These Dark Times: A Tarot Meditation

Seven of Swords (Rx) / Ten of Swords (Rx)

Recently, a friend and colleague of mine wrote an essay entitled “Dark Times” in which she expressed recurring feelings of “powerlessness and despair” during these times that undeniably are so very dark for many of us. I instantly saw the anguish of a kindred soul which came as no surprise to me as my friend and I have shared with each other just how much the events of the past four to five years, particularly those events leading up to and culminating in the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6th, opened a still deep, still painful wound in us.

For me, one source of momentary relief from these feelings of powerlessness and despair has come in the form of tarot card reading meditations. Recently, I have begun a two-card daily ritual in an attempt to draw my attention to how I might best manage and focus my emotions and energies that particular day. In this essay I would like to offer the tarot meditation I did immediately after reading my friend’s essay on these “Dark Times.”

After shuffling and cutting my Rider-Waite tarot deck I turned over two cards. The first card drawn was the Seven of Swords. It was upside down, or as more commonly stated, in reverse. To the right of it I placed the second card, the Ten of Swords, also in reverse. The first thing I noticed was that both cards were from the suit of Swords. According to Benebell Wen in Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth, from which much of what follows is taken, the suit of Swords has the following possible symbolic meanings: air, mentation or intellectualism, worries, aggression, disappointments, heroism, and the ideas of justice and injustice.

Looking more closely at the two cards in question, the Seven of Swords when upright shows a figure seemingly sneaking away from a location where he has just stolen the swords now in his possession. Impulsiveness, deception, fleeing from misdeeds and other forms of evasion, then, are some of the characteristics or qualities often associated with this card. In reverse, Wen writes that a person, or Seeker, who draws the card in this fashion may get caught if contemplating something unethical. Additionally, the card could also indicate that the Seeker “is trying to deceive [him or her-] self or others into believing all is well.” Wen adds: “But the cards reveal that [the] truth is all is not well.” Finally, the Seven of Swords in reverse is also “a card about sabotage, whether to oneself or others.”

The Ten of Swords in its upright position shows a supine figure run through by ten oversized swords. Meanings associated with the card in this position include feelings of defeat on the part of the Seeker and/or that they are being retaliated against, the victim of others’ hatred and aggression. In reverse, the card suggests endurance and “the courage to rise again.” In The New Tarot Handbook, Rachel Pollak writes that the Ten of Swords in reverse also may symbolize “relief from suffering, as if the swords literally fall away.” However, she is quick to note A.E. Waite’s assertion that this card in reverse describes any advantage gained as “not permanent.” In short: “the person needs to make real changes.”

What, then, might this two-card combination of the Seven and Ten of Swords in reverse suggest to us about our current predicament of powerlessness and despair as described by my friend in her post? As I contemplate these cards, I find myself confronted with questions I would like to suggest we might ask ourselves. In terms of the Seven of Swords in reverse, we might ask: “How might I be deceiving myself as concerns these dark times? Further, what deceptions and untruths am I engaging in so as to avoid, or evade, a truly ethical response to the situation at hand?” Pollack writes that the Seven of Swords in reverse might indicate a need to consult with others and think twice before doing something. So, another question worth asking may be, “How has my impulsive or habitual way of reacting to situations like the one I find myself in at present in some way been a form of sabotage that undermines my own and/or others’ physical, psychological, and emotional well-being?”

For me, there is something of a paradoxical message at the heart of this two-card combination. While the Seven of Swords in reverse indicates a need for reality-based reflection and responsibility, the Ten of Swords in reverse points to an equally strong need in the psyche to allow our extreme mental states of worry, frustration, confusion, righteous anger at injustices, and disappointment fall away. Indeed, I personally find some of the “relief from suffering” promised in the card when I close my eyes and imagine my own “swords” of worry, frustration, confusion, anger, and disappointment fall away from my body one at a time into oblivion. It is momentary to be sure but what a relief! With this relief I feel that I am better prepared to make the real changes I need to make in my own life and to try once again to help others do the same.

If you would, dear reader, I ask that you look at the Ten of Swords card for a moment and imagine your own swords falling from you. Your own fear, worry, frustration, confusion, anger, disappointment, or any other strong emotion that may be keeping you stuck, perhaps even down and out. May your black feelings of powerlessness and despair drop away in this moment and leave you with yellow and blue hues of empowerment and hope.

May you—and may the rest of us—find the courage to rise once again.

