Notes from Beachy Head.

If you believed the story about Lemmings throwing themselves from cliffs, as I did, for decades, what else are you so sure of that just ain’t so?

Turns out it was a lie. Lemmings do not throw themselves from clifftops. Apparently the whole thing was invented by Walt Disney who wanted to sex up a documentary he made in 1958 called, ‘White Wilderness.” According to Canadian Wildlife and Fisheries the sets were fake, the Lemmings had to be bussed in from Manitoba where they were herded about and finally thrown, manually, into the sea. All in aid of Walt’s ‘True life adventure’ series…..

”The lemmings supposedly committing mass suicide by leaping into the ocean were actually thrown off a cliff by the Disney filmmakers.” R. Woodford.

Meantime the narrator Winston Hibbler trills,

“A kind of compulsion seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each falls into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny.”

The lie is as obsessively strange as the story.

The fantasy is more curious and interesting than the motive for deception.

Perhaps it says more about Disney and the culture he was helping to mould than he might have wished. It is the disney generation, after all, that have a taste for marching off cliffs like never before, not the sensible and much maligned Lemming.

Beachy Head is a favourite clifftop for Britons to kill themselves. It even has a beer named after it, ‘Beachy Head’s Christmas Jumper, critisised by families of the deceased as ‘insensitive’. The clifftop is patrolled by chaplains who are about to be de-funded despite awards from the Queen. A gift shop in town sells sombre writing pads of just a few leaves and disposable pens with black ink.

No, that last bits not true, about the shop.

After several tours of combat duty what began to weigh upon me most heavily was not the horror of war, nor what I had done, or seen, or had levelled at me. It was how easy it had been to persuade me to march from the cliff top even without any great desperation to die or madly scribble goodbyes.

Do we have a ‘death instinct’ as a species, or is there something peculiar about a culture that immolates itself on a steady basis? Recently released statistics of US service suicides show that troops are actually killing themselves at a higher rate than are killed by Isis, though the figures seem to be consistent with a shocking three-fold increase in US civilian suicides since 2000.

What is going on?

You might be tempted, along with Walt’s phoney commentator, to postulate that sudden increases in suicides were about overpopulation or some dire tragedy unfolding so desperate we’d die to avoid it, but the evidence points to the contrary. Countries with the lowest GPU and the toughest lives are also the least at risk from suicide. Psychoanalyst and Auchwitz survivor Bruno Bettleheim made the observation of physical and mental extremis that …

‘Despite the inhuman deprivation in the camps there was scarcely ever a suicide.’ B. Bettleheim.

Others are of the opinion that suicide is an act of revenge.

”It is always consoling to think of suicide. In that way one gets through many a bad night.” F. Nietzsche.

though in all fairness Fredrick, a dose of tertiary syphilis combined with the terminal mercury poisoning used to treat the 19th C pecker would wear down anyone’s will to live.

There is a fantastic movie called, ‘Drowning by Numbers,’ a macabre look at the vast grey area between murdering yourself and murdering others. It puts an astute line into the mouth of Smut, an adolescent boy in a family of killers and sycophants who finally hangs himself with a skipping rope,

”to punish all those who have caused great unhappiness by their selfish actions.” Smut

all of which would seem to bear out the anonymous saying..

‘when you commit suicide you are killing the wrong person.’

‘Retroflected’ rage is rage turned back upon oneself, but with the intent to castigate those left behind. I’ve known several people to be saved from suicide by realising how much they wanted to (justifiably) kill their nearest and dearest.

The wish to kill oneself is what Marion Woodman would call, ‘concretisation’, doing on the outside what needs to happen on the inside, doing in the flesh what needs to happen in the psyche, making a symbolic equation between matter and identity. We mistake the pointing finger for the moon and believe it is ourselves that have to die rather than our situation, our self-construct, or a belief system that no longer serves.

”Without dying to the world of the old order, there is no place for renewal, because it is illusory to hope that growth is but an additive process requiring neither sacrifice nor death. The soul favors the death experience to usher in change. Veiwed this way, the suicidal impulse is a transformative drive..”            James Hillman.

There’s an old buddhist saying,..

”if you are going to kill yourself be careful not to harm your body.” anon.

The dying has to happen, by itself, from within. This is trixy for anyone with humungous control issues. In fact, you could say that suicide was a way of trying to cheat death itself by taking on the job ahead of time, when what life you have, when death itself, cannot be something to look forward to as meaningful experience. Suicide is a logical choice of any life lived purely for its own ends and for whom there is no mystery.

On page one of a Google search on the subject you will find‎ whose banner runs..

‘Do not try to predict the future,’

It’s an insightful warning to those in their legion whose narcissistic control issues are so enfragiled that they have to know what’s happening next all the time, even to the point of orchestrating their own demise.

‘Live as though you had centuries, then you live hopefully.’ C. G.Jung

We all intuit that there is more to this life than meets the eye, some mystery that the mind cannot fathom, some sense of self that lies outside time and space, unconstrained by the clay of mortal frailty. We have a longing to be aquainted with this realm and can be tempted to hurry the process for want of being fed in ‘this’ world,  forgetting that anything existing outside time and space is, by definition, already here….

The longing to escape is the longing to find meaning irrespective of one’s circumstance and station, meaning which the ego realises it cannot provide for itself, in which it is defeated, but of which it can avail itself by turning, finally, to its own deep roots.

You are the tree not the leaf.

There is an apocryphal story of a Rabbi and his group picked out for torture before death in the Nazi camps. They finally had to dig the pit of their own mass grave. They were stripped and thrown in. Soldiers stepped forward cocking automatic Shmeisers.

‘Well’, said the captain, what have you to say now Rabbi?

The Rabbi replied, ‘ We have one another down here, I am in the bossom of my People and already in the arms of Eternal Life. What about you?’

this article is adapted from my book on self-destructiveness, ‘Going Mad to Stay Sane.’


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).