Le XXI siécle sera religieux ou ne sera pas
The XXI century will be religious, or will not be
(die Götter) haben sich selber einmal zu Tode gelacht! Das geschah, als das gottloseste Wort von einem Gotte selber ausging--das Wort "Es ist Ein Gotte"
(the Gods) one day killed themselves by laughing! It happened when the most godless utterance was spoken by a God--the utterance: "There is only one God"
The author of this paper is a European analyst of Italian origin, now living in the U.S. In keeping with this change of landscape, I will break an atavistic rule of my background and will use the first person more freely to voice my thoughts and feelings. Acting under the urgency of the events of September 11, I will forego scholarly writing even though with my background it is the preferred, respectable style.(1) I will try to keep my reflections psychological yet I will not avoid at least touching upon other fields. I am writing under the impulse to foster a better understanding between Islam and the West.
To prepare the way for dialogue about Islam and the West, I first want to reflect on differences between the "West" and the "American West." Knowing both sides of the Atlantic, I feel that the unity of the "West" is often fictitious, hypocritical--a fragile mask. I have tried to tell my American colleagues things that Europeans often see but do not say in their professional or personal transatlantic conversations. Europeans are bound more tightly to old codes of politeness that prohibit criticism, especially direct criticism, of their interlocutor. Beyond cultural codes, however, Europeans are "older," more tired and skeptical, therefore prone to believe that energy poured into debates is often wasted. I believe, on the contrary, that the European attitude is a waste: one may criticize many things about Americans but not their willingness to listen, have a dialogue, and change if you prove to them that something is worth changing.
I. On "Divine Justice"
In the perception--conscious and unconscious--of many we entered an "Age of Hubris" when we made the passage from the 20th to the 21st century. In our "new age" human arrogance knows no limits. Tragically, our arrogance followed upon a century ruled by secular and rational values. In the perception of Nietzsche--later shared by Freud, Jung and all of us--our passage from the 19th to the 20th century witnessed "the death of God." In the 20th century Western culture became--at least officially--secular and rational. The tragedy of our combined arrogance and secular reason is that Man has replaced God as the supreme authority: From a psychological point of view, Man can feel as omnipotent as God.
Our modernity--or post-modernity--is characterized not by the absence of God but by the substitution of a "divinized" human for the divinity of God. We can observe, for example, the human usurpation of godlike power whenever biology and medicine manipulate or re-create life and attempt to abolish the limits imposed by time and age upon the body.
Though we may dispose of God as an abstract idea, declaring God dead, we cannot dismiss the practical function of a supreme limit or judge of our deeds. (2) The classical world knew a religious respect for limits. The gods punished those who wanted to be happy or powerful without limit, those who wanted to be like the gods. I have expanded upon this theme in an earlier work, Growth and Guilt: Psychology and the Limits of Development. (3) In this ancient model, hubris is inseparable from nemesis. It is characteristic of the stories of hubris and judgment that arrogance is punished by its own excesses rather than by an enemy. For example, in Herodotus (who invented historiography and whose model of explanation had unconsciously remained more myth than history) the Persian invasion of Greece is defeated above all by its unrestrained ambition (Books VI and VII): the fleet cannot find a large enough harbor and the army cannot maneuver because of its size.
As history gradually unleashed the pursuit of progress, growth, and omnipotence, the West abandoned all respect for limits. The limits, however, did not disappear. As happens with every mythology and religious principle, the archetypal respect for limits has been repressed and rendered unconscious but not abolished. Self-limiting factors still act upon us but without our participating consciousness.
Our limits surface again to consciousness in two forms. First, we re-encounter them in popular entertainment where hubris is punished. We flock, for instance, to the cinema to see stories of arrogant technologies that destroy their human makers, stories from Frankenstein to The Terminator, The Titanic to Jurassic Park. Secondly, science and common sense present us with the unwanted and often unexpected consequences of our technological advances. We know that our habits of excess spoil the environment, devour natural resources, raise the earth's temperature, change climate, extinguish plant and animal species, and replace forests with deserts.
Scientific forecasts echo the archaic tale of nemesis, the mythic punishment of hubris and greed. In the years between 1950 and 2000 humankind consumed more resources than in the whole of history till 1950--this is greed. As population grows, consumption keeps increasing and the forecasts grow darker. The paralysis of transportation follows from the arrogant expectation that we should be able to travel anywhere anytime: In the year 2025, forecasts predict that U.S. citizens will waste 8000 centuries of their time sitting in stopped traffic. Most recently we saw the sudden ruinous devaluations of the stock market due to the intoxicating excesses and staggering failures of new internet companies.
Let us sum up. The myth of "Divine Justice" as punishment for excessive arrogance is more alive than ever in the psyche. Our unhesitating habits of excess produce consequences that point to our limits whether we wish to acknowledge those limits or not (archetypal expectation of justice). Divine justice, however unconsciously, holds the attention of both scholars and unsophisticated masses. The tale of divine justice screams out to be retold. Under these circumstances, the latent myth of punishment for limitless arrogance (nemesis punishing hubris) combines with a genuine need for Divine Justice. We long for a divine presence after the death of God (archetypal expectation of a divine element).
Our need for limits and for justice also has its risks. Such longing leaves individuals and groups vulnerable to possession by an avenger mythology. Groups will wish to believe that God will be revived by their avenging acts. When an avenging mythology seizes a group, the group's acts must possess the magnitude--the symbolic and the persuasive character--of divine acts if the group is to stay cohesive and to gather support. Here again is the danger: the unconscious identification with divine justice is as arrogant and dangerous as the illusion of omnipotence, the illusion of being "beyond good and evil."
Now let's move a step further. The most universally known modern myth of hubris-nemesis, of justice curbing limitless greed is Marxism. Although the myth was a constant presence in our collective consciousness for more than a century, practical Marxism failed. Communism is dead because it proved ineffective in a modern economy, even more so because Marxist prophecy went wrong. Communism was first and foremost a faith. As such, it could dismiss its economic figures but not its "religious" prophecy. Marx had foreseen for the industrialized world an increasing, tragic impoverishment of the masses, masses robbed by capitalists. But in the West the enormous increase of wealth, combined with social provisions, prevented the drastic opposition of classes anticipated by Marx. The success of the Western middle class created an acceptable situation rather than the conditions for revolution.
Yet, if communism as a state system has proved unviable, the same cannot be said of the Marxist myth. Marxist prophecy envisioned an increasing separation of the opposites (which analytical psychology has taught us to fear). The growing distance between the dispossessed and the rich would signify the victorious hubris of the powerful. Secondly, Marxist prophecy awaited the sudden reunion, the sudden reversal (revolution, enantiodromia) of the one-sided aggrandizement of the rich and the exploitation of workers. The reversal represented a return of natural balance--nemesis, justice!
The first stage of the Marxist myth--the triumph of greed--never saw the light in the Western nations. Although Marxist prophecy failed to materialize as expected, the prophecy is being realized today where Marx never anticipated it. It is precisely the dramatic increase of distance between the wealthy and the dispossessed that is now exploding--not between classes in a country but between "classes of countries" on a global scale.
