The Politics of Masochism.

Masochism is not a trait of Western Culture that is immediately obvious. Yet if you try to tease it out, like the rag end of plastic I recently found in my veg patch, you might find yourself there all afternoon, digging, sweating, tugging. Mounds of earth everywhere.

Out of all the election fever, the rhetoric of politicians and the hype of the media, one anecdote in particular grabs my attention. Its the moment when Mr Trump asks an audience of Iowans, ‘How stupid are the people of Iowa?’

That in itself was remarkable. Its a novel strategy. Normally politicians try to woo their voter, make them feel good about themselves. Mr Trump does the opposite. He actively humiliates them. But the truly amazing thing was what happened next. His ratings improved in Iowa.

How is it possible?

What’s going on?

”Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were for their salvation?” Gilles Deleuze.

The answer is that there is a strong Masochistic trend in our collective consciousness, which, contrary to popular belief, has little to do with sex.

”Masochism is not a mere perversion, but a reflection of the soul in its tortured, most inarticulate moments.” L Cowan.

Mr Trump has unwittingly hit upon a Big Secret. His slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’, hinges upon the same principle as telling the Iowans how dumb they are. It mobilises the passion of having been done to, the lynch pin of Masochism. It says, ”you have been denied, robbed, bought low, subjected to the will of powerful others”. His message hooks in to how the West unconsciously feels about itself, that life has short-changed us somehow, a collective ‘truth’ which we are sorely tempted to reinforce by voting into power those who can then be guarenteed to abuse us.

We do the same in the dysfunctional relationships of our more private lives, staying on for years, putting up with the other’s behaviour, feeling hard done by, never stopping to ask, ‘what am I doing?’

The extent of Sado-Masochistic relating in the West as a dominant form of interaction was largely suppressed by the early schools of psychology who preferred to represent it as a flamboyant perversion so that it need not be recognised as something endemic or, for that matter, rife amongst those respectable gentlemen themselves.

Kraft-Ebing, big boss of the Neuro-Sciences in Vienna who first relegated Masochism to the ‘Perversions’ was the same chap who stonewalled Freud’s original and beautifully expressed, ‘Aetiology of Hysteria’, which clearly stated that neuroses were the result of childhood abuse.

Kraft-Ebing was horrified at the suggestion that children are harmed by their parents. He ostracised Freud until he changed his mind and substituted the drive-conflict theory which made the patient responsible for their own difficulties. He did the same with Sado-Masochism. Its the patient’s fault and its all about sex.

Curiously and for the record, the feted and popular Kraft-Ebing also thought of recreational sex as a perversion that required ‘treatment’, not to mention masturbation for which he had some cures  of Inquisitional proportions, including the application of white hot irons to children’s privates, metal mittens, bed restraints and spiked cages to safely house your unmentionables.

Western Powers-that-Be, dissatisfied with projecting  inferiority onto other nations and subsequently enslaving then to make the point, have also visited denied shadow onto the very young who are powerless to then resist what are in fact the unconsciously enacted fantasies of the Establishment.

And yet this still doesn’t explain the prevalence of Masochism in our society or why its so prolific in our cultural mind set as to swing voters in middle America, nor does it account for the emerging split between Empaths and Narcissists or the prervalence of addictions, alcohol consumption, gorging of all kinds, the endgame of which is invariably humiliation.

”I drink to drown the shame of being a drunk”. anon

Culturally endemic, ‘low self-esteem’ is the energy daily drained from us by the critisisms and judgements that we masochistically level at ourselves. Its the feeling of being a slave to the dollar, the sense that your esteem is measured by the affirmation of people you don’t actually respect, the wish as well as the fear that you’ll be ‘discovered’, found out, shamed.

A story that might help put all this in context comes from the Plains Indians, the story of the Jumping Mouse.

The Jumping Mouse was an adventurous sort. Alone amongst his brothers and sisters, he was determined to explore beyond the shade of the tree where they lived. The others begged him not to go, fearful of the black spots in the sky that wheeled above them.