Posted in Art/Creativity, Culture, Justice, Politics | 2 Comments

The Riddle We Must Ask Ourselves Today

Ladies and gentlemen of this great chamber and country, on this most somber occasion I would like to use my allotted five minutes to tell you a story courtesy of the great mythologist Joseph Campbell. We might call this story “The Riddle We Must Ask Ourselves Today.” An equally plausible title could be “Working for Nemesis.” Campbell begins this way:

“[L]ooking back at what had promised to be our own unique, unpredictable, and, dangerous adventure, all we find in the end is such a series of standard metamorphoses as men and women have undergone in every quarter of the world, in all recorded centuries, and under every odd disguise of civilization.

The story is told, for example, of the great Minos, king of the island-empire of Crete in the period of its commercial supremacy: how he hired the celebrated artist-craftsman Daedalus to invent and construct for him a labyrinth, in which to hide something of which the palace was at once ashamed and afraid. For there was a monster on the premises—which had been born to Pasiphae, the queen. Minos, the king, had been busy, it is said, with important wars to protect the trade routes; and meanwhile Pasiphae had been seduced by a magnificent, snow-white, sea-born bull. It had been nothing worse, really, than what Minos’ own mother had allowed to happen: Minos’ mother was Europa, and it is well known that she was carried by a bull to Crete. The bull had been the god Zeus, and the honored son of that sacred union was Minos himself—now everywhere respected and gladly served. How then could Pasiphae have known that the fruit of her own indiscretion would be a monster: this little son with human body but the head and tail of a bull?

Society has blamed the queen greatly; but the king was not unconscious of his own share of guilt. The bull in question had been sent by the god Poseidon, long ago, when Minos was contending with his brothers for the throne. Minos had asserted that the throne was his, by divine right, and had prayed the god to send up a bull out of the sea, as a sign; and he had sealed the prayer with a vow to sacrifice the animal immediately, as an offering and symbol of service. The bull had appeared, and Minos took the throne; but when he beheld the majesty of the beast that had been sent and thought what an advantage it would be to possess such a specimen, he determined to risk a merchant’s substitution—of which he supposed the god would take no great account. Offering on Poseidon’s altar the finest white bull that he owned, he added the other to his herd.

The Cretan empire had greatly prospered under the sensible jurisdiction of this celebrated lawgiver and model of public virtue. Knossos, the capital city, became the luxurious, elegant center of the leading commercial power of the civilized world. The Cretan fleets went out to every isle and harbor of the Mediterranean; Cretan ware was prized in Babylonia and Egypt. The bold little ships even broke through the Gates of Hercules to the open ocean, coasting then northward to take the gold of Ireland and the tin of Cornwall, as well as southward, around the bulge of Senegal, to remote Yorubaland and the distant marts of ivory, gold, and slaves.

But at home, the queen had been inspired by Poseidon with an ungovernable passion for the bull. And she had prevailed upon her husband’s artist-craftsman, the peerless Daedalus, to frame for her a wooden cow that would deceive the bull—into which she eagerly entered; and the bull was deceived. She bore her monster, which, in due time, began to become a danger. And so Daedalus again was summoned, this time by the king, to construct a tremendous labyrinthine enclosure, with blind passages, in which to hide the thing away. So deceptive was the invention, that Daedalus himself, when he had finished it, was scarcely able to find his way back to the entrance. Therein the Minotaur was settled: and he was fed, thereafter, on groups of living youths and maidens, carried as tribute from the conquered nations within the Cretan domain.

Thus according to the ancient legend, the primary fault was not the queen’s but the king’s; and he could not really blame her, for he knew what he had done. He had converted a public event into a personal gain, whereas the whole sense of his investiture as king had been that he was no longer a mere private person. The return of the bull should have symbolized his absolutely selfless submission to the functions of his role. The retaining of it represented, on the other hand, an impulse to egocentric self-aggrandizement. And so the king ‘by the grace of God’ became the dangerous tyrant Holdfast—out for himself. Just as the traditional rites of passage used to teach the individual to die to the past and be reborn to the future, so the great ceremonials of investiture divested him of his private character and clothed him in the mantle of his vocation. Such was the ideal, whether the man was a craftsman or a king. By the sacrilege of the refusal of the rite, however, the individual cut himself as a unit off from the larger unit of the whole community: and so the One was broken into the many, and these then battled each other—each out for himself—and could be governed only by force.

