The Enemy Maker
Start with an empty canvas
Sketch in broad outline the forms of
men, women, and children.
Dip into the unconscious well of your own
with a wide brush and
stain the strangers with the sinister hue
of the shadow.
Trace onto the face of the enemy the greed,
Hatred, carelessness you dare not claim as
Exaggerate each feature until man is
Metamorphosized into beast, vermin, insect….
When your icon of the enemy is complete
You will be able to kill without guilt,
slaughter without shame….
by Sam Keen
Recently, human rights defenders took to the streets of New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities to demand an end to violence and hatred against Asian Americans in the wake of a mass shooting in Georgia,--six of whom were women of Asian descent. This recent wave of racist attacks have surged during the coronavirus pandemic. Such hateful racism is despicable, but unfortunately, not new. It speaks to something within our psyche that is as old as our human history, yet it needs to be unpacked and made part of our public discourse, again and again. The Covid pandemic is literal and needs to be treated as such, but it is also a metaphor for the psychic viruses within ourselves that we attempt to disown and project onto others.
Persona and Shadow
The denial of our own darkness is grounded in us from childhood. Early in life we are conditioned by our family and our culture to separate our “good self” or persona from the “bad self” or shadow. The shadow is a term coined by depth psycholgist, C.G. Jung, to refer to the unacceptable parts of ourself that we unconsciously deny.
To speak of the shadow is another way of referring to our sense of inferiority, the rejected parts of ourselves that we want most to forget. We all want to eliminate this inferiority, and the most deceptive way of doing this is by looking for everything dark and “evil” in others. The shadow symbolizes the “other”, the alien, the foreigner for whom we feel no connection and no sympathy. We deny our unwanted qualities and target those who seem to possess some convenient “hook” upon which we can hang our own “impurities.” Now our own disowned negativities conveniently reappear in them, but ironically they confront us as our own hidden face.
Our persona or preferred social face is largely formed in accordance with the values and characteristics of our family of origin and our culture. On a sociological level, this process is driven by our need to gain membership in our family and eventually in our culture. On a more primal psychological level, the formation of the persona is driven by a desire to earn personal value or self esteem— to merit continued life, as if there were a universal moral code favoring “goodness”. The “bad self” or shadow threatens us because of a primitive belief that such inferior or “evil” qualities invite divine or cosmic retaliation and a shortened life span. The key point here is that in order to insure our continuity, we war against the shadow in an attempt to rid ourselves of it by projecting it onto others.
We spend a lifetime creating a twofold camouflage: the persona and the creation of enemies. Enemies serve as scapegoats, who we imagine are contaged with qualities that are opposite or inferior to ours or that clash with our cherished beliefs. This psychological jihad can be found in the polarized categories of Proud boys versus Antifa, progressives versus Republicans, white Americans versus black and brown people. Such divisions are not inherently problematic if they reflect a diversity of opinions, perspectives, preferences, or simply distinguish among various races and creeds. They become pernicious when they’re an effort to purify ourselves by relocating our own negative qualities in others, and then quarantining such individuals or groups, and at worst, persecuting them.
The Need for a Scapegoat
We avoid recognition of our own inferior, disowned, wounded self by projecting our negativities onto others, in a blind effort to purify ourselves of any quality that would threaten our continued existence. Our bloody human history is replete with examples of our efforts to deny the collective shadow by finding evidence of its existence everywhere but in ourselves. This is the basis of racism, sexism, religious persecution, genocide and enemy making in general. Governments have been using the fear of the other to keep us divided by scapegoating various classes of individuals: feminists, liberals, hippies, Black men, Mexicans and Asians— those who are distinguishable from us “real Americans”.
Because we know that we are mortal, the thing that we want most to deny is mortality. Embedded within the human psyche is the wish to live forever and to avoid death, and the historical way to do this has been to seek a sacrificial scapegoat that is offered in place of oneself. The ancient law of our species has been to offer up a sacrifice to appease cosmic powers, thus ensuring a good harvest and the longevity of the tribe. What is camouflaged is that this sacrificial act is a symbolic killing of the collective shadow.
The phenomenon of group or racial superiority has its origin in our effort to dissociate ourselves from any sense of inferiority. To believe that your group is pure and good, makes it eligible for the good life, where you will live in a land of milk and honey. But others, like the Asians or people of color are the real enemies, who are contaminating your group’s purity. The phenomenon of scapegoating gives you or your clan or tribe a mandate to launch a campaign to make the world “pure” once again.
We are driven to fabricate the “other”, the enemy, the adversary to bear the burden of our denied self hatred. Enemy-making does serve a perverse purpose. It offers the illusion that we will not have to face our own shadow if we destroy or quarantine those who symbolize those parts of ourselves that we most deny.
Beyond the personal shadow is a universal shadow— the inevitability of disease, decay, and death caused by nature itself. When a volcanic eruption, a tsunami, or an earthquake takes the lives of tens of thousands in a terrifying moment, we’re left with unanswerable existential questions about nature's seeming indifference, and the undeserved suffering and death of innocent men, women, and children. To make peace with these issues means that we must contend with the shadow of God or the shadow of Life. For most people this challenge is confounding and overwhelming. It is far easier to project their doubts, confusion, and feelings of powerlessness onto the devil and his minions— dividing life between the forces of good and the legions of evil.
The Dark Treasury
The challenge at this time in our history is whether we have the courage to recognize that the persona we have created to earn membership and good standing in our culture or subgroup— is only half the story. The difficult question that lingers is whether or not we could love ourselves if we embraced our own shadow. The shadow in itself is not evil, but is the dark treasury that contains both our neuroses and our undeveloped gifts, and holds the potential to complete us. When we extend understanding and compassion to those dark parts of ourselves that we've judged as unacceptable, our shadow can heal the rupture with our depths, so that we can feel whole once again.
As a society, we must begin to demythologize the “other”, the enemy, and begin acknowledging and communicating with our own shadow. Our self-esteem is groomed through openness to and deep appreciation of our inner world, but also an openness to life’s ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty. Personal value is discovered in the delight and anguish of love, in the suffering of loss, in the sublime beauty of nature, in passionate involvement with a project, but also in the poignant pain of unrealized dreams, in questions that remain unanswered, and in the frustration of not being able to create the perfect life or the perfect society. This requires trust in life, trust in nature, and trust in ourselves— and in being willing to discover the light in darkness and to recognize the darkness as our own. The life of our species depends upon it.