But Jumping Mouse was brave and one day he set off. He scampered all day until he reached a pond occupied by a large wise looking frog.

‘Have I reached the edge of the world?’ he asked, panting.

The frog laughed kindly, ‘if you jump high enough, you will see a far off mountain. The top of the mountain is as close as you can get to the edge of the world.

Jumping Mouse jumped for all his worth and glimpsed the top of the mountain. He was determined to reach it. At the edge of the plain he asked Buffalo to carry him across.  Buffalo agrees but for the price of one of his eyes. The Jumping Mouse plucks it out and climbs up. At the foot of the mountain he asks Fox to help him get to the summit. Fox agrees but at the price of his other eye.  Jumping Mouse plucks it out and climbs up.

Delirious with excitement and pain, Jumping Mouse makes it to the top. He stands there for a moment, then hears the awful whirring of great wings above him. Mighty talons crush his body as he is whisked away. He prepares himself for a last final scream of agony when his blindness gives way to rushing sight and from his throat comes the call of Great Eagle.

Following your own star is not only full of suffering but demands sacrifices that will seriously impact you. The Gods invariably want something.

”The hallmark of the transpersonal is that it acts upon us.” S.B. Perrera.

The feeling of being subjected to the will of the Self is often an intrinsic part of spiritual awakening, being presented with a path that wasn’t part of your plan.

Contemporary Jungian analyst Lyn Cowan points to this commonality between Inner Revelation and Masochism, they share the experience of being subject to the will of the Other. She asks whether its not likely that if this aspect of our spiritual life is denied by Structures not too keen on folk having their own experience, then its bound to come out somewhere else in your life.

”It is not a matter of indifference if you serve a mania or a God. To serve a mania is detestable but to serve a God is meaningful (because) it is an act of submission to a higher spiritual being. When the god is not acknowledged, mania develops and out of this mania comes sickness.” C. G. Jung

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was of the opinion that the Soviet people needed to have Stalin as their leader because they had not suffered enough. The senseless anguished purging of the people enabling them better to see themselves in one another’s eyes, to realise their common humanity and hold it sacred.

The Oligarchs oblige us. Everyone knows perfectly well that Oligarchs prefer to stay that way and can only do so at your expense. In Orwellian fashion Free Trade Economy becomes the means to make the rich richer, the poor both poorer and less free until some mega-plague comes along and concentrates lines of inheritance for a while.

So while everyone argues for one candidate or another I  would like to step back and ask, ‘what is it in us that gives such tacit approval to a two horse race between the uber-rich whose primary purpose is to shore up their interests whilst we’re so busy being done to as a trade off for staying at home under the tree where the black spots wont get us?








The Soul’s Revenge.

James Hillman’s book, ‘A Terrible Love of War’, begins with the story of General Patton surveying the aftermath of his battle field, saying, ‘God, I love it so. I love it more than my life.’

We need to put down our prejudices says Hillman, accept the normalcy of war, try to make sense of our love of it and the (seeming) need to wage war for its own sake.

er, except that psychopathic, ‘lead me, follow me, or get out of my way’ Patton, doesn’t speak for me and, in any case, it was winning that Patton was so high on. What so exulted him was not War itself but Victory.

‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like victory’ Kilgore in Apocalypse Now.

Hillman goes on to make the case that War is….

‘a primordial component of being that fathers the very structure of existence.’ J Hillman.

He quotes Emmanuel Kant,

‘The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state, the natural state is one of war.’

which we join, according to Hillman, as a result of our failure to imagine into it sufficiently, the blind march of folly that subdues our reason through..

a working of the levers of duty, following the hierachy of command..’

Yet this feels insufficient. It relegates the cause of war to a martial equivalent of the Doctrine of Privatio Boni, that evil is the absence of good. War is then the absence or failure of individuation, failing to think for oneself, the failure to imagine consequences, failure to resist possession by the collective archetypal force of War itself, a

‘timeless theme of human existence.’ ibid

But is it?

