Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Cold War Psychohistory in the Scottish Psyche

The Inner Life of Conflict

It is customary to think of the Cold War as having been a post–World War II phenomenon, tersely strung between Stalin and Gorbachev. Whilst that may be so within a narrowly–defined system boundary, it is psychologically naive. To appreciate the wider and deeper perspective, we must inform our discourse with psychohistory – the emerging discipline that examines inter–relationships between “outer” or “factual” historical events and the “inner” and “mythic” psychodynamic processes of individuals and whole peoples. Without such a challenging approach, it is impossible adequately to address either the aetiology or the prognosis of Scotland’s ongoing Cold War.

Superficially, the Cold War was about an East–West standoff – communism versus capitalism conceived very much in 20th century terms. However, I want to suggest that, psychologically speaking, this was just a presenting symptom of a much larger syndrome of modernity; one deeply embedded in a need dualistically to draw a line and distinguish an in–group from an out–group. I have lost count of how many times I have heard senior military officers privately say, “When we joined the Services it was clear cut. The Russians were over there, we were over here, and our job was to keep it that way. But since the Berlin Wall came down, we’re not so sure where the line is drawn and for what we may be asked to fight.”

Post 9/11, that line has, in many minds, been reconsolidated. The enemy that was “communism” is now “terrorism”. “He” is now Arabic/Islamic rather than Red. He comes replete with a latter–day highly–personalised demonology of Bin Laden, Saddam and other Tarot–esque gamblers (or gambled with) on fate’s deck of cards. This transmogrification of one enemy into another was psychologically inevitable. The Berlin Wall came down in outer history, yet the inner structures that had sustained it remained in place. Those controlling power in the West spoke of the “Peace Dividend” outwardly, but overlooked the inner need to adjust to events. They failed to see the authoritarian mind’s need to see the world in simple, black and white terms, and if necessary to manufacture such seemingly–secure polarities to maintain group identity and purpose (Pennington, Gillen & Hill, 1999; Gromyko & Hellman, 1988).

In my experience, notwithstanding their interest in “psyops” (psychological operations), many of the military (and politicians) are considerably resistant to examining their own relationship to psychodynamics. Arguably, for some, and, perhaps, for these subcultures as a generalisation, it brings home too many unresolved issues from alienated and alienating early childhoods where, as has been widely biographically demonstrated with many key figures, strong team and leadership identity has seemingly emerged from a fractured primal integrity (Duffell 2000; Miller 1987; Gillegan 1997; McIntosh 2001). It is true that there has been recent CIA interest in the disturbed childhood psychodynamics of figures like Saddam Hussein, particularly through the work of Dr Jerrold Post (Borger 2002), but I have also heard the significance of this played down within the military, perhaps with some immediate tactical justification, as “lacking sufficiently reliable predictive power”. I wish to emphasise that, in drawing attention to the psychopathology of war, it is crucial not to overplay the hand and pathologise away real threat. My appeal to integrating psychodynamic insight with objectively factual history is not to deny the very real issues upon which conflict can be pegged – for example, the human rights record of the former Soviet Union, offensive military build–ups, Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds, the West’s greed for oil, a festering Israel/Palestine situation, Crusade interwoven with Jihad in the minds of militant fundamentalists on both sides, and so on. These realities are of great importance. Rather, I am highlighting the need to remember that consciousness is a function of outer perception and inner cognition. We must therefore try to “read” geopolitics with eyes less tinted by projections. Equally, we must learn, as one of the arts of peace, how to de–couple the other’s projections (and, in psychodynamic parlance, countertransferences) onto us. Achieving such mutually clear recognition between peoples and in their representatives is prerequisite to avoiding the continual generation of new enemies. Without such psychological awareness, any remaining Peace Dividend from the Cold War is doomed to improvidence, and perhaps catastrophically so.

Dynamics of the Split Psyche

My position is well summed up by the Indian Jesuit thinker, Anthony de Mello. “Do you know where wars come from?” he asks. “They come from projecting outside of us the conflict that is inside. Show me an individual in whom there is no inner self–conflict and I’ll show you an individual in whom there is no violence” (de Mello, 1992, 182).

Applying this to Cold War psychohistory means exploring beyond the geopolitical, military and economic presenting symptoms and examining possible applications of analytical (which is to say, Jungian) depth psychology. As a contemporary Jungian political thinker puts it, “What connects depth psychology and politics is a preoccupation with therapy. The analyst of complexes is preoccupied with the therapy of the individual; the analyst of politics is preoccupied with the therapy of the nation or society or the world” (Samuels, 1993, 30).

What, then, might be a framework for such analysis?

Whilst aspects of Freudian theory have been discredited in recent years, few would challenge Freud’s basic observation that conflict between inner needs and the outer socially–imposed “reality principle” may be reduced by a process of splitting off from ego–consciousness, and repression into the personal unconscious. “Go, go, go, said the bird,” in Eliot’s Four Quartets, “human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality.” In Freud’s understanding, civilisation emerges out of sublimated dissonance between the urge for pleasure, and the “reality principle” of social norms that constrain it (Freud 1991; Brown 1991).

