Don Kalsched is a Jungian Analyst, an expert on treating trauma, and the author of two books, The Inner World of Trauma and Trauma and the Soul.
Jung discovered our inner world is populated by various imaginal figures representing powerful psychological forces. If we treat our minds as democratic spaces, it can safeguard us from internal and external authoritarian influences.
The ancient Greek philosophers envisioned a society of dēmos (the common people) invested with the strength to kratos (rule); as such, democracies inherently oppose and dismantle absolutist perspectives. When functioning optimally, these systems shift societal views from dogmatic and entrenched stances to more human-centered, relative ones. Just as a healthy family structure supports the development of balanced, well-adjusted children, democracies facilitate the transformation of extreme emotions and biased perceptions. Through democratic processes, these strong negative sentiments are refined and evolve into civil disagreements. This mechanism not only aids in reducing extreme polarization but also serves as a linchpin in preserving stability and harmony within diverse societies.
When a society or an individual psyche becomes one-sided, fascism and fanaticism constellate. Archetypal cosmologies like the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata, reflect the need for a conscious tension of opposing views. The tale describes a cosmic ocean being churned by gods and demons in tandem. Although seemingly paradoxical, this collaboration results in the emergence of cosmic order from what was once chaos. The rhythmic back-and-forth of this roiling yields gifts and treasures beneficial to humanity. The myth underscores primordial wisdom: when opposing forces engage, their combined efforts can beget remarkable outcomes.
Jung understood that consciousness itself arises from the dynamic tension of opposites. Like a taught violin string held at two points, its vibration creates music. In the context of inner and outer democratic frameworks, divergent forces can potentially cultivate creative outcomes when engaged productively and not antagonistically.
The recent mid-term elections in the U.S., despite looming concerns of extreme polarization and potential disruptions, stood as a testament to the robustness of democratic processes. Parallel with psychotherapy, the balancing of conscious and unconscious forces within an individual’s psyche can facilitate therapeutic progress. Similarly, a society that acknowledges and integrates opposing forces can also experience collective healing. Returning to the Mahabharata’s images, Vishnu sits on a pillar above the primordial swirl as the embodiment of preserving transcendence achievable when balance is maintained between oppositions. Democracies, particularly the American model, echo this concept, demonstrating that societies can indeed transcend base oppositions, paving the way for greater societal achievements.
Can we celebrate the ‘Transcendent Third’ in Democracy? History reveres individuals who, against the odds, reconciled opposing factions without collapsing into extremes. These peacemakers exemplify the core tenets of Demos-Kratos. Their ability to mediate, integrate conflict, and confront contradictions within their own beliefs mirrors the strength and resilience of the Self that acts to restore balance. While integration is celebrated by many, there are those who view it with hostility and perceive it as a direct threat. This fear has, tragically, manifested in violent retaliations against iconic figures who championed unity. Their assassinations by extremists highlight the ongoing tension between the forces of unity and division.
Attuned leaders have sought refuge in faith, ethics, and creativity in times of remarkable collective tension. Images, music, songs, prose, and inspired metaphors can comfort a nation as it shifts from rage to grief. Holding to central unifying archetypes and their numerous artistic expressions during times of upheaval constellates strength, resilience, and cohesion–this is true in the individual psyche and the cultural collective.
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