InnerQuest NC Psychiatry and Counseling

High Anxiety and the Risks of Democracy: The Psychology of the American Voter

Reprinted from the Huffington Post Written by Pythia Peay The presidential election is upon us and the body politic, buffeted by anxiety, is under stress. In part two of my interview with Jungian psychoanalyst Murray Stein, president of the International School of Analytical Psychology, he addresses the psychology around being a voter in America's large and ever-changing democracy. The following is an edited version of our conversation. Pythia: Every four years, American voters endure a period of anxiety as they wait and see who their next president will be. No one ever talks about this, but is this part of the territory that comes with participating in a democracy? Stein: Absolutely. A person living in ancient Egypt wouldn't have had to endure these seasons of anxiety around election time, since the pharaoh decided everything for them. So it does call for emotionally mature people to tolerate the uncertainties of an election. With all the money that's behind the creation of images and ads, the dilemma that voters face is whether they can believe what they see. But on a personal level, voters have to be aware of other psychological factors influencing their decision -- family dynamics, for example, such as "my father is voting for that candidate, so I'm choosing the other candidate." So the demand on voters to educate themselves in order to make a conscious choice when they pull that lever is very high. Pythia: I can imagine that for some citizens, the feelings of discomfort could become so pronounced they might even shy away from voting. Could you say more about how to tolerate these feelings of anxiety? Stein: Nobody likes anxiety. Pharmaceutical companies make a lot of money from this type of psychic pain by marketing anti-anxiety drugs. But the desire to be rid of anxiety is really a desire for regression to a childlike state where you don't have to worry about anything, because everything will be taken care of. Freud said that the ego is the seat of anxiety, because anxiety is linked to becoming a separate individual with choice and responsibilities. So those who are psychologically mature carry around anxiety all the time. If they're living their life fully, they're always taking risks, they know that the people they love are at risk, and politically they know that there are no guarantees that their candidate will win the election. Pythia: If the recent debates are any indication, it seems that one of the criteria by which Americans judge their presidents is their ability to be strong and aggressive. To an extent, I think it's important for a leader to possess these traits. But is our over-emphasis on strength part of our discomfort with freedom -- we want a powerful leader to compensate our anxiety? Stein: The desire to have a strong leader comes out of profound anxiety and the wish to get rid of it. People look for somebody to lead them, and to tell them what to do. But as history has shown, the so-called strong leader can sometimes be a dangerous figure. For a democracy like ours, it's better to have someone with common sense and the ability to find a sane balance among competing forces. What we look for in citizens in a democracy is that they are able to be strong individuals who can carry anxiety and accept the responsibility to vote according to the best interests of the country. They also accept the results if an election goes against their wishes. That's a part of maturity -- you can't win every game. An election is a contest, and someone will lose while the other wins. Pythia: On the issue of competition, I wonder if some of the anxiety voters experience around the election stems from the combative nature of American politics. For instance, one of my sons said he was excited to watch the debates because they were going to be like good boxing matches. I, on the other hand, experience a lot of anxiety around watching the two candidates go up against each other. In handling my anxiety in a mature way, do I have a duty to watch the debates despite my discomfort? Stein: These political contests are like a blood sport. The two candidates are highly trained political athletes; they know how to accept a victory or a loss. Some people who are watching the debates and the race get a thrill out of seeing whether their guy is winning or not, while others find it agonizing to watch. That said, there are some anxieties that aren't necessary to take on board. If watching the debates makes you too anxious, I would suggest you stay away from it, and study it afterwards. The most important duty of a citizen is to cast a ballot that is informed. Elections can go awry, people can elect the wrong person and then regret it. But these are the risks of democracy, and I don't see any other system given the stage in the evolution of consciousness that we're in today. Pythia: What does democracy have to do with the evolution of our human consciousness? Stein: As I alluded [to] earlier, people were once satisfied to live under rulers they believed it was their duty to obey. But that isn't the case today. Americans especially don't think like that. Increasingly, we're living in the age of the individual, and individuals demand a voice. If you take that freedom away, a huge pressure builds up; you can see this happening in the Middle East. So despite the inevitable setbacks, I believe that the growing awareness that the individual has rights, dignity and even a quasi-divine status as a soul is a part of the evolution of human consciousness. And basically democracy is the only system that respects this kind of awareness -- so we have to have democracy and bear the anxiety of these elections. Click Here to Read the Original Article in the Huffington Post
It’s been 11 years since 9-11 and in that period of time it seems there has been little progress made toward bridging the enormous divides that existed and possibly contributed to the iconic images the world recorded on that fateful Tuesday. If some of those responsible for flying airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center imagined they were redressing a wrong committed when infidels occupied holy lands to Muslims in the first Gulf War, their dramatic action led to an even larger presence of Westerners throughout the Middle East. Westerners watched the carnage of 9-11 and the United States briefly received the heartfelt empathy from people around the world but within months our military might was acting with a sort of collective bravado that made President Bush's premature declaration of victory not only wrong but absurd. Coming September 20, 2012 "Bridging West and East: C. G. Jung and richard Wilhelm, a Fateful Relationship" Within 7 years of 9-11 the world witnessed the United States of America elect its first Black President, surely a sign of hope that differences were being overcome. However, bridging the divide between Islam and the West, between the poor and the rich, or even between blacks and whites in America has proven difficult. Eleven years after the world witnessed nearly 3000 people consumed in a blaze fueled by hatred as much as unspent jet fuel, the lessons that might have been learned go unrecognized. Jung and analytical psychology have had answers to some of these most vexing problems. That the psyche may dichotomize the world of its impressions, that enantiodromia is as fundamental a feature of psychological function as the wave/particle duality is a fundamental feature of an electron, and that there are paths that allow a person to transcend such dichotomies are well established after nearly a century of Analytical Psychology. In fact, those avenues explored by Jung to contend with the divides of our psychological life have much earlier roots. When Richard Wilhelm set out as a Christian Missionary to China he left behind the conventional practice of Western Missionaries that begins and ends in the goal of conversion. Instead, he entered his mission field with deep respect and reverence for a culture and its people with thousands of years of collective history. While he served he also listened and opened himself to the wisdom that was before him. Because of that attitude, he was able to notice the jewel of the The Secret of the Golden Flower when he came upon it. He applied himself to translating it into German and thereby broadened that avenue by which Westerners might seek to reconcile apparent opposites.   Eleven years has been accompanied by dramatic changes. Here are some examples of things the world witnessed since the collapse of two towering and iconic images of Western capitalism.