I have been to war. I know the thrill of surviving the day, the power of immersing oneself into a collective identity with a common pointy-ended purpose. I  have lived the racial slurs upon the enemy and bolstered my terror with superior malice. Warfare will indeed focus your mind and leave you little uncertainty about who you are or what needs to happen next. Notions of pillage are additionally tempting as are the tacit agreement that the rule of law and all things sacred are temporarily suspended.

You are the law and do as you please. Veeery tempting.

And then there’s Revenge…

But we need to go further than inquiring into ‘the causes’ of war in order to comprehend it, otherwise we are simply in a debate not unlike arguing over which of a bunch of schoolboys lighting matches set ablaze to a pile of wood. Nor is it sufficient to talk about scarcity of resources. The fact that the Chinese were harvesting millet for a thousand years before the advent of war seems to rule out the theft of resources as a primary motive.

If a peasant population is suffering for lack of basic resources, the main cause of that scarcity is unequal distribution.” B. Ferguson.

It is something that begins with centralised power.

”…pursuit of practical self-interest by those who actually make the decision, leaders often favor war because war favors leaders.’ ibid

Is war normal then, or have we simply normalised it, threaded it into the fabric of our being so that it looks like the original cloth?

In the past, a variety of anthropological studies have been keen to emphasise the warlike nature of certain contemporary ‘primitive’ tribes such as the Yanomami and held these up as insights into our ancient past. More recently it has been shown that many of these warring tribes in all their painted ferocity were tightly linked to European presence and even caused by the incursion of missionaries, anthropologists, slavers, miners and the ‘tertiary needs’ associated with the flood of materials and tools into ‘primitive’ culture.

‘It looks as if, all around the world, what has been called primitive or indigenous warfare was generally transformed, frequently intensified, and sometimes precipitated by Western contact.’ ibid

The Talmud says, ‘We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are”. Our  attribution of inherent warlikeness to the contemporary indiginous cultures of today or to our own forebears is a form of collective projection which maintains the notion that we are sophisticated,evolved and superior by comparison, whilst, at one and the same time, commiting heinous crimes against them now justified by our generous wish to subjugate others for their own good.

So, contemporary ethnographic ‘evidence’ for our inherant warlikeness is highly suspect let alone the assumption that it is an adequate guage for our own antiquity or for the mould of those deeper layers of the Unconscious. It is an assumption rooted in the Dickensian philosophy of ”Phylogeny  recapitulating Ontology” (the evolution of the species has the same stages as the development of the individual), a romantic veiw of our own paradisial past alongside the notion of ‘savages’ being  like children whom we have to help down from the trees.

Or, they are comparable to neurotics, if you like your Freud.

But to suggest as an alternative that war is archetypal is a bold and mighty leap.

For starters the fossil records simply don’t support it. Archeological evidence from around the world shows that warfare has only existed in the last 8,000 years.

The raiding party/hunting pack experience, so ancient we share it with apes and whales, is probably more the kind of archetype in operation if archetypes are to be bought into the discussion, but we still need to be asking how the impulse for an opportunistic raid of the neighbours mango patch gets translated into trillion dollar budgets and cruise missiles..

Eight thousand years is not a long time, yet what has emerged in the Collective Psyche in that twinkling of an eye has the power to stamp out life on earth. So we urgently need to know what we’re dealing with.

If it is not enough to talk about archetypes, or population growth, or the rise of iron weapons how can we account for it?

We could be really radicle and say that war with one’s neighbour is a way of keeping one’s own population under control, a chaotic international situation to divert attention from domestic shenanigins. But even this implies intent. If war is to the collective what a psychotic episode is to the individual there is not much use in talking about intent or conspiracy theories since what is happening is entirely unconscious.

