be engineered or altered to have new capacities, subject to the demands of the ego. Nature has no independent rights. “Pave the earth” seems a cyborg slogan.

Cyborg theory like soul theory, implies that intelligence can be disembodied (‘light’) or unaffected by embodiment. Yet, it seems reasonably obvious (assuming evolutionary theory) that all intelligence must have developed to deal with ‘real world situations’, and these include the exploratory capacities of bodies, interaction between bodies, and the range of sensory inputs available.

This does not mean that intelligence is transparent and accurately perceives the world, just that it has been good enough to solve the problems of previous evolutionary paths (not necessarily the problems of future or current paths).

Haraway, as I’ve argued elsewhere, used the cyborg manifesto to argue against a ‘goddess feminism’ that stripped women of technology and idealised nature, but she got caught in the soul trap of cyborgism. She has over the last 10 or so years, revised her metaphor to talk of companion species, or of symbiotes.

Her point is, that in a ‘natural’ world people depend on other creatures and ecologies, they exist along with other beings/events. We have relationships with pets and other animals. Sometimes deep relationships, relationships of unknown complexity and mutuality, even with predators. Bodily, we are composed of cellular and sub cellular life forms existing in colonies. Our mind is multiple, composed of many functions acting together and apart. There is no clear point of ego; mind exists in the circumstances, or contexts, of its existence; it is not separate but dependent. We are part of greater social intelligences as well. Everything is diffuse with strange boundaries. This does not mean that we, and others, cannot try and enforce boundaries to protect ourselves, that too is ‘natural’, but it is hard, sometimes self-destructive, and not always necessary.

This realisation is important for the way we relate to our bodies and nature. In soul theory bodies are only slaves, obstructions, or illusions. The normal mode of response in this framework, is to despise them, and drive them to labour under the dominance of someone’s ego.

In cyborg theory, nature, the self and the body is a tool to be exploited, and abandoned when it fails the utilitarian demands of the ego – again labour is the metaphor and relationship.

In symbiote theory, we depend on our body and the world. That body and world has its own multiple intelligences and imperatives. It does not always do what we want (what we want may be incorrect, we may need to talk with and learn from our obstacles. ‘The body’ may have its own paths to healing, it may rebel intelligently against our slave-driving or our enforced refusal of relationship).

At worst our body is like a pet; we can love it and pet it, relate to it, look after it (as it looks after us). We can treat it with respect as a symbiote, a fellow creature, and we open ourselves to relationships of many kinds, not just labour.

Most pet owners will probably treat their pets better than they treat their bodies. Perhaps they should extend that affection, love and care to ‘their’ bodies and the world, and see what happens?

It will be hard and will take time, but this might be an idea which transforms everything.

We think with metaphor, myth and analogy

December 2, 2016

This post is largely an elaboration of a response to an important post by John Woodcock on metaphors and thinking or being – John’s post is probably better.

John reminds us that we think and feel with analogy, myth, metaphor and feeling.

Some of that feeling will arise because of our patterns of thinking, and of interpreting what happens in the world, but some will arise because of unconscious processes. Indeed we could suggest that the processes of thinking themselves are largely unconscious, because the forms or patterns that guide that thought, or that the thought and feeling takes in manifesting, are not conscious. Thoughts and feelings are likewise not separable – thoughts generate feelings, and the feeling reinforces the thought, or the type of thought likely to come next. (For example, if you are angry, you are thinking thoughts that make you angry, and that anger then limits the range of thoughts likely to arise for you).

As a result, we often let our symbols (and their patterns and dynamics) do our thinking for us, and that is a problem for both political and personal life. Once the metaphor is announced a particular result becomes probable – and the more it is used, the more that result is reinforced, or becomes a settled pathway. I suspect that the experts on propaganda know this well, and that this cultivation of metaphors (this art of metaphors) has been part of the activity around Trump.

Trump’s talk appears to have been powerful and resonated with, or raised anger present in, his audiences, but it could mean whatever you wanted it to mean. If you did not trust Clinton because of the 30 year smear campaign and the feeling/sense that something must be wrong about her (even if you could not point to anything real), then you could select what you wanted to hear from Trump’s metaphors, or take what could have been literal as ‘only metaphor’. And his metaphors tended to be repeated to reinforce them.

His phrase ‘drain the swamp’ (exampled by John) sounds good because it says he is going to remove the icky, sticky stuff that you can get lost and die in. Its a visceral image involving bringing light into darkness and solidity from squelch. It implies a simple set of dichotomies: swamp/non swamp; bad/good; action/stuckness. Who can resist this? Who will say this is bad?

Some kind of awareness of analogy helps, us to navigate our way here.

