June 28, 2009

Years after my experience in Vietnam, where I witnessed the immediate aftermath of intentional, low-flight bombings of inhabited fishing villages, I again personally witnessed the cruel and nearly incomprehensible U.S. wars against the restive but humble barefoot and shirtless peoples of Central America in the 1980s. I was in disbelief, literally feeling sick to my stomach. What could possibly motivate individuals, under orders from and paid for by our government in Washington, to commit such unspeakable barbaric acts day after day. We sensed some kind of awful karma leading toward a very horrible future for us U.S. Americans.

I have often thought that Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s concept of the “projection of shadow” has been operating at the national level in the United States, as well as at the personal level of most of us living in the U.S. As a kid I grew up listening to the Sunday afternoon radio show, “The Shadow,” in which Bret Morrison’s eerie voice, over a background of scary music, asked, “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? Only the Shadow knows.” The radio show was launched in July 1930, not long after Jung publicly articulated his shadow concept, and I sometimes wonder if Jung’s ideas contributed to the concept for the show, which was popular for 24 years. The Shadow was transformed into a pop culture icon by legendary pulp writer Walter B. Gibson.

The shadow self, the personal unconscious dark side of one’s personality, is a theory of evil. Jung maintained that the dark side of our personality, a part that we are often ashamed of and afraid to express in the open, is often repressed to the unconscious, forming a more-or-less autonomous splinter personality called the “shadow.” Eventually, the shadow does find its own expression, particularly through projections of images onto others. These projections, often seemingly irrational or illogical, and sometimes dangerous, actually represent aspects of the repressed personality within the projector him or herself. Thus a kind of dishonest jujitsu is performed so as to avoid the pain of emotional and intellectual honesty and accountability to oneself and in one’s public persona.

As individuals, we project evil traits onto those whom we believe, in our jujitsu thinking, are causing us consternation or threatening our well being. This leads to racism, sexism, classism, etc. Spouse abuse is a common result of a projection, as is lynching of African Americans by Whites, or discrimination against immigrants. Feelings of nationalism and patriotism leading to violence against others is another result of shadow projection. On the national level, these projections often lead to diabolical efforts to eradicate the evil we project onto others. The Vietnamese, the Nicaraguans, the Japanese, the Iraqis — i.e., the enemy of the day — must then be bludgeoned in our futile effort to feel secure, but this outward warring behavior only delays our honestly addressing issues within our own nation while further compounding our problems.

As a nation, just as individuals, we need to discover our own shadow if we are to become healthy and whole. We can actually discover our shadow by paying close attention to the images and accusations we project onto others, and the language used to demonize them. The images and descriptions are of our own evil impulses! To become conscious of our shadow, to become knowledgeable about all of our selves, we must be willing to recognize the shadow in our projections so that we can distinguish our own flaws and take responsibility for healing them rather than continuing to accuse others. Failing that, we will constantly create enemies.


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  2. Sandra
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