How would it be, instead of looking for the symptoms or preconditions for war, we look at war as a symptom itself, a symptom of something so vast and hideous we can’t see it for what it is….,

‘a wound so common… that hardly anyone knows there is a problem.” R. Johnson

War always seems to be the outcome of real life events, out there in the world. Ferdinand gets shot in Sarajevo and triggers the First World War. Hitler invades Poland and triggers the next…. It all looks so obvious, yet leaders are assasinated on a regular basis without it leading to armed conflict and countries have been invading one another for centuries without it necessarily leading to massive international aggression.

Incidently, Archeduke Ferdinand’s death was as random as you like. The assassins positioned themselves along the route that his open topped carriage was supposed to take, armed with pistols and grenades. But he never showed up. He had gotten lost. So they all retired to a local bar for a drink, like you do when your assassination goes tits up. All of a sudden, who should draw up at the door of the bar all lost and asking the way? Yep. Ferdie himself.

So they killed him.

Which, history tells us, lead to the deaths of 38 million people…

I don’t think so.

I believe that the lynch pin of War’s emergence as a significant, commandeering factor of modern life, is largely down to a favourite pet theory we have about ourselves, a pet theory supported by Darwin, Freud, Neumann, and much of  twentieth century Anthropology, the implicit notion that we White Folks are at the pinnacle of something.

The development of social hierarchies and some being more equal than others requires justification as well as enforcement. That justification is Specialness, more often than not, God-given specialness.

The Special then have to coerse the Un-special into agreeing with a state of affairs clearly not within their interests. How do they do this? By creating a diversion.

Don’t focus on your current abject misery. Don’t live Now, where the sting of the lash is still raising a welt on your back and the gnawing growl of hunger claws at your guts. Think of tomorrow and all the joys of your future liberation in whatever afterlife you have planned or is decreed by your, er, creed.

This is not the real thing. So put up and shut up.  Focus on your future salvation while we fleece you today. This is the principle means by which people are collectively kept in line. So religion has to be hijacked by the Special in order to justify unfairness and inequality. You’ll get yours later. Your reward will be in heaven…

The Special depend on their lordship over the Un-special by luring them out of Now because that  is where freedom lies. We can’t have the Un-special playing outside the rules. It would be like trying to herd cats. Promises of future salvation do the trick. The Un-special then put their shoulders to the wheel in the vain and passive hope for a brighter tomorrow whilst the Special, having been caught up in the gyre of their own PR, are also glassy eyed with the promise of future glory… and ownership. The young Nazi in ‘Cabaret’ sings..

”The sun on the meadow is summery warm, the stag in the forest runs free, but gather together to greet the storm… Tomorrow belongs to me.” from ‘Cabaret’

Unfortunately, this arrangement is a tad flawed for both parties..

“If our religion is based on salvation, our chief emotions will be fear and trembling.” – Carl Jung

Moreover, living in the future soon becomes a form of mass neurosis rooted in insecurity, fuelled by the fear and trembling, enervated by the lack of presence intrinsic to Being-Here-Now….

”Awakening as a future event has no meaning because Awakening  is the realisation of Presence.” E. Tolle.

Life is not something passively lived out by us ants-worrying-about-tomorrow. Life has its own agenda. It wants to be lived, Now and to the Full. Eternity  after all…

”is in love with the clocks of time. W. Blake

It doesn’t like being hived off to some glittery hypothetical possiblity.

”Unlived life does not sit idly on the shelf, it will turn round and bite you..” M.L. von Franz.

And what a bite! For there is nothing more designed to sharpen your present attention than a mob armed with machetes storming up the street, bombs falling from the skies or the crack and thump of being shot at. People often describe intense living, even religious experiences during War which is what it is for, to bring people into the aliveness of Now through a window if it will not be let in the door.

The gods are immanent as well as transcendent. If we spurn ‘Now’, then it will behave like an aggreived personality and express itself through channels we might not be too happy about.

”The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer  rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.” CG. Jung.

