Mass Dementia and The Return of the Repressed
Mr. Trump’s latest scandalous “lie” about his being among the first responders at 9/11 Ground Zero, (which just continues the pattern of his chronic scandalous lying), suggested to me that Trump may not be so much the “pathological liar” as suffering from dementia — from a complete inability to discern between his fantasies and reality.
That, of course, raises the next question if so: why do so many people support a president who displays evident symptoms of dementia as if it were quite normal…. unless they, too, were participants in the same dementia? That conclusion also seems to be the implication of the title of Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement and Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland. And that reminded me of something I read years ago….
It comes from a book by cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall entitled The Hidden Dimension, if I recall correctly. It recounts a case from West Africa where a man brought a charge against another man before his tribal elders that the other man had harmed him in his dreams. The accused was summoned to give testimony and confessed it, whereupon he was duly compelled to pay his accuser compensation.
This anecdote is extremely interesting for what it also reveals about Jean Gebser’s “magical structure of consciousness” of one-dimensional unity. What we distinguish as “subject” and “object”, or conscious and unconscious, or dream and reality simply does not exist for that mode of consciousness. Dream and reality are one seamless continuity of existence, and yet not conflated with one another entirely because, after all, the accuser knew he was harmed in his dreaming, and the other man confessed, too, that he had actually harmed him in and through his dreaming.
These people were not mad. This is not dementia. They were quite lucid about it. But neither is this integral consciousness. Here, the accent of existence falls heavily on the imagination and the imaginative function while the object-oriented or “reality-oriented” intellectual function is de-emphasised, which is quite characteristic of the dream-like reality of the magical structure of consciousness.
The mental-rational consciousness (or intellect) of course places the accent or emphasis heavily on the other side of this — the perspectival or objective. But since Freud and Jung, at least, and the “discovery of the unconscious” we now know that there is no real frontier or boundary between the dream-like imaginative or fantastical and the so-called “waking state”. The so-called “unconscious” was the result of having suppressed the dream-like and imaginative faculty, so that what we now refer to as “the return of the repressed” is also the reactivation of these older modes of being, but without the kind of lucidity needed to effectively integrate them with the intellect or ego-consciousness or what we call “the wakeful state”.
Being neither mindful, lucid nor vigilant about this, it constitutes madness and dementia. We do not have the mental tools to effectively integrate this, so it returns in the form of a “Mr. Hyde”, which is an extremely dangerous form of the return of the repressed. On the other hand, the Hermetic Philosophy (or what we call “alchemy”) did develop an effective way of integrating the return of the repressed, so it’s not too surprising to see elements of this being revived today in William Blake, Carl Jung, or Jean Gebser, et alia, or in the growing interest in Hermeticism, such as the works of Gary Lachman. These are all attempted responses to the return of the repressed. This is also what Nietzsche refers to as “Dionysian madness”.
Here it might be worth an aside: while Nietzsche welcomed this “Dionysian madness” as the return of the repressed following the death of God, he was also unnerved by it, so towards the end of his creative life he sought a way to reconcile the Dionysian with the Apollonian, and this is pretty much the project that Gebser or Rosenstock-Huessy have undertaken, and which we refer to as “integral consciousness”, and what Blake refers to as “fourfold vision” or in his symbol “Albion” who is the “fourfold Atman” of the Upanishads. The fourfold Atman is the fully reintegrated being and is, morever, conscious of itself as such (which knowledge is rather key to the whole matter).
Now, this is why I continuously harp on this matter of Blake’s “fourfold vision”, quadrilateral logic, and Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” model. It provides the pattern and the logic for the effective reintegration of the return of the repressed as also the full self-realisation or re-integration of the fourfold Atman. And this would also effectively satisfy the requirements for the emergence of that described as Nietzche’s “transhuman” (or “overman”) and Aurobindo’s “supramental consciousness” and what Gebser calls “integral consciousness”.
So, this is what we are seeing today in “the Anthropocene”. The return of the repressed is overwhelming the capacity of the perspectival consciousness and its “identity” to effectively integrate it, and is not even lucid about what is happening to it, and the result of that is what we call “psychic inflation” which is also pretty much identical to Nietzsche’s “Dionysian madness”.
And remember: the alter ego of Dionysus is Hades, as the alter ego of Athena is the Gorgon, and these symbols correspond to the life-pole (eros) and death-pole (thanatos) of all psychic energy. William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is all about effectively balancing and integrating these two fundamental forces or aspects as is Rudolf Steiner’s sculpture “The Representative of Man” which depicts Christ drawing down Heaven with one hand as he raises Hell with the other. This is the equivalent of the paradox of Christ’s tongue as being a “two-edged sword” (while the Serpent’s is forked from the root).
Christ, as the tetramorph, is also the effective representation of the fourfold Atman of the Upanishads, and his symbol of the fourfold is the crucifix.
And that brings us back to Mr. Trump, who is definitely America’s “Mr. Hyde” — the spitting image of Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde in fact. And the same may be said, too, for many other current leading political figures. They are the “Mr. Hyde” side of the mental-rational consciousness now in process of dissolution.
The danger here, of course, is that the tale of Jekyll and Hyde did not end well for either. Dr. Jekyll wanted to be rid of Mr. Hyde, and Mr. Hyde wanted to be rid of Dr. Jekyll, and in seeking to accomplish that, they cancelled each other out in an climactic act of self-negation.
This is our situation today, and it is what we call “cognitive dissonance” or “the New Normal”, and unless we find a way to integrate all aspects of the fourfold human, we will end the same way as the parable of Jekyll and Hyde ends.
This situation of the consciousness structure of modern man is what informs Goethe’s character Faust (who is actually Goethe himself)
Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,
And each from the other would be parted.
The one in sturdy lust for love
With clutching organs clinging to the world,
The other strongly rises from the gloom
To lofty fields of ancient heritage”. — Goethe, Faust.
Goethe-Faust anticipates Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde here, as well as Nietzsche’s “self” and “ego” distinction. And it is important to note the sentiment towards suicide that is present in this snippet from Goethe, for Goethe (like Nietzsche, like Camus) had to overcome in themselves a tendency towards self-annihilation and self-negation, ie, suicide. They were successful at this, unlike Jekyll and Hyde. But the power that guided them through their own valley of the shadow of death, stare into the abyss, or dark night of the soul, or winter of their discontent was what we call “faith”.
It was faith that stayed Goethe’s hand, that stayed Nietzsche’s hand after his “stare into the abyss” and faith that kept Camus from suicide in the “winter” of his soul. Faith is not belief. The faith of a grain of mustard seed is not about belief but a fundamental feature of life itself.