The figure of the tyrant-monster is known to the mythologies, folk traditions, legends, and even nightmares, of the world; and his characteristics are everywhere essentially the same. He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of ‘my and mine.’ The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain. This may be no more than his household, his own tortured psyche, or the lives that he blights with the touch of his friendship or assistance; or it may amount to the extent of his civilization. The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world—no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper. Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflections of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-achieved independence is the world’s messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions. Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then—more miserably—within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will liberate the land.

                Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit

                There is not even silence in the mountains

                But dry sterile thunder without rain

                There is not even solitude in the mountains

                But red sullen faces sneer and snarl

                From doors of mudcracked houses

(T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land)

The hero is the man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what? That precisely is the riddle that today we have to ask ourselves and that is everywhere the primary virtue and historic deed of the hero to have solved. As Professor Arnold J. Toynbee indicates in his six-volume study of the laws of the rise and disintegration of civilizations, schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together again the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. Within the soul, within the body social, there must be—if we are to experience long survival—a continuous ‘recurrence of birth’ (palingenesia) to nullify the unremitting recurrences of death. For it is by means of our own victories, if we are not regenerated, that the work of Nemesis is wrought: doom breaks from the shell of our very virtue. Peace then is a snare; war is a snare; change is a snare; permanence a snare. When our day is come for the victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do, except be crucified—and resurrected; dismembered totally, and then reborn.”

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell, 1949, pp. 13-17

Posted in Culture, Myth, Politics | 4 Comments

Whiplashed! Chazelle’s Small Film Suddenly Shines ‘Bigly’

Three years before he won the Best Director Oscar for La La Land Damien Chazelle’s low-budget film Whiplash understandably was criticized by some reviewers for its portrayal of jazz music and artistic genius. After all, in the fictional New York Shaffer Conservatory the abuses hurled back and forth between bandleader Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) and drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) are painful to watch and even more difficult to accept as the price of musical greatness. Nonetheless, at the end of the film when Neiman finishes his monster drum solo and receives Fletcher’s approving gaze, viewers know that such greatness has been achieved.

However, Whiplash is less a portrait of greatness than of male heroism in extremis. Authors Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette write that young or immature males need heroic energy to leave the comfort of childhood and face the difficult life tasks ahead of them. In successfully channeling this energy, they gain a sense of their own strength, independence, and competence. They gain a sense of themselves as empowered men.

The authors also note that it is possible to become possessed by heroic energies. This possession takes two forms, the first of which they call the Grandstander Bully. A male caught in this energy focuses on impressing himself and others with his own importance and abilities. When these aspects of his personality inevitably are questioned, he reacts in a controlling, threatening, and hostile manner. Moore and Gillette write that he “will assault those who question what they ‘smell’ as his inflation with vicious verbal and often physical abuse.”

Both Fletcher and Neiman grandstand and bully in Whiplash. With his black attire accentuating his muscular physique, Fletcher repeatedly stands before and berates his musicians. He warns them not to “sabotage my band” or “tarnish my reputation.” Similarly, at a family dinner Neiman boasts that his accomplishments outshine those of his cousins. He also cruelly breaks up with his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist), telling her that she will keep him from becoming “one of the greats.”

The names Chazelle gives his two leads also reveal his central theme of male heroism in its darker aspects. The name Terence Fletcher means a tender, gracious or good maker and seller of arrows. In the film, he is warm and charming with a person one moment; seconds later, he wounds that individual with the wicked barb of personalized criticism. Likewise, the name Andrew Neiman means a manly or masculine newcomer, i.e., the new man in town. Fletcher calls him a “squeaker.”

According to Moore and Gillette, opposite the Grandstander Bully as the second form of heroic possession is the Coward. Paralyzed by fear, such a figure cannot stand up for himself when confronted. He allows himself to be bullied emotionally, intellectually, and physically. As weak as the bully is strong, he requires our protection.

This second figure also appears throughout Chazelle’s film. When Fletcher enters the rehearsal room his musicians stand with heads bowed or cowed. In one rehearsal a frightened trombone player cannot respond to Fletcher’s accusatory question as to whether he, the trombonist, is playing out of tune. Fletcher throws him out of the band. Finally, a former band member kills himself after suffering anxiety and depression that started while playing under Fletcher.

Author Tim Field coined the term serial bully to refer to a person who alternates between charismatic and abusive behavior often with multiple people over time. When reproached for bullying, the serial bully engages in a deliberate, learned strategy of denial, retaliation, and feigning victimhood. He denies allegations of abuse by minimizing them, avoiding the allegations altogether, or by intentionally creating a distraction or diversion. He often retaliates against his accuser with counter-attacks characterized by lying, deception, duplicity, hypocrisy and blame. Also, he avoids responsibility for his actions by feigning victimhood, claiming that he, the bully, is the one bullied. He, not the victim, is the injured party.