We do not wage war, War wages us. Like a jilted lover spewing spite and vengeance, disenfranchised Moment, the fresh intoxicating delight of Now which we’re all so keen to abandon, floods back into our lives like an avenging harpie, a possessive and blood stained Kali, visiting poetic justice on our diffidence to the crucible in which life really occurs.

‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’ ibid

So the archetype involved is actually Eternity, Soul itself grown dark and vindictive…

”the Self as Fiend.” P Ferruci

In her rightful place she is the Aqua Sapientia, the water of life. Deposed in favour of her sister, Tomorrow, (who never comes), she becomes the quest for a glorious death and the corner of a foreign field that is forever (state your nation here).

The Chicken Prince.

In my local town there is a putt-putt course. At the entrance a bold sign exclaims, ‘This game is played at your own risk!”

What are they afraid is going to happen? Might some senior citizen misjudge the strength of his swing and fatally club someone? Perhaps he could fall into the churning blades of Windmill or impale himself upon the plastic spires of Castle? Perhaps he might be swallowed by Snake or rudely thrown to the thundering tracks at Bude Station.

One of the hallmarks of Narcissistic Culture is our capacity to live with split realities. The strange torsion of your mind required to make the putt-putt sign meaningful entails a keeping apart, a split, between child and adult worlds that is really crying out for a unifying symbol to help us with the apparent contradiction of adults playing a child’s game.

Our world is full of such split realities. Collectively we fight for peace and oppress in the name of liberation. George Orwell called it ‘doublethink’, the capacity to hold opposing realities, believe in them both and, most importantly, not have your world disturbed by the contradiction.

Such splits are typical of both the Borderline Personality Disorder and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They tend to be more obvious with the former which often makes the borderline person appear more ‘crazy’ than the dapper narcissist who rarely looses his cool, but in fact his veneer of calm is only permitted by the split in him remaining unconscious. The wounding that caused it is earlier, more damaging and requires stronger defences.. The borderline is actually a bit tougher and can spend at least some time agonising over their failings.

This is because the borderline has one foot across the developmental threshold responsible for symbol formation and the emergent transcendant function that can deal with splits like self/other, inner/outer, conscious/unconscious. The narcissist however, has fewer tools to bridge opposites. His wounding is prior to the developmental stage of a negotiated reality with the world, before the possible transformation of ‘between’.

The alchemists say that, ‘to those who have the symbol the passage is easy’. This is because the healing symbol turns contradiction into paradox and makes us better able to live with ourselves.

‘How can you live with desiring desirelessness?’ someone asked a buddhist sage. ‘It just doesn’t bother me,’ replied the master.

In the West we achieve this capacity to live ‘au dessus de la mellee’ with much greater difficulty. We devalue relatedness and the feast of alternative perspectives it brings. We also devalue ‘Mother’. Freud never uses the pronoun, not once in all his books on childhood. But it is upon mother that the capacity for symbol formation depends.

‘The main threat to the modern infant is that he is the child of a dissatisfied mother.” S de Bouvoir.

If the child is un-contained by mother’s justified yet grevious distraction, then the emerging facets of himself cannot cohere or reorganise themselves into more evolved forms. Time will pass to no avail. There will be no mediation between self and other, no dialogue between I and me and no baseline for behaviour. The world will be ‘ready-at hand’ to quote Hiedeggar, stock to be used and abused rather than having the world be’ present-to-hand’, which is characterised by care and that which is between.

What to do?

An old Sufi story will help us.

The Chicken Prince was so called because the Prince of the Realm would insist on being naked all the time and pecking the ground like a chicken. He could not be persuded to join in even one of the courtly occasions in the proper attire, nor heed a single nicety observed by the good people of that place. The king was in despair. All his wise men had failed him.

Then, one day, an old herder from the hills came to the gate. He knocked saying that in the woods he’d heard a voice telling him to come to the help of the people and so he was lead before the Prince who was in the courtyard pecking away. The old man threw off all his robes and began to peck at the ground alongside the Prince who was a bit surprised…

but a bit relieved.

They pecked and pecked.