  • Countless lives lost through war, terror, starvation, treatable diseases, senseless gun violence, and downstream health effects of environmental degradation.
  • Countless efforts by poor, disenfranchised people around the world to secure basic human rights including the Arab spring, Chinese dissidents, striking South African mine workers, self-immolation by Tibetan Buddhist monks, an indigenous leader delivers a petition with 600,000 signatures to the Brazilian government demanding that construction of a $10 billion dam be halted (Ireo Kayapo), Occupy WalL Street protesters seeking to diminish economic inequalities, women seeking inclusion and seeking basic safety and protection, and much more.
  • Repeated instances of threatened economic uncertainty related to a hyperfocus upon principles that are becoming enshrined despite conflicting evidence. When taken to extremes, these ideas contribute to uncertainty and dramatic reversals. They include: the invisible hand made famous by Adam Smith’s infrequent invocation, free trade, globalization, deregulation, high frequency trading (H.F.T.), procurement of natural resources (like rare earth elements), ECB and debtor nations like Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal), and more.
  • Developing shifts in power from West to East, from North to south, from mature industrialized to emerging , industrializing nations.
  • Countless threats of tipping points being reached in terms of environmental degradation like: the accumulation of toxins in the Pacific garbage patch, global warming accelerating the melting of Arctic ice, Colony Collapse Disorder that is threatening bee populations, food and water supply shortages, debris from the Japanese tsunami washing ashore in the US introducing potentially invasive species, and loss of biodiversity.
  • Introduction of potentially disruptive technology like: introduction of genetically modified foods, genomic research (including gene therapy), adoption of WiFi, adoption of Bluetooth standards, the public offering of Google (2004), Facebook is launched (2004), adoption of LED lighting, the opening of GPS (approx. 2004), Twitter is launched (2006)the first release of the iPhone (2007), introduction of the Kindle e-ink reader (2007), the release of the first iPad (2010), wider use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), expansion of deep water oil drilling,
Bridges to connect the vast differences between Islam and the West or the East and the West. There is a tinderbox full of volatile issues that can easily be ignited. On September 20, 2012 The Asheville Jung Center, in conjunction with ISAPZurich, will be presenting “Bridging West and East: C. G. Jung and Richard Wilhelm, a Fateful Relationship”. Dr. Murray Stein, along with Bettina Wilhelm (Richard Wilhelm’s granddaughter, and Shiuya Sara Liuh , a Training Candidate at ISAPZurich, will present the conference. Richard Wilhelm translated the I Ching and The Secret of the Golden Flower , two books that had profound effect upon C. G. Jung.   The polarization between nation states, between cultures, and even between factions with different cultures has become more exaggerated since the collapse of the Twin Towers 11 years ago. Richard Wilhelm devoted himself to bridging the chasm between the cultures of the East and West. Perhaps one way we can honor the 11th anniversary of 9-11 is to rededicate ourselves to building bridges that transcend the polarizations that continue to reassert themselves. Let us allow the streams from many different traditions to merge into a mighty river whose force can wash away any residue of fear and animosity arising from the illusions about our human condition. Many readers of the AJC are People of the Book. The following words are offered as a sort of meditation, you are invited to approach it as a sort of lectio divina. “You must be free from the pairs of opposites. Poise your mind in tranquility.” (Bhagavad Gita) “And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind,” (Qur'an al-Baqarah2:143) “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) Jesus said to them: When you make the two one, and when you make the inside as the outside, and the outside as the inside, and the upper as the lower, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male is not male and the female not female, and when you make eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then shall you enter [the kingdom]. The Gospel of Thomas (Nag Hammadi Coptic Text) ““Nothing can exist without its opposite; the two were one in the beginning and will be one again in the end.” (C. G. Jung)   "When yang has reached its greatest strength, the dark power of yin is born within its depths. For night begins at midday when yang breaks up and begins to change to yin." (Commentary by C. G. Jung in the Secret of the Golden Flower)   “Thus one can no longer maintain the division between the observer and the observed. (in quantum theory) Rather, observer and observed are merging and interpenetrating aspects of one whole reality… (Wholeness and the Implicate Order 1981, p.9 )   “There were two brothers, the Black Knight and the White Knight, and they set off on a quest, each on his own, one going north and the other one south. After many years they met in a dark wood, and did not know each other. They immediately assumed that they were enemies until, when both were lying bleeding to death on the grass, they undid their helmets and recognized that they were brothers.” (Journey Inward, Journey Outward 1968, p.2)   Len Cruz