When Karl Marx was still a baby (1820), the highest per-capita income of a country (at that time Great Britain) was approximately three times higher than that of one of the countries at the lowest end (India, China). In 1900, Great Britain was still at the top but its per-capita income had climbed to nine times that of the countries at the bottom of the list (Egypt and others). In the twentieth century statistics are uncomparably more precise and also uncomparably more tragic. The best average personal income (interestingly, not found in the U.S. but in Switzerland followed by Japan) ranks 500-600 times higher than the one of Mozambique (well over $40,000/year compared to less than $80/year). The first part of the Marxist prophecy is being realized but not as Marx had foreseen. The distance between "haves" and "have-nots" has grown dramatically but the tension is primarily between rich and poor countries, not classes.
The Mediterranean Sea, historically at the origin of Western prosperity, watches its nemesis. The dispossessed of the Middle East have nothing to lose beyond an idle life of hunger and illness. They try to escape their fate and risk suicidal trips on boats with scarcely enough fuel, boats so overcrowded that everyone must stand, and then they throw themselves at night against an European coast. At dawn, often the only task left for the Italian Coast Guard is to collect the human trash from the tourist beaches--anonymous corpses, victims of globalization.
The dispossessed come from countries where modernity may have penetrated but only in the form of objects, not of culture. The culture of the West has no place in these countries where the religious presence envelopes every aspect of life as it did in our Middle Ages. The religious domination of culture is particularly characteristic of people who consider their religion to be the radical legacy of Mohammed. Like Jews, with whom Muslims are archaically linked through shadow projections and with whom they remain aggressively tied, Muslims seeking refuge in Europe can survive without a physical country but not without a religious tradition. Similarly, when Jews lost their language or when they became secular, they never lost their religious culture.
In the founding myth of Islam there is nothing comparable to the statement of Christ that Caesar and God require separate obedience (in the episode in which Jesus shows Caesar's face on the coin (Matthew, 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26). The traditional Islamic coin has only God's face. The profound difference between Islam and Christianity did not disturb the West as long as the West could sign good oil contracts and receive support in the Cold War against Communism.
Vast numbers of people have not gone through a cultural revolution (like the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, for example) leading towards modernity. For many such people belief in prophecy tends to be literal. Is it any wonder that the dispossessed are prone to accept prophets who promise them a restitution of enthusiasm, of meaning, and of dignity? Who promise to transform a seemingly senseless life by gradually converting death into noble sacrifice and martyrdom? Among their followers the Al Qaeda was able to transform meaningless suicides into something sacred (sacri-fice), into instruments of God. Why consume your life waiting for meaning, if meaning can explode instantly--together with your life?
Let us not be misled by the fact that some terrorists apparently spent their last years as peaceful bourgeois in the southern U.S. or in the north of Germany. If we want to look at the issue psychologically, we should--as in analysis--turn our attention to much earlier stages in the lives of the terrorists. What myth of "rebirth through sacrifice" nourished their souls while milk nourished their bodies? As we have seen on videotape, children 8 years old and younger have already been training for suicide attacks. The indoctrination of sacred death for future terrorists must therefore have started even earlier than 8 years of age. Do we envisage a military or a cultural and psychological response to teachers and to children educated in terror? If the first answer prevails, then we--we, the civilized West--may need to be ready to kill many children before they become adults.
Let's take another step. For reasons which are very complex (they pertain at once to culture, history, economics, religion, and so on) large masses of people, and sometimes entire countries, see the U.S. as the emblem of planetary hubris. They attribute to America the responsibility for the hubris of the whole modern world. The U.S. is seen as intentionally corrupting non-Western cultures--new markets!--by its greedy, materialistic example. Once characterized as the "Great Satan," the U.S. is a convenient carrier for persecutory, "totalitarian" projections of the shadow on a global--total--scale.
The U.S. is seen as persistently and inherently trying to enjoy its better standard of life--its "American way of life"--at the expense of the lives of others. We must acknowledge, however, that the expression, "American way of life," has become outdated, no matter how "American" this way of life once was. In the 21st century the way of life is determined on a global scale by the global economy. The shares of its enjoyment are then unevenly divided between prospering countries (most visibly the U.S.) and the "victim" countries. This perspective corresponds to the Marxist view of "class struggle" when transferred to international relations where we may see, for instance, hemispheric struggles.
The founding fathers of America included the right to the "pursuit of happiness" in their 1776 Declaration of Independence. The American declaration fought for a new, humanistic morality. Today, this precocious proclamation may be perceived by America's enemies as a genetic disposition towards hedonism at the cost of spiritual values. To many the "pursuit of happiness" appears as the archetypal statement of American excess--hubris--rather than as an affirmation of human dignity and individual liberty.
It is enough to look at statistics to understand why the U.S. can symbolize hubris: With less than 5% of the world population, the U.S. consumes more than 30% of the world's resources. It is not so obvious, however, why the U.S. should bare the whole responsibility for the "revolution of enjoyment" that we have watched in the West (American and European).
Modern economically successful countries have passed through revolutions that modernized the value system. Recall, for instance, that the American revolution of 1776 was preceded by the Industrial Revolution in England which had followed the path of the French Enlightenment which was preceded in turn by the Italian Renaissance. The Italian Renaissance, by the way, owed not little to the Arab blossoming of the Middle Ages, thus closing an interesting historical circle. The U.S. is not alone in it's consumer habits nor in its revolutionary consumer culture. Nowadays, Europe and Latin America, for example, also seem to be inspired by the same hubris as the U.S., and they immediately join the "American way of life" as soon as they can afford it.
We should, therefore, try to understand psychologically why hubris is seen as concentrated in the U.S. when it is shared by most global economies. A familiar and easily stereotyped enemy is the best enemy, and the U.S. satisfies all the requirements with its obvious dominance. For example, the U.S. has maintained an astonishing military superiority without interruption since the mid-1800s. In order to demonize American military power, critics and enemies tend ignore that never in human history has such an overwhelming military superiority been used with such restraint. It is true that in 1846-48, the U.S. took over half of what was then Mexico--a region almost as large as Western Europe--and occupied its capital. However, the seizure of Mexican territory was the main exception in U.S. military history. Not only has human history never witnessed such military superiority but history has never seen military superiority used with such restraint. Nonetheless, the psychological scar remains part of Mexican identity, and the rest of Latin America suffers a secondary trauma since it looked to Mexico for cultural leadership. In the course of the last 150 years, the Latin American fear of being conquered by North American greed has simply been transformed from a military into an economic fear.
Antagonism toward the U.S. often stems more from a cultural and psychological opposition than from hostile economic or military intentions. For example, although Italy and the U.S. shared no border and not much economic activity, anti-Americanism was one of the pillars of Fascist propaganda in the 1920s and 30s. It has been argued that there is an unbroken genetic thread which made anti-Americanism reusable by Italian Marxism after World War II. (4) But it is of course to the end of the Cold War and to the fall of Soviet Communism that we must look in order to understand the explosion of anti-Americanism on a planetary scale. Psychologically speaking, one of the collective polarities of the tense but effective balance which governed the world--capitalism versus communism--ceased to exist a decade ago. The collective psyche had to recreate a balance in the unconscious following the collapse of communism. Islam and the Roman Catholic Church are the two largest religions on Earth, each comprising more than one billion believers. Until the fall of communism, Islam avoided excessive criticism of the U.S. They were implicitly united with the U.S. by a common fight against communism. But, starting with the 1990s, Islamic leaders have explicitly blamed the "American way of life" for the excess of materialism and the lack of spirituality characteristic of our modern times.