Extracting ourselves from auto-thinking and feeling takes effort and rebellion against the norm. It takes awareness of the analogies we are using, their connotations and our automatic responses to begin with, as well as the knowledge that our thinking is not always voluntary or right, and that our feelings are not always accurate or real. We are potentially partially conscious creatures, not automatically fully conscious – we can be misled and wrong (even in our sense of being misled). Becoming conscious, might be tedious.

This is a place in which depth psychology and science can possibly help, by setting up exploration, experiment and reality testing.

Trump’s usage is definitely not depth psychological (there is no sense the darkness and stickiness is something to be faced, possibly explored and projections removed) and it is not ecological (swamps can host whole families of creatures, and store and purify water, they can protect. They are places of bounty as well as danger). Outside of these psychological or scientific frameworks, the metaphor does its thinking for you, and that is the natural way. It is a metaphor encouraging avoidance, which sums up fear, and puts virtue with the cleansing group.

Given the election is over, it will be interesting to see how the so called “alt.right” defend the president elect’s apparent attempts to fill the swamp with far worse, but openly visible, creatures who are completely beholden to the corporate elite, and who do not mind poisoning workers in the name of profit. I presume the swamp will now become portrayed as a field of light, clarity and genius (perhaps even ‘spirit’) – because light dazzles the critical faculties. Perhaps they will simply continue to attack everything else, because the good/evil dichotomy seems so real, that if the others are bad, then they must be the light.

Perhaps, disillusionment will settle in, but I doubt it for one prime reason. People on the right in general, tend to cultivate a perception of themselves as living in a world in which they have no say, and are oppressed. They think the media is leftist, they think Marxists rule academia and education, they think gay people and Jews run the entertainment industry as propaganda, they think all scientists are communist conspirators, they think unions control and hobble business. Judging by some of the remarks I’ve heard recently, some think that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H and W, Bush etc. were raving socialists, who actively suppressed free enterprise and right wing dissent. In this view, any information which can be branded as official is probably a lie, unless it agrees with this fundamental truth that they are the victims of the evil left. So we can assume that the loving alliance of Trump with parts of the corporate sector will not be recognised, for who will report it but the evil left?

Trump’s apparent lack of control in his expression also promised that he would allow the expression people thought was being suppressed.

While non of this may seem real to those of us who identify as being on the Left, it is the starting point for much of the Right. They see themselves being oppressed, hence the anger. In their own minds they are heroic, fighting the triumphant forces of darkness against amazing odds. This of course may be the position that others wish to assume, by assuming *all* people who vote for this right are deliberate racists or nazis or whatever. It is a monotheistic position that blames the world for evil, and feels right. All of us may feel the forces of darkness are triumphing and that we fight against them. We seek scapegoats to blame and expel for whatever we perceive is going wrong, and as long as this benefits those in power (by identifying some group that is relatively powerless), then this will probably be encouraged.

If we do understand this position and its appeal to all of us, then maybe we can start trying to free ourselves. First of all by observing our own metaphors and patterns and their consequences and testing them out, finding pain, and perhaps eliminating our own binaries, or bringing them into open confrontation within. And then attempting to communicate, not by appealing to reality or attempting to refute the other’s delusion, but by entering into the fantasy and undermining its binary nature. We all feel repressed.

But again, this suggests going out into the field (which may seem a swamp) and doing some exploratory work ourselves.

Individual vs Collective?

November 28, 2016

I am noticing that there seems to be a gentle stream of ‘retreatism’ in some modes of depth psychology. The idea seems to be that the ‘crowd’ is bad, that social life is somehow corrupting and, that faced with the world situation, and the Anthropocene in particular we have to move into our own, somehow special individuation.

To me this is a partial truth, and needs expansion. It may also be true that in specific times of life (when aging, or facing immanent death, or in the midst of illness), this may be the best thing for some of us to do. I just don’t think it is a good strategy for a general approach to deal with ecological crisis or political instability. That we recognise that humans affect the world, does not mean we can correct the effects by ‘going away’. All life forms affect the world. At the moment humans are perhaps affecting it disproportionately (this is what the idea of the Anthropocene recognizes), and we may not be able to afford retreat from that recognition.

This mode of retreat seems to be based a non-ecological mode of thinking, and in a situation of, shall we say, degrading relationships, it seems to imply that individuals are disconnected, self tending units, and could lead to further degradation.

At the biological level we are colonies, or interactive ‘systems’, of multiple creatures. Much of our body weight, when we subtract the water, contains ‘foreign’ DNA. Even our cells may depend on what were originally external organisms (mitochondria have their own DNA). We are not a single biological being: we are symbiotes.

At the psychological level, depth psychology appears to uncover that we have multiple psyches, and layers of psyche: ‘complexes’, personal unconsciousness, collective unconsciousness, archetypes, or whatever. If you are more into neurology for your evidence, then we have, at least, a hind brain, a mid brain and two hemispheres, all of which may function independently, and communicate with difficulty. Other researchers add neurological centres in the heart and the solar plexus. We are psychologically multiple interactive systems. We are not so much engaged in dialogues, but in ‘multi-logues’.