Then the old man began to hum as he pecked. Everything seemed to be okay. The Prince was a bit taken aback but it also soothed and so he tried it and discovered to his amazement that he could peck and hum together. They spent the whole afternoon humming and pecking.

Next day, after much humming and pecking, the old man began to make music like water over stones while he pecked. He quietly gurgled and span his sounds as he pecked. The Prince was a bit startled but he was also comforted by the old man’s undinting pecks and so he was encouraged and tried it for himself . It was delicious. He began to sing and peck and got so excited that before he knew it, it was time for bed.

Next day the Chicken Prince found the old man under one of the tables in the feasting hall muttering words to himself as he pecked and he kept certain things that seemed precious to him close by. He pecked and coddled his treasures and made words. The Prince was amazed but with a whoop he scampered off and found a treasure of his own making words all the way.

All day they pecked and coddled their treasures and made words.

Next day the old man had words and pants. The Prince was deeply impressed. ‘Why are you wearing pants?’ asked the boy, making his words.

‘I can be a chicken and wear pants’, said the old man. It seemed to be true. So he tried it and his pants were wonderful. So were his cool shoes. He found that even knives and forks were no impediment to his being able to express his inner chicken whenever he wanted. When he was in the mood…

which was less these days…

and so the Prince grew up to be wise and just…

and the old herder went back to his hills and wondered about stuff.

So what had actually happened? The kindly herder had done what he did best, he gently herded the disparate fragments of the Prince’s psyche into the same space so that they could get to know one another. He gave the boy the chance of finding his transcendent function, his treasure, by bearing the tension between opposing realities.

”The transcendant function is not something one can do oneself, it comes from experiencing the conflict of opposites.’ C G Jung.

which then,

”facilitates transition from one attitude to another.” ibid

If there is a cultural pattern in early development, a collective trend in response to the schism between mother and infant inevitable in misogynistic society, one in which children are bound to feel they have to supress themselves to live and that being made to feel bad about oneself is for your own good, then we will become collectively split, people of the lie, ever in retreat from the horror that to follow one’s own destiny is a form of self annihilation. The threshold cannot be crossed.

”Madness is not simply a propensity to participate in alternate realities but a loss of  power to move freely among them.” J Nelson.

You can come across any number of examples of this in every day life. I was out walking my dog in the lane. A much older man overtakes at high speed, ‘power walking’, all sweat and gasping. A mile further on he’s ground to a halt. As I pass by he staggers over, grasps my arm and begins a monologue about potholes in the road where he comes from and how the roads here are like silk. The glory of the warm lane actually beneath his feet is apparently being saved for later, for when he in that traffic jam on the potholes. Morning or evening he’s a stranger to now. And the common thread of his day is that he’s never here.

A bit further on and my neighbour storms out of his cottage, flapping the sleeves of his jumper in frustration at the gorgeous indian summer sky. ‘You just don’t know what to do!” he yelled. As if the sun lacked the etiquette of observing proper form for the season.

On the way to the shop I bump into a mate with a long face. He’s certain his future is blighted despite the fact that he has just qualified in a new vocation and has been given a work placement. It doesn’t add up. Though this feeling of dependence and being unfed is congruent with his life script. His wife joins in the wail of inevitable poverty and miserlyness. It didn’t seem to occur to them that life is people and that they were therefore talking about each other, taking pythonesque comfort from the shared agreement and mutual head nodding of just how awful they really are.

Further along an aquaintance asks what I’ve been up to. I tell him I’ve been walking the dog and in the woods. ‘Ah the woods’, he muses wistfully. ” I love the woods but I’ve never got a good enough reason to go there,” .. all imparted jovial and calm, yet how it must tear at him not to have sufficient cause to do what he loves. Upon what precedent must such a double bind be nested? What can be inferred about the quality of life itself from such a trap? Does he feel the same about sex, friendship, a vocation? And if so what kind of fractious, driven, inner hell can it be when the richness of life is not a sufficient reason to live it?