Of course, we should not limit ourselves to a psychological perspective nor to interpreting unconscious processes. The leaders of poor and/or unstable Muslim countries who are affected by multiple internal problems, by doubtful democratic functioning, and by shaky public support, may find it politically very tempting to resort to anti-Americanism. The "capitalist plot" brandished by Communism focused only on the economic and not the cultural misery of the masses. The message of a great religion includes a criticism to capitalist inequality but goes far deeper than that. Third World masses, often economically poor since time immemorial, may not necessarily feel that the U.S. is responsible for their poverty. However, it is quite sure that if a teenager starts wearing jeans, eating at Mc Donald's, drinking beer, being sexually promiscuous, and/or acting ashamed of his Arab identity, his parents will resent the U.S. as merciless murderers of their culture: no Western soldier has killed their children, yet Hollywood has gradually been killing their exemplar models, their parents, and their ancestors. Parents have "good reasons" to resist the usurpation of their authority. In the genealogical tree, you can substitute a new generation but not an old one; you can replace the branches, not the roots. Indeed, elders know they are economically, not culturally poor. They may obscurely know that economical wealth can be achieved or reconstructed in short time: think of South Korea or think of West Germany after the Second World War. But a cultural identity, when gone, is gone forever: think of native populations in Australia, the Americas, Africa, and other continents.
The equation of the U.S. with Satan, put forward by several Islamic leaders, can explain both the economic and the cultural humiliation their populations have experienced. The triumph of hubris and greed is seen in globalization; and globalization is seen as an economic and a cultural Americanization of the world. Whoever is against globalization practices a certain amount of anti-Americanism.
The trend to oppose economic expansion is in no way limited to the uncultivated masses. In the West opposition is published in the well-educated milieus, including those in the U.S. as well. Only two months before New York's "Black Tuesday," the prestigious Le Monde Diplomatique published an issue which described American politics of the last decade--the last of the twentieth century and the first without the Communist adversary--as the test case for a "Second American Century" in the minds of some leading American politicians.
The tide of opposition to globalization grows as political leaders use the un-psychological attitude of the American administration to further manipulate envious populations. The "American administration"? Even my un-European ear perceives that this is offensive for the inhabitants of the rest of the "American" continent. From the Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego the grumble is the same: "'Americans' have even taken the name of the continent for themselves. It's a good symbol of their greed and of their attitude toward the rest of the continent." Sometimes this "grumble" gets clearly asserted in writing: You will find the criticism in the pages of well-known authors such as E. Galeano. Even European eyes may be surprised at the appropriation of the name, "American," and may revert to the writings of the founding fathers to find the "archetypes" of this country that is so difficult to define. The official voices of independence from Great Britain spoke of the "United States of America." When and how, therefore, did the shift, the "continental slip," occur? How is it possible now for the U.S. to act as though there were only one "America.," particularly when every official word has to be carefully filtered by the code of political correctness? In order to face the hostility of other countries, the U.S. government pours oceans of dollars into "intelligence." Why doesn't the U.S. organize a congress, a simple round table on this issue, an issue which doesn't require "intelligence" to be faced but simply common sense?
II. On September 11
On September 11, more than four commercial airplanes were hijacked: On September 11, our whole collective imagination was kidnaped, abducted, ripped from its usual soil and violently thrown back into a non-historical, archaic dimension. The whole calendar was stolen from us. We believed we had entered the third Millennium of the Christian era but we found ourselves in the direct grip of "arche-types" and "arche-times." We believed we were living in a logical and lay humanistic age. We found out, however, that we were experiencing myth. That is, not only was myth imposed upon us from outside; we also found ourselves thinking again mythically although we had not consciously chosen this kind of thinking.
Not even Hitler or Stalin had managed such an effect. They had not even dreamed of anything like this. Hot and cold wars had been tragic and mortal: an immense waste of human creativity transformed into deadly competition and destructiveness. Yet, the times had remained our still-recognizable modern times. Although Hitler and Stalin behaved at times as prophets, for the Western world they essentially remained enemy politicians.
Osama bin Laden speaks always and only in the name of (his idea of) divine justice. Two American preachers, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, each capable of mobilizing vast audiences, equally declare that they see a similar hand of justice in what has happened. Fundamentalists of all persuasions know that they win a partial victory if they are able to bring the debate to a theological ground. American public opinion immediately rejects such an idea. The rest of us experience a fundamentalist triumph as rape.
Dreams echoing catastrophes similar to the one of the Twin Towers have become regular occurrences even for people who seldom had nightmares. Also common are dreams that attribute a degree of destructive omnipotence to Osama bin Laden. These dreams multiply among very different patients. The Associated Press has publicized a photo of the smoke surrounding the Twin Towers after the attack. Many consumers of this public image see the profile of Osama bin Laden in the shape of the smoke. Like saints, devils, Madonnas, and prophets in previous centuries and in remote places, a devastating divinity has appeared in the third Millennium and in the most modern of all skies--the skyline of Manhattan.
The same prophet of destruction has appeared on our domestic altar--the TV set, the center of our daily rituals. Osama bin Laden's voice, claiming to speak on direct behalf of the Almighty, has declared that Americans and their supporters will not live one more day in serenity. As every divine voice, it was aimed directly at our unconscious, attempting to skip the mediation of our rationality, of our conscious mind. To a noticeable extent, it has succeeded. In spite of daily and documented reassurances, many Americans, many Europeans, many citizens of the third Millennium found themselves victims of a psychological attack more undefinable and far-reaching than the physical one. The voice prophesied daily insecurity. The voice has kept its prophecy.
As we tend to pay attention mostly to outer reality, we claim to have discovered that terrorism, like everything else, has become global. The real discovery, on the contrary, seems to be the fact that decisive nightmares and paranoid fantasies, not terrorist acts, have become global. If I am correct in this analysis, we have regressed to a dangerously collective state. Part of our daily psychic functioning is being moved in dangerously direct ways by the deepest and most archetypal layers of our unconscious.
Delusional fantasies born in our inner world are recognizable as symbolic statements but suddenly these fantasies match an outside "delusional" reality. As a consequence we do not trust our psychic functioning or we do not trust our perception of reality--which comes to the same thing.
Through personal and historical self-criticism, we had come to accept that racism was the projection of inner persecutory fantasies. All of a sudden our persecutory fantasies are loose "out there." If we are normally responsive to the world, our mind gets contaminated by phantoms, and for the first time we might have an intuition of what psychotics regularly experience. A tragic political consequence of such contamination is that objective reality "allows" the reappearance of a form of anti-Semitism--anti-Arabism--on a global scale. Another highly visible consequence is the insurmountable difficulty faced by the U.S. administration when trying to reassure its citizens. At first everybody is advised to be on high alert as death might come from the sky or from the earth, at the mall or in the mail, in one day or one year, from undetermined sources. Following the anxious "alert" and often in the same message, people are exhorted to remain calm, to go about life as usual. Understandably, the oxymoron lends itself well to political cartoons (New Yorker, Nov. 26, 2001. P. 124). Psychiatrists, however, may wonder if they haven't seen this phenomenon described in their handbooks. Contradictory messages and allusive/persecutory patterns of expression, once the landmark of psychopathology, reappear unexpectedly as the most adequate way of describing reality.