We are also social creatures. We think with borrowed, badly copied or modified thoughts. We feel with borrowed, emulated and modified feelings and desires. We think with others and in reaction to others. Without singular amounts of effort we cannot live alone, and when young we cannot live alone at all. We are interdependent with others as interactive systems. The boundaries are fuzzy, we blend into each other and are interpenetrated by each other. The same is true of our ecology, we modify it, it modifies us, and that is happening between billions of creatures simultaneously. It again is a set of interactive systems: that is the nature of being.

We are both collaborative and competitive, and are so at many levels, individually, group, nationally etc… Sometimes what we think is working-together is working-against-each-other.

Consequently, the individual and the collective do not seem to me to be separate, or even opposing, poles. Certainly, not in the sense that one is enlightened and that the other is ignorant. They work together, and against each other, always. We are always in multi-logues. The question is how to work together as productively as possible. What follows are some suggestions.

First point, which should contain no problems for depth psychologists, seems to me to recognise that we are massively unconscious. We do not perceive most of this working together or against each other; we cannot perceive all of it; we probably cannot understand all of it; and we cannot predict the consequences of it in detail – this is true of both our inner and outer lives (and these lives are not separate; the boundaries are continually fuzzy and porous).

Second point may be that given this unconsciousness, unpredictability and porous boundaries, full retreat is impossible – we are always in the systems whether we like it or not. What is needed is a set of day to day techniques to deal with events we are unconscious of. We may need to fully engage with our senses, fully engage with our symbolic capacities, fully engage with our ability to listen in the widest sense.

Third point. Because we cannot fully understand, we may need to suspend our sense that we do understand. We all think we understand. Often understanding involves blame, condemnation and scapegoating, which are processes which almost automatically stop our ability to listen and understand. (We may even condemn ‘thinking’, or ‘lack of spirituality’, or ‘spirituality’ itself, when humans automatically appear to think or have some spiritual orientation towards the cosmos.) That is one reason why these techniques are so popular; they fill the gaps, stop us being puzzled and preserve our egos and their understandings. So it could be useful if we recognise that whatever we think is right, could be wrong, no matter how right it seems.

Fourth point. Premature and enforced understanding, automatically produces unintended consequences. It is the order that produces the disorder it fears. It makes things worse. It stops us listening to the world, it stops correction by reality. It nearly always produces action and may sometimes be necessary.

Fifth point. We need to correct our understanding. We do this not just in retreat, although retreat is valuable – everything needs rest – but we do it in interaction with the world. It is only interaction that can give correction or show us the consequences of that understanding (if we look/listen).

Sixth point. While our ego (consciousness) tends to seek repetition and fixed understanding, we can remember that we have multiple and unconscious modes of understanding and wisdom which may see things differently; that may add to our conscious understanding, even if our ego resists. Bad feelings can tell us that we are thinking ‘badly’ or incorrectly. Dreams can give us symbolic representations of reality which include events that our consciousness may not want to admit. The same is true of art and story. A sense of unease can be informative (perhaps it is our heart thinking?). If we really hold to the understanding that things/events/people/ecologies are interconnected and boundaries are fuzzy, and that our orders may not always be good, then maybe we can perceive more ‘data’ to help improve our understanding. All of these messages and data need evaluation through interaction with reality, but they can potentially add to understanding. We all have ‘inner wisdom’, but it is not just found in retreat, it is also found in an attentive and open daily life.

Seventh point. Response to crisis should probably be an oscillatory process. We go ‘inside’ to our hidden wisdoms, we go ‘outside’ to the interacting or multi-loguing world, we go ‘inside’ again and come out, and so on. If we remain isolated or unthinking individuals then it is possible we will be worse than ignored, we will lose some of our internal power and meaning as it does not go into the world, we will become complicit in that loss. If the reader is familiar with depth psychology and its metaphors, then they will be aware that in alchemy, the practitioner does not simply engage in ‘spiritual’ or ‘inner’ work, they do that work in conjunction with work in the laboratory. They take their insights from the inner work into the lab, and the lab work into their inner lives. Sometimes the two progress simultaneously. In alchemy, there is no enforced separation between ‘mind’, ‘spirit’ and ‘body’, or between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ they are aspects of each other, and this may be a useful approach.

Clearly, then, I am not protesting against doing inner work, but saying that inner work is part of outer work, it is not separate. I am also not remotely against the idea of multi-logue, but admit it can be difficult and upsetting to our egos, and this can be good.

However, I am suggesting that when we recognise that oppression or destruction is likely to come, or is coming, then people may need to formally join together to protect themselves and protect others.

The more understanding we have gained from participation and challenge, then the less likely that this joining will be violent, condemnatory or exclusionary; the more likely we will be responding to reality rather than to our limited understandings of reality.