Fletcher exhibits most if not all of these qualities in Whiplash. He denies the toll taken on the human soul by his verbal and physical abuse with insinuations that this toll is the price of manhood and greatness. He lies throughout the film and blames Neiman for getting him fired from his job at Shaffer. In so doing he exhibits his own “victimhood.”

To many people the changeable events of these first weeks of President Trump’s administration may feel like whiplash, one definition of which is “to affect adversely as by a sudden change.” The extent to which such events have lasting negative or traumatic effects on individuals and the collective remains to be seen. Nevertheless, as people listen to heroic promises of bigly or big league changes and statements like “Make America Great Again” and “I alone can fix it” perhaps Field’s recommendations for protecting oneself from a bully should be considered. He notes that the primary tasks for the victim are to make the bullying stop or to get out of the situation.

Prior to the end of Whiplash Neiman appears to have accomplished both of these tasks. However, in the final scene he agrees to play in Fletcher’s new band. In a concert at Carnegie Hall, he goes head-to-head with Fletcher and again becomes possessed by the bully. In embracing this spirit, Neiman sacrifices intimacy with and relatedness to others and the “other.” He may achieve greatness but he loses those human qualities jazz and psychology call soul.

For more on workplace bullying and the Tim Field Foundation see

Posted in Art/Creativity, Cinema, Culture, Politics | 3 Comments

The Man Who Would Be King: Why Trump’s Character Matters


King, Warrior, Magician, Lover

In an interview with Time ten years ago Holocaust survivor, author, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel was asked to name his favorite Biblical hero. Wiesel, who died July 2nd at age 87, selected Moses as a great legislator, commander-in-chief and prophet as well as a loyal representative of his people and God. Additionally, Moses possessed humility, and he did not give in to hatred or indifference which are the main stumbling blocks to effective leadership. According to Wiesel, these blocks of hatred and indifference “are the two most important subjects in the world.”

Authors Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette present a comparable model of leadership in their books King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine and The King Within: Accessing the King in the Male Psyche. They write that the characterological make-up of adult males might be understood in terms of four images or archetypes, i.e., the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover. Wiesel’s description of Moses as legislator, commander-in-chief, prophet, and loyal representative neatly corresponds to these four images.

Moore and Gillette write that an adult male ideally learns to integrate the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover energies within himself. Via the King in particular he unites that which is at opposition and creates order out of chaos. Relatedly, he acts with grace not grandiosity as he realizes the effect that his vested power has on himself and others. Like Wiesel, Moore and Gillette state that the King therefore possesses true humility, acknowledging his own shortcomings and susceptibility to corruption. He is a discerning steward of the people and the greater good and has become what psychologist Erik Erikson calls a generative man.

Three historical figures who exemplified the King energy are Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln. They concerned themselves with helping and even liberating less fortunate individuals and groups. Theirs was a worldview of inclusivity or universalism. Moore and Gillette note that the King “must nurture his own progeny, culture, and religion, as well as the larger world of all human societies, and the environment as an ecological whole.” Gandhi, MLK, Jr., and Lincoln all knew that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

In religious tradition if Moses provides one example of the ideal leader or King, then his counterpart the Pharaoh is what Moore and Gillette call the Shadow King. Unable to nurture his progeny, culture, religion, world, or environment, such a figure cannot manage the internal and external forces that would weaken and destroy him and his kingdom. Unaware of the degree to which such forces have overwhelmed his reason and self-control, he becomes the victim of what analytical psychology refers to as his shadow. He becomes the victim of his own fear and desire.

Moore and Gillette assert that each of the four images or archetypes named above has a shadow comprised of two poles, one active and the other passive. The active pole of the Shadow King is called the Tyrant Usurper. A person caught up in the energies of this pole exhibits a sense of personal entitlement, grandiosity, greed, and envy. Such an individual is especially sensitive to criticism and reacts in an exaggerated fashion when criticized. He is bullying and insulting. At root, his outward displays of rage and paranoia stem from a fear of weakness or impotency, both his own and that of others. Dictators such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin are but a few recent historical examples of the Tyrant Usurper.