If Jung was right in stating that the experiences of God and of the unconscious are not easy to distinguish from one another, then our dialogue with the unconscious is a genuine, non-formalistic kind of religious experience. Religion is not only an individual defense against insecurity by divinizing (idealizing) infantile memories of our parents, but also an archaic and historical fight with our inner world. Therefore, we must attempt to respect religious experience and at the same time to separate what is good from what is terrible. If, in sum, Jung's phylogenetic reconstruction satisfies us more than Freud's ontogenetic one, then we must recognize that a vast part of Western society has involuntarily fallen back into a primordial "religious" state. Our emotional state is "re-ligious" in that it links (Latin: ligare) us again with the archetypal drives and images--both good and evil--out of which every historical religion has stemmed.
It has been observed--by Jung himself among others--that Christianity has curbed its Jewish origin in a more and more positive direction over time. Through its desperate fight against evil, the Jewish heresy bearing the name of Christianity has come to represent an extreme, one-sided kind of monotheism where the terrible face of God--which populated the Old Testament--almost disappears for the sake of goodness.
In this sense, the revival of Jewish religiosity after the shoah should not be seen only as an attempt to recover a national identity; it is also an attempt to recover a psychic balance. Traditional Jewish faith keeps one in touch with the terrible face of God, that is, psychologically acquainted with--and ready for--the tremendum. By losing faith in the existence of the tremendum one is unprepared to defend oneself from evils such as the Nazi "final solution"--actually, unprepared to believe that it might exist.
In the same sense, the excessively "positive" bent of Christianity was bound to ebb into the positivistic philosophy and ideology prevailing in the West and particularly in the U.S. (the "West of the West"). Science and technology are the logical modernization and realization of the "only good" ideology of the Christian world. Indeed, Christians believe in creation and pretend not to be interested in destruction. They claim to be concerned with good and not with evil. In its Eastern version (Marxism), the positivistic ideology attempted to transform politics into the science of the "society which abolishes evil." It failed. The Marxist failure only reinforced the one-sided optimism of its Western version. American "capitalistic society" expressed even more vigorously its faith in limitless economical and technological progress. And for a good decade the facts seemed to confirm that this faith was right.
I have expressed elsewhere the idea that a "right hand"of this society--Hollywood--has unconsciously provided a world of modern images and myths where tragedy has been banned. (5) Hollywood--films, film stars, television, etc.--has helped to shape unnatural heroes who are free of ambivalence and who therefore offer superficial tranquillity to the masses. What is worth noticing here is that, through this long education to optimism, the U.S. and the West as a whole have been particularly ill-prepared and fragile in front of the experience of pure destructiveness. Unable to conceive any more the wrath of God, we lack a trained imagination for archetypal evil--and this is probably why, following the recent events, many official voices in the West can speak of evil with a striking absence of psychological insight.
As analysts we of course wonder about our psychological relationship to evil. We fought to exhaustion to defend our patients from nightmares and paranoid fantasies. All of a sudden the work has regressed, and so we may ask: Could it be that our voice was untrue while the voice of nightmare and paranoia was true? Have we listened enough to them? Shouldn't we have taken paranoid fantasies more literally?
It is therefore worth noticing that we are watching a gigantic "return of the repressed" in the whole West. Of course, when we speak of a sudden archaic "religious experience," we speak neither of a conscious phenomenon nor of an institutional religion. People might describe their psychic states as superstitious experiences which they sarcastically try to devalue or as anxiety states, describing them with DSM terminology. But are these adequate explanations or reductive defense mechanisms, and if they are defenses, doesn't our behavior become part of the suffering itself?
Our society practically has not had the experience of the dark side of God for generations and centuries. When we were forced to see it--i.e. in Nazism (and Stalinism)--we tried not to recognize mass murder as something in itself but rather tried to sanitize it by relegating it to a chapter in pathology. On September 11, however, we suddenly saw "an angry god," a god of destruction, descending on Earth at the heart of the U.S. in the most unexpected place and moment.
The authors of the attack on New York and Washington had probably suffered deprivations unknown to the West--but not this one. The terrorists obviously had an imagination for mass murder. They had an ideological, a religious, and a psychological advantage: they were more familiar with the shadow side of existence.
The absolute "wrath of God" revealed in those who pretended to express it the existence of a modern fundamentalist heresy. Without entering the dispute of whether or not they belong to Islam, the attackers and their instigators can be described as ministers of a new, radical--and radically new--form of monotheism, which we could call "actualism."
Contradicting the connected principles of prophecy and redemption--which in various forms unite the three historical monotheisms (and even Marxism with its "redemption of the masses")--the "actualists" cannot wait for the organic fulfilment of prophecy in time. The epiphany of divine justice must take place in actuality in the double sense of an active and present reality. And the minister's task is to be the hand of God, to act in order to immediately bring about his will. The infinite--and indefinite--time horizon of metaphysical divine jstice is rejected. The retaliatory wrath of God must be seen here and now. Yet, like many Jewish or Christian apocalyptic sects, when they announce the return of God, they are announcing the return of God in its darkest form.
We can't help noticing a striking contradiction. The "actualists" claim to be fighting for the restoration of a pure and traditional Islam. Yet, they express a radically modernistic, even consumer bias. Who has invented greedy impatience, the need to immediately reach your target, the implicit mistrust in metaphysics, distrust in a reward which will come in another dimension and another time? The answer is: modern consumerism. What we have called an actualist heresy of Islam seems to be driven by an impulse strikingly similar to the one dominating the hated "Great Satan." As we know from Jung's analysis, by concentrating oneself too much on a mortal adversary, on one's shadow, one becomes unconsciously infected by the shadow. No doubt, American--and Western--society is obsessed by the need to produce quick and visible results. But is Islamic fundamentalism still a metaphysical vision or has it been irrevocably transformed into a teaching for attaining practical and quick victories through destructive means?
As psychologists, it is our task not to limit ourselves to the outer events in spite of their magnitude. Can we, from an interior point of view, say that there is not only grief and loss but that our psyche has also gained a new vision, albeit tragically? Let us go back to a traditional tenet of analytical psychology: Opposite polarities should be held together as much as possible. Only through their syn-thesis (putting together both poles) can the symbol originate that will overcome a deadlock. The symbol is more than the simple sum of poles 1 and 2--the symbol contains new, original elements.
Repression of an archetypal polarity causes a pathological imbalance, not only in the individual but in the whole of a society. In the Western history of the archetypal masculine-feminine duality, repression of the feminine has been held responsible for excessively rational or aggressive masculine attitudes. In the history of monotheism, repression of the terrible face of God in the passage from Judaism to Christianity has risked naive or hypocritical pretensions that one can be "only good." In the history of Euro-American modernity, the appearance of a positivistic faith, the belief that every increase in progress will imply an increase of happiness has brought many to believe that science will forever substitute magic, myth and other "superstitions." Science can even replace--and why not--religion because through technology humankind proves more "creative" than any present Creator. Isn't this another way of describing the old problem of hubris? Isn't it equivalent to saying that hubris rampages, that our awareness of its natural polarity--nemesis--has been repressed? And, couldn't we agree that--at first sight, since history and society are much more complex than these simplifications--modern hubris is concentrated in the West? And, within the West, concentrated in the U.S.?