Jung further developed this into what he called “complex psychology” – the psychology of the quasi–autonomous “complexes” that result from such splitting parts off from conscious awareness in such ways. He introduced the term, “complex”, (first used by Bleuler), or “feeling–toned complex”, to designate “groups of feeling–toned ideas in the unconscious” (Jacobi 1968, 36–39). A suitable analogy is an electromagnetic field, “toned”, or given distinctively tuned characteristics, by specific magnetic disturbances. Here, the “magnetic disturbances” are traumatic or uncomfortable emotional circumstances, and the “electromagnetic field” is the “libido” – the energy of the psyche. “Psyche”, in turn, can be defined as the totality of what it means to be a human being, “body, mind and soul”. In Jung’s view, psyche is ultimately interconnected with the rest of reality; with the totality of human and all other nature. He therefore surmised: “People who know nothing about nature are of course neurotic, for they are not adapted to reality” (Jung 1967, 190).

To Jung, then, ordinary psychic “dis–ease” or neurosis resulted from a defective adjustment to reality. It is as if the energy–charged complexes keep knocking on life’s door, reminding that not all is well within. More radical psychic disease – psychosis – arises when complexes don’t merely tap on the ego’s carefully controlled constructs of conscious life, but start to take it over. Jung saw war in these terms. He saw the Second World War as an outbreak of collective psychosis rooted in overly–rational modern humankind’s alienation from mythic and erotic expression.

Those unacceptable and denied parts which have been split off from the conscious life of the psyche contribute to what Jung called the “shadow” – Dr Jeckyll’s alter–ego in Mr Hyde. The problem is not that we all have psychological shadows. It is that when we deny the constellation of repressed complexes that make up our shadow, the psyche seems to have a peculiar talent for projecting it out into the world in ways that we don’t always realise. It is as if the hidden inner world shapes our outer perceptual and cognitive frameworks. Our capacity to see is constrained by what we are, and inasmuch as we don’t understand what we are, so much the worse for us and those around us. The “other”, who we demonise, may say more about ourselves than about them. It is as if we have an inclination to most hate in others that which has been hermetically compartmentalised and repressed with an inner violence within ourselves. Thus, for example, the gay–basher may be the upright and uptight pillar of the establishment who most fears his own latent homosexuality. The pacifist may be adept at passive–aggression, and so on. The individual least grounded in her own cultural identity may be the one who most yearns the acceptance of in–group solidarity by stirring hatred against out–groups – as with the woman who was convicted a few years ago for putting up anti–English “Settler Watch” notices in the Scottish Highlands, and was a German incomer!

Applied militarily, mechanisms of splitting, repression and projection force us to ask how far our fears of the other really are justified. How much does our perception of the misdeeds of the “enemy” differ from their perception of ours? Studies of the social psychology of prejudice and stereotyping demonstrate how very easy it is to cultivate a group dynamic of misrepresentation and hatred. Sometimes, this may be justified – there being good reason to fear the other. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Other times, we may be adding fuel to the fire because we have perhaps justifiably erected outward defences, but failed to attend to our own inner constellation of forces that influences the assessment of threat. To invert the popular expression, “Just because they’re out to get you doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid.”

We can probably say that any situation where there is a clear–cut “us–and–them” dynamic, together with caricature to a mythological degree, is conducive of shadow projection. Both the Cold War, and the current War on Terrorism, unmistakably show these features. Saddam was a “monster”, no doubt, but as former Labour Party minister Dennis Healey said at the onset of the First Gulf War, “he’s a monster [in part] of our own making”. Add to this the power of stereotyping in group roles, and the hypnotic power of obedience to authority, and it becomes indisputable that very little stands between an otherwise nice person and the capacity severely to abuse others (Haney, Banks & Zimbardo 1973; Milgram 1974). Cold War “Reds under the beds” psychology is a disturbingly everyday psychopathology � and by the way � notice the revealing psychodynamic allusion in that expression – precisely why, we might ask, should it be our “beds” that the “Reds” ostensibly lurk “under”?

Splitting of the Psyche and Atoms

In psychological terms, then, the Cold War can be seen as a splitting of the entire world into a charged polarity. In its late–modern form, this took place in a context of Stalinist pogroms on the one hand, and McCarthyite fascism on the other. Each of these rendered the occupation of intellectual and ontological middle ground unsafe, thereby focussing energy at the extremes. Each sought total obedience to its own way of relating to reality and was, as such, both neurotic and totalitarian; in sum, like the iconic Dr Strangelove, they were psychotic. Each necessitated a psychic splitting and repression in the collective unconscious. It then took either enormous courage to refuse to conform, or self–breaking of the spirit to toe the party line and, in so doing, offend against inner integrity. When such a collective wounded self was projected back out onto the other, the consequences in military firepower were globally life–threatening.

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