As late as high school, my older son’s ambition was to be President of the United States. In fact, under the heading “Objective” on his high school resume for Starbucks, he wrote something like, “I’m going to be the first gay president of the United States, but in the meantime, I would consider it a great privilege to serve coffee in your establishment.” He got the job. I can’t remember when the change of heart came, if it was before he graduated high school or after, but at some point months or years later, he told me that he wouldn’t be running for president after all, and that it wasn’t the harsh reality of his financial pedigree that was the problem. Rather, he said, “I can’t get there without selling out. No one can.” I wonder, in those moments of reflection, what thoughts he entertained. Did he consider that maybe he himself was capable of selling out the very humanity he hoped to serve? Best not to take even one step in that direction? I wish I’d asked more questions.
Don’t laugh. I read Tarot cards—my own. Not for employment or relationship status or time-of-death predictions, but for a shot of insight or perspective. Appropriately, the name of my deck is The Intuitive Tarot with the subtitle, Unlock the power of your Creative Subconscious. Yes, please.
Recently I’ve taken to the card-a-day habit that’s supposed to guide my reflective thoughts as I negotiate the moments between the rising and falling of the sun. A couple days ago, I drew THE DEVIL who had this to say: “Each one of us has the capacity for evil. We usually try to avoid this unpalatable fact. However, the Shadow is an indivisible part of humanity and cannot be destroyed, though it can be transmuted. By accepting our darkness as an integral part of ourselves, we fully accept our human responsibility. However, if we deny it, we end up projecting it out onto other people or situations. Thus we give it power, and its divisive energy becomes ever more entrenched, the resulting flak growing ever darker.”
It’s hard to speak for everyone’s shadow, but here’s a little Freud on the nature of the id:
“It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality… We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. …It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.”
It is fear, it is anger, it is chaos, and it produces no collective will. It hears naught but itself and tantrums its pleasures at being “right,” screaming condescensions that will change no one, appealing to its own choirs and shielding its own fragile ego with the honors and accolades of those of similar mind and characteristic. Not exactly progress.
In the months leading up to the November election, I was tantruming aplenty. Fear, chaos… lots of that childish “id” business. But sometime in the final weeks, I entertained a few moments of clarity when I understood that my anger and arrogance wasn’t changing anyone, and on one occasion, when I was reading commentary on a site I knew to be corporately motivated, I tried a different approach. I don’t remember the exact context of the “discussion,” but I know the commentary was full of hate and anger, so when I stepped in, I made sure my response to one of the commenters was respectful and followed it with a reasonable question. The person responded in like tone and the conversation was off. Until it was stopped. At a few turns in, the moderators removed the thread. I was stunned and a little embarrassed. Perusing all the vitriolic comments that were posted and apparently “legal,” it made no sense. Who had we threatened? What was it about a polite conversation that might be cause for concern? I can’t be certain, but it’s reasonable that if the 99% who suffer at the hands of the 1% ever learned to talk to each other, there’s no doubt but that the one percent would lose ground. They win as long as we hate.
But I can’t possibly talk to those ignorant Trump bigots. Let me ask the righteous among us a few questions, myself included. Have you studied up on mass incarceration and the Jim Crow motivation behind it? Have you considered how you might be profiting by it? If you’re aware, have you taken any meaningful action? We liberals love to talk. Have you looked at your investments? Your retirement? Do you know for sure that the boost in your returns since Trump took office isn’t, in part, the boom in the privatized prison industry? If you choose to remain ignorant and complacent in the face of racist systems of injustice, are you not somewhere on the spectrum of racist? And what about any of your recent purchases… Do you read labels and consider the slave labor around the world (mostly brown) that produced it? Do you think about children in Africa who’ve been turned into murderers and laborers for kingpins protecting and amassing minerals for the electronics industry that keeps us spinning with a gluttony of gadgetry? You might think about the ways you profit on the backs of brown people and ask again if you are racist. I am. And the not-as-much argument is futile. The bottom line is we hurt people with our ignorance and apathy, and yes, each one of us is capable of selling out for our own gain. We do. Every day. But self awareness gives birth to humility and the potential for change. Without it, we are, as Freud said, entrenched… and, perhaps ironically, fodder for profit.
In an age of Trump, it becomes all too easy to wave our righteous banners at the orange-haired fool, the bigot, unleashing the racist masses, making good on his business dealings at the expense of the American people. With a virtuous fist, we rail against the Trump brand and the ignorant voters who gave him to us as if the election happened in a vacuum that can assign guilt to a single electorate. Our righteous fervor, ill-informed of the darkness that lurks beneath it, becomes a synthetic filling to the holes in our own humanity, holes created by a capitalist economy that thrives on pitting humans against each other in a battle of superlatives that becomes the lies of status and entitlement. They are the lies that deliver to us our value as it exists by comparison on a social ladder perpetuated by its profiteers and blinding us to the reality of ourselves, an understanding, without which, I am convinced, we will never be of enough love for ourselves or anyone else.
Sigmund Freud (1933), New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. pp. 105–6.