Haven't we been recalling the fact that--traditionally, archetypally--the most convincing, "divine" punishment of hubris comes from the instruments of arrogance which turn against its author?
Die ich rief, die Geister,
Werde'ich nun nicht los
screams Goethe's Apprentice Sorcerer. And we translate his scream: "I cannot control the powers I have activated".
In all these senses it was very easy to single out the U.S. and the Twin Towers in New York as an archetypal target. In the Holy Scriptures, as the Italian essayist A. Torno has recalled, the very expression altissimus (very high, in Latin) is reserved only to God. Exactly the same condemnation of too much growth toward the sky was expressed by Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. about the whole of Greek thinking (VII, 10). After God's death, however, the skies are empty, and their space is available for human colonization by skyscrapers and space stations. We would like to forget the warning given by the myth of Babel's tower to the three monotheisms since times immemorial. Once again: a vocation to colonize the skies is particularly present in American technology which invented aviation and New York's vaulting architecture.
The West and especially the U.S. embody the scientific and financial power of modernity, the cult of rationality, and the devaluation of the primitive and pre-rational part of our humanity. A typical example of one-sidedness and of the split of the opposites seemed concentrated in the U.S. but it was invisible to our Western eyes for the same reason a fish will not know it is wet. Pre-modern eyes are required to see our over-estimation of growth and progress. Pre-optimistic souls, imbued with the dark side of God, are required to ruthlessly conceive of the destruction of modernity.
We look at the September 11 tragedy now and wonder how we could have been so blind. Now, everything is so easy to "see." And it is easy to see how easy it was to conceive destruction and to perform it. We in the West really lacked a destructive and tragic imagination even though we were submerged by "apocalyptic" movies. We couldn't imagine the viciousness it took to sit in the most modern of the instruments of transportation--in first or business class to be even more vengeful-and turn it against the "Great Satan" who had developed the airline industry. The terrorists seemed to show that the most pre-modern man--he could have been a Neanderthal with a flint blade--can sit in the same cockpit with the most technologically advanced pilot and bend him to his will. The terrorists, however, performed their own act of hubris when they boarded in a U.S. airport to show that there is no safety within U.S. borders. Terrorism is variant form of hubris which calls for yet another nemesis--they try to exploit the self-punishing archetypal pattern of hubris. Actualism is a variant form of hubris; we can expect to see the terrorists summon their own nemesis.
It was easy for Islamic terrorists to claim that globalization is intrinsically evil, that globalization is the equivalent of Americanization, that American global power is hubris, and finally to exact divine justice by turning American power against itself. The global U.S. media power immediately brought to the whole world the image of nemesis in the ruin and death of September 11. The globalism and power of American media transmitted the images that its enemies were waiting to enjoy; it's in the nature of nemesis that hubris is turned against itself. .
American success has been turned against itself in still other devastating ways. The American economy has spread throughout the world the principles of a free market and of privatization. We can imagine that American success has unconsciously inspired a rich Arab with the idea of building his own army and privatizing war and destruction--as noted by the German editorialist Theo Sommer (Die Zeit Oct. 11, 2001). Global nightmares are as vast as the globe. We fear that the head of this multi-national provider of death might have already started to privatize genocide. Should we consider our fear a persecutory fantasy or a realistic public threat?
The philosopher H. M. Enzenberger has noted that in an era of globalization even sacrifice becomes global. Here, we as Western psychologists must go further and once again acknowledge how naive we have been. The media kept speaking superficially of possible "suicide attacks" on the part of the fundamentalists. This description is limited by a Western, lay, and individualistic point of view that uses the word, "suicide," to define any person killing himself or herself. The phrase, "suicide attack," seems to fit only if we are predominantly interested in ourselves and the material aspects of our lives. I suspect that this reductive approach has again limited our imagination for destructive possibilities and thus limited our prevention of such attacks. None of the attackers, it seems, corresponds to the Western psychopathological definition of the suicidal personality. On the contrary, a fanatical religiosity and a devaluation of physical life--theirs and other's--created a longing for sacrifice, not to destroy life but to transform it into something believed to be sacred. It would be more adequate to speak of martyrdom (in Greek meaning "testimony") chosen by the terrorists and ironically publicized by the media of their enemies.
The World Trade Center Towers themselves--if we imagine a sarcastic terrorist--collapsed under their own weight, killing people tragically because of economic and cultural hubris, an arrogant claim to new heights of ambition. Suddenly and violently, the opposites were united again in the most unexpected way. The towers defying the sky collapsed to "ground zero". Only a thin front stands still, like a mask without the actor, a reminder of how the might of modern technology can be a frail facade. In frightening continuity, an upper and a lower city--one above and one under 14th Street, one belonging to the sky and one to the ground--were united. One world belongs to the man of technology; the other--stripped of electric power, water, and telephone connections--belongs to the Neanderthal man with the stone ax--or the box cutter, it doesn't matter--who was inspired by a leader significantly videotaped on the threshold of a rock cave. We have the image of modern man deodorized and dressed by Armani, the other covered with dust and smelling of burning human flesh. Five Star Hotels and Auschwitz hand in hand.
Not only are the opposites--the technological and the pre-technological--united in one morning but the two cultures are suddenly united in the global village. Television peers uninterruptedly into private aspects of life in the U.S. and simultaneously in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on earth, where the prophet of pre-technological man has fixed his stone-age residence. Almost overnight the weather page of the New York Times enlarged its geographical sketch to include a land outside U.S. borders. But it has not included Canada: the Times illustrates in color the weather of the U.S. and Afghanistan--side by side as if Afghanistan were not a Canada but a dark brother suddenly regurgitated by the unconscious, an unexpected contiguous other coming from another continent and another millennium.
Significantly, the opposites are unexpectedly reconciled in the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. He used to be described as skillful but arrogant. Was there a hubris of the mayor that mirrored the hubris of the city? After the tragedy on the morning of September 11, the press could only praise him. He had gone through cancer treatment, a disastrous divorce, and since September 11, through the dust and suffering of "ground zero." What appeared once as an omnipotent psychology in Rudy Giuliani now seems to have integrated the sense of limits, the precariousness of human existence.
There is no doubt that from a psychological point of view the terrorists have scored one point: they wanted to scare the West and they succeeded. They wanted to globalize the Intifada and the attacks of its "Islamic martyrs" and they succeeded. If the consequences of September 11 were to match terrorist wishes, we would witness the ruin of peace not only in Palestine, but globally.
But the West may have recovered something. We may have regained an awareness that we are no substitute for God, that we are not without limits. Nor can we be the agents of God as the terrorists have imagined themselves. This new awareness comes from our wounds and from the unconscious shadow of excess. The terrorists, by contrast, are probably losing rather then acquiring consciousness. They have made their psychological presence felt everywhere, and they risk inflation, possession by a suddenly acquired sense of power, omnipotence. And, as omnipotence came through destructiveness, so destructiveness may become omnipotent. From a practical point of view the terrorists may become blind and make too risky calculations like Hitler after the surprising successes of his Blitzkrieg. From the psychological perspective, possession would mean that the terrorists might extend their violence, lose contact with its meaning, and lose the religious conviction--perverse to us--that motivated them.