The Tyrant Usurper cannot come into power in a person without the passive acquiescence or permission in other individuals of the Weakling Abdicator, its opposing pole. With a nod to Wiesel, the Tyrant Usurper is to hatred what the Weakling Abdicator is to indifference. Moore and Gillette ominously observe that “every abdicated king needs at least one usurping king, and every usurper must find willing abdicators.” In short, the Tyrant Usurper and Weakling Abdicator are the two main stumbling blocks to true leadership or Kinghood.

Leading up to the Republican convention, commentators frequently remarked upon the impending coronation of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump. But what kind of King would Trump be? Since launching his presidential campaign in June 2015, Trump arguably has demonstrated qualities associated more with the Shadow King, specifically the Tyrant Usurper, than with Erickson’s generative man or what Moore and Gillette call the King in his fullness. Instead of uniting opposition and creating order, Trump is a man at the center of chaos and often even seems to thrive in it like an angry carnival barker. Indeed, chaos gives him a platform upon which he can vent his personal disgust, rage, and paranoia. His many inflammatory comments about the other, i.e., women, Muslims, Mexicans, and Hispanic-Americans is proof of such paranoia. These comments also show him to be anything but inclusive, universal, or nurturing.

The motives and amounts of his charitable giving or generosity toward those less fortunate have also been called into question. According to the Washington Post, a list produced by Trump’s campaign “reveals how Trump has demonstrated less of the soaring, world-changing ambitions in his philanthropy than many other billionaires. Instead, his giving appears narrowly tied to his business and, now, his political interests.” The only world that Trump wishes to nurture and change for the better is his own. Moore and Gillette’s contention that the Tyrant Usurper often manifests in people with a narcissistic personality disorder comes as little surprise.

The two authors also write that “[The Tyrant Usurper’s] degradation of others knows no bounds.” Such degradation feeds his sense of grandiosity and superiority. One need only think of Trump’s spiteful name-calling and personalized attacks on Ted Cruz and others, his claim that John McCain is not a true war hero, or his bullying of Megyn Kelly. Trump’s more general statement that victims of bullying should just “get over it” itself is degrading to those same victims. Other degrading instances of Trump’s tyrannical behavior include his many lawsuits real and threatened, his revocation of press credentials at political events, his praise of dictators’ so-called strong leadership, and his haughty disregard of climate science.

What, then, are we to do? The solution to this predicament is to not give in to either side, neither the side of hatred nor of indifference. The solution is to not be reactionary but responsible. The King must respond with grace, humility, and generativity, and as Moore and Gillette develop at greater length in their books, he must be a provider, protector, and procreator for his people and kingdom. He must not divide his kingdom for then it will become a wasteland.

Contemporary analytical psychologists believe that images or archetypes such as the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover are gender-neutral. That is, they are found in the psyches of women as well as men. This fact means that their shadow forms are found there, too. We would do well to demand of ourselves and our leaders, both male and female, that none of us becomes the next Shadow King, the next Tyrant Usurper or Weakling Abdicator.

Posted in Culture, Depth Psychology, Myth, Politics | 5 Comments

The Recurring American Nightmare — A Freudian Perspective

bpp5After the deadly shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, earlier this month late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert momentarily struck a somber note. Like many, Colbert admitted his uncertainty about what to do in the face of the unremitting gun violence plaguing the U.S.: “Some say the answer is stricter gun laws; others say the answer is mental health care, that we need better treatment or just to keep the guns out of the hands of the insane. Maybe it’s both, I honestly don’t know.” He concluded, “But I do know that one of the definitions of insanity is changing nothing and then pretending that something will change.” For those of us who join Colbert in wishing for positive change in such matters, perhaps we might turn to a few late ruminations from psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud for guidance and inspiration.

In the last two decades of his life Freud came to realize that other drives besides that of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain influence human behavior. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle he observed that frequently we are compelled to engage in repetitive actions that have little if anything to do with pleasure achievement or pain avoidance. One example of such a repetition compulsion is a veteran’s involuntary reliving of his or her traumatic war experiences in dreams and hallucinations. The human psyche seemingly requires this reliving, this repetition, but why?

In answer Freud proposed that the psyche has two drives which are more basic or primal than the pleasure-pain drive. He called these the Eros and death drives. The former is progressive and pro/creative. The latter is regressive and restorative. If Eros is the energy of life animation and preservation, the death drive longs to restore us to our original inanimate state free of tension, want, and worry.