The psychic experience of violence tends to reproduce itself endlessly in the victim. This is what we call the trauma experience. But the psychic experience of violence tends to reproduce itself endlessly also in the perpetrator if he falls into the grips of archetypal violence.
The authors of the September 11 attacks were possessed (that is, without a reflective consciousness) by an archetype of divine justice in the form of redeeming violence.(6) Since their possession is personal and unrelated to the surrounding culture and times, the terrorists risk traumatizing themselves through the totalitarian quality of their violence (the paradox is that violence, being "total," destroys not only their psyches but also their bodies).
We can see this same pattern in Macbeth who can only go on killing till he conceives life as "...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury...." Once irrevocably possessed by violence, the life of Macbeth becomes simply "... full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (Macbeth, V, v 26-28). We can imagine a similar fate for today's fundamentalist terrorists.
III. On sound and fury
Front page of Le Monde diplomatique. First article, signed by I. Ramonet, from the first line on:
September 11. Distracted from their normal mission by pilots who decided to risk everything, the planes speed towards the hearth of the great city, ready to destroy the symbols of a hated power. ... Explosions... collapses..
Let us not be lost in details because what counts comes a few lines later.
New York 2001? No, Santiago, September 11, 1973.
Now it is really not necessary to go further because we can easily recognize the thesis that underlies this article and other articles covering--extensively, in the October 2001 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique--the issue of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. On two occasions the front page repeats: "The U.S. is not an innocent country."
The U.S. administration bares some responsibility for supporting several violent and illegal dictatorial regimes (Batista's Cuba, Pinochet's Chile, Duarte's El Salvador, Somoza's Nicaragua, for example). Is this an answer of the European intellectuals to the attack against the half of the West which lies on the other side of the Atlantic? I must distinguish what I mean by "responsibility." Legal and moral responsibility are personal. (See Jaspers, who distinguishes between a moral and a metaphysical responsibility of the Germans for the Nazi dictatorship). (7) Only in a political, philosophical, or historical sense can a responsibility be extended to a whole social class, to a whole country, a whole civilization. Our psychological point of view starts with the individual but, particularly in the Jungian approach and in this context, can be extended to the collective. This responsibility was basically a novelty introduced during the twentieth century in order not to let German war crimes remain unpunished. The application of collective responsibility is limited, however, and its limits are obvious. The extension of responsibility to the whole German society meant that even the children of heroic opponents, murdered by the Nazi regime, had to pay taxes which supported funds for compensation of the Nazi war crimes.
But this extension shows its limits also in the subtle analysis of professional historians. The most well-known "war of historians" is probably the Historikerstreit from 1986 that debated the responsibility of Nazism. Spearheading what has been called the "revisionist current," E. Nolte saw the growing destructiveness of Hitler, and in particular of the Nazi "final solution," not as "caused," yet as "psychologically inspired" by previous "Asiatic" genocidal violence that had exploded in Turkey and in the Soviet Union (Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will, June 6, 1986 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). The ensuing debate was enormous in Germany and outside. The majority accepted in part Nolte's reconstruction, but rejected his attempt to relativize or extenuate the absolute dimension of the Nazi crime.
The clamor of the Historikerstreit reminds us that what was at stake was much more than a specialist historiographical analysis. Its psychological and moral implications are enormous and have constituted a kind of milestone. History is infinitely more complex than personal biographies. There is always an antecedent (Ursprung, in Nolte's terminology) or a psychological triggering factor of a specific crime. If we apply to all historical precedents the same principle of "extenuating circumstance" that we use in judging individuals, we will journey backwards through the whole of history till Cain who might remain the only subject fully responsible. To link facts to antecedents will remain a legitimate activity of historians and psychologists alike; yet, we should never renounce to judge a criminal act first of all for what it is.
Now let's move to the more specific perspective of this discussion. Following Ernst Nolte and following Le Monde diplomatique but lacking their straightforwardness, many cultivated Europeans, even many colleagues, ask "Yes, but...." The question already misses our tragic occasion to keep the opposites together and avoid psychological imbalance. Only a fraction of a second is reserved for the "yes" while entire debates are reserved for the "but."
"Yes, the events of September 11 are horrible, but--as we want to understand the events psychologically--we should clarify: why is the U.S. so hated." Of course, there is not one but many reasons--history is not a philanthropic club. A country which has power uses it and is hated for that. But is this really a psychological contribution to the problem? I doubt very seriously that it is. When we start debating American responsibilities outside America and among non-Americans, there is a strong possibility that we are not trying to understand whether there is a reason. We are trying, on the contrary, to find the reason. We analyze under the premise that there must be a reason.
And this assumption, little by little, could become the reawakening of the paranoid projection to which the masses were intentionally led during the persecution of the Jews: "If they are so hated, they must have done something!" "They must have done something" becomes an anti-American European variation of the new blossoming of global paranoid ideas. Many Europeans, of course, share, as part of the whole West, the persecutory expectation of being at any moment potential victims of a global Wrath of God. The other side of the same paranoia leads others to distance themselves from the U.S., fantasizing that the Wrath of God must be uniquely focused on the U.S. Both groups have their reasons, and sometimes the same people experience both paranoid expectations. Fearful thinking is constricted thinking. The oversimplifications of anxious black-white thinking contribute to the uncontrollable globalization of nightmares and delusions.
Psychological understanding is hindered by the burning emotion. The only winner is Osama bin Laden who has managed to infect the world with what originally was his private world of paranoid and grandiose fantasies. His capacity to infect us with bacteria seems to have been widely exaggerated. As I am writing, not only there is no proof that the anthrax-infected letters were mailed by Islamic fundamentalists but there are reasons to believe that this has been the work of a local mind, reviving the Unabomber in form of a "Una-anthrax." What counts here is rather the following: I would gauge that in mid-October 2001, the U.S. TV channels have been broadcasting hours of information dedicated to bacteria for each 10 minutes dedicated to the war in Afghanistan. We had reasons to sense that an infection was coming but, immersed in such an un-psychological world as we are, we have only been able to project the danger and see it in a material, non-psychological form. In this sense, the terrorists have been even more successful because of our post-modern psychic vulnerability. They didn't have to mail poisoned letters. They didn't have to attack the flight AA 587 which crashed on Queens after September 11. Events have occurred by chance as if the terrorists' will were ruling decisive events of our world. Of our inner world?
Our inner world--are we in the end saying that if we look at things psychologically, we should give up the possibility of criticizing past mistakes of the American administration? Not at all. But in order to really elaborate the American psychological issue, the question "Why so much hate against the U.S.?" should be debated first of all among Americans. Of course one can find antecedents. But if we look for "causes," we might become too mechanical. After all, finding out that it was criminal to support the illegal coup by Pinochet is to discover that water is wet. Besides, the attackers of September 11 were Arabs, not Chileans. The problem is not strictly "genetic." We shouldn't expect to see our nemesis necessarily as a genetic continuation, as a revenge of a victim of Pinochet or of one of their orphans. Rather, nemesis can surface wherever there is a corresponding psychological constellation.
In order to be psychological, the link between the terrorists' practices, the practices of the American administration, and the deep reactions of the lay person worldwide, must be searched in terms of meanings and archetypes. Was it an expression of hubris for a superpower to contribute to the illegal and murderous elimination of the legitimately elected president of a much weaker country? Osama bin Laden and the terrorists are a different case, but they exploit the universal--today called "global"--expectation that hubris will be, one day, followed by nemesis.
Being neither lawyers nor generals, we are not in a position to anticipate whether the military actions, or the promised ransom offered for bin Laden, can contribute to the elimination of terrorism. Of course, offering high sums of money can have some effect in desperately poor countries. Being psychologists, though, we wonder to what extent this couldn't also attract Arab sympathy toward the fundamentalists and spur a proud rejection of American money. And of those people close to Osama bin Laden, who could really collaborate toward his capture? Of course, they could count on very high retirement benefits if they were to receive such a ransom. Are people who sacrifice their life without the slightest hesitation really interested in counting on a comfortable third age, a U.S. sponsored retirement plan? Are we sure that this isn't, once again, a miscalculation due to our reductive Western vision?
Osama bin Laden is wealthy yet he has offered not money but Heaven as ransom, and he seems to have been successful. By tempting a traitor with money, the U.S. might score a point but get a short victory. By promoting faith, one can continue the fight endlessly. I am not suggesting that the U.S. should withdraw its ransom but rather that the U.S. should demonstrate some modesty and appropriate pride. Haven't we watched with great respect the mayor of New York sending back a very rich check to an arrogant sheik?
If the U.S. can find ways to turn arrogance into humility, I think it will take a step toward a dramatically new psychological attitude, probably the only one capable of stopping the persecutory scapegoating of everything which is American.
I know that the reality of international affairs is far more complicated than I am suggesting. It is much more difficult to change a collective psychology, and particularly the aspect of the collective psyche which we call culture, than it is to dedicate money to new programs. To change our collective psychology, we must face, first of all, the philosophy which has shaped the ruling circles of the country. This reflection is precisely the interesting possibility. The U.S. has been shaped, probably more than any other country, by pragmatism, that is, by the philosophy of not having a specific philosophy, or, rather, of not having a fixed one, an idealistic or Platonic one. American mobility, before showing up in its geography or social classes, shows up in this education of the mind. Even the word "philosophy" is influenced by this: in Italian, it refers to a theoretical attitude, in English, it also refers to its immediate and practical application.
America, therefore, can revise its attitudes quickly...if the change is considered better, if it is practical. So, to go back to our psychological theme, America could swiftly change its "hubristic" attitudes if there is a proof--and we believe that it is possible to prove it--that modest attitudes would be both more just and more convenient and effective.
The resistances to a change of attitude will not come only from American circles which might lose power through a more modest attitude (merchants of arms, for instance); the resistance might come from all other countries with a different prevailing philosophy, countries much more wary of change. These countries typically label the U.S. as a cynical country with no faith, no ideals, no God, only a preoccupation with material gains. In such countries pragmatism is a psychological attitude which has not been developed. Being unconscious, pragmatism becomes an occasion for a collective shadow projection. The flexibility of American politics is seen by non-pragmatic or idealistic cultures as an expression of greed and a lack of morality. American flexibility, however, can well express itself as the long awaited modesty, as a capacity to pragmatically recognize one's errors.
Despite its potential, American pragmatism and flexibility in politics contribute to its frequent astonishing lack of foresight and psychological sensitivity. Without resorting to the usual examples of U.S. policies in Latin-America, let me simply mention my country. The U.S. acquired in Italy an enormous respect because many of its soldiers haddied on our shores, helping us to get rid of Fascism and Nazism. Not even the most violent anti-American propaganda really denied this because soon after conquering our soil, American troops went back home and were substituted by economical help (the Marshall Plan).
Yet, in the decades following World War II, uncontrollable hands in the American administration on several occasions gave help to neo-fascist, illegal, and violent groups within Italy. The alleged purpose seems to have been an attempt to counter the growing influence of the PCI (Italian Communist Party). It is not our task to evaluate if this bent for intrigue was political stupidity, but we may wonder what the widows and orphans of American soldiers who fell in the fight against Fascism may think of the fact that in the 1950s the U.S. administration supported some Italian neo-fascist groups. It is easy to document that the Italian collective psychology was highly influenced by American intrusions which ultimately brought large gains to the PCI, the exact opposite of American purposes.
America has the great capacity of being capable of re-directing its international policies in a short time. Yet, it will then have to accept the "coexistence of the opposites" in philosophies. It will have to accept that other countries have a different relationship with flexibility. If the U.S. will change its attitude to a more modest one--a change to its advantage I think--it will have to proceed without asking for immediate recognition of the new "virtuous" attitude.
All in all, American international politics have often been so pragmatically flexible as to damage severely its own image. The U.S. has been so interested in tactics (short term advantages) as to go against its strategic (longer term) interests. More than this, its politics have been flexible with disregard for the opinion of other populations--which is to say, nonchalant with hubris. And the offended populations often find, with a malignant smile, frequent confirmations that it was hubris indeed. As we have recalled, the punishment of hubris--nemesis--loves to make "U-turns" and use the very instrument of arrogance to punish the arrogant. Like the Sorcerer's Apprentice who lost control of his magical helpers, the U.S. has had to face the many brutal dictators or warlords who turned against their "benefactor." None of them, though, has backfired with such sound and fury as Osama bin Laden.
We have continued to come back to the problem of union and division of the archetypal polarities. Let us talk about union and division in a country and among countries in collective psychology. What Europeans seldom seem to understand is that the "U" of "U.S.A " doesn't stand just for an adjective--"United"-- it stands also for a philosophy and a faith. After September 11, we witnessed on television the obsessive repetition of "America" and "American," each occurrence reiterating the fight of Good against Evil and at the same time the fight of Union against Division. It is very difficult to explain this to Europeans. All of the flag waving, the talk of "our Nation," and the repetition of "America" corresponds to a conscious desire for unity. As an European it is really possible to understand this desire for unity only if you live in the U.S. and your children go to an American school.
For Europeans, division was experienced in its worst form in war, and war originated in nationalism. This is particularly true for those countries that experienced a dictatorship in addition to war. In the second half of September 2001, I heard in the U.S. the expressions "Nation" and "American" many, many more times than I ever heard the corresponding "nazione" and "italiano/a" (words which in our language are not capitalized) in 57 years of life in Italy. Basically, "nazione" was Mussolini's vocabulary, and nowadays only the post-fascist party qualifies itself as "Nazionale." In the German vocabulary, the adjective, "national," has practically survived only in the word "Nazi." Only in the U.S. is nationalism meant to underline equality and not difference, union and not division. Because of its size and because of the absence, particularly nowadays, of visible enemies at its borders, the U.S. debate is turned inwards, basically to internal and not to international issues.