In The Luxury of Afterwards Christine Downing writes that Eros might also be understood as the attachments which bind people together into communities and civilizations. As such, Eros provides an important counterweight to fear and aggression: “Freud sees civilization, communal existence, as dependent on libidinal attachments not just on the containment of aggression: society is based on love and our fear and hatred of others” (65). Eros-inspired love not only manifests as love for another human being or beings but more generally as the love for life in all its beauty and potential.

Downing stresses that though the Eros and death drives are in constant struggle with each other neither drive is always and only “good” or “bad.” While Eros takes us out of ourselves toward others, the future, and the new, the death drive turns us inward to considerations of our mortality, our vulnerability, our fears and desires, including our desire not to die. Awareness of how both drives operate in our lives, pulling us this way and that at any given moment, is essential to human health and well-being.

What is unhealthy is when either drive becomes literalized. We then identify Eros with the erotic, specifically sex, which is only one important aspect of human creativity and relationship. Reduced in this manner the fullness of Eros is repressed or denied. We become isolated from others and experience impaired social skills, low self-worth, and the devaluation of life.

Similarly, the death drive when literalized or repressed turns into destructive aggression. We become death incarnate and no longer fear the end of life out of a belief that the actions we take will immortalize us in the memory of others. Going out and with a bang become of equal importance.

The human struggle between the Eros and death drives is evident both in the tragic mass shootings in America and our response to these shootings. It is as if we are compelled to repeat this cultural nightmare over and again until we learn to engage these drives in more conscious ways. First the unconscious: one common denominator among many of the shooters is isolation. They are unable to relate to others and have become withdrawn into themselves. Also, like Christopher Harper Mercer in Oregon and Elliott Rodger in California they bemoan the fact that they have never had sex. In these and other instances repressed or frustrated Eros also takes the form of hatred toward the “other” to whom the shooter cannot relate the most, e.g., the other gender (Rodger), religion (Mercer), or race (Dylann Roof).

The excessive number of weapons used in the shootings, rounds fired, ammunition found, and victims killed or wounded are hallmarks of a repressed and unconsciously lived out death drive. Armed to the teeth and often wearing black, the color of death, these shooters have become killing machines. The deadly school stabbing in Sweden this month by a man wearing a Darth Vader mask may be the most recent example of this cross-cultural phenomenon.

Finally, the overwhelming desire to join earlier killers in infamy has already been alluded to. Whether committing suicide or dying at the hands of police, many if not most of these killers have become identified with the idea that in death their lives can reach a state of exalted completion, a nothingness of utmost importance. To them the best antidote to a meaningless life is a “meaningful” death.

The Eros and death drives are also at work in our collective response to these shootings. First and foremost a repressed Eros drive is most evident in our complete lack of a collective response. The libidinal attachments that connect us to each other and eventually to an idea of community and commonwealth are entirely absent. Individual talk show hosts, politicians and pundits weigh in on the best course of action but none is taken.

The discussion or debate that follows these tragedies, then, exemplifies this form of repression. Focus is placed on individual gun ownership rights and health privacy laws. As a result, the individual reigns supreme in public discourse completely isolated from any substantive lasting concern for the collective. On some level we seemingly prefer the comfort of life as we know it to the uncertainty of the change we both need and fear. Noted by Colbert, this insane desire not to change is a desire on the part of the death drive for a state of permanence or “changelessness.”

The way out of our nightmare toward collective healing is not to make so-called soft targets like schools and churches hard. It is not to replace Eros with the aggression of the death drive. Instead we would do well to proactively and not only re-actively engage Eros in our response to these tragedies. That is, rather than only coming together as a grieving community after these events we must learn to come together beforehand—way beforehand.

More and better parenting, sex education, multiculturalism, diversity, and special education classes all through the formative years may be a good place to start. Although such classes are no guarantee that extreme violence will be avoided in the future, the benefit of this education to individual and communal well-being is self-evident. Truly, in the soft targets that are our homes, schools, and religious institutions extra effort must be made to ensure that no child is left behind in anger or isolation.

The discussion of gun safety also needs to be re-framed in light of the Eros and death drives. To sacrifice some gun rights does not mean to sacrifice all gun rights. It does mean that our need to protect ourselves and those we love is tempered by a concern for the other person and the community of others in which we live. Put differently, homes, cities, and nations need protecting but they also need building. In his tribute to Sigmund Freud upon the latter’s passing poet W. H. Auden conveyed the active masculine energy contained within Eros when he described this drive as a “builder of cities.” What we seem to have forgotten is that Eros is a builder of nations, too.

Posted in Culture, Depth Psychology, Psychoanalysis, Violence | 6 Comments