We constantly hear that the American administration pays attention to the psychological aspect of international affairs and that it recruits many psychologists for this task. It would be valuable if the psychologists were to remind the administration that the U.S. is, in this as in many issues, the exception: "national" implies more often external conflict rather than internal unity. A nation and its nationalistic issues are, as a rule, defined by confrontation with other nations. There is no way to escape the international dimension, even for the U.S. since English is--fortunately or unfortunately--the international language. Therefore, U.S. media is the media of the world; CNN is the voice of the news for the whole of the West and for the whole world. As a consequence, when CNN broadcasts the word, "nation," worldwide, it doesn't only promote union but also division, not only equality but also difference.
CNN's constant headline, "America's New War," little by little created a disaffection among those Europeans who initially identified with the U.S. and with the tragedy of September 11. The phrase reinforced the crawling cynicism of those who say "it is not our business." And, of course, it was a delight for Osama bin Laden who, long since, has had the declared objective of singling out the U.S. and blaming it for the evil of the world.
What are we to understand when America's official voices tell us that the terrorists hate the U.S. because it is a country acting under the rule of the law and who then invoke "Wild West" and call for Osama bin Laden "dead or alive"? Psychologically, the language of the "wild west" alienates all Europeans who, in spite of being on the average less religious than Americans, believe that God and not man is the administrator of death. Logically, "dead or alive" sacrifices the consistency which is the essence of the rule of law where punishment is decided only by the court. Even if one supports capital punishment, it is wrong to kill first and then hold a trial.
Are all of the psychological advisors of the American administration on leave in such a delicate moment? Why do the official speakers always include "American" when they describe the terrorists as criminals who kill "innocent American civilians" or "innocent American children"? Don't they notice that, translated into a language other than English, "innocent American children" sounds strange, as though "innocent children" are somehow different. In any other language one who kills innocents is a criminal, independently of the nationality of the victim.
American politicians are elected by the American voters, yet this is a universal condition, valid wherever there are democratic elections. Elsewhere U.S. politicians speak naturally of "human rights," not just of "American rights." Besides, from the point of view of international relations the U.S. has a global responsibility like no other country and in no other moment of history. Indeed, the U.S. has an international responsibility not only today, as the only superpower, but, so-to-say, genetically. Unlike other countries, which were born locally and remained local, U.S. politics were declared international from the very first lines of its first document, the Declaration of Independence. The United States declared that it would "...assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them...."
Once again, as psychologists, we wonder if the U.S. administration has at its disposal colleagues reminding it that slogans have not only an immediate effect but also a lasting, unconscious, and potentially corrosive psychological effect? Expressions like "infinite justice" or "they have awakened a mighty giant" recall a psychic condition of omnipotence--such arrogance and hubris can gradually alienate the rest of the world.
The conquest of the sky has always been an American endeavor. From the short leap of the Wright brothers, to Lindberg, to John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and the other astronauts, America has been attracted to the sky through flight as well as through the construction of sky-scrapers as if it possessed a specific, reversed force of gravity. Flying has been an American temptation, an American glory, and at the same time an American hubris. Even the melancholic figure of J.J. Kennedy wasn't exempt from it, when he left for his final flight to Martha's Vineyard, neglecting a reasonable respect for limits.
Once again, it is not the psychologist's task to evaluate whether from a military perspective it makes sense to send planes to Afghanistan, each of which costs a significant portion of Afghanistan's yearly income. It is the psychologist's task to discuss to the psychological cost of the bombing, particularly in relation to the economic one, and in relation to its historical cost. Nobody has forgotten that the U.S. dropped more bombs on Vietnam than it dropped in the whole of Europe in World War II, yet in the end the U.S. had to leave Vietnam. It seems natural to think that the memory of Vietnam, the excess of hubris, and the loss of prestige would discourage the U.S. military from taking similar risks today. Unfortunately, the priority given to air attacks comes from reasons linked not only with strategy, but also with internal politics. More than any other military power, the U.S. tries to beat the enemy from afar in order to avoid casualties. The inspiring principle would be, of course, respectable and even humanitarian if it weren't for the fact that U.S. military casualties tend to be reduced at the cost of an enormous increase of casualties among the enemy's civilian (that is, more or less, innocent) population.
Air power has been a more and more firm policy throughout time. Its first mass application took place during World War II ("carpet bombing"). Its military effectiveness has been widely discussed; in Italy, and particularly in Germany and Japan, although air strikes disrupted communications and military production, military factories were relocated many times. The moribund Fascist and Nazi propaganda recovered new life by describing--for once without much necessity to lie--the air war as particularly "cruel" and "cowardly" (the latter adjective, by a strange coincidence or nemesis, was used in the American response to the terrorists who were hideously cruel but not cowardly).
We should wonder if the psychological aspect of this one-sidedness--repeated in Vietnam, in Kosovo, and now in Afghanistan--has been evaluated. The polarities are separated physically, visually: "Evil below, good above." In the long run, the split creates the image of two classes of separated humans: superior people who should never die and inferior people who can die or survive without really living until their time comes. Is military necessity always the decisive necessity? Wouldn't we agree with the necessity of avoiding the imaginal division of humans in two: "those above" and "those below"? Isn't there some psychological necessity to avoid images which contradict the founding principle of the U.S. "that all men are created equal"?
From a point of view which is, unfortunately, imaginal as well as Clausewitzian, bombing is the military continuation of politics which define the enemy as "evil". Bombs represent the last military stage of the politics of oversimplification, the politics of psychological splitting, of division. Such politics fall into the fundamentalist trap which defines the enemy as evil, as Satan--the same politics that foster Islamic attacks on the West. Today's rhetoric encourages the globalization of "sound and fury." The risk of radically antagonizing the opposites, of using absolute, non-analyzable terms such as "evil" is that in the end, as the journalist N. Solomon said, we might simply have "evil against evil."
It is extremely difficult to say something that may last. As a psychologist, I feel that I have condemned myself to criticizing certain things without suggesting positive alternatives. I would like to say: "Don't rebuild the Twin Towers! Leave 'Ground Zero' as a memorial, as food for a necessary memory of the destruction. Let us accept the scar, the sadness, without reverting immediately and totally to one-sided optimism." But, what do I know of the needs of urban planning, of architecture, of finance? I can only say that the reconstruction of the Twin Towers is, or could be, an act of hubris. The possible allegation of hubris has been and still is a dangerous and potentially devastating threat hanging over the U.S.
Bombs--of course, those of the terrorists are also bombs, although they nominally used planes--separate and polarize the opposites. Bombs remain over time and not only metaphorically: Not long ago I was blocked in traffic in my home city, Milan, together with some ten thousand people because a huge unexploded bomb dropped by the Allied forces in 1944 had been unearthed during an excavation. "Sound and fury," once dropped on us, remain in the subterranean parts of the psyche, never exploding for good. Having more experience with bombs from the sky, undetonated bombs, and terrorist attacks (the Red Brigade, IRA, and Bader-Meinhof, for example), Europeans have unique historical perspectives to contribute to the dialogue across the Atlantic. Europeans, therefore, have compelling reasons to join Americans in conversations about hope and terror, hubris and nemesis, the West and the not-West, recalling that the "West" exists in American, European, global, and local versions.
© Luigi Zoja.2001. All rights reserved.
1. This article expands upon a talk, "Don't Widen the Atlantic," given at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York during a panel discussion on November 29, 2001. Thanks to Paolo